Books are the gateway to imagination

Books are the gateway to imagination
Morgan welcomes you to her personal blog

Sunday, August 26, 2012

CHALLENGE BY TENNESSEE RAY

When I got this photo of my grandson Tennessee, I couldn't help imagining him saying the classic Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry line, "Make my day!"

This tough guy will be five in February.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Author of the Month at Dawn's Reading Nook

Dawn Roberto of DAWN'S READING NOOK was kind enough to make me the August Author of the Month. Come on over and visit me there. http://tinyurl.com/cf5j2ry


She featured three of my books...the new one, Who's Got the Money?, my anthology The MAFIA FUNERAL and Other Short Stories, and the third Silver Sisters Mystery, Vanishing Act in Vegas.


Mega thanks to Dawn.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

AN EXCERPT FROM CONFESSIONS OF A COUGAR

The anthology The MAFIA FUNERAL and Other Short Stories contains a variety of stories ranging from true to fiction. There are stories  inspired by true events, fiction including mystery and romance, a very tender story about an elderly woman  that has touched many (Saying Goodbye to Miss Molly) and excerpts from some of my books...many of which won awards.

The story How Much Worse Can It Get? is one of those excerpts that was in the original manuscript for my upcoming book Confessions of a Cougar, but as sometimes happens, things can change during the editing process and this was one of those times.

Although some of these scenes are not written exactly as they now are in the book, What's The Worse That Can Happen? gives you a sense of the main characters, how the discussion of cougars came about and their shock at seeing the  "charming Country English cottage," that was to be their home for three weeks.

It  turned out to be a dilapidated cottage surrounded by waist-high weeds with interior decor worthy of a brothel. As for the adventures of Audrey and Sue in Confessions of a Cougar, caution was thrown to the wind for three glorious weeks as they discovered what it was like to become a member of the pack--older women with younger men. Almost everything is true and really fun to read. Watch for the book release in September in paperback and digital editions.

Meanwhile, enjoy How Much Worse Can It Get? and think about getting your own paperback or Kindle copy of The MAFIA FUNERAL and Other Short Stories. Amazon reviews appreciated. Facebook and Tweet mentions would make me deliriously happy.


HOW MUCH WORSE CAN IT GET?
Excerpt from “Confessions of a Cougar”
f
As we were leaving the restaurant, Bob leaned close and whispered in my ear, “Don’t look right away, but what do you think of that couple over there?”

He flicked his eyes in the direction of a man and woman sitting quite close to each other, heads bent as the young man nibbled her neck. The woman was probably twenty years older than him and judging by the amount of nibbling and groping, it was a good bet they were not mother and son.

Before I could say anything, he added, “Why is it that it doesn’t look as dumb when you see an older guy with a young gal.”

I truly hate double standards! The only thing missing in what he said was the label we’ve recently hung on older women involved with younger men. Cougar. Sometimes cougars are stereotyped as not-so-attractive old-looking hags with bleached hair and deep pockets—a breed of women who dress cheap, wear hot pink nail polish and favor sleazy animal skin prints.

The woman canoodling in the corner was anything but that. Her clothes were stylish, well cut and clearly expensive. She had sleek blonde hair and what appeared to be a great figure, although she was sitting down. Who knows? Maybe she had a big butt. I figured this sexy woman was in her prime, and imagined her as someone one who knew what she wanted and didn’t hesitate to go after it.

Yes, a classy, beautiful creature—one  who probably had real brains—maybe an attorney or advertising exec. A woman who had attained success on her own. Without warning, for no particular reason, my daydream morphed into the leopard-print blazer I got on sale at Saks. Cougars might favor animal prints, but that jacket was beautiful. Nothing sleazy about it.

I will admit Bob’s snide remark about this woman upset me and I shot back with a little more sarcasm than necessary. “So what do you think? Maybe she snuck up on this poor unsuspecting young guy who’s happily nibbling away on his appetizer and attacked him.”

Bob took another look. “You know, Babe, maybe you’re right. She is pretty hot looking and he seems to be enjoying himself.  Lots of young guys would probably be ecstatic to have an experienced woman who looked like her give them a tumble. I’ll bet she won’t even ask if he'll call the next day.”

I smiled up at him. “Good for you. You said the right thing. After all, I am older than you.”

He gave me a hug. “What’s six years, gorgeous?”
f
The following day Sue and I had lunch at the Sunset Bistro. Their food is so scrumptious, gossip has it there’s an unspoken rule: when one dines at Sunset Bistro no calorie counting is allowed. They even use real butter and lots of it.

I couldn’t wait to tell her Bob offered to treat us to a trip to England. Her smile broadened when I played the trump card. “You haven’t heard the best part. He’s going to give you the plane ticket and leased a cottage in Surrey. It won’t cost you anything but food and entertainment, and you’d pay for the same things here. How cool is that? Come on, it will do you good. Say ‘yes,’ okay?”

By the look on her face, she already pictured an escape from everything in Los Angeles, even if only for a short time. All the reminders of Hal in their home kept the pain alive. I knew I had her from the moment I mentioned Bob wanted to pay for her ticket. The corners of Sue’s sweetheart bow mouth lifted, creating little smile lines at the corners of her eyes. “Your Bob is an amazing guy. Of course I’ll go. He’s right. I do need a change.”

Her pretty deep blue eyes sparkled with excitement. Then a shadow crossed her face, and I knew she was thinking about Hal again. It would take a long time for her to come to grips with his death.
f
We piled our luggage into a London taxi driven by a man who didn’t have a clue how to get to Upper Warlingham, but said with complete confidence he could find it. A bobby in full regalia approached us just as the driver was about to close what he called “the boot”.

“Where would ya be goin’ ladies? Did I hear you say Upper Warlingham?”

“Why that’s right. I didn’t realize we were speaking so loud. Do you know it? Could you tell this driver where it is?”

“Did ya fix a price wi’ him?”

Sue answered, “No, we didn’t since he didn’t know where it was.”

The Bobby lifted his hand to his mouth, placed two fingers in his mouth and whistled so loud it could have been heard at Buckingham Palace. He signaled another taxi and the driver pulled up beside the one holding our luggage.

He smiled. “This here bloke isn’t authorized to go out of London. Simon will take you to Upper Warlingham.” He motioned to this new driver. “Why’nt ya transfer their bags and fix a good price for ‘em?”

As the man reached into the taxi to switch our luggage, the bobby said, “He’s a good man, Simon, and he’ll charge you a fair price, not like this bloke.” He turned to the first driver. “For shame, tryin’ to take advantage of these women. Off with ya now and I best not be seein’ ya tryin’ this again.”

He turned back to us. “Stayin’ there are ya? Strange place for two Yanks to be goin’ unless you’ve got business or relatives there.”

I felt a little shiver inch up my spine. “Strange? Why do you say that?”

Judging by the tone of his soft, comforting voice, I guess I sounded alarmed. “Nah, not to worry. Just that’s it’s a wee village. Not even a steakhouse. Gotta go to Whyteleaf for a bite when the pub’s not servin’, although it’s not too far. They do have the one pub in the town square.”

During the taxi ride we marveled at the rolling green hills, a shade so rich that it made California look dull. Brilliant yellow fields of mustard brightened the old fa├žades of centuries old homes and townhouses. We wanted an adventure and we were about to get one. However, what we got exceeded anything our active imaginations might have conjured.

A little more than an hour later the driver pulled up in front of what should have been the charming cottage we had pictured. Instead, it looked as foreboding as a haunted house nestled in high grass and weeds. The windows were covered in such a heavy layer of dust and dirt they appeared opaque and a few loose shingles made flapping noises when a light breeze lifted them. Simon’s concern was very obvious. “I’m not sure I should be leavin’ you ladies here. Are ya sure you’ll be alright?”

We had become quite friendly with him during the drive and I could see he felt responsible for us. I truly appreciated his concern, but how bad could it be? We had the keys to the house and there was a car in the garage.

Before I could say anything, Sue said, “Don’t worry. We’ll be just fine.” She handed him the pre-arranged fare. He put it in his pocket, but seemed reluctant to leave. “If ya don’t mind, I’ll just be waitin’ to make sure you’re alright.”

Hey, smart, independent women shouldn’t need a guardian angel, so with more confidence than I really felt, I said, “That’s so kind, but we’ll be just fine. It’s okay for you to leave. After all, you have to make a living.”

He drove off, and we hefted our cases into the jungle-like growth. To our relief, hidden beneath a portion of the overgrown lawn we discovered there actually was a path leading to the front door. Right about then, a machete would have been welcome.

We finally made it to the little porch, but that’s when panic spiked our fear. The key didn’t fit. We tried sliding it out slightly, pressing it in, jiggling it and every other trick a person can use to make a key work, but it made no difference. Sue said, “What if it’s the key to the back door, not the front? Did Bob say anything about that?”

I shrugged in exasperation. Clouds now covered the bit of sun and the temperature dropped. To make matters worse, the light breeze had become stronger and colder. The edges of my ears felt like ice as it ruffled my hair.  Smoke curled from nearby chimneys scenting the air. I stood there somewhat forlorn and homesick with my arms wrapped around myself, as if that would warm me. I missed the lovely spring weather we’d left behind in Los Angeles.

“Well, one thing is for sure. We’re screwed if we can’t get into the house. It won’t hurt to try. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to figure out which house belongs to the old couple Bob mentioned. They must have a key.”

We agreed it didn’t make sense to haul our suitcases with us if we couldn’t open the back door, so we left them on the porch and plunged into the grass and weeds toward the back of the house. It slid into the lock easily. It turned. The door to the kitchen swung open. My fingers found the light switch and pad for a security alarm on the wall next to the door. I flicked on the overhead light, then keyed in the code Bob had given me.
Sue and I stepped into a bright, modern kitchen complete with red appliances. Okay, red seemed a bit weird, but everyone is entitled to their own taste. I figured the rest of the house would echo the style of the kitchen. Boy, was I wrong!

The living room looked like a set from Arsenic and Old Lace modified to double as a 1940s brothel. Unlike the cheerful kitchen, the walls were swathed in deep red flocked wallpaper. A swirl of dusty crystals dripped from an ornate chandelier hanging over two ruby red brocade sofas trimmed with heavy gold fringe along their bottom edges. It was as though unseen souls from centuries past had claimed this room for their own.

“Um, Aud, you met the people who own this house, right? Were they...old?”

“Well, I guess Harry might be pushing sixty, but his girlfriend looks like a Las Vegas showgirl. I don’t think she’s much past twenty-five.” The dust tickled my nose and I stifled a sneeze. “I can see why you would ask, though. This place is a trip, isn’t it?”

In sharp contrast to the dusty chandelier, crisp white lace doilies graced the dark mahogany side tables and lace scarves covered the backs of a pair of forest green velvet chairs. “Well, if nothing else, it does have character,” I mused.

“Let’s open some windows and get rid of this musty odor.” Sue reached behind the green velvet draperies to unlatch a window. Fresh air poured into the living room and she perked up. “Hey Audrey, what do you suppose the bedrooms are like? Race you!”

We sprinted down the hall toward the bedrooms. Not too bad. Fluffy red comforters and pillows perched on high mahogany four poster beds.

“Well, thanks to Bob this is home sweet home—at least for the next few weeks. Let’s get settled. Not exactly the charming country cottage I’d imagined, but not bad except for the jungle out front.”

Sue shrugged. “I wonder if the whole village is like this.”

There was a sharp rap at the front door. I unlocked it and found myself face-to-face with an elderly English couple. The man wore a deep gray V-necked sweater vest, a little gray and beige plaid hat and a broad smile. The woman’s shining silver hair, parted in the middle, was pulled into a granny bun. She wore a somewhat shapeless 1930s-style housedress, sprinkled with a tiny pink and lavender flower print, topped by a crocheted rose-colored sweater. For some reason she held a stack of towels and sheets.

“Hello. We’re Bert and Mary,” the man said in a heavily accented voice. “We sorta look after the place whilst Harry is in the States.”

Was it my imagination, or did Bert make a face like he’d swigged spoiled milk when he said “Harry”?

He nodded in the direction of an old-fashioned looking phone on one of the mahogany side tables. “I’m sorry to say, don’t be expectin’ to use the telephone. There’s no service.”

Mary leaned forward, as though she was about to tell us a secret, but all she said was, “Y’see, he stopped payin’ the bill months ago. Just like that bloke, waitin’ till the last minute to ring us up about your visit.” She shook her head. “It would take a few weeks to get it turned on, but you can use ours if you need to make calls. Besides, there’s a phone box in the square.”

Bert stooped over and fiddled with a heater. “Here, I’ll be lightin’ this for you. It doesn’t feel a chill now, but wait until tonight and you’ll be happy to have the warmth.” He toyed with it while Mary elbowed her way into one of the two bedrooms.

She removed two sheets from her pile, laid them on the bed, then went to the other bedroom and repeated the task. “Wouldn’t want you to be usin’ the same linens as those people, you being nice women and all.”
The sweet old woman handed me a stack of towels. “When you’re ready to go home, don’t mind about laundering them. The Tidee-Wash in the square closed about a month ago. I’ll take care of cleanin’ ’em.”

Why was Mary so adamant that we use their sheets and towels, rather than the ones in the cottage? What was with calling Harry and his girlfriend those people? I made a mental note to ask.

The elderly couple made their way to the front door.

Mary turned back to us. “Did you exchange money at the airport? Tomorrow’s bank holiday and everything will be closed. Bert and I are goin’ to Croyden to see our grandchildren, but we’ll be back the next day.”

Most of the money we changed at Heathrow paid for the taxi. Being Americans, we assumed there would be a bank in Upper Warlingham that offered a better exchange rate. Good luck. On the drive in, we’d noticed this village didn’t even have a restaurant or much else in the Square. 

Sue’s shoulders slumped. “Where can we change money? Harry said there’s a car in the garage. We can drive somewhere.”

Bert’s slapped his forehead. “Blimey, the car! Before he left for the States, Harry asked me to have the mechanic check it. That’s what I forgot to tell him when he phoned. The bloke was finally here last Friday and said there’s somethin’ wrong wi’ it—not to drive it ’cause it could be dangerous.”

“So we don’t have a car? What are we going to do?”

“Not to worry. There’s a car hire in the Square. The driver can carry you down to the rental agency in Caterham. You can use our phone to call down to see what’s available.”

We followed Bert and Mary to their cottage two doors away. In sharp contrast to our accommodations, this one was pristine. From the silver on the sideboard to the crystals hanging from Victorian lampshades, everything sparkled. In contrast to the soft tones in Mary’s dress, the colors in their cottage were rich and cheerful. A delicate scent of lavender infused the air. Why couldn’t ours be like this?

One look at Sue told me her thoughts echoed mine. While Bert dialed the rental agency in Caterham, Sue said, “This is really charming. How old are these homes?”

“Newer than some. Built in the early 1800s I think.” His attention turned back to the telephone. “Closin’ in three hours are ya? Yes. Two ladies from America need to reserve a car. Righto.”

He turned to us. “What’s the name? Says he’ll stay open for ya and has a nice Morris Mini at a good price. But take care to be there within two hours. He’s closin’ up for bank holiday and won’t be open for two days after that.”

I said, “Tell him Audrey Browning, and thank you so much.”

At least we wouldn’t be stuck without a car or English money, but at the mere thought of maneuvering a right-hand drive car on the wrong side of the road, my heart became a sledge hammer in my chest. We just have to tough some things out in this life, and this was one of them.

A silent message passed between us: How much worse could it get?

The book “Confessions of a Cougar” will be released in mid-2012