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Story Excerpt From “Second Helpings” ~~~ Cookies Without by JJ Dare ~~~

Second Helpings
An Anthology of Holiday Recipes and
Short Stories
From Authors of
Second Wind Publishing

Second Helpings

A perfect gift for short story lovers and food connoisseurs!

From sweet childhood remembrances to fanciful solutions of family dramas to romantic relationships that begin–or end–during the holidays, Second Helpings is an anthology of stories and memories, but most especially of recipes. Our end-of-year celebrations are occasions that bring reunions with unforgettable feasts and that one special, treasured dish. At the end of each story, vignette, reminiscence, you’ll find a recipe or collection of recipes that will make your next holiday memorable as well.

EXCERPT FROM:

Cookies Without
By
JJ Dare

This would be the third Christmas without Marie’s husband. It was the second Christmas without her brother and the first without her mother. This holiday had all the markings of a celebration with ghosts as the main guests.

Three loved ones gone in three years. Marie dreaded the next year. Who would leave next?

No Paul, no Eddie, no Mom. The days were always heavy with their absence, but holidays were worse. The emptiness pressed against her soul. She was barely making it through the normal days let alone the times when her family gathered to celebrate life.
. . .

Marie pulled out cans of sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, and, from the very back of the cabinet, an expired can of very young peas. She held the can in her hands as fresh tears fell. No holiday meal had been complete without very young peas, Paul had said. There were a few holidays when he went to the store the day of the meal because Marie had forgotten to pick up a can of his favorite vegetable.

Gathering her wits, Marie set the cans on the counter and looked around. What else, what else? Something important was escaping her. What was missing?

The cookies! How could she forget the desert the family had expected the past two Christmases but Marie had been too heartbroken to make. The bon-bon cookies had been a joint effort between Marie and Paul. She would roll the cookies into balls and he would stuff them with chocolate chip pieces. It was the one of their few collaborations in cooking.

Roll and stuff. Marie could not remember when they had started the tradition, but the kids had early on nicknamed the cookies “Mom-Pop cookies.” Maybe she and Paul had started doing it to speed up the holiday dinner long ago when restless children wanted to hurry and eat so they could play with their new toys.

It did not matter now. There was no hurry anymore. There was only time stretching out ahead of her and no end in sight. She washed her hands, sat back down at the table and drifted off in thoughts of bygone holidays.

A bell dinging broke her from her reverie. As she pushed against to table to rise from her chair, she felt something strange on her hands. Buttery dough was sticking to her fingertips. Her heart raced as she looked at the metal cooking tray in front of her.

Neatly laid out were the traditional cookies she had purposely not made for the past two seasons. She picked one up with a shaking hand. Breaking the dough open, three chocolate chips nestled inside. The perfect number.

No more, no less. Paul had been adamant to the point of silliness about the number of chocolate pieces he stuffed inside each cookie. So adamant that one Christmas when they were short of money, he had meticulously removed the chips from the half he had finished and delicately sliced the pieces in half.

The hair on Marie’s neck stood on end.

***

Second Helpings is available in print and all ebook formats from Second Wind Publishing.

 

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~~ Excerpt From “Second Helpings ~~ A Taste of the World by Dellani Oakes

Second Helpings
An Anthology of Holiday Recipes and
Short Stories
From Authors of
Second Wind Publishing

Second Helpings

A perfect gift for short story lovers and food connoisseurs!

From sweet childhood remembrances to fanciful solutions of family dramas to romantic relationships that begin–or end–during the holidays, Second Helpings is an anthology of stories and memories, but most especially of recipes. Our end-of-year celebrations are occasions that bring reunions with unforgettable feasts and that one special, treasured dish. At the end of each story, vignette, reminiscence, you’ll find a recipe or collection of recipes that will make your next holiday memorable as well.

EXCERPT:

A Taste of the World
By
Dellani Oakes

When I was a child, my family lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts while my father attended Harvard. Living in the married student housing had its drawbacks, but it also gave me a first hand exposure to different cultures. Across the street, there was a family from Israel. On the corner, another from Australia. On our side, we had Scottish, German, Chinese, Indian and Japanese families. Not only were there many foreign students, there were people from all over the country. A rich blend of dialects greeted our ears whenever we went outside.

From time to time, we’d all get together for dinner. Someone brought out barbeque grills and did hot dogs and hamburgers. Every imaginable side dish you can think of would sit on long tables in the dead end street between the row houses. There was something there for everyone to enjoy, even if you were a picky eater like me.

I didn’t like a lot of foods as a child. I was persnickety and stubborn about what I would and wouldn’t eat. However, when we went to dinner at our friends’ homes, my parents encouraged me to try different things. I learned that there was a whole world of food out there I’d never encountered before. The flavors, the aromas, the vibrant colors – there was a veritable playground of food to be had. I might not learn to enjoy it all, but I certainly broadened my culinary horizons.

When I got old enough to cook, I tried my hand at many things. I loved to cook and took over that duty from my mother, who hated it. I made up my own recipes and served them for dinner. Sadly, I can’t find where I wrote them down and I can’t remember any of them well enough to share.

My father was an enthusiastic and ambitious cook. When I was in college and living at home, he prepared gourmet meals, which my mother & I enjoyed. When he died, I got his recipe cards and books and have found a lot of joy sharing those meals with my own family.

The recipes in this section reflect my love of food from all nations. They are simple, but delicious. Although only one is an authentic Italian recipe, the rest are representative of different cultures. They have a Taste of the World.

Egg Rolls

1 pound ground beef
1 package egg roll wraps
1 can green beans, drained
2 carrots, shredded
1 onion, diced
garlic power to taste
pepper
ginger
soy sauce
1T corn starch
1 tsp water
water chestnuts or bean sprouts optional

Brown beef with onion, garlic and spices. Drain. Shred carrots and chop green beans. Set aside. When beef has drained, mix with vegetables. Fill each wrapper with 2 or 3 Tablespoons of filling. Wrap by package directions and seal with the corn starch & water mixture. Egg rolls can be deep fried or brush with oil and bake 350 20 minutes. Turn once about halfway through. Serve with sweet and sour sauce or ketchup.

***

Second Helpings is available in print and all ebook formats from Second Wind Publishing.

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Story Excerpt From “Second Helpings” ~~~~ The Gift by Pat Bertram ~~~~

Second Helpings
An Anthology of Holiday Recipes and
Short Stories
From Authors of
Second Wind Publishing

Second Helpings

A perfect gift for short story lovers and food connoisseurs!

From sweet childhood remembrances to fanciful solutions of family dramas to romantic relationships that begin–or end–during the holidays, Second Helpings is an anthology of stories and memories, but most especially of recipes. Our end-of-year celebrations are occasions that bring reunions with unforgettable feasts and that one special, treasured dish. At the end of each story, vignette, reminiscence, you’ll find a recipe or collection of recipes that will make your next holiday memorable as well.

EXCERPT FROM:

The Gift
By
Pat Bertram

Monica Dryden hummed along with the Christmas carols on the radio as she pulled the chocolate chip cookies out of the oven. They were David’s favorite, and she’d baked them for him every Christmas Eve for as long as they’d been together—five years now—continuing a tradition his mother started when he was a boy.

Still humming, Monica transferred the baked goods from the cookie sheet to a plate she’d purchased for the occasion—white china with a cheerful holly border. Her family had been too poor and too indolent to do much for Christmas, so making the holidays special for David brought her extra joy.

David Hollister. Even his name seemed to promise holiday cheer.

She put the plate of cookies and a glass of milk on a tray, added a sprig of holly from the bowl in the center of the table, and bore her offerings to the living room where David watched television.

He didn’t take his eyes from the screen when she nestled against him, but he didn’t pull away either, as he sometimes did. She smiled to herself, thinking how pleased he would be with the burgundy sweater and pinstriped shirt she’d bought him.

“Do you have to do that?” David asked.

“Do what?”

“You’re humming.”

She clapped a hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize—”

“Are those chocolate chip cookies?”

“Of course.”

He clicked off the television and turned to face her. “We have to talk.” He spoke the words softly, almost kindly, but still they chilled her.

“Talk about what?” she asked warily.

“It’s not working out.”

“What’s not working out?”

“Us. We’re not right for each other. You’re too . . . predictable.”

She stared at him as if he’d spoken in an alien tongue. “Predictable? Me? You’re the one who insists on my doing the same things the same way. Remember those throw pillows I bought? You said—”

“That’s the old me. The new me wants . . . change.”

Her head snapped back as if she’d been hit. David wanted change? Since when? She opened her mouth and said the only thing that came to her stupefied mind. “Do you want me to make you a different kind of cookie?”

“This isn’t about cookies. It’s about . . .” He looked at her, expecting her to supply the words as she often did. She usually knew what he was thinking and could easily fill in his missing words, but now she couldn’t even hazard a guess.

David’s eyes shifted from side to side as if he were searching frantically for a way out of the conversation. Finally his gaze settled on his hands. “I want a divorce.”

Monica froze, then, getting control of herself, she pulled her shoulders back and lifted her chin. “You can’t have a divorce.”

He jumped to his feet and all but screamed, “I knew you’d be difficult about this. Why can’t I have a divorce?”

“We’re not married,” Monica said evenly.

He gaped at her for a moment, then a grin that broke her heart spread across his face. “That’s right. I forgot.”

Monica slumped forward, elbows on knees, head in her hands. He forgot? How was that possible? Just last week they’d talked about getting married. No . . . wait. She’d talked about getting married. He’d nodded with a faraway look in his eyes that made her think he’d been seeing their future together but apparently only meant he hadn’t been listening.

David’s voice seemed to come from a long way off. “I’ll guess I’ll be leaving.”

Monica jerked upright. “You’re leaving? But this is your apartment.” And then, all in an instant, she understood. “Who is she?”

***

Second Helpings is available in print and all ebook formats from Second Wind Publishing.

 

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Story Excerpt From “Second Helpings” ~~~~ Unopened by Marie James ~~~~

Second Helpings
An Anthology of Holiday Recipes and
Short Stories
From Authors of
Second Wind Publishing

Second Helpings

A perfect gift for short story lovers and food connoisseurs!

From sweet childhood remembrances to fanciful solutions of family dramas to romantic relationships that begin–or end–during the holidays, Second Helpings is an anthology of stories and memories, but most especially of recipes. Our end-of-year celebrations are occasions that bring reunions with unforgettable feasts and that one special, treasured dish. At the end of each story, vignette, reminiscence, you’ll find a recipe or collection of recipes that will make your next holiday memorable as well.

EXCERPT FROM:

Unopened
By
Marie James

“Are you a gambling man?”

Josiah thought the voice was coming from his own head. In the midst of the department store’s holiday bedlam, words echoed and bounced like sound at a Super Bowl game. Mothers and fathers shouted to be heard. Children screamed like banshees as they ran unchecked through the crowds of last-minute holiday shoppers. Store clerks looked like prisoners serving out the last few hours of their Christmas sentences.

“Don’t take a chance, son,” the same voice seemed to whisper in Josiah’s ear. He turned and was almost nose-to-nose with an older gentleman. Grey-haired and bespectacled, the old guy met Josiah’s stare with a twinkle in his eye.

Nah. The twinkle was a reflection of the winking lights strung throughout the store. The old guy’s expression was serious as he admonished Josiah.

“Excuse me?” Josiah snapped a little more forcefully than he meant. His nerves were worn from the late gift buying. Every year it was the same, though: Janine bought Christmas gifts starting the week after the holiday while Josiah waited until the week—or usually the day—before.

Janine took care of the gifts, the cooking, the decorating and everything else associated with yuletide. The only thing she asked of Josiah was not to have to buy her own Christmas present. She was already responsible for her own birthday and anniversary gifts. She put her foot down years ago about being her own Santa Claus.

“That’s the worst perfume in the world,” the old guy said. “I used to buy it for my wife, but I didn’t know she hated it until after she died and I found over four dozen bottles in a box in the basement.”

A look of sadness crossed the old man’s face. “Look in your basement, son. I bet you’ll find a box of the ‘unopened’ in a dark corner.” He patted Josiah on the shoulder as he continued. “Find out what’s in her heart, son. Don’t let your holidays die like I did.”

With that, the old man turned away and was lost in the crowd. Josiah pushed his way to the counter as an opening appeared in front of him. With a frozen smile on her face, the cashier rang up his purchase. As he backed away from the counter, the crowd surged forward to fill in the empty space he’d left.

Josiah fought his way out of the store. On the bustling sidewalk, he watched as harried men and anxious women hurried from store to store in search of gifts to appease their conscience.

Why in the world did that thought cross his mind? Josiah had always been a good provider and a considerate husband. His wife and children wanted for nothing. He worked so they could have a comfortable life. Why did he suddenly feel guilty?

***

Second Helpings is available in print and all ebook formats from Second Wind Publishing.

 

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Story Excerpt From “Second Helpings” Holiday Wedding by Lazarus Barnhill

Second Helpings
An Anthology of Holiday Recipes and
Short Stories
From Authors of
Second Wind Publishing

Second Helpings

A perfect gift for short story lovers and food connoisseurs!

From sweet childhood remembrances to fanciful solutions of family dramas to romantic relationships that begin–or end–during the holidays, Second Helpings is an anthology of stories and memories, but most especially of recipes. Our end-of-year celebrations are occasions that bring reunions with unforgettable feasts and that one special, treasured dish. At the end of each story, vignette, reminiscence, you’ll find a recipe or collection of recipes that will make your next holiday memorable as well.

EXCERPT FROM:

Holiday Wedding
By
Lazarus Barnhill

It seemed to Richmond that, for a joyful occasion, the parson was too serious. Despite the pinched and put-upon expression he wore, however, the preacher was at least doing the job right.

“. . . and do you, Mary Ester Blank, take Jeremiah Freeman to be your husband, to have and hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health . . .”

In the midst of the minister’s droning, it occurred to Richmond that he could’ve cleaned out a bank twice in the time it took to get married once. He made certain, however, that his countenance bore no expression but a happy smile. At the length the religious prescriptions seemed to be coming to an end.

“. . . I pronounce that they are husband and wife together, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Those whom God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”

The parson closed the little black book in this hand, the slightest bit of relief in his expression, and gazed at the lovely young couple before him, who returned his look with delighted anticipation. Richmond leaned close to the preacher’s ear and uttered a single word.

“Oh, my, of course,” the parson said. “How could I forget that? You may kiss the bride.”

As Jeremiah leaned forward to embrace his new wife, the two dozen people in Louisa Booe’s living room erupted with shouts and laughter. An irresistible smile on his face, Richmond stood for a time in silence watching the celebration: children and adults embracing one another, tears flowing, laughter rolling through them in waves.

The preacher drew close to him and said something. Richmond had to lean down to hear what he was saying.

“Are you through with me, then?”

“Sure, Parson. Let’s go out on the front porch.”

Outside in the descending twilight, it was much quieter.

“Well, Brother Meade, I’m pleased you changed your mind and agreed to delay your own Thanksgiving supper so you could come out to my mother’s and do this wedding.”

The minister glanced anxiously at the pistol Richmond had not taken off his hip—even for the ceremony. “To be completely honest, Mr. Booe, in a shotgun wedding it usually not the preacher who’s got a gun pointed at him.”

***

Second Helpings is available in print and all ebook formats from Second Wind Publishing.

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Congratulations to the Second Wind Short Story Contest Winner!

Congratulations to LeeAnn McLennan! LeeAnn won our short story contest for her wonderful story “Dormant.” Dormant will be published in Change is in the Wind, an anthology of stories about spring/renewal, which will be published by Second Wind Publishing this spring. (April 1, 2012 if all goes as planned.)

Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest, either by submitting a story or by voting for your favorite.

This contest went so well, on April 1, 2012 we’ll be accepting contest entries for holiday stories focused around a recipe. The winner will be included in an anthology to be released in time for Thanksgiving, Chanukah, and Christmas. So, be thinking of holiday stories with delicious recipes, and we’ll see you again on April 1st at the Second Wind Contest Blog.

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Short Story Contest! No Entry Fee!

Now that you’ve blogged about what you are thankful for and stuffed yourself with Thanksgiving goodies, now that you have finished your NaNoWriMo entry and celebrated your success, now that you have survived your Black Friday shopping and have not yet gotten into the Christmas mood (or have already gotten out of it)…

Think Spring!!

Second Wind Publishing is sponsoring a short story contest. The theme is . . . you guessed it! Spring. Spring and renewal to be exact. Your stories do not have to be light and uplifting (which should be welcome news for all of you writers who pen dark fiction), but they do have to fit the theme. The story should be your own work, no more than 5,000 words, and must not have been published anywhere, not even on your own blog.

There is no entry fee.

The contest is open to anyone in the world, 18 or older, though the entry must be written in English. The deadline is December 31, 2011. The best entries will be posted on the Second Wind Contest Blog for everyone to read and comment.

The winning entry will be published in the upcoming Second Wind anthology, Change is in the Wind. This anthology is a collection of stories by the authors of Second Wind, so you will be in good company. The winner will also receive a coupon from Smashwords.com for an unlimited number of free downloads of the anthology for one month. The coupon can be sent to as many people as you wish during that month. The winner will also be able to purchase an unlimited number of print copies of the anthology at half price plus shipping costs. And the winner will receive a one year free VIP account from Angie’s Diary, the online writing magazine to help you get even more exposure for your writing. ($99.95 value).

So what are you waiting for? Encouragement? Then here it is: you can write a wonderful short story! Please send your story as a Word .doc or .docx to secondwindpublishing@gmail.com. We are looking forward to reading it!

For more information, click here: Second Wind Contest Blog.

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Cloud Publishing – Another Opportunity by Deborah J Ledford

Yet another publishing opportunity is gaining popularity for writers and readers. Shaw’s iPulp.com is a perfect example of the next generation in providing published material. Essentially Cloud Publishing is the movement of data without cluttering your own PC, laptop or reading device.

iPulp’s version of Cloud Publishing allows you to purchase a story or book, then read the text on your device of choice: Windows 7,Vista, XP, MacOS, your iPhone, iPad, iTouch, Android smart phones and tables, Blackberry and Nokia smart phones.

The material is housed literally in a cloud, available for you to access at any time, from anywhere you have wireless access. You merely sign in to your account, then select from your shelf the item you wish to read.

At iPulp, customers purchase “tokens” in twenty-five cent increments. Prices vary depending only upon on length of the story. Many are in the seventy-five cent price point.

One of my stories is featured on iPulp now. “Loose End” was originally published in the Desert Sleuths Chapter Sisters in Crime Anthology How NOT to Survive a Vacation. And more stories from this collection will be added weekly until all 18 stories appear. “Loose End” will cost you a quarter.

Quite a lot of vintage noir stories are on the iPulp shelves at the moment, but they have over 500 stories to choose from in every genre you can imagine.

If any of you writers out there have as few as three short stories with a similar theme, iPulp may be the perfect venue for you. They prefer stories that have been previously published and you as the author must return the rights in order to offer your stories to iPulp. You will need an original cover that goes with the theme of your stories and you can add more stories to the corresponding cover.

This is the future of publishing, folks. Learn as much about this trend as you can.

Deborah J Ledford’s latest novel SNARE, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, is book two of her Deputy Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series. STACCATO, book one of the serial, is also available. Both novels are published by Second Wind Publishing.

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Puppy Love by Claire Collins

Puppy Love

Puppy Love is a short story written by Claire Collins for the Love is on the Wind anthology.

Puppy Love

She slammed her fist on the desk.  If her computer crashed one more time, she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from throwing the whole thing out the window. Lisa pushed away from the heavy mahogany desk and left the office after rebooting the computer for the third time that morning. She carried her coffee cup, intent on infusing more caffeine into her system.  Passing through the living room from the office on the way to the kitchen, she stopped. A scratching noise came from the front door. The sound was accompanied by yipping.

Lisa put her cup on the coffee table and opened the front door.  A blast of cold March morning air entered the house. Lisa shivered and wrapped her flannel shirt around her tighter. On the other side of the security screen, a little pile of fur looked up at her with doleful eyes. It wagged its tail.

“Look how cute you are,” Lisa said. “You must be lost.” The tail wagged and the dog scratched at the door again. A pink bow adorned the top of the dog’s head, tied securely into the mounds of soft, fluffy, white fur surrounding the inquisitive face. Someone took very good care of the little dog. Lisa couldn’t see a collar through the screen. It must be hidden under the layers of fur.  She could make a quick phone call and get back to dismantling her computer with a sledge-hammer in no time. She opened the wrought iron security screen.

Lisa didn’t know little dogs could be so quick. The dog bounded past her legs and straight into the house. Lisa’s cry of surprise didn’t stop the dog that leapt onto the couch and curled into a ball, her sad eyes watching Lisa.

“Okay, Pup,” Lisa crooned from the front door she still held open. “You need to go home. You can’t get comfortable here. Someone will be very worried about you.”

The dog tipped her head and listened, but didn’t bother to get off the sofa. Lisa let go of the security door. She took a step closer to the dog.

“C’mon girl,” Lisa kept her voice cheery. “Let’s go home.” She opened the screen door and pointed outside. The dog didn’t move. Lisa’s mouth quirked, maybe the dog wasn’t used to the soft approach. Lisa assumed she belonged to some little old lady, but maybe not.

“Down!” Lisa commanded. The dog’s ears came up, but she didn’t move. Lisa let go of the door again and strode to the couch. The dog crouched, and when Lisa got close enough, the little furball snapped at her. Then it barked. Lisa jumped back.

“Oh no, you didn’t just try to bite me, did you?”  The dog barked again, put her front paws straight out, her back end up in the air, and wagged her tail. Her little mouth opened and her head moved back and forth.

Lisa laughed. “Oh! You’re playing aren’t you?” The tail moved faster. Lisa extended her open hand, palm up, to the dog. She received a lick and a happy yip for her efforts. The dog wriggled on the couch as Lisa scratched around the furry ears, her fingers rubbing against the collar.

“I knew you’d have a collar on, you cute little thing.” Lisa smiled and pet the dog under her chin with one hand while the other lifted the heart-shaped tag hanging from the center front of the collar.

“Cuddles, huh?” Lisa eyed the little dog that barked and jumped with excitement when Lisa said her name. Lisa resumed petting the dog so she could grab the tag again and find the dog’s owner.

“Phone number on the back,” Lisa smiled at Cuddles. “I love responsible pet owners. That’s why I don’t have any pets. I don’t need the responsibility and you need to go home.”

Lisa wrote the number on the scratch pad on the end table by the couch. She peeled the paper from the pad and carried it to her office in search of her cell phone. Cuddles followed, her paws softly padding across the tile. With her pretty bow, trimmed hair, and clipped nails, Cuddles spent more time primping than Lisa did.

Her cell phone was charging on her desk. Tucking her feet under her, Lisa curled into her office chair and dialed the number. After the first ring, a recorded message came on the line.

“Utoh Cuddles,” Lisa looked at the little ball of fluff on the floor. “The number’s been disconnected. I guess your owner isn’t as responsible as I thought.”

Cuddles stood on her back legs, her front paws on the seat of the chair. Lisa scooped her up, putting the dog in her lap.

“I guess I’m going to have to call the pound to come get you. Your owner will probably call them when they can’t find you.”

Lisa moved the mouse on her computer to look up the number. The computer didn’t respond, the image of a partially created and unsaved design plan frozen on the screen.

She emitted a bad word under her breath. Somewhere around there, she had a real paper phone book, but she had no idea where it was. She picked up the phone again to call Information for the number. Before she could flip the phone open, Cuddles jumped from Lisa’s lap, barking furiously as she raced down the hall. Lisa unfolded from the chair and went after the dog. She arrived in the living room in time to see Cuddles scratching at the security door and barking. An angry-looking large man strode up the sidewalk. Lisa reached the front door before the man could rap his thick knuckles against the unlocked screen.

“Can I help you?” Lisa’s voice was firm even though she was shaking on the inside. The man was huge, at least six foot five inches tall and solid as a brick wall. His dark brown hair showed red highlights in the sun and sunglasses hid his eyes. His unshaven square jaw was set with anger.

“Yeah, you can help me by giving me back my dog.” He spit the words out, putting his hands on his hips and tipping his head.

Lisa held her hand on the lock, ready to flip it closed if the man made an aggressive move. She looked down at Cuddles. The little groomed dog with her pink bow, a spray of fur spreading out from it, and her playful personality belonged to the gruff man on her porch? Lisa imagined that someone like him would own a more suitable pet, like a rabid pit bull.

“What’s her name?” Lisa wasn’t quite willing to give this man the dog without knowing for sure that she belonged to him.

The man shifted on his feet and looked around before studying his shoes. “Her name is Cuddles.”

Lisa smiled at his embarrassment. Not so tough now, are you buddy?

“I’m sorry,” she said sweetly. “What did you say her name was?”

The man looked directly through the screen even though he couldn’t see her through the holes in the thick metal. “Her name is Cuddles. Happy now? Can I have her back, please?”

Lisa pushed the door open and Cuddles ran out. The man scooped her up with one hand, holding her wriggling body against his chest while she licked his face. His other hand held the screen open. Lisa leaned against the door frame.

The man’s face softened and he smiled, his teeth in an even row except for one on the side which was just crooked enough to keep them from being perfect.

“Cuddles, you’re a bad girl. You aren’t supposed to leave the yard.” He spoke softly to the dog, seeming to forget Lisa was watching. He stopped smiling, his face turning in her direction.

“Why do you have my dog in your house? I’ve been hunting all over the neighborhood for her.”

Lisa crossed her arms over her chest, holding the flannel shirt against her. “I didn’t let her in. She let herself in. I called the number on her tag. If you had an updated number on there, you would have known exactly where to find her.”

The man looked down at the dog. “Yeah, I need to do that.” He spoke softly again for a moment, then his voice turned to steel. “Well, thanks for letting her in, I guess.”

Without waiting for a reply, the man turned and walked down the sidewalk, tucking the little dog inside his jacket as he went.

Lisa’s house returned to normal for the rest of the day. Early the next morning, scratching and barking at the front door stopped her on the way to the kitchen to make coffee. She opened the door. Cuddles greeted her with a bark before sauntering into the house and getting comfortable on the couch.

“The sun isn’t even up yet,” Lisa said to the white fluff on the couch. “Why me?”

The little dog didn’t answer, only yawned and stretched. Anticipating the knock on the door, Lisa started the coffee pot before going to the bathroom to shower. The dog followed her. Lisa put her outside of the bathroom door and shut it. She didn’t even get the water turned on before Cuddles started howling in a pitiful little voice from the other side of the door. Lisa threw the door open and the dog trotted into the room, watching every move Lisa made. The man could arrive at any minute. Lisa turned to the mirror. A shower could wait. He wasn’t that important that she had to be clean and fresh to give him back his dog. She splashed cold water on her face so her green eyes didn’t resemble Christmas. Then she combed her long straight auburn hair into a ponytail.  She was sitting on the couch in a pair of lounge pants and an oversize sweatshirt with a cup of coffee in her hand and Cuddles curled up in her lap when the knock came at the door.

“C’mon in,” she said as she opened the doors. “Your runaway is on the couch.”

He didn’t wear sunglasses since the day was starting out overcast. His brown eyes had a guilty look in them.

“Thanks. I thought I found where she got out and I fixed it. Guess I better look again.” He entered the house and Lisa shut the door behind him. Cuddles jumped around at his feet.

Lisa resumed her position on the couch. “Maybe this time you should give me your name and number and I’ll call you if she shows up again.” She handed him the paper and pen from the end table.

He scribbled on the paper. “I’m going to watch and see what she does the next time I let her out. She probably won’t bother you again.”

Lisa waved her hand in dismissal. “She really isn’t a bother. I actually like her.”

The man handed back the paper and Lisa read his name and phone number. Ben Welsh. He stood in the center of the room, the little dog watching her from the safety of her owner’s massive hand.

“I do have one question though,” Lisa said. “Why does a big ole’ guy like you have a Pekingese? I would think you would want a big manly kind of dog.”

Ben’s eyebrows went up. He laughed. “What? Are you saying my dog isn’t ‘manly’?”

Lisa grinned. “Cuddles isn’t exactly a masculine name either, but the pink bow in her hair really screams feminine. I’m guessing she’s your wife’s dog and you keep getting elected to fetch her.”

Ben’s smile faded and his eyebrows dipped to a frown. “She’s a Peekapoo, not a Pekingese and I’m not married. She was my mom’s dog.”

“A Peekapoo?” Lisa asked. “Does your mom live around here?”

Ben gently rubbed the silky fur on Cuddles’ ears. The dog closed her eyes, her chin resting on Ben’s arm that held her.

“A Peekapoo is a mix between a Pekingese and a Poodle. My mom died last week. I live three blocks behind you. I brought Cuddles home two days ago. My sister was taking care of my mom after she got sick, but my sister has a Rottweiler and he didn’t like Cuddles much.”

Lisa didn’t speak for a moment. She couldn’t think of a word to say to the big man holding the tiny dog.

“I’m sorry,” was all she could manage. It didn’t seem enough.

Ben looked up at her. “It’s okay. Really. Mom had breast cancer and it was too far along when they discovered it. She was really sick and in a lot of pain at the end. I’m grateful her suffering is over.”

Lisa studied him for a moment. Although he was in pain, his eyes were dry and accepting.

“Well, maybe Cuddles will get used to your home and settle in soon.”

Ben shrugged. “At least she keeps coming back here. I spent a couple of hours yesterday going through the neighborhood calling her name until I heard her in here barking. Today I just came straight here, hoping she did the same thing.” He turned and placed his hand on the knob. “Anyway, we’ve taken enough of your morning. I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing.”

Lisa laughed and rose from the couch, placing her coffee cup on the table. “All I’m doing is fighting with my computer. I want to work and it refuses to let me.”

Ben’s hand dropped from the doorknob. “What’s it doing?”

“It keeps locking up when I try to use this new program I installed.” She glanced over him and lifted on eyebrow. “Why, are you a computer tech?”

Ben laughed. “No, actually I’m a tow truck driver, but I know a thing or two about computers. I dabble in repairs in my spare time. I don’t really want to drive a truck forever, so I’ve been taking classes for a couple of years.”

“If you can fix this thing, I might actually get some work done. In trade, I’ll become your permanent dog sitter if you ever need one.”

His eyes sparkling, Ben agreed with a nod. “You’re on. I bet I can fix it in less than five minutes.”

“We’ll see,” Lisa laughed as she showed him to the office. He handed Cuddles to Lisa as his fingers flew nimbly over the keyboard accessing parts of the computer Lisa didn’t even know existed. In just a couple of minutes, he rebooted the computer and loaded the dreaded program. It started up much faster than it used to. Ben moved so Lisa could sit at the desk with Cuddles in her lap. It effortlessly opened her latest room design without a hiccup or glitch. She moved around a few items and added others and it still performed perfectly.

“So what are the designs for?” Ben asked.

“I create office layouts to utilize space effectively. See here,” Lisa pointed to the reception area on the screen. “They used to have the front receptionist in this doctor’s office too far away from the front door. The patients would have to go clear across a usually crowded room and then go back across the room to find a seat. With the new plan, the receptionist is closer to the front door and the waiting rooms are divided. There’s a play area for children over here.”

She used her mouse to point at a different location. “This office has several different specialists. Some deal with mostly elderly patients and others deal with children. With the new layout, the patients are separated instead of all being lumped into a large room, and the nursing assistants open a door directly into the appropriate medical suites. I was working on the designs in my old program, then they came out with an upgraded version that just didn’t work right at all, but it seems to be working great now.”

Cuddles was curled up in Lisa’s lap, sleeping. Lisa absentmindedly rubbed the dog’s soft ears as she spoke to Ben.

“Well, I need to go home and get to sleep,” Ben said, looking at the sleeping dog. Lisa stood, lifting the furry bundle and handing her to Ben.

“You haven’t slept yet? Has she been missing that long?” Lisa asked.

Ben shook his head. “I work nights so it’s past my bedtime. I let her out when I get home before I go to sleep.”

Lisa nodded. “That explains why she’s been showing up so early.”

With a final good-bye, Lisa walked Ben and Cuddles to the door. She watched as he climbed into an enormous truck parked in her driveway. Then she went to take her morning shower and get to work.

The next morning, her visitor was back. Lisa let Cuddles in on her way to the coffee pot. The knock on the door came this time before she made it back to her room to comb her hair and splash water on her face. She stopped in the living room, glancing down at her flannel pajamas before she sighed and opened the front door where Cuddles was already doing her happy dance and barking. So he would see her in her pajamas. No big deal. She could just give him the dog and he could go home and go to sleep. She picked Cuddles up and unlocked the door.

Ben stood on the other side smiling. “Aha,” he exclaimed as he came into the house, oblivious to Lisa’s apparel. She stood at the front door watching his excitement as he continued speaking. “She’s not getting out where I thought she was. She’s so little that she goes under the fence. I saw her this morning. I tried to grab her before she got through, but it didn’t work. By the time I got around and in the truck, she was already running through yards in this direction.” He stopped and took a breath, his eyes scanning over Lisa’s attire.

The corner of his lip quirked. “Cute jammies. The little snowmen are a nice touch.”

Lisa didn’t smile. She crossed her arms over her breasts. The cold outside made it apparent that she wore no supportive undergarments under her pajamas. “Can you let her out just an hour later? At least then I could get a shower in and be dressed before I had visitors.”

Ben’s eyes lifted back to her face. “Sorry. I think I’m going to take her out on a leash until I can get around the bottom of the fence where she’s been digging to get out.”

Lisa nodded. She felt bad for snapping at him and she was disappointed that she wouldn’t see Cuddles or Ben anymore. She didn’t know what to say. They stood awkwardly for a moment.

“Tell you what,” Ben said suddenly. “I don’t have to work tonight. To thank you for putting up with us so early in the morning, how about if I take you out to dinner?”

“I’d like that.” Lisa looked at the tiny bundle curled up in Ben’s arms. “And to be honest, she can come visit me every morning if she wants to.”

Cuddles never again showed up at Lisa’s door first thing in the morning. Instead, she arrived in the afternoons and she brought Ben with her. It wasn’t too long before Lisa would wake up and Cuddles would be sleeping in the bed between Ben and Lisa. Ben landed a job with the design software company that Lisa used to do her room layouts. He showed them how to work out the kinks in their upgrades. The company became incredibly successful and took Ben along with them. Several years later, Ben, Lisa, and their three young children mourned when they woke up one morning to discover that Cuddles had passed away during the night. They spread her ashes over Ben’s mother’s grave.  On the way home from the cemetery, Alice, the oldest child who was named for Ben’s mother, leaned from the backseat. Her face looked from one parent’s tear streaked face to the other.

“Mom?” she asked. “Tell us again how you and Daddy met.”

Lisa smiled through her tears.

The End

Happy Valentines Day!

I hope it’s full of love.

Here’s my Valentine’s day gift for you.

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Have You Ever Taken a Vacation That Changed Your Life?

Vendetta by Nancy A. Niles is set in Las Vegas. That city is a tourist attraction where lives have literally been changed by a visit. Have you ever taken a vacation (anywhere) that changed your life or changed your thinking in a significant way? Write a short story (300 to 500 words) about that vacation and post it here or send it to secondwindpublishing@gmail.com . The author of the most intriguing story, as determined by Nancy Niles, will win an autographed copy of Vendetta.

The story should be between 300 to 500 words. The contest ends January 31.

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COMPULSION, RETRIBUTION, TWISTED ATONEMENT

When Private Investigator, Tina Munroe agrees to help out an old friend little does she know the danger she’s put herself and her loved ones in.  Billy Hutchins is being stalked by a killer who has a bead on him and Tina’s desire to protect Billy places her squarely in the stalker’s sights.  She encounters vandalism, a psycho with a Molotov cocktail, a gangster who has his own agenda for mixing into her case and a high speed chase through the city of Las Vegas.  The reader is taken to Laughlin, Nevada, The Lake Mead Marina, the World Series of Poker in Vegas and a trek through the pouring rain in the pitch black of night through a snake infested desert.  Time is running out when her friend and assistant, Megan is kidnapped.  Have Tina’s actions to save one friend caused another friend to die?  Can she stop the killer in time?  Could the killer be someone she knows and trusts?

Click here to buy: Vendetta

Click here to read the first chapter: Vendetta 

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