My first guest author is best-selling writer, Carolyn Arnold, known for the Madison Knight crime series, Although we largely write in different genres, we do share a love of beagles. I had one for fifteen years and Carolyn has two – which is brave as, IMHO, aside from being adorable, beagles are delinquent.
Carolyn’s writing has been compared with New York Times Bestsellers such as JD Robb, Mary Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, and more. She is a member of Crime Writers of Canada and lives with her husband, and the aforementioned beagles, in a city near Toronto.
Carolyn has just released a romantic thriller called Hart’s Choice – proceeds from the sale of this novella will be given to the Alzheimer’s Society, and it is being featured, this week, on theValentine’s Day Fantastical Reads Event where some of the finest authors will be offering books for sale, helping stoke the fires of romance, passion and love. Here’s what Carolyn’s story is about:
For the lucky ones, there is a love so powerful that when it comes along, it changes everything.
As teenagers, just a chance meeting at a county fair would change Barry and Tessa’s lives forever. Yet with a summer romance that didn’t fully blossom and ended without warning, two hearts were torn apart by time and circumstance.
Tessa pursued her love of dance and found herself a ballerina in the 1962 production of The Nutcracker in New York City. But she still thought of Barry.
Reunited nearly a decade later, only to be ripped apart by war and loss, Tessa wonders if they will ever be together and dreams fulfilled.
For an excerpt, read on:
You don’t choose who you fall in love with. It sort of just happens. It happens like a trip precedes a fall, like rain accompanies a thunderstorm. For Tessa and Barry Hart, the cosmos intervened. It was as if a magnet attracted their souls, and a mystical seamstress stitched two hearts as one.
She looked over at him as he lay asleep and thought of reaching out to sweep back the hair on his forehead. But she didn’t want to wake him. She just wanted to watch him as he rested and quietly appreciate all she had in life.
He said he knew they would get married from the start. Of course, a lot of time passed before they actually did.
A smile touched her lips, and she couldn’t resist the urge to put her hand on his. If she put it there lightly she shouldn’t rouse him awake. Her fingers wrapped around his—the perfect fit.
She remembered when she met him. It had been the summer of ’53. He was so handsome but stubborn and cocky. The fair music whirled loudly as a carnival backdrop, and the beeping and alarm-like noise of the gaming booths sounded regularly. She knew the owners of the games would play the sound effects to entice those with desperate hearts, those hoping to win their girls the large, stuffed bear. No one ever won as much as they made it seem.
Most on the grounds walked around with small bears, or heart-shaped cushions. People held helium-filled balloons, and nibbled on cotton candy that had been swirled and piled high on a stick. Laughter filled the air along with the smell of carnival food—funnel cakes and popcorn. The merry-go-round spun as a colored blur like a kaleidoscope of patterns and shades. While most had a sweetheart to share the day with, Tessa had her friend Mary.
To believe she was that young when this all began. It felt so long ago now. How time pressed on without waiting for its occupants to get on board.
Tessa wore a net petticoat beneath the black and white checkered circle skirt her mother had made her. She paired it with a white, scooped neck blouse. The effect accentuated her thin waist, yet gave her fluidity as the skirt filled out. Her blonde hair was curled, the result of a night spent sleeping with large rollers, and tied back into a ponytail with a piece of the material that matched her skirt. Her trimmed bangs were left to frame her face.
“Tessa, let’s just do it.” Mary looped her arm through one of Tessa’s. For being a brunette, Mary had always been more adventurous.
“I don’t know.” They both stood there watching the Ferris wheel, as the carnival employees boarded new occupants and unloaded ones who had their turn. “It’s so high.” Tessa smiled at her friend and tapped the back of her hand that was resting on Tessa’s forearm.
“You don’t know until you try it. Come on.”
Tessa smiled. Mary had a certain way she would look at you that had the ability to transform your mind over, weaving a negative response into a positive one. Her head cocked to the side, a grin lit her face, and her eyes sparkled with a hint of mischievousness—the kind that would make you curious and wonder if you would miss out on something by saying no.
“Okay, fine. But if I die my parents are going to kill you.”
A squeal escaped Mary’s throat, and she tugged on Tessa’s arm. “We won’t die.”
Their skirts swayed, caught in the momentum, as they hurried to get in the line.
“Two tickets for the wheel, Miss.” The ride attendant extended a hand to collect their tickets.
“Two?” Tessa asked and turned to her friend. “That’s a lot of money, Mary.”
“Come on, it will be the ride of your life.”
Until now, Tessa never realized how true that would be.
“Fine.” Tessa parted with the tickets, careful not to allow physical contact with the man. Those who worked in carnivals were scary to her. They didn’t have roots; they traveled across America. Her father warned her about them every year, but especially when she left this afternoon.
You’re beautiful, Tessa, and some men would love to take advantage of that. You watch out for them.
It seemed like time took pause, for once, as she watched the wheel go around, lifting its riders sky-high before grounding them. Her stomach tossed, and she glanced at her friend.
“It’s going to be so much fun.” Mary bounced similar to how Charlie, their Golden Retriever, had looked as a puppy when he needed to pee.
Minutes later, they were boarded on the ride. The wheel rotated and they were lifted; nothing below them except for air. The fabric of their skirts rustled in the breeze against their petticoats.
Mary couldn’t hide her excitement. Tessa put on a good front, while inside her stomach tossed more violently than it had watching the ride from the ground. She plastered on a smile for her friend.
“You can see everything from up here.” Mary pointed out over the fairgrounds to the surrounding fields and farms. “Hey, there’s your place.”
“So, it is.” Tessa did her best to steady her focus. As she looked around, she silently coached herself not to allow the fear of heights to take hold of her.
“It’s beautiful up here.”
Tessa watched her friend—a permanent smile tattooed to Mary’s mouth—while impatiently waiting for the ride to end. The smell of the food, which had seemed enticing on the ground, mingled with her fear and created a volatile situation in her stomach. She needed a washroom.
The ride attendant couldn’t let them off soon enough. Tessa knew her game plan. She would beeline straight for the makeshift toilets, which normally she did her best to avoid, but in this case she didn’t have a choice.
“Tessa,” Mary called out to her back; Tessa kept hurrying. Time was running out.
She was looking behind as she ran. “I have to—” Tessa met the ground, hard. Pain radiated in her wrists from trying to lessen the fall, and she crumpled into a heap on the grass.
She heard her friend yelling, but she wished she would quiet herself down. It was embarrassing enough being laid out flat in the middle of the fairgrounds. The fewer who witnessed the incident, the better. Tessa struggled to get up when a hand extended toward her.
“Let me help you up.”
The voice was unfamiliar, and it was male. She dared to look up, and there he was—Barry. Of course, she didn’t know his name at the time.
“I can make do; thank you.” She attempted a smile but felt heat redden her cheeks. He was handsome, and she had never seen him before. She thought she knew all the guys in the county. He never moved his hand but kept it extended. His eyes were the color of the summer sky. Her heart galloped, but she tried to rein it in. She took his hand, and when they touched she focused on the roughness of his palm. By the softness in his eyes, she had expected the same to hold true for his hands.
“Tessa, this is my cousin.”
She hadn’t even noticed Tom until he spoke. She rose to her feet and brushed the grass off her skirt. With the motion, she hoped to put the entire incident behind her. She wanted to go, rush back to her friend and experience more of the fair, but her parents had taught her better than that. Good deeds deserved to be acknowledged, and he had helped her up. “Thank you.”
He reached out his hand again. When they touched warm heat washed over her face.
“Name is Barry Hart, Miss. Yours?” He stopped the shaking of the hands but didn’t release hold of her.
She pulled her hand back and wiped it on her skirt. She felt awkward and didn’t remember ever feeling this way before. The nausea she had experienced was replaced by a fluttering in the pit of her stomach. She felt light headed, but she had to keep her wits about her. “Tessa.”
Her name came out, and she was surprised by how velvety it rolled off her tongue. She didn’t mean anything by it, but it was too late to reel it in. Mary came to a stop beside her, and extended her hand to Barry.
“Mary.” Her face was lit as she shook the hand of the new guy in town. Mary had never been shy when it came to boys. She swayed her skirt, ever so slightly, and turned to Tessa. “So, why did you run off?”
Three sets of eyes fixed on her.
“Was it the Ferris wheel? You were coming from that direction?” Barry interjected. He smiled at her.
“You don’t like heights, huh? Neither do I.”
Well, that must mean we’re meant to be. Didn’t he give her more credit than this? Guys always knew the right thing to say, and the right thing to do, if it served their purposes. Her father didn’t even need to teach her that. “We better go, Mary.”
“Alright.” Her friend dragged out the single word and looked at her, pleading with her eyes for them to stay just a little longer. When Tessa didn’t respond to the silent inquiry, Mary said, “It’s early still.” She moved close to Barry and put her arm through his. “What time is it?”
Tom and Tessa looked at each other, picking up on Mary’s attraction to Barry, and her not-too-subtle way of letting him know.
“There’s no reason we couldn’t walk around together, now is there, Tessa?” Tom asked.
“Come on, let’s have some fun.” Mary bounced, and it warranted a laugh from Barry.
They ended up staying at the fair until dusk and got home just in time to meet curfew. The two girls sat on the fence that lined the field belonging to Tessa’s parents; their legs swinging just above the middle rung.
“He was cute, eh, Tess? Too bad he doesn’t live around here.”
“Oh, he’s just a boy. There are plenty where he came from.”
Mary’s lips curved upward. “You like him.”
“I never said that.”
Mary bumped Tessa’s shoulder with her own. “You do.”
“He’s alright. Nothing to write home about. I don’t want anything to do with a family just yet. I have my whole life ahead of me.” She looked out over the darkened field at the silhouettes of the wheat and higher to see the moon and stars that shone brightly tonight, as if facets of a finely cut diamond.
“He’s going to be around all this week. Maybe next. You have to see him again.”
“You seem to like him pretty well.”
“What is it?”
“Did you not notice he only had eyes for you?”
Tessa felt heat in her cheeks. She noticed Barry watching her; it was at moments she suspected he didn’t realize he was caught. “You’re crazy.”
* * *