I can’t keep up with the stories dancing around in my brain. Honestly, there are times when I want to strangle my thoughts. Right now I’m jostling four tales-Prymal Passion, Jomsviking Blood Brothers #1, The SEAL and The Pink Poodle, and the first book in The Warriors of Ragnarök. That’s not even including the tales that I’ve started and deliberately set aside-Rocking Around a Christmas Cowboy, Seathe, and Murder To Go.
So help me decide which beginning of the following should I finish:
Why the hell was he here?
Fernando Diaz jammed his back against the cool brick wall lining the periphery of Zanadu’s outdoor dance floor. He ignored the pulsing bass reverberating through the soles of his well-worn sneakers, scowled at the gyrating South Beach wannabes writhing on the dance floor, and slugged down his two-ounce shot of vodka. Eighteen months ago he’d have been in the midst of the dancers casting his eye over the crowd searching for a woman to screw. Eighteen months ago he’d been on top of the world, voted Food and Vine’s Best Chef of the Year, cast as the top competitor for The Next Iron Toque, slated to win, to take his spot next to Bobby, Cora, and all the rest.
F**k eighteen months.
The sting of the alcohol couldn’t mask the bile souring his saliva. Fernando pushed off the wall and headed to the jetty. His past life, lived in the glare of the lights from the dozens of paparazzi who dogged his every move, didn’t hold a teaspoon of appeal. Nowadays he relished privacy and solitude and avoided reporters and photographers.
The low-slung half moon cast a silvery glow over the artificial lake. Drawn by the solitary setting, by hypnotic pull of the shimmering water, he strolled in the direction of the pier. Things were finally looking up, the restaurant had had two months in the black, and with a little spit and luck, he would dig himself out of the mire of bankruptcy that had plagued him for the last eighteen months. So why couldn’t he shake the feeling that a meat cleaver was about to obliterate everything with one hack?
The humidity that dogged South Florida’s summer days and nights lifted and the first breezes of fall sloughed a cooling welcome around his nape whisking his hair away from his skin. He halted in the middle of the pier, jammed his hands into jeans’ pockets, leaned his head back, and enjoyed the playful wind dancing over his cheeks, hoping the magic of the moon’s beams, and the solace of the lapping lake would somehow erase the anger burning a hole in his chest.
“Are you okay?”
The soft question jerked his self-pitying thoughts out of his head.
He twisted to the sound and froze, stifling a curse.
His jaw dropped.
I’m finally losing it.
An ethereal woman-child sat sideways against the post at the end of the jetty. Bathed in moonlight, clothed in a diaphanous dress, the wings on her back fluttering in the wind, she tilted her chin, and when their gazes met he held his breath.The walls he’d built over the last eighteen months crumbled.
“You look like you could strangle someone with your bare hands,” the fairy said. The moon’s incandescence played with her silver hair, and her eyes glimmered like amethysts.
“You’re giving me a cowboy for Christmas?”
Esmé Rawlins, of the Southern Rawlins, the revival fundamentalist Christian Rawlins, knew her mother’d gone insane.
It had happened overnight.
On the day that her husband, the Reverend Deacon Montrichard, had been indicted on fraud and embezzlement charges, and bigamy. Or was the right word frigamy? Since there were five frigging wives and assorted sons and daughters scattered all over several Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana counties.
“Mama, you cannot give me a human being as a Christmas present.” Esmé kept her eyes fixed on the photograph she’d unwrapped. The man wore a tan Stetson pulled low on his forehead and the wide brim cast a shadow over his narrowed eyes half-obscuring their shape and color. As if a guy this good looking would glance her way once. Esmé stifled a snort. Dream on Mama. Or maybe Mama had picked out this one for husband number three?
“Emmy honey, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my short lifetime, it’s that’s money can buy anything.” Shelby, a former Miss Arkansas, had managed to prove that little pearl of wisdom with a justified, pecan pie sweetened spate of financial vengeance in a matter of days after the scandal had broken.
“I told you already, Mama, I’m going back to college tomorrow morning.” Esmé’s brother Colton scowled at the computer-printed certificate in his hand. “I’m not going to a dude ranch in the middle of nowhere.”
“And I don’t have any vacation left. I can’t take a whole week off. The library’s busy over Christmas.” A blatant lie, but since Shelby had never set foot in the building, she’d never know. Esmé crossed her fingers behind her back.
Shelby’s newly surgically plumped lips quivered. “You two are the only family I have left in this entire world. Neither of you can spare five days for the woman who birthed you? You’re going to leave me alone over the holidays?” The three-carat diamond on one slim French-manicured finger winked as Shelby patted her chest. “You know the doctor said I shouldn’t be alone.”
Colton and Esmé’s glances met over the top of their mother’s gold-dusted honey hair. Her brother rolled his eyes; Esmé cringed and barricaded her face with open palms. Here came the waterworks, the innuendoes re depression, and the inevitable “I chose Deacon because you two needed a father figure” laments.
“And it’s not as if you couldn’t afford to drop twenty pounds.” Shelby cut Esmé a glance. “It’s a spa/dude ranch combo. I paid for your horse riding lessons. And, as for you young man, I hired that coach you talked about to work on your golf swing.”
Two days, several boxes of Kleenex, and innumerable Shelby crying jags later, Esmé jerked out of deep sleep when bongo drums shattered her favorite sexcapade pre-dawn fantasy. Her unfocused gaze met a wood-timbered ceiling.
Where am I?
“This is going to be a total disaster.”
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist,” Shaggy advised. “Try to look on the positive side. He saved the resort. If Seathe MacFarland hadn’t bought Ricky’s Landing, Jonathon Lowell would own us lock, stock, and barrel, and you know what that would mean.”
Genie scowled. She stared at the black pitch of the airport’s runway wanting nothing more than to get the whole meet and greet over and done with.
As usual for the dry season on a tropical island eleven degrees north of the equator, the day had dawned with a crisp clarity and a dazzling brilliance. Not a cloud marred the azure sky. A flock of vultures danced an apostrophe above the rugged peaks and dips of the mountain range above the galvanized roof of the airport hangar.
“Who has a name like Seathe, anyway? What kind of idiotic mother names her son, Seathe? He’s going to be a bully, I just know it. One of those arrogant, insufferable, whiny Yanks who thinks he’s better than us.” She had a love/hate relationship with Americans. Genie loved they thought they could rule the world, and she hated that they actually did, culture-wise.
“You forget I was there for the Skype negotiations, girlie? The man is reasonable. He agreed to keep everyone on, didn’t he? And he agreed to provide complete medical and dental care and a pension plan. Damn, I can finally get that cracked tooth fixed.”
Genie knew how terrible Shaggy’s toothache had grown, but her major worry on the medical score was the pending birth of her BFF’s first baby.
Chantal’s pregnancy had been smooth and easy until last week when she’d awoken in a pool of blood. Placenta previa had been Doc Harry’s conclusion. But Doc hadn’t been able to verify the diagnosis because the only ultrasound on the island belonged to the hospital her step-uncle Jonathon controlled.
When Genie’d researched the condition on the internet, she’d been scared spit less. The odds of Chantal and her baby surviving a natural childbirth were slim. That had cinched the decision in Seathe MacFarland’s favor.
In this case, better the devil you don’t know than the devil that you do. As in, her step-uncle Jonathon. Genie shivered when a chill settled on her nape even under the tropical heat and humidity.
Not going there.
It had taken her years to recover from Jonathon’s evil perfidy.
“What the fu—”
The pouffed, powdered, and perfumed poodle had the most ear-blasting, high-pitched bark on the planet.
Montana clenched his jaw for the umpteenth time today. In a brief lull of silence, he snapped, “Sit.”
He hadn’t been able to wrap his head or tongue around the dog’s full name—Priscilla Persephone Padigan.
Not that it mattered.
According to Clara O’Halloran, the woman who’d taken the dog in after Montana’s step-uncle died, the animal answered only to either the full version of its name or Prissy.
Prissy. He shuddered.
Montana had a history with canines.
None of it good.
A pit bull had killed his mother when she intervened during the dog’s mauling of him and his brother, Topeka. Not that he had any memory of the event him having been all of five years old when the tragedy had happened. He’d learned to respect canines during his time in the TEAMs, but tolerance didn’t equal anything near resembling liking.
How had a simple visit to inspect the property inherited from his recently deceased uncle on his mother’s side become a living nightmare?
The dog reared onto its hind legs and scraped the wooden door with eight pink-painted toenails.
Montana didn’t bother to repress a mortified-for-the-dog grunt when he spied the pooch’s manicured claws.
He jammed the heel of one palm against his forehead.
Why would any sane person paint a dog’s toenails pink? He grimaced. Swept a glance around a living area designed and detailed to celebrate every shade of pink in existence and then some.
Okay – someone choose – tell me what tale to write this merry Monday. I’m done in with confusion.