EXCERPTS from The Accidental Wife:
How does somebody trade places with their great-great grandmother? Was Jessamine having tea with the interpretive staff of old Fort Laramie, charming visitors with her uncanny knowledge of the nineteenth century? Did we pass into some alternate universe—exchange students traveling through time—or was this all just a very bad birthday nightmare I would wake from in the morning? I pulled the patchwork quilt over my head and bit off a quick prayer, then wondered if I was praying for the right thing.
Tomorrow. Everything would be clear, come tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Jessica Brewster!
* * * * *
He was sleeping commando. I, who never expected to spend a night in bed with any man, woke up on my thirtieth birthday in a wilderness Wyoming cabin with a rooster crowing at the window and a naked man beside me. Not just any man. Oh Lord, this wasn't a dream channeled by a humming teacup. I was in bed with my great-great grandmother's legendary first husband."
* * * * *
In the moonlight, he rose from the Adirondack like an old man and moved toward me, his green eyes fanning me from head to bare feet. He touched my face with both hands, feathering his fingers across my forehead, into the wells of my eyes, over my nose and cheekbones, like a blind man needing to know who stood before him. I tried not to stiffen at his touch, willing myself not to blink, not to release the fresh tears that had begun to pool. He collared my throat with his long fingers and ran a thumb over my lips.
“I want my wife back. Come back to me, Mitawin,” he whispered.
The word on the teacup; the hallmark of my deceit. Our eyes locked, and I felt my throat closing and my knees begin to quiver. For a few seconds his grip tightened around my throat, and I clamped my eyes shut with a fleeting thought. Yes, take my breath...end this tormenting deception. When he suddenly released me, I could see the pain twisting his face. He turned away and rubbed his chin against his shoulder, bracing both arms on a porch railing.
“My shirt looks good on you, Jess,” he said hoarsely. You always did have a thing for my shirts.”
I cleared my throat. “You, can’t sleep out here,” I said after a long silence. “Come to bed.”
His shoulders flinched. “Is that an invitation?”
“I only mean...you can’t be comfortable sleeping in that chair.”
We both started by the sudden hoot of a nearby owl, and like the volume turned up on ear phones, I was suddenly aware of other night sounds, crickets, wind rustling through the sage, my heart bumping in my chest.
* * * * *
EXCERPT FROM THE ACCIDENTAL STRANGER:
I screamed as the gun exploded in my hand and fell to the ground. The bear moving toward Scout dropped, and I raced to scoop up my son before he toppled into the icy stream. Cradling my whimpering child, I ventured closer and could see at once that it was no bear I shot. A man in a bearskin poncho lay on his side. A mass of dark matted hair covered the side of his face that wasn’t blooming with blood, running down his cheek, pooling in his ear and staining his thick beard.
“Is he, is he dead?” I whispered.
Chuck fumbled for a pulse and we all started when the man groaned and his eyes fluttered open.
Green! His eyes were green. The fear in them registered with me as he searched our faces. When his eyes met mine, his jaw twitched. A flash of memories washed over me and my heart began to thump wildly. I set Scout down when my knees began to buckle and I thought I was going to be sick. As I sagged in the snow, my bare fingers reached out to staunch the blood.
So red against the white snow. His eyes, so…green. Every shade in a spectrum of emotion raced through me. I knew only one man who owned those eyes.
Had he come back to me?
Did I shoot the only man I ever loved?
* * * * *
EXCERPTS from Hot Stuff:
“Just how old is your brother?”
“Old enough to hold down a bus-boy job to help pay for all this. Evan has Asperger’s, a form of autism with obsessive compulsive behavior. He wasn’t formally diagnosed until he was nine, after he upgraded his collection from smurfs to garden gnomes. Over the years, we’ve learned some lawn décor Evan brought home belonged to that category you call a 10-99…er…some might call it this.” He finally managed to smile when I pulled a handful of candy hearts out of my pocket and singled out the one that said Hot Stuff.
“Billington knows about all this?”
“Certainly. Our neighbors are aware of this, too. When something goes missing, they usually show up here first to see if Evan has it planted in his garden. If they can identify it, we simply have a custody exchange, then mollify my brother with a trip to a local garden shop for some kind of a replacement.” I popped a candy heart into my mouth and offered him one after flicking a strand of cat fur off the Kiss Me heart.
Screwing up his face, he cleared his throat. “Valentine candy in July?”
“I won a six-month supply after writing new imprints for the company. The candy has a long shelf life,” I added.
He declined my offer.
“That was one of my slogans. The candy boss wanted something modern. You Know was another one. Kids today can’t get through a sentence without sprinkling it with ‘you know’.”
He studied me with a lopsided grin. “Why didn’t Billington tell me all this?”
“I don’t think he knows I write slogans and ads for a living.”
Shifting on his feet, he pulled on his ear. “I mean about your brother stealing yard ornaments.”
“Oh well, I suspect Evan’s fancy may be an inside joke at the precinct.”
He shook his head and sighed. “With a rookie at the butt of the joke, I imagine. Mind if I check out the tent?”
I held open the tent flap for him to pass…so I could assess the fit of his jeans from the rear. Confusion flattered his dark good looks from the front. His backside was just as fine. Hot Stuff could have been embroidered on the back of his shirt.