Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Connie's Tuesday Kitchen: Scones by Connie Vines #BWLAuthor, #AuthorsWhoBake, #Scones, #MFRWAuthor, TuesdayTreats,

Happy Tuesday!

 I'd like to share a scone recipe I prepare as a special treat for a family brunch.  Or, I must confess,  for an afternoon accompaniment to a cup of hot tea--just for me :-).  I am not the purest.  I will freeze and rewarm scones in a toaster oven or my upper open/warmer of my stove.  I do not, however, recommend reheating any type of bread in a microwave.



Real English Scones


YIELD
12 scones

2 cups flour, preferably cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder (not soda)
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, room temp
1 egg, lightly beaten
milk, enough to add up to 3/4 cup with the egg added
1 egg, extra

(If you prefer a sweet scone you may add a bit of sugar to the recipe or dried fruit).


Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Add butter and rub it with fingers until it resembles crumbs.

Beat egg lightly, pour into a measuring cup, and add milk -- you can use buttermilk instead -- to make up 3/4 cup liquid.

Add liquid slowly to dry ingredients while mixing. You should have a soft dough, but not wet or very sticky.

Sprinkle flour on a wooden board or working surface. Turn dough out on that. Pat out lightly with fingers until about 1 1/2 inch flat, or a little less.

Press out rounds about 2 1/2 inches across.

Gather excess dough and repeat the process.
Beat extra egg well.

Put the scones on a greased tin, use a pastry brush, and brush with the beaten egg.
Bake for about 13 minutes until well risen and golden.

To serve, best use them quickly. Coffee shops keep making up batches, so as to serve them almost hot from the oven.

To eat, break open while hot or warm, and eat with cream and different jams.




Do you have a favorite Scone recipe?
Please share.  

Do you have Scone Tales--misadventures in backing, you'd lie to share?

Remember, scones are the perfect snack while reading one of my novels!

Connie






Monday, September 20, 2021

Opening Scenes #Lynx, Rodeo Romance Book 1 By Connie Vines #Lynx Rodeo Romance, #BWLAuthor, #MFRWAuthor, #CowboyRomance, #RandomThoughtsScatteredAbout

Feature # 8

 Hello, My Lovelies,

It's Rodeo Season

SEP 23 - SEP 26•

Salinas, CA

California Rodeo Salinas

Payout: $437,500


Opening Chapter from my Rodeo Romance Series, Book 1, Lynx


Charlene hadn’t told Rachel that she’d fixed her up with a cowboy, much less Lynx Maddox, the “Wild Cat” of the rodeo circuit.  Rachel sighed.  She should have known.  After all, Charlene only dated men who wore boots and Stetsons.

Rachel Scott cringed at the very thought even as her gaze took in the breadth of Lynx Maddox's chest, his broad shoulders, and dark green eyes that scanned her with blatant masculine approval.  

Despite her stern efforts to control it, her heart pounded against her rib cage. She'd seen him sitting at the table with Charlene Davis and Dan Elder before he'd spotted her.  Oh, she'd allowed herself to look when he'd walked her way--looking didn't hurt.  And it was okay to dream--a little fantasy never harmed a woman.  But that was it; that was where it ended.  After watching her father die in the arena, Rachel had sworn she’d never have anything to do with another rodeo cowboy. She stopped her train of thoughts and managed to give the cowboy a smile.  

"Nice to meet you," she said, accepting his extended hand.  She felt the strength in his warm calloused fingers.  Rachel tried to ignore a fluttering sensation low in her stomach.  There was one thing she was certain of as she looked up at his piercing eyes and uncompromising jaw--men like him had trouble written all over them.  And she doubted Lynx Maddox would prove to be an exception.

"Rachel, I'm glad you came tonight."  His voice was soft as velvet and laced with a Texas drawl.

He smelled of woodsy masculine cologne and the sudden rise in her body temperature clued Rachel to the unexpected twist to this encounter--she was much too aware of this sexy cowboy.  So aware, in fact, she had difficulty recalling her own name! She focused on the warmth of his hand against hers and she knew, although his grip was light, he was very strong.  Nevertheless, his strength wasn't affecting her nearly as much as the power of his presence; it vibrated everywhere, even from the sawdust-covered floor beneath her feet.  His slow, lingering smile seemed to unravel what remained of her composure.  For several seconds she seemed incapable of speech, or even movement.  

Good Lord, she was having heart palpitations!

Her reaction was so out of character, Rachel was at a loss as to what to do.

"I hope you didn't mind meetin’ us here," he said, easily, oblivious to her inner turmoil. 

His question seemed to release her tongue from its state of paralysis.

"No.  Not at all,” she replied, feeling somewhat less nervous.

"I'll see you home, of course," Lynx said, ushering her farther into the room.

I don't think so, she thought, eyeing the tall stranger. Meeting Lynx here at the honky-tonk was one thing; going home with him was entirely another.  She didn't voice her decision, however, she knew Charlene would be horrified if she dared to offend him.  So exercising her limited diplomatic skills, Rachel sidestepped the issue.  "Is it always this crowded in here?  And so loud?" she asked, suddenly feeling claustrophobic.  The drummer seemed to have placed himself inside her head, his sticks pounding against her skull, and the raucous noise of the patrons made it almost impossible to hear herself think.  The packed crowd made it difficult to breathe.

"Friday nights are always busy.  Haven't you been here before?" he asked.

"No."  She realized her comment was a bit sharp, but she couldn't help that.  Honky-tonk bars were fine for other people, but not for her.  If it weren't for her fast-talking best friend, Charlene Davis, she wouldn't be here--feeling so out of place and strangely vulnerable.  

"What happened?" he asked, looking down at her.  "Lose a bet?" 

"Sort of," she mumbled so low he couldn't hear her.  Forcing a smile, Rachel said, “I guess everyone should experience this once."  More than her hearing was under assault.  Somewhere low in her body, a riotous group of sensuous messages beats in rhythm to the band, the lyrics communicating thoughts about Lynx Maddox she shouldn't even be thinking.

Lynx arched one dark, sardonic eyebrow. "This place will grow on you.  Trust me."  

Rachel stopped and looked up at him warily. She knew better than to trust him—or anybody.  At twenty-four, she'd been on her own for years.  After a moment, she regained her composure. "Dan and Charlene have a table for us across the room, don't they?"

She peered through the smoke that diffused the colored lights revolving overhead, and swallowed as the bitter haze of tobacco coated the back of her throat.  A cloud of it hovered near the ceiling, giving the mirrored wall behind the bar a bluish look.  The air was stale and smelled of barley malt, tobacco, and hay.  Rachel blinked, her eyes burning. 

Lynx grinned.  "Well, they did.  It's kinda difficult to tell right now, though."

Rachel couldn't help but agree, especially since his white western shirt stretched across his impressive chest, which was more than wide enough to block her view.  When he shifted, she couldn't tell how many people were standing beyond him.  "How on earth are we going to get through that mob?" she asked.

"We don't have to," he said, easily.

"What do you mean?" Rachel asked, puzzled.

"We have another choice.  We can sneak out the back door to some quiet, secluded spot where we could, ah, get better acquainted."

A hot flush of denial raced to her cheeks and Rachel knew she was about to tell a lie.  "Thanks, but I think running the gauntlet is a better idea right now.  I'm sure Charlene wants me to meet her date."

Not the least bit offended, Lynx winked at her.

"Okay, sweetheart.  Stick with me, and I'll show you how a man makes a path."

Lynx placed his hand under her forearm to guide her toward the table.  Rachel felt heat rise along the length of her spine, and a fine sweat gathered at the small of her back.  Darn Charlene and her matchmaking.  Ever since Rachel’s break-up with Steven two years ago, Charlene had hovered over her like a mother hen.  Finally, after months of badgering, Rachel had given in and agreed to show up at the honky-tonk that night.  Now, with Lynx so close, she could almost feel him breathe, Rachel wondered about the wisdom of her actions.

No man was worth the risk of losing her peace of mind.  In her life, what men had offered her had turned out to be mirages.  Rachel knew all about mirages, and she made sure she steered clear of them. 

As they made their way toward the center of the dance floor, someone bumped her from the side.  The man was wearing high-heeled, western boots designed for something far less physical than evasive maneuvers.  Rachel felt thrown off balance and automatically reached for Lynx's arm.

His grasp tightened around her wrist, to steady her.

Embarrassed at being reduced to grappling with her date, Rachel quickly regained her footing.  As soon as she succeeded, she moved to step away from him.

Assessing the situation, Lynx held her hand.  His brows drew together in displeasure as he shot a warning glance toward the offender.  "Justin," he growled.  "Watch your step, cowboy."  Though unsteady on his feet, the man still managed to back off in a hurry.

"Careful," he addressed her. His voice, though gruff, held a soothing tone.  Grateful for it, and the fact that he seemed willing to ignore her embarrassment, Rachel breathed a soft sign of relief.  

It was his next comment, which had her emotions zinging. "A woman can't be too careful in a place like this."

Rachel shook her head and chuckled to herself.  Those were her thoughts, exactly.

Rachel tried to convince herself that the rush she felt upon making eye contact with Lynx had to do with their close proximity, not the dark-haired man's expression.

A muscle in Lynx's lean cheek jumped in response to her appraisal and exasperation lurked in the depths of his eyes, the greenest eyes she'd ever seen.  It was at that moment Rachel realized she was in trouble.  A warning bell clamored in her brain like the buzzer in a calf-roping contest, still Rachel chose to ignore it.  

Lynx wrapped his arm around her shoulder, glancing at the crowd.  "Don't worry Rachel--you'll get the knack of it," he said, pulling her to his side.  "Relax and let me do all the work."

Somehow, she managed to tear her gaze away from his, to put one wobbly foot in front of the other.

Forcing herself not to stiffen at his nearness, 

Rachel adjusted to the rock-hardness of his body.  She knew that professional bull riders were strong--built heavy in the chest and shoulders; still, Lynx was a mountain of a man, topping six feet by two or three inches.

"Come on," he said, swinging her into his arms.  "Looks like there's only one way to get to the table."

Rachel gave a gasp of surprise by the sudden turn of events.  Finding herself pulled against him, she refused to crane her neck to look up, so she stared at the middle of his chest. She swallowed.  Maybe it was the shock of being held in his arms or the topsy-turvy, surreal feel to the evening, but her insides wouldn't stop quaking, and the way his hand kept stroking her side didn't help.  To make matters worse, strands of her hair were tumbling loose from its French twist.  With those loose strands flowing down to her breasts, she knew she resembled a wide-eyed flower child far more than a capable, independent woman.

The way Lynx looked at her only confirmed her suspicions.  

Lynx tucked her head against his chest.  "I won't bite. You can relax a little."

Fat chance, she thought as she followed his graceful steps around the dance floor.  Lynx was very good at taking control.  He was brisk without being rude, and it was obvious he didn't know her.  Not that she was unreasonable or difficult, Rachel assured herself; she simply had her principles—that was all.

As they neared the table, Charlene stood up and waved. Lynx grinned and guided Rachel into a complicated two-step that left her gasping for breath.  

Charlene let out a whoop of delight when they reached the table. "You two sure dance well together," she said, glancing at them with a speculative gleam in her eye as she reached for her date's arm.  "Rachel, honey, I want you to meet Dan Elder."  

"Hello Dan," Rachel replied, and smiled at the lanky, red-haired man, trying not to act uncomfortable with Charlene's appraising look.  Stepping away from Lynx, she returned the offered handshake.  "Charlene's been looking forward to this evening for weeks.  It's good to finally meet you."

"I'm sure glad you decided to join us, Rachel.  Otherwise, I'd still be waiting for Charlene to get ready."

Charlene gave Dan a playful jab to the ribs with her elbow, and he grinned.  "I didn't hear you complaining.  As I recall, you were too busy pawing through my refrigerator--"

"Can I help it if you make the best meatloaf this side of the Mississippi?"

    Charlene gave a snort of disbelief.  "You're from Texas.  What do you know about the             Mississippi?"

    Lynx chuckled.  "She's got you there, cousin."

    "I reckon so."

    Lynx pulled out a chair and Rachel gave him a polite smile as he seated her.   

        Quarters were crowded, the chairs wedged closely together.  Rachel tried not to notice the heat of Lynx's muscular thigh pressed against hers.  Why hadn't she maneuvered closer to  Charlene?  This was crazy.  She shouldn't be feeling this way.  Thinking these thoughts.  

        She didn't mean to touch his arm when she reached for a napkin.  Or bump his thigh with her leg, did she?

    Immediately, Lynx put down his drink.  His gaze began to roam over her face and Rachel caught her breath.

    It was as if they were tangled in some web of emotion that was unbreakable.  Suddenly everything before her seemed to shift into slow motion.

    A smile was out of the question, she thought, as she stared at his lips.  She knew if he lowered his head and touched his lips to hers, it would have triggered such heat it would have ignited a Fourth of July firecracker between them.  

    "What would you like to drink?" he asked, voice low as his gaze held hers captive.

    I hope you enjoyed my teaser!

    What woman doesn't love a cowboy?


Thank you for stopping by,

XOXO

Connie

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Friday, September 17, 2021

Writing in Multiple Genres. The How's and Why's By Connie Vines #RR88, # BWLAuthors, MFRWAuthor, #WritingTip

 This month's topic:

What do I like to write?

"What calls to me?"

Native Americans say the story already exists. The story finds the Story Teller.  It is the Story Teller's duty to give it life.

I was reminded of this when I was facilitating a work shop given by Larry Sellers, Lakota Actor (Cloud Dancing, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman), Native American Historical Consultant, and Fellow for the Newberry Library Center in Chicago. The workshops were attended by the students enrolled in the Title IX Indian Education Program. 

Larry Sellers as Cloud Dancing, "Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman"



During a break, we were discussing a project he was developing and he was answering my questions about his experiences in Native American Boarding Schools.

"You must write the story," he said.

 My dismay followed my swift retreat into panic, must have been visible on my face. 

Larry chuckled. "No have no choice."

He was right.  The story prodded at me. I encountered someone, then another someone who had a story to tell me. We went on vacation, I was given a carved buffalo by a craftswoman to help me on my journey. . .it took me five years to complete, Tanayia--Whisper upon the Water. 

The book was the most emotionally draining novel that I've written to date because I felt as if I'd lived the story. 



Other stories I have written have been fun, quirky, and a mini-vacation for me. My, Sassy and Fun Fantasy Series of novellas: Here Today, Zombie Tomorrow (currently available).



Also, my YA/MG and Children's nonfiction articles: Medicine and Magic in Ancient Egypt.A Candle in the Dark.  topic: the Salem Witchcraft Trials and written in diary format,  (Benjamin Franklin Education Series).  and biographical articles about historical figures: Bill Pickett--First Rodeo Bull-Dogger, and numerous others.





I've also been involved in three projects (boxed sets) with other authors. I enjoyed the interaction and the way our stories linked together.  

I completed an anthology "Gumbo Ya Ya". This was a challange because I covered different genres in each story. And each book had a different tone.  "Marrying Off Murphy", "Love Potion no. 9", "A Slice of Scandal", "1-800-Fortune". 


Book Trailer on my YouTube Channel:

Current projects:  2nd novella in my Sassy and Fun Fantasy Series, 3rd story in my Rodeo Romance Series, and I'm outlining several others.






Sometimes the 'story' is very determined.

I wrote the YA/MG article about the Salem Witchcraft Trials was written in diary form. The editor said she hated diary stories. However, she brought the story as it was written. And later became part of an Educational Series.

It took me five years to find a home for my Native American novel. It garnered awards and a National Book Award, nomination.

I write in multiple genres. I write contemporary, historical, paranormal/gothic, and quirky stories.  Where am I the most comfortable?  Where it's the least painful, of course.

My historical stories are painful to write. Why? Because times were hard and life was difficult.  And, since the writer is the venue for the story, the character's pain is also your pain.

For those who recall the movie "Romancing the Stone," the scene where Joan Wilder is crying when she types The End?  




Well, it's more like sobbing through the entire novel and feeling drained afterward.

Will I write another historical novel?  Perhaps. The research is so all-consuming but family history does nudge at me...

I hope you enjoyed my post.

Connie


Please visit these authors and read about their thoughts on this topic:

Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2qf 

Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/

Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobincourtright.com


Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Tuesday Treats! Pumpkin Latte--Yay or Nay? By Connie Vines #TastyTuesday, #NotTacoTuesday, #TuesdayTreats, #PumpkinSpice #BWLAuthor, #MFRWAuthorBlog,

 

Tuesday Treats 

This week it's pumpkin spice.

Love it? Hate it? Or, so over it?

I must admit, until last year I avoided all things labeled "pumpkin spice".

Did my palate suddenly change? Or was I simply a victim of brainwashing?

I believe the 'powers that be' in the flavor-enhancing world, toned down the impact of the spices. 

How do I know this?  Because when I make pumpkin pie from scratch, I do not use the container of pumpkin spice from the market to season my pie filling. I have individual spices purchased in individual containers so that I may adjust to my taste.

This is also why my pumpkin pie vs. purchased pre-made pumpkin pie doesn't have me reaching for Tums.

If you read yesterday's blog post, you read a large (1 + chapters) teaser from my Halloween romance, "Here Today, Zombie Tomorrow".

So before I share a few recipes, I thought we could share a bit of humor at the season of "Pumpkin Spice"! 🎃

Funny YouTube Parody to the tune of a Backstreet Boys Song. 


If you don"t already follow "Hungry Girl" for healthy, tasty, and low-cal recipes, here is a link to her website to try her Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe 

https://www.hungry-girl.com/recipe-makeovers/healthy-pumpkin-spice-latte


Overnight Oatmeal: Warm, comforting overnight pumpkin pie oatmeal, is like eating pie for breakfast. 

Ingredients

1/4 cup pumpkin pie filling

1/2 cup whole milk (or any milk of your choice or Greek yogurt)

2 teaspoons maple syrup

3/4 cup regular old fashioned oats

Optional: 1 tablespoon of raisins, 1/4 cup of shredded coconut (I prefer diced apple), 1 tablespoon of protein powder.

Steps to Make It

 Whisk together the pie filling (I prefer pureed pumpkin), whole milk, and maple syrup in a medium-sized bowl until smooth and completely combined. Make sure there aren't any lumps of the pie filling.

Stir the oats and any of the optional ingredients into the pumpkin pie mixture.  Cover the bowl or put the oatmeal in small glass jars with lids.  Place them in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 4 hours to soften the oats.

After it has sat overnight heat in the microwave if you wish, or just eat cold.  Oatmeal will keep in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days. 

If you are in a hurry and just need a Pumpkin Spice pick-me-up, I recommend having a serving of good-old-fashioned Cheerios cold cereal, limited edition.  It's the only flavored cereal I have liked (children requested me to try other brands).

cheerios cereal limited edition

Where do you stand on Pumpkin Spice Latte or Pumpkin Spice anything? 

Post your opinion in the comments section. Smiles and frowns are emojis allowed.





Happy Fall,

Connie







Monday, September 13, 2021

Opening Scenes #Here Today Zombie Tomorrow By Connie Vines #BWLAuthor, #MFRWAuthorsBlog, #PumpkinSpice, #RandomThoughtsScatteredAbout,

Feature # 7

 Hello, My Lovelies, 

Autumn is almost upon us 🍂🍁🎃 

Pumpkin Spice Latte, sweaters, falling leaves, and yes--Halloween!

Opening Chapter + more from my Halloween inspired novella:


Here Today, Zombie Tomorrow




 “You and Elvis have done a great job on this house," Meredith said as her older sister led the way downstairs toward the kitchen where the tour began. “Sorry I couldn't get over, until now, but I've been sort of… well, busy."   Slipping her Juicy Couture tortoise-shell framed sunglasses into a bright pink case; Meredith crammed them into her black Coach handbag.  She hoped her sister didn’t ask her to define busy.  Becoming a zombie, and dealing with the entire raised from the dead issue over the past six months, was not a topic easily plunked into casual conversation.  

Pippa waved the comment aside. “I'm glad you like it. We had such fun decorating. Of course, we couldn’t do it all at once, but it's more satisfying putting it together treasure by treasure." 

Meredith glanced from Pippa’s impish features and short spiky black hair to the perimeter of the room.  Taking in every detail and nuance of Pippa’s decorating talent, she let her gaze rest on a collection of figurines by fantasy artist Jasmine Beckett-Griffith crouching at the top of the ebony stained cabinets.  A black arch-top fireplace mounted against the wall, flames flowing from a bed of clear river stones, and HOME SWEET HOME embroidered on a sampler with a tiny vine of blood-red roses tangling though out the letters completed the focal point of the room.   

Even though Meredith was in the best relations with her sister, she couldn't help but feel a sharp nip of jealousy.  It hadn’t been so long ago that she’d had her own happy home.  Unfortunately, she’d filed for divorce from Viktor, and then there’d been that bizarre little accident where she’d ended up dead, and then undead.  

While Pippa’s two kids, Ethan and Emma, played in the living room, to the accompaniment of a 1960s rock-and-roll musical on cable TV, Meredith sat in the kitchen with her sister, fiddling with the end of the teabag that dangled from the rim of her China cup.

Since her sister was contemplating the contents of a tin filled with Danish cookies, Meredith found herself cataloging the events that led up her ‘accident’. 

A charter member of the SoCal Arts Association, she’d been participating in the annual Zombie Walk Festival in Long Beach when it ‘happened’. Crowds always made her uncomfortable, but this particular event was to raise money, so she was obligated to attend.   And, it only went to reason; this year’s participation broke all past records.   

Twelve-thousand gleeful ghouls stormed Long Beach’s renovated Promenade.  The crowd became so large that it spilled out over Pine Avenue for an all-out downtown invasion.  Meredith didn’t recall much about the accident, nor who or what reanimated her.  She remembered overhearing a security officer informing a pungent-smelling zombie that he couldn’t purchase an alcoholic beverage (apparently he didn’t match up with his photo ID). Within moments, a shoving match between the two men ensured, quickly escalating into zombie chaos:  shouting, running, and chomping.  

Chomping?

At the time, Meredith thought it was all part of the festivities, perhaps a little odd and definitely crazy.  Just like the cornstarch-based zombie-vomit and fake blood, everyone had globed and smeared on themselves; but hey, it was an Arts event. Even after finding herself wedged in the center of the zombie mob, lunging and bumping along until they were in sight of the pier, Meredith wasn’t overly concerned.

In hindsight, perhaps she should have been extremely concerned.  Because the next thing Meredith knew, she was in a zipped body bag, feeling entirely not like herself. 

No.  She wasn’t going to dwell on the past.  Again. She’d just keep muddling on with her life and try to focus on the bright spots.

Pippa and her family were a definite bright spot in her life.

 “I wish you would let me help with dinner,” Meredith said, pulling herself back into the present.  “I feel guilty just sitting here doing nothing while you do all the work.”  Being a vegan, Meredith found her transition of zombie-hood, particularly exigent.  Brains, human or otherwise, had never been on her menu—now, protein, in fowl or bovine form was a requirement of her reanimated state.  Difficult though it was, she had to come to terms with the change.  After discovering an underground support group who met monthly in a banquet room of a coffee shop near the I-10, she was thankful she didn’t require human protein like most of the other Zombies.  However, consuming tofu with herbal tea (her lunch before reanimation), she discovered, had unfortunate, and unexpected, side effects. 

Pippa, turning from the stove with the pecan pie captured between two oven mitts, shook her head.  “Meri, don’t even think about helping me with the meal.  When Elvis’s mom and dad decided to take a paddleboat cruise up the Mississippi, I thought I wouldn't have anybody but my own offspring to fuss over on Thanksgiving Day.  You just sit there and relax."

 "I really appreciate the invitation," Meredith said, glancing out the window to catch a Monarch butterfly pick its way along with a lipstick red hibiscus blossom.  "Cooking turkey for one just isn't my style."

Pippa did a double-take at Meredith’s statement but didn’t comment.  Instead, she said, “You’re welcome to come for Christmas dinner too, you know."

"Thanks, Pippa, but Christmas is out.  I have to finish the new book by February so I'm driving up to Forest Falls tomorrow.  I'll be staying there for a month or so." 

"Christmas at the cabin," Pippa mused.  "That sounds nice.   Are you sure you want to be up there all by yourself?"

 "I’m not hiding,” Meredith replied.

 "I know.  You’re healing. . .” She left the words: and licking your wounds, unspoken.  “I just don't want you to be lonely."  

"I won't be,” Meredith reassured her.  “I'm taking Gertie with me."

Pippa laughed indulgently and shook her head.  "A hamster doesn't count."

"Don't say that when Gertie’s within earshot.  She follows me all around the house in her exercise ball.  We’re BFs."

 “Well, I'm glad you could join us for Thanksgiving," Pippa said.

###

Forest Falls, a town of one thousand year-round residents, was seventy-five miles due east from Los Angeles, in San Bernardino County.  Valley of the Falls Road was the main road, surrounded by the San Gorgonio Mountains and the gateway to the wilderness area. Forest Falls boasted the highest point in Southern California.  Furthermore, known as “Little Yosemite,” ninety inches of snow were common in the upper canyon. 

It was a second home to Meredith, who had been coming up every year since she was a little girl.  Her parents owned a cabin outside of town.  Five years ago, when she and Viktor got married, it had been their wedding gift to the couple.

As Meredith negotiated the sharp turns in Mill Creek Road, she tried to remember the last time she’d been up here.  Two years, at least. No, two-and-a-half.  She and Viktor had driven up for a week while the kitchen at the Ganesha Hills house was renovated.

She’d just finished writing her first novel, the one that hadn’t sold, and Viktor had been on leave from the Claremont Colleges.  A week of renovations stretched to three weeks.  It was the last time she could remember the two of them being completely happy together.

After their return to the house, things started to go wrong.  What had caused the problem, even Meredith couldn’t say.  Oh sure, she condensed into a few easy remarks to Pippa, something about Viktor being a-know-it-all, but it was really just an abbreviated version.  The truth behind their breakup was much more complicated and much more heartbreaking.

Glancing at the highway sign indicating the Big Bear Lake turnoff was to the right; Meredith drove another three miles to the Forest Falls exit.

Competition, she realized.  There was no other explanation for what had happened between her and Viktor. Even though she was quick to blame him, it wasn’t all Viktor’s fault.  She was just as guilty, and just as much to blame.  

While she was busy writing The Isis Factor, he’d been hard at work on his own book about the Ottoman Empire.  Although their subjects were worlds apart, it should have been a time for sharing.  Unfortunately, it wasn't.  Viktor threw acerbic darts about romance novels, in general, and her failure to comprehend the basic laws of physics when he looked over her Steampunk stories.  She retaliated with barbs about antiquated college professors who didn't understand the public's taste in literature or the impact of pop culture on society’s future.

It started as a joke, a kind of verbal fencing that was only half-serious and which they both enjoyed.  However, soon the remarks degenerated into nasty little jibes.  Jibes neither bothered to take back nor apologize for making it.

Meredith had known, even then, the trouble between them was jealousy, pure and simple; except nothing between them was very simple.  Somewhere along the line, they had become been competitors instead of teammates, rivals instead of lovers.

What happened to the idealistic young couple who had met on a blind date, six years ago?  A girlfriend of Pippa’s had fixed them up, seeing that she knew they'd be perfect for each other. They were both so smart, so focused, so determined to be successful.  From the moment Meredith and Viktor had met, it was as if there had never been anyone else.

After a light Peruvian meal at Inca Trails and viewing the musical, Phantom of the Opera, at the Gardner Spring Auditorium on Euclid Avenue in downtown Ontario, she and Viktor stopped by the college to retrieve papers he’d needed for a lecture he was giving the next day.  They’d ended up talking until morning, which they’d only discovered when students began straggling in for classes.
In those days, she had still been working part-time, writing advertising blurbs for a local agency.  This allowed her to spend the remainder of her time on her blog and short stories.  

Back then, Viktor had been enthusiastic over her work, eagerly reading every line she wrote and offering gentle, yet insightful criticism.  She'd always been equally involved in his first literary effort, volunteering to do some of the footwork.  She’d spent hours at the College of Theology, fact-checking, and even more hours at the Pomona Library reading the blurry Microfiche on an old-school reader device.  They loved each other, and they loved their work. 

 Life was perfect.
 

Chapter Two

It was starting to get dark--it was nearly Winter Solstice after all, and Meredith flicked on the headlights of her Land Rover, illuminating the narrow road the skirted the few buildings that made up the town of Forest Falls.  There was still snow on the ground and the vehicle bounced down the asphalt road from one pothole to the next. 

She’d left a note on her iPhone last week, and now Siri was reminding her to stock up on foodstuff tomorrow at the Elkhorn General Store.  The chicken, liverwurst sandwiches and thermos of coffee she’d packed would do for dinner tonight, but Meredith didn't want to be snowed in without supplies.  Meredith had her injection last week and an EpiPen that promised to be reliable in case of emergencies, in her handbag. 

Beside her in the seat, Gertie sat upright, twitching her nose, unconcerned inside the protection of her metal carrier.  Meredith pushed a gloved finger through the wire mesh to adjust the water bottle. She’d heard one of the other patients in the doctor’s office (yes, she had discovered she was part of a subculture) talking about having her pet ‘turned’ (zombified). Glancing at the cute, pouchy-cheeked Teddy Bear hamster, Meredith shivered at the very thought of ‘turning’ her pet.  Gertie was Gertie, alive, messy, and happy.  Meredith still hadn’t adjusted to her new reanimated life, how could anyone even consider doing such a thing to a pet?

 “It's just you and me, Gertie,” she said philosophically.

She let out a prolonged sigh when the cabin came into view.  She had been behind the wheel for almost two hours.  Outside of bringing in her luggage and getting Gertie settled in, she wasn't planning to do anything else tonight.  Tomorrow was soon enough to start working on the new book.

Shoving aside memories that crowded to the front of her mind, Meredith focused at matters at hand.

The cabin was actually a rustic euphemism used to describe a comfortable getaway.  The cabin boasted two bedrooms and a small loft that served as her office, living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom.

At least, she wouldn't be cramped during her stay, and of course, there was always the scenic outdoors when she wanted a change of pace.  Her editor gave her a February 12   deadline for her novel.  Two days before Valentine’s Day but also the anniversary date of the 1931 Universal Pictures classic movie, “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi (Meredith couldn’t help but notice the irony). 

After the book was finished, she'd started looking around for a new place.  Somewhere away from Los Angeles where there were just too many memories.   San Diego or La Jolla, without excessive amounts of rain or extreme heat, with just enough cloud cover for her peace of mind.  For now, this place would do nicely.

She didn't say anything to Pippa about putting the Ganesha Hills house up for sale.  She knew that her big sister only wanted what was good for her, but Meredith wasn't certain Pippa knew what that meant anymore.  Meredith wasn’t confident she even knew what was good for her right now.

It would have been Pippa’s cue to start wondering if the divorce was such a great idea.  She’d voice her opinion that maybe there was a chance Meredith could reconcile with Viktor.  It just wasn't something Meredith wanted to hear or even consider.  If pressed, Meredith was afraid she might break down and tell her sister everything. 
 
Inside the cabin, she pulled the sheets from furniture, folded them, and shoved them on the closet shelf.  Then, out of habit, she grabbed a pressed log and electronic log lighter to a fire started in the large stone fireplace.  Gertie, released from the confines of the carrying cage after the long drive, was inside her exercise ball rolling manically around the wooden floor of the dining room.
Reaching for her iPhone, Meredith pressed the food diary app.  After the tofu incident, she devotedly logged in all of her meals.  Adding 6 ounces of chicken and 4 ounces of liverwurst to the protein section and two slices of whole-grain bread under carbs, she eyed the other columns.  Fruit and vegetables were foods she consumed only by accident.  While water and coffee were a must! (Water and shark cartilage capsules kept her hydrated and her joints and bones together (literally); coffee, under no circumstances, undead or vegan, could she function without).

Meredith snagged a slice of roasted chicken and gnawed off a chunk.  Since she still considered herself a vegan, it was a blessing that she could barely taste it.  Much like Thanksgiving dinner at Pippa’s house, the flavors of food and drink were like a distant memory from childhood, faded and fuzzy around the edges.  Meredith could recall just enough pleasure from the act of eating to remind her, of how much she missed it.  After blotting her lips with a napkin, she poured her coffee into a mug and headed for the bathroom.

Water is the enemy of a zombie’s skin. Meredith discovered on an above-ground (yes, a play-on-words) weblog with surprisingly helpful information (password-protected login, of course). Shopping was a breeze (with three-day shipping, just like Amazon Prime!).  Cold cream-Shea butter-horse hoof cream combo, titled phantasm-cream, that kept her sweet-smelling and her skin supple.  Slathering the cream on from head to toe, she waited for about fifteen minutes for her skin to suck in the moisture.  Slipping on a pair of latex gloves, Meredith leaned over the basin to shampoo her hair.  

Bathroom ritual complete, she put on her favorite pajamas and slippers and placed Gertie in her large cage during the night.  While zombies, as a rule, don’t require a great deal of sleep, Meredith found, (pardon the pun) she slept like the dead.

Before turning in, she crawled onto the couch to enjoy the crackling fire and the sense of comfort it provided.  Enveloped in the memories of less complicated times, she fell asleep.

She awoke, confused and terrified, the sound of the front door opening.  Grabbing a poker she staggered to her feet just in time to see Viktor, white-faced, loaded down with suitcases, staring back at her with as much shock as she felt.

"Viktor, you scared me—almost to death!  What are you doing here?"

He dropped the suitcases and pushed the door shut.  "I was just going to ask you the same thing.  Last time we spoke you said you were going to Tahiti for Christmas."

The poker slipped from her hand, emitting a sharp ping upon landing on the stone hearth, and she gasped with relief.  "My plans changed.  What about you?  I thought you were spending the next couple of months as writer-in-residence at that institution in Maine."

Viktor slung his black wool coat over the back of the couch and sat down.  Flashing his leisurely grin that still tugged at her heartstrings, his gaze stroked her face. "Historical Institute,” he corrected.  “But no such luck.  The funding fell through.  It’ll take six months or more for the second grant to materialize."

He cleared his throat.  "My contingency plans were to spend the next few months here.  Of course, I was going to call and ask about it, things being the way they are. . ."

Now that she had gotten over her fright, Meredith concealed her churning emotions with a spark of anger.  "I wish you had called, Viktor.  It so happens I'm going to be here until February.  I’ve got a book to finish."


I hope you enjoyed the teaser! 

Thank you for stopping by,
XOXO
Connie












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