Cake let loose on the world!

Hi everyone! A big shout out to my buddy Andrea Bramhall for loaning me her blog for the day. You see, I have a new release that came out a few days ago from Ylva (available for sale on the Ylva website and pre-order from Amazon until March 2), and since this is not every day occurrence, I’ve been running around the internet like a crazy woman to tell everyone about it. And, because Andrea is a fabulous human being, she opened her virtual home to me today.Cake, my new release, is a novella about two women who meet at a wedding. Elena is there to watch her ex-lover marry her new boyfriend/fiancé. Kelly is the groom’s younger sister, and even though she thinks her brother is a tool, she has to be there because family is family.

Kelly and Elana have many, many reasons why they shouldn’t get together, but still they can’t resist. And really, what is sweeter (or hotter) than forbidden romance? Both women are a little broken, a little damaged, but they’re both ready to enjoy their own slice of cake.

 

Cake
A sexy romance about two women, one inconvenient wedding, and a shared love of cake.

Kelly and Elana’s relationship is a recipe for disaster. First, they meet at a wedding, and that never works. Second, Kelly’s older brother is marrying Elana’s ex-lover. And third, Elana is still painfully, undeniably in love with said ex.
When it comes to other people’s lives, Elana Verdad is an expert. As a licensed psychologist and life coach, she helps people overcome obstacles. Her own life, on the other hand, is a disaster. Her lover left her for a man, so she drove over his mailbox accidentally on purpose. Now, not only did the judge take away her driver’s license, he also assigned her to community service at the local women’s prison. In what may be her worst idea ever, Elana decides to crash their wedding.
Kelly Miller may not understand her brother’s rush to marry his girlfriend, but when he asks her to bake his wedding cake, it’s not as if she can refuse. She’s in the catering business after all. At the wedding, she meets a beautiful, complicated, and seriously damaged woman. Although Kelly knows it’s crazy, she’s drawn to her nonetheless.
Despite the reasons they shouldn’t be together, there’s still an undeniable something between them. All they need is a chance to enjoy their slice of the cake.
 

Jove Belle…

…has been a part of the lesbian fiction publishing community for almost a decade.
In addition to being an author and editor, Jove is a founding member and co-admin of the popular lesbian fiction blog Women and Words. She also works as a consultant with Book Enthusiast Promotions, an online marketing company for fiction authors, and as Operations Director US for Ylva Publishing.
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Why?

Today I recieved a wonderful review of my new book, Nightingale, from C.spot reviews. Click here to see the review. In the wake of this I thought it might be a good idea to give people a little insight behind the reason why I choose to write this book, as that does seem to be the general question when I talk to anyone about Nightingale. Why write a story like this? Why write about a Muslim girl falling in love with a white girl? Why do I think I’m qualified to write this story when I’m not Muslim and haven’t been in a relationship with a Muslim girl? Why write a story that has so much darkness to it? Why write this story?

Nightingale is the story of Hazaar and Charlie. How they fall in love, how they are torn apart, and how their lives are forever changed by the past they shared together. It’s the story of them trying to move on and being unable to forget the beauty of the love they shared, and their struggle, their fight—for their lives, their souls, and for each other.

But there is more to it than that. You knew that, right?

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Hazaar is a young woman who grows up in a British Muslim family, complete with an obnoxious younger brother, and all the expectations that come with being a girl in her culture. An arranged marriage is the norm for her family and she is well aware that her studies are all that lie between her and what she considers her life long prison sentence. She feels time is running out and on one hand she wants nothing more than to enjoy the last moments of her freedom—however long or short that may be. And on the other, she is looking for the woman, the relationship, the love, that will give her the strength, courage, and reason to turn her back on her religion, her family, her culture, and her own faith. Because that is what choosing her heart will cost her…if she manages to keep her life.

Which brings me back to that question. Why?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that myself. Why did I have to write this story? Because it wasn’t so much about the desire to write it, as the need to write it. This story has burned holes in soul for the past six or seven years. It never felt quite right. Parts of the story took time to fit together correctly. Parts of the characters need chance to grow—no, that’s not quite right. I needed to grow enough to be able to tell the story of these characters. But that doesn’t answer the question as to why I needed to tell this story.

It’s simple really.

I want you to think.

I want everyone to think…but I’ll do this one person at a time.

There is a bias in Western culture that the Islamic religion is ‘wrong’, and ‘inhumane’. That is not a view I share, and I hope it isn’t the view you will take away from the story if you read it. Personally, I think every religion has a lot to answer for, are all capable of being ‘inhumane’, and at some point in their history, they all have been. They’ve been corrupted and twisted by the few with power who held religion up and used it as a means of controlling a mass of uneducated, often illiterate, and terrified people who knew no better than to trust those who told them they knew better, and instead served only to further their own agenda’s and cushion their own coiffeurs. And in my opinion…they still do. Do I think all religions are wrong? No. I think the idea behind most religions, the ideal of equality, peace, love, and treating people with respect, is a wonderful thing. But these ideals are lost in the interpretation of those people in power. This is the aspect that I think is wrong and nothing corrupts the idea that a religion is based upon like power does. To retain power, the mass population is kept terrified, in fear for their immortal souls, uneducated, and illiterate. To maintain power.

Does that mean that I think religion should be scrapped? No. Not at all. I think everyone should be educated, taught to read, and allowed to make up their own minds about what they want to believe, follow, or not as the case may be. That is the only way to achieve equality, peace, and respect.

Let me say that again so that it really has the chance to see the light of day.

I think everyone—women, men, and children—should be educated, taught to read, and allowed to make up their own minds about what they want to believe.

I think everyone should be able to read any book they chose to. Because it is only education that breeds awareness of the greater world. Awareness breeds empathy and compassion…the stepping stones to peace.

And now I’m talking like Yoda, so I’ll step off my high horse and back to my cave, start retreating, I shall. 😉

Of course this is just my opinion and you are free to disagree with me as much as you wish. After all we have the freedom and the right to do just that.

Millions of people all over the world don’t.

And that’s why I had to write this story.

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Tag…you’re it!

So, I’ve been hit by the process blog tour with a little more force than may have been necessary. Suzanne Egerton, Vic Oldham, and Penelope Grey have all decided to gang up on me, so I guess I should just get down to it and answer the questions…

 

What am I working on? I’m currently completing my research for The Chameleon. Which will be published by Bold Strokes Books, I hope late in 2015, but publication date is to be confirmed.

 

The Chameleon is the story of Amhale Zuma and Imogen Frost; they are multiracial childhood friends in a South Africa driven by fear and separated by hate when children are colour blind and the eyes of the world were watching as Apartheid began to crumble. Separated by tragedy many years laterthe girls find themselves reunited as Imogen returns to South Africa to find a world different than the one she remembers and where she is expected to pick up her estranged father’s reigns and run the family vineyard, nestled in the valley of the Western Cape at the foot of Table Mountain. Betrayal, confusion, and uncertainty make uncomfortable bedfellows as she tries to navigate the difficult path before her whilst Amhale finds herself drawn into family conflicts with far reaching consequences for them both.

 

How does my work differ from others in the same genre?I find myself drawn to situations with heightened emotional conflict that is impacted upon by sociopolitical events.  Apartheid particularly was a big draw for me as I spent a portion of my childhood growing up in South Africa. I saw the inequality and segregation from the inside, and it has affected me much more deeply than I ever imagined it would. It is probably one of the main reasons I’m drawn to writing the stories I do and in the locales that I choose.

 

Why do I write what I do? Lol. Maybe I should have read these questions before I dove in. One of the reasons I’ve already stated above but another is much more fundamental for me. Books have helped pull me through some of the darkest points of my life giving me something I sorely needed. Some of the most influential to me have come from the most unexpected of places. I read The Clan Of The Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel when I was seventeen and my parents were divorcing. I was angry, scared, realizing I was gay, and I didn’t know where to turn or what to do. I was trying to bottle everything up and be strong. I read a line in that book. Just one line. ‘Crying doesn’t make you weak, it just makes life a little easier to bear.’ That one sentence allowed me to open up and cry for the first time. None of us know what the future will bring. If one day a simple sentence that I’ve written can bring one person a little light in the darkness…that’s why I write.

4. How does my writing process work?  I’m a planner. Biiiiiiiiiiiiig planner. I have a huge poster sized diagram of a story arc up on the wall in my study.  When I complete my research I outline each chapter–briefly–on a sticky note and put it on the appropriate part of my arc, different coloured depending on who’s point of view the chapter will be written from. OCD, right? I know, but it helps me keep all the plot lines, characters, and places straight in my head. I also prepare cards on all my characters–with pictures–places that are important to the story—with pictures–and specific research notes of importance. Also with pictures if appropriate. Once my board and cards are complete I start writing the chapters. I write quickly when I start writing, around three weeks from start to finish.

 

So, now I get to pass this little meme along to the next victim…I mean, writer to have a go at. Eeny meeny, miney, mo, who’s turn is it for a go…I’m gonna tag…Kathy Knowles and Yvonne Heidt.  Have fun, ladies!

 

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News Roundup: Lambda Win for Andrea Bramhall, Free Stuff from Clare Ashton & Amy Dunne, L-Fest & BSB Fest, Blog Hops, Reviews, and Lots More!

Busy old week in UK Lefic land.

UK Lesbian Fiction

Okay, there’s no polite way of putting this: some of you UK authors need to go on an early summer holiday or something, and stop doing so much bloody stuff. Please? I hear the Balearics are lovely this time of year…

~ ~ ~

cleanslateWithout further ado, let’s kick off another mammoth week of news by saying a huge CONGRATULATIONS to Andrea Bramhall, whose second novel Clean Slate was awarded best Lesbian Romance at the 26th annual Lambda Literary Awards on Monday evening. The Lammies are one of the most keenly sought after awards in the field of GLBTQ writing, so it’s lovely to see one heading over this side of the pond.

Andrea has just blogged her reaction to the news in a post entitled: Keep Calm and Wait for the Recount:

I’m trying to play it…

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Keep Calm And Wait For The Recount…

Yesterday I woke up to some totally awesome, amazing, incredible news. What, you may ask, was this stupendous event? On Monday night, 2nd of June 2014, the Lambda Literary Foundation held their annual awards event in New York. My novel, Clean Slate, had—by some miracle–made the finalists list in the Best Lesbian Romance category alongside some wonderful stories and incredibly talented writers. I woke up to find that my book won!

Lambda-Medal-150x150

I’m trying to play it cool and not run around the house shouting ‘I won, I won, I won’ but part of me is still waiting for the results of the recount–that must surely be underway–and I don’t want to look like an idiot when the powers that be politely inform me that I shouldn’t have gotten myself all excited in the first place. I have conversations like this with myself in my head all the time. Yes, I have spoken to the doctor about it, and the shrink…and the next shrink…and then her replacement, her boss, and all the orderlies holding that white coat. Not that comfortable I’ve got to tell you, and murder when you’ve got an itchy bum. I digress.
Clean Slate is the story of Morgan and Erin Masters; a married lesbian couple with two children. At the beginning of the story, Morgan has left her family for reasons she didn’t feel able to explain but felt was for the good of her family. Rapidly approaching her fortieth birthday she meets someone tall, dark, and dangerous in a dimly lit car park and wakes up in hospital. Convinced she is nineteen, still at university, still in the closet, and demanding to see her mum. What follows is a story that is achingly funny on one page and heart-breaking on another. We follow Erin and Morgan as they try to navigate the murky waters of coping with memory loss, betrayal, and pain. Where forgiveness is elusive and a family secret threatens all that the two women had built and any chance they have of a future together.

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When I was little, all I ever really wanted to be, was a writer. Winning an award–any award, but especially such a prestigious one as a Lammy–is the culmination of so many years of striving to achieve my dream in writing a good book, getting the book published, and getting it to market. It’s validation of the hard work, not just mine, but that of the editors, proofreaders, typesetters, beta-readers, publicists, cover designers, and marketers who are involved in the whole process. Getting Clean Slate to market is a team effort and one that deserves recognition. Vic Oldham, who’s patient tutelage and sarcastic humour have made the editing process a little easier to deal with than I ever expected it to be. Cindy Cresap, your attention to detail have been an example I’ve tried to follow in an attempt to further improve my writing. Radclyffe, your writing has been an inspiration for many years, and your professionalism and advice have been much appreciated. As has your confidence in me and my writing when you took a chance on me and signed me to Bold Strokes Books. Thank you all.
So, while I’m trying to play it cool, keep calm and wait for the recount, I’ll prepare myself for the upcoming weekend and the annual Bold Strokes Books UK event in Nottingham. Some delusional person has assigned me as moderator on a panel…big mistake.
No news on the recount yet. I’ll let you know when the Miami results come in!

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The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing

Suzanne Egerton has tagged me to take part in The Next Big Thing, where each taggee imparts little known (or well known) information about the latest book they have written.

So, without further ado…consider yourselves warned…cos, I’m going in!

Q: What is the working title of your next book?

A: Nightingale. It’s just been released by Bold Strokes Books in May.

Q: Where did the idea for the book come from?
A: Originally listening to a song by Norah Jones of the same title. It’s such a wistful song, full of longing and questions without answers, and a tale a long time in the telling.

Q: What genre does your book fall under?
A: Contemporary Lesbian Romance

Q: What actors would you choose to play the part of the characters in your book?
A: Oooo, I’ve been thinking about this one. The actress Archie Panjabi would definitely by my number 1 pick for Hazaar. No question. And Charlie…a little more difficult but I think the lovely Claire Goose would be my choice.

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Lovely looking couple, don’t you think?

Q: What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A: Culture, faith, and duty conspire to tear two young lovers apart, yet fate seems to have different plans for them both.

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
A: Published by Bold Strokes Books.

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
A: Three months. This one has taken the longest of all my novels so far. All the others take three to four weeks.

Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A: I don’t know of any that have taken a story line like this on. A lesbian relationship between a Muslim and non-Muslim, throw in forced marriage…I don’t know of any other out there like this. If you do, please let me know.

Q: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
A: Many things, really. These characters wouldn’t leave me alone. It’s a story I think needs to be told. It’s way for me to pay it forward.
That sounds weird, right? Let me explain.
When I was in one of the darkest places in my life, a single line in a book I read gave me the one thing I needed to get through it. It gave me permission to cry without admitting weakness or defeat. One single sentence. In a romance novel, set in the ice age, with wooly mammoths, Neanderthals, and people living in caves. The line simply read ‘crying doesn’t make you weak, it simply makes the pain easier to bear’. That one sentence has never left me.
Nightingale is a romance, it’s fiction, but there is an ugly truth—a reality—behind the story that is all too real. Maybe there is one word in this story that will give someone else that moment of comfort when they most need it. Had I never written this story…well, what chance then of this story being the words that help someone else out of the dark.

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
A: Hmm…everyone who has read it so far has taken something different away from it, so that’s hard to say. One person who reviewed it was surprised that I’ve taken this subject with such volatile religious and cultural differences and managed to portray it honestly but without vilifying the religion. Other’s are enthralled by the format of the story. I shift from ‘now’ to ‘then’ to portray the love story of these two wonderful characters in it’s entirety. From the initial falling in love, through the loss, and the way neither of them ever gives up hope.
I hope you enjoy their story.

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Andi’s book blitz

From
 the Boots Up

Book Blitz

From the Boots Up FINAL 300 dpi

Book Title: From the Boots Up
Author: Andi Marquette
Genre: F/F Romance
From the Boots Up is a runner-up in the 2013 Rainbow Awards for best contemporary lesbian romance and best lesbian novel.
Hosted by:Book Enthusiast Promotions

Synopsis

Meg Tallmadge has more than enough on her plate. She’s finishing up a college degree, getting ready to apply to vet school, and working another summer with her dad, Stan, on the family ranch in southern Wyoming. He’s managed to get the Los Angeles Times to send a reporter out to do a story on the Diamond Rock, which doubles as a dude ranch. Meg knows the ranch needs all the publicity it can get to bring in more customers, but she’s not looking forward to babysitting a reporter for a week. When the originally scheduled reporter can’t make it, Meg worries that they won’t get a story at all, which is worse than dealing with a city slicker for a few days. Fortunately for Stan and the ranch, the Times finds a replacement, and Meg prepares to be under scrutiny, under the gun, and the perfect hostess. She knows what this opportunity means to her father, and she’s hoping that if it goes well, it’ll ease some of the distance between them that resulted when she came out a few months earlier.

What Meg’s not prepared for — and never expected — is the reporter herself and the effect she has on her. In spite of what she feels, Meg can’t risk the fallout that could result from overstepping a professional boundary. But as the week draws to a close, it becomes clear that not taking a chance could be the biggest risk of all.

NOTE: Contains F/F mature situations.

Meet the Author

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Andi Marquette was born in New Mexico and grew up in Colorado. She completed a couple of academic degrees in anthropology and returned to New Mexico, where she decided a doctorate in history was somehow a good idea. She completed it before realizing that maybe she should have joined the circus, or at least a traveling Gypsy troupe. Oh, well. She fell into editing sometime around 1993 and has been obsessed with words ever since, which may or may not be a good thing. She currently resides in Colorado, where she edits, writes, and cultivates a strange obsession with New Mexico chile.

excerpt

May 1999

My weekend with Tex Hollis began when I pulled into the driveway of the Lazy T-Bar Ranch west of San Antonio. I knew this wouldn’t be an ordinary weekend when Tex cast a critical eye over my shorts, t-shirt, and tennis shoes. Two days later, I was as comfortable in jeans and boots as any of the buckaroos who spent their days in the saddle—

Meg laughed and tossed the magazine back onto her dad’s huge oak desk. She leaned back in her chair and braced one booted foot on the desk’s edge. “Tex Hollis,” she said, sarcastic. “Sounds like somebody out of a Longarm book.”

Stan looked at her over the top of his reading glasses. “And since when did you start reading that?”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Davey keeps a stash. He gave me one to read one night, thinking I’d like the ‘plot’.” She grinned wickedly. “The plot was way better than the sex.”

His eyes widened and she laughed.

“I told Davey that, and he never loaned me another one. I think I ruined one of his fantasies.” She pushed back farther, regarding him mischievously.

He cleared his throat. “Fantasy?”

“Please, Dad. You’re a guy. You were Davey’s age. You know what guys think about.”

His cheeks reddened and he started moving papers around on his desk. “If your mom heard that. . .” he said with exaggerated sternness.

“She’d lose her religion because I know about sex. It’d burst her bubble.” Meg moved her foot and let her chair legs fall to the floor with a thump. And then her mom would haul out her Bible and start talking about chastity.

“Well, moms were young women, too, and they don’t like to think about their daughters running wild with young guys.”

“You mean like Mom did with you?” She asked innocently.

The phone rang and he shot her a mock disapproving glare that dissolved into a smile before he answered. “Diamond Rock Ranch. This is Stan Tallmadge.” He clicked the mouse on the computer as he talked.

Meg reached across the desk for the magazine and flipped idly through it again before studying the cover. A copy of Spirit, from Southwest Airlines. A pair of worn cowboy boots with spurs stood on a workbench against a log cabin wall. A nice photo, for a stereotype.

She glanced up at him. From the conversation he was having, it sounded like the call was another reservation. They still had two spaces available for guests this month and she hoped the spots filled. This sounded like it would drop their space to one. Good.

She studied him then, noting the fine lines that spiderwebbed from the corners of his eyes and the deepening creases around his mouth. His hair, once as dark as a crow’s wing, had lightened to gray at his temples, though she often thought about him without the gray, her attempt to prevent him from aging.

The magazine cover advertised a story about Montana, and how people could get an “Old West” experience at a couple of dude ranches up there. She’d heard of them, and she wondered how the ranch owners had managed to get covered in Spirit. The Diamond Rock needed more coverage like that. Even more than what they’d get from the reporter who was coming out to bother them next week. She turned the page and a photo of a couple of men on horseback herding a few cattle caught her eye. One of the men looked like her dad. She glanced at him again as he continued to talk, doing the Diamond Rock spiel to the person on the other end.

Ranching was in his blood, just like it had been in his father’s and in his grandfather’s before him. No other place on earth would fire his spirit like Wyoming’s Medicine Bow Mountains. Meg knew that, and she knew that if he ever left, it would kill him, just as staying was slowly leaching the years from his bones as it got harder and harder to make ends meet, to get enough paying customers for the dude ranch experience even while he tried to work the ranch with fewer staff.

He looked at her, eyes the color of a summer thundercloud, like hers, she’d been told, and gave her a thumbs-up. She smiled and returned to her magazine, but she wasn’t really thinking about the article. She took after her father in demeanor and physical appearance, she knew, and it was a point of contention when her mother had lived there. But it was Stan who had made Irene “pert near crazy” with his stubborn streak and independent nature. Loyal to a fault, but unreachable in the deep down parts of his heart, he’d driven Irene right back to Kentucky nine years ago, when Meg was sixteen.

“All right,” he said. “Thanks for calling. We’ll see you next week.” He hung up, satisfied. “Full up.”

She grinned at him and placed the magazine back on his desk, relieved. “So when’s that reporter coming in?”

He leaned back in his chair and stroked his mustache thoughtfully. He looked like an old-style cowboy with it, especially when he wore his hat and duster. She thought he resembled Wyatt Earp.

“Hopefully next Friday, still. I got a call from the editor out there this morning and the writer she wanted broke her leg. So she’s trying to rustle someone else up on short notice.”

Meg hid her concern. It was already Wednesday. Next Friday was just over a week away. “Will she be able to get somebody else to come instead?” A story in the Los Angeles Times was too important. They needed the publicity.

“She’s working on it.” He tried to hide his own concern, too, but she read it in his eyes. “Might have to delay the story a little bit, if she can’t find anybody on short notice.”

“How long?”

He gave a little shrug. “She said maybe a couple extra weeks. Then there’s another window of opportunity in July. Which won’t be too bad.”

The dude ranching season pretty much ended here by mid-August as fall started creeping in over the mountains. Stan needed this publicity, because it wouldn’t only serve for this summer. It would continue for the next season, and the article would be on the Internet, so they could use it in more of their promo.

“Did she say who the reporter might be?” The one that had been scheduled was originally from Idaho, and Meg had talked to her briefly on the phone. She sounded nice, and she’d grown up in a ranching town, so Meg figured she’d “get” the Diamond Rock, and she’d be able to really nail that in her story.

“Nope.” He shrugged again. “I’m sure she’ll find someone who’ll do a fine job on the story. It’ll work out.”

“Hope so.”

He narrowed his eyes then. “And you’ll be damn hospitable. I don’t want to have to be telling your mom why the story that gets published in the Los Angeles Times is about somebody’s bad experience at the Diamond Rock.”

“Why would you even think that?” She looked at him, hurt.

“I know how you get,” he said, more gently. “You don’t suffer fools and, unfortunately, you’ve got some of your mom’s temper. But in this case, I need you to suffer.” He smiled at her. “No practical jokes on the greenhorn.”

Her mother’s voice echoed through her mind. “Damn it, Stan! Would you get that girl in hand?” She sighed. “I’m not sixteen anymore.”

“No, but twenty-four ain’t that far off.”

“Twenty-five.”

“Not yet, missy. Next week. And I can still turn you over my knee. So no bullshit. We need this publicity.” He tried to look forbidding but a twinkle danced in his eyes and she relaxed.

“Well, since I’m such a loose cannon, can I not be in charge of the reporter?” She didn’t mind playing babysitter, but if she didn’t have to, that was fine with her. She hoped whoever the Times lined up had at least a little outdoor experience.

“The way I see it, whoever they send will be here for a week and they’ll want a ‘full range’ of ranching experience, and they’ll observe and ask questions. They might or might not want a tour guide. And you’ll be an official Diamond Rock liaison, so every day, I expect you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with the reporter. Just treat whoever it is like a regular registered guest. You’re good with that, hon. They really do like you. Don’t think of it as being under the microscope or something.”

“Great,” she said with a sigh. She imagined them all dressed up like on the set of Bonanza and she groaned softly.

“I know. It’s kind of a pain in the ass, because we do have to mind our manners even more, and you don’t know for sure what’s going to end up in print. We’ve got to make it so this reporter can’t resist writing a great story about the DR. In fact, we want this reporter to come back every chance he gets. Or she,” he corrected himself.

“I know. Don’t worry.” She reached over to the neighboring chair to retrieve her hat. “You don’t think whoever it is will be like the writer of this story”—she gestured at the magazine, “and change your name to something like ‘Slim Thompson’?” She was only half-teasing.

He pursed his lips, pretending to think. “I’m hoping for something like ‘Dutch Walters’. And maybe you’ll get to be ‘Cherry Goodnight’.”

Meg grabbed the Spirit magazine off the stack of papers and threw it playfully at him.

He caught it and tossed it onto the desk, chuckling. “You could change your middle name to Cherry before the reporter gets here. So there’d be some veracity there.”

She gave him a look and started to get up.

“Your mom called this morning,” he said, as he leaned back in his beat-up office chair. He folded his arms and regarded her with an expression that was a mixture of concerned dad but acceptance for whatever decision she might make.

She settled in her seat again, her Stetson in her lap. She rubbed her fingertips over the black felt, waiting. She got her stubborn streak from him, but hers was more pronounced. He’d told her she could outwait a rock.

“You need to talk to your mom more,” he said after a while. “She misses you.”

She didn’t answer. Instead, she studied the knotted pine wood on the walls behind his head. He waited a few more moments then leaned forward and picked up the copy of Spirit. He flipped through it as she had done earlier.

“She’s your mom,” he said, without looking up from the pages.

“She’s not really thrilled with me right now, as you know.” She watched for his reaction, but his expression didn’t change.

“So don’t talk about that.”

“That’s all she wants to talk about. It’s not like I make it a point to advertise my personal life.”

“Well.” He set the magazine aside and tugged at the hair above his right ear, something he did when he was really uncomfortable.

Meg wished she hadn’t told him, either. Wished she’d never said that the painful break-up she’d endured last fall was with a woman. Since then, he’d struggled with it, and some of their interactions were tinged with an unfamiliar stiffness.

“I’ll call her,” Meg relented.

“That’s my girl.” He said with obvious relief.

“But I drive her crazy. Even on the phone.” Her mom always asked whether Meg was seeing any nice young men at school and Meg would have to deflect those statements or tell her she was still getting over someone. Irene knew it had been a woman because Meg had told her, around the same time she’d told her dad. But since Irene had gone back to Kentucky, she’d found the Lord, and this particular Lord didn’t care much for gay people. Even those in your own family.

“She’s still your mom,” he said, tugging on his hair. “Find something you’re both interested in and keep the conversation there.”

“Yeah,” she said doubtfully. She stood up and put her hat on. “See you around, Dutchie.” She grinned at him and was out the door before he could toss the magazine after her.

She decided to put off the dreaded phone call and walked instead across the swath of hard-packed earth between Stan’s office and living space and the lodge, which had been the main ranch house before her grandfather had converted it in the fifties to accommodate space for kitchen and dining facilities that could have passed muster in a big-city restaurant. Stan had upgraded it two years ago. New appliances, better shelving, new pots and pans, new dishes. They’d even added a walk-in cooler. Alice, the chef and “Kitchen Queen,” as she called herself, more than approved of the changes. She’d been at the ranch since just before Meg’s mom had left, and she thought of her as family, now, like a favorite aunt.

She went in through the front, and the rich, heavy odor of cowboy chili greeted her, along with voices from the kitchen and the sound of a knife chopping something. She blinked in the dim dining room, after being out in the midday sun. Three long tables, decorated with blue-and-white checkered tablecloths, stood parallel to each other in the center of the big room. Each could seat fifteen on the benches, and some summers, they did. On rare occasions, they had to add another table. Meg hoped it was that kind of summer. The more paying guests, the happier her dad was.

She wiped her hands on her jeans and checked through the stack of mail on the closest table then went into the kitchen, through the swinging door that separated it from the dining room and entered Alice’s domain, which could rival something in one of those high-end cooking magazines.

“Hey, Meg,” said Anna, Alice’s prep cook, as she looked up from the cutting board on the island where she was chopping carrots.

“Hey.”

Alice emerged from the walk-in. “Hi, sweetie,” she said with a smile that, in conjunction with her swept-up hair, made her look like a glamorous 1940s actress, even when she had her cowboy duds on, as her dad called them. Jane Russell, Meg thought. That’s who Alice looked like, though her hair was a lighter color. She was in her late forties, now, but she was just as pretty as when she’d started working at the ranch. Alice always turned guys’ heads, but she was so down-to-earth that she didn’t seem to notice.

“Would you like a sandwich? You missed lunch.” She closed the walk-in door.

“Is the chili ready?” she asked hopefully.

“Not yet. Let me make you a sandwich.”

“Are you sure? I can just—”

She raised an eyebrow imperiously. “I am the Kitchen Queen. I have spoken. Go sit down.” She gestured at the counter by the back door.

“Yes, your majesty.” She walked around the island and hung her hat on one of the pegs by the door then sat down on one of the stools, her back to the counter so she could watch Alice and Anna. “We got another reservation.”

“Oh, good. I know your dad was worried about filling up,” Alice said as she sliced bread.

“He said that the reporter that was supposed to come broke her leg.”

She stopped slicing bread and looked over at her, concern written in the lines across her brow.

“The editor is trying to find another reporter who can come out on short notice.”

She went back to her sandwich making. “Well, that’s how journalists operate. They’re used to changes in plans.” Alice finished with the bread and started slicing part of a turkey breast. “How soon can the new one come?”

“They don’t know. I guess they’re trying to keep the same schedule, if they can find someone. But they might not be able to. So maybe the next couple of weeks or July.”

“Too bad. From what your dad said, the first one sounded like a good match for an assignment like this.” She spread deli mustard on one slice of bread and mayonnaise on the other then placed the slices of meat on the mayo piece and lettuce and tomato on the mustard piece. She’d add her “secret spices” next.

“Oh, and I’m not supposed to be an asshole.”

Anna snickered and Alice looked over at her, her lips twitching with a smile. She returned her gaze to Meg. “You’re hardly that.”

“Dad seems to think I am. He kind of makes me feel like I’m a teenager, still.”

“That’s his job as a parent. To make you feel like a teenager the rest of your life. And if it’s any consolation, you’re far from being a teenager. You’re your own woman. Just remember that to your dad, you’ll always be his little girl.”

“Then why is he freaking out that I’ll be an asshole to the reporter?”

“He’s just stressed, hon. He wants to make a good impression so the story gets a lot of attention.” She went over to one of the refrigerators and took out a jar of dill pickles.

“He thinks I have Mom’s temper and he thinks I don’t suffer fools. I guess he thinks if the reporter’s an idiot, I’ll let him or her know.”

She laughed. “Nothing wrong with pointing something out, and nothing wrong with a woman having a temper. You just need to learn how to direct it appropriately. And maybe soften the blow.” She retrieved a plate from under the stainless steel counter along the back wall. “Diplomacy, love.” she said. “The art of telling people they’re idiots without making them feel too bad about it.”

Anna giggled as she reached for another carrot.

Meg grinned. “I guess I might need to work on that a little bit.”

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Alice said with a smile.

Anna finished with the carrots and put them in a plastic tub that she carried into the walk-in. She had to duck her head, since she was pushing six feet tall. She’d never played team sports, for which her height probably would have served well. She was, however, an excellent barrel racer.

“I’m not going to screw this up,” Meg said. It still stung a little, that her dad thought she might.

“No, you’re not.” Alice brought the plate over to her. It looked like something out of a food magazine, with the pickle and chips arranged artfully around the sandwich halves.

Meg smiled. “Thanks. I love your sandwiches.”

She squeezed her shoulder. “Iced tea?”

“Yes, please.” She turned so she faced the counter and bit into the sandwich. Alice made the best. “How is it that your sandwiches always taste so good?” She said after she’d swallowed.

“Made with love.” Alice winked as she put a glass of tea and a napkin on the counter next to Meg’s plate.

“You’re the best-kept secret in the West. Please don’t ever leave us. But if you do, mention the Diamond Rock on your cooking show.”

She laughed and went to clean up. “You’re your father’s daughter.”

Meg continued to eat, Anna and Alice chatting amiably behind her. When she finished, she took the plate into the dishwashing room then went back into the kitchen where Alice was checking the chili. Anna must have gone into the dining room, because one of the swinging doors was moving.

Alice handed her a spoon. “One taste. No double-dipping.”

She laughed and took a spoonful, holding it over her cupped left hand so none would spill. She blew on it and tasted it. “Oh, my God. Best. Chili. Ever.” She finished the spoonful and Alice took the utensil from her.

“Make sure you tell the reporter that.”

“I won’t have to. One taste will prove it.”

Alice set the spoon aside and continued to stir one of the big pots on the stove.

“He’s still acting weird,” Meg said after a few more moments.

She stopped stirring and gave Meg her full attention. “About your break-up with Amanda?”

She nodded.

“He’ll come around.”

“I think he’s hoping that I was just experimenting, and now I’ll go find a boyfriend.”

“He also just wants to make sure you’re happy.” She reached up and brushed Meg’s hair out of her face, like a mom might. “Sweetie, your dad loves you more than life itself. But he’s a little traditional in some ways, and it’ll just take him a little bit to get used to the idea. Parents always have expectations for their children, and he’s having to revise some about you.”

“I feel like I screwed up. Maybe I shouldn’t have told him.” A knot tightened in her chest, and she hated this wedge that seemed to have come between her dad and her.

Alice pulled her into a hug. “You had to. Because this is part of you, and it’s not healthy to keep that all bottled up inside. I’m proud of you, for telling not only your dad but your mom.”

Meg groaned as Alice released her. “I’m supposed to call her.”

She gave her a sympathetic smile. “You are who you are, and you’re choosing to live your life on your terms.”

“She doesn’t like my terms.”

Well, it’s not for her to decide, is it?”

“She makes it seem that way.”

“You’ll get through.” She pecked her on the cheek. “Come and talk to me later tonight if you want.”

Meg nodded. “Thanks.”

Anna came back into the kitchen and Meg waved at her before she moved to the back door, where she retrieved her hat before she went outside. Across from the dining room and kitchen about thirty yards away stood the two-story structure dubbed “the motel,” modeled after a Northwoods hunting lodge for the guests, its rooms accessible from the outside. Covered verandas sheltered the walkways. Her father lived in quarters just off the office building, also across from the motel, and the hands lived in bunkhouses. All the structures surrounded a large packed-dirt parking area, like wagons circling a campsite.

She took the outside steps of the lodge to the second floor, where she lived. She alone occupied this level, unless they had extra guests. Otherwise, she kept the extra rooms closed up. Maybe the reporter’s story would bring them enough business that they’d be able to open these extra rooms. Her bootheels made hollow sounds on the wood and the metal roof of the veranda creaked and popped in the sun. She sighed as she opened the heavy wooden door into her foyer, hung her hat on one of the pegs near the entrance, and walked down the hallway toward her bedroom, where she kept a phone.

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