Stories of the Heart: Angi Morgan

I'm delighted to bring readers a special edition of stories of the heart today, featuring author and woman I am proud to call my friend, Angi Morgan. The smallest gesture of kindness can change the trajectory of a persons life as is illustrated by this heart-warming story. One we can learn from.

Paying It Forward
by Angi Morgan

BEFORE YOU READ THE REST... I didn't share this story for self glorification. It was more of a realization on my part because I haven't shared this with many people before. I hope to inspire and encourage...

I woke up this past Monday to a phone call from my mom. She asked if one of her friends could come stay in my guest room for a month until her apartment was ready. The answer was, "of course."  And when I spoke to my husband later that afternoon, he repeated the same words. There was no 'but' or any other exception attached. We never thought twice. She will be welcome as long as she needs a room.

My mother's friend won't be the first to stay with us. We've done this with teenagers who would have been on the street after arguments with their families. Young adults who were between jobs or apartments. We had softball girls spend the night once a week so they could play ball, we've had band students stay for extended periods of time. We volunteered for our kids. We drove kids home, feed them before football games.

But this week, my mother's friend asked me why. I think she's the first one who ever has.

So why do we open our home and hearts? Well...it turns out that's a pretty short story after all. Back in my early twenties I was a single mom on a very limited budget. The year I turned 24, I held 11 different jobs trying to make ends meet (some at the same time). My car was side-swiped and totaled. Several times I took my two children to the night job I had cleaning offices. There was a short time-when the car wouldn't start and I pulled them in a wagon from my apartment to the job (more than three miles each way and yeah, it was dark). Several times my pantry was empty except for the food my children needed to eat.

My goodness, that sounds so depressing and...fictional. 

It wasn't. It was just making it through a rough period. I had support. I had friends. It was my car not starting at the last minute (before cell phones so no one was home). It was ME not asking my parents for more help. (By the way, there was always plenty to eat at their house...I wasn't going to starve, my children didn't suffer like others.) My dad always bought my kids new shoes and their bicycles. It was just something he always took care of. But over that rough year, there was more than one anonymous gift to me and my kids. No one ever admitted to the $100 bill slipped under my door. No one ever admitted to leaving sacks of groceries. They let me keep my pride and without knowing it or ever saying it aloud, I sort of made a vow.

I wanted to give back. I would always help if I could. 

Whoever gave me that $100.00 definitely Paid it Forward. They may have never known that they gave me hope to keep going through the next job...and the next crisis... They kept me going until I landed a job at North Texas State University. A job with a boss who encouraged me to go back to school where I finished my degree. A boss who took the time to talk to me as a person. A boss who stood up for me at my wedding to a wonderful man. The man who always says, "of course" and told me to follow my dream of writing (another story for another time).

I am so grateful for the life --and all the experiences-- I've been given. I hope I'm always able to give back.


Jacqui Nelson's 1-year "Get Lost in a Story" blogging anniversary celebration

It’s been one year since I joined Get Lost in a Story and I feel like celebrating! Continue reading for a chance to win a special gift from my home in Canada...

It’s been a good year. It’s been fun and has gone by fast. It’s been a privilege to be a GLIAS host, to hang out with my fellow hosts, to read their blog posts and their guests' posts as well. I've loved getting to know everyone better, including the amazing GLIAS blog readers!

A behind-the-scenes confession... 

I could have had the pleasure of being part of Get Lost in a Story much sooner. Angi Morgan asked me to join earlier (a lot earlier—we're talking years earlier) but…I was shy about blogging.

What could I share regularly in a group blog? Did I have anything to share even in one blog post? How could I find (or entice) my fellow authors to join me as guests? Could I give blog readers something interesting to read?

Well, one never gets the answers to these types of questions until one tackles them. So, I’m lucky that last year at the Wild Deadwood Reads author-reader event (after having an amazing time touring South Dakota with Elisabeth Burke, and also sharing a room with her at the event), Amanda McIntyre asked me to join GLIAS. And Angi did again, as well. 

What happened next? 

  • On July 24, 2018, Elisabeth wrote a blog post introducing me to the GLIAS blog.
  • On August 6, I hosted myself as my first guest in my North of the Border guest blog series. I needed something (or someone) to introduce my vision for the theme of sharing something/anything about Canada that has inspired a writer or their stories. And what better way to introduce something than with yourself as the test subject? 
  • On Sept 6, I hosted my first guest author, Alice Valdal. 
  • And now on Sept 5 (one year later in 2019), my next guest will be Rick Lauber—and I’ll have hosted 27 guest bloggers! 
That’s approximately one guest every 2 weeks. Or maybe one guest every week and a bit, since for the entire month of August I took a break from blogging in order to fully enjoy a trip to southern France—a getaway from all things writing-related.

Sometimes it’s good to take a break from something you do a lot—so that you can return to that something refreshed and eager to continue.

And now for the chance to win my special gift from Canada, that celebrates my 1-year GLIAS blogging anniversary! 

COMMENT BELOW saying why you enjoy the GLIAS blog or just simply by writing "hi" (before the end of the day on Sept 2) for a chance to win a Canada-themed cup and coaster set.

The cup is from Victoria (where I currently live on Canada's southwest coast) and has a bunch of “Canadian fun facts” on it…such as “the longest beaver dam in the world is located in Northern Alberta.” Who knew?

I like that "fun fact" best because Northern Alberta (with its prairies, forests, and farmland) is where I grew up—and it leads perfectly to describing the coaster set in my giveaway.

Last year, while visiting Alberta in August, I found these super cute, vintage Royal Canadian Mounted Police (with a chipmunk on his shoulder) coasters. And I immediately knew I had to take them home. AND save them for a day like today—when I could give them away in a blog just like this 🙂❤️



Through My Lens: Selfie Sticks

When selfie sticks first came out...I didn't take selfies. OR IF I did, it was of my feet. LOL  Tim and I have a lot of pictures of our feet. Hey, if it was good enough for Neil Armstrong on the moon...

Anyway. I never bought a selfie stick, but recently I received one at Booklovers Con 2019. I took it with me on our 30th Anniversary trip. So when our flight was delayed...we tried it out. 

And since that worked... we took another on the moving sidewalk from the airport to the train.

And since it was readily available...we took one at lunch.

Then it was at Chicago's Union Station. Recognize these steps? It's a scene from the Untouchables with Kevin Costner.

This one is in front of the train route map. 

And another in our train compartment.

Most of the time it was sooo much faster to just stick the phone up and click.  Like when you're standing in a moving line to board your train.

Or when a lovely woman switches compartments with you. Yes, she had a family car, gave it to us, and took our two-seater for the trip.  It was so wonderfully kind. We later had dinner with her.

Amazon | B&N | Google | iBooks | Kobo | Walmart
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USA Today Bestselling author ANGI MORGAN writes Intrigues where honor and danger collide with love. Her work is a multiple contest finalist and Publishers Weekly best-seller. She drags her dogs –and husband– around Texas for research road trips so she can write off her camera. They now have a map with highlighted roads they’ve traveled. Every detour somehow makes it into a book. 
Website   Facebook   FB Fan Page   Twitter @AngiMorganAuthr     
Check out my newsletter or follow me on Amazon or BookBub

Just leave a comment to be entered.


NEW RELEASE from Carolyn Brown: The Empty Nesters

Buy Today at Amazon or B&N  

The worst of times calls for the best of friends in this sassy novel about starting over, from New York Times bestselling author Carolyn Brown.

Dear friends and army wives Diana, Carmen, and Joanie have been through war, rumors of war, marital problems, motherhood, fears, joy, and heartache. But none of the women are prepared when their daughters decide to enlist in the army together. Facing an empty nest won’t be easy. Especially for Carmen. With emotions already high, she suffers an even greater blow: divorce papers. Diana understands the fury and tears. She’s been there.
With nothing to lose and no one at home, the girlfriends impulsively accept an unexpected offer from their elderly neighbor. The recently widowed Tootsie has an RV, a handsome nephew at the wheel, and an aim for tiny Scrap, Texas, to embrace memories of her late husband. Still grieving, she can use the company as a balm for her broken heart. So can the empty nesters.
Embarking on a journey of hope, romance, and healing, Diana, Carmen, and Joanie are at a turning point in their lives. And with the open road ahead of them, it’s just the beginning.

Here's an excerpt

   Over the past thirteen years, the ladies who lived on the same block in Sugar Run had been through wars, rumors of wars, death, divorce, fears, and joys, but nothing had prepared Carmen, Diana, and Joanie for the day they walked away from the army recruiter’s office in downtown San Antonio. Each of their daughters had enlisted and would leave in less than an hour, heading to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for basic training. Backs straight, the three mothers managed to keep smiles on their faces until they were all inside Diana’s van, and then the waterworks started.
   “I need a drink.” Diana wiped at the never-ending tears with a tissue, then passed the box around.
   “This is ten times—no, a hundred times—worse than when Eli deploys. But, good God, Diana, it’s eight o’clock in the morning. If we start drinking now, we’ll be passed out by noon,” Carmen sobbed as she blew her nose and tossed another fistful of tissues into the plastic trash bag Diana kept in the van.
   Diana pushed a strand of red hair away from her wet cheeks. “Passed completely out sounds good to me, and if you’ll remember, we always have mimosas when the guys leave on missions.”
   Joanie took a compact from her purse and checked her reflection, then broke down into more weeping. “Zoe doesn’t look a thing like me. She’s got Brett’s dark hair and blue eyes, and since she’s got nurse’s training, they’ll probably send her to some god-awful country. She took ballet, for God’s sake, and she was a cheerleader. She doesn’t belong in a foreign country seeing soldiers with their legs blown off.”
   “In the words of Jimmy Buffett, ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere,’ so let’s go to Diana’s.” Blotches spotted Carmen’s translucent skin from crying so hard. Several strands of dark-brown hair had escaped her ponytail and hung limp like a frayed flag of victory on a rainy day. “At least Zoe will be able to tell you where she’s going. Natalie passed that language test with flying colors. She’ll be put somewhere to translate, and you know what that means. Everything will be classified, and she won’t be able to talk about it.”
   Diana started the van and then laid her head on the steering wheel. “This is worse than kindergarten, isn’t it?”
   “Yes,” the women agreed.
   “We were able to pick them up at the end of the day back then,” Joanie sighed.
   Carmen stared at the front of the recruitment center. “I wanted one more glimpse of her, but I guess they went out a back door. I prayed every day from the time that Natalie was born that she’d do anything rather than join the service. I didn’t care if she flipped burgers at the local McDonald’s for the rest of her life, but, oh, no, she made her daddy proud. He’s over there in God knows where, doing God knows what, and I’m the one left at home with the empty nest,” Carmen declared. “And yes, I need a good stiff drink. Maybe two or three.”
   “That would be great. I’m not ready for an empty house.” Diana sniffled as she put the van in gear and headed north toward Sugar Run, population 3,412, according to the city-limit signs on either end of town.

Meet Carolyn

Carolyn Brown is a New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Publisher’s Weekly and #1 Amazon and #1 Washington Post bestselling author and a RITA finalist. With more than 90 books on the market, she’s a recipient of the Bookseller’s Best Award, and the prestigious Montlake Diamond Award, and also a three-time recipient of the National Reader’s Choice Award.

Carolyn and her husband live in the small town of Davis, Oklahoma, where everyone knows everyone else, as well as what they’re doing and when—and they read the local newspaper on Wednesday to see who got caught. They have three grown children and enough grandchildren to keep them young.

When she’s not writing, Carolyn likes to plot new stories in her backyard with her tom cat, Boots Randolph Terminator Outlaw, and watch him protect the yard from all kinds of wicked varmints like crickets, locusts, and spiders. Visit her at www.carolynbrownbooks.com.

FB (Author’s Page): https://bit.ly/2GZ2HAz

Thank you for inviting me to stop by Get Lost in a Story to talk about The Empty Nesters. Let’s sit on the porch and have a glass of icy cold sweet tea while we visit. I understand y’all have some questions you’d like to ask.

E.E.: What are your favorite television series?

Carolyn: Designing Women, The Golden Girls and Justified. You might think that’s a strange combination, but it’s not really. All three of the series are centered around friendships, and that always appeals to me.

E.E.: What’s something you’d like to tell your fans?

Carolyn: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. For reading my books, for talking about them to your neighbors and friends, for writing reviews, and for sending me sweet notes after you’ve read them. Y’all are appreciated so so much.

E.E.: Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?

Carolyn: I confess that I’m nosy by nature, so I do read my reviews. If a review has good, constructive criticism, I take it to heart. If there’s just plain old nit picking, I ignore it—an example of one that I ignored was when a reviewer gave me a one star review because of the cover on The Barefoot Summer. According to her the story was excellent, but her contention was that people got parasites by going barefoot, and I should have enough sense not to use a cover like that. As my mama used to say, “’nuff said’.”

E.E.: Which already filmed movie represents your writing style?

Carolyne: Probably The Longest Ride or The Notebook. I would love to see The Empty Nesters made into a movie. I can visualize Swoosie Kurtz playing Tootsie!

E.E.: What’s the first thing you do when you finish writing a book?

Carolyn: Straighten up my office. Put away all the notes I have scattered from one end of the room to the other for the book I just finished. Then the next morning I open the notebook for the next book, and get started on it.

E.E.: What can we look for next from you?

Carolyn: I just finished writing the seventh book, Cowboy Strong, in the Longhorn Canyon series, and the edits on The Banty House, a women’s fiction book. They’ll both be out in April/May 2020. But next on the publishing schedule is:
Christmas with a Cowboy, Sept. 24
The Family Journal, (my 100th novel), November 12
Cowboy Strong, Jan. 28, 2020
Wildflower Ranch (a novella), Feb. 4

Thank you, again, to the folks who asked questions. Join me on my Author’s FB page today, August 20th,  from 11 to 12 central standard time if you have anymore questions!! https://www.facebook.com/carolynbrownbooks/


Today, Carolyn will give away a $25 Amazon gift card. Just enter the raffle and answer the question or leave a comment.

Have you ever taken off in an RV on a vacation? If so, where did you go and did you have a good time?

a Rafflecopter giveaway


C.H. Admirand Hosts Author Sheila English

Please join me in welcoming today's guest author Sheila English!

Meet Author Sheila English

I’ve always been a writer. I finished my first full-length novel at age 10.  I still have that book.  I would never show it to a soul. LOL
I’m an avid reader and I read all genres.  I am a Doctor Who fan and have a life-size TARDIS in my home that I use as my office.  I collect and restore antique typewriters and cameras.  I have worked in dog rescue for years and all 5 of my dogs are rescues. I live in the beautiful Redwoods of Northern California 1 ½ miles from the ocean.  I write comic books, attend comic cons and embrace my inner nerd.
Books are my escape and I want to write the kind of books that transport people away from their daily burdens and into the fantastical, emotional adventures of stories.
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C.H.: What is your favorite romance read?
Sheila: I have so many! Jane Eyre comes to mind. Dark Prince by Christine Feehan or Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison.

C.H.: Would you rather watch a Romantic Comedy or a Romantic Drama?
Sheila: Romantic comedy!

C.H.: Do you have a favorite reading spot?
Sheila: Yeah, my bed! LOL

C.H.: Do you curl up with book and a cup of tea or coffee? 
Sheila: I enjoy both very much! But if I have to choose I’d go with coffee.

C.H.: Do you prefer reading an e-book or holding a book in your hands? 
Sheila: I have been switching over to e-book more and more. Saves space and as long as I have my phone, I have a book. And I always have me phone!

C.H.: What is the title of the first book you published? 
Sheila: Shadows Across the Moon
C.H.: Do you have a favorite series that you have written? 
Sheila: Adam Frankenstein series.

C.H. Any favorite character or characters that still wake you up at night? 
Sheila: I love Pia and Dragos and always wonder what they’re up to.
Of my own? Adam and Rebecca.

C.H.: Do you prefer to plot out your stories, or do you just wing it?
Sheila: I totally wing it. I tried to plot a few times but I never take my own suggestions and my characters just do what they want anyway.  It was a bust.  But I do get surprised a lot while I’m writing and that’s part of the adventure!

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Adam Frankenstein:
Search for a Soul

Adam Frankenstein: Search for a Soul - If you were created and not born, had no family, no friends, how would your personality develop? What life experiences would shape your soul? 

What would you become? Each story opens the door for Adam’s humanity. 

Adam Frankenstein: Fear Fest is a comic book thriller/mystery set in New Orleans where a missing woman could be the beginning of the apocalypse.

The Faith Healer's Daughter Trilogy

The Faith Healer’s Daughters trilogy box set includes -

The Keeper of the Light
The Keeper of the Dead
The Keeper of Souls

A modern-day young adult coming of age paranormal romance follows three sisters as they try to escape the fate of forced marriage in their evil father’s cult.  (PG rating, no sex).  Each one comes into their own power; the power to heal, power over the dead and the
power to manipulate souls.

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Where to find author Sheila English:

Website:  www.SheilaEnglish.com 

Social media links:
Twitter - @SheilaEnglish67 
Instagram- sheilaenglishauthor

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Adam Frankenstein: Search for a Soul
Excerpt from Marked

The girl showed no fear of him as he suspected she would. Most children feared him. He was unusually large and his face a hideous mess. Instead, she thought to bargain with him for his dog’s attention. He wondered if the magic of the mask somehow extended to the child?
Her hair was nearly white and her eyes so blue he couldn’t stop looking into them. There was kindness and innocence and peace there. He felt that he would protect her with everything he was. He would give her anything.
He frowned. “Are you using magic on me to get your way?” he asked.
Immediately the feeling went away, evaporating like water on a hot stove. She looked away, her chin hitting her chest.
Sabine rubbed her arm. “You know it is not right to use your gifts for sin. You must not covet Adam’s dog. You must not beguile him to get your way. The Virgin sees your deeds.”
Celeste blinked away threatening tears. “I apologize, Lord Frankenstein. I just really would like to hold your dog.”
Adam thought the magic she’d used was lingering as the vicinity of his chest which burned with longing to make the child smile. She was so frail. So small. Her bones were no more solid than that of a bird.
“Bella chooses her own friends,” Adam said. “I leave it up to her.”
The girl’s smile was so beautiful and sweet he knew that if kindness had a face, this was it.
“Oh Bella!” Celeste said, hugging the dog to her heart. “We will be best friends and love each other. We will play together and sleep together. I will feed you from my plate and we will play games.” She nearly glowed with happiness. “Lord Frankenstein, God will surely bless you for bringing Bella here.”
“Call me Adam,” he told her. He’d never wanted the name, Frankenstein. His creator was mad and cruel, and his creator’s lover a witch who used black magic to bring him to life. But, it was his legacy and he had overcome it. His friend, Mary Shelley, used the name when she wrote about him. It was she who convinced him to keep the cursed name.
“Sabine?” the girl questioned.
“It is alright, Celeste,” Sabine assured her. “Adam is unlike anyone you’ll ever meet. He is special. We can break a few rules to accommodate his requests. You may call him Adam.”
She smiled, then laughed when Bella began to lick her face. “Adam, I am so happy you are here.”
Adam tried to push away the disconcerting feelings that began to overwhelm him. He’d accuse her of using magic, but she was no longer looking at him. She was so wrapped up in playing with Bella, who had stolen a sock from Sabine and now refused to release it into Celeste’s care, he doubted she thought of him at all. Tug of war would be the game for the night until both child and dog fell asleep some hours later.

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The Faith Healer's Daughters Trilogy
Keeper of the Dead 
Excerpt from Chapter 1

     Amber Jones had a date with death and no intention of being stood up.  She’d waited for this night three long months.  Her blood ran cold at the thought of failure and burned with the need for success, the rush of the two at-odds feelings flowed through her veins until it raised gooseflesh on her arms.  A shiver ran down her spine causing her to shake unexpectedly and she wrapped her arms around herself for comfort. 
     “Where are you, Ryan?” she whispered into the empty room.  “Let’s get this over with.”  She looked out the window of the small two-story cottage into the vast city of dead.
     The cemetery in Brooklyn, New York was the second largest in the world.  It was a city within the city.  A city of ghosts.  With everything that had happened, that was happening, being surrounded by a thousand ghosts who could see and hear her was the least of her concerns.  Living as a caretaker-in-training wasn’t a problem. Pretending to be married to Ryan Spencer and lying to the soon-to-retire caretakers, Nancy and Fred, was more troubling. 
     The dead were more than a comfort to her.  Her power saw them as a source of energy.  She belonged, not exactly with them, but somehow to them.  And they, to her.   Tonight, she would go out and meet the man who truly ran the city of dead; Cole Sullivan, the Keeper of the Dead.  A sort of sheriff or governor over the souls who, for various reasons, had not moved on.  A powerful man who appeared not much older than her.  She guessed his age at perhaps nineteen or twenty, the same as Ryan.
     Releasing her arms she moved from the window.  Plopping down on the unmade bed she drew her legs beneath her.  Glancing at the door she wondered if Ryan was still upset with her.  And then wondered why it bothered her so much.  It was two hours ago they’d had the worst fight since their arrival at the cottage.  Undercover as fake newlyweds, they’d lied to Fred and Nancy, the kind people training them as caretakers, manipulated ghosts to gain the attention of the Keeper and still hadn’t gained the information they needed to stop her father and save the women and children still imprisoned in the cultish community she and Ryan had escaped a few months ago.  Her heart clenched in a hiccup of discouragement.  Nothing was going the way she thought.  She’d save no one.  She’d abused her power.  She lied to people she respected and cared about.  And now, she’d fought with Ryan and somehow his anger felt like the worst of all that had happened so far.   She was losing control, failing the mission and having feelings for someone she swore she’d never fall for.  Thoughts of delaying the mission until she felt more in control flirted with potential excuses she knew were cowardly.
     Amber glanced at the clock for the third time in thirty minutes.  She was to meet Cole at midnight.  Midnight. That was Cole's style; theatrical.  For a dead guy he was full of a lot of energy, and mischief.  She smiled as she thought about how he’d warmed up to her when he realized he could actually feel her touching him.  He’d become all charm and humor then and she had to admit that she was a little taken with him.  But, for all of his good looks and smooth-talking there was never any question that he was out for something.  He’d been around a long time and had seen a lot of girls and women come and go, both dead and alive, so she didn’t pretend he thought she was something extraordinary outside of that one little ability; touch.
     And, therein lied the trouble with Ryan.  Amber closed her eyes, recalling their argument with vivid dejection.


     “No touching!” she’d told him, keeping her back to him so she didn’t have to look into those dark blue eyes and convince him that she meant it.  The longer they pretended to be husband and wife in order to stay at the cemetery caretaker home, the more difficult things got between them.  The no touching rule was for the self-preservation of her virtue.  The fact that she knew it was as frustrating for him as it was for her to fight the attraction that had grown between them was a bonus she considered a gift from fate.  If she had to suffer through it, she was glad to know he did too.
     “Lover boy doing a little hands-on research there, sis?” Ivy Jones, Amber’s sister, recalled her to their phone conversation.  “How are things going on that front?”
     “Same as always,” Amber replied.  Did Ivy think she’d be able to talk about it with Ryan lying next to her?  Part of her wanted to share with her sister the growing attraction she felt for the nineteen-year-old Romeo, and part of her was worried that if she admitted it out loud it would make it more real somehow and she’d have to face it even to herself.  She’d worked for months to keep all of that behind a wall she’d built high enough to protect her heart and keep her focused on the mission at hand.  Letting it all fall away for a little warmth, comfort and snuggling wasn’t going to happen this late in the game. They were so close to completing the task that would allow them to go back to Montana where her father, Zachariah, kept his community a prison to so many women and children.  Amber’s struggle with her newfound power and the struggle with her hormones were wearing on her and she longed to have Ivy to confide in.  Soon they would all be back together.  She just needed to hold out a little longer.
     There was a long pause on the other end of the phone.  People say that twins can often feel what the other is going through and she and Ivy were a part of triplets, but she couldn’t feel what her sisters felt, or just know what they were going through because of some genetic bond.  Sometimes she wished she could because she’d love for Ivy to know that she was struggling and needed support. And of course, she’d also love to know what her sister Elizabeth was up to, plotting with their murderous father.  Elizabeth had been taken by their father when she was a baby and raised in the community.  But, Ivy, they were two peas in a pod.  They grew up together, trained together, fought together, saved each other and were best friends.  So, when the long pause ended in a sigh, Amber wasn’t surprised.
     “That bad huh?” Ivy whispered like she was afraid Ryan might be able to hear their conversation. 
     “You have no idea.”  Amber smiled then because it felt good to have that connection even hundreds of miles away.  It was that connection that kept her on this mission.  Family.  She wanted to help Ivy who, for whatever reason of her own, wanted to save Elizabeth.  Amber was fine with letting Elizabeth reap what she’d sewn. 
     “Please,” Ivy sighed in mock exasperation, “I had to literally give a piece of my soul to save Gabe.  I know feelings make you do crazy things.”
      “Touché.” Amber smiled recalling the sacrifice her sister made for the man she loves.
       Amber felt the mattress dip and bounce as Ryan got out of bed.  She thought to ask him to bring her another bottle of water, but didn’t want to turn around and look at him with his shirt off.  That was just asking far too much of her hormones this morning.  He was supposed to wear a shirt with this pajama bottoms, but last night he’d been pushing her, tempting her, and so he claimed to be too hot for the shirt. 
     “It’s winter in Brooklyn,” she’d argued.   He just smiled and took off the shirt happy to show her his well-defined six-pack and broad shoulders. Bastard.
     “Any progress last night?” Ivy moved the conversation back to the mission and Amber was grateful.
     “Well, we finally got the Keeper of the Dead here to admit there is a way to remove Zachariah’s power from the river of death and he agreed to give us the spell tonight.” Amber stopped.  There was a lot more to it than just that, but Ivy had her own problems and there was nothing her sister could do to help her. 
     “What are you not telling me?” Ivy guessed. 
     Amber wondered if she annoyed Ivy when she did that crap to her.  She figured she did and shrugged away the annoyance that always accompanied being found out when you really wanted something kept secret.  She glanced around the room then to make sure Ryan wasn’t there.  The light under the bathroom door was on and the water turned on to the shower so she was safe from his constant curiosity.  Guilt trickled like the water, showering her with anxiety.  Ryan would never be okay with what she’d promised the Keeper, so she decided it would be best not to say anything. 
     “It’s nothing really.” Amber tried to think of a way to tell Ivy what she’d agreed to in order to get the spell, but no matter how she put it, it just sounded gross and a little scary. “The Keeper has been a little…” Amber knew it was better to just get it all out of the way, like pulling a band-aid fast so it’s all over with at once.  “…lonely.  He’s not allowed to, well, fraternize with the other spirits and he’s been around for a very long time, which is, of course, why we came to him.”
     “He just wants me to kiss him.” Amber let out a sigh. There, it was said and over.
     “What?!” Ivy managed to squeal and sound flabbergasted all at the same time.  All with one word.  “Why would a ghost need a mortal girl to kiss him? Is this some kind of trick? Have you talked to Patricia about this?”  Patricia was also a ghost, but she was family.
     “You know Patricia isn’t comfortable coming to a cemetery where the ghosts treat her like a sideshow freak.  Most ghosts can’t travel like Patricia does and some ghosts find that interesting, but some are angry-jealous.”
     “Patricia is tough and you know it.  And Cole made it clear she’s to be welcome there.  You said so yourself.  She’d want to know what’s going on and determine for herself if Cole is up to some trick.” Ivy said.
     “I don’t see how it can be a trick.  It’s just a kiss.  He’s flirty and likes to get under people’s skin is all.  It’s a game.  Don’t worry though. I’ll get the spell before I pay up. He’s already been told that.”  Amber glanced again at the bathroom door making sure Ryan was still occupied.  “I didn’t tell Patricia.  She hates coming here. The other ghosts are very curious about her ability to move from graveyard to graveyard and she hates having to try and explain it to them. There are a lot of spirits here, Ivy.  It’s very frustrating for her to have so many of them follow her around with questions. I try not to call her to me.”
     Patricia had given her life, her energy, to help Ivy save her.  Now Patricia was a ghost.  And she was just as protective in death as she ever was in life.  Amber owed her life to Patricia, her mother’s cousin who had watched them be born, watched their father murder their mother and whisked them away to safety.  Together with John and Helena, her adoptive parents, she and Ivy had a pretty good life.  Not a normal one, but one filled with love and family. 
     There was something about how Patricia died giving her life force to her that allowed Patricia’s spirit to follow her. Protect her in ways others could not.  Sometimes, if Patricia had a lot of energy, she could come to Amber anywhere for very brief amounts of time.  Usually though, they had to be in a graveyard in order to sustain any long conversations.  The dead fed Amber’s power and being with them fueled her energy, made her strong.
     “I think Patricia would be okay with you calling her there for this one thing.  Before I’d go kissing some dead guy I’d make sure there were no hidden consequences to it first.” Ivy told her.  “Besides, it’s just gross.” Then she paused for just a moment and added, “Unless he’s a really hot dead guy. Is he cute?”
     “He’s Irish, has an accent and fought for a living.  They murdered him when he wouldn’t take a bribe.” Amber shared the story that Cole Trask had given her. “He’s maybe twenty-one, but he says that’s considered a man back in those days.  People didn’t live very long back then I guess.”
     “But is he cute?” Ivy asked again.
     Thinking about Cole she glanced back at the bathroom door.  The shower had shut off, but she could hear Ryan moving around, getting ready for the day.   She turned back around and whispered into the phone.
     “It’s safe to say he’s really cute, emphasis on the really,” she laughed softly.
     “So what you’re saying is that you don’t really mind taking one for the team, right?” Ivy’s humor traveled down the phone line and Amber smiled. She could imagine her sister wriggling her eyebrows at her.   “Still, Amber,” Ivy’s tone changed to something more serious, “A ghost has valuable information and all it costs you is a kiss? No offence, but a kiss seems a pretty small price to pay.”
     “Uh, yeah, no offense taken,” Amber smiled, but then grew serious as well.  “The thing is, this guy has been around a very long time. Practically since the graveyard was put there.  And, well, ghosts, as a rule, can’t feel physical pain. Or, pleasure.  But it seems that I’m an exception to that rule for some reason.  Probably has something to do with my ability.
     “He’s young, cute and hasn’t touched a woman since the 1800’s?” Ivy’s humor was back, “Okay, I can see the value of the kiss now.  I’m amazed you got away with just a kiss.” She actually giggled at that and Amber missed her at that moment so much she felt tears threaten.
     “I promise you that my negotiating skills were thoroughly tested,” Amber told her.
     Ivy laughed out loud then. “Yeah, sound like some other skills are about to be tested too.”
     “I have a feeling he’s been thinking about this a very long time. I’m sure he’ll want me to remember that kiss.” Amber laughed.
     “Talking about me again?” the masculine voice sent a jolt down Amber’s back and she turned to see Ryan standing there in nothing but a towel, wrapped securely around his waist, but it was askew and one side dipped down farther than the other, threatening to change the parameters of their relationship via gravity.
     Warmth spread from bottom to top and Amber was certain her cheeks were beet red what really irritated her.  The day was not starting off well for her and it wasn’t ending any time soon.  She frowned at Ryan.
     “No. Not you. Someone I’d actually like to kiss.” She hadn’t meant it to sound so harsh and knew it was overkill when his expression didn’t change to anger or humor, but to hurt. 
     It was on his face and then gone in a heartbeat.  She might have missed it altogether if she hadn’t grown so attune to him, his expressions, his moods.  Sometimes they didn’t even have to talk, they just knew what came next whether it was to go for a walk, call home, go to bed.  He had become her friend and though he irritated her with all the silly flirting she valued him.  She didn’t want to hurt him. She just wanted him to give it a rest.  She was nervous already with everything that was going on tonight. 
     “Listen,” Ivy said bringing her attention back to the call.  “Why don’t I let you go deal with whatever you need to deal with.  But, call me if things go sideways.  Promise?”
     “I promise.” Amber answered. She longed for Ivy to talk a little longer, at least until the awkward tension died down in the room.
     “Oh and Amber?” Ivy added.
     “Call me if it’s super fantastic too, okay?” Ivy’s tone was full of humor and then just hung up leaving Amber to whatever drama might ensue.
     Despite the fact that she had set the phone down and now had to face Ryan, talking to her sister had cheered her up.  She turned around to apologize again for her tone but Ryan was gone.  The bathroom door was closed and she figured he was changing in there.  That stung.  For nearly a month now he had been changing in their room, threatening her with his nudity until she’s just walk out.  It was endearing in a way that was hard for her describe.  She glanced at the closed door again, sad that things had changed and hoping it was something she could fix with an apology and a little flirting.
     Her phone buzzed, vibrating again, but this time it wasn’t a ringtone, it was the alarm.  There were duties to perform in the cemetery that had nothing to do with her ability and everything to do with earning a living.  She hit the button to turn it off and fell back on the bed, borrowing time. 
     The door opened and Ryan walked out dressed in black jeans and a white polo that had the cemetery name on it and identified him as a groundskeeper.  He sat on the bottom edge of the bed furthest from her to put on his socks.  The silence was just too much for her.
     “I didn’t mean to sound so cranky,” she said hoping he would at least say something.
     “You’re cranky every morning, Amber,” he said, but she couldn’t get a read on his mood with his back to her. “It’s usually cute.”
     “But, not this morning?” she asked cautiously.
     He stood up, paused a moment as though he wasn’t sure he wanted to look at her, or perhaps he was just gathering his thoughts, she wasn’t sure.  Then he turned toward her.  The expression wasn’t anger or even hurt.  She wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but it made butterflies take flight in the pit of her stomach.  He stared at her in a way that she thought he was either trying telepathy, which was silly of course, or he was debating his words, which was likely. 
     “Who are you kissing, Amber?” he asked with as little emotion as she’d ever heard him express. “We go everywhere together.  I know everyone you know here.  Everyone thinks we’re married.  If some guy hit on you when he thinks we’re married he’s a jerk. And, on principle, I should knock his teeth out.”
     There it was; anger.  She was so glad he’d stopped looking at her like he could see into her soul and went for something she knew how to deal with.  He was just mad that someone he thought was a friend might betray him.  This was going to be easy to fix.  Relief washed over her and she smiled at him, turning onto her side and patting the bed next to her.  He walked over and sat beside her, brooding, which told her he’d given up anger and now just needed his ego salved.
     “It’s no one you’ve met. Not in person anyway.  It’s Cole.” She smiled, happy to explain away the reason for his unhappiness.
      “Cole?” his voice cracked under the strain of the shock. “Cole the ghost?”
      “Cole, the Keeper of the Dead who has been helping us.” She corrected.
     “Helping us?” Ryan faked a laugh. “He’s been leading us on for nearly six months, Amber. He gives us just enough information to keep you interested, but nothing that helps in any real way.  Now he wants you to kiss him? What the hell for?!” The laugh was definitely fake Amber realized.  We were back to anger.
     “He’s given his word that tonight he will give us the information about how to stop Zachariah from tapping into the river of death and harming anyone with his power.  We’ll get what we’ve come for.” Amber sat up and leaned toward Ryan, placing her hand on top of his to reassure him.  He looked down at their hands for a moment and it caused her to look, too.  Her hands were rougher now with all the physical labor she was doing outside, but it was still softer than his, and not as dark, and nowhere near as big.  It was warm and strong and there was something about touching his skin that made her thumb caress run up and down his hand and wrist without her even thinking about it.
     “I don’t like it, Amber.” He said and her head snapped up at the barely checked rage in his voice.  Surprise filled her as she looked into his eyes that matched the sound of his voice. “I don’t like him.”
     “Why?” It was all she could think.  Seeing him like this was new and she wasn’t exactly sure how to deal with it.  She realized she didn’t feel threatened physically.  She wasn’t afraid of him. 
     “Because he’s a ghost and I can’t knock his teeth out when he kisses you.”

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