Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Legends Part 1


Santa Claus

The American version of the Santa Claus figure received its inspiration and its name from the Dutch legend of Sinter Klaas, brought by settlers to New York in the 17th century.

As early as 1773 the name appeared in the American press as "St. A Claus," but it was the popular author Washington Irving who gave Americans their first detailed information about the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas. In his History of New York, published in 1809 under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, Irving described the arrival of the saint on horseback (unaccompanied by Black Peter) each Eve of Saint Nicholas.

This Dutch-American Saint Nick achieved his fully Americanized form in 1823 in the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas more commonly known as The Night Before Christmas by writer Clement Clarke Moore. Moore included such details as the names of the reindeer; Santa Claus's laughs, winks, and nods; and the method by which Saint Nicholas, referred to as an elf, returns up the chimney. (Moore's phrase "lays his finger aside of his nose" was drawn directly from Irving's 1809 description.)
 
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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Free Book Raffle


Celebrate 2013 Contest
Send me an email at Maxine Douglas for a free review of copy (or purchase a copy at one of the links below) of


Amazon
 
 
 
O
R
 
 
 
 
 
  • Post a review on Amazon.com 
  • Enter your name below to be eligible for a $25 American Expedient Gift Card  
  • Winner will be drawn randomly from eligible entrants on January 1, 2014.
*All entries will be checked for review posted by midnight (CST) December 31, 2013, when contest endsWinner will be notified via email.  One entry per person.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Release December 2013


Nashville Rising Star

There were only three of them left now—Casey Montgomery from Oklahoma, the darling Emerald Braun, and himself. By this time next week, he was banking on only two left standing before the show even started. Emerald Braun wouldn’t be one of them.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope.
Everything I’ve wanted the past few years depends on this...and what’s inside it.
“Welcome back. Our next performer of the night is...”
 

Utah Sheridan intends to win Nashville Rising Star at all costs;
will his bribe be the end of Emerald Braun? 

Print coming in 2014

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cooking Up Love for Two -- Apple Knockers


It’s a cold, bitterly cold, December day here in Oklahoma so I thought I’d share this recipe from A Taste for Love, A Romantic Cookbook for Two by Elizabeth M. Harbison and Mary McGowan in hopes of warming you and your loved one up. 
 

                       Apple Knockers 
 

1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp whole cloves
1 pinch nutmeg
1 ½ cup apple cider
¼ cup sugar
½ cup orange juice
2 T fresh lemon juice
¼ cup brandy

 

©   Tie the cinnamon stick, cloves, and nutmeg in a cheesecloth bag.

©   In a small saucepan, bring apple cidar to a simmer over medium-high heat; add the spice bag and simmer for 15 minutes.

©   Stir in the sugar.  Add the orange and lemon juices.  Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if you like.

©   Add brandy and heat thoroughly just before serving.



 

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Road Angel


Chapter One

 

“‘Let It Snow’ on this...” the radio DJ hummed through the radio. Before long I was humming along with the classic Christmas song that more than described the frightful weather.
The snow truly fit snow-packed Interstate 94 which I travel westbound weekly. With less than a week until Christmas, I dropped the load in Gary, Indiana. Then with a mere eight miles to go before hitting Chicago, I can head back home to Wisconsin and my little girl. Damn if I’ll let her spend it with strangers again. I promised and mean every word.
The northwest wind whips across Lake Michigan, causing the blinding lake-effect snow I hate—the trucker’s nightmare I’ve learned to ignore. I’m on a mission, damn it, and no stupid storm will stop me.
Still, I have to admit visibility is slim, like driving through a kaleidoscope of white. The effect plays tricks on my eyes, but I squint, refusing to pull over. I’ve never allowed the weather to interfere with my job, and I’m not about to start now —especially this close to spending Christmas with my family for the first time since my baby daughter was born three years before. She was my Christmas miracle, Isabella Mae Thomas—perfect in every way. Crystal-blue eyes sparkle even when full of sad little baby tears. Light, curly, strawberry-blonde hair falls above her shoulders, framing her round little face and chubby cheeks, giving her a cherub look. Sandi named her Bella, and I was fine with that, as long as a glittering vampire didn’t show up at our front door with a large wolf at its side.
I chuckle. “I have a feeling Sandi would have been thrilled to have a Twilight family of her own.” I chuckle again at the thought of chasing both off while Sandi asks them to come in for dinner. I take my gaze off the road for an instant, the picture flitting through my mind even as the sadness of losing her resonates through me.
Flexing my hand, I remember how Sandi nearly crushed it during delivery. “I can feel your presence Sandi.”
Her grip had felt like being caught in a vise, every bone about to be shattered, leaving me wondering when she’d acquired super-human strength. My soft-spoken wife became a rowdy-mouthed sailor spurting things totally incomprehensible as she pushed our baby into the world, and then it was over. Her body relaxed, her breathing returned to normal, and our lives forever changed with the wail of a new life.
The words “it’s a girl” swelled my heart with pride, but it was seeing Sandi nuzzling the pink bundle in her arms that poured great love into me. I’d never felt anything as amazing as that day. I couldn’t wait for the next time we’d welcome a baby into the world.
A moment later, my life came crashing down around me when Sandi closed her eyes for the last time as Bella snuggled contently in her arms.
“I wish they could have saved both of them, but the aneurism…”
The tires of the truck catch a patch of ice and jolt me back to the reality of the snow-covered highway. “Damn. Keep your mind on driving, you fool!” I push the past away and return to concentrating on getting through the December snowstorm. If I were to lose my focus now, I could end up jackknifed in the road, causing a mass of destruction in the aftermath and cost Bella her one remaining parent.
The strange, otherworldly view through the windshield is like looking into a snow globe after the first shake, only this snow isn’t stopping; it’s getting heavier as I creep farther down the highway. The faster my wipers move, the less visible the tire tracks in the snow-covered highway are. At this point, it doesn’t matter what speed they cleared the glass; the wind blows the snow immediately back into place.
The crackling of the company cell phone slices through the whistling of the wind. Irritated, I tap the button on my wireless earpiece. “It’s snowing like hell; what ya want DJ?”
“You pulled over yet?” The dispatcher’s voice comes through full of static, sounding like an old scratched 78 record. “Get that damn truck off the road as soon as possible. Interstate 94 west of Gary is closing within an hour. You’ve got to bed down for the night.”
No way am I going to break my promise to my daughter. Besides, pulling over is a moot point when I can’t see the edges of the road. “Right,” I snort. “Like that’s gonna happen. I can’t even see the shoulder, let alone find a place to pull over.”
“I don’t care how or where you do it, just do it. Too damn dangerous for you to be pushing through, and you know it,” DJ snaps.
“Gotta make it home for Christmas.” I glance down at the speedometer and then settle back in my seat. Forty miles-per-hour isn’t going to get me home as early as I’d like, but it will get me there sooner than bedding down for the night. “Can’t afford to be stranded in some truck stop. I promised this year I’d be there… not here.”
“You aren’t going to be any good to your little girl in a pine box! Boss wants all the trucks pulled over within the hour. It’ll give you time to update those logs of yours while waiting out the storm, eleven hours or not!” DJ says and then hangs up.
* * * *
Rubbing my face, I yawn big and deep, pulling in as much oxygen as I can, trying to focus. It’s no use; my eyes are fuzzy. Finally feeling the effects of driving in a blizzard, I reluctantly admit I need to find a place to get off the road and bed down for the duration.
“A little cat nap, and then I’ll be good to go.” The eight-mile length of road between Gary and Chicago isn’t getting any better. The question is: where’s a good place to stop? I can’t see the shoulder. Hell, I can’t see the road. Driving in these conditions is like trying to find my way out of a box full of shipping popcorn— nearly impossible.
Glancing down at the speedometer, I wonder when I slowed to thirty miles an hour. At this rate, I’ll find myself stuck with no place to go. “I hate to admit it, but DJ was right.” I have to get off and find a place to wait out the storm. The sooner the better.
I’m not even sure where I am at the moment. All the road signs are obscured by snow, and I can’t make out any city lights. For all I know, there’s a power outage in the area. Even the CB has been quiet for a while. Everyone in their right mind is off the road and asleep in their bunks. Everyone except me.
Licking my dry lips, I reach for the water bottle just as a shadow bursts through the snow. “Whoa!” Grabbing the wheel with both hands, I brace for impact.
Shaking when none comes, I suck in a breath as the tail end of a deer disappears into the shadowy storm. “Stupid, fricking deer! Holy crap! If I wasn’t awake before, I sure as hell am now.”
As the snow swirls in the glow of the headlights, I figure several inches have fallen on top of what may have been tire marks in the road. I don’t even want to think when it was plowed last. At this rate, I probably won’t see one until tomorrow.
The wind howls continuously around the cab of the tractor and bangs against the doors. With each new gust, the trailer slides slightly, giving in to the force. The blowing wind sings a wolf melody, the howling tune mournful—a beautiful yet deadly blizzard accompanied by the music of the wind—Mother Nature’s way of easing the cruelty she sometimes gives so freely.
Snow like this can play tricks on a man’s vision. Even knowing this, when I see a figure in the middle of the road, reaction takes over reasoning. White and flowing, it moves toward me, and then silver-blue eyes bore into my soul, making me yearn for sweet oblivion. In that swift moment, I swerve, my mind screaming out the name of the woman who left my world three years before.
Sandi!

 

Friday, October 25, 2013

5 Days of Halloween

Night of the Harvest Moon: Harvest Moon Heart: by Maxine Douglas  

“A harvest ball on the night of a full yellow moon? And Drac wants me to attend? What the hell is he thinking?” Jasper Reynolds tossed the invitation onto the lone shackled chair in the cold, stone basement; his only means to keep the innocent safe from his rage. Drac knew what havoc the full moon brought forth. The night the wolf appeared and would be capable of doing unspeakable things during those dark hours, leaving Jasper utterly helpless and unaware of the carnage he’d done. . . .

Click title to continue reading OR here for the latest post.
 
 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Knight to Remember -- Chapter 1

A Time Travel Romance by Maxine Douglas
 

In 15th Century England, The Black Knight a/k/a Sir Reynold, has fallen from grace with his childhood friend, Queen Isabel, and is in a no-win situation. He must compete against his friend, and blood brother Thomas. If he wins, Sir Reynold will be banished from Heartsease; if he loses, Thomas will be stripped of his knighthood…

Courtney Parker is a 21st Century seamstress at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Unlike other reenactors, she performs her profession year-round, making costumes for others. She's always loved the story of the mysterious Black Knight of Heartsease and has looked forward to it every year. But this year’s different…

Issie Cummings, the Ren Faire’s potion shopkeeper, will stop at nothing to gain what escaped her centuries ago...Sir Reynold Loddington’s love and body.

Will Reynold be able to turn back the hands of time and right what went wrong—or will he find himself banned from another country and the woman he loves? 

 

Chapter One 

England, 15th Century 

“Black Knight, pledge thy loyalty and love to me and no other!” Queen Isabel Trenowyth demanded.
“I cannot, Your Grace,” the Black Knight replied, ignoring her haughty tone while holding back his jet-black Andalusian from prancing too close to the queen and her court. “My heart belongs to another.”
“Another? Thou wearest the colors of this kingdom. My kingdom.” Isabel snorted, her proud face suffused with rage. “Thy heart canst belong to no other in this time or in any other time.”
“Thou speakest the truth. I wear the black and gold colors of Heartsease as a knight by my own pledge, sworn to protect the castle walls and its people, nothing more, Your Grace. I cannot give my heart to one who on a whim hast so many knights on bended knee.” The Black Knight backed his snorting stallion a little farther from the anger of Queen Isabel. He’d vowed to protect Heartsease and its lands for longer than the queen’s reign; he’d never promised to be her lover.
“Of course, there are other willing knights of Heartsease who would give me the pleasure I request. It is what thou hast refused me all these years which I seek. I have offered thee everything, and now thee shall have nothing.” Isabel waved him off like a finished piece of meat. “The tournament shall continue.”
A sneer marred her otherwise beautiful face. “Ruin him, Sir Thomas!” Queen Isabel commanded of the Black Knight’s opponent.
Sir Thomas backed his gray mount away from Queen Isabel until he reined in solidly beside the Black Knight. The line had been drawn, and the Black Knight knew Isabel would not take lightly a refusal from two of her knights.
“My Queen, I cannot. I have given my life to protect the people of thy kingdom. Heartsease is the place of my birth and that of my family before me. Our alliance to thy father before his death is long and unquestionable. It will continue as such. On this day, I refuse to take the Black Knight’s life to ease thy pride and bruised heart,” Sir Thomas replied, loudly enough for half of Heartsease to hear him.
“Thomas, thy protection of me is admirable but not needed,” the Black Knight rebutted under his arnet to his childhood friend and then turned to the queen. Her furor over Thomas’s refusal was evident and so would be her vengeance. He couldn’t allow Thomas to face her wrath. “I refuse Sir Thomas’s protection and challenge him to Joust a’ Plaisance.”
Queen Isabel thought for a moment before coolly signaling for the Chief Marshall to approach her. A wicked smile crossed her lips as she whispered into his ear. A look of dismay soon turned to pleasure as the Chief Marshall faced the Black Knight and Sir Thomas.
“These are the queen’s terms of the challenge set forth. If the Black Knight loses, he will remove the coat of arms signifying his alliance with Heartsease and be banished from these lands for all time. If he should be the victor, then Sir Thomas will be stripped of knighthood and work the land as his father before him. In addition, the Black Knight shall do the queen’s bidding day and night as Queen Isabel so chooses.”
A hush fell over the list as all in attendance waited for the Black Knight’s answer to the cruel request. If he accepted this challenge and lost, he’d be forced to leave his homeland forever. This was the place of his birth and the birth of his beloved Catherine. His victory would bring shame upon Thomas and his family and devastate them, and he’d be at Isabel’s mercy for the rest of his days. Either way, he was doomed. The queen left him without a true choice.
The Black Knight backed his black steed, turned, and then trotted around the list toward William, his young squire. Passing along the rail, he paused long enough to take up the lace-and purple-ribboned offering from Catherine, the beautiful daughter of Heartsease’s dressmaker. He leaned in toward the raven-haired, blue-eyed young woman, his heart already hers. She smiled and tied the token around his lance, making him her champion.
“How can I help but not fail, Catherine,” he whispered to the lovely but plainly dressed maiden.
“I know not, but thou wilt find a way to right this wrong,” she said, a trusting smile brightening her worried face. Touched by her faith in him, he rode off to the east end of the list, doom flittering down his spine. The only honorable way out would be to lose, even though it went against his nature, and he could possibly lose Catherine as well.
“Sir Reynold?” William queried.
He gave his squire a confidant smile, seeing the fear in the boy’s eyes. “I will not allow the queen to dictate my life any longer, my young friend. If I must leave my home and country to save Thomas’s family name, I will.” Reynold dismounted and handed the reins to William.
“The queen would rather see thee dead, sir,” William commented, leading the stallion alongside Reynold toward their tent.
“Beware what thou sayest, young William. In this court, even the ground hast ears,” Reynold cautioned his bold squire, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Lest thou take care in those words, or it could be thee riding Abraxas and carrying a lance against thy father instead of me.”
“What of my cousin?” William tethered Abraxas to a post outside their tent. “What will become of Catherine if thou art no longer here to protect her?”
“Catherine knows I’d not bring shame on thy family name. I will find a home and send for her when the time is right.” Reynold walked into his tent to prepare for his joust against Thomas, his blood brother and childhood friend. “Wherefore Isabel hast chosen this course now is beyond my knowledge, Will. Her jealousy runs deeper since her father’s death.”
“Some say that Isabel hast consulted the stones. They say the stones have foreseen thy failure and disappearance from Heartsease, Reynold,” Will said in a hushed tone, as if afraid to be heard by anyone but himself. “Father is fearful that Isabel plays with the darkness of life to rid thee of thine. Her witch is powerful in the black arts.”
Reynold handed his arnet to Will, shook his head, and took a deep breath. It confirmed his own thoughts. “I have heard the same words whispered behind tankards of ale. It is more than my life she yearns to rid me of, it is my will to refuse her advances and physical pleasures.” 

Reynold pulled himself into the saddle and waited for Will to hand him his shield and cronel-tipped lance. Much was at stake in this event. At the other end of the list, his oldest and closest friend waited for their time at the joust.
They all had grown up together—Thomas Astley, Catherine, Isabel, and he. Thomas was the son of a farmer, and his cousin, Catherine, was the dressmaker’s middle daughter who was more of a tomboy than a girl. As a child, Isabel hadn’t known the difference in their positions in life. Her father, King David, had allowed her to play with the children of Heartsease. She’d been a big-hearted girl, filled with passion and love. Reynold had been the king’s eyes and ears even as a boy, up until the king’s death when Isabel was but an enthusiastic girl of sixteen. Something inside her changed that day—something dark and evil.
At one time in Reynold’s life, he had thought he loved Isabel. These past years with her ruling cruelly as queen made him realize that Catherine, and not the selfish woman Isabel had become, had his heart.
After years of fulfilling the promise he’d made to Isabel’s father as he lay dying, Reynold continuously refused the provocative suggestions Isabel presented him on a regular basis. He’d promised the king he’d defend Heartsease and look after Isabel, not become a bed toy for her to play with like so many others. Isabel proved to need no looking after; she had plenty of willing knights to defend her honor and visit her private quarters.
The sound of trumpets brought him back to the present and the task awaiting him. His plan was a simple one that he’d have to conceal from Will. If he didn’t, the young squire would find a way to inform his father of Reynold’s planned deception.
Reynold spurred Abraxas ahead and entered the list at the east end at the same time Thomas did from the west end. They’d been through this many times before on the practice field. Abraxas stomped in eagerness to charge, and Reynold spurred the stallion forward.
Galloping toward Thomas on the opposite side of the tilt, Reynold felt the jolt of the lance against his chest. He’d hit Thomas but not enough to knock him off his mount.
Gathering himself, he repositioned the lance and charged toward Thomas again. As they met in the middle of the tilt, Reynold lowered his weapon at the last moment and felt the jolt of Thomas’s lance hit him squarely in the chest, causing him to teeter in the saddle. The cheers of the crowd echoed inside his arnet, vibrating in his ears.
One more pass, and it would be over.
Ignoring Will’s questioning look, Reynold spurred Abraxas around and charged his lifelong friend for what he prayed would be the last time. When the two passed, Thomas lifted his lance, missing Reynold by inches. Knowing in that instant Thomas was no fool, Reynold fell sideways, allowing Abraxas to drag him to the west end of the list.
The pain shooting through his body was nothing compared to the satisfaction of knowing Thomas would continue his life as a knight. His plan may not have worked to perfection, but his honor to Thomas was held intact. Reynold would find a new life—a lonely one but a life nonetheless.
“Whoa! Whoa!”
The words came through the blackness trying to take claim to his mind. Abraxas suddenly halted, and Reynold felt himself lifted off the ground. Someone took his foot from the stirrup and pulled the arnet from his head.
Focusing, he gazed into the eyes of his raven-haired love. He had indeed found his place, at last, in Catherine’s arms. . . .
 
Find your knight to remember.




Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Queen


Chapter One 

Well Cole Masterson, you’re in for the adventure of your life I murmured to myself as my taxi travelled south down the 710 Freeway through the midafternoon traffic toward the Queen Mary. Now I’d be able to solve the family mystery regarding my great-grandfather, the gold locket, and Hanna. Who was Hanna? By the end of this mission I hoped to know. Palm trees, sunshine and sandy beaches, everything that makes Southern California a haven to those who come to play. For me playing is the last thing on my mind. Ghost hunting occupies it more times than not, and the Queen Mary is the perfect spot to exercise those inclinations and thoughts.

Turning onto Queens Highway—formerly Pier J—at the south end of the Long Beach Freeway, the world’s once largest transatlantic vessel, loomed in front of me. I knew she’d be large, but I never imagined the magnitude of her presence. It was as if I could feel the past calling to me. Climbing out of the taxi, I felt dwarfed by her shadow, and more intrigued than I wanted to admit being a skeptic.

I handed over my bags to the bell captain, and stepped into the elevator outside the ship. Once on A Deck, I slowly walked through the door and into another era. An era of 1930s glitz and glamour with a week’s worth of ocean as a backdrop. The floors gleamed and the shops glimmered with a long forgotten style. Okay, so we’re basically in dry dock—but we are surrounded by water and most of it the Pacific Ocean so it felt like I was about to sail away on a transatlantic adventure.

And, strangely, it felt like coming home as I boarded the ship I’d never stepped foot upon until this moment. A chill crept through me as a picture of those glamour years danced before my eyes and the iconic Titanic flitted through my mind; minus the sinking into freezing cold water of course. I was entering another world and I felt it down to my bones. I walked over to check in, sure the chill was anything but déjà vu. The smarmy desk clerk beamed at me no doubt glad of the publicity I might bring to this floating hotel.

“Welcome aboard the Queen Mary, Mr. Masterson. We’ve worked hard to meet all your requirements, including making sure the other guests will not interfere with your investigation. You’ll be staying starboard side in room A105.” He handed me the keycard, then pointed toward a hallway just past a small lounge. “Enjoy your stay with us.”

“Thank you.” I gathered my bags then walked the short distance to the room. Pausing for a moment at the small hallway entrance to the room door, I gazed in awe of the mile long corridor disappearing into infinity.

At that moment of anticipation a delicate shadow caught the corner of my eye and I smiled. “And so it begins,” I muttered, swiping the keycard. I opened the door and stepped into a long narrow room. Nothing paranormal in nature jumped out to greet me. Two twin beds lined the wall to the right with a small round table and lamp sitting between the foot of each of them. A television stand sat directly across from the table, leaving barely enough room for one person to pass by.

It was pretty much what I expected. Yes, my room was a bit meager than the first class accommodations I could have stayed in. But it was exactly what I wanted, simple and cozy affording me the quiet I needed to work.

“Alrighty then, good thing I opted to room alone after all.”

Tossing my bags on the far bed, I unpacked for the next week or two. Taking the digital camera out of its protective casing, I checked the lens and the amount of space left on the SD card. A quick glance into the bag holding the 35mm affirmed my supply of black and white film was up to par.

When G.H.O.S.T. received a call to investigate the Queen Mary, there was no way I could turn down a chance to disprove the ghost stories surrounding one of the most historic hotels in the country. The entire purpose of this requested investigation was to find a rationale reason for what people thought they saw along the ship’s hallways, in pictures, or at pianos. Nine times out of ten, a camera will pick up dust particles in the air that seem to suggest spirits moving around. With the ship’s history of service during World War II, I hated to disprove the theory of the ship being haunted, but it was part of my job and I’d perform it to the best of my ability.

This assignment has become two-fold and personal. Not only would I be able to do what I loved—dissecting hauntings—but now I’ll also be able to find out if in fact the stories about my great-grandfather were true, and not the ramblings of a lonely physician treating the wounded during World War II.

According to the tattered journal packed safely between my socks and underwear, my great-grandfather Dr. William Masterson fell in love with an English nurse while caring for the wounded aboard this ship called The Grey Ghost during the Second World War. My great-grandfather went on leave promising to return for the young lady the next time The Ghost came into port.

Upon the ship’s return, William found the nurse was gone. Instead, he’d been met by the ship’s commanding officer and given a small pouch housing a gold locket. He’d recognized his beloved’s locket on sight because it contained precious pictures of them and his heart had broken. The commanding officer told him, Hanna Amery had died of influenza on their return voyage from Sydney, Australia and been buried at sea. As she lay dying, he’d promised her to deliver the package to Dr. Masterson upon the troopship’s return to the States.

After seeing the beauty of the lobby with its art deco and highly polished woods, it was hard for me to believe this luxury ocean liner had ever been a troopship, let alone that great-grandfather was ever aboard her. A ship regarded so highly by Hitler that he’d placed a bounty on her. The first U-Boat commander who sunk The Grey Ghost would receive two hundred fifty thousand dollars plus instantly become a hero. Fortunately, the Ghost’s propellers were so loud the special sonar equipment on the enemy’s U-boats was useless. If not for that, The Grey Ghost and her eight hundred thousand soldiers would have perished in the seas, and I wouldn’t be aboard now spending the next few weeks investigating every nook and cranny.

I hung up the last of my clothes and waited for the ship to quiet down for the night before starting my investigation. The rest of my team wasn’t expected to arrive for another twenty-four hours. I’d delayed their trip not wanting the legend of the haunts to override the reality of their causes. Plus, it gave me a chance to do some digging into the ship’s history, and my great-grandfather’s role aboard ship during war time.

Glancing at my watch, I was surprised by the late hour. The lobby piano had been silent for some time, but obviously I’d been lost in my own thoughts to take notice. Now, if the rest of the ship was the same I’ll be able to start investigating without the interruption of the overnight guests. One of the reports was a woman heard the laughter of children coming from the display of the First Class Playroom while on one of the guided tours. Another was the sound of shuffling feet in the Isolation Ward, followed by screaming. The Isolation Ward was one of the exhibits in its original location; so many others had been moved and relocated to the exhibit halls.

I gathered up my camera equipment, headed out the stateroom door into the hallway. With a black bag containing video equipment slung over my shoulder and my great-grandfather’s locket in a pocket, I headed for the Promenade Deck.

I strolled through the lobby then down the portside hall. The weight of my 35mm camera slung over a shoulder, I turned the voice activated digital  recorder on then spoke into it.

“Cole Masterson, portside hall, A Deck, Queen Mary, approximately 1:30 am.” I continued down the never-ending corridor, passing doors closed tightly for the night. Other than an occasionally late night television show penetrating the silence, all was peaceful…and a bit eerie even for me. I made sure my footsteps fell light so as not to disturb any of the other hotel guests. Not that I have a heavy step, I don’t, I just wanted to be sure everyone stayed where they were and out of my hair. For some reason, I have a knack of attracting people inquisitive about ghost hunting techniques. I’m only too happy people want to know, but their questions always came in the middle of an investigation.

I reached the end of the hall and stood at the stern. Again I brought the handheld close to my mouth. “I’ve completed the walk down the hall between the outside staterooms and the inside rooms from bow to stern. Nothing appears out of the ordinary.” I spoke clearly, then stepped into a small elevator and pushed the button for the Promenade Deck. The shops are closed at this time of night so no one should be wandering about, but I have an overwhelming feeling to get out into some fresh air as if being crowded. The unusual need to smell the brisk ocean air and watch its inky blackness stretch further into the night past the Long Beach port of call for Carnival cruise ships is overwhelming.

My blood rushed through my veins like liquid silver as the small compartment takes me slowly up two deck levels. Sucking in a breath to calm my nerves, confusion began to cloud my mind as my head swam.

Why would a simple elevator ride unnerve me like this? This is so not professional but I can’t deny it. Damn, all I want is a breath of fresh air and to check out a good place to settle in for an hour or so. Just me and the ship—that’s all I want.

The doors slid open, and I surged forward trying to get away from whatever bad vibes were haunting me and jerked to a halt brought up short by a slight, but noticeable, tug on my camera strap. What the hell? It was as if it was caught on a hinge but looking back I see that that’s not so. I’m completely alone and unfettered. Damn it all this is weird even for me. On that thought I literally charged out of the elevator as a shiver ran through me. Standing and trembling outside the Royal Salon, looking around I glanced over my shoulder hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever, or whoever, wanted my attention but came up empty. Oh well.

I’m well used to this kind of thing happening on an investigation until I get settled into the rhythm of the site, which was why I always went in a few days earlier than the crew. I’m continuously jittery and on edge at first—I keep telling myself it is the rush of the hunt. Maybe one day I’ll actually believe it. Tonight was not the night though; this feeling was totally different, this was feeling personal. Hanna’s ghost?

I’m here to get to the bottom of my great-grandfather’s journal and the locket that had been found among his World War II belongings packed away in the attic. Granny had said that old chest held secrets of a war well left dead and buried as far as she was concerned. She’d hated the pain reflected in her father’s eyes each time he’d gone to the attic and tore through the chest. She’d always found him slumped against it with his war journal spread out in front of him, an opened tarnished locket in his hand, and tears streaming down his face mumbling something about the war and The Gray Ghost and someone named, Hanna. Granny always presumed it was the young woman in the locket, but no one knew for sure—not even great-grandmother.

Faint sounds of voices and music jumble me out of these memories as I stepped from the glitz of what was once the first class area onto the deck. There must be a late night party going on in the ship docked at the Carnival port, but why would they be playing Big Band music unless it’s a themed cruise. I listened a bit closer but the musical notes dissipated, so I stepped out onto the deck.

The lights cast a yellow glow onto the polished planks and lit my way as I rounded the corner from port to starboard side. Pausing at the stern, I looked out into the bay and tried to imagine what it may have been like for my great-grandfather during those days of war…but can’t.

* * * *

He’s come for you at last, Hanna. Bill, my Bill. Here aboard the ship? Reluctantly, Hanna Amery keeps her distance from him, fading into the background, yet wanting so badly to touch the man she had given her heart to. Admittedly, he looked a bit different now, his ebony skin now a light milk chocolate, his once thin body more muscular but she could feel Bill’s spirit inside him. She aches to reach out and let him know she was there waiting for him like she’d promised. From the moment he’d walked out onto the deck heading toward the Isolation Ward she’d felt his presence. His spirit felt as strong today as it was seventy years ago when they first met, and it called to her bringing her back to the present.

The man she loved, here aboard ship in the spot where they’d declared their forbidden love. She, from a white family and he an African American man. The spot where they’d said their true love vows to God and their shipmates. It shouldn’t be possible yet here he was. Didn’t the captain tell him she’d died from influenza trying to heal the sick and wounded on that final trip during the war?

She’d thought for sure he’d feel her near him as he stepped onto the deck but he walked right by her and her heart broke. Still, she couldn’t help noting that he was alone, no wife in tow at all and it gave her hope. Her mind spun in a thousand different directions!

Why oh why doesn’t he know I’m here waiting for him?

Hanna continued to watch him, close enough to touch him but not daring to. If only he’d turn around and really see her things would be alright. When he finally stopped staring out into the bay her heart leapt. Had he felt her? Then he looked right at her and she smiled rejoicing but he seemed to look through her. Oh no. He headed down into the Isolation Ward. Hanna was a ghost. He would never see her. She had to accept that.
 

~~ Will Cole and Hanna find each other? ~~

Get your The Queen boarding passes at


 
 
 

 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rings of Paradise -- Chapter 1


Chapter One
 

Khristen Roberts cleared her throat. “Excuse me, but you’re sitting in my seat.”
“Oh?” The casually dressed man made no effort to move from the seat he boldly sprawled his body across. He sat as if he owned this entire section of the plane, especially the two seats he now occupied.
“Listen, if you want the window seat, that’s just fine with me. There’ll be nothing to see but water, anyway.” Khristen Roberts forced a polite smile. She stood waiting for the man to remove his legs from the only empty set left in first class. She wasn’t about to sit in coach. She’d worked too hard and too long for this vacation and particularly that seat.
Not even off the ground yet. Who does this guy think he is, anyway?
Perturbed, Khristen glimpsed her reflection in his mirrored glasses. Not only was the obnoxious, handsome man sitting in her seat, but his large legs swung over onto her now inherited seat, as well.
Khristen took matters in her own hands and pushed the bare, hairy, tanned, muscular legs out of her way.
“What the—” The soft, deep voice rang out in surprise as he tore the sunglasses away from his eyes—eyes the color of clear seawater, brilliant and dangerous.
A woman could drown in eyes like that.
She felt herself slipping into their deep waters without a life jacket.
“What’s going on here?”
Confusion and disbelief were very much evident in those sea-green eyes, as well as in his voice. Even the muscles in his biceps seemed to twitch with surprise. Or was it aggravation?
Serves him right.
“You, sir, are in my seat.” Khristen fought to control the building irritation as she sat down. “I paid good money for it and don’t intend to share it with you or your legs.”
She snatched a magazine out from the back of the seat and flipped through it. Not really seeing the contents of each page, she wondered what lucky star she had wished on to be stuck next to this despicable hunk all the way to Hawaii. Despicable was the nicest word she could think of to describe him at the moment. He was the type who thought muscles and a nice body got him his way. She had dealt with his kind before. She’d successfully kicked each one to the gutter each and every time. Well, almost each and every time… but she wasn’t going to dwell on that mistake.
Khristen ignored the confusion as the final passengers boarded the plane. She figured it would be ten minutes or so before they would even begin to taxi out onto the Los Angeles airport runway.
Khristen fastened her seat belt and prayed sleep would come for the remainder of her flight to her long-awaited tropical vacation. As soon as they were in the air, she would locate a station on the radio and let her mind tune in to some good, hard ‘80s rock music. Maybe some Van Halen, or Journey, or better yet, David Lee Roth, anything to make the four-hour trip go faster. She hoped it would keep her mind from wandering over to the guy who sat next to her—a man who smelled as good as he looked—all spice and dangerous as hell.
“You know, you were pretty rude.” The deep, smooth-as-silk, masculine voice pierced the silence she’d tried to plant between them.
So much for solitude.
“Me!” The anger in her eyes reflected off the mirrored sunglasses on her unwelcome travel companion. “You should talk, Mister My-Future’s-So-Bright-I–Gotta-Wear-Shades. I’m not the seat-stealer here.” Khristen’s nerves snapped with aggravation.
In a desperate attempt to calm down before her mouth got her thrown off the plane, Khristen rested her head against the back of her seat. She closed her eyes, hoping to put an end to the unwanted conversation. As entertaining as it may end up, she didn’t want to tempt fate.
Been there and done that, as the saying goes, in another place and time. No need to repeat the same mistake.
“That still doesn’t give you the right—”
“Listen. It’s going to be a long flight, and if you don’t mind, I’d rather not spend my time bickering with you. You can have the seat, and let’s just pretend that neither one of us is sitting next to the other. Okay? Okay,” she said, clutching the magazine.
While the stewardess instructed them all on safety procedures, Khristen couldn’t help notice her fellow traveler kept the silver-framed mirrored sunglasses perched on his nose. An unquenchable curiosity surged its way to the surface, causing an all-too-familiar feeling.
Damn hormones, anyway!
She felt them start their rampage through her body, and thoughts of the mysterious stranger mingled with a desire to figure out what he had to hide.
His body fueled her imagination as she tried to seek out his facial features—the ones she could see, anyway.
Daddy always warned me about being too curious. It only gets a girl going down the wrong path.
Too bad she hadn’t taken those words to heart the last time she had taken a trip.
A little hidden inspection couldn’t hurt, could it? Not if she was careful, and he didn’t notice her giving him the once-over. She was only looking, not touching, after all. And he’d never know; if he fell asleep with those damn glasses on.
On his head sat a well-worn Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap, covering curly, dark-brown hair that barely peeked out from under the brim. Khristen’s gaze passed over his partially hidden face from the eyebrows to a somewhat crooked nose. His mouth seemed to carry a sense of seriousness at the corners of a pair of full lips—the kind that Khristen imagined could kiss a woman with fiery passion as easily as lash out a thousand whipping strokes.
A quick and unnerving surge passed through her body when her gaze followed the outline of his strong, squared jaw. With the plane ascending, her inspection rested at the end of his determined chin. A smile played across his lips.
“Like what you see?” His deep, silky voice challenged with a touch of conceit. Her eyes revealed everything she was feeling at that moment, if her mirrored reflection was true.
“Don’t flatter yourself!” She was scarcely aware of her own voice or the warm glow touching her cheeks, but she was fully aware that he had messed up her ecosystem without as much as a touch.
He smiled fully, showing each and every pearl-white tooth. “Thanks, babe.” He nonchalantly removed the baseball cap, the tucked-up hair spilling down around his shoulders.
Despite her obvious lame protest, she barely muffled the squeak of pleasure when her continued inspection took in the massive chest with the hair that peeked out the top of his black tank shirt. A mischievous smile threatened her lips as curiosity took hold of her again.
Mmmm, wonder where that leads?
She felt herself nearly reaching an uncontrollable level. Her warning bell should have been gonging a thousand times by now but wasn’t.
Her body filled with natural female desire as Khristen focused on muscular tanned thighs hidden snugly in a pair of wild-colored spandex shorts. Her heart skipped a beat when his welltoned thigh muscle twitched.
A nervous sigh escaped her. She tried with all her might to subdue the unwanted longing and curiosity that could spell trouble.
Why do I always seem to go after a challenge?
She rested her head against the seat and tried in vain to suppress the smile crossing her face.
Because, that’s what makes life interesting, and it’s also what gets me in so much trouble.
Khristen pushed the thought of herself and the stranger out of her mind until restless sleep finally fell upon her.
* * * *

It was all Shadoe could do to keep from laughing. For the first time in years, here was a woman who didn’t recognize him, or for that matter, even try to be civil toward him. He knew from the way her body pinked with embarrassment when she’d been checking him out that she was hot for him. Her gaze shot boiling lust over him and made him feel as if his clothing had melted from this body, leaving him naked and vulnerable.
The last thing he had expected from her was a flare-up. He had always gotten his way with women before.
Ha, maybe it was the women who got their way with me.
Rachel, his ex-wife, had been a prime example. Regardless, this woman was a regular spitfire.
It had been so long since he’d met a woman who did not crawl all over him that he was not sure what to do. Being a professional wrestler offered “companion” opportunities nightly; all he had to do was look around as he left an arena.
He longed for more than being on the road, and it gnawed at him more as the years passed. He’d watched his fellow wrestlers leave the business for one reason or another. One might say his biological clock was ticking.
He would have retired, quit the business years ago, before the deaths and injuries to some of his buddies woke him to the fact that the public needed to be educated about the game. He felt the only way to guarantee the truth was told to his satisfaction was to have it printed in his own magazine. He owed it to those fallen and to himself before it all ended for him.
Shadoe slipped off his glasses and listened to the even breathing from the woman beside him. Her breath gently raised her breasts. He wondered whether they were as firm as they appeared.
Good heavens, man, why can’t they all be as challenging as this one? He wanted to trace the outline of her full lips with his fingertips, and he ached to calm the storm that had brewed between them moments ago. The feeling was unlike any he had ever experienced in his professional or personal life in quite a while.
Shadoe slid the glasses back on and turned to gaze out the window—her window—and wondered whether her hair felt as soft as the passing puffs of clouds looked.
* * * *

“Please return your trays to their upright...”
The words echoed softly in Khristen’s mind, bringing her back through the sleepiness of the last three hours. Stretching to pull her cramped muscles from their stiffness, she opened her eyes and realized she’d fallen asleep with her head against her neighbor’s shoulder.
“Well, she’s back in the world, ready to grace me with her outstanding wit again.”
“Sorry, forgot you were there.” She set her seat in the upright position. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Who am I kidding? Maybe out of sight, but he firmly planted himself in my dream.
“Are you sure? That was a pretty sensual moan coming from you just before you stretched,” he whispered, leaning toward her so close, she felt the warmth of his breath on her skin.
The sensual smirk on his face irritated her. He was ever more pompous than she’d first thought. “If it was, which I highly doubt…” She watched the Maui landscape come into view over his shoulder. “Rest assured the cause wasn’t you.”
“Or maybe you just didn’t realize it was me,” he said.
The plane’s landing gear bumped the ground. “I think it was you dreaming, not me. After all, you’re the one with the fixation on yourself.”
“Maybe so, only I’m never alone in my dreams.” The sharp and assessing look he gave her sent hot shivers down her spine.
What is it about this guy? Why do I even give him the time of day?
As the plane taxied into its arrival gate, their gazes met briefly, causing her blood to race through her veins. Heat flashed through her face, and she felt he had read her thoughts—wanton thoughts that surprised even her.
Khristen shook her head as if to put the marbles back in place. She reached into the overhead compartment for her overnight bag with him standing next to her as the plane taxied into the terminal.
“Let me get that for you.” He placed his hand over hers.
“I’m perfectly capable of carrying one small piece of luggage.” Her grip tightened under his.
She wasn’t about to allow him to help her. She was perfectly capable of handling her own little overnight bag.
“At the moment, you don’t look capable of doing anything but taking a cold shower.” He tried to pull the bag from her as the plane jolted to a stop.
“Leave me.” Khristen gave her bag one last tug, causing it to open and spilling the contents onto the floor of the plane.
“Now see what you’ve done!” She stooped to gather her overturned belongings as quickly as she could. Why couldn’t he just leave her alone and let her get on with her life?
“Here, let me.” Shadoe bent and picked up her things and placed them in the bag, including her lacy panties and their matching bras. He held her undergarments between his thumb and forefinger for a moment. Dropping them, he picked up the nametag dangling outside the case in his hand.
“I can do it myself.” Khristen grabbed and tossed the tag into the bag with the last of her things. She snapped the bag shut and headed for the departure door wondering what act of God had caused her case to fly open when it had been locked. She had a feeling this was going to be one hell of a vacation.

* * * *

“Khristen Roberts,” Shadoe whispered to himself as he watched Khristen make her way to the back of the plane.
There couldn’t be more than one of her, could there? She had snatched the ID tag fast, but he thought the city and state on it had read Madison, Wisconsin. He was still stunned by what he read. Was she his Khristen Roberts? Well, maybe not his but the magazine’s?
It had to be her—the woman Ric Scott had recommended for the article that would most likely end his career. How many Madison, Wisconsin Khristen Roberts could there be in the world?
He hoped there was only one—the one who sparked something in him he once thought did not have a chance to ignite ever again; the one who for a few hours made him remember he was just a regular Joe, not the Universal Wrestling World Champion; the very one making her way down the little departure hallway. If he didn’t follow suit, he’d lose her in the crowd.
He grabbed his athletic bag and followed her. If he lost her, he would either have to call all over Maui looking for her or contact Ric Scott to find out where Khristen Roberts from his newly acquired magazine was staying. As he saw it, his only option was the former. 

~~ Will love bloom in paradise? Or will Shadoe lose this reporter's heart? ~~

Find out on the beach at