Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A little ghost story for Halloween...

‘MUM!’ Polly leaned over the banister rail and called down to her mother, busy directing the removal men. ‘Mum, can I have the attic room?’
Her mother, frowning distractedly, glanced up. ‘Attic room? I don’t remember an attic.’
‘Where’s this to go, Mrs Rutland?’ Polly’s mother stared at the table distractedly before waving her hand in the direction of the door on her left.
‘In there for now.’
‘Can I mum?’ Polly persisted.
‘Can you what?’ She started to walk away, not listening. ‘Lizzie, have you found the kettle yet?’
Polly grinned. Her mother hadn’t said no and she dumped her backpack on the floor, staking her claim to the little room before her sister, Lizzie, saw it. And that included the rocking chair.
It was set at an angle in front of a small dormer window and Polly had planned to sit in it and inspect the street from this handy watch point. But someone had beaten her to it.
‘Lizzie, this is my room!’ she protested. ‘I asked mum—’ But the girl in the rocking chair was not her sister. ‘Who are you?’
The girl did not speak, just rocked gently back and forth in the chair, her arm around a battered rag doll. The rockers made no sound against the bare, wooden floor.
‘Who are you?’ Polly demanded again, crossly. ‘This is my room.’
‘It used to be mine.’
The girl’s voice rustled, like tissue paper and Polly, not known to back down over anything, took a step back. ‘Did it?’ Then, ‘Well, we’ve moved in now so you’ll have to leave.’
The girl turned to look at her. ‘I know. I keep telling them that want to go, but I can’t.’
‘Don’t be silly…’ Polly started firmly enough but the girl’s face was so suddenly pleading that she trailed off. ‘You must.’
‘I will. I you’ll help me.’
‘Polly? Polly! Are you all right?’ Polly looked up from the rocking chair into her mother’s concerned face. ‘I’ve been calling and calling. You must have been asleep.’ She looked around and shivered. ‘Are you sure you want this room? It’s very... I don’t know…’ She rubbed her arms briskly. ‘It wasn’t on the house details and the agent never brought us up here. Almost as if he didn’t know. Or didn’t want us to see it.’ She shook her head, half laughed. ‘That’s just stupid. Everyone wants an extra room.’ She glanced around again, and then said, ‘Have you been picking lavender from the garden?’
‘No.’ But as Polly opened her hand she saw that she was clutching a dry, crumbled stalk. It was almost unrecognisable as lavender, but the scent was still strong. ‘I, um, found it up here,’ she said.
’Oh, right. Well, Dad’s been out to fetch some pizza.’
‘Wicked!’ It had been hours since breakfast. ‘Who used to live here?’ Polly asked, following her mother downstairs. ‘Was there a girl about my age?’
‘Just a young couple, I think. Too young to have a daughter of twelve. They had to move quickly which is why we managed to get the house so cheap.
Her mother turned and looked back. ‘Why what?’
‘Why did they have to move quickly?’
‘Who knows? New job, maybe? Like your dad.’

After her bed and chest of drawers had been carried up to the little room, and a rug had been found for the floor, Polly returned to the rocking chair.
She could see the whole street from her perch in the roof. There were some boys playing with a football. A woman was taking her time about mowing a tiny scrap of lawn while she eyed up her new neighbours.
An old lady was walking along the street carrying some flowers and, as she stopped at their gate, she looked up at the attic window. As she saw caught sight of her sitting there, the flowers dropped from her hand, spilled onto the path as she clutched at the gate, her mouth moving.
Polly watched her mother running down the path to help the lady into the house. Her sister Lizzie picked up the flowers. Then she looked up, too. Polly poked out her tongue.
She didn’t go down. She was watching for the girl who must have snuck into the house while everyone was busy. She must live nearby. She wasn’t left in peace though, instead Lizzie burst into the room. ‘Mum says you’re to come downstairs this minute!’ She couldn’t resist a smirk. ‘You’re in big trouble!’
In the kitchen her mother was pouring the old lady a cup of tea. ‘At last. Didn’t you hear me calling?’ Then, turning to the old lady, ‘You see, Mrs Potter? It was my younger daughter, Polly, you saw in the window.’
‘No. It wasn’t.’ The old lady looked pale and shaken, but her voice was firm. ‘It was Emily. She was much fairer than your daughter. All gold and white she was, poor little girl. Like a little angel until she took so ill. Then she used to sit there, all day, watching what went on. It gave me such a turn when I looked up and saw her.’
Polly recognised Emily at once as her visitor in the rocking chair. Okay, “white and gold” was a bit over the top, but she’d had fair hair and really pale skin.
‘Does she still live around here?’ she asked.
‘Sssh!’ her mum said, trying to shut her up. ‘Mrs Potter has brought us some flowers to welcome us to the house.’
But the old lady smiled at her, said, ‘No, dear. She was lost. During the war. Her mum and dad and Emily were in the air raid shelter in the garden when it took a direct hit.
‘Were they all killed?’ she asked.
‘Polly!’ She gave her the “look”. ‘See if you can find the biscuit tin.’
But Mrs Potter, recognising a kindred spirit, leaned forward. ‘Emily’s mum and dad were found in the shelter,’ she half whispered, ‘but there wasn’t a trace of poor Emily.’
Polly felt a shiver run through her. ‘Didn’t anyone look for her?’
‘They looked. When they couldn’t find her they thought she might have wandered off. Lost her memory, maybe.’ She paused. ‘She never turned up, though and I don’t believe she ever left. She’s still here somewhere, you mark my words.’
Polly’s eyes widened. ‘You mean out there? In the garden?’
‘Biscuit, Mrs Potter?’ her mum said sharply. ‘Polly, take your dad out his tea before it gets cold. Now.’
Outside, her father was surveying a cleared patch of ground.
‘Is this where the garage is going to be?’ Polly asked as she gave her dad a mug of tea.
‘That’s right. I had some men clear the site as soon as we exchanged contracts on the house. The concrete will be coming tomorrow for the floor slab.’
She looked around. The garden was a mess. Neglected. ‘What was here before?’
Her dad laughed. ‘What wasn’t!  Piles of rubbish, overgrown bushes, even part of the old air raid shelter from the war. It must have been… Polly?’

The empty rocking chair was moving gently by the window. ‘Hello, Emily,’ she whispered.
‘I’m here. I want to help. Tell me what to do.’
‘Show them,’ the papery voice commanded. ‘Show them where I am.’
‘But I don’t know –‘
‘Sit here and you’ll see.’
As Polly took a hesitant step forward the rocking chair moved invitingly and she lowered herself into it. Closed her eyes.

It was her mother’s urgent voice that woke her, calling her downstairs and then she heard the air raid siren. She shouldn’t be up in the attic and she shouted, ‘Coming!’ before they came looking for her. She stopped to pick up her doll from her bedroom, catch her breath, then again outside. Above her the night sky was bright with stars.
‘Emily!’ Her mother was standing in the shelter doorway. ‘What are you doing?’
The sweet scent of the lavender lining the path was strong and she stopped to break of a piece to take with her into the stuffy shelter.

Polly was digging with her hands. Her fingers were clawing, tearing at the earth as her father grabbed her, lifting her away.
‘Stop it!’ He shook her. ‘Polly!  What are you doing? What is it?’
‘It’s Emily!’ She struggled to free herself. ‘Emily’s buried here. She showed me. Please, daddy! You’ve got to help me find her!’
Mrs Rutland took her daughter from her husband’s arms, and said, ‘I think you’d better cancel the concrete, Peter. And fetch your spade.’

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Jewell Cove Christmas novella from Donna Alward

Here's Donna to tell you about it!

On October 7, I have a digital-only release coming out from St. Martin’s Press. I’m really excited, because this book is part of my Jewell Cove series and Oh My Gosh writing about Jewell Cove during the holidays was SO MUCH FUN!

When my editor asked if I’d be interested in writing it as an addition to our planned books, I had to come up with a couple to write about! I automatically thought of Charlene (Charlie) Yang, the town’s other doctor, and her new husband, Dave. How did they meet? What obstacles did they face getting to their happy ever after?


It’s Christmas in Jewell Cove…

And local doctor Charlie Yang finds her quiet, steady life disrupted by both an abandoned baby in the nativity manger, and a real-life mystery man. Sure, she’s always wanted a family of her own, but she didn’t imagine it coming from a baby that wasn’t hers and a man who was more interested in living day by day than making long-term plans.

Ex-SEAL Dave Ricker hadn’t planned on making Jewell Cove his forever home, but the talented and tender-hearted Charlie has him reconsidering his position on settling down. Can a beautiful woman, adorable baby and a small-town full of holiday spirit change his mind for good?

Amazon / Barnes and Noble iTunes Kobo

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pre-order The Bride, the Baby & the Best Man

The Bride, the Baby and the Best Man is now available for pre-order at a special pre-release price of 99c (77p if you're in the UK) at all outlets.

For those of you in a hurry, here are the links -

Barnes and Noble
Google Play

For those with a little more time, here's the blurb -

What do you when, three weeks from your wedding, a blackmailing aunt leaves you holding the baby?

Faith Bridges should be wedding dress shopping with her bridesmaids, finalising the menu for the reception, house hunting. Instead she's up close and personal with Harry March - the last man on earth she’d trust with her heart - a fractious baby and a four year old diva.

She and Julian may not have had the most conventional of courtships but he’s wise, responsible and utterly dependable.  The  exact opposite of Harry, who thinks that all he has to do to get her to stay and take care of his sister's children is to tease her, charm her and, when that doesn’t work, make love to her.

It won't work; Faith knows that love is like meringue  — all sugar and air, and about as substantial. And she has made a promise that she isn’t about to break. So why does she find it so hard to walk away?

And here's an excerpt

‘BLACKMAIL,’ Faith muttered for perhaps the tenth time that day. Her aunt was an expert in the technique. One of these days she’d call her bluff — except of course that she wasn’t bluffing. She never bluffed. But whatever crisis had befallen Harry March, Faith vowed that it wouldn’t occupy one minute more than twenty-four hours of her precious time. ‘Not one second longer,’ she informed the signpost she had slowed to consult — Wickham Ash being too small to appear on her road map. A timely reminder not to weaken.

Despite the urgency of the call for help, there was no enthusiastic rush to greet her when she drew up in front of Wickham Hall. A small stone manor house it seemed to almost hang from its wooded hillside perch above the river, dominating the well-kept estate that stretched for acres in all directions. It was timeless, peaceful and quite beautiful but Faith, long past the age when she could be impressed by this evidence of wealth, or the man who possessed it, tugged at an old-fashioned wrought-iron bell pull.

For a moment nothing happened then she heard a faint far off jangle in some distant servants’ hall. All impressively picturesque and charming no doubt, like the house, like the stunning bird’s-eye view over the woods to the river glinting silver in the evening light below her. Not terribly efficient, but pretty much what she would have expected from a man whose response to an emergency was to send for his old nanny.

The door was eventually opened by a middle aged man of military bearing. ‘Yes, miss?’ The accent was unexpectedly Scottish, the tone dour, the expression lugubrious rather than a grateful welcome for someone who had dropped everything to ride to the rescue, no matter how unwillingly.

‘Mac? Is it her? Don’t keep her waiting on the doorstep, man, bring her in.’ The irritable tones of a disembodied voice raised impatiently above the more insistent cry of a baby, that grew louder as it came nearer, cut off her attempt to introduce herself. A baby?
The man who had opened the door regarded her doubtfully for a moment before turning away. ‘It’s not Miss Bridges, sir, it’s a young female.’ Young was clearly not a recommendation.

‘I’m Faith—’ she began, but as Harry March appeared in the open doorway of a room leading from the hall, the comfortable shabbiness of which could only have been accumulated through generations of hard use, Faith’s attempt to explain her presence died on her lips.

The man whose summons she had raced to answer was, according to her aunt, irresistible but Faith had never doubted her ability to resist the smooth, boyish good looks and too-
obvious charm that oozed from the photograph in the silver frame that had pride of place on her aunt’s sofa table.

Foolishly, she had expected him to look just the same as a ten-year-old photograph. Ten years was not long and men, after all, changed less than women in the decade between their early twenties and thirties but time, it seemed, had dealt harshly with Harry March.
He still made a singularly striking figure; he was tall — far taller than she had imagined from his picture, probably because he was so beautifully proportioned, with the broad shoulders of an athlete and a strongly muscled neck to support the kind of head that more usually adorned the warrior statues of ancient Greece.

Pain, though, had chiselled away the boyish good looks, forging the smoothly handsome features into something harder, stronger, revealing a strength of character she would never have imagined from the softer features in that smiling portrait taken in his youth.

The confident curve of his smile had hardened to a straight line, the slight droop of his lower lip retaining only a suspicion of the reckless sensuality that dared girls to resist his charm. His nose, long and once arrow-straight now showed battle fatigue and his chin, deeply cleft, boasted such stubbornness that she almost flinched. But dominating the whole was a scar, livid against the tanned outdoor complexion, a scar that scythed from the centre of his forehead to his temple. It was no longer a pretty face, she thought, remembering her own instinctive recoil from such blatant and careless charm, but one that had been lived in and lived in hard. And the effect on Faith was far more devastating than the unmarked beauty that it had replaced.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cheese Scone Recipe

This is the recipe for the cheese scones on my Facebook page.
I've looked up the US cup equivalents but it's tricky since nothing is equivalent.
Apparently 2 cups of flour are about 10oz so if you increase the other ingredients slightly it should work. Apart from not getting the dough too wet this is not a recipe that requires precision!
Anyway, here goes -
225 gms (8 oz) of self raising flour
pinch salt
1 level teaspoon baking powder
1 level teaspoon of mustard powder
optional sprinkle of cayenne chili pepper (this is very much to taste but don't overdo it the first time - I used about a pinch)
50 grams (2 oz) of butter or hard margarine chopped into small pieces
150 ml (5 fl ozs) or a quarter of an Imperial pint(which is 20 fl ozs and not 16 like the US one)
100 gms (4 ozs) grated cheese (strong English cheddar is best but something with a bit of a bite)

Sift dry ingredients together, rub in fat until breadcrumby, mix in grated cheese, add milk. The amount of liquid depends on the flour, the humidity, annoying stuff that takes no account of recipes. You may need a touch more but be careful.

Bring together using a folk, knead very lightly (as little as possible) to make a ball, roll or flatten out to about an inch thick. Cut into rounds (or any shape that takes your fancy) and place on baking tray.
Bake in hot oven 220 C (425 F - gas mark 7) for about ten minutes. They will be coloured on the bottom and sound a bit hollow if tapped. Eat fresh. (They freeze well but they're so quick to make it's only a good idea to save yourself from eating them all at once.)

You can leave out the mustard/chili/cheese and make plain ones to have with jam and cream or butter. Lots of recipes have sugar but I make these the way my mother did. No sugar. They don't need it.

You can add 100 grams of sultanas to make fruity ones. (I think they're called raisins in the US; sultanas are the white grapes, raisins are the dark ones)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pretty shoes, gorgeous socks...

I'm going to have a little ranty rant...

It's about what happens to you if you're not a standard fit. Nothing major. Just having feet that, over the years, have spread a little and are now wider than standard.

I used to buy shoes from a company famous for providing well made, comfortable shoes for the wide fitting. Pretty shoes. I'm fairly light wearing with shoes (that just means I don't walk anywhere) and they last me a long time. But not forever. But now, when I go to this same manufacturer, I find that all the prettiest styles, all the prettiest colours, are restricted to those with "standard" fitting.

There's this one for instance. It comes in a colour range including black, purple, navy, a very lovely dark green, grey and this very desirable dark red.

I lust after the red. I yearn for it but wait; if you want the "wide" fitting you can only have purple or black. And the black isn't this lush suede, but shiny leather.

Why?  This company built its name on wide fittings. And is there really a bigger demand for this shoe in purple than red? Honestly?

I've written to them and they wrote back suggesting that I look at their other shoes. The decreasingly small selection that they now offer in wider fittings. Which isn't helpful. At all.

And it's not just me. When I go hunting for luscious comfy socks for the dh - who has big feet - I can only get them in the dull colours. Beige, grey, black. If you want the fun red and yellow ones that he loves, tough luck unless you've a standard 8-11

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A bride, a baby and the wrong man...?

This is cover on iBooks marking the place where, for the first time, an ebook version of  The Bride, the Baby and the Best Man is available for pre-order.

The rights were reverted to me earlier this year and I've "refreshed" it a little, it's been to a copy editor whose spotted the things that need a new eye to spot and I'm working with a designer on the new cover.

Meanwhile you can pre-order your copy - for an early bird price of 99c - at iBooks, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Here's the blurb -

What do you when, three weeks from your wedding, a blackmailing aunt leaves you holding the baby?

Faith Bridges should be wedding dress shopping with her bridesmaids, finalising the menu for the reception, house hunting. Instead she's up close and personal with Harry March - the last man on earth she’d trust with her heart - a fractious baby and a four year old diva.

She and Julian may not have had the most conventional of courtships but he’s wise, responsible and utterly dependable.  He’s the exact opposite of Harry, who thinks that all he has to do to get her to stay and take care of his baby nephew and 4-year old niece is to tease her, charm her and, when that doesn’t work, make love to her.

Faith isn't about to fall for that; she knows that love is like meringue  — all sugar and air, and about as substantial. And she has made a promise that she isn’t about to break. So why is it so hard to walk away.