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First pages

Chapter ONE

“We’ll raffle off a man!” Louise shouted into the phone.

“As in a human being?” I asked from my end of the line. “Are you crazy?”

The answer to that question, by the way, is a resounding yes. My literary agent Louise Urko, a.k.a. Geez Louise, is certifiable.

“A man-prize!” she was saying. “Such a fantastical idea! Fantastical, fantastical, fantastica—”

I looked at my cats. “Certifiably cuckoo.”

“I heard that, Jessica. But you know I had to come up with the most fantastical prize ever in the entire history of the Happily Ever After conference!”

“Oh?”

“Oh, yes! Adelé Nightingale is about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Finally! This year’s Happily Ever After absolutely must be the most memorable ever. You and Adelé deserve nothing less!”

In case you’re confused—Geez Louise has a way of doing that—I am Adelé Nightingale. But I’m also Jessica Hewitt. Adelé is my pen name, I write historical romances for a living, and I was indeed about to take my place in the hallowed ranks of the Romance Writers Hall of Fame.

“A man-prize is so much better than Tori Fister’s idea!” Louise was still speaking in high-definition exclamation points. “She suggested the raffle winner receive a free massage! A massage? Can you imagine anything more ho hum-hum drum?”

Tori, in case you’re still confused, is Geez Louise’s archrival. The two of them are the hottest literary agents in the romance world. I’m a fan of Geez Louise, which of course speaks volumes as to my own grasp on sanity.

“I had to think of something better than a massage!” she continued. “So come Monday some lucky winner will be swept off her feet for a fun-filled frolicsome date with her Paramour for a Day! Will that be fantastical or what!?”

“Or what,” I answered firmly and reminded my agent very few men attend the annual Happily Ever After conference. “Who do you plan to recruit for this stunt?”

Louise skipped a beat. “I don’t suppose Roberto would work,” she said, and I agreed he would not.

Roberto Santiago, my publisher at Perpetual Pleasures Press, is a regular at Happily Ever After. But Roberto is over seventy and a bit past Paramour for a Day standards. Gavin McClure also attends every year, and Gavin is a handsome young guy. But Gavin was bound to be as busy as I over the weekend, since he, too, was about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Gavin, for his work in the LGBT category. Which brings up another point.

“Gavin’s cute,” I said. “But I doubt the winner, who’s bound to be a heterosexual female, would consider him the best paramour.”

“That rules out Mykal also,” Louise agreed. Mykal is Gavin’s significant other. “So,” she sang. “There really is only one choice.”

I closed my eyes and prayed for strength. “No.”

“But he’s not gay. And he’s such a hunk! He’s the perfect paramour! Perfect, perfect, perfe—”

“He’s also my husband,” I said, and could almost hear Louise roll her eyes up in Manhattan from my chair in Clarence, North Carolina. “Husband,” I repeated. “You do remember our wedding a mere three months ago?”

“Oh, Jessica! I’m not suggesting anything sordid. Everyone knows Wilson Rye is madly in love with you. Beautiful, talented, menopausal you!”

I thanked her for reminding me and went in search of an Advil while Louise continued on her merry, insane way.

“It’s just for one teeny tiny-itsy bitsy date,” she said as I swallowed a pill. “And he’ll be perfect! Everyone’s dying to meet him. You two will be the hottest thing at this conference!”

“Oh, please,” I said. “We’re middle-aged fuddy duddies.”

“Fuddy duddies do not drive golden chariots.”

“Excuse me?”

“Adelé Nightingale’s brand new golden chariot!” she said. “Absolutely perfect for Wilson’s Paramour for a Day performance!”

I scowled at the cats. “Are you talking about my Porsche?”

“It is gold, isn’t it? And with your ‘Adelé’ license plates? It’s like you bought it specifically with our raffle in mind!”

“Louise! My car may be new, but Wilson certainly isn’t. He’s way too old for this nonsense.”

“Nonsense! He’s perfect!”

Perfect? Hardly. But Wilson is handsome. For a guy pushing fifty, that is. I scowled some more and desperately tried to think of an alternative.

“How about Roger Hollingsworth?” I suggested, and Louise snorted.

“And you claim I’m cuckoo?”

Okay, so she had a point. Roger is married to Faith Hollingsworth, another of my fellow Hall of Fame inductees. Presumably Roger’s heterosexual, and he’s about ten years younger than Wilson. However.

“Roger’s a fuddy duddy,” I said.

“He put the fuddy into duddy! He’s some sort of boring businessman, for Pete’s sake!”

“There’s nothing wrong with businessmen,” I insisted and tried to think fast. “Businessmen are clever and intelligent, and, umm, reliable! Some women like that kind of thing.”

“And some women are cuckoo! Everyone knows business is boring. Boring!” she sang.

“You’re a businesswoman,” I argued, but Louise was too busy repeating her one-word song to hear me.

“Businessmen are completely and totally un-sexy,” she said. “Remember your ex-husband?”

I winced at the cats. “Must I?”

“No! Think about your new husband instead, Jessica! Wilson Rye the homicide guy! The sexy cop!” Louise claimed she swooned every time she pictured him. “You know and I know he’ll make a perfectly fantastical paramour!”

“You know and I know he’ll be perfectly appalled by this plan.”

“Hogwash! He’ll be flattered. So, what do you say?”

I know Louise, and thus I knew resistance was futile. I said yes and hung up. Which is when I noticed all three cats glaring at me.

From my own cat Snowflake, I was accustomed to such disapproval. But from Bernice and Wally, who had been Wilson’s before our marriage? Clearly they’d been taking lessons from Snowflake.

“Wilson will be flattered,” I tried, and six feline eyes glared some more.

I sighed dramatically. “He’s going to kill me.”

No one argued. Bernice yawned.

***

“Wilson Rye at a romance conference?” Karen Sembler asked as we crossed the street and headed to the Stone Fountain, our friendly neighborhood bar. “How’d you talk him into that?”

“Wilson’s proud of Jessie,” Candy Poppe answered for me. She held the door open, and Karen and I slipped by. “I bet he wants to go.”

I agreed that Wilson did want to attend the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but also admitted he wasn’t interested in much else about the Happily Ever After.

“But there’s a nice golf course close by,” I said as we took seats at our three favorite bar stools. “Wilson can spend his time shooting golf.”

Karen jerked a thumb at the pool table behind us. “You shoot pool, girlfriend. You play golf.”

“Okay, play,” I said as my pool-shooting buddy Kirby Cox stepped over and challenged me to a game.

“Not now,” Candy told him. “Right now Jessie’s telling us how she talked Wilson into

being Paramour for a Day.”

“Say what?” Kirby asked.

I said I needed a drink and waved to the bartender. And while Karen and Candy explained the basics of the plan to Kirby, Charlie poured our drinks. Korbel for Candy and me, and a Corona for Karen.

You might think I ordered champagne to celebrate my imminent induction into the Romance Writers Hall of Fame, but truth be told, I simply like champagne. My motto? A day without champagne is just plain dumb.

Karen tapped my glass to get my attention. “What’s the story, Jess? How’d you get Wilson to agree to this?”

“Umm.” I shrugged. “I don’t believe I’ve actually mentioned it yet.”

“Oh boy,” she said, but Kirby added something considerably stronger.

I twirled around and pointed him to the pool table. “Play!” I ordered. “Shoot. Whatever.”

He took the hint, but my girlfriends were not so easily distracted.

Candy tapped her flaming red fingernails on the bar. “Newlyweds shouldn’t lie to each other, Jessie.”

“I didn’t lie,” I lied. “It just slipped my mind.”

“You’ve lost your mind,” Karen told me. “Wilson’s going to kill you.”

I threw my hands up. “Okay, so what else is new?” I reminded my friends the man has been on the verge of killing me for some reason or another since the day we met. “Apparently I drive him nuts.”

“No kidding,” they said in unison.

They asked where he was that night, and I mentioned the police station. Wilson had some work to catch up on before our weekend away. But I needed the opposite. I needed to sip champagne, shoot some pool, and relax.

“I attend this conference every year,” I explained. “Trust me, it’s always a rather intense three days.”

“It’s gonna get real intense when Wilson hears about the paramour thingy,” Candy said.

“Wilson will be flattered,” I insisted, and my friends offered the same disapproving look the cats had used.

***

Speaking of which.

“My cats!” I said. I deftly changed the subject and reminded Candy and Karen I’d be gone the entire Labor Day weekend. “You two are okay with cat-care duty?”

Candy was agreeable, but Karen seemed uncharacteristically reluctant.

“Are you busy this weekend?” I asked.

Like myself, Karen’s self-employed. But while I spend my time in my top-floor condo with my computer, Karen spends hers on the ground floor with her Skilsaw. When she’s not at home building large and ostentatious furniture for every wealthy person this side of the Mississippi, she’s working in the Summit Garden District, fixing whatever ails the various mansions in the wealthiest section of Clarence. Karen Sembler is the handiest person I know. The woman can build or fix anything.

She didn’t answer, so I tried again. “What colossal piece of furniture are you working on?”

At least Candy responded. “Karen’s not making furniture right now,” she said. “She’s working at Pierpont Rigby’s house.”

“House? That place is a mansion, Sweetie. You’ve been on the tours.” I turned to Karen. “You’re actually working for Pierpont Rigby?”

“He’s got a lot of plumbing issues,” she said, and I laughed out loud.

“I imagine so,” I said. “How many bathrooms are there?”

“I lost count after twenty. And it’s not just the plumbing, Jess. The wiring on the first floor needs updating to meet code, all the brick work needs repointing, the roof in the west wing leaks, and the furnace will want a major overhaul before winter sets in.”

“Wow. You’ll be working out there forever.”

She grimaced. “Oh boy.”

“No, really.” I told Karen I was impressed and asked how she’d gotten the job.

“I got it for her,” Candy answered, and Karen mumbled a “with friends like this.”

I scowled at Candy. “You actually know Pierpont Rigby?”

Yes, Candy Poppe and Pierpont Rigby do both live in Clarence, North Carolina. But that’s about all they have in common. Candy works in the foundations department of Tate’s Department Store. She’s the best bra saleswoman on Planet Earth, but that doesn’t exactly qualify her for being friends, or even acquaintances, with Pierpont Rigby—the wealthiest man in Clarence, the wealthiest man in North Carolina, and one of the richest men in the nation.

Candy assured me she didn’t know Mr. Rigby personally. “But Mrs. Marachini does.”

“The polka-dot bra lady?”

“That’s right.” She explained that her richest and most eccentric customer was related to the local millionaire. “He’s her second cousin twice removed or something like that.”

Evidently Candy had learned about Mr. Rigby’s plumbing issues the last time Mrs. Marachini visited Tate’s for her monthly shopping spree. “Mrs. Marachini complained how hard it is to find good help these days, and how poor Pierpont couldn’t find anyone to fix his house.”

I smiled broadly. “So you mentioned Karen?”

“I did.”

“And Mrs. Marachini mentioned her to Pierpont?”

“She did.”

“And Pierpont hired her?”

“He did!”

“Well done, Sweetie!” I said, and we tapped champagne glasses.

Karen muttered a word we seldom hear from her and ordered another beer.

***

I put down my glass. “Okay, what’s wrong?”

“It’s your cats,” Karen said. “I’ll be too busy to look after your cats. I feel awful.”

Candy waved a hand and told her not to worry about it. “I can handle it by myself. I’ll go upstairs to Jessie’s before and after work each day.”

“But that’s unfair to you, Kiddo,” Karen argued. “The little black guy and Snowflake are no trouble, but you have to watch the fat one like a hawk. She steals everyone’s food.”

Sad, but true. Poor Bernice, our fatter than fat calico, was not happy with her new diet and cheated whenever possible.

“How about this.” Karen leaned around me to speak to Candy. “I’ll be at the Rigby place until late tomorrow, and then I’ll need to recover Saturday morning—”

“Recover?” I asked, but she ignored me and kept her eyes on Candy.

“If you take care of the cats until Saturday afternoon, I’ll take over from there.”

Candy was fine with that plan, and Karen waved to Charlie and asked him to please hurry with that beer.

Chapter TWO

Slipper Vervette blinked her big brown eyes. Maurice blinked his.

Slipper fluttered her eyelashes. Maurice fluttered his.

Slipper frowned, and Maurice imitated that also.

She twirled around. “He doesn’t like me.”

“Give him a try, Miss.” Conrad Montjoy held onto the reins and pointed to the beast kneeling before her. “Look, he’s bowing for you. He’ll be very gentle.”

Slipper turned and stared once more. She had heard of these beasts. Long ago her dear father, God rest his soul, had drawn her a picture and told her of their many unusual attributes. But dear Papa had never mentioned the size of the creatures—

Maurice snarled and spit, and Slipper leapt back just in time to avoid the—she shuddered to think of the right word for it—before “it” landed on the bosom of her frock.

Conrad Montjoy glimpsed at the spot where Maurice had aimed, but admonished himself that he must be a gentleman. After all, Miss Vervette was so clearly out of her element here in the desert. It was only to be expected that a beast such as Maurice might frighten a delicate young lady from the Cottleshire. Even if the lady was the daughter of the renowned zoologist, and Conrad’s former employer, the late Dr. Wesley Vervette.

“Dr. Vervette loved riding,” Conrad said as he offered his free hand. “He would be proud of you for trying, Miss.”

Slipper’s bosom trembled with trepidation. But she ever so cautiously took Conrad’s hand, and he guided her onto the back of the beast.

***

“Remind me why we can’t take my truck?” Wilson asked.

I flinched and kept a safe distance while he pushed, shoved, and yanked his golf clubs into what passes for the back seat of my Carrera. “Adelé Nightingale must arrive in her golden chariot,” I said.

He stood up. “Say what?”

“I said I can’t be seen in that jalopy you call a vehicle, Wilson. Think about my reputation. Think about my image.”

“Think about space.” He worked on jamming our suitcases into what passes for the trunk and slammed the lid shut. “Hop in,” he told me. “I’ll drive the first leg.”

One of the golf clubs bonked him on the head before we left the parking lot, and he mumbled a four-letter word.

I cleared my throat. “A three-day weekend in Georgia,” I said brightly. “The weather should be perfect this time of year, and Fable is such a charming town.”

“Peachy.”

“No, really,” I soldiered on. “Mykal Kerriker assures me the golf course is first-rate. So while I’m busy at the conference, you two can shoot some balls. Won’t that be fun?”

“You shoot bullets, Jessie. You hit golf balls.”

“You can hit some balls with Mykal and bond. Won’t that be fun?”

He stopped at a light and caught my eye. “Which of the Hall of Famers is Mike married to?”

“He’s partners with Gavin McClure. But he is definitely not a Mike. He’s Mykal,” I said, and literally spelled it out.

“He’s gay?” The light changed, and Wilson hit the gas. “You want me to hit balls and bond with a gay guy?”

“Why not?” I asked. “You two have a lot in common. You’re both involved with a romance novelist, and you both like to golf. Does it matter that he’s gay?”

“I guess not.” He merged onto the interstate. “But we’ve been talking about this conference for weeks, Jessie. Why couldn’t you tell me this before? Why do you hide things from me?”

“I didn’t hide it. It just slipped my mind.”

“Yeah, right. Why am I wondering what else has slipped your mind?”

***

“Will there be any other men at this thing?” Wilson asked once we were racing down the highway. “Besides me and the gay guys?”

“Roberto Santiago.”

“Your publisher, right?”

Correct. Roberto, the senior publisher of Perpetual Pleasures Press is a fixture at Happily Ever After every year. “You’ll like Roberto,” I said.

“I doubt it. Didn’t he almost terminate your book contract last spring?”

Well, yes. I admitted Roberto had been a bit concerned when I hit a roadblock while writing Seduction in the Shadows. “But once I got over my plot plight, he came around.”

I reminded Wilson how Geez Louise had renegotiated my contract with Perpetual Pleasures Press, and had even convinced Roberto to raise my royalty rate by half a percentage point.

“The guy sounds pretty shrewd.”

“Yes, but he’s also very nice.” I frowned. “Unlike Roger Hollingsworth. He’s the other man willing to brave Happily Ever After.”

“Why’s he going?”

“Because he’s married to Faith, and Faith’s another Hall of Fame inductee.” I counted off the names. “Faith Hollingsworth, Gavin McClure, Penelope Shay, Zelda Bell, and me—Adelé Nightingale.” I smiled. “This decade’s five lucky winners.”

“Not luck. Talent.” Wilson downshifted to pass an eighteen-wheeler. “This thing really only happens every ten years?”

I explained that the Happily Ever After conference was an annual event, with the Hall of Fame inductions happening only once per decade.”

“It’s like the Academy Awards, but harder,” Wilson said. He asked what Roger Hollingsworth was like, and I had to admit he’s quite unpleasant.

“Roger doesn’t approve of my stories,” I said.

“Huh? Doesn’t Faith write romances?”

I said there are romances, and then there are romances. “They’re called categories. For instance, I write steamy historicals—”

“Bodice-rippers.”

“—Gavin writes in the LGBT category, Penelope Shay writes humorous contemporaries, Zelda Bell does paranormals, and Faith writes sweet romances.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means no sex.”

“What!? How is that possible?”

I giggled and told my husband he’d read far too many Adelé Nightingale novels.

“I only read the good parts,” he said. Which of course explains why the man couldn’t comprehend the no sex thing.

I tried again. “All romance novels must have a happy ending—that’s the genre standard. But in a sweet romance, all the good parts, as you call them, are left to the reader’s imagination.” I waved a hand. “An impassioned testimonial, a chaste kiss, and then the heroine and her man go off stage—or rather, off page—to consummate their burning desires.”

“In other words, no good parts.”

***

We switched drivers and moved on to the women who’d be attending Happily Ever After.

“Louise,” I said, and Wilson groaned. I shot him a sideways glance. “We had fun together in Hawaii,” I suggested.

“Someone got killed.”

“Well, yes. But Louise adores you, Wilson.” I slowed to let an impatient driver pass. “She calls you my perfect paramour.”

“I hate that word,” he muttered. “Who else?”

“Roslynn Mayweather,” I said, referring to another author from Clarence. “We like Roslynn.”

“No, Jessie. You like Roslynn. I don’t trust her.”

I sighed dramatically and tried to think of someone who had not once lied to my husband the cop during a murder investigation. “I know!” I said. “How about Maxine Carlisle? I’ll introduce you.”

“The sex-scene lady?” He didn’t even try to hide his delight.

Maxine Carlisle’s tome, Sensual and Scintillating: The Sex Scene Sourcebook for Today’s Romance Writer, resides on my nightstand next to my retinol cream. Wilson picks it up on a regular basis, “to browse,” as he puts it.

“If you tell anyone I read that book, I’ll arrest you.”

“You don’t just read that book, Dearheart. You study it.”

Okay, so Wilson finally admitted he might enjoy Happily Ever After, after all.

“I know you will!” I said. “It’s the most prestigious romance conference, and we both know how much you believe in all that happily ever after nonsense.”

“It’s not nonsense. Adelé Nightingale believes in happily ever after.”

“Adelé Nightingale is a silly idealist,” I said. “But Jessica Hewitt is a realist. I do not believe in fairy tales.”

“Happily ever after happens, dammit.”

I rolled my eyes and turned onto the exit ramp.

***

“Okay, Adelé Nightingale, silly idealist,” Wilson said. “What’s happening with Slippery Silk?”

Shimmering Silk,” I corrected.

“Have Skipper and Conrad gotten between the slippery sheets yet?”

“Slipper,” I said. “And the answer is no. Slipper’s mad at Conrad. The man is altogether infuriating.”

“What’s he done this time?”

“He’s gotten them lost, is what. In the Sahara Desert of all places.”

“Did you just say, Sahara Desert?”

“They’re lost.”

“No kidding. The Sahara’s nowhere near jolly old England.”

“Indeed.” I nodded. “And to think this mishap happened right after Slipper finally found the courage to hop on top of Maurice.”

“Whoa!” Wilson say up straight. “I know Adelé Nightingale writes some steamy stuff. But two guys, Jessie? Did you really write a threesome?”

“No!” I shook my head and slowed down for a stop sign. “Maurice is a camel. Slipper was a bit reluctant to climb on board, even before he spit at her—”

Wilson mumbled something about this ought to be good.

“No, really,” I said as I made the next turn. “Camels spit. I did some research.”

“Adelé Nightingale never does research.”

“Perhaps, but Slipper’s father, Dr. Wesley Vervette, was a world-renowned zoologist. It seemed only fitting I learn a little.”

“There’s a first time for everything,” Wilson told the dashboard. “So you and Conrad finally got Skipper onto the camel. Then what?”

“Slipper. Then they got lost.” I drove past the golf course. “It’s a most harrowing situation, what with their water supply running low. A predicament the altogether evil Barney Splawn is about to take full advantage of.”

“In the Sahara.” Wilson pointed to the sign for the Goodnight Inn. “What are all these Brits doing in Africa?”

“Sweating, mostly.” I admitted I had no idea why everyone was in Africa, but reminded my husband of Adelé Nightingale’s recent mood. “Adelé has grown tired of all those ho hum-hum drum lords and dukes of Sixteenth Century Europe. She will simply scream if she has to describe one more dreary and damp castle.”

“Sweat’s damp,” Wilson said helpfully.

Chapter THREE

“Brace yourself,” I said as we pulled up to the Goodnight Inn. I fluttered a few fingertips at the two middle-aged women waiting on the curb. “It’s the Glee Club.”

“Do they sing?” Wilson asked.

“Everything but,” I said and reminded him I’d be Adelé Nightingale all weekend.

“Got it.”

We came to a stop, and the Glee sisters sprang into action.

“Adelé!” Batsy Glee reached down and pulled me from the car.

“And her paramour!” Patsy Glee did the same with Wilson.

“In their golden chariot!” Batsy added.

Hearty hugs followed, but eventually I regained my balance and made the introductions. “Patsy Glee.” I presented the older, taller sister. “And Batsy.” I smiled at the younger, shorter, and plumper sister. “Two thirds of the Glee Club,” I said and assured Wilson he’d meet their cousin Hatsy Glee at any moment.

“You ladies authors?” he asked as he struggled to pry our luggage from the Porsche.

“Just fans.” Batsy jumped forward to help, and both sisters wrestled him for the luggage. The women won the battle, although they did leave the golf clubs to Wilson.

Unencumbered, I held the lobby door as everyone paraded past. “There wouldn’t be a Happily Ever After without the Glee sisters,” I said. “They organize the event every year.”

“It’s nothing.” Patsy dropped her burdens and pointed to the pink Happily Ever After banner hanging from the ceiling, the pink balloons bobbling about, and the pink flower arrangements scattered here, there, and everywhere. “The decorations are the hardest part. And Hatsy takes care of those.”

“Where is she?” I glanced around the expansive lobby. “And where’s Adam?”

“He’s the bellhop,” Batsy told Wilson and then caught my eye. “Adam’s helping Tori Fister. She’s been looking for you.”

“Is Tori an author?” Wilson asked, and we all laughed at that ridiculous notion.

“Trust me,” I told my uninitiated husband. “Writing is far too sedate an occupation for Roaring Tori.”

“That’s her nickname,” Patsy said, and Batsy went on to explain that Tori Fister, better known as Roaring Tori, is the literary agent who recruits authors for Daydream Desires Publishers, better known as Double D.

“And you must already know Adelé’s agent, Louise Urko?” Patsy asked. “Geez Louise recruits for Perpetual Pleasures Press.”

“Better known as 3P,” Wilson said. “They competitors?”

“An understatement,” Batsy said. “3P and Double D are the most prestigious romance publishers in the whole wide world.”

“Which means Louise and Tori are the most prestigious agents,” I added.

“Which means they spend every waking hour trying to outdo each other,” Patsy chimed in. “Roaring Tori tries to lure 3P authors over to Double D, and Geez Louise tries to get Double D authors for 3P.”

Wilson grimaced. “Sounds pretty cutthroat.”

“It’s all in fun,” I said, and the Glee sisters guffawed.

***

Batsy grabbed my car keys. “Check in,” she said. “And I’ll park the golden chariot.”

She disappeared out the door, and Wilson barely had time to wonder about the “golden chariot” before the desk clerk called me over.

“Declare your loyalty,” she said.

“Come on, Judy,” I scolded. “You know I’m with Perpetual Pleasures Press. I’ve been attending Happily Ever After for years.”

“Then you should know I try to forget you pink people as soon as you leave each year.” She tapped at her computer keyboard. “3P’s on the fourth floor this time.”

Patsy stepped forward. “And Adelé Nightingale gets a suite this time, Judy. She’s one of our new Hall of Famers.”

“Whoopee.” Judy handed me two key cards and told me Adam would be down to help with the luggage.

Wilson said we could manage, but by then Batsy had returned and would hear of no such thing. While they wrestled for control of a luggage cart, Patsy pulled me aside.

“This way,” she said and guided me through the lobby, past the bar and pool table, and into the room designated as Happily Ever After conference headquarters each year.

I admired yet another vase of flowers on the desk as Patsy sorted through a pile of pink canvas bags to find mine. “Your conference packet.” She smiled and handed it to me. “With plenty of keepsakes and mementos!”

I noted the hot pink sequined Happily Ever After logo. “It’s lovely,” I lied.

“Hatsy was up all night with her glue gun.”

Wilson had won the battle for the luggage cart by the time we returned to the lobby, and I held up my pink bag for him to admire.

“What the—”

“It’s Adelé’s mementos bag,” Patsy said. “Don’t you just love it?” Fortunately, she didn’t wait for an answer, but unfortunately, she told him he’d find something very interesting at the bottom of my bag.

“I will?” He stepped forward to peek inside.

“The conference packet.” She winked. “Page thirty.”

Bless her heart, Hatsy Glee swept into the lobby just in the nick of time, saving us from further discussion of the dreaded page thirty. She handed off a roll of pink streamers to Batsy and immediately commenced scolding yours truly.

“Where have you been?” she asked as we gave each other the requisite hug. “The banquet starts at seven o’clock sharp.”

I would have protested that we had plenty of time, but Hatsy had already moved on to scolding Wilson.

“And you!” she said. “The new husband, I presume? What have you to say for yourself?”

“Umm. Hello?”

“How could you do it?” Hatsy asked. “Everyone says you’ve inspired her. You’ve inspired her to leave Europe!”

Wilson blinked twice. “Excuse me?”

“Until she met you, all Adelé’s stories were set in Europe. As it very well should be.” She stomped her foot. “Don’t argue!”

Dare I say, Wilson had no intention of doing so?

The Glee Club, however, was quite passionate about the topic. Patsy spoke up and insisted that branching out is a good thing. “Adelé Nightingale is far too creative to stick to just one place.”

“It was inevitable she’d leave Europe for greener pastures,” Batsy agreed.

Hatsy simply shook her head. “There are no greener pastures than Europe. All Adelé’s masterpieces are set in Europe.”

“Masterpieces?” Wilson asked me, but I ignored him to hear more about my masterpieces.

Batsy enlightened me that My South Pacific Paramour was her favorite, while Patsy enthused over Seduction in the Shadows. “So intriguing!”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Hatsy said. “That one’s set in the Wild West of all places.”

“What’s your favorite?” Wilson asked her.

An Everlasting Encounter of course. Or maybe Temptation at Twilight. Both firmly planted in Europe.”

“But what about the love scenes in Seduction?” Patsy asked and pretended to fan herself. “Willow LaSwann and Kipp Jupiter in that haystack?”

“Gave new meaning to the phrase ‘a roll in the hay,’ didn’t it?” Wilson asked, and Patsy fanned herself with renewed vigor.

“Haystacks?” Hatsy remained unconvinced. “Do you people not remember the lavender field in Everlasting? Sarina Bliss and Trey Barineau? Now that was a love scene.” She turned to me. “Please tell me your next masterpiece will be in Europe.”

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Cindy Blackburn is living the dream. She spends her days sitting around in her pajamas thinking up unlikely plot twists and ironing out the quirks and kinks of the lovable characters who inhabit her Cue Ball Mysteries. A native Vermonter who hates snow, Cindy divides her time between the south and the north. Her favorite travel destinations are all in Europe, her favorite TV show is The Big Bang Theory, and her favorite color is orange. Cindy dislikes vacuuming, traffic, and lima beans.

Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
Great question! Jessie Hewitt’s a gorgeous, middle-aged blond who’s dying to see herself in pictures. And Five Spot has lots of snappy dialogue and great pool-playing visuals—perfect for the silver screen! Jessie’s thinking of Jamie Lee Curtis. Oh, and for Wilson Rye? George Clooney. Hands down.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
To stay sane. Okay, to try to stay sane. I’m not overly fond of grim reality and am much happier living in my own little fantasy world. Jessie Hewitt’s my best friend. I truly don’t know how I’d get through a day without her, although I am still waiting for her to teach me how to shoot pool.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
Clearly the person who asked this question has never been to a romance writers conference. Fodder for a funny book? Honey, trust me on this one. And with Five Spot I give you the Happily Ever After conference, all wrapped up in pink, and with a dead body to boot. What’s not to love?

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