OCTOBER18, NOVEMBER18 & DECEMBER18 ARE NOW STAR-DUST & MEMORIES…

What can I say other than life’s been beyond busy. Mind, Body & Bowen therapy clients. Study. RWNZ monthly chapter meetings and end of year wind-ups. Very little writing. Lots of reading. And ‘of course’ social discourse with special friends and family….

And today I had a café meeting with another writer which made me realise how much I’ve neglected flexing my ‘blog muscles’! It’s been far too long.

So have dug into the archives for a short story. Romance of course!

Hope you enjoy it.

Wishing you all a very productive and enjoyable 2019!

Kindest regards & blessings – Gaylene.

SECRETARY’S REVENGE (2004 Winner of the RWNZ ‘New Beginnings’ Short Story Competition)

©Gaylene M. Atkins

“Just what the hell have you got to say for yourself?” As partner and equal shareholder in Morris & Winstone Advertisements Inc. William Winstone felt he had a right to know.

Loosening the tie that threatened to choke him, he jerked it sideways, whipped if off and threw it on the desk. Slumping further into the brown leather chair he ruffled his usually immaculate ‘businessman’s executive hairstyle’ with both hands before coolly eyeing the woman again. “Well?”

Concealing his emotions from her wasn’t always easy, especially when she’d made him want to laugh right out loud at this latest idea.

“Not a lot really.” In reality Meg Tyler, secretary to Mr William James Winstone, had plenty to say. But after what he’d termed ‘that fiasco of a board meeting’ maybe she should keep her thoughts to herself? Was that even possible? Not likely. ‘Billy’, as she secretly called him, was giving her one of his glacial stares; a stare that was supposed to subdue her and have her blabbering excuses in two seconds flat. It didn’t. All she wanted to do was laugh at him… then kiss him senseless. But she’d wait for just the right moment to do that.

He tried again, “Can you please explain to me why an intelligent, witty – not to mention usually attractive thirty-something woman, would wear a dinosaur suit to the first executive board meeting of the New Year?”

“I thought the starched shirts needed a laugh.”

“Well you made me look like…”

“Like what? A dinosaur with out-dated ideas?” Meg had had enough of the working for a man who didn’t laugh at work. This was it – the end of a wonderful working relationship. Well, that’s if you called her ideas and his taking the credit for them, a wonderful working relationship. She unzipped the dinosaur suit and wriggled out of it as best she could. “What didn’t you like exactly? My presentation was flawless – innovative and catchy even. Didn’t you want to laugh at least once?”

“I have my position to think about. What do you think you’re doing? Stop that. Someone might see you.”

“I’ll give you a position. And I don’t care two figs if someone does see me. I’m quitting. I’ve had enough of this humourless working existence.”

“You can’t quit. I need you.” Raking tanned hands through dark hair again, he wondered how long it would be before someone walked past the glassed-in office, glanced sideways and got an eyeful of the floorshow.

God, but she was gorgeous – especially when she was on fire with indignation. Her cheeks were flushed pink and her eyes flashed hazel sparks at him. The stunning bronze-red bob hairstyle was in wild disarray, while determined hands jammed down firmly on nicely rounded hips. The short silk and lace slip she wore underneath the ugly dinosaur suit barely held her full breasts in place. And the garter and stockings were raising his body temperature. He shifted uncomfortably.

“Quit? I can and just did. You don’t need me.”

“No one makes my coffee the way you do. Who’ll bring me a fresh shirt and brush the fluff off my jacket if I need it?”

“Hire someone else Mr Winstone. I’m out of here.”

“Don’t go like this Meg. Please. I know the board loved the presentation. Said it was the best ad idea to date.”

Meg grabbed her coat from the coat stand and gathered the discarded dinosaur suit and her briefcase. “Precisely. Your bloody idea? My big toe it was!”

“Okay. So I haven’t been fair in certain areas.” Her coat was flapping open, distracting him; a wide expanse of semi-naked thigh and long leg visible. He tried not to ogle as he stood and walked around the desk. Should he do more physically to keep her here? He didn’t know if restraining her at this very moment was a good idea or not? He sat on the edge of the desk instead.

“That’s an understatement and you know it. I’m definitely off. For good this time.”

Her coat flapped again as she turned. “Meg, please, no…” He’d often wondered how long it would take to get her onto the leather couch and do what he’d always wanted to do – after work naturally, and not within anyone else’s hearing. A long weekend was a good idea. And seeing her practically naked in front of him had the vision flashing forward again and again until it stayed stuck, like a neon sign which had been wired into the ‘on’ position permanently. A naked Meg and him on the brown leather couch. Ye Gods he wanted it. He wanted her. And right now!

“Aren’t you gonna do that coat up before you go?”

“Why? I’m perfectly decent.”

“Decent for what exactly I wonder.”

“Oh don’t go getting all fresh and cute on me now. Just because I’ve finally had enough of your bullshit and have quit you want to scruff me on the leather couch as a parting gesture. And don’t you deny it. I know how your mind works Billy Winstone. In the gutter. Well, not today. I’ll email you my resignation by the end of business today. You can send my severance and holiday pay directly to the bank.” She put her nose in the air and waited for his response.

He had to calm himself and think rationally, “You have to work out your notice. You can’t just quit and walk away.” A last ditch desperate effort on his part to retain the services of the best secretary he’d ever had or would likely ever have again. Next to grovelling at her feet he didn’t know what else to do – not yet anyway.

“Can’t I? You just watch me walk.”

With that she flapped out of the office, leaving the office door wide open. A few co-workers turned to stare, first at her, then at him; they all offered broad grins. Tom Hart yelled across the hallway, “She quit again, huh?”

William had the sinking feeling he’d blown it with her, for good this time. But maybe this time he deserved it.

His partner popped his head around the door not two minutes after Meg had gone. “Where’s that lovely secretary of yours? I wanted to congratulate her on the dinosaur presentation. I haven’t laughed so much in ages. It’s a fantastic way to start off the New Year. Absolutely fantastic – congratulations to you both.”

“She quit.”

“Hmmm, again? I know you don’t want to hear this, but I think it’s time you gave credit where it’s due.”

 

After two days Meg still hadn’t returned to work or to clear out her desk. The office was getting more and more chaotic without her. If it was an apology she wanted then he’d better give her one. Picking up the phone he dialled her home number.

She answered on the third ring, “Meg Tyler speaking.”

“It’s me.”

“So?”

“When are you going to stop this mucking about and come back to work?”

“If that was your idea of an apology it needs major reworking Mr Winstone.”

And she slammed the phone down in his ear.

He pushed redial and spoke as soon as it was picked up, “Look, damn you woman. I’m trying to apologise here. Don’t you dare hang up on me, not again. We have to sort this… Megan?”

“Is that you William?”

“Who’s this?”

“It’s Margaret Tyler, dear.”

Her mother was there?

“Ah… sorry. I didn’t realise. Is Meg available please, I’d like to speak with her?”

“She says not until you apologise properly, dear.”

“What does she want? My blood.” He held the phone away from his ear as the woman asked Meg what exactly she wanted from this man.

“She says yes ‘blood, and some sweat and tears would be good too, dear.”

“This has gone beyond a joke. Put her on the phone, now… please?”

Meg’s tone was angry, “Don’t you try making your ‘not-so-polite’ demands on Mum; they may have worked on me in the past but not anymore.”

“Please come back to work. I can’t manage without you Meg. I need you here.”

“Well I don’t need to be there. I’m managing just fine by not coming in. In fact, I’m quite enjoying it. I think it’s time I cleared out my desk. This afternoon is good for me. You can advertise my position forthwith. Is that clear enough for you Mr Big-shot William J Winstone?”

Shit! This was the worst she’d ever been. He’d really blown it this time. “Are you sure Meg? The place is getting into a real muddle and everyone is breathing down my neck for the next instalment of the ad campaign; you know… the Dinosaur one?”

“Now the truth’s coming out. You only want me to come in and finish off what I, not you, started.”

“No! I mean yes. But I want you back for all the other stuff too.”

“Oh you mean coffee and laundry detail?”

“Well yes and the other stuff.” William looked up to see several of his employees standing outside his office door. He made a rude sign with his forefinger and tried to concentrate on what she’d just said. Tom had his betting book out, again. They were all laying odds on how long it would be before she came back to work. Money was exchanged and hands were shaken.

He thought back and seized on the words he wanted to hear, “This afternoon? You’re coming back this afternoon?”

“Only to clear my stuff out.”

“What time?”

“When I get there.”

He hung up the phone and glanced at his watch. Almost lunchtime. He’d better get a plan sorted as soon as possible.

“Get back to work you lot. She’s coming back this afternoon so save yourselves some money and stop with the betting.”

“We’ll see,” Tom answered. “If she makes you coffee we’ll divvie up. Not a second before.”

 

She didn’t make any coffee. Her desk was cleared out in record time and she was gone by the time he got back from lunch.

Tom leaned out of his door, “She came – she went. And no coffee got made boss. I think it’s permanent this time. It’s sure looking that way. Hey, nice flowers.”

William eyed the massive bunch of flowers he was still clutching. “Yeah, guaranteed to get me back on her good side. Or so the florist told me.”

“Yeah well, most women love flowers. But Meg is not most women.”

“You think I don’t know that Hart!” He glared at his friend, “Don’t you have work to do?”

William saw nothing else for it – he’d have to confront her in her own space. “I’m going to be out for the rest of the day. My message service will pick up any calls.’

His appointments diary was fairly light except for one important prospective new client. He’d have to be switched along with everyone else.

The calls went smoothly; they all understood his predicament – with the prospective new client being the most sympathetic.

In fact, William was more than a little surprised at how easily he’d achieved all the secretarial type stuff. Maybe he didn’t need one after all?

 

Pulling up outside the red brick and tile house in the suburbs had him sweating. The place was perfectly kept; he knew she saw to all that as well as working full-time; tidy lawns and shrubbery a testament to her diligence and energy. Her car was parked in the driveway with another right beside it. Her mother’s most likely.

Unclipping the seat belt he reached across and grabbed the bunch of flowers.

Standing at the door and pressing the buzzer made him sweat even more. Eventually , it opened.

“Ah, I wondered how long it would take for you to turn up here.”

Meg was dressed in a bright orange leotard, pastel orange leggings and pastel and dark orange striped leg-warmers; bare feet and painted orange toenails. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth for a split second, “That’s some outfit to be opening the door in. I thought you said you’d come in this afternoon? Not at lunchtime.” He shoved past her and turned in the hallway to present her with the flowers.

“This outfit is for doing yoga in and it beats wearing office gear any day. Oh how sweet, flowers… For me? Shall I cut off the heads of the roses and bin them now or later?”

“You wouldn’t dare. You love roses.”

“I do, don’t I?” She reached for the flowers. “Yellow, white and orange! You were covering all the bases then?”

“The florist told me what they all meant. So you won’t chop off their heads?”

“Not this time.” As she took the bunch of colour and fragrance she sniffed appreciatively at its centre as if she had every right to and had in fact been expecting them. But it was the first time he’d ever given her store bought flowers. He must be a worried man. The colourful bunch of roses said so much more than ‘sorry’.

“I really want you to reconsider your employment options Meg.” Her brows rose. She expected more from him obviously. “I’m begging now; for everyone. Please don’t leave. I can barely cope with changing a few appointments let alone anything else. And I’ve been a bastard to everyone there – I can’t seem to stop myself.” Which was true. “You keep everyone so happy there.” He wanted her to know she was wanted; needed; desperately.

“What? You mean you changed your own appointments to come and see me?” She knew for certain that he had one huge potential client scheduled for right about now – she’d made the appointment over a month ago. It was an account he’d been wanting for a long time and worth a lot of money if they secured it.

“Had to. I couldn’t see any other way around it.”

“But that could be disastrous for the company.” ‘Oh dear, she was beginning to weaken. She’d have to be firm with him this time’. “I think you’d better come through. I’ll make tea? Or perhaps something stronger? You might need it.”

“Why? I know if I grovel sufficiently, you’ll come back.”

“Not this time Billy. I can’t. I’ve got a new job.”

“Already? You can’t have!” He followed her into the open plan kitchen and dining area. “How could you?”

“Easy. I want something more challenging.” She grabbed a vase and dealt with the roses. “And apart from us having had one disagreement too many and no laughs in the office, recently, I think it’s way past time for me to leave.”

“But I’ll be stuffed without you there.”

“No you won’t and you know it.” She walked toward him and put her arm around his shoulders. “Come on, sit down. I’ll fix you a drink. Brandy, I think.”

She handed him a crystal tumbler, “No ice, just how you like it. Now get that down you.”

“It’s only three in the afternoon. I don’t drink at this time of the day.” He took the offered seat.

“Well, you’re not usually out of the office at this time of the day either. But here you are.”

At that moment her mother came in from the garden.

“Ah, there you are William. I wondered if we’d see you this afternoon. Have you told him yet?”

“He knows I’ve got a new job. I just haven’t told him what or where it is.”

William took a large gulp of his drink. This was it; defeat and acceptance. She really was leaving him. His heart had steadied back into a normal rhythm. He’d be okay – he had to be. He could get a new secretary – he could. He just needed to convince himself a little more first.

“I wasn’t 100% sure myself whether I did have the job or not. But I found out just before I cleared out my desk earlier today.”

The older woman eyed them both, her blue eyes twinkling, “Oh well… I’ll leave you two to it then. Call me when you’ve told him what you’ll be doing dear.”

He downed the rest of his drink. “Well I guess this is really it then?”

“Don’t you want to know what I’ll be doing?”

“I bet you’ve been poached away by Don Barton? He’s always wanted you. Said you were the best damn asset the company had. And he was right.”

“No. Not exactly.”

“Look Meg, I’ll be straight with you, I guess I can do without you as my secretary. But I sure as hell can’t do without you as my wife, so if this is what you really want then I’ll have to accept it, won’t I?”

“That’s good darling. By the way I’ve moved your things back into our room.”

His eyebrows rose as she continued.

“I’ve been lonely. And I had to put Mum somewhere didn’t I?”

“You have? Of course you did.” He looked at her again; her eyes were shining and she had that Mona Lisa secret smile going on. “So what’s this new job then? Tell me all about it. I can deal with it, I’m calm now.”

Sitting on his lap as if it were the most natural thing in the world, which it was, she grabbed his right hand and said, “Guess,” as she placed his hand over her abdomen.

The new job now made perfect sense to him; after five years of their ‘never a dull moment marriage’, they’d decided to try for a baby. They’d been trying very hard for about a year. “Ah, at last, new beginnings – for everyone.”

She nodded; her secret smile still firmly in place.

He leaned away, their steady gazes holding fast, “When? I bet it was the Easter long weekend? On the brown leather couch after everyone had gone?”

“Hmmm….. it could’ve been there. Or on the desk afterwards, or in the lift on our way home. Remember?”

“As if I could ever forget that day. Is your mother really staying?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Good. When’s she leaving?”

“I’d say – any second now.”

The front door banged shut and they were both at the dining room window in record time, Meg opened it, “Bye Mum. I’ll call you.” The older woman waved and blew them both a kiss as she got in her car and reversed out of the driveway. She tooted her horn all the way down the street.

“Right wife, I think you’re way overdressed for what I have in mind.”

“Billy! It’s the middle of the afternoon!”

“So, we won’t do it here? Where then? Upstairs? What about on the stairs?”

Kissing him senseless was her pleasurable revenge!

 

 

Ends.

 

 

 

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BOOK REVIEW12: ‘Decree Absolute’ Author is W A Cooper. Genre types Romance/Women’s Fiction/General Fiction – (warning: contains explicit well-written-sensual F/F love scenes).

***** 5 STARS VERY DEFINITELY!

The other reviewers have said it ‘all’ already – and I totally agree with their excellent reviews. But feel I need to add something here for the author’s sake.

WELL DONE to WA Cooper. I know this is a debut novel; and I can’t wait to read more from you.

What more can I say, other than, I loved this story too. Jessica Barron and Renée Arden’s story is captivating. It’s full. It’s about family. It’s about trust. It’s also a story about relationships, friendships and deceitfulness and betrayals from those closest to you; from people you should be able to trust. ‘Decree Absolute’ has it all. Romance. Intrique. Jealousy. Hatred. Shattered hearts; minds. New relationships that matter are formed. Bonds become unshakeable. There is even humour in the dramatic closing scenes; go Natalie! The setting is England and France. And there’s much to savour within this story; not just the wine and classic cars.

The Women’s Fiction or F/F classification seems irrelevant to me. This is a story about people and relationships. We all want the same thing; a steadfast, loving and trustworthy partner in life. Jessica and Renée find that in each other in the end. I totally recommend you read it for yourself.

twitter.com/WACooper4

 

AUGUST WAS VBUSY…

Well I’m just skipping on thru to September people! August was pretty damn busy with various endeavours for me…including; lots of reading, some writing (book reviews sent off mostly), some study, some clients, a series of new meditations, and ‘yes’ some major enjoyment of this amazing life I find myself living; and I’m so grateful for all of it.

One of the biggest highlights for August 2018 had to be the annual RWNZ conference held over the 9th-12th of August. Romance Writers of NZ hosted their 25th Annual Conference in Auckland at the Novotel, Ellerslie. What an incredible few days that was! New people met. Old friends hugged. Workshops galore. Information coming at us rapid fire. A melting pot of ideas and inspiration. Our main guest speakers had a huge wealth of talent and experience between them and all with such a willingness to share in an honest and open way. There were also editors and agents, and some of our own well known NZ authors presenting workshops as well.

If you’ve ever wanted to write and join a professional organisation that will guide and help, that is inclusive of all the genre writers, but working under the framework of ‘romance writing’ then look no further than this organisation.

https://www.romancewriters.co.nz

The information and availability to the members and sub-groups within, is one of total openness to ‘everything writing related’, including new ideas on the non-traditional methods of publishing. This year some of the big name speakers were promoting ‘do it yourself’ in a major way; Bella Andre for one. But you’ve still gotta learn the basics of what ‘story is’. What a plot needs to sustain it. What characters need to drive them forward. And a lot more besides. But the pleasure and fun is in the doing and learning ‘how to’ and in the friendships and contacts you form on your journey. Which is different for us all. One thing that never changes is that you must develop your own unique voice and write a good yarn (even if the story idea has been done before – it hasn’t been done with your voice or flair). And finally top quality editing really does matter. The copy must be free from errors. Punctuation problems need to be addressed and sorted before you can even think about publishing in any sense; traditional or otherwise. But none of that is insurmountable. It can all be learnt. Or you can pay someone to help you edit. Easy as.

Damon Suede

 

Bella Andre

 

Grace Burrowes

 

Nalini Singh

 

Geoff Symon

 

And if you do want to tackle publishing yourself well here is one way to start. Dan Wood from Draft to Digital was informative and so helpful for the entire conference. https://www.draft2digital.com

This is only a snapshot of who was there this year. And next year we are off to Christchurch! With more top notch overseas & local speakers in attendance. Excited about that. We’ve never had a romance writers conference in our gorgeous South Island of NZ. So, I predict it’s going to be a wonderful experience for many of us; conference combined with a holiday before or after? Come and join us!

https://www.romancewriters.co.nz

https://nz.hotels.com/ho115259/chateau-on-the-park-christchurch-a-doubletree-by-hilton-christchurch-new-zealand/

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW11: ‘The Bridge to Caracas’ Author is Stephen Douglass. Genre is popular/general fiction full length novel (crime, tax fraud, romance).

CANADA TO CARACAS

**** 4 Stars from me

This was my first Stephen Douglass read. I found the whole plot idea to be intriguing; could oil really be stolen and on sold for large profits? I believed it could while I was reading. This story is about corruption within the oil industry, theft and tax fraud on a huge scale, all layered down with several deceitful characters; including the odd government representative. The realism of certain aspects of the plot obviously came from the author’s first-hand knowledge of working within that field in his previous life; a story which is full of characters who are all mostly flawed in that they are open to taking tax revenue money from the government without blinking an eye. Jim Servito is the main villain of the piece. A very good looking draft dodger, with no moral fibre; who thought nothing of killing someone once their usefulness was at an end; or to tidy up and leave no trace of his involvement with said individuals. But rest assured readers he gets exactly what he deserves in the end; although a slow death in jail would have suited the storyline just as well. (NB: If you’re squeamish then perhaps this story isn’t the read for you? Jim’s fairly ruthless when it comes to disposing of unwanted labour.)

The romance and long standing relationship between Mike King and Karen Servito is where the story let itself down in my view; it’s mostly done in a ‘telling’ style rather than a ‘showing’ style. And unfortunately, at times, I felt their affair lacked some emotional depth and appeared to be one dimensional because of the ‘telling’ aspect. However, all the elements of a great romance are there; thwarted lovers, distance, wrong timing, a hijacking for Karen and being held captive for over a year, marriages to other people, a child to each partner… but in the end Mike turns out not to be as moral as I believed him to be for most of the book; and his hero status becomes greatly reduced in my eyes which is the only reason I didn’t rate it a 5 star read.

Having said that, what I loved about this book was the realism of the settings; Canada to Caracas. And everywhere in between. I also found ‘The Bridge to Caracas’ to be a well presented book and I liked the multiple viewpoints. An easy read.

twitter.com/douglasssteve

http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/stephen-douglass

 

BOOK REVIEW10: ‘Golden’ – Author is James Scott Bell. Genre – Short Story.

VISUAL. EMOTIONAL. REAL. Well worth the read!

***** Five Stars from me!

James Scott Bell shows how we can redeem our past in this short story; imparting a valuable lesson in humanity from a father to a son.

Maybe there are two hero’s in the story? Firstly, it’s Charles, without a doubt. But the story is told from ‘golden boy’s’ perspective; with him learning the most valuable lesson of all and becoming a hero, in my view as well; eventually owning his past mistakes and much later in life sharing the lesson with his own son.

At school, Charles knew he was different; his disability displayed for all to sneer at. He embraced it; using the power of words to battle the bullies. This story also shows how a good percentage of the human race are really still ‘pack animals’. Sadly. Some just think they’re better than others. Some are bullies and usually hunt with another and ‘golden boy’ was part of one such group with friend Robbie; to be fair I don’t think he really ever felt comfortable in the role. And he did have a conscience. Knocking Charles over with a clod of dirt on purpose pricked at that conscience. And not long after that he saw Charles in the crowd at one of their football games, smiling and clapping because of the touchdown ‘game saving score’ that he’d made. His conscience pricked a bit more and in that moment he knew Charles was the ‘better person’.

Charles drowns during the summer holidays; the inference is perhaps it wasn’t accidental? This news is a shock to him. He learns about it from Robbie; and the enthusiasm with which the news is given doesn’t sit well with ‘golden boy’ either. He soon finds himself standing outside Charles’s house. A woman is gardening out the front; a conversation with a grieving mother who tells him how much her son looked up to him and the other athletes is the last part of the lesson for ‘golden boy’.

Imparting the lesson to his own son many years later completes the learning for ‘golden boy’.

I wanted there to be more for ‘golden boy’; as in a HEA ending at the least. But I’m a romantic realist and fully appreciated and enjoyed the realness of ‘golden boy’s’ character. However, when I purchased, for some reason I didn’t grasp the words ‘short story’. But upon further reflection there didn’t need to be more and the romance is in the relationship between the father and the son. The story is perfectly formed. Beautifully written. Short. But complete. Will look for longer works from JSB. Liking his style very much!

twitter.com/jamesscottbell

http://www.jamesscottbell.com/

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW9: ‘The Devil’s Dance’ – Author is Kristen Lamb. Genre – Popular Entertainment/Suspense/General Fiction.

**** This is a 4.5* Read from me.

‘The Devil’s Dance’ was read in practically one sitting; I did snatch some ‘overnight zeds’, scoffed down a couple of meals (while still reading of course) and ‘yeah’, I confess, I had a couple of toilet breaks (no reading in there, thou). What can I say, it’s winter here in NZ. Raining. The perfect weather to sink yourself into a good book! I wasn’t disappointed. And there are some excellent reviews up, so I’ll try not to repeat what others have already said.

I enjoyed this author’s first foray into a work of fiction. And I hoped she’d tie up all the loose ends by the time I got to the final page. I kept up easily with the ever changing fast pace and convolutions of the characters and their storylines and all the while hoping and trying to guess if there would be a HEA outcome for Romi Lachlan with FBI agent, Ben Sawyer? Sawyer is well-trained to take care of business and does so for 12 months before he ‘allows her’ to see him; he’s been shadowing her because she’s guilty by association, and a suspect in a large scale money laundering and fraud case. Yes – there were some surprises, cos there’s plenty going on in this book. And it’s written with a showing style rather than a telling one; great visuals of characters and situations; Romi’s personality and dress code, the ‘birdlady’ at the un-employment agency, grandma, and the trailer park too; the essence and flavour of the scene settings are vivid.

And I enjoyed Romi’s humour and deflection of serious matters from time to time, too. But not everything’s fluffy and cute as ‘six week old kittens’. Far from it. ‘TheDD’ deals with some intense moral issues; murder, theft, tax fraud, under-age sex, drugs and gangbangers to name a few. And while Romi’s no shrinking Texas Miss she wants to right some wrongs, prove her worth and most of all clear her name of all wrong doing; she’s kick-ass and knows a lot about keeping herself and those around her safe and she’s good with numbers; smart as a whip and got a degree to prove it. And yes, she has a soft side too. When it seems her luck hasn’t just run out – it’s taken a hike so far away she can’t remember the last time something good happened for her – bar the time she spends with her ‘memory deprived’ elderly neighbour, Ida, and the random contact she has with Ida’s ‘son’, Ed. Romi knows her options are finally ‘done’ when she witnesses one final act of brutality in her current ‘no other choice’ neighbourhood. Her retaliation is either brave or stupid and it becomes her tipping point. The time to leave has arrived.

Romi calls home. And does the one thing she’d hoped never to do, return to Bisby, Texas, just as poor as she was when she left. Now, practically destitute apart from her clapped out old car and the cash Ida’s ‘son’ pushed on her as a thank you for her kindness to Ida, Romi arrives back at the trailer park where she grew up; unprepared for the mess her family is in – literally – there’s more garbage than she ‘can poke a stick at’ surrounding her Dad’s home on wheels and there’s no-one else left living there apart from her still very belligerent and bitter father, stunningly good looking sister and mad as a snake grandmother. But they’re her family and they’re all she’s got; she’s grateful to them and for the place she used to call home. The trailer park is going to be bulldozed to make way for a business development and they’ve all gotta be gone by the end of the month; as new council bylaws have been issued by Mayor Ferris.

Her father’s sick – or is he? Her grandmother is an elderly kleptomaniac – or is she? Or is it that nothing is at all what it seems in the now ‘growing more affluent by the day’ town of Bisby? Former friends have moved up in the world – gone from one side of the tracks to the other… the rich side. Or have they? There’s something sinister going on underneath what appears to be a property and business development boom in the town. And the answers are all much closer to home than Romi even wants to envisage. She’s always been smarter than some people gave her credit for, especially the one person she should’ve been able to trust to love her unconditionally – forever.

If I had one critique to offer it would be the emotional connection between Romi and Ben didn’t quite click for me; yes they had some chemistry, but there were times when I wanted Romi to let Ben be ‘the man’ (for those who don’t read romance or relationship stories this won’t be an issue). But for me, I’m all about building the love and the relationships. As this is ‘book one’ I assume the relationship will develop further and they will grow that connection as they get to know each other in the future? For that reason alone this is a 4.5 star read from me.

Make no mistake, this is a story about people, lessons, family and friends betrayals, jealousies, ‘justifiable outcomes’ for some, and moral redemption for others. But if you’re squeamish then perhaps this isn’t the read for you?

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NB: I noted a couple of typos, missed words/spaces, not enough to detract from the author’s writing style/voice or the story for me. ‘Perfection’ is over-rated in my view. We need the copy to be as good as it can be – near perfect, if possible. But if it’s close then that works fine for me. Every single reader/writer/author will have a differing view on punctuation these days and mixing styles seems to be acceptable in this 21st century of texting, tweeting, blogging, or whatever short form of writing it is that people engage in. The crux of the matter is always about writing an engaging story. And this book is definitely that in my view.

 

 

 

Short Story: ‘Ali’s Family’ – Author is Gaylene AtkinsNZ ©2013.

As I haven’t popped up a blog post, or book review for a few weeks I thought you’d like a short story from my archives just for a change of pace. I wrote this one five years ago for an RWNZ short story competition. It didn’t place. But it’s still a story I like. Hope you enjoy it too.

 

THERE he was two rows from the front and halfway along the pew, I couldn’t have missed him; a familiar sensation whooshed through me ending with that intense gut-tightening feeling that’d made me leave in the first place. He stood tall and straight-backed, head-up at a proud tilt as he looked forward to the minister, singing; shoulders above everyone else. I’d come here with the hope of seeing him as much as paying my last respects to Violet Imogen Carter.

The hymn being sung, now a rising crescendo. While everyone was standing it was easier to lumber my way down the aisle and into the pew as if I had every right to be there, without causing too much of a stir by being late. Smiling to various people may have looked inappropriate to some, but never for Aunty Vi. ‘A genuine smile shared with loving warmth cannot be misread’ was one of her standard lines. To top that, I could clearly hear her saying, ‘and better late than not at all, eh dear?’ If she were here to speak, she wouldn’t have just been talking about my attending this funeral service for her either.

The last verse of ‘How Great Thou Art’ was almost at its conclusion. As some of the mourners lifted their voices in unison to another level for the final rousing chorus I inched and crabbed sideways along his pew, nudging and saying ‘excuse me’ until I was within one person of him.

He’d filled out. His mourning suit fit his ‘new to my eyes’ muscular frame, the once coal dark hair now greying at the temples and above his ears and cut much shorter than I remember him wearing it. It suited him perfectly.

I used to know the shape and form of every naked dip and hollow, the smoothness of his skin; eyes shut; hands roaming, fingers caressing. Then to have that touch returned; gently pulling me forward to hold and frame my face, as he looked at me, intensely, as if I were a precious cut crystal jewel or valuable piece of art and he wanted to commit the memory of the moment every single time, before he kissed me.

And to him, I guess I was worth it. Then.

I’d known the many facets of my personality had caught his interest a long time before we got to the kissing stage. The sun and rain, the blinking rainbows of colour that made me who I was, often reflected against the plain white walls of my bedroom as we discovered the basics of being human. Seeking comfort in one another as we learnt about sex on our journey of discovery. That first kiss had been twenty-one years ago. I’d been a skinny sometimes-introverted fifteen-year-old the first time we’d had sex; a hormonal driven teen with mood swings and manipulation tactics in place. To me, he’d been a butterfly—emerging from the ugliness that was sometimes an eighteen-year-old boy’s only way forward into manhood. I helped his transition. He showed me how to have some light in my dark.

Stepping around one more singing mourner, I managed to squeeze myself in beside him. He glanced at me as I opened the service sheet and tried to sing the final few words of one of Vi’s favourite ‘churchy songs’. There had been a momentary flicker of something in his dark green eyes. Interest? Maybe it was a smile of relieved recognition. I hoped so.

As the hymn finished, I sat carefully. He remained standing and then moved past me, touching my cheek on the way; a soft feather like stroke as he got around my now awkwardly spread knees. Glancing down at the order of service, I knew he was giving the eulogy without having to see it confirmed. I blinked back salty tears and studied the sheet anyway. Sure enough, there it was, Eulogy—Dominick Boyd-Carter. My eyes roved and traced every letter of his name, fluttering heart and breath uneven as goose bumps tattooed up and down my spine.

The smooth cadence of his voice filled my head and took me on an old journey. I closed my eyes and indulged the sweetness of those memories for a second before opening them again to focus on him.

“Violet Imogen Carter wasn’t ‘just’ my mother. She was so much more for all of my life and that of many others. I’m honoured that she requested that I give this, her final speech.” He waved the sheaf of papers at us, “Mum wrote this and told me I could add to it if I wanted—but only if it was funny.” There was a murmur of laughter and whispers of how like Vi that was, from those around me.

“Vi was born to be a mother. She loved children and fostered over one hundred of us with as many as eight children in their farm-house home at any one time. She was a tough disciplinarian and she dished that out with equal measures of love. We all had our jobs and responsibilities within the framework of the home and on the farm. Bill was her rock and dearly loved husband for over sixty years. Their love showed me that being good-parents, in a strong relationship, was possible. Bill’s sudden passing away two months ago set this day in motion. Her heart broke along with her will to go on without the love of her favourite man to share each day with.”

I baulked and choked back more tears. My heart really began beating rapidly now. How come I didn’t know Bill had died?

Uncle Bill and Aunty Vi had been the first adults I’d ever trusted. At almost thirteen, I knew it had been a struggle for them to take me on. I was the oldest foster child they had ever had. At first, I hadn’t wanted to help with the younger children, or the chores for that matter. Vi was patient with me. She let me revert into my shell from time to time but somehow the magic of her ‘ordinary-ness’ always won me over. Again and again.

She was the first person to see and understand that I needed specialist treatment; a ‘head-doctor’, as she called it. Having multiple personalities caused by my need to escape previous trauma, was not something every day ordinary people usually dealt with. But Vi coped with me and the ‘others’ with her usual good humour and extraordinary determination. Over time, and with a lot of help, I was able to phase out the nastier ‘others’ and concentrate on the ‘good’ one. Most people would have said ‘no’ without any thanks, and sent me back. Not Vi and Bill. They treated me and my ‘other good sister’ equally.

Looking up I caught Dominick’s eye as he came back down the aisle toward his seat. I’d zoned out and missed most of his eulogy? As he got closer, it was clear he was going to sit down on my right, not on the left where he’d been previously. I moved along the pew a fraction, glancing sideways at the young person to my left. How could I not have realised? My stomach pitched and rolled downward, all breath stalled in my throat as I held myself in place by sheer force of will.

The young person beside me smiled back as Dom’s hand reached for mine as he sat, his hard thigh pressed against my leg. The rest of the service rushed by in a blur of more silent tears.

There was soon movement as the final blessings for peace and safe passage into the next life were intoned for Violet. Pallbearers stood to take their places. I had inadvertently sat down amongst several of them.

Before I knew it, I found myself outside in the late morning sunshine. It was easy to stand back and watch the crowd as they surged forward to place flowers and other tributes on Vi’s simple pine casket, now reposing in the hearse. I couldn’t bring myself to do the same.

“She’s chosen a cremation too. Then her and Bill will be scattered on the farm together. Under the oldest Kauri tree on the farm, the one over-looking the sea. You will remember it too I guess?” He’d come back to stand beside me.

How could I forget the place where he’d first kissed me. The rest came weeks later. “I didn’t know about Bill—I’m sorry—I should’ve been here for her. You. And…” The words whispered out of me. The pain and sadness of not seeing her that one last time was intense. Gripping.

“You’re here now Ali. That’s all that matters. And I reckon they’ll both be pleased to know it was Vi’s passing that finally got us back together.”

“I’ve never been ‘together’ with anyone.” Even I could hear the wistful tone in my voice.

“You want to be though. And all these years we should’ve been. Vi and Bill knew that.” His voice trailed off as he turned to speak to someone.

He was right. I’d run away from Vi and Bill. And him. It’d been cowardly. And until this moment I hadn’t realised how much it’d hurt everyone. Me most of all because I’d chosen to be alone. I swiped at the edges of my eyes as I faced him.

“Sasha, Tim, meet your mother. Ali—meet our twins.”

Dom’s hand drew me forward, his free arm slipping around my lower back, encircling me. His grip was so familiar, yet not. Strong—supportive and a man now not the boy I’d left. My last twenty years flashed at high speed thru my brain; these beautiful young people were living proof of what I’d missed out on.

The twins had been almost a year old when I’d left; I could feel my heart somersaulting as Sasha smiled at me and then I heard my daughter speak for the first time. A soft caring voice. No judgement. No criticism. Calm acceptance.

“You’re even more stunning in person than in Dad’s crinkled up wallet photos.” Then the young man I’d sat next to, the image of his father, spoke. “Nana Vi was an extraordinary woman who told us you were too. She also said you’d come back to us when you were ready. And that we had to keep believing that. She understood your need to run. She taught us to have patience.”

The forgiveness, trust and love shining out of three of them had all words freezing in my brain. Finally, courage had me reaching for a hand of each twin and looking from one to the other. “I’m so sorry in many ways. In others, I’m not. You had the three best parents possible. Vi and Bill stood by your Dad and you two.”

Dom’s grip firmed around me as he rubbed his left hand back and forth across my lower spine and hip area. Instinctively he seemed to know where I needed some gentle pressure to be applied. It was blissful relief; for a few seconds.

“Please don’t run again Ali. Stay. Come home with us. Come back to the farm.”

“How can I? Look at me.”

“I am.” His smile was unwavering and my undoing. As the nagging lower back pain that had plagued me for the past twelve hours hiked up another notch, my waters broke. I tightened my grip on my two grown children and leaned sideways; into him.