Books and Bonus Material


 Maybe This Time is available in ebook and paperback.
The Audio Book is coming soon.
The original first chapter which I cut. Meh! It happens.
“I’m done. I quit.” Jen’s flame red hair swirled about her like a firestorm. She stalked to the café table and dropped a kiss on the top of her niece’s head. “Online dating is an exercise in insanity.”
Kathryn jumped up to hug her. “Happy Birthday. Aunty Jen. What was wrong with this one?”
“He was twenty years older than his picture and I have no interest in what wood lice do to elm trees.”
Jen’s sister Courtney raised her perfectly made up eyes to heaven. “I don’t want to say I told you so, but . . . “
“Oh, come on, Cee. ‘I told you so’ is one of your great life pleasures.” Jen did a perfect imitation of Courtney’s cultured tone. “Jennifer, choosing a companion via the internet is an invitation to disaster. Those dating sites are littered with perverts.”
Jake, her favorite server, set down a hot chocolate in front of her. “Just the way you like it, Miss Knight.” He reached up to touch his double diamond studded ear; then put his hand behind his back. “I saw you in Private Lives last week. You were smashing. Even better than your Much Ado at RSC.”
Jen smiled nicely at Jake. “Thank you. I know you see a lot of theatre so I take that as a huge compliment.”
Courtney waited till Jake backed away before she went on the attack. “Christopher has some very suitable friends. They are wealthy, settled and . . .”
Jen cut her off, willing away the still sharp pain. “The last time your husband set me up didn’t work out too well. I’m off stockbrokers for life.”
Courtney had the grace to look embarrassed. “But there was never any sign that Peter was a …” She glanced at Kathryn.
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Aunty Cee, I’m nineteen and I know all about sex. Uncle Peter played for all the teams. He even made a pass at me.”
And that was the thing Jen could never forgive him for. She’d been so sure Peter was her second chance at true love. Understanding, funny, romantic. The perfect husband Showering her with gifts. Divining what she wanted before she knew herself. She might have gone on blind forever before she saw him trying to kiss Kathryn. And then his other affair broke in the papers.
Courtney’s face turned the color of the brick wall around her estate.
“It’s okay Cee. Not your fault and not Christopher’s fault. But I’ve developed an allergy to stockbrokers and the golf playing set.” Jen sipped her hot chocolate. “I’m thinking of becoming a nun.”
“Come on, Aunty Jen. There are other dating services out there. Maybe you should go through one of those really exclusive Bond Street ones that charge the earth to the man and nothing to the woman,”
Jen regarded her lovely niece severely. “It sounds far too much like high-end prostitution. No. I’m done with trying to find a mate. You were right about online dating, Cee. Mindless conversation with strangers is not my cup of tea. I need a different hobby. Pity the world is all settled. I could see myself as one of those indomitable Victorian lady Explorers, riding into dusty unknown valleys with only my donkey and my notebook, and a team of trusty bearers, of course.”
Courtney sniffed. “Elizabeth Peters already wrote that book. You’re a better actress than you are a writer.”
She was a better actress than she was at anything else. She knew it and yet . . . “I’ve been thinking it’s time to find a new career.” She looked at the two open mouths in front of her. “I’m getting older and the parts are starting to disappear.  I don’t want to make a career out of playing Juliet’s nurse.”
Kathryn giggled. “I think your train of star- stuck swains would drop dead if you played the Nurse. Aunty, you are a complete fox.”
Jen looked at her niece’s magenta streaked mahogany curls. They’d never done that when she was young. Then it had been miniskirts and faux furs. Now it was . . . miniskirts and improbably colored hair. “What does your father think of your hair color, and where is he, by the way? I thought he was joining us.”
Kathryn looked away. “He didn’t notice, actually. He’s made a breakthrough in his lab.. He said to tell you Happy Birthday and he’d see you when he got back.”
“Back from where?” Someday Jeremy was going to be very sorry for the number of times he’d focused on his work instead of his daughter and she hoped she was around to see it.
“Los Angeles, I think.”
Jen exchanged a sisterly glance with Courtney. She knew Cee felt like shaking Jeremy too. “Men never notice anything.  I think your hair is fabulous, Kitty Kat. Why don’t we all get a bit of color? I think Aunty Courtney would look lovely with some purple streaks.”
 “You think you’re so hilarious. Not!” Courtney produced a package from her never-ending purse and slammed it down in front of Jen. “Happy Birthday.”
“Thanks.” Jen regarded the package warily. You could never tell with Cee. Menopause hit her hard. It might be something she really wanted or a pair of granny panties.
“Hurry up. I’m meeting Peter for drinks at six. You’re welcome to join us.”
Granny panties then. Jen shook her head. “I don’t do drinks anymore. You know that.”
“You don’t have to actually drink alcohol. You could have a soft drink and be sociable.”
“No thanks.” Jen untied the silver bow, smoothing out the ribbon. She’d get some use out of ribbon, at any rate. Lovely box too. She folded back the tissue. “It’s . . .–”
“– a gift certificate for one of Bronwyn’s puppies. We’re going to let you have first choice.”
Forty nine was too old to bite one’s sister. Jen closed her eyes trying to think of something acceptable to say. “Courtney, I think a mastiff would be very unhappy in my small flat.”
“Nonsense. Raising a puppy would be good for you. You’ll have someone to keep you company.”
Kathryn giggled. “Aunty Cee, she can’t even keep plants alive. Think of the poor puppy.”
“True if somewhat disrespectful. I’ll take the thought for the deed, Cee. Thank you.” Jen turned away from Courtney’s disappointed face. “Loot time, Kitty Kat. What did you bring me?”
“It’s not something I could bring with me. You have to meet me at the house tomorrow to get it.” Kathryn looked like a kitten who hoped its dead mouse would be acceptable.
“That’s no hardship. I like strung out birthdays.”
“And now . . .” Courtney signaled Jake.
Jake stepped forward with a blazing cake followed by the other beaming servers. They sang a chorus of Happy Birthday that would have done credit to a West End musical. Not surprising. They were probably all chorus gypsies.
Jen tried to look over the moon with joy. Forty god-damned nine. Where had the time gone?
Courtney fanned herself. “Blow out the candles before they have to call the fire department.”
Jen took a deep breath and blew. Every candle winked out. Thank god for actor’s breath control.
Kathryn squeezed her hand under the table. “Wish, Aunty Jen. Make it a good one.”

Jen returned the squeeze and closed her eyes. What she really wanted was a do-over. But that wasn’t possible. Her favorite Queen song reverberated through her mind turning into a soundless wish. Find Me Somebody to Love. 

The graveyard of lost chapters.Chapter 4 Lord Byron's Daughter

Chapter 4
The hustle of goodbyes over, the travelers departed. The carriage rattled its way down the street, iron-shod hooves striking cobblestones with a hard bright sound. Ada gave devout thanks she was not a passenger. Chloe confided to her this morning that her mother had dined on lobster the previous night and that she had the gravest fears for the journey. Ada advised her to instruct the maid to pack a second basin. And to try what Hockin’s Digestive Powders would do.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Cravens departed for an afternoon at the Horticultural Society London. The coast was clear.
Mary tiptoed in. “How are you feeling, Miss Ada? Is there anything I can get you?”
“Yes. My blue bombazine walking dress.”
“Miss, you are never going out feeling ill are you?”
“I feel perfectly well, Mary. And I have a sudden desire to retrieve the glasses I believe I lost at the ball the night before last.”
“But, your glasses are right here,” Mary said. She took Ada’s reticule form the dresser and untied it. “See?”
Ada sighed. Mary didn’t excel at prevarication which was why Ada hadn’t let her know that her illness was a hum. “I know that I haven’t lost them, but Lady Lovelace’s butler doesn’t know it. I think I can make a very good case for being let into the library to search for them.”
Ada took the reticule from Mary, removed the glasses and added her small notebook and a pencil.” You will accompany me. Help me dress, then call a carriage.”
“But what will Mr. Beddle say?”
“Damn and Blast Beddle.”
Mary looked shocked at her use of language. Clever and well-read as she was, she was still a parson’s granddaughter. “Sorry, Mary. I have to find a way to get out without Beddle noticing. I don’t want him informing Mr. Cravens I was out.”
Mary nodded silently. Her brow furrowed in thought. “If,” she ventured, “I was to borrow the second house maid’s cloak, and if I told Mr. Beddle that you’d given me the afternoon off to find a book for you at Hatchards, I could slip out and then you could pretend to be Sally. It’s her half day, but she’s got a toothache and wants to sleep.”
“Bless Sally’s toothache and bless you. I’ll send her round to my dentist as soon as we get back. This shouldn’t take long.”
Mary looked troubled. “Are you sure we can get inside and back here without being suspected? I don’t want to lose my place.”
What a good, loyal servant—No.—friend she was. “I will not permit anyone to fire you and if they try, well I have money in my own name. We will set up housekeeping by ourselves.”
Mary helped her into her dress and dressed her hair simply, in a low knot. Then departed to retrieve the cloaks.
Ada impatiently hooked her own boots rather than waiting for Mary to return. Mary came back with two plain hooded cloaks over her arm. “I told the Beddles you didn’t want to be disturbed. They already know Sally is ill.”
“Excellent work, Mary. Ada pulled the cloak over her own more fashionable cloak, her nose recoiling from the sour smell of the garment. “Sally needs to wash her cloak a bit more often.” She pulled the hood up over her hairdo. “I’ll wait in the hall. You slip down and tell me when the coat is clear.”
They both entered the hall. Mary headed for the servant’s stair.
“Not that way,” Ada, whispered.
“I can’t be seen going out the front door in a servant’s cloak,” Mary whispered back. “Nor can you.”
“Bother. Beddle was nowhere to be seen, but from her vantage point at the top of the stairs Ada could see the footman standing near the front door. “How am I going to get out? I can’t go through the servant’s quarters. Beddle knows Sally is ill.”
Mary grinned. “If I were to see a mouse, I should scream very loudly. That should bring the household running.”
 “I’m a bad influence on you. Do it.”
Ada waited for the scream. When the footman rushed to the back of the house she ran down the steps and out the front door. Once outside she discarded Sally’s cloak and hid it behind the stone vase in the mall mews beside the house.
Mary rushed out to join her. “Oh, Miss! What have you done with Sally’s cloak?”
Ada nodded to the compact bundle behind the stone vase. “It should be safe enough. Come.”
They walked quickly to the corner. Ada lifted her gloved hand to hail a hansom cab. “Mayfair Crescent,” she instructed the driver. “Number twelve.”
She sat upright clinging to the strap. The cab smelt of spilt beer among other things. She didn’t was the evidence of her foray clinging to her cloak. It wasn’t actively raining which was a blessing. But the lowering clouds were oppressive. July was unusually cool this year. It was easier to think about the weather than her plan.
The driver sped up when he came to the high street.  Dogs barking and angry shouts came from up ahead. The coach came to an abrupt halt throwing Ada back against the sticky seat and Mary into her lap. A woman screamed, high and piercing.
Ada pushed Mary back into her seat and stuck her head out of the window. “What’s to do?” she shouted at the cabby.
He didn’t answer. All she heard from him was a stream of violent curses.
She decided to descend and see for herself. She opened the carriage door. Mary tugged her back. “No, Miss Ada. Whatever’s happening out there is not a fit place for you to be.
“Nonsense. Someone has to see what’s to do.” Although she rather regretted leaving Sally’s cloak at home. “Stay here.”
Ada clambered down from the carriage. The woman’s scream had turned to steady hopeless weeping. Under the sounds of angry shouts she heard the moaning of a child. A filthy boy of perhaps nine years lay on the cobblestones between the horses of the hansom and the wheelers of the cart in from of them. His leg was twisted at an unnatural angle. His cheek was bleeding.
The miracle was their cabby had managed to prevent his horses from stepping on the child. He stood at their heads heaping a stream of abuse both on the boy and the carter in front of him. A crowd of passer byes joined in the shouting.
“I saw the whole thing,” a rubicund man shouted. “This ragamuffin was attempting to steal some apples from the cart. Call a constable. That’s a transportable offence.”
From his looks the man had never missed a meal in his life. Ada pointed at a man standing there enjoying the fray. “I’ll give you a shilling to get the boy off the street.
She turned to the carter and handed him ten shillings. “This is for your apples and the rest is for not pressing charges.”
The man stood with the boy in his arms. “What do you want me to do with him?”
The boy’s cried increased in volume. Ada looked at the woman who was obviously his mother. “Where do you live?”
“Tottencourt lane.” The woman wrung her hands. Two more children peeped out from behind her skirts. “He’s a good boy. I’ve taught him not to steal, but when he saw his sisters crying . . .”
All of them looked like walking skeletons. The woman had a swelling black eye and evidence of old bruises. Whoever she lived with had not treated her well. “Where is your husband?”
“He died a month ago. His brother took us in,” she said dully. “I am grateful for the shelter.”
In this city of inequities, this was the worst. Suddenly she wished to travel through time to a place where humans treated each other better. There was no way she could leave them to her fate.
She pointed to the carriage. “Put the boy in the carriage.” She turned to his mother who shrank back. “Get in. I will take you to a place you will be safe and the boy can have his injuries looked at.”
The cabby uttered a protest. “I’m not having the likes of them dirtying up my cab. You can pay me now and find another driver.”
She handed him a shilling. “Very well. I am sure I can find someone to accommodate us.” Ada took a pound note from her reticule. The cabbie’s eyes widened.
“Ah well, I’m always willing to do a good turn for another. Where is it you’ll be wanting to go?’’
“St Martin’s in the Field. Number 6,” Ada said.
He reached for the pound note. She held it back. “You’ll be paid when we arrive. Go gently now.”
Ada helped the woman into the carriage. “Mary, you catch hold of the children.”
The man holding the boy handed him into his mother’s lap. The boy bit back a scream. His siblings wailed, “I’m all right Mam,” he choked out.
Ada allowed the man to hand her into the carriage, and pressed another two shillings into his hand.
The horses started out at a steady pace.
Ada smiled at the two dirty tearstained faces across from her. “Don’t be afraid. I am taking you to a good place where your brother will be mended. I daresay they’ll have a nice meal for you too.”
Fortunately they weren’t far from St. Martin’s Sisters of Charity domicile. The carriage stopped in from of a large brick building with white painted doors. Ada got out and rang the bell.
Her dearest school friend, Mariposa Eddings, answered the bell. “Ada, what a surprise. I thought you were going to the country for the summer.” She looked at the cabbie carrying the ragged boy toward her. “Ada Augusta Byron, what have you gotten yourself into now?”
Ada shrugged. “He was injured trying to steal some apples to feed his sisters. The mother looks as if she’s been beaten recently and none of them look like they know what a decent meal tastes like. The boy needs a surgeon. They all need baths. Naturally I thought of you.”
Mariposa held the door wide. “Bring the boy in. Gently now. Put him on the divan.” She looked at the faces peeping out of the carriage. “It’s all right. Come in all of you. Welcome.” She hurried to the stair. “Winnie,” she called. “We have company. Bring your bag.”
A white capped housemaid appeared. “Marsh, we have five new guests. Please tell Hastings to help you draw baths.”
The mother and her daughters stood in the doorway. “What is this place?”
A mannish looking woman dressed in severe black came down the stairs, physician’s bag in hand. “We call it Eden and we are the Daughters of Eve. Now young man what have you done to yourself?”
A young girl of seven appeared on the landing. “More friends,” she squealed and clattered down the stairs. “My name is Caroline. Would you like a sweetie?” She reached into the pocket of her pinafore and pulled out a handful of sticky candies. The two children looked with longing eyes at the sweets, then at their mother for permission.
“No Caroline,” Mariposa said. “Not before tea.” She smiled at the woman and her daughters. “You must be very hungry. Winnie will take good care of . . .?” She looked at the mother.
“Samuel,” the mother said eyes filled with wonder and worry. “He’s a good boy.”
“I’m sure he is.” Mariposa nodded to Mary. “You know the way. Will you show them into the kitchen? After they’ve eaten there baths should be ready and I’ll show them where they are to stay. How fortunate that we got a new shipment of clothing just this week.”
Mary nodded, and led the woman and girls off to the kitchen. Caroline didn’t follow. She crossed to the boy laying on the divan, tears rolling down his cheeks. She pushed two candies into his mouth. “It will only hurt for a little bit and Winnie will make it better. I’m going to be a doctor, just like her. What shall I do, Winnie?”
“Your hands are sticky so the first thing to do is go and wash them. Remember the rule. Cleanliness first. Then bring back a basin and soap and a cloth and wash his face. I want to see how serious that cut is.”
Ada watched Caroline hurry to the kitchen. “She’s coming along nicely. When do you plan to start her formal training?”
 “You jest, but it’s already begun. Caroline is happier perusing the pictures in Grey’s Anatomy than she is a book of fairytales.”
“You’ve done good work with her. Who would have thought the bedraggled urchin I brought you four years ago would turn out to be a latent genius.”
“It’s indeed wonderful how talented you are at procuring us new guests. Where did you  find this lot?”
“Samuel was lying in front of my carriage about to be transported for stealing apples.” Her planned sortie to the Lovelace’s wasn’t going to happen today. After this delay there wouldn’t be enough time. “Can I help?”
Winnie cut away the boy’s ragged trouser leg. “You can hold him down while I set this leg. It’s a greenstick fracture.”
Caroline appeared, cloths thrown over her arm carefully balancing a small basin of water. She set it down on the table next to the divan.
“Thank you dearest. You’ve done well. Caroline, you begin with his face and Ada, wash off his leg. Carefully.”
“I’m always careful,” Ada muttered. A blatant untruth considering where she was. She gently sponged Samuels’s leg. His eyes were scrunched closed as Caroline soaped and cleansed away the grime surrounding the cut on his forehead.
“It won’t need stitches, Winnie. It’s quite shallow.”
Winnie nodded. “Head wounds tend to bleed alarmingly. That’s a good girl, Caroline. Finish with a septic stick from my bag.” Winnie got two small boards from the pocket in the side of her satchel. She place one under Samuel’s leg. “Alright, Ada. Hold him down.”
Winnie straightened the leg in one swift movement. Samuel screamed. Winnie took the other board and bound them together with a large strip of cloth.
Caroline continued to wash Samuels’ face. “It’s all right, boy. It will get better now and you shall have an egg with your milk and toast. And a lovely bed to sleep in.”
The soothing voice, an almost perfect mimicry of Mariposa’s tone sounded strange coming out of a child’s mouth. This girl she’d snatched from a life of misery was the bastard child of one of her father’s old friends. Lord Wilfred Blanding had to have been sixty if he was a day when he fathered this whelp. Her mother was a kitchen maid who died when the child was three. None of the other staff wanted to have anything to do with a child who wailed continuously and would not speak.
Ada and her mother were about to pay a morning call on Lady Blanding when they saw the child thrown from the kitchen entrance into the alley between the houses.
The girl had lain where she was thrown, keening in a low monotonous moan. Ada and her mother went to the child. Neither of them needed to be told what happened. Lord Blanding’s doings put her father’s to shame. At least her father acknowledged his bastards and saw they were taken care of.
Her mother accompanied her to Eden to bring the child to Mariposa and Winnie. She refused to come inside because she disapproved of Mariposa and Winnie’s relationship. But she had never stropped Ada from continuing her friendship with them. Her mother was too well aware of all the good the pair had accomplished since founding Eden.
Her mother continued to support them financially, if not socially.
Marsh appeared bearing a tray of tea things. Small sandwiches and cakes.
“Thank you Marsh. Do you help me take Samuel to the small dormitory off the kitchen. We have no other patients at the moment and I think the family will be most comfortable together.”
Samuel sniffed, nodded and looked longingly at the plate of sandwiches. Caroline piled a plate high with offerings. “I’ll come with you.”
Winnie looked over her shoulder at Ada. “Do stay for tea.”
Mariposa returned from the kitchen. “Poor woman. She used to be second maid at Lady Blenthorpe’s till she was got with child. The footman married her, but she was turned off, of course. They seemed to have been quite happy till her husband died and the brother moved in.” We’ll find a place for her.”
Mariposa piled the used rags into the basin and seated herself in the wing chair. “Have a sandwich, my dear and tell me what mischief you’ve been up to?”
Ada reached for a cucumber sandwich and contemplated telling her about her errand to break into the Earl of Lovelace’s residence. No. The fewer people who knew, the better. In any case the mission was aborted for the day. If she were gone from home much longer, Beddle would be bound to worry about the amount of time she was sleeping. After tea they would have to return home.
The house party ar Lord Eastwick's estate would continue for another few days. Surely there would be another chance?



Sneak Peek Kate’s Hero

Time and Forever 



1969. Love was free, man walked on the moon, and Sherry and Lorena found the loves of their lives. Sherry shared a kiss that dreams were made of, with a stranger on the tube in London. And ran away. Lorena found the love of her life in Los Angeles and married him.
2014. Sherry’s a successful businesswoman with two grown sons. Lorena’s an actress on a popular sitcom. Sherry’s husband dumped her for a younger woman eighteen years ago. Lorena’s husband died of cancer. Sherry wants a second chance at Love. Lorena doesn't believe that's possible. But when a glitch in a Virtual Reality
Adventure game sends them back to the real 1969, anything can happen.

Now available from Amazon eBook/Audiobook/Print Book






Here's a sneak peak at my second romance, Kate's Hero

One four leaf clover.
Two stubborn People.
A leprechaun with a mission.
What could possibly go wrong.

Kate's Hero

Kate’s Hero
By Susan B. James

The Beginning Was a Wish.
Madison Square Park. New York City
Hanford House wants its advance back.
Kate’s author mind edited her agent’s six-word text down to two. Panic now.
Blowing the last of her book advance on a ticket to Ireland to do research might be her worst idea to date. If you didn’t count getting engaged to Eric and using him as a model for her hero. Or quitting her day job before turning in the revisions on her second book. Did bad luck come in threes?
She focused on the triangular point of the Flatiron Building barely visible from her seat on the grass. She was supposed to leave for Ireland next week. She was pretty sure her trip insurance wouldn’t accept needing a new job as a reason for refund.  The brownie she’d bought to celebrate her last-day-as-a-bookkeeper tasted like ashes. What was she going to do now?
Batten Barton and Dunston had already replaced her. Her savings would take her through the next two months, but she’d been counting on the second part of the book advance to tide her over till she finished her next book. And now they wanted the first part back? She fisted a handful of grass for comfort, praying for an answer to stop this disaster. None came.
Advance spent, Kate texted back. Stall them.
You broke contract. Revisions due last month.
Almost done. Just one thing to fix.
One major thing. The ghost of her ex-fiancé tainted her hero’s every word. Physically Eric had been the perfect inspiration for dashing, mysterious Lord Rotherham, but . . . Kate’s throat constricted. She was no Jane Austen, turning the real-life man who broke her heart into a hero that haunted readers’ dreams. Her Lord R was a complete ass.
Why did she have to be the kind of writer who needed a real person to hang her fictional character on? Her thoughts raced till they crashed into the wall blocking her creative mind.
Traveling to Ireland had seemed reasonable when she bought the ticket. She’d kill two birds with one trip. Find a new model for Lord Rotherham and research her next book, Perfect Match, on the Bus Eireann tour she’d spent the last month planning. The plot had already bloomed in her head. All she needed was the bus tour to nail down the details.
Kate twiddled broken blades of grass between her thumb and forefinger. One fell free. No. Not grass. It was a four-leaf clover. Her first ever. In the middle of New York City?
Kate picked it up carefully. True love might be a dead issue, but there was still the hope of magic. She closed her eyes and made a wish. “Please. Send me the perfect hero.”

* * * *
Bradley Flynn, CEO of Abbey Public Relations propped his feet on the windowsill of his fortieth-floor office, feeling lord of all he surveyed. He loved New York. In seven years, he’d achieved more than he thought possible. The only thing he needed now was . . .
The intercom buzzed. “Brad, a Mr. McPhee is on line two. He says he has a contract with you.”
Brad’s size-eight Ferragamos’s hit the floor with a bang. He swiveled his chair to face the desk. Icicles clog-danced on his spine. “Tell him I’m out.
The Wearing of the Green blared from his cell phone. McPhee’s signature ring with McPhee’s own lyrics meant to entice errant half-Leprechauns back to the auld sod.  Oh, there is a little island and our people love it well. A place by Nature gifted with a most endearing spell— Brad switched off the phone.
The picture on his monitor pixilated; re-forming into the face he least wanted to see. Damn the Leprechaun Guild and especially the Guild Master.
McPhee smirked at him. “You’re up.”
“I can’t be. It hasn’t been —”
“—The woman used a clover.”
The monitor view reformed again, revealing a woman with closed eyes speaking into her cupped hands. She was possibly stunning. Her mass of auburn hair was wound into a granny bun. She might have a nice figure. Impossible to tell because of the oversized NYU hoodie she had on over . . . a business suit? Seriously? 
 “She wants a real hero.”
 “I suppose I could manage that.” At least, he could teach her how to dress.
“You’re not what she has in mind. Find her a hero.” McPhee’s smirk got nastier. “And remember. No magic.”
“No magic? Why?”
“Because you’re dealing with a heart wish. You can’t use magic to make someone fall in love. Find another way. And remember, if you don’t succeed, you’re mine for the next seven years.” The screen went dark.

The screen went dark. Brad glared at the two pages his printer spat out. Kate Carnahan. His wish client. Name, address, and pertinent history. He scanned them rapidly. Hah. She was going to Ireland next week. Score one for The McPhee.
Well, forcing him back to Ireland wasn’t going to work. He’d find a way to accompany her, see to her wish and be back in New York in a fortnight. But how in the name of Finn was he supposed to provide her with a hero without magic?
Perhaps a bit of help? Asking a favor didn’t count as magic. He scrolled through his contact list till he found the name he wanted and punched in a call.  The vibrant voice he remembered sounded much older now. Humans aged so fast. “Essie, how would you feel about an all-expenses paid trip home to Ireland?”


Chapter 2 Michael
Parsonville, California
Dr. Michael Walshe looked at the golden leaves blowing past his office window, wondering if he could get in a run before sunset. The intercom buzzed. “Michael, you have a call from Mrs. O’Brian on line one.”
Michael picked up the phone. “Essie, what’s wrong?”
Essie’s voice had more spring in it than he’d heard in months. “And can’t a body call you without being sick? I was wondering if you could drop by today, Michael, I’ve got to go home to Ireland and I’m not sure I can do it by meself.”
Couldn’t be a funeral. She sounded too perky. “Somebody getting married?”
“More than one, dear boy. I’ve got a mission to fulfill.”
Not good. That sounded delusional. “Of course I’ll come. How bout I make dinner. Spaghetti ok?”
“That will be grand. I’ve some of your favorite shortbread on hand.” Essie lowered her voice to a whisper, “It’s not just the trip. I don’t know what to do about Chloe.”
Relax. We’ll figure it out. See you soon.” He flicked the intercom. “Lynne, how many more patients?”
His nurse poked her head through the door. “Prissy was the last one. She told me she’s got a date with you for Saturday. Where was your running pass formation?”
“I zoned out after about fifteen minutes and she slipped it in sideways.”
“Doctor Adorable bites the dust again.” Lynne lounged against the door frame, her rocker-punk hairstyle contrasting oddly with her broad moon face. Her daughter must have been playing hairdresser again.  “You know they wouldn’t try so hard if you weren’t hot.”
“Stuff it, Lynne.”
“I’m serious. You look exactly like the new doctor on As She Turns. Tall dark and dreamy.”
Michael turned on the faucets in the small office sink. Lynne needed a new hobby. “Watching soaps will rot your brain.”
“That hint of beard on your strong, manly chin. And that aloof but rumbly look in your eyes and . . .”
He took the last paper towel out of the dispenser. “We need more towels.”
 “Your only fault is you don’t have a romantic bone in your body.” Lynne clasped her plump hands over her Hello Kitty scrub top. “I’m having a fantasy here. Don’t ruin it.”
He would never understand women.  “What do you need a fantasy for? You’re in love with your husband.”
“So? Tom has fantasies too. Part of being happily married. His is Tracy Jay.”
Michael winced. Growing up with a well-known actress for a godmother meant he’d met lots of A-list stars, but his heart had been immune till Lorena introduced him to Tracy Jay at the wrap party for Just the Girls two years ago.
“Come on, Michael. Don’t you have fantasies?”
“None that I care to tell you about.” His relationship with Tracy was classified. Tracy had wanted it that way. He exchanged his white coat for the tan windbreaker he kept in the small closet. “I’m off to check on Essie. We have a dinner date. I’m making her my secret-recipe spaghetti sauce.”
“Big deal. I know you use Ragu.”
“What is it with this town? You know my grocery list?”
Lynne patted his cheek. “I think there’s a town website devoted to your every move.”
“Go home and annoy your children. We’re done for the day.”
Lynne blew him a kiss and shut the door behind her.
A quick stop at the market, and off to Essie’s. What kind of secret mission could she be fantasizing? His phone buzzed. Another phone call from Tracy. They’d been coming like clockwork all day. He pushed delete without answering.
Lynne’s question echoed in his mind. Don’t you have fantasies? His heart twisted, remembering his last sight of Tracy.
Not anymore.


Chapter 3 Kate
Kate strode down 3rd street, barely registering the huge plastic bags of garbage piled up along the curbsides. The age-ravaged brownstones on her side of the block were some of the last rent-controlled buildings left in the East Village. She loved their worn stone steps and the plaster lintels carved with eroded gargoyles.
Enrique and his cronies sat in their usual place - the dented metal chairs next to Habibi’s Deli. Hola. Katarina? Como esta?” Enrique shouted over the noise of construction from the new apartment building across the street.
Bien.” Kate smiled and hurried past. If she said anything more, there’d be a twenty-minute recap of neighborhood news.
The building next to hers had a Chinese dragon’s head carved into its gray stone banister. Kate touched it for luck. Her grandmother Carnahan taught her to look for luck everywhere. That was Grandma Rainbow’s gift to her.
That and the bequest of her rent-controlled apartment. Kate knew she was lucky. A struggling writer, even one with a good bookkeeping job couldn’t afford to live in Manhattan.
Her apartment was probably what attracted Eric to her in the first place. When he moved in he’d persuaded her to replace her grandmother’s eclectic furniture with Ikea modern. She’d put Rainbow’s huge loom, her woven walls hangings, and her furniture in storage, and allowed Eric to hang his cherished Klee and Picasso prints.
When Eric left, he took the prints with him. She’d put the Ikea living room suite on the street.
Kate climbed the five steps to the graffiti-decorated door of her apartment building. A blast of rap from a passing car tangling with the love song floating out of the Lupita’s Mexican Bodega followed her inside.
Lily poked her head out of apartment 1A. “Someone broke 5B’s mail slot.” Her voice was scratchy from years of shouting at possible government spies. “I ran him off before he got to yours. I think he was from the IRS.”
“Thanks, Lily. The building is lucky to have you watching out for all of us.
Kat waited for Lily to go back inside before unlocking her mailbox. Flyers from Duane Reed and Trader Joes spilled out, followed by a legal looking envelope and a heavily embossed invitation. She cringed when she saw the return address. An invitation from her mother meant one thing. She was getting married again. Oh, joy. Another stepfather. She’d fake bubonic plague rather than go to her Mom’s fifth attempt at happy ever after. How could she keep thinking there was a Mr. Right when all her marriages ended in disaster? She could give Pollyanna lessons in optimism.
Kate ripped open the legal notice. And the good news kept coming. The building was going cooperative and the landlord wanted to offer her the opportunity to buy her apartment.
She surveyed the narrow hallway leading to the battered staircase. The shabby wall paneling was decorated with more scratched-in aphorisms than her old high school bathroom. The once-white linoleum flooring was now the color of an antique treasure map. Condo? How much was it going to cost?
“Don't kid yourself, Kate,” she muttered. “This New York. It will probably sell for a million dollars a floor.”
Kate climbed the four flights of stairs to her apartment. Arriving only a little out of breath, she unlocked the three locks, flipped the light switch and surveyed her kingdom.
The plain wooden desk holding her huge computer monitor, and her lucky glass bluebird, sat between the room’s two narrow windows. She drew the red woven curtains across them, shutting out the night.
The gentle glow from the track lighting reflected the patchwork of colors on the floor to ceiling bookshelves. Childhood and adult favorites jostled in happy abandon. They were her most precious possession. Books never failed her.
The latest Andrea St. Claire novel sat on a Chinese red end table begging for her attention. She turned on the faux Tiffany lamp and sank into the squishy cushions of the blue velour sofa. Toeing off her heels, she propped her feet on Grandma Rainbow’s hand-painted coffee table.
Her grandmother’s woven tapestry made a joyous splash of color on the wall between her bedroom and the bathroom. The ever-present sound of traffic was a far-off hum. Her computer was silent. She knew she ought to boot it up and make another stab at fixing Lord Rotherham, but . . .
Her phone whistled. A text from her office mate, Dee.
Don’t forget. 7:30 Got a surprise for you.
Kate winced. She’d promised to meet her co-workers at Masterson’s to celebrate her last day at the company.
The last thing she wanted to do was spend the evening in a bar. She’d met Eric in a bar. That was when she was young and stupid and still believed in the possibility of true love. And he had looked like the perfect Prince Charming. Lesson? Prince Charming types who hang out in bars are toads in disguise.
“Stop it, Kate. You’re feeling sorry for yourself. Dee and Brandi were nice enough to invite you. The least you can do is show up.”
She swung her feet off the table and dragged herself to the bedroom. The suit she’d worn to work had grass stains on the pants. She slipped it off and scrolled through her closet for a pair of dressy pants. The bronze maxi skirt Carrie gave her for her birthday glowed in the dim light from the overhead bulb. She paired it with a black scooped necked t-shirt and surveyed the result in the dresser mirror.
Stands of hair flew around her face making her look like a demented schoolteacher. She tried to smooth them back in, but the ancient scrunchy snapped in her hand. Muttering a curse, she bundled the unruly mass into a rough twist and fastened it with the flamboyant jeweled hair clip Brandi and Dee had given her as a good-bye present.
 Moaning slightly, she squirmed her feet back into her work high heels. “This is a terrible way to spend a Friday night.”
* * *
Masterson’s was her idea of Hell. The lights were dim, the sports screens bright, and the buzz of conversation bounced off the walls. It was hard to hear above the gritty throb of music. Whoever made the playlist had terrible taste.
She spied Brandi immediately. The rose-colored bar lights spotlighted the magenta stripes in her black hair. Brandi shoved her way through the crowd and grabbed Kate’s arm. “About time. We were beginning to think you stood us up.”
She pushed Kate toward the bar where Dee stood holding an umbrella-topped drink. Dee had removed the pinstriped jacket of her Armani power suit, and unbuttoned the top two buttons on her cream chiffon blouse, allowing the world a glimpse of her impressive cleavage.
“My treat.” Dee handed her a large martini glass full of something pink.
“Looks lethal.” Kate sniffed and caught a heady whiff of grapefruit and lime.
“It’s Jake’s special. He muddles some stuff with pink vodka. I think it’s got raspberry in it. Take a look at Jake. He’s definitely hot.”
Kate ignored the invitation to check out Jake and tasted the drink. Tart with a thread of sweet. “Not bad.”
 A burst of laughter turned her head to the far end of the bar. No! It wasn’t possible. Eric stood there, arm around a gorgeous blonde. The woman raised her hand to stroke Eric’s hair. Light sparkled off her ring finger.
A wave of hurt and inadequacy washed over her. She turned back to Dee and Brandi. “I have to leave.”
Dee barred her way. “You are not going to run from that asshole. Brandi, emergency makeover time. Kate, forward march.” Brandi and Dee flanked her, guiding her to the ladies’ room.
The mirror reflected Kate’s shell shocked face back to her. She set her drink on the counter and tried to smile. “Trust Eric to find the newest ‘in’ bar in the city. It’s okay, really. I’m over him.”
 “He’s an idiot.” Dee removed the jeweled clip holding up Kate’s hair. “And you are going back out there and show the world what he gave up.” She whipped out her hairbrush and arranged Kate’s hair in sexy swirls. “Here, use my lipstick. It’s a good color for you.”
“No. I don’t wear lipstick.”
“You do tonight.”
Muttering, Kate complied. “This is not me.”
“Open your eyes.” Brandi lengthened Kate’s already thick eyelashes with a swipe of mascara. “Now close them.”
Kate obediently shut them and felt the feather light touch of a brush on her lids. “You know there is a reason I don’t wear makeup.”
“Yeah. You don’t want to look like the hottest girl in the room,” Brandi said. “Tonight that’s who you need to be.”
Kate opened her eyes and cringed. The fire-red lipstick and sultry eye makeup made her look like a Playboy cover model.
Brandi handed Kate back her drink. “Straighten your shoulders, girlfriend. Pretend you’re the heroine in your book—Miss Minerva wouldn’t let the world see her crying.”
‘I’m not crying.”  Kate knocked back the rest of her drink.
The door opened and the blonde who had been twined around Eric walked in. Her mouth dropped open. “You look just like Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl. Are you an actress?”
“No. And I’m not dead either.” Kate stalked back into the bar, feeling a little floaty.  Summoning up the memory of her favorite cartoon vamp, Jessica Rabbit, she walked seductively to the bar. “Pour me another special, Jake.”
The men facing her way stopped talking. Someone whistled.
Eric looked up from his phone and his mouth dropped open like some stupid fish. “Kate. You look—”
“Taken.” A short redheaded man with the face of a prizefighter smiled up at her. “Hi, Kate. I’m Brad.”
“You’re late,” Dee said. “Kate, this is Brad Flynn, an old friend of mine. He’s the surprise I texted you about. He’s—”
Eric pushed in. “You’re Brad Flynn from Abbey PR. I’ve been trying to get an appointment with you.”
“Call my secretary. I’m busy right now. Come along, Kate.”
Brad’s hand covered hers. A tingle shot up her arm and straight to her brain. It didn’t make any sense, but she felt comfortable and safe. He didn’t feel like a possible Prince Charming. More like a friend she hadn’t seen in a long time.
Dee followed them to the door. “All right, then. Mission accomplished. Take good care of her, Brad, or you’ll answer to me.” She hugged Kate, whispering in her ear. “You should see Eric’s face. Definite score for the good guys.”
Kate let Brad guide her out. The cool air felt like a blessing on her burning cheeks. Her head still buzzed from the drink. “How do you know Dee?”
He smiled at her again. “I’ll tell you about it over dinner.”
Her stomach leaped in response to the word dinner. Food sounded heavenly. She needed something to sop up the alcohol. “That’s nice of you, but I don’t—”
“Talk to strangers? Quite right. But I’m not a stranger.” He touched his fingers to the back of her hand.
There it was. That tingle again. A sense of comfort infused her. He really had the most wonderful smile.
 “Dee and I go way back. Let me be the new friend who’s taking you to dinner.” Brad raised his arm and a yellow cab screeched to a halt in front of the bar.
“You’re pretty good at that,” Kate said enviously. Cabs never came when she beckoned. Not that she often beckoned.
Brad opened the taxi door for her. “I perfected the skill a few years ago. It’s all in the hand.” He showed her the five-dollar bill he’d palmed.
She choked back a laugh.
Brad slid in next to her and gave the bill to the driver. “Sardi’s please.” He turned to Kate. “Ever been there?”
No. I’ve heard of it, of course.”
“They make amazing cannelloni. And we’ll beat the after-theatre crowd by about an hour.”
The cab pulled up to a red awning on 44th street just across from Shubert’s Alley in the heart of the theatre district. The Shubert and the Majestic Theatres’ marquee lights blazed across the street. The St James Theatre, two doors down from Sardi’s, was home to Kate’s current favorite show on Broadway. Kate pointed at the sign. “I’ve seen it twice once by myself and once with .  .  ."
“With whom?”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s out of my life and soon he’ll be out of my book and . . .” she was not crying.
Brad whipped out a white handkerchief. “Wipe your eyes. You’ll be better once you get some food inside you. And you can tell me all about it.”
She blotted the tears. The handkerchief came away smeared with black. “I’ve ruined it.”
“Keep it. I’ve others.” Brad held the door open for her. The heat of the restaurant blew out to welcome them.
The maître d’ beamed at Brad. “Good evening. Mr. Flynn. Your usual table?”
“Thanks, Eduardo, but tonight I want a more private setting. The back corner?”
“As you wish.” He led Brad and Kate past a score of empty tables to the far corner table. Brad held out a chair for her, facing the red upholstered banquette against the wall. Kate shook her head. “I’d like to use the ladies’ room first.”
“Of course.” Eduardo pointed her in the right direction.
Kate stared at her reflection in the mirror. Black mascara ran down her cheeks like a bad Pierrot drawing. A mime face gone wrong. She turned on the water which ran delightfully hot, used the scented soap and scrubbed away every trace of Dee and Brandi’s handiwork.
Feeling marginally better, thoughts still a bit muzzy, she returned to the main dining room. She’d seen photographs of Sardi’s but it was more impressive in person. Above the red upholstered banquettes, lining the Chinese red walls, were rows of framed caricatures three deep.
Brad rose to seat her. “I thought you’d enjoy looking at the portraits rather than the room.”
Kate nodded. Most of the portraits were unfamiliar.  She recognized Helen Mirren and Katherine Hepburn and a few other actors but . . .
“Vincent Sardi opened this restaurant in 1927. He needed a drawing card to attract people, so he paid a Russian immigrant to draw the famous theatre people of the day. For twenty years, the artist got one meal a day in return for his drawings. Then he died and someone else took over. Sardi’s has over 1300 caricatures. Many have been donated to a museum.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’m a publicist. It’s my business to get some of my clients up on these walls.”
 The waiter handed them each a large leather bound menu. Kate used hers to hide behind. She felt teary again. She never cried. It had to be the drink. Or seeing Eric again. Or the text from her agent. Or the landlord. Or her mother’s wedding invitation. Kate cleared her throat. “I’ll have a cup of tea.”
Brad took the menu from her. “We’ll have the cannelloni au gratin and a bottle of Chianti.
“No. No more alcohol.”
Cannelloni’s not the same without Chianti, but have it your way.” Brad turned to the waiter. “The lady will have a pot of Earl Grey and I’ll have the Chianti.”
Brad folded his hands in front of him on the table and looked into her eyes as if she was the only person in the room. “Tell me about your book.”
Kate’s breath hiccupped. She willed back the tears. “The one that’s published or the one I can’t finish?”
“Both.”
Kate stared past Brad to the caricature of Katherine Hepburn. Now there was a woman who’d loved and moved on. “My first book was published this year.”
Brad smiled and waited. There was something about him that made her want to talk. “It’s called Miss Minerva Takes a Dare.”
“Where can I get it?”
“You won’t like it. It’s a romance. A Regency romance.”
Brad took out his phone and tapped busily. “I see it. Interesting cover.” A few more clicks and he put his phone away. “I’ll read it tomorrow.”
Kate cringed. “You don’t have to.” She’d never thought about a man reading her book.
“But I want to, Kate. It will be my great pleasure.”
The waiter returned with a small silver pot, a white cup and saucer, a small milk pitcher, and a basket of bread sticks. A second waiter came and placed a bottle of Chianti and two wineglasses on the table. He uncorked the Chianti and poured two glasses.
Brad handed one to Kate. “Perhaps a sip while you’re waiting for your tea to steep? Tell me about your latest book.”
She needed something to hold if she was going to talk about Chasing Cressida. A sip wouldn’t hurt. She let the tart flavor roll across her tongue, swallowed. Delicious. “I was halfway through it and . . .” Kate took another sip. “My writer brain has a quirk. It needs to model my fictional characters on real people. I based my hero on my fiancé, and when he broke our engagement, Lord Rotherham turned ugly. The publisher sent it back to me for revision. But I haven’t been able . . . I can’t find . . . Everything dried up.” Kate’s fingers curled tightly on the stem of her glass. “The publisher wants the advance back.”
“I see. Your hero disappointed you, and now you need a new one.”
Kate blinked. Brad made her hang-up sound normal. “A kind of magic happens when I find a person with a face that fits the story in my head. When I see the face, everything comes more easily.”
“I’ll be happy to loan you my face.” Brad’s lips twisted wryly. “That was a joke. I’m not anyone’s idea of a hero. I’m the buddy type. They never get the girl.”
“That’s not true,” Kate protested. “Spencer Tracy used to play buddies and he ended up with Katherine Hepburn.”
“Yes, he did, didn’t he?” Brad’s eyes twinkled. “Maybe I’ll get lucky.”
The waiter placed their cannelloni in front of them. Kate’s mouth watered at the creamy, slightly cheesy scent.
 “It tastes even better than it looks. Eat up, Kate Carnahan. You’ll need your strength.”
Kate took a forkful of the beef and sausage filled crepe and gave herself over to bliss. Then the import of what he'd said struck home. He knew she’d written a book? How? Goosebumps raced down her spine. “How did you know I was a writer?”
Brad poured a bit more Chianti into his glass. “Dee mentioned it to me. She said there was far more to you than a lovely face and a degree in accounting. Dee’s always been a fine judge of character.”
Why hadn’t she noticed that hint of Irish brogue before?
Brad sighed. “You’re worried I’m going to make a pass at you, aren’t you?”
“It crossed my mind. You’re being awfully nice to a friend of a friend.”
“What if I told you I was gay?”
“You are?” There was nothing effeminate in his tough, streetwise face. “Are you sure?”
Brad cleared his throat. “I am completely sure I’m not interested in you as a sexual partner.”
Oh. He was gay. Excellent. She could like him and not be worried about the result. She turned her attention back to the cannelloni. “Where is your boyfriend?”
“Ah . . .” Brad’s eyes slid sideways. “I’m between friends. “Tell me, Kate, the writer, what kind of hero are you looking for?”
“Actually, you might have made the cut. I like your looks. Sort of angel turned prizefighter.”
Brad snorted. “Now I have to read your book. That’s a hell of a description. Would you like to come to work for me? I could use a copywriter with your talent.”
Copywriting? Wonder if it paid better than bookkeeping? The Chianti was as tempting as the cannelloni. But she’d had enough. Any more and she’d stagger home. She poured herself a cup of tea. “I might take you up on that. After I get back.”
“Back? Where are you off to, then?”
“Ireland.” She dropped two cubes of sugar into her tea. “I haven’t seen sugar cubes in years. Reminds me of my teens when my best friend Carrie and I tried to build a castle with them. We were seduced by a picture in a magazine. It was a disaster.” She lifted the cup to her lips to stop her inane babbling. Definitely too much wine.
Ireland? Let me guess. You’re going on a quest for a new hero.”
Kate savored the tea. Perfect. “Well, I haven’t found one in New York.”
Brad refilled her wine glass. “If you’re going on a hero journey, you require a faithful companion. I’d be happy to offer my services. You like castles? How would you like to stay in one?”
And if that wasn’t a pass, what was it? She pushed back her chair. “It was nice talking with you, Brad. How much do I owe you for the meal?”
Brad rose when she did. “Not a thing. My treat. Can I not convince you to stay?”
No.” She tried to smile, but her lips felt funny. “I need to go home and sober up.”
“About the castle—”
“Sounds lovely. Thanks for dinner. Nice meeting you.” Kate turned and concentrated on walking a straight line.
Outside, an Uber driver leaned out his passenger window holding out his phone which displayed her picture. “Right here, Ms. Carnahan.”
How? She hadn’t called Uber. She pulled out her phone. Staring up at her was a picture of the Uber driver accompanied by a text. Thank you for your company. Anwar will see you safe home. Brad. At the bottom of the text was a form signature. Bradley Flynn. CEO Abbey Public Relations.
Kate’s good sense surrendered. She stepped inside and gave him her address. She tapped out Anwar’s driver’s license number in a text to Carrie. If she was murdered, she wanted to leave a clue.
She shook her head, trying to clear it. Abbey Public Relations? What had Eric said at the bar? A memory of an article in last week’s New York Magazine popped up. Kate leaned back and let the world spin behind her closed eyes. She’d quit her job, spent the advance her publisher now wanted back, and told the owner of the hottest publicity firm in New York to get lost. What next?
Chapter 3 Michael
Michael walked up the two stone steps to Essie’s craftsman cottage with a grocery bag in each arm. He set down one bag on the stone banister support and rang the little bell dangling from the china shamrock next to the door. “Essie, open up.
Essie opened the door, her wrinkled face lit with pleasure. “Michael, me darling, I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.”
He indicated the bag in his arms. “I had to stop at the store for my secret ingredients. Now, what’s all this about a mission?”
Essie stepped aside. “Come away in. Set your bags down.” Her eyes held a glimmer of mischief. “You might want to pour us both a wee dram of whiskey.”
“Essie, you’re a bad influence on me. Let me get the dinner started before we begin carousing.”
He set the bags on the shelf under the arched window framing the wall which opened into the combined living room and dining room, and surveyed the space for any new hazards Essie might have acquired. On his last visit, he’d removed the rickety old ladder she used to change the ceiling light.
He locked eyes with the biggest hazard, Essie’s cherished calico cat. “Hi, Chloe.
The cat’s amber eyes stared back at him unblinking. She slowly rose from her sprawled position on the padded rocking chair, stretched and turned her back on him.
“Don’t keep your feelings to yourself, Chloe. Let them all out.” Michael turned back to the sunny kitchen. The flowered dinnerware was now displayed on the counter. Easier for Essie to reach. Earthenware pots of herbs occupied the windowsill. The white curtains were tied back with yellow ribbons. A copper kettle sat on the small four-burner stove. 
“And it’s a dear man you are to remember a cat has feelings. Some people think animals are dumb.”
“Animals aren’t dumb." He took a large pot and a frying pan out of the lower cupboard. When I was a kid, my best friend was a red setter named Doggie.”
Doggie? Essie sounded amused.
“I was three when we got him. My brother John wanted to name him Krypto, after Superman’s dog, but he stayed Doggie.” He filled the large pot with water and turned on the gas. “Doggie was my hero. He took the blame for the stolen pizza slices and snitched cookies. And he was always ready to listen to my problems. What’s more, he never interrupted. How many friends can you say that about?”
Michael unwrapped the packages of ground meat and ready-chopped onions, spreading them out in the frying pan; then reached into the second bag for his special secret sauce. The bag crackled. He pulled out a tabloid newspaper. “I didn’t buy this.” He looked at the pile of gossip magazines on the low table beside Essie’s rocker. “That’s why Doreen was snickering when she bagged my stuff. She must have put it in here for you.”
“Doreen is a lovely woman. She knows I like to keep up.” Essie unfolded the paper and gasped. “Michael! There’s a man who looks just like you hugging Tracy Jay.”
His heart nose-dived into his stomach. “Let me see that.”
Essie handed it to him, her face the picture of tragedy. “I didn’t know you were seeing someone. Now what will I do?” 
A picture of him and Tracy Jay was topped by a headline, No Wedding Bells for Tracy. Her Fame Tore Them Apart. Outrage warred with fury. That’s what everyone in the store was giggling about. He handed the paper back to Essie, resisting the impulse to tear it to shreds. “Excuse me, Essie. I have to make a call.”
He strode out to the porch, taking care not to bang the door behind him and punched in Tracy’s number. The call went immediately to voice mail.
His phone buzzed. Another call. His godmother. “Have you seen The Star? That bitch! Michael, I’m so sorry. I wish I’d never introduced you.”
“Not your fault, Lorena.” He loosened his death grip on the phone. “I didn’t read the story. How bad is it?”
“She makes you sound like a jealous, self-important ass. Stay away from Twitter. Her fans want you crucified.”
His phone buzzed again. “Lorena, I’ve got another call.”
“If it isn’t a number you recognize, don’t take it,” she warned. “They’ve already called your mom trying to find you. Sherry says there are paparazzi camping in front of the store. She says some of the older customers who remember you from when you worked at the store are giving interviews about you to the hungry hoard.”
Michael’s lips curved into a reluctant smile. Of course, they were. Half of his mom’s clientele were in show business. To them, all publicity was good publicity. “Tracy insisted our relationship be a secret. Why would she announce it now?”
“Don’t you watch the news? Tracy got pulled in again for a DUI. She spun it by telling Entertainment Tonight a sob story about how you’d broken her heart and she’d had one drink too many trying to forget you.”
His phone buzzed again. He didn’t recognize the number. “Lorena, I’ve got to go. I’m burning dinner.”
“New girlfriend?” Lorena’s voice sounded hopeful. “I hope she’s the understanding type.”
“She’s not. Bye.
He retried Tracy’s number. Voicemail again. “Tracy, I don’t know what you’re playing at, but I want it to stop. Now.”
The phone buzzed again. Michael shut it down. Any emergency calls would be routed to his answering service and they'd contact him by pager. He went back into the house. “Sorry about that, Essie.”
She looked up from the magazine. Bright flags stained her cheeks. “What a terrible woman, saying things like that about you. It’s good riddance to bad rubbish with that one.” 
Michael gritted his teeth. He supposed everyone in town had read it. “Close your eyes, now, Essie. I don’t want you peeping at my secret ingredients.” He removed the jar of Ragu and a package of Mozzarella from the bag, emptied both into the simmering meat, and added spaghetti to the boiling water.
"I think it’s time for that dram of whiskey.”  Essie offered him her cherished Jamieson’s.
He’d rather have a water glass full, but that wouldn’t solve anything. He poured the thimble full of Irish whiskey Essie was allowed into a small crystal liqueur glass and poured himself one slightly larger. Raising his glass to hers, he repeated the toast she’d taught him. “Slainte.”
“And to you, Michael.” She patted his hand. “I never trusted that one on the telly. She looked sugar sweet, but I caught a spark of mean in the corner of her eye.”
Michael smiled wryly. “Would that I’d been as wise as you.”
 “Well you don’t have the gift, do ya? It takes a trained eye to weed out the wrong ones.” Essie took another small sip. “It would be good for you to get away for a bit. It’s fine to read gossip about people when you don’t know them. But it’s another thing altogether when it’s someone you know.”
Especially if that someone is your doctor. Michael shuddered at the thought of paparazzi descending on his office. 
Essie set down the little crystal glass and clasped her hands together. “As it happens, I’ve a need of you. Would you come with me to Ireland?”
The whiskey burned a fiery trail down his throat. “Ireland?” The thought was a cool green rain to his senses. He’d always wanted to visit Ireland.
The timer dinged. Michael set down his glass. “Dinner first. Discussion after.” He put a small portion of pasta and sauce on one of her flowered plates and added a piece of garlic bread.  Too much food killed her tiny appetite.
 “It looks delicious.” She sat down and waited for him to serve himself. She’d set the table with a lace cloth and matching embroidered napkins.
Michael brought his own plate and sat down.
Essie sampled the spaghetti. “It’s a grand cook you are, Michael. You’ll make some lucky woman a wonderful husband.”
“I mistrust that look in your eyes, Essie O'Callaghan O’Brian. You’re plotting.” 
“I was thinking that you could use a bit of help in the female department.” Essie’s eyes crinkled at the corners. “You’re altogether too trusting.”
“Don’t worry. I’m off females for the time being. Except for you. Tell me about this mission of yours?”
 “I owe a debt to an old friend and tis time to pay it.”
“What kind of debt?”
“The most important of all. A life favor.” Essie pushed her plate away. “Here’s the way of it. When I was a girl, I was a bit of a wild one. Ripe for any mischief. One Samhain my brother, Fiercra, dared me to go with him to Ballyban Hill. Ballyban Hill was a forbidden place because everyone knew it was sacred to the Fae.”
Michael raised a questioning eyebrow. “Samhain? The Fae?”
“Samhain is a harvest festival. Your Halloween derives from it. And the Fae are the fair folk of Ireland,” Essie explained. “Ballyban Hill was sacred to all of them. The good and the bad. Fiercra and I wanted to find a leprechaun, but . . .”
“But?” Michael prompted. Essie told the best stories.
 Essie shook her head. “I wasn’t feeling so brave when we got there. Twas a wanchancy place to be near anytime, but being there at Samhain made it spookier. The mists were high that night and somehow Fiercra and I got separated. He called out that he heard music and for me to catch up. But that’s not what found me.” Essie shivered. “I’d never heard a banshee before, but I could hardly mistake it. The banshee would have had me for sure, had it not been for a boy who belonged to the fair folk. He pulled me inside the hill with him.”
“He pulled you inside a hill,” Michael repeated, trying to keep a straight face. “Did he say 'open sesame' or something?”
“Ah, you don’t believe me. Well. No matter. If you were raised as I was, you would know the superstitions are true. The boy saved me from a terrible fate and I owed him a boon. That’s the way of these things. And now he wants my help and I have to be in Ireland to give it.”
“What does he want you to do?”
Essie’s eyes slid away from his. “Well I can’t be telling his secrets, can I? Once I get there I can stay with my brother and his wife. I used that fine new phone you got me to give them a call.”
The thought of Essie traveling on her own telling her fantastical imaginings as truths to strangers made his blood run cold. Someone had to deliver her to her family. “I’ll be happy to escort you, Essie.”
Essie beamed. “I was hoping you’d say that. You’re exactly what I need.  And it will do you good to get away from the stramashing.”
Stramashing A nice descriptive word for the uproar that article was going to cause among his patients. “I’ll call the service for a backup doctor.” 
“That’s grand, Michael. Now all I have to do is find a place for the cat.”



2 comments :

  1. I'm a fan, as you know! Love this book.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Margo. I loved Caught Between Two Curses.

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