It’s the time of year for gathering with friends and family, so I invited my good friend and fellow author, David Lee Summers, and his wife, over for dinner. David writes steampunk, science fiction, and horror, so naturally the conversation turned to fiction writing, and famous fictional characters. We got to talking about Star Wars.
I love Star Wars. I saw the first one on the big screen a few weeks after it premiered, and it was amazing. To me, it was sort of like a sci-fi version of Camelot, complete with knights, a princess, and an evil wizard. What made the story work was the characters. We talked about how well all the characters were thought out and developed. Then came the prequels. (Not bad. Not great, but not bad.) After that came Disney. Ugh! Suffice to say the rest of the conversation was about the importance of character arcs and consistency in storytelling.
So, what can I say? Some people get together and discuss sports, current events, or politics. Get storytellers together, and we’ll sit around and analyze famous, iconic characters, and talk about what makes them work. Our inspiration often comes from other storytellers.
For your holiday reading pleasure, I’m sharing a sample from my contemporary romance novel, The Betrayal.
Emily thought she had a good marriage until she caught her husband, Jesse, with another woman. Jesse however, has fought hard to win her back, and his efforts appear to have been successful. To celebrate their reconciliation, he’s taken Emily to San Diego for Christmas, but an unexpected phone call from Emily’s grandmother is about to set the stage for an even bigger tragedy.
A Christmas Scene from The Betrayal
Emily heard a knock at her door as she put on her earrings. Jesse waited on the other side. Once again, he greeted her with a kiss.
“You brought your little black dress.”
She smiled in return. “Indeed I did. As I recall, it was your favorite.”
“And it still is.”
As he stepped into the room her phone started ringing. She reached into her purse and frowned as she checked the caller ID.
“Who is it?” asked Jesse.
“My grandmother.” Emily let out a frustrated sigh. “Somehow it figures. I haven’t heard from her in weeks, and now, here she is. Her sense of timing is impeccable. She’s always had a knack for raining on people’s parades, and I’m really tempted to let it go to voicemail.”
“Don’t.” Jesse’s voice sounded firm. “Otherwise she’ll keep calling back, every half hour, until you answer. Besides, it’s Christmas Eve, and you and I are on our way back to where we belong. It’s time to let it go and wish her a Merry Christmas.”
Emily shook her head and shrugged her shoulders before she accepted the call. “Hi Grandma. Merry Christmas.”
“I just got off the phone with your brother.” Her grandmother’s voice had its usual demanding undertone. “So I know your father is in Minneapolis and you’re at home alone. So why don’t you come over here?”
“Where are you, Grandma?”
“I’m at your Aunt Heather’s house. I’m with her, and your cousin.”
“Tonya. Gary and Annette have other plans tonight, but I’ll be seeing them tomorrow. Meantime, I’m very concerned about the fact that it’s Christmas Eve, and you’d rather be home by yourself instead of reaching out to your family.”
“Actually, Grandma, I already had an invite from Eddie and Gwen. You know, my other cousins. On Dad’s side of the family.”
Emily heard the distinct sound of disapproval in her grandmother’s voice. “Besides, this year none of you invited me to any of your holiday celebrations.”
“So I’m inviting you. Now.” As usual, her grandmother’s invitation sounded more like a command.
“Sorry, Grandma, but I won’t be able to make it. At the moment I’m in California, with Jesse.”
“With Jesse?” Barbara sounded stunned.
“Yes, Grandma, I’m with Jesse. He’s still my husband, and we’re trying to work things out.”
“Well, hallelujah. It’s about time you came to your senses. I’ve been telling you for months now that this was nothing more than a misunderstanding that’s been blown way out of proportion. It’s about time you stopped telling all your vicious lies about your cousin. You know, he fired her because of you, and she’s–“
Jesse could hear Barbara’s end of the conversation through Emily’s phone. “May I?” he whispered. Emily gladly handed him her phone.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Leary.” Jesse tried to sound upbeat.
“Well, Jesse. Merry Christmas to you too.” There was a phony sweetness in Barbara’s voice.
“Thank you.” His voice took on a serious tone. “I’d like to take a moment to set the record straight, if I may, once and for all. There was never any misunderstanding about anything on Emily’s part, and everything she’s told you is the truth. I fully admit that last summer I had an inappropriate relationship with your other granddaughter, and Annette was a willing participant in that relationship. It was a huge mistake on my part, and Emily did indeed catch us in the act. It damn near cost me my marriage, and I’ve taken full responsibility for my wrongdoings. I don’t know what Annette may have told you, but my decision to fire her was mine and mine alone, and I’d think by now my reason should be pretty clear. At the time I let her go, Emily and I weren’t speaking to one another, so please, quit blaming her for something she didn’t do. And by the way, I also referred Annette to another job, with better pay I might add, but for whatever reason, she wasn’t hired.”
For the moment Barbara was speechless. Jesse went on.
“I want Annette out of my life, Mrs. Leary. Emily wants her out of her life as well, and I’m sure you can understand the reason why. I’m sorry it’s come to this, and I’ll always regret my part in creating a permanent rift in your family, but I’m afraid it’s the way things will have to be from now on. Emily and I will be here in California for the holidays, and then she and Megan will be leaving for their cruise right after the first of the year. We’re hoping she’ll be ready to move back home once she returns, and then maybe we can have you over for dinner. In the meantime, we’d like to wish you, and your daughter, and Tonya, a very Merry Christmas, and we look forward to seeing you sometime in the New Year.”
He disconnected the call before Barbara could respond. “Hopefully that’ll shut the old battleax up for a while,” he said as he handed the phone back to Emily. “So are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said, “and I hope you finally got through to her, because she sure wouldn’t listen to me.”
“I think she may have gotten the message. At least for now.” He smiled and gave her a reassuring hug. “But even if she didn’t, it’s not your fault. I know she’s your grandmother, but it’s a toxic relationship. You have every right to live your life in peace and to not have to put up with her abuse. In the meantime, you’re sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, Jesse.”
He looked into her eyes and kissed her. “In that case, I guess we’d better get going. I made dinner reservations for seven o’clock, but hold that thought, okay?”
Thanksgiving was always a big deal in my family. My mother would get up before dawn to put the turkey in the oven, and she made all the trimmings from scratch. Dinner would be served in the dining room, and we all wore our Sunday best. Uncle, aunts and cousins would join us, and other years we’d spend Thanksgiving with them at their home.
When I became an adult Thanksgiving was still a big deal. During the years when I lived close to family my mother and sister-in-law took turns hosting the big family gatherings. After I moved away I would either spend Thanksgiving with my own spouse or friends. Other years we would fly back to Arizona and spend it with my family. Regardless of where I was, Thanksgiving was always the second biggest holiday of the year.
Years later, when I wrote my debut contemporary romance novel, The Reunion, I included a chapter a Thanksgiving chapter. Cassie and Jeremy hit it off over dinner, and afterwards they stepped outside for a walk. While they were away Samantha has a serious talk with Gillian, and the two women make a surprising wager.
A Thanksgiving scene from The Reunion
Samantha smiled to herself. It was looking more and more like Jeremy would become a good friend to Cassie. After dessert, Cassie suggested that he take a walk with her to work off some of their dinner.
“Good idea,” he said. “Would you two ladies care to join us?”
“Not me, thanks,” said Gillian.
“Me neither,” said Samantha. “We don’t get to hang out together very often. You kids go and take your time.”
Jeremy and Cassie quickly grabbed their coats. They were discussing the apartment in Colorado Springs as they went out the door.
“They seem to have taken a liking to one another,” said Gillian once the front door closed behind them.
“Yes, they have. Gillian, can I ask you something?”
Samantha’s voice had a serious tone. “Exactly what is the nature of your relationship with him?”
Gillian grabbed the wine bottle and refilled their glasses. “Let’s go have a seat in the living room.” They picked up their wine glasses and Samantha followed Gillian to the sofa where they made themselves comfortable.
“Jeremy is a very special friend,” said Gillian. “We got off to a bit of a rough start, but then it worked out. I truly believed he’d be my stepson someday, but then Ian threw the brakes on that.”
“Gillian, if this is none of my business just say so, but is there anything more to it than just a friendship?”
Gillian hesitated for a moment. “You mean, have I ever slept with him?”
“Good heavens no. I’ll admit that first night we were together in Las Vegas, I had a moment, and I mean a very brief moment, of temporary insanity while we were out on the dance floor. He’s a good dancer, I’d had a glass of wine, and I sure thought about it, but nothing happened between us that night, or any other night for that matter. Later on, when I thought about it again, I realized I’d wanted to turn him into another Ian, and I could never use Jeremy like that. He saved my life, Sam. Whoever he eventually ends up with will have to understand that he and I will always have a very special relationship. It’s not romantic, but we share a very special bond. One that will last for both of us for the rest of our lives. So please, don’t worry about your daughter. I’m not going to be jealous of her. In fact, I think they’re a good match.”
Samantha sighed in silent relief and gave her friend a knowing smile. “Gillian, do you have a hundred dollars?”
“Of course I do. Why?”
“Because a hundred dollars says that come next Thanksgiving, Jeremy really will be your stepson.”
“Oh, come on, Sam,” said Gillian with a laugh. “I can’t take your money like that. I’m not taking Ian back. No way, no how.”
“Of course not. You’ll just go out and have yourself tattooed in his honor.” Both women burst out laughing, and then Samantha turned serious once again. “Quit kidding yourself, Gillian. You’re going to take him back, and you know it.”
“Fine. Then I’ll lose the hundred bucks. It’ll be the easiest money you ever made.”
Gillian gave her friend a smile. “All right then. One hundred dollars says I won’t be married to Ian Palmer a year from now.”
“You’re on.” The two women shook hands on their bet and Samantha grinned once more. “Just be prepared to pay up.”
I often include major holidays in my contemporary romance novels. In The Letter,Stephanie spends a bittersweet Easter with her new boss and his husband while Danny finally realizes the time has come for him to make some changes.
Fall is in the air, which means Halloween is coming. I’ve always loved Halloween. It was the one night of the year when I could play dress up. Interestingly enough, I preferred trick or treating as my favorite fictional character, so my mother and I would rummage through our closets to put my costume together.
Below is a Halloween chapter from my contemporary romance novel, The Reunion. It’s inspired by a real-life event, when my significant other volunteered us to work at a haunted house. In this sample read, Gillian, has volunteered to work at a haunted hayride, and while she’s there she’ll confide in a mysterious stranger. Or so he seems.
a Halloween excerpt from The Reunion
Gillian was warming herself at the heater when she heard footsteps coming up behind her. Someone in a Grim Reaper costume had joined her, and whoever it was seemed to be staring at her. Finally, he spoke up. Gillian noticed he had a raspy voice.
“I’m sorry. I was told I’d be working with a blonde lady.”
“Well, I was a blonde until a few weeks ago. Now I’m a redhead.” She extended her hand. “The name’s Gillian, by the way.”
“John. Pleased to meet you.”
As they shook hands John told her he was one of the locals. He also seemed to be curious about her. The sound of clopping hooves, nervous laughter and chatter told them the first wagon was approaching. Gillian pulled up her hood. At John’s cue she ran up to the wagon while he chased after her. Their brief performance brought startled screams from the passengers. The wagon rolled on and they returned to the heater.
“So why would a blonde lady want to become a redhead?” he asked.
“It’s a long story. Let’s just say I’m celebrating a new lease on life. The old me was the blonde, the new me is a redhead.”
As they talked, she caught a whiff of something familiar. The cologne Ian always wore. The scent was a distraction, and she had to reminded herself that it was a popular brand and other men wore it too. John soon became quiet. A short time later another hay wagon came by and they repeated their scary performance in the dark maze. After the wagon left, Jeremy stopped by to check on her.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“So far, so good. Wait a minute, Jer. It looks like you’ve got a little smudge. Let me fix it for you.”
He leaned down as she removed one of her gloves and gave him a quick touch up. “There, that’s better.”
“Thanks.” Jeremy wrapped the reins around the saddle horn and reached down with both hands to pull her hood up. “You need to keep this on so you can stay warm. I don’t want you catching cold.”
“Got it. Thanks, Jer.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll come back a little later to check on you again.”
Jeremy rode away, and Gillian when turned back she noticed John was watching her intently. It was starting to make her feel uncomfortable.
“I take it he’s your significant other,” he finally said.
“Actually, he’s my best friend. Probably the best friend I’ve ever had.”
Despite her growing discomfort with his questions, something deep inside told her John was trustworthy, so she followed her instincts.
“It’s a long, complicated story. I’ll just sum it up by saying I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now if it wasn’t for him. That man literally saved my life not too long ago. I don’t remember it, but I’m told I fell into some water and nearly drowned. He’s the one who rescued me.”
“You know, it’s kind of ironic. Here I am talking to you, dressed up as The Grim Reaper, when I’ve met the real thing.”
“Was it scary?”
“To tell you the truth, it really wasn’t, and it’s the only part of the entire incident that I can remember clearly. I was heading toward a light and I wasn’t planning on coming back.”
Gillian sighed. “I’d just lost the love of my life. I had no reason to remain here and I wanted to cross over. Then I thought I heard my friend, Jeremy, calling me. The next thing I knew I was back at my backyard pool, only I wasn’t in the water. Somehow, I was suspended over it. Jeremy was in the pool and he was holding a body in his arms, which I knew had to be mine. Then I saw his face. He had a look of shock and sorrow, and he was shouting at me to stay with him. I knew, right then and there, that if I didn’t come back it would destroy his life, so I had no choice. I had to come back, even though I didn’t want to. I watched him lay my body out on the deck, and then I felt something like a tug. The next thing I knew, he was rushing me to the hospital. That’s why I’m still here.”
She started smelling the cologne again and she looked at him more closely. The costume he wore didn’t reveal much about him. He was wearing a full mask, with a robe and hood, and he appeared to be bundled up underneath it. A strange thought crossed her mind, but it couldn’t be. Larry said his father was spending the day in Fort Collins with friends. John remained silent for several minutes. Finally, he found his voice.
“Well…Gillian, wasn’t it?”
“Well, Gillian, your life is a precious gift. It’s something you must never, ever take for granted. You may think you came back for your friend, but it’s not the reason you’re still here. You’re here because your life is far from over, and you’re meant to be here. I’m sure your family and friends, and your true love, are elated that you’re still with them. And who knows, maybe your true love will return to you someday.”