Four months ago I wrote a post, titled Going Home, in which I talked about my mother and her broken neck (a fracture of the C2 vertebra) and how odd it was to be back in my parents' home--only this time with the roles reversed. At the time, I only expected to be there for a few weeks to help out. But life doesn't always go exactly as planned. There were several setbacks along the way, and it took my mom's bones a really long time to start to heal.
So, as it happens, I'm still here; three thousand miles away from where I'm supposed to be. I'd been looking forward to spending part of Autumn on the East Coast for the first time in over a decade. I like Fall.But winter, on the other hand? Nah, I haven't missed that at all.
Luckily, however, things have recently taken a turn for the better here and I'll finally be going home sometime next week. Or what's left of it, anyway. I understand my formerly well-behaved dog has been acting up in my absence.
In my previous post, I cleverly managed to tie the homecoming theme in with two books that I had on sale at the time. I'm not feeling nearly as clever tonight. However, in a little under two weeks, Happily Ever After in Oberon, the third(and final)boxed set in my Oberon series is being released. And it occurs to me that each book in this particular set features at least one person whose return to Oberon is met with chaos. So it seems fitting that I end this post with a brief excerpt...or maybe a not-so-brief excerpt. This is from Visions Before Midnight.
Erin Allridge stared dubiously at the drinks the bartender had just deposited on the bar in front of her. Electric blue with a lemon twist, and neon green with a cherry. Colors so virulently bright, they hurt her eyes.
“You’re sure they’re safe to drink?” she asked uncertainly. They looked...surreal, futuristic, and, very possibly, radioactive.
Her friend, Melissa, rolled her eyes. “Well, duh. What do you think? Would I be trying to poison us?”
Erin shook her head. She wasn’t sure what Melissa was up to. It had been a surprise when her friend had called and insisted she come out for a drink with her. Erin thought they’d have some wine, or a beer, maybe even a shot of scotch. Something vaguely familiar. But not these. These looked like the kind of drinks they might be serving right now on another planet, somewhere in a far distant corner of the galaxy.
Maybe it was culture shock. She’d spent most of the last six months living on the Traansveldt in South Africa following a pride of endangered white lions. Or, to be accurate, following her husband as he followed the lions. There was nothing in the veldt that resembled these drinks, she thought sadly. The land of the singing grasses was gold and dust beneath a faded blue sky. It was all the rusty shades of heartbreak, like old bones, tear stains and dried blood.
Tear stains and dried blood? What the hell am I thinking? She shook her head in hopes of clearing it. It was the jet lag. It had to be. She didn’t even recognize her own thoughts anymore. Shades of heartbreak. Jeez. “I think I should have my head examined for listening to you, that’s what,” she murmured at last. Clearly, she had no business being in a bar tonight. Besides the jet lag, which had rendered her severely stupid, she was also still weak from a nasty intestinal bug she’d managed to pick up on her way back to the States. She shouldn’t be anywhere tonight––except in bed. “This was a bad idea. I should have stayed home.”
Melissa hefted her sour apple martini. “You have the rest of your life to stay home, ‘Rin. Tonight we’re celebrating. Now, c’mon, what’re you waiting for? Pick up your drink, I’m making a toast.”
“What are we toasting?” Erin lifted the blue martini to her nose and sniffed cautiously. It smelled like marmalade, light and fruity. And, come to think of it, she was pretty thirsty. She took a sip. Hmm. Not bad.
“To you,” Melissa said, as they touched glasses. “To being a free woman again. To new beginnings. A new and happier life.”
“Almost a free woman,” Erin corrected as she sipped again. “My divorce isn’t final yet.”
Melissa downed half her drink in a single gulp. “A mere technicality. The important thing is, that sham of a marriage is finally over. You’ve turned a corner. It’s time to move on.”
Sham? Over? Erin’s hand was shaking as she lifted her glass to her lips once more and swallowed hard. She felt hollow and unbalanced and nauseated by the thought. How could her marriage be over? It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to end, at all! And, in less than a year?
How could she have known things would go so wrong, so fast? But, then again, how could she not have known? It had to have been so obvious how badly they were matched, and certainly plenty of people had tried to warn her away from Jeremy. But, she was a fool and a failure and every kind of idiot and she hadn’t listened to any of them. She tossed back the rest of her drink and set the glass down with a sigh. She hadn’t listened, and now she was paying the price for her stubbornness.
Melissa signaled for another round. “Feeling better yet?”
“Maybe.” Erin shrugged. “I’m not sure I’m feeling much of anything, at the moment.” The alcohol had hit her stomach and was spreading numbness throughout her entire body, which might or might not be an improvement, depending upon how you viewed such things. As she checked her watch, wondering how long she’d have to wait before she could make some excuse to go home, she pretended not to see the doubtful look the bartender threw in her direction.
Does he think I’m drunk? She brushed back her hair and tried to smile; trying her best to appear sober, alert, somewhat sane and, if at all possible, attractive. Because, come to think of it, the bartender was kind of a cutie.
Then she realized what she was doing, and turned her smile upside down. She didn’t want to give anyone the impression that she was in the market for a new man, because she wasn’t. She definitely wasn’t.
Bartender Cutie turned to Melissa. “You’re okay for another. Her, I’m not so sure about.”
Melissa slid some bills across the bar. “It’s not like she’s gonna be driving, dude. So, just chill, okay? Pretty please?”
“What are we drinking to this time?” Erin asked when their new drinks arrived.
“To men,” Melissa replied, smiling sweetly at the bartender. “Mature, attractive, generous men. The kind who will occasionally buy a lady a drink on the house?”
The bartender rolled his eyes as he moved away, but he left the bills lying on the bar where she’d put them.
“Sensitive men who are in touch with their emotions,” Melissa continued, in a voice just loud enough that the cute bartender could hear her, too. “Who don’t feel threatened when a woman takes the initiative. Who aren’t afraid to ask for what they want. Or what they need.”
The bartender glanced once again in her direction and shook his head. “You got your drinks. Don’t push it.”
Erin felt like shaking her own head. Not that she had anything against sensitive men, or caring men, or even mature men, for that matter. In fact, come to think of it, mature might make for a nice change of pace, right along with financially solvent.
But those needs had to go.
The men in her life had always had entirely too many needs. They’d needed her for money while they were in between jobs, which seemed to be pretty much all the time. They’d needed her to cook and clean for them while they studied for tests. Even tests that she might also be taking––but with far less pressure to succeed. Or, so they’d always claimed.
They’d needed her to sleep with them when they were feeling horny, or depressed, or even just plain bored. To offer encouragement. To cheer them on, when their unique vision and special talents went unnoticed or unappreciated by the world at large.
Some day, the world would realize its mistake in discounting them. Some day, the whole world would know their names...or was that just a song lyric?
Most recently, they’d needed her to follow them halfway around the globe, contract disgusting gastrointestinal diseases in the process, and all for the chance to sit at their feet and tell them how wonderful they were.
And then to look the other way and pretend she didn’t realize they were having an affair.
No, she thought as she drained her glass. Not they. There was no they. There was only he. Jeremy. The louse. He’d broken his vows, broken their marriage, broken her heart. She put her empty glass down on the bar very gently—so that it didn’t break, too.
“Thank you sooo much,” Melissa purred, batting her big blue eyes at the bartender who was already pouring out another round.
Erin turned to her friend. “I can’t believe he’s having an affair.”
“Who is?” Melissa looked startled.
“Jeremy, of course.”
“Oh?” Melissa glanced at her quickly, and then away again. “Is he?” She plucked the cherry from her drink, chewed it up quickly, and then began tying knots in the stem with her tongue. The bartender stopped work to watch her.
Erin sighed as one of the truths she’d been refusing to acknowledge smacked her in the head. “It’s not the first time he’s done this. Is it?”
Melissa hesitated for just an instant, and then she shook her head and shrugged. She pulled the pretzel shaped stem from her mouth and reached for another cherry. “I wouldn’t know,” she answered, as she went to work on the next stem.
Erin stared at her in surprise. Of course you know. Everyone knows. Even Erin had known...she just hadn’t wanted to admit it.
The bartender slid a bowl of cherries in front of Melissa, leaned his crossed arms on the bar and smiled. “How’d you learn to do that?”
Melissa plucked the stem from her mouth. “Practice.” Smiling mysteriously, she reached for another. “Lots and lots of practice.”
Erin glanced at the bartender’s left hand, saw the ring that gleamed there and sighed once more. “Why am I not surprised?” she muttered.
There was something about the sight of a wedding ring on a man’s hand that acted like a drug on Melissa’s psyche. Like the most potent aphrodisiac ever invented or discovered, it made even the most unexceptional man irresistible to her.
As Melissa flirted with the bartender, Erin studied her friend’s profile. I must have just drank myself sober, she decided, because suddenly, a lot of things she hadn’t understood were making perfect sense. Like the way Melissa and Jeremy had all of a sudden begun avoiding each other last November. Or the way Melissa had known to call her, before anyone else even knew she was back in town, to offer condolences. The way she kept insisting all night how much better off Erin was on her own. Shit.
“I gotta go,” Erin murmured as she scrambled off the barstool, almost colliding with a man who was passing behind her.
“Whoa, careful. Are you all right?” He put a hand out to steady her as she stumbled and lost her footing.
I’m fine, she thought. But, before she could open her mouth to say so, her eyes focused on his face and she changed her mind. Fine? The hell I am. I could be in all sorts of trouble here.
The stranger had eyes like the veldt at daybreak, greenish-gold, settling to brown at the edges. They burned into hers, compelling, intense, hypnotic, until at last she wrenched her gaze away. She took in dark skin. Full lips. High cheekbones. Two long braids of glossy black hair which hung almost to his waist. And then he smiled.
Oh, man, talk about your shades of heartbreak. Erin’s heart began to race. “Excuse me. I think I need to go lie down now,” she muttered, feeling distinctly light headed. He had—no exceptions—the sexiest smile she’d ever seen. Guys like this ought to come with warnings stamped across their foreheads: Keep your distance. Too good to be true. Unsafe at any speed.
Mystical forces are once again at work in Oberon, the quirky small town set amid the beaches, wineries and forests of California’s Central Coast. Evil has come home to roost, an evil that threatens everyone’s happy endings and that brings with it a darkness that only love can dispel.
The exciting Oberon series concludes in Happily Ever After in Oberon, a collection that contains books seven through nine. Once again these are full-length novels in whose pages you will re-visit many of the characters you’ve previously met. Unlike the first two collections, however, a familiarity with those earlier books is recommended.