Category Archives: Novel Excerpt

Weekend Excerpt – Chaos Theory

Feb 25, 2017

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a big chunk of the shenanigans I’ve been up to! And we’re less than a week away from the release of Chaos Theory (at last!). So here you go! Will Darling is in big trouble….

Will had driven past Clutterbuck’s Flowers several times, and he knew that the family, Melody included, lived in an apartment above the shop. Scott had told everyone on his team about how amazing the apartment was—two apartments in one, really—but he hadn’t mentioned the location of the entry. It took Will several minutes of wandering around the building, feeling more self-conscious by the minute, before Melody’s sister stuck her head out one of the second-floor windows and said, “Can I help you?”

Cringing internally, Will raised a hand to shield his eyes and looked up. “Is Melody home?”

“Maybe.” Calliope’s tone was a dead giveaway to just how badly he’d upset Melody.

“Can I talk to her?”

“Maaybee.” Calliope drew the word out, her mouth twitching to the kind of grin that made Will feel like an insect specimen skewered with a pin.

He paused, waiting for Calliope to say more. When she didn’t, he asked, “How do I get up there?”

Calliope chuckled. “You’re staring right at the door.”

Will lowered his eyes to find a plain, unassuming door directly across from where he stood. The window had been painted to resemble a stained-glass flower arrangement, which is why he’d assumed it led to the shop. Calliope drew her head back into the apartment, and Will marched for the door. It was unlocked, so he went through and found himself walking up a narrow flight of incense-scented stairs.

Soft sitar music was playing on the other side of a closed, painted door when he reached the top. He raised his hand to knock, but the door swung open before his knuckles could make contact.

“You’d better be here to apologize,” Calliope said in a low voice.

“I am.” Will nodded.

Calliope’s expression lightened to a broad, teasing smile. “In that case….” She stepped back, holding the door open and gesturing for him to come in. “Hey, Mel! Look what the cat dragged in.”

Will supposed he deserved it. Dickery like his deserved humiliation as punishment. That didn’t stop him from freezing in his tracks as he crossed through the modest-if-colorful front entryway and into a gigantic, two story high room. The décor was bright and exotic, what he would call hippie-eastern chic. Oriental art vied with thick, green plants for just about every space on and around the walls. But it was the erotic, almost obscene mobile hanging from the ceiling that caught his attention and had his jaw dropping. Male and female bodies circled and entwined above him in a dance that was…distracting.

“Well, hello.”

Even more distracting was Luna Clutterbuck, Melody and Calliope’s mother. Dressed in a silk wrap-around skirt and flowing blouse, the bangles she wore jingling, she swept across the room and enveloped Will in a hug before he could raise his arms to stop her. He tensed instinctively, then battled to force himself to accept the hug.

“Oh dear,” she said as she stepped back and held him at arm’s length. She didn’t elaborate, she just sighed and said, “I’ll get Melody so that you can work this all out.”

Luna floated off, disappearing through a doorway that looked like it led to a corridor. He heard footsteps going up stairs moments later, followed by Luna’s call of, “Melody, you have a visitor.”

Will glanced to Calliope to see if he could judge just how huge of a villain he’d been reported to be. She didn’t look nearly as peeved as he would have been if his sister had been insulted. In fact, she looked as though she was having a hard time not laughing.

Moments later, Melody appeared at the edge of what appeared to be a loft on one side of the room. She had changed into a long, green skirt and short-sleeved shirt, and her curly hair hung in a wild mass down past her shoulders. She arched a brow and leaned against the loft’s railing. “Hello, Darling.”

Will frowned. She was going to make this as difficult for him as possible. Not that he didn’t deserve it. “I’ve come to apologize.” There. Might as well deal with the issue head-on.

Melody chuckled. The sound was low, coming from her chest. With her standing a full story above him, looking down on him, she was like a fairy queen in the kind of story that had been banned from his house growing up. She made the hair on the back of Will’s neck stand up. Other things too.

“Is that so?” she asked.

He took a breath and clasped his hands behind his back, standing at attention. “I spoke to you in an unbecoming manner, and I’d like to apologize for it.”

Melody burst into giggles, leaning against her arms on the banister. “What, are we in some sort of historical novel now?”

“No.” He frowned.

“Because you sound like Mr. Darcy coming to apologize to Elizabeth.”

Will’s frown deepened. “Who?”

Melody pushed herself to stand straight. Calliope leaned away from Will, one brow arched. “Seriously?”

Will glanced sideways to her, wishing there was a polite way to tell her to go the hell away. “Did I say something wrong?”

“Do you really not know who Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are?” Melody asked from above.

Since Calliope was looking at him like he’d told her one plus one equaled three, he was glad to look back up at Melody. “I take it they’re a couple.”

Calliope covered her mouth with one hand to stifle her laugh. She shook her head and crossed behind him, heading toward the hall where Luna had disappeared. “He’s all yours, Mel,” she called up to her sister before vanishing around the corner.

Book Excerpt – Chaos Theory

Feb 12, 2017

It’s Sunday, I’m about to head off to Mannheim for a book reading (I’ll let you know all about it tomorrow!) so I figured this was a good time for another excerpt from Chaos Theory. And I hate to say it, but at this point, between me having a cold all last week and my assistant dealing with some stuff, it Chaos Theory probably won’t be released until maybe the very beginning of March. Alas, these things happen! But here’s a bit to see you through….

“Is this on?” he said into a microphone. “Not that I really need it if it isn’t.”

Everyone laughed. Chairs were turned so people could see Howie, and for a moment, the delicious meal was abandoned.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Howie began. “I’d like to welcome you to PSF today to join us for this grand repast. Let’s have a round of applause for the excellent chefs of Haskell Catering.”

Applause filled the room. The head chef, a woman named Rebecca Standish, who Melody had known since childhood, nodded and smiled in appreciation.

“But, of course, you’re all here to find out what our spring mixer is all about,” Howie went on.

A buzz of excitement filled the large room. Melody grinned at Will. His mouth remained in a neutral line, but she could see the spark of interest in his eyes. Interest in more than one thing.

“Okay, okay,” Howie continued. “I know that it’s the worst-kept secret in town, but what you all don’t know is that we’re going to have a contest within a contest.”

That caught everyone’s attention, even nudging Melody’s focus away from Will and up to Howie.

“Our spring event is in association with Shoshone National Park and the National Park Services,” Howie went on. “And yes, we’re going to be having an orienteering competition.”

A ruble of enthusiasm filled the room. Howie smiled at it, but raised his hands for silence.

“So for those of you who don’t know—and at this point, I expect that’s about three of you—” Several people throughout the room laughed. “—orienteering is a survival game where people are blindfolded and dropped into the middle of the wilderness. Using only a compass and map, they’re challenged to find their way out, or find their way to a specific point.”

He paused so people could let that sink in. Melody found that her heart was thumping in excitement, half at the prospect of the challenge and half because the corners of Will’s mouth were inching up into what might actually be a smile.

“We’re going to be doing things a little differently,” Howie went on. “Since this is a mixer, rather than dropping you into the wilderness alone, we’re going to be pairing you up in teams, one person from town paired up with one person from Paradise Space Flight.”

It took Melody all of half a second to burn with the desire to have Will as her partner. He was exactly the man she wanted to get lost in the wilderness with.

“Furthermore,” Howie continued, “instead of just dropping you with a compass and map, in addition to those two things, we’ll be giving each team member a backpack full of preselected supplies. Some of them will be crucial tools for wilderness survival, and some will be….” He made a curious sound and tilted his head to the side. “Let’s just say they’ll be interesting.”

“Oh my gosh,” Rita whispered, making eye contact with Melody and Calliope. “Does Howie know about your game?”

Casey burst into snorting giggles. “Can you imagine the kind of stuff that would be in those backpacks if he does?”

“Now, in all honesty, the competition is meant for singles,” Howie went on, which only made the girls at Melody’s table giggle harder, as if he was confirming Rita’s suspicion. Will sent a frown Melody’s way, but she only winked at him. That caused Will to snap his eyes back to Howie. “We can make provision for any couples that want to take part, though. And you might find the competition within the competition to be just as enjoyable.”

Melody instantly stopped sniggering like a high school girl and sat straighter.

“As I mentioned,” Howie said, “this competition will take place at Shoshone National Forest. Well, Paradise Space Flight will be partnering them for an even grander enterprise as well. As you know, funding for the National Parks Service has been harder to come by lately, and our national parks have come under a certain level of attack. But Paradise Space Flight is dedicated to preserving and celebrating out natural heritage. Shoshone National Forest has been incredibly gracious to give us unprecedented access to their land. We, in turn, will be doing them a great service as well.”

He reached into his podium and held up a camera. “Each couple in the competition will be given a state of the art, professional quality digital camera. As you make your way through the wilderness, you will be responsible for taking photographs and videos of the natural splendor that Shoshone National Forest has to offer.”

A ripple of excitement and approval passed through the room. Melody exchanged a look with her sister that said photographing nature was right up their alley.

“So in addition to the prize for the couple to make it out of the forest and to the rendezvous point first, a second prize will be given to the couple who takes the best photographs, as judged by a panel of experts from PSF and the National Parks Service. Those winning photographs will be featured in a promotional video that PSF will be sponsoring to bring awareness to the glory of nature and hopefully to encourage donations.”

Book Excerpt – Chaos Theory

Feb 06, 2017

It’s the beginning of a new week, so I figured why not give you a taste of what I’ve been working on? So here’s a snippet (unedited, forgive me for typos) from Book 2 of the Nerds of Paradise Series, Chaos Theory. I’m aiming for February 24th for a release date, but I’m honestly not sure if it will be done and edited enough by then. It might be a little bit after that, but we’ll see! That’s the trouble with my vow to write longer books this year. I can’t publish them as frequently. Anyhow, here you go!

The General Store was another part of the reason he loved his new hometown. It was the perfect size for dropping in to pick up a few essentials in a hurry. On top of that, whoever had built it had a keen eye for ergonomics. He could make one efficient pass from the toiletries section where he picked up shaving gel—which he would need in exactly two days—to the stationary section for pens—because he was not one of those people who took pens from the office to use at home like they were perks of the job—to the snack food section for a large bag of unsalted nuts—because you had to live a little sometimes.

Yep. Everything was just where it needed to be. Everything was in precise order. Everything was—


He rounded the corner and nearly crashed right into a splash of color and brightness and wild blond curls. His heart thumped against his ribs, like someone was punching him from the inside, and his groin tightened.

“Sorry.” Melody Clutterbuck laughed as she made her apology. Her blue eyes sparkled with happiness and light. She wore a long wrap-around skirt with an Indian pattern to it and a white peasant blouse decorated with embroidery that matched the colors in her skirt. Her arms were filled with items from around the store, otherwise Will would have had a big glimpse of the creamy skin of her shoulders and chest.

It took his brain far too long to catch up enough to say, “No, I’m sorry. I should have looked where I was going.”

“You always look where you’re going.” She continued to smile as they headed to the counter at the front of the store. “I’m the one who was floating around like a leaf on the wind.”

Prickles of pleasure filled Will at the image. Melody was a leaf on the wind. He’d seen that the first time he met her, at the winter mixer Howie had held for his employees and citizens of Haskell after Christmas. She’d been there with a group of her friends, looking just as amazing as she did now. His friends talked about that event as the day his supervisor, Scott Martin, had met the girl he was now engaged to, Casey Flint, but secretly, Will marked it as the night Melody had blown into his world.

He blinked himself out of thoughts that were, frankly, disturbing. He had a schedule to stick to, a routine. “Why don’t you have a basket?” He lifted his own blue plastic shopping basket.

Melody giggled, her face going pink. “I didn’t realize I was going to need one.”

They reached the register, and she spilled her purchases across the counter. Will did a double-take, brow sinking into a frown of confusion. Baby oil, sandpaper, latex gloves, and an enema.

“Oh! And I’ll take one of these too,” Melody added, face growing even pinker and giggle more pronounced as she plucked a small jar of cherry lip balm from a display and popped it on the counter.

Will’s blood rushed to all the wrong places. Cherry lip balm? Baby oil? An enema? Why, why, why did that selection of items turn him on? And sandpaper? He swallowed hard, trying to rein in his imagination, and ran a hand over the bottom half of his face.

The older man behind the counter grinned indulgently at Melody. “You and Calliope still playing that game?”

“Always,” Melody replied with a wink.

Will frowned, an expression which, in this case, represented relief that he had something else to think about than all the ways Melody might want to use the items in front of her.

Melody must have noticed his expression. She leaned closer, her smile downright wicked. “My sister and I have this game. Who can spend ten bucks and buy a collection of perfectly innocent items that have the most wildly suggestive use if put together.”

Will could feel heat flood his face. “Looks like you’ve done a good job,” he said, or rather croaked. If she had half a brain, she’d be able to see that his mind had jumped straight to where she wanted it to be for her game.

“I’m still trying to beat Calliope’s winning collection,” she explained.

“Which was?” he asked, even though he wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

“Rubber bands, caramel sauce, cucumbers, and a disposable camera.”

Will’s jaw fell open. His mind raced to conjure up all sorts of images involving those items and Melody. None of them were PG. But then, he supposed that was the point of the game.

“Yeah, I know.” Melody raised an eyebrow as if she could tell exactly what he was thinking. “The camera was the real stroke of genius in that one. I’m hoping I can win points for the sandpaper in this collection. It’s so out there that it makes you wonder.”

“I…uh…wha….” There was absolutely nothing Will could say about that. And at the same time, every fiber of his being wanted to say something, to do something. Eight years of college and graduate school, four years of military service, two years of working for some of the top aerospace industries in the country, and she’d rendered him completely useless.

“Sorry, Melody. That comes to eleven dollars and twenty-eight cents,” the cashier informed her with a shake of his head. “You’ll have to put something back.”

Melody sighed and turned her attention to the counter. She picked up the enema, but put it down in favor of the latex gloves. “I suppose the gloves are more or less implied,” she said with a sigh.

The cashier chuckled, rerang her total, and put the remaining items in the bag.

Release Day – Opposites Attract

Jan 30, 2017

Guys, you have no idea how happy I am that Opposites Attract, the first book in my Nerds of Paradise series about contemporary Haskell, Wyoming is out! I’ve wanted to write this series for so, so long, and it’s finally here! I’m, like, literally jumping up and down! But make sure you get out there and purchase Opposites Attract for the low, low price of 99 cents TODAY, because as of tomorrow, it’s going up to its regular price of $3.99! And if you want to get started reading, here’s a chunk of Chapter One!

Casey Flint loved her family more than anything on earth, but there were times when she wanted to strangle them.

“So let me get this straight,” she said as she sat between her father, Roscoe, and her brother, Ted, in Roscoe’s truck as they drove into town. “You went ahead and actually sold off five acres of our ranch to some stranger?”

“He’s not some stranger,” Ted explained, an edge of impatience in his voice. Roscoe merely frowned at the icy road in front of them. “He’s one of the engineers from Paradise Space Flight.”

The explanation did nothing to soothe the sting of betrayal pricking at Casey’s already unsettled heart. “You sold off a part of our family ranch, a ranch that has belonged to the Flints since the late 1880s, to some dorky engineer who probably wears a pocket protector and Spock ears all the time?”

Ted huffed a laugh. “I think that guy you met at the grocery store last month wasn’t the typical Paradise Space Flight employee.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Casey couldn’t stop herself from grinning just a little bit at the memory. The man she’d run into was a hoot. Nerdy as the day was long, and as far as she was concerned, typical of the wave of new residents in Haskell. They’d been a simple, although unique, ranching town since the original Howard Haskell founded the place in the 1860s. But now, a fresh crop of engineers, mathematicians, and astrophysicists had shown up to knock the whole town off-balance.

No one more so than Casey. And her life was already off-balance enough now that her mom was gone.

“My point is—” she went on.

“Oh, you were making a point?” Ted teased her.

Casey frowned and elbowed him hard. “My point is,” she repeated, “that all these guys—”

“And girls,” Ted quickly added.

“—that Howie Haskell is hiring to build his spaceships—”

“Supply rockets and independent vehicles to launch commercial satellites,” Ted butted in once again.

“—are not the sort we’re used to in Haskell,” Casey finished in a growl.

“Now, Casey,” Roscoe said in his gruff but steady voice. “I didn’t raise you to be prejudiced against anyone for any reason.”

“I’m not being prejudiced,” Casey insisted. “I’m just saying that Haskell has a certain rhythm, a certain pace and feeling. We’re a town of cowboys and we always have been.”

“If we’re such a town of cowboys, why did you stop competing in the rodeo?”

Ted was teasing, but his question struck straight to her core, filling her with guilt and regret. “I grew out of it,” she lied, gut twisting. “That’s not the point. We’re a traditional town full of traditional people, and it should stay that way.”

“Actually, Haskell has always been on the cutting edge of social justice issues and inclusion of new and sometimes radical ideas,” Ted corrected her.

“Shut up, nerd.” Casey elbowed him again, even as her heart swelled with pride in her brother and their hometown.

“Ah ha!” Ted laughed. “So by your own admission, nerds have always been an integral part of this town. I mean, if you consider one of your closest family members to be a nerd….”

Casey blew out an exasperated breath. “Brothers,” she muttered, as if that explained it all. She shook her head and went on with her train of thought. “All I’m saying is that I don’t like all this change. Things are changing way too fast. Why can’t everything just stay the way it was? We were all happy the way things were. Life was simple and easy. The town was like one big family. Now….” She shrugged, feeling a shiver race down her spine. The ache in her heart that had been there since her mother’s final, painful days throbbed. She sighed. “I just don’t like the way things are going.”

Rather than cracking a joke, Ted glanced over her head at Roscoe. Roscoe glanced briefly back. They both wore looks of deep concern and sorrow.

“What?” Casey asked.

Neither of them answered right away.

What?” Casey pressed when the silence grew too awkward.

Ted cleared his throat. “Ah, sis? Are you sure you’re not confusing your feelings about Mom’s death with everything that’s going on in town?”

“No,” Casey answered right away. “And keep Mom out of this. She wouldn’t like all the changes around here either. She certainly wouldn’t approve of you ripping out a part of the ranch and feeding it to the wolves.”

“Princess, we’ve talked about this,” Roscoe said, his voice as calm as ever. “Ranching is hard work. The market is getting tougher and tougher out there. We’re a small operation, and we’ve reached the limit of our capabilities. Unless we get a cash infusion, our whole operation will collapse. If that happens, we’ll lose the ranch entirely, not just a piece of it. Scott Martin has offered us a generous price for those five acres.”

“Scott Martin,” Casey grumbled, even as the prickly, uncomfortable feeling that her father was right about everything he was saying twisted her insides. “You’re selling a piece of our heritage to a man I’ve never so much as laid eyes on?”

Roscoe nodded patiently. “You would have laid eyes on him if you’d been at the meeting with Ted and me last week.”

“Last week was the week before Christmas,” Casey explained. “I had a ton of shopping to do, not to mention dozens of cookies to bake and volunteering at the senior center.”

“I’m not laying any blame on you,” Roscoe assured her. “Just sayin’ it like it is. The price Mr. Martin was willing to pay ensures that the ranch will continue to operate for at least another five years. After that, we’ll see how the economy is doing and reevaluate our position.”

Admiration and despair mingled in Casey’s gut. Her dad was a man among men. He’d worked hard his entire life, keeping the ranch functioning at peak productivity in a rapidly-changing world. Of course, her mom had been right there by his side, shouldering as much of the load as he did. They’d all been hit hard by her cancer, but Roscoe had continued to get up every day and tend to the herd in all weather and conditions. But Casey would have to be blind not to notice the strain around her dad’s eyes and mouth in the year since her mother’s death, or the way he moved just a little slower, his shoulders stooped just a little more.

“I can step up my game and work harder,” she blurted as the blossom of grief flowered in her chest. “I can take on more responsibility, do more than office work and dealing with distributors. I’ll get up early and help manage the herd too. Will you undo the land sale if I do that?”

A tired smile touched Roscoe’s lips. He reached a hand over to squeeze hers as it lay balled into a fist on the truck’s seat. “I love you, Princess. I know you’re doing everything you can and that your heart is in the right place. But I also know good and well that a broken heart can only take on so much before it breaks down.” He paused, then added. “Selling those five acres was the right thing to do.”

Casey ground her teeth, but there was no way she would contradict her dad. Even though every fiber of her being wanted to scream and thrash and battle against the horrible forces of change that left her feeling helpless and hopeless. It was that same helplessness that made everything she did these days seem somehow hollow and pointless. If only she had something she could do that would make a difference. If only she could really sink her teeth into a cause that would put her family back where it deserved to be and heal the wounds they all had. She had to find something to throw her energy into that would make her feel like she was fighting back, for her mom’s sake.

“Good Lord,” Ted said, laughing, as they pulled into the parking lot of the flashy, new Paradise Space Flight building. “Was everyone in Sweetwater County invited to this thing?”

Roscoe grunted, lips twitching to a grin, as he circled around, looking for a parking space.

Casey’s heartache and frustration were pushed to the back of her mind as she glanced through the windshield at the rows of cars and trucks. “Howie’s email said it was an all-town mixer.”

“All-county is more like it,” Ted said.

Roscoe found a spot to park as Casey said, “Well, you know the Haskell family. They’ve always thought it was their responsibility to entertain the whole town along with providing jobs and homes.”

“True,” Ted laughed. “Remember ‘Ice Cream Social 2013?’”

Casey snorted. “Remember how livid Howie was that we were ten gallons short of the world record for biggest sundae?”

“Or how about that masquerade ball last Halloween?”

“I think they’re still vacuuming up glitter at The Cattleman Hotel.” Casey burst into a fit of giggles as Roscoe cut the truck’s engine and opened the door.

Casey slid out the passenger side after Ted, hugging her vintage men’s pea coat close as a burst of icy air hit her. She, Ted, and Roscoe started walking up through the rows of cars and trucks together. The front door of the garish, five story, glass Paradise Space Flight building was illuminated with colored lights. It was December 29th, so Christmas decorations were still up, but already there were signs of New Year’s Eve decorations. Apparently, Howie had some sort of a light show planned. Cheerful music poured out of the front door every time an arriving guest opened it.


There you have it! Wanna read more? Opposites Attract is available now at all these fine retailers:

Amazon –

B&N –

iBooks –

Kobo –

Release Day! – Architect’s Angel

Dec 30, 2016

Here it is, folks! The last book from me in the Culpepper Cowboy series (although I know Kirsten Osbourne is planning at least one more)! I hope you enjoy Architect’s Angel and the super fun rivalry between Arch O’Donnell and Tabby Ross. Sometimes two people are just meant to be, in spite of how they get in their own way. Architect’s Angel is currently available at Amazon and for Kindle Unlimited, but in three months it will be available wherever eBooks are sold. Wanna get started reading Chapter One? Her you go!

Christmas was only two days away, but so far, Dr. Tabitha Ross, Culpepper’s premier OB/GYN, had yet to get into the spirit.

“I just haven’t felt like celebrating,” she explained to her patient and friend, Elvie Lipinski, as Elvie sat in the chair on the other side of Tabby’s desk.

Elvie shrugged. “It takes a while for me to get into the Christmas spirit every year. Everyone rushes things so much. Why can’t we just focus on Thanksgiving before charging into all the consumerism and grabbiness?”

Tabby smirked. “Is grabbiness a word?”

“If it isn’t, it should be.” Elvie chuckled, then tilted her head to the side, a dreamy smile coming to her face. “Although, I’ll admit, this year has been so good that I was already blissed out—even before December.”

Tabby smiled for her friend and handed her the piece of paper she’d been explaining. “Totally understandable. That tends to happen when you meet a hunky guy out of the blue, marry him three seconds later, inherit a fortune, and settle down to raise a family. You’ll want to start taking prenatal vitamins now, by the way. Then, when you do come back in here with good news, you’ll be ready to go.”

Elvie took the paper with a beaming smile. “I can’t wait. I’m determined to beat both Doc and Nancy and Sly and Rachel in the whole baby race.”

“Still nothing from either of those pairs?”

“Not yet, but I know Doc and Nancy have started trying.” Elvie paused. “I think Sly and Rachel are too concerned with their businesses to get started on a family at the moment. You know those two, they have a five-year plan for everything.”

“Yeah.” Tabby laughed, but a part of her was unsettled. The part that sped instantly from thinking about the three older O’Donnell siblings and straight to the youngest.

Arch O’Donnell. She couldn’t even think about the man without pangs of…well, lots of pangs. The man was a menace. He was arrogant, self-involved, and petty. He’d gotten in her way at the class reunion six weeks ago, messing up her plans, arguing with her decisions, and generally making her job way more difficult than it needed to be. He’d been doing the same thing since their senior year of high school too. Just thinking about him set her teeth on edge.

Arch and his smarmy grin, that twinkle in his eyes, the smooth way he had of moving. He’d been away from Culpepper for years, first at school, then building his architecture business. But now he was back. Back in all his buff, snappy-dressing, male glory. He’d wound her up so tightly at the reunion, then had the nerve to ask her to dance. And the extra nerve to hold her close during that dance, his warmth seeping into her, his cologne intoxicating, his—

“Whoa! Earth to Tabby.” Elvie waved her hand to snap Tabby out of her thoughts.

“Sorry, what?” Tabby cleared her throat and sat straighter, pretending to fuss with the paperwork on her desk. It was almost quitting time anyhow.

Elvie wasn’t fooled. She fixed Tabby with a lop-sided grin. “I wonder what you were thinking about.”

“I was thinking about what I’m going to have for supper,” Tabby bluffed.

“No, you weren’t.”

Tabby stopped fussing with the papers and frowned at her friend. “How do you know?”

“Because you have that look in your eyes.”

“What look? I don’t have any looks,” she answered, a little too fast.

Elvie just leaned back in her chair and smiled. “So, no Christmas spirit this year?”

Tabby could see Elvie was trying to lure her into talking about Arch, but she took the bait anyhow. “I just don’t feel like it. Mom is in Tahiti with her new boyfriend this year.”

“Ooh, Tahiti!”

“And Dad…” She let her sentence trail off with a sigh. “Dad is Dad.”

“He still living in Haskell?” The corner of Elvie’s mouth twitched into a grin.

“Yeah,” Tabby answered, avoiding her eyes. “He and his partner have expanded their law firm, now that Paradise Space Flight is drawing more people to town. He says they’re up to their eyeballs in work.”

“Haskell isn’t that far away. Are you guys going to get together at all on Christmas day?”

“Well, Sammy and I are doing a little Christmas something together, though we haven’t decided what yet. Probably just brunch at her place before heading to church.”

“I see.” Elvie nodded and hummed. Her expression turned innocent…or rather, fake innocent. “Things are going to be way different in the O’Donnell family this year too, what with three out of the four of us getting married in the last year. Doc and Nancy already have plans to do their own thing on Christmas morning. Sly and Rachel keep talking about heading out to the ski lodge for a romantic getaway. And Evan and I are heading down to Colorado for a quick visit with his family.”

“Oh?” Tabby shouldn’t have commented on the plans at all. She knew just what Elvie would do with her single syllable.

She was right.

“You should get in touch with Arch to see if he wants to do something on Christmas,” Elvie said.

“No.” Tabby’s answer was swift and definitive.

“He’ll probably be feeling left out,” Elvie went on, tugging on exactly the right heartstrings. “With Evan and I gone, he’ll be all by himself in that old house.”

Tabby still couldn’t believe that with all of Evan’s new money, he and Elvie were still living in the old O’Donnell house with Arch.

“He could at least use some food after church,” Elvie went on. “Poor guy.”

Tabby sighed. “No.” This time, her argument was less solid. Probably because the unaccountable desire to be there for Arch on Christmas, to wrap her arms around him and tell him everything would be all right, that someone did actually care about him, reared its ugly head. “Arch and I hate each other,” she reminded Elvie…and herself. “We have since high school.”

“I was under the impression that you two dated in high school.”

Tabby’s face flared red. Her heart thumped faster. “That was only for a few months in the summer before senior year.”

“Yeah, but I remember that really well,” Elvie argued. “You two were all over each other. Head over heels. Arch couldn’t talk about anything else, and neither could you.”

“It was a long time ago, and it ended badly.” Tabby pushed her chair back and stood. She took off her white coat and hung it on the rack to the side of her desk. Elvie was the last patient of the day, and suddenly all Tabby wanted to do was go home and fix herself a comfort food dinner full of fat and carbs.

Elvie stood and joined Tabby at the rack, getting her coat as Tabby shrugged into hers. “How did it end again?”

Tabby huffed out a breath and stared hard at Elvie. “You know how it ended.”

“There had to have been more to it than that silly election for class president,” Elvie said.

Tabby focused on her coat’s zipper to keep the old hurt of that election from showing on her face. “Nope. It was the election. Or rather, the rivalry of the campaign.”

“I still can’t believe Arch ran against you, even after you told him you were running.”

Coats on, purses in hand, Tabby and Elvie headed for the door. Night had fallen on the other side of the windows they passed. Already, the days were getting longer, but only barely. It would be months still until Tabby left her office in the daylight.

“I can’t believe he ran against me either,” Tabby muttered as they reached the front desk.