Happy publication day to author V.P. Evans! To celebrate the release, The Rebirth will be ONLY $0.99 for a limited time!
Publication Date: March 16th, 2023
Genre: Suspense/ Thriller
A night where everything begins . . . and everything ends.
For the past decade, police homicide consultant Mark Gilliam has been wasting his life with corpses, drugs, and alcohol. Things weren’t always like this. Ten years ago, he was a soldier, a husband, a . . . father. But it’s what he deserves. He couldn’t protect his son from the monsters that took him away.
For the past decade, Jason Roneros has been living a reclusive life, forced to spend the rest of his days in isolation. Things weren’t always like this. Ten years ago, he was a well-respected author, a fighter, a . . . dreamer. But it’s what he deserves. He trusted these monsters.
For the past decade, Mark and Jason haven’t seen each other.
But everything is about to change . . .
A murder brings them together one night, trapping them in the streets of Chicago in search of redemption down a cryptic path that could unlock the darkest scandal in history. As the path unrolls secrets buried in great works of art and philosophical writings, the shadiest aspects of the human soul come to the surface. Soon, the two men realize that those hunting them, closing in with each passing minute, are equally dangerous as the ghosts of the past . . .
Jason seemed so changed from the last time they’d met: his skin was yellow, as if forgotten by the coltish tickle of life. His face appeared exhausted, as if feckless to carry the striking features of the past. Two brusque lines around his mouth resembled deep snicks. Fitful creases whipped his forehead. His white, medium-length hair was combed back, just as it had been ten years ago, though a receding hairline now marked his forehead. His skeletal hands seemed incapable of keeping the watch fastened on his wrist, while his legs were so bony they seemed likely to break. Although Jason, like Oscar, was in his mid-sixties, he looked at least a decade older.
“There’s no time left.”
His voice remained rich, though. It still carried the slight British accent from his days in Oxford.
A mild shaking started traversing Oscar’s body. He put his glasses on the newspaper and stood, using the desk for support. “You need to leave.” He struggled to sound calm. “They were clear, Jason. We cannot be together. The deal—”
“The deal doesn’t exist anymore.” Jason scratched at his neck, above the collar of his white shirt, where an already reddened patch of eczema had become even more inflamed. “Dermot Walsh is dead.”
“What? How do you know—?”
“He told me himself. A few minutes ago. Texted me, pointing out his killers.”
“Murdered?” Oscar soughed, terrified by the ensuing sentence.
“By them,” Jason added, confirming Oscar’s dread. “The Imperatores are already after me.”
“Jesus.” The Imperatores. That name. Saliva filled Oscar’s mouth, choking him. “After all these years … now? Why? We had a damned agreement!” He slammed his hands on the desk, trying in vain to expel the fear inside him. His palms burned from the hit.
“To stop me,” Jason said, his words faint yet filling the huge office.
V.P. Evans is the pen name of an average (and perhaps boring) guy who seems desperate to disappear into lands far away. You would probably find him lost in a secluded village in Estonia, wandering among the wild islands of the Azores, or backpacking across vague paths in Asia. And sometimes, as the fading lights and the thick darkness of this mysterious cosmos unfold before him, he has an idea and writes it down.
Congratulations to author Thom Bedford on the release of Sandorn’s Prison! Read on for more details!
Sandorn’s Prison: A Military Space Opera (Sandorn’s Allegiance Book 2)
Publication Date: March 11th, 2023
Genre: Space Opera/ Sci-Fi
A SHATTERING DEFEAT
Galactic war has ravaged the cosmos for three months. In an attempt to break the stalemate between the two warring powers, the Alliance launches a perilous mission to liberate thousands of their captured officers from a nearby Union prison. Disaster strikes, however, and the rescue attempt fails. Distress signals are intercepted by Exeter Station, where Commander Tanic Sandorn and his crew are called upon to do what the first mission couldn’t. Save the tortured prisoners of war.
In order to be a part of this rescue mission, Sandorn and the rest of his crew will need to fall in line behind a corrupt, authoritarian fleet commander, who is willing to get them all killed for the sake of his own reputation. Will this second navy operation succeed, or will the same tragedy befall them, leaving even more lives lost?
Propaganda and discontentment are on the rise. Cracks are beginning to appear in the political horizon. Not everything is as it seems within the Alliance.
THE LIBERATION OF HANFORD PENAL COLONY
This military space opera novel combines epic fleet combat, space marine ground battles, political intrigue, deception, and romance. All the best parts of science fiction.
Thom grew up in suburban Cheshire, England with his parents and brother. Since childhood he has had a propensity for creativity, whether it be writing, building models, painting, designing graphics and technology, or programming.
After studying Computer Science at The University of Manchester, he started working as a Software Developer. Following in his father’s footsteps, he worked as a Technical Consultant in London for several years, then in Data Warehousing back in Manchester.
In his spare time, Thom still writes (obviously), builds models, paints, and programs, but nowadays he also listens to a lot of music, watches films, reads, and enjoys playing video games.
His love for science fiction comes from blockbuster films like Starship Troopers, Star Wars and Star Trek. B-movies like Wing Commander, Pitch Black, and Iron Sky. TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, The Expanse, and Stargate. Video games like Homeworld, EVE-Online, and Stellaris. Books like Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, Jasper T. Scott’s Dead Space series, and David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. In other words, sci-fi—particularly space opera—in any media.
Thom currently lives in Cheshire, England, with his wife Helen and their two cats.
Publishing today from Penguin is The Chase, a thrilling new book from Ava Glass, I can share with you the book trailer and the news that’s it’s going to be a TV series, made by the people behind The Night Manager. For more info click here. Review coming soon.
In this breakneck, race-against-the-clock thriller, a female British spy has twelve hours to deliver her asset across London while being pursued through the streets of London by Russian intelligence. Can she make it without being spotted . . . or killed?
A freshly-minted secret agent, Emma Makepeace has barely graduated from basic training when she gets the call for her first major assignment. Eager to serve her country and prove her worth, she dives in head first.
Emma must covertly travel across the world’s most watched city to bring the reluctant adult son of Russian dissidents into protective custody, so long as the assassins from the tracking him down don’t get to him first. With London’s famous Ring of Steel hacked by the Russian government, the two must cross the city without being seen by the hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras that document every inch of the city’s streets, alleys, and gutters.
The underground, buses, trains and cars, are completely out of the question. Traveling on foot, with no phone or bank cards, Emma and her charge have twelve hours to make it to safety. This will take all of Emma’s skills of disguise and subterfuge. But when Emma’s handler goes dark, there’s no one left to trust. Just one wrong move could get them both killed and the clock is ticking…
A massive new talent in British fiction, Ava Glass’s storytelling is complex and finely crafted, combining twisting plotlines, intelligent dialogue and ambiguous characters, all skilfully brought together in an epic climax. Never before has spy fiction been so nail-bitingly real.
Ava Glass is a former civil servant with the highest security clearance bar one. She has seen just enough of the inner workings of espionage to ensure that she will always be fascinated by spies. This is the first novel in the Alias Emma series.
Happy publication day to author Shari Nichols! Today marks the release of After Midnight, the next exciting book in the Raven’s Hollow Coven series!
After Midnight (Raven’s Hollow Coven #4)
Publication Date: February 7th, 2023
Genre: Urban Fantasy
An ancient curse has prevented astrologer Brooke Howe from finding true love. She hides her longing by matching others, hoping to change her fate. When Nico Denopoulos, the gorgeous younger brother of a friend, struts into her shop seeking a soulmate, she’s immediately drawn to his magnetic presence and his romantic heart. She can’t deny the intense sensation that she knows the sexy-as- sin chef, but can’t figure out why.
An ugly divorce has kept Nico laser-focused on the opening of his new restaurant. He’s been single for years, but now loneliness has crept into the cracks of his heart. Fearing that he‘s grown bitter, he has high hopes that Brooke can help him with his problem, except for one thing— the more time he spends with her, the more he wants her—in every possible way.
As much as Brooke wants to believe Nico is the real deal, she fears that when the seasons change, so will his feelings. She’s terrified of falling for him, and despite her best efforts to resist him, they’re inexorably drawn together. She can’t help but wonder if he may hold the secret to reversing the curse and changing her destiny. A secret from their shared past life will either bring them closer, or tear them apart forever.
Shari grew up in a small town in Connecticut where haunted houses, ghosts and Ouija boards were common place, spurring her fascination with all things paranormal. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, going to the gym, or sharing a meal, and a glass of wine, with her family and friends.
Shari Nichols shakes up the ultimate supernatural cocktail, combining witchcraft, vampires, suspense, and spice into an irresistible paranormal potion.” (InD’Tale Magazine) “Amazing characters, romance, and suspense what more can a lover of paranormal romance hope for?” (Linda Tonis-Paranormal Romance Guild.)
Her newest book, MIDNIGHT CRAVING, book three in the Raven’s Hollow Coven series is available for preorder. Her novels have won the following awards: The Beverley Award, New York Book Festival Honorable Mention, Reviewers Choice Best Book, Reviewers Choice Best Series, Golden Leaf Finalist Best Book, Golden Leaf Finalist by a New Jersey Author, HOLT Medallion Finalist. Literary Titan Silver Medal Winner.
A Summer of Castles. A secret in ruins. At the beginning of the sultry 2003 English summer, Robyn Yates quits her job to photograph fifteen castles for a man she’s never met. A man who won’t tell her his real name. What motivates her is an unusual ability she can’t explain nor understand. Somebody does though and is keen to exploit her secret. But Robyn isn’t alone on her journey. An artist is painting pictures of the same castles. Wherever she goes, so does he, like a stalker. But is he dangerous? And could this man be the same person who wants her photographs? She decides to challenge him, never anticipating that the confrontation will change the path of both of their lives. The stifling summer will eventually end, but will Robyn find out the truth in time?
Aspiring writer who pens Women’s Fiction and magical tales about family secrets. What else? An East Anglian turned Northerner – almost. Information professional, always. Biologist, in my memories. Archivist, when required. Amateur pianist and flautist. Reluctant gardener. Scribbler of pictures. And forever…. a mother and wife. Oh, not forgetting, cat lover!
My thoughts: this was a clever and gentle romance with a mystery at its heart. Who is the stranger who calls themself Medici, after Lorenzo, who asks for photos and paintings of ruined English castles? Why did they pick Robyn? And what is the strange gift she has that brings a glimpse of the past to life?
As Robyn roams Northern England with her camera and meets a mysterious painter, she is drawn further into the swirl of secrets around her new patron. And romance awaits on the horizon as well as a sad tale or two.
Gently enjoyable and with summer baked through it – one before everyone had smart phones or watches, when getting information was a lot trickier than just asking Google, this is a clever and moving story.
*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.
The year is 2042, and the United States is recovering from a series of terrorist attacks that uprooted the government, revoked civil liberties, and erased two states from the map.
Widow, single mother, and Army veteran Jennifer “River” Petersen drives trucks for a living in Energy Territory No. 1, formerly known as North Dakota. Forced to enlist after her father’s death, the lines of River’s life have been redrawn, much like the United States’ map has changed. Living in a motel room with nothing but her books and a Glock handgun for company, River is weeks away from returning home when an injured man standing in the middle of the highway upends her plans.
From the moment he encounters River, Finn Cunningham knows he must choose between concealing his identity as the son of the president of the United States or be left for dead. His deception draws him and River into a megalomaniac’s deadly conspiracy to ignite a civil war and overthrow the government.
If River and Finn are going to survive, they’ll have to learn to trust one another and themselves.
Fast-paced prose, with vivid narrative and rapid-fire dialogue, 48 States is perfect for readers who loved novels like Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, California by Edan Lepucki, and Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins.
Evette Davis is the novelist who created the “Dark Horse” trilogy, including novels Woman King and Dark Horse. The final installment will be published in 2023. Davis also co-owns BergDavis Public Affairs, a San Francisco-based public affairs firm. Before establishing her firm, Davis worked in Washington as a press secretary for a member of Congress and as a reporter for daily newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 2014, she founded Flesh & Bone, an independent publishing imprint. In 2015, Dark Horse received honors at the San Francisco Book Festival. In 2017, Friends of the San Francisco Public Library named Davis a Library Laureate. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and Book Country. In 2021, 48 States was honored in the San Francisco Writers Conference Writers Contest. Davis splits her time between San Francisco and Sun Valley, Idaho, with her husband, daughter, and their American Labrador retriever. For more information, visit evettedavis.com, or follow her on Pinterest (@evettedavis399), Instagram (@evette1364), Twitter (@SFEvette), Facebook (@evette1364) and Goodreads (@evettesf).
Congratulations on your latest novel, 48 States. Please share a brief synopsis.
Widow, single mother, and Army veteran Jennifer “River” Petersen works as a truck driver in Energy Territory No. 1, formerly known as North Dakota. Forced to enlist after her father’s death, the lines of River’s life have been redrawn, much like the United States’ map has changed. Living in a motel room with nothing but her books and a Glock handgun for company, River is weeks away from returning home when an injured man standing in the middle of the highway upends her plans. From the moment he encounters River, Finn Cunningham knows he must conceal his identity or be left for dead. His deception draws them into a megalomaniac’s deadly conspiracy to ignite a civil war and overthrow the government. If River and Finn want to survive, they’ll have to learn to trust one another and themselves. Where did the idea for this novel originate?I may be dating myself but there is a funny scene in the movie Working Girl where the young assistant has to prove she didn’t steal a business plan and is asked how she came up with the idea. In response, she pulls out a collection of seemingly random news clippings, that when strung together, validate her plan. 48 States is similar. I’d interviewed a panel of women veterans for a literary festival around the same time I was reading about the explosion of fracking in North Dakota. National Geographic had a feature about people who had left their homes and gone to North Dakota for work and one of them was a mother who left her family behind to drive a haul truck because the pay was so much better. I’d also been reading about Japanese Internment camps and had been surprised to know that the entire effort to relocate Japanese Americans had been done by Executive Order… that was the genesis of how I came to write 48 States. The book took five years and went through several major plot revisions, but I became interested in the issues of executive power, domestic refugees, and, of course, women who transform themselves.
The book examines the dangers of extremism. What do you want readers to take away from this story?
We’ve lost the capacity to listen to opposing points of view with an open mind. In 48 States, a number of the characters run away from things they don’t want to hear or know about, which is wholly impractical. My books transmit a strong dislike for extreme politics–on both sides of the aisle. If I can accomplish anything, I hope it’s to help people remember that listening to ideas and understanding other people’s points of view is not dangerous. It’s also OK to forgive someone for making a mistake. We are human beings and humans need love, understanding and compassion to thrive.
In addition to writing novels, you work in public affairs. How does your day job influence your work as an author?
I’ve got a front row seat to political dysfunction and other interesting forms of human behavior every day. While I don’t model my characters after any specific individual, the collective experiences and personalities do inform my writing. I have an urban fantasy series–The Dark Horse Trilogy–that is set in San Francisco and despite the fact that all of the characters are supernatural beings, close colleagues ask me all the time if they are in the novel. To which I reply, “not unless you’re a vampire.”
How does music influence your writing and storytelling?
I have playlists for all my novels. Certain songs remind me of characters or play into the mood I’m trying to set in my novels. In some cases they become part of the story, like Duran Duran who performs in Serbia in my novel Dark Horse. The band actually does perform there somewhat annually as part of a summer music festival.
You’ve had a few career pivots in your life, from journalism to political consulting to author. What advice do you have for anyone looking to change paths or those looking to start writing?
What I like to share about myself is that I didn’t come to writing novels early in life. I’m not an MFA graduate. I’ve had a book in front of my face one way or another since I was able to read. Other kids won awards for sports, I won them for the number of books I read from the library. I started my career as a newspaper journalist because I have an overwhelming sense of curiosity about people. But I left journalism to work in politics in Washington DC and then I left DC to come back to the Bay Area and eventually I started my own public relations firm.
I’ve had my “day job” for 23 years and along the way been a wife and raised a daughter who is off to college this fall. Not long after my daughter was born, I felt like something was missing in my life and I started writing. That writing became the novels I’ve since published. Not coincidentally, the characters in my books are usually female and often going through major transformations where they come to understand themselves and their skills. So I guess I’m saying I write what I know…I know that women are often transforming themselves and finding the source of their power. I’m at a point now in my life where I feel very powerful intellectually and it’s a pleasure to sit down and see where my imagination takes me.
I hope that joy creates books other people want to read and can relate to. I think life is a series of “acts” and you don’t have to stay in one place. If writing is something you like to do, then there is no time like the present to get started.
What have you read lately and loved?
Jesse Mihalik has a new series involving a female bounty hunter and veteran who is forced to work with an old nemesis from the war. The first book is called Hunt the Stars and it’s another captivating space opera involving kick-ass women and their alpha men. I just pre-ordered the second book which is due out in July. I devoured her other series The Consortium Rebellion and have reread them twice, because I love the sisters in the stories.
What’s next for you?
My next novel is coming out early 2023. It is the third and final installment of the Dark Horse Trilogy, with the working title, Death Wish.
Congratulations to Didi Oviatt and James J. Cudney on the release of their novel, Weathering Old Souls!
Read on for details, an exclusive excerpt and a week full of fantastic giveaways!
Release Week Giveaways!
$25 Amazon Gift Card
$40 Psychic Services
1 eBook of Weathering Old Souls
1 physical book of Weathering Old Souls (US Only)
Weathering Old Souls
Publication Date: May 15th, 2021
Genre: Contemporary Fiction with historical interludes, metaphysical elements, past life regression, suspense & mystery.
Publisher: Next Chapter
Abigail has always struggled with strange voices appearing inside her head. From the relentless tyranny a woman faces on an antebellum plantation to the unknown prison camps in America during World War II, our heroine discovers the past in a way that forever changes her future. There are moments from previous periods that serve as guiding posts for the country’s growth, but they also mark the transitions for Abigail’s own personal history. Her best friend, Margaret, partners with Abigail to discover the identity of these voices while focusing on her passion and quest to become a United States senator. Through it all, a serial killer torments the country, romance blossoms between some of the people they meet during the journey, and secrets long thought buried come to light in devastating ways. With the twisting of elements, numerical alignments, and the trauma of spiritual entanglements, no one will be the same… and just a few might not even be around anymore.
One morning as winter should’ve been transitioning into spring, an eight-year-old Abigail awakens with a piercing scream. She bolts upright and snails herself to the edge of her bed, placing a heavy hand on her chest to help steady herself and catch her breath. Her body twinges as though she’s fallen down a flight of stairs or been slammed by a double-decker trolley. The agony starts in the muscles behind her shoulder blade. From there it feels like a rocket exploded, escaping through her chest, leaving only traces of burning gases to snake their way through the rest of her fragile body. She coughs violently as her system tries to rid itself of unknown toxins.
The bedroom is dark and frigid because the pipes broke the previous day and her father was too busy sleeping off a hangover to call a contractor to fix them. Oliver has no mechanical knowledge or experience with home repair, but he tells Abigail that the Stauntons will address the issue since their heating system has also experienced problems with the winter storms that year. It’s been an unpredictable season, much more so than the usual winter in South Carolina. Some days Abigail has played outside all afternoon, hardly catching a chill. Others she wakes to a beautifully ominous layer of frost clinging to every blade of yellow grass as if its very life depends on it.
A thin glint of light pushes through the crack between the bottom of the broken shade and the splintered windowsill. Abigail watches as the sparkly dust settles on the foot of her bed and shines brightly. It reminds her of the quartz necklace dangling on the neck of the woman in her scary dream. It was gorgeous and made the woman feel safe and comforted as it has in every dream where it made an appearance. Abigail’s told Margaret about the necklace many times, wishing she could hop out of bed today and do it again. It’s only been two months since she saw Margaret, but missing her is more than just a faint feeling. It’s soul crushing. She aches for Margaret’s companionship like any other child would her own sibling who’s grown up and gone on without her.
In her nightmare, Abigail was stuck inside the body of an old lady running through a field, sweat pouring from her head down the curves of her hollowed and withdrawn cheeks. It was pitch black, and there were trees all around her, the wind shaking the branches such that they whispered secret directions in an unknown language. They resembled monsters with claw-like arms and vicious teeth, ready to bite her flailing limbs. Someone had been chasing her, but Abigail never saw the figure’s face.
Confusion rocks her body. Part of her is the small innocent child who wants to scream for Elizabeth, but a stronger piece of her feels much older, more mature, as if she’s lived for decades, maybe even centuries. She shakes through the aftermath of terror, unable to make sense of what happened in her sleep. All she knows is that it was horrific and made her fear something awful was destined to happen. Abigail wonders if her nightmares relate to the bits of conversation she’s overheard between Elizabeth and Bradford in the past. Elizabeth once said something about a killer coming after them again, but they’d ultimately agreed they were much safer now.
After deliberating with Imaginary May for a few moments, Abigail announces, “I can handle this on my own. I am a big girl. Margaret’s gone, but she taught me to be strong.”
She cuddles the teddy bear that Elizabeth gifted her last month for Valentine’s Day. Elizabeth had always bought one for Margaret when she was a child, the kind of mother and daughter tradition that Abigail has always yearned for. This is the first year that Margaret has been away for Spring Break during Valentine’s Day. Elizabeth missed her daughter immensely, so she purchased two identical teddy bears at the local toy store. One for Margaret, who would be home on Spring Break soon, and one for her favorite little neighbor and second daughter.
With a heavy sigh, Abigail stretches her arms above her head, extends her legs, and spreads her toes apart. Then she drops her chin to her chest, before rolling her head around in big circles. Four times each direction, one for every major element. She studied them in school that year. With each round of her neck, Abigail breathes in and counts to ten, then she lets out the air and reminds herself of everything she has to be grateful for. Margaret once taught her this morning routine, to help her ease the body tremors brought about by a nightmare, as the last doctor she saw refused to give any pain medication or advice. The stretching and breathing exercises help, and her pains slowly evaporate like a faint mist over a swamp.
An oblong mirror that’s mounted to the wall across from her window offers Abigail a dust-clouded view of her messy hair as it knots and sticks out in every direction, along with her worn-out unicorn covered nightgown. She chuckles at the sight of herself, and the last of her anxiety and spasms disappear. She imagines the body aches to have a color, a dull shade of lilac, as they lift in a swirling pattern like hazy smoke and exit out of the beam of light coming through the window.
“Stay away, you filthy bloke,” she chastises the imaginary swirl of colorful pain.
Didi Oviatt is an intuitive soul. She’s a wife and mother first, with one son and one daughter. Her thirst to write was developed at an early age, and she never looked back. After digging down deep and getting in touch with her literary self, she’s writing mystery/thrillers like Search for Maylee, Justice for Belle, Aggravated Momentum, and Sketch, along with multiple short story collections. She’s collaborated with Kim Knight in an ongoing interactive short story anthology, The Suspenseful Collection. Most recently, she published her first romance novella titled Skinny Dippin’ which was originally released as a part of the highly appraised Anthology, Sinners and Saints. When Didi doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, she can be found enjoying a laid-back outdoorsy lifestyle. Time spent sleeping under the stars, hiking, fishing, and ATVing the back roads of beautiful mountain trails, and sun-bathing in the desert heat play an important part of her day to day lifestyle.
James is my given name, but most folks call me Jay. I live in New York City, grew up on Long Island, and graduated from Moravian College, an historic but small liberal arts school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with a degree in English literature and minors in Education, Business and Spanish. After college, I accepted a technical writing position for a telecommunications company during Y2K and spent the last ~20 years building a career in technology & business operations in the retail, sports, media, hospitality, and entertainment industries. Throughout those years, I wrote short stories, poems, and various beginnings to the “Great American Novel,” but I was so focused on my career that writing became a hobby. In 2016, I committed to focusing my energies toward reinvigorating a second career in reading, writing, and publishing.
Writing has been a part of my life as much as my heart, mind, and body. At some points, it was just a few poems or short stories; at others, it was full length novels and stories. My current focus is family drama fiction, cozy mystery novels, and suspense thrillers. I conjure characters and plots that I feel must be unwound. I think of situations people find themselves in and feel compelled to tell the story. It’s usually a convoluted plot with many surprise twists and turns. I feel it necessary to take that ride all over the course. My character is easily pictured in my head. I know what he is going to encounter or what she will feel. But I need to use the right words to make it clear.
Reader & Reviewer
Reading has also never left my side. Whether it was children’s books, young adult novels, college textbooks, biographies, or my ultimate love, fiction, it’s ever present in my day. I read two books per week and I’m on a quest to update every book I’ve ever read on Goodreads, write up a review, and post it on all my sites and platforms.
Blogger & Thinker
I have combined my passions into a single platform where I share reviews, write a blog and publish tons of content: TRUTH. I started my 365 Daily Challenge, where I post about a word that has some meaning to me and converse with everyone about life. There is humor, tears, love, friendship, advice, and bloopers. Lots of bloopers where I poke fun at myself all the time. Even my dogs have had weekly segments called “Ryder’s Rants” or “Baxter’s Barks,” where they complain about me. All these things make up who I am; none of them are very fancy or magnanimous, but they are real. And that’s why they are me.
Genealogist & Researcher
I love history and research, finding myself often reaching back into the past to understand why someone made the choice he or she did and what were the subsequent consequences. I enjoy studying the activities and culture from hundreds of years ago to trace the roots and find the puzzle of my own history. I wish I could watch my ancestors from a secret place to learn how they interacted with others; and maybe I’ll comprehend why I do things the way I do.
Happy publication day to S.R. Cronin! Check out this brand new Historical Fantasy, She’s the One Who Gets in Fights and enter for a chance to win a $30 Amazon gift card!
She’s the One Who Gets in Fights (The War Stories of the Seven Troublesome Sisters Books)
Publication Date: May 14th, 2021 🎉
Genre: Historical Fantasy
It’s the 1200’s, and the small realm of Ilari has had peace and prosperity for generations. That doesn’t mean every citizen is happy, however. Sulphur, the third of seven sisters, is glad the older two have been slow to wed. It’s given her the freedom to train as a fighter, in hopes of fulfilling her lifelong dream of joining Ilari’s army. Then, within a matter of days, both sisters announce plans and now Sulphur is expected to find a man to marry. Is it Sulphur’s good fortune her homeland is gripped by fear of a pending Mongol invasion? And the army is going door to door encouraging recruits? Sulphur thinks it is. But once she’s forced to kill in a small skirmish, she’s ready to rethink her career decision. Too bad it’s too late. The invasion is coming, and Ilari needs every good soldier it has. Once Sulphur learns Ilari’s army has made the strategic decision to not defend certain parts of the realm, including the one where her family lives, she has to re-evaluate her loyalty. Is it with the military she’s always admired? Or is it with her sisters, who are hatching a plan to defend their homeland with magic? Everywhere she turns, someone is counting on her to fight for what’s right. But what is?
In early spring, after the last of the snow melted and the mud dried, I told my parents I wished to visit friends I’d made while studying. Then I rode to Pilk to learn more about joining the Svadlu. I knew they had a booth at the largest market there, often staffed by Svadlu officers who’d answer questions. I had a lot of them.
They accepted women, but what were the standards? Were they the same as for the men? Being a Svadlu provided status and a fair amount of pay, so they never wanted for recruits. How many people who tried to join were accepted?
The next day I found the booth. Officers wore cloaks of saffron yellow, but this man boasted a scarlet cape covered in regalia, identifying him as a Mozdol. My nervousness surprised me as I approached him.
“Hello, lass,” he greeted me with warmth. “Let me guess. You’ve got a younger brother who wants to join us but he’s too nervous to come talk to me himself. Am I right?” He seemed pleased. With what? That he induced nervousness in potential recruits?
“Uh, no. Sir. I was hoping to get some information on me joining.”
He looked at me more closely. Of course I wore a dress, not my fighting clothes, so I didn’t much look the part, but he squinted at me anyway.
“You’re tall. Well-muscled for a woman and you look to be in good shape. Have you ever held a sword?”
“I’ve been sparring since I was a child.”
That impressed him.
“And I’ll do whatever you need to me to. Answer questions about weapons, engage in fights, perform tests of strength, whatever you need.” I spoke too fast in my eagerness.
“Slow down,” he chuckled. “All that’s good, but actually, none of it matters compared to what I’m going to tell you next.”
He hesitated as if he wasn’t sure how to explain this vital fact to someone as ignorant as me.
“You’re a farmgirl, right?” He looked at my clothes again.
“Well, the Svadlu are more of a city operation. We do things differently than on the farm.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean being a member of the Svadlu is a pretty good deal. Lots of young people want in.”
“I know. That’s why I’ve worked so hard.”
“And that’s good, but most successful recruits get in because they have a sponsor. You know, someone already in the Svadlu who vouches for them. Um, especially if you’re, well, you know, a woman. Then it helps a great deal if one of us says you’re up to it.”
“But I can prove I’m up to it!”
“I suspect you can.” The look he gave me held respect, but he stayed firm. “A sponsor makes the difference. Why don’t you ask around? Surely your family knows someone who can help you.”
He looked up. Several people stood behind me now, all hoping to talk to him. “If you’ll excuse me …”
I rode back to Vinx dejected. I already knew my family had no contacts in the Svadlu and I had no idea of who I could turn to find some. Why did I have to know someone in order to get in? What stupid kind of way was that to run an army?
Will be available through Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Nobel later this month!
About the Author
Sherrie Cronin is the author of a collection of six speculative fiction novels known as 46. Ascending and is now in the process of publishing a historical fantasy series called The War Stories of the Seven Troublesome Sisters. A quick look at the synopses of her books makes it obvious she is fascinated by people achieving the astonishing by developing abilities they barely knew they had.
She’s made a lot of stops along the way to writing these novels. She’s lived in seven cities, visited forty-six countries, and worked as a waitress, technical writer, and geophysicist. Now she answers a hot-line. Along the way, she’s lost several cats but acquired a husband who still loves her and three kids who’ve grown up just fine, both despite how eccentric she is.
All her life she has wanted to either tell these kinds of stories or be Chief Science Officer on the Starship Enterprise. She now lives and writes in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where she admits to occasionally checking her phone for a message from Captain Picard, just in case.
When Hope loses her husband, she fears her happiest days are behind her. With her only connection to London broken, she moves home to York to be near her family and to begin to build a new life.
Taking a job at the antique shop she has always admired, she finds herself crossing paths with two very different men. Will, who has recently become the guardian to his niece after the tragic death of his parents. And Ciaran, who she enlists to help solve the mystery of an Egyptian antique. Two men who represent two different happy endings.
But can Hope trust herself to choose the right man? And will that bring her everything she really needs?
Read on for an exclusive look at chapters one and two from this fabulous new book!
It was the flamingo that first caught Hope Henderson’s eye.
Tall and proud and gloriously pink, it stood in the middle of the shop window demanding her attention. And it wasn’t alone, she saw as she slowed down to take a closer look – it had several feathery siblings, of varying heights and pinkness, and a grey and black heron loomed beside them, cleverly made from twisted metal. Above, a sign warned them to Mind The Gap. Another pointed cheerily to the circus, although as far as Hope could tell, the arrow was aimed directly at an ancient flowery chamber pot. And above that was a framed vintage poster advertising a balloon race to Paris.
Hope stopped walking, fascinated both by the variety of stock and the lack of any apparent design. The shop occupied a corner slot, with two wide, arched windows on each side of the glossy yellow, angled door. A magnificent grey rocking horse dominated the window next to the flamingos, its shiny black mane glistening in the late-morning sunlight. One eye seemed to fix upon Hope as she stared and she was sure she could almost hear a whinny. She had always been drawn to the shop as a child, demanding a visit to peer into its windows whenever her family came into York. And as a student in London, she had spent too many Sunday afternoons wandering up and down Portobello Market, fantasizing about what she would buy if she had any money. This wasn’t Portobello Road, though, and she was a long way from London; the gothic spires of York Minster peeking through a side street reminded her of that. She was home, after more than a decade away.
The shop’s name, picked out in cherry red and adorned with gold leaf above the bright yellow woodwork, tugged at Hope’s imagination the same way it always had: The Ever After Emporium. How could anyone fail to be enchanted by a name like that, she wondered. Underneath the name, in smaller letters, were the words Purveyors of Treasure Great and Small. And beneath that, Est. 1902. Proprietor: James T. Young Esq.
Hope spent a few minutes gazing at the windows, marvelling at the mindboggling mix of items and oblivious to the crowds of late-spring tourists jostling along the pavements behind her. Only the chimes of the Minster bells roused her, ringing out quarter to twelve and reminding her it was time to meet her sister for lunch. With a final nostalgic glance into the Emporium, she stepped back and hoisted her bag onto her shoulder, preparing to walk away. And then she saw the advert.
Part-time Staff Required.
No Experience Necessary.
It was handwritten in a vibrant turquoise ink, and the extravagant loops and swirls of the cursive script suggested to Hope that the writer was the kind of person to imbue even the most practical things with a sense of style. For a moment, she was tempted to push open the door and go inside. She had never been allowed to go in when she was younger but there was nothing stopping her now. Besides, hadn’t her family been suggesting for a while that she found a new job? It had been a few months since she’d taken redundancy, after all, and she’d been too busy with the sale of her home in London and the move north to think about what might come next. But they meant a proper job – in an office, with people she could get to know over chats about their weekend and the boxsets they’d binged. They didn’t mean a part-time role in an antique shop, no matter how much she’d loved it as a child.
Reluctantly, Hope turned away from the Ever After Emporium and made her way through the cool and shaded Minster Gates alleyway towards the cathedral, where Charlotte would be waiting. Maybe she would pop back to the shop after lunch; there must be something inside she could buy to brighten her new apartment. And maybe she’d ask about the job too.
‘So, how have you been?’
To a casual observer, Charlotte’s attention seemed to be fixed on spooning apple puree into her daughter’s mouth faster than the toddler could spit it out but Hope wasn’t fooled by her sister. She’d seen the way Charlotte’s gaze had sharpened as they’d greeted each other outside the Minster and that watchfulness hadn’t dissipated as they’d strolled to Lucia in Swinegate Court and settled into their seats in the sun-dappled courtyard. Not even the cute waiter or the buzz of their fellow diners could distract her; she’d placed her order and resumed her barely concealed appraisal of Hope without missing a beat. It was the way Hope’s entire family regarded her and she knew that the details of how she looked and behaved today would be shared. Not in a gossipy or unkind way, but with love and concern and born from a desire to help. And Hope loved them all the more for it, even as she wished they’d accept her assurances that she was fine.
‘I’m all right,’ she replied, pushing some haddock puttanesca onto her fork. ‘Starting to settle in. I’ve unpacked most of the boxes, at least.’
Charlotte glanced across the table, briefly, then focused on her toddler, Amber, once more. ‘You’re still too thin. Are you eating?’
That was also a regular on the ‘Is Hope Okay?’ bingo card. She lifted the forkful of haddock into her mouth and chewed. ‘Yes, I’m eating,’ she said, once she’d swallowed. ‘Getting my five a day and plenty of exercise. Staying off the drink and drugs.’
‘Glad to hear it,’ Charlotte said, and frowned. ‘Although there’s no shame in taking anti-depressants, if you need them.’
Trust Charlotte to turn a flippant remark into a nudge about her mental health, Hope reflected. But it wasn’t a surprise; she’d known how it would be if she moved back to York and subtlety had never been Charlotte’s strong point. ‘I know,’ she said softly and tried to catch her sister’s eye. ‘I’m fine, Charlotte. Honestly, don’t worry.’
Whatever Charlotte had been about to say next was lost as Amber blew a full-lipped raspberry, spraying apple puree across the wooden tabletop. The hubbub of the busy courtyard seemed to quieten a little and there was a brief silence around the table, punctuated by the toddler’s delighted giggles and a weary sigh from Charlotte. ‘It’s a good job I chose the pork belly,’ she said, looking down at her plate. ‘At least apple goes with it.’
Raising her napkin, she started to remove globules of apple from the coppery fuzz that covered Amber’s head. Hope took the opportunity to change the subject. ‘I can’t believe how much she’s grown. Last time I saw her she was barely crawling.’
Charlotte gave a wry nod. ‘That’s babies for you. I wish someone would invent clothes that grow with them.’
Hope grimaced in sympathy. Charlotte often grumbled that their older brother, Harry, had been inconsiderate enough to have two sons, with a third on the way, which meant very few hand-me-down outfits for Amber. ‘I’m sure Mum is happy to help – you know she loves shopping for the kids.’
‘She does,’ Charlotte agreed. ‘And I’m very grateful. It’s just that Amber seems to grow overnight – what fits her one day is too small the next and I’ve got so many things she’s only worn once. I’m keeping them all for—’ She stopped and wiped her daughter’s face, not looking at Hope. ‘For whoever has the next baby.’
The unspoken words hung in the air. Harry and his wife had declared three boys was enough for any sensible parent and weren’t planning any more children once the newest one arrived. Charlotte had been through a difficult pregnancy with Amber, which had culminated in an emergency caesarean, and had repeatedly said she never wanted to go through anything like it again. Logically, the baton to produce the next grandchild should be handed to Hope – it was certainly the way she’d expected things to go when she’d married Rob five years earlier. Then the diagnosis had come and everything had fallen apart. And now she wasn’t sure she’d ever get close to kissing another man, let alone doing what needed to be done to make a baby.
‘As long as it’s not Joe,’ Hope said, keeping her tone light.
Joe was their nineteen-year-old brother – a surprise arrival all those years ago – who was currently in his first year of university in Edinburgh and widely considered to be a responsibility-free zone. Charlotte shuddered. ‘Can you imagine? He’s still a baby himself.’
And that was the lot of many ‘happy surprise’ kids, Hope supposed; Joe would always be the baby of the family, even if he had children of his own. She pictured him, his russet curls so like her own, albeit much shorter, and smiled. ‘He’s a good lad. He’d cope.’
‘And he’d have all of us to help.’
With a side order of meddling, Hope thought, hiding a grin. She’d counted her family among her blessings a thousand times over the last few years, but there was no denying their well-meaning ministrations could also be a bit overwhelming. ‘Luckily, Joe is eminently sensible and knows all about the birds and the bees,’ she said mildly. ‘I don’t think you’ll be handing over Amber’s baby clothes any time soon, unless there’s someone in the village who needs them.’
Charlotte was quiet for a moment as she scraped the last of the puree from the container. ‘Speaking of the village, I ran into Simon Wells last week. He asked after you.’
The sentence itself was innocuous enough and it was said in a tone that dripped innocence. But Hope was used to this game too. Simon Wells was an old schoolmate who lived in Upper Poppleton, where she’d grown up. The same village her parents and Charlotte still lived in, where everyone kept a friendly eye on their neighbours and asked after family members who might have moved away. It was perfectly possible that Simon had politely enquired how Hope was doing, especially since she was sure the whole population knew she’d moved back to York. But that wasn’t what her sister meant. ‘Charlotte—’
‘I’m just saying,’ her sister said, wide-eyed. ‘He’s a nice guy – single and not too difficult to look at. You could meet him for a drink, chat about old times.’
‘I’m not interested in going on a date with him,’ Hope said flatly.
‘Okay,’ Charlotte said, unperturbed. ‘I get that. How about online dating – didn’t you download Bumble?’
Hope swallowed a sigh. She had and the app had sat there on her phone, unopened and faintly accusing, until she’d deleted it. ‘I’m not ready.’
Charlotte took a mouthful of cannellini beans and chewed with a meditative air, her gaze fixed on Hope. ‘But you went on a few dates in London, didn’t you?’ she said once she’d swallowed. ‘I know these dating apps are a bit hit-and-miss but was it so awful that they put you off meeting anyone entirely?’
Hope fought the urge to shake her head and instead watched the summer sun play on the amber sandstone walls of the courtyard. She’d been up for dating at first – not exactly enthusiastic but willing to accept that after eighteen months it might be time to start living her life again and knowing she had to start somewhere. And one or two of the dates had gone well, leading to second and third dates. She’d allowed one of them to kiss her, a guy called Matt, and it hadn’t felt awful. Just odd, as though it was happening to someone else. On their next date she’d opened up about her relationship history and the ground had suddenly shifted. He’d listened in horrified sympathy, had rallied for the remainder of the date, and then simply stopped replying to her messages. Next had been Adam, who’d puffed out a long breath on their second date and said he wasn’t sure he was ready to be the man who followed Rob. She’d begun to gloss over the subject after that, giving vague answers that hinted at a failed marriage, and then cried into her pillow when she got home because it felt wrong to pretend. And, eventually, she decided her heart had been bruised enough. She hadn’t dated since.
‘I’m just not ready,’ she told Charlotte again and then sought something to soften the words. ‘I want to get myself settled here first, find my feet and spend some time rediscovering the city. Maybe look for a job.’
Charlotte’s face lit up. ‘That’s a great idea. I saw something the other day that would be perfect for you – good money with a decent company—’ she said animatedly, then seemed to notice Hope’s expression. ‘But I’m sure you know what you’re looking for.’
That was half the trouble, Hope thought. She had no idea what she was looking for. Except for an unspoken desire to get away from who she had been before, to try something new. Her mind strayed back to the looping turquoise ink on the advert in the Ever After Emporium’s window and she felt something flutter deep inside her, a tiny ripple of something that might have been excitement.
She smiled at Charlotte. ‘Haven’t a clue,’ she said, as a burst of optimism warmed her heart. ‘But I’m hoping I’ll know when I see it.’
A bell rang as Hope pushed open the door of the antique shop. It didn’t tinkle, as shop bells usually did; this sound was deeper, almost too loud, and she wasn’t sure if she imagined the hum of vibration as the ringing died away. Glancing up, she saw a large, perfectly polished brass bell coiled inside an ornate framework over the door.
‘Sorry about that.’ A rich, broad Yorkshire accent cut through the dust motes dancing in the disturbed air and caused Hope to look around to see who was speaking. ‘Our bell once adorned the door of Figgis and Blacks in Mayfair. I’m afraid it has delusions of grandeur.’
A man rose from behind an old-fashioned dark oak counter, a cardboard box in his hands. He had an abundance of neatly combed white hair, with a pair of golden wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose, and wore a tweed jacket that was certainly vintage, if not quite antique. His appearance was somehow familiar and strange at the same time and Hope knew that if she’d been challenged her to come up with someone who looked like they might own an antique shop, she would probably have described the man before her now, gazing at her with an enquiring expression.
‘Is there something in particular I can help you with?’ he asked, placing the box on the counter. ‘Something you’re looking for? Or would you prefer to browse?’
Now that it came down to explaining that she was interested in the job, Hope felt a little of her confidence drain away. Was she crazy to be even thinking about working there?
‘I suppose I’m looking for Mr Young,’ she said slowly, fighting the urge to seize the ready-made excuse and spend a happy twenty minutes wandering around the shop.
‘Then you’re in luck.’ He smiled and held out a hand. ‘I’m James Young, owner of the Ever After Emporium. Welcome!’
Too late to back out now, Hope thought as she walked forwards to shake his outstretched hand. ‘Hope Henderson. It’s about the advert in the window. For the part-time assistant.’
If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. ‘Of course. Would you like to hear more about the role?’
She nodded and felt her apprehension ease. He hadn’t laughed, that was a good start. Although that might follow when she revealed her total lack of relevant experience. ‘Yes, please.’
‘Why don’t we start with a quick tour? I can fill you in on the way round.’
He raised a solid-looking flap in the counter and pulled back a carved door panel beneath to make his way out to stand beside her. She noticed an understated forest green waistcoat beneath the tweed jacket and caught the gleam of gold at waist height. Of course, Hope thought, almost nodding to herself. Of course he has a pocket watch.
‘It sounds grand, describing it as a tour, but the Emporium is bigger than it looks from the outside,’ Mr Young went on, waving a hand that took in the full length and breadth of the shop, spanning the two sets of windows on either side of the door. ‘There’s another room through the back where the books are kept, and a small kitchen, plus the storerooms upstairs. Over the years I’ve experimented with trying to organize the stock into eras but people seem to prefer a more higgledy-piggledy approach.’
Which explained the gloriously mismatched window displays, Hope mused. ‘I suppose they don’t always know what they’re looking for – browsing and discovering a hidden treasure is half the fun.’
Mr Young’s eyes gleamed. ‘Exactly so. Besides, I’m not totally sure the shop doesn’t rearrange itself overnight. It would certainly solve one or two mysteries.’
His voice was so matter of fact that Hope wasn’t sure he was joking. But he didn’t elaborate. Instead, he pointed to an aisle that ran parallel to the window with the flamingos. ‘We’ll start this way.’
Hope followed, hardly believing she was inside the Ever After Emporium. The shop was blessedly cool, a welcome relief on a warm April afternoon, and she realized she’d expected it to be gloomy, like something from a Dickensian novel. But it wasn’t like that at all; the natural light from the windows was perfectly complemented by discreet modern spotlights in the ceiling, bathing everything on display in a clean silvery light. Her attention was instantly caught by an exquisite bone china tea set laid out on an occasional table to their right. Delicate yellow and pink roses wound their way around the teapot and cups, spilling across the saucers and plates and climbing around the milk jug and sugar bowl. She let out a delighted puff of appreciation as she stopped to stare.
Mr Young glanced over his shoulder. ‘Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s Wedgwood, you can tell from the quality but the three-letter code on each piece removes any doubt. This particular set dates back to 1934.’
She had been about to reach out to lift one of the teacups but withdrew her hand hurriedly. If she dropped it, the interview would be over before it had even begun and she’d have to buy the set, broken cup and all. This must be why she hadn’t been allowed inside the shop as a child; she was less likely to break something now but decided it was best not to take any chances and thrust her hands into her pockets.
‘Over here, we have a pair of chairs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh,’ Mr Young continued. ‘Beside them, you’ll see a working gramophone but that’s not for sale. There are a few items like that – marked with a red dot and just for display. Production companies sometimes get in touch to enquire about hiring things and the gramophone is popular.’
Again, Hope made sure she stayed in the centre of the aisle as she followed him, but her gaze flicked left and right as they walked. A glossy grandfather clock ticked to one side, its walnut case burnished to a mirror-like gleam, and she was tempted to stop and study the sunlit ship sailing sedately through a wedge-shaped panel in the ivory clock face. It reminded Hope of the one Rob’s grandmother had kept; she had always insisted it would come to him, when she died, never dreaming for a moment that she’d outlive her grandson. Hope pushed the memory aside and forced herself to focus on the here and now. The shop was everything she’d imagined it would be, a treasure trove of delights, and she longed to linger over some of the things Mr Young led her past. If she didn’t get the job, she’d certainly be back to browse. Possibly every day.
‘The position is for twenty hours a week, Monday to Friday, with the occasional weekend to cover the other staff,’ Mr Young said. ‘I’m fairly flexible and happy to work around family commitments, if you have them.’
He waited and Hope thought of her too quiet apartment. ‘No commitments,’ she said with what she hoped was a brisk smile.
‘The work is mostly customer-facing on the shop floor but there’ll be a bit of inventory and record-keeping when things are quiet. We offer generous annual leave, on-the-job training and a competitive salary, plus there’s a staff discount scheme.’ He led her through a crooked wooden doorway into a softly lit square room. ‘This is where we keep the books.’
The breath caught in Hope’s throat as she stepped inside. It was the kind of room every book lover dreamed of; the walls were lined from ceiling to floor with shelves, and every shelf was filled by spines of all colours and sizes. The walls on her left had glass doors on the top half of the shelves – some of the books inside were wrapped in clear covers and she assumed they were valuable first editions. To her right, she saw a mahogany ladder that rolled parallel to the stacks, giving access to the upper shelves. The air was heavy and still, filled with the unmistakeable scent of old paper, old print, old words. She inhaled deeply, drinking it in, and allowed herself a contented sigh. The Emporium held more treasure than she’d ever imagined.
‘Are you a reader?’ Mr Young asked, and Hope realized he’d been watching her reaction closely.
‘Absolutely,’ she replied and her eyes wandered to the shelves again. ‘Anything and everything.’
He nodded. ‘We’ve a number of excellent first editions here, including a wonderful Pride and Prejudice and a mint copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.’ His eyes twinkled. ‘As well as some lesser-known classics – are you familiar with A History of British Carpets by C.E.C. Tattersall?’
She hesitated, once more unsure whether he was joking. ‘Er . . . not really.’
Mr Young laughed. ‘Consider yourself lucky. But you never know, one day a historical carpet enthusiast might walk into the shop and we’ll have exactly what they’re looking for.’
Hope looked more closely at the nearest shelf, imagining herself opening a worn leather cover, turning the age-tinted pages and breathing in their distinctive smell. If she hadn’t been in love with the Ever After Emporium before, she was now. Although she was beginning to suspect that if she worked there, she’d have very little of her wages left at the end of the month, in spite of the staff discount Mr Young had mentioned.
‘The first floor is home to the store rooms and the office and the second floor is home to me,’ he said as they left the book room and continued to the last corner of the shop, where he paused beside an ornate dark wood staircase marked Staff Only. ‘But I’m sure you must have questions. Is there anything you want to know?’
Hope cast her mind back to her last job application, some seven years earlier. It had been a well-paid, responsible position and had therefore involved a lengthy and stressful process. She was sure there’d be no psychometric testing for this role but it would be useful to know what she could expect. ‘Do you know when the interviews might be?’ she asked.
He shook his head, causing Hope to immediately assume he hadn’t been planning to interview her at all. But he surprised her. ‘We’re not big on formality here. I find it often works better to have a nice chat. A bit like the one we’re having now.’
‘Oh,’ Hope exclaimed, wrong-footed again. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.’
Mr Young waved a hand apologetically. ‘My fault – I should have explained. But now that you’ve had a look round and got a rough idea of what the job entails, are you still interested?’
The Emporium was everything she’d anticipated and more, Hope thought, remembering the delicate floral tea set, the arching chairs and, most of all, the room full of books. And then she recalled how little she knew about any of them. ‘Yes, I’m interested, but . . . ’ She trailed off, filled with certainty that she was wasting both their time. ‘Look, I’ll be honest – I used to pass this shop when I was growing up and always loved looking in the windows. And seeing the advert today reminded me of that. But I have to admit I don’t know anything about antiques.’
Mr Young studied her for a moment. ‘I’m not necessarily looking for someone who knows the business. I like to think I’m pretty good in that department.’
Hope puffed out a breath. ‘I don’t really have any shop experience, either.’ She offered him a self-conscious grimace. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have troubled you.’
‘It’s no trouble,’ he replied easily. ‘Truth be told, I’ve never been one for judging people solely by their CV and qualifications and it sounds like the shop has been calling you for a long time – you just didn’t know it. So how about a different approach? Why don’t you choose an object – anything you like – and tell me about it.’
Confusion swirled in Hope’s brain. Hadn’t she just explained she knew nothing about antiques? ‘But—’
He gave her an encouraging smile. ‘I don’t mean the manufacturer or provenance or anything like that. Just have a look round, find something that speaks to you, and tell me its story. Whatever you think that might be.’
Immediately, Hope’s thoughts flew to the book room, where hundreds of stories were patiently waiting to be told. But she knew it would be cheating to choose one of those; Mr Young wanted something that came from her, from her own imagination. The trouble was, now that she needed it her mind had gone completely blank. Mr Young waited – it felt to Hope as though the whole shop was waiting – and the steady tick-tock of the grandfather clock seemed impossibly loud in the silence, although she worried her thudding heart might give it some competition. Taking a deep breath, Hope forced herself to remember the items that had caught her eye. The Wedgwood tea set had been first – she could imagine that being used to serve afternoon tea in the parlour of a well-to-do 1930s house . . . Hope frowned. No, not a wealthy family, perhaps one that didn’t have much money but saved what they could and used the tea set on special occasions. And then there was the gramophone – she could almost hear it playing at a wartime tea dance, with that distinctive faint crackle as the needle travelled along the groove. But although she could picture both items being used, neither gave her anything more – a story she could tell. She felt the hot rush of failure burn her cheeks and was about to shake her head when her gaze fell on the clock again. Rob had once told her that, as a child, he’d believed his grandmother’s clock hid a secret door leading to another world.
‘Like the wardrobe that goes to Narnia,’ he’d said with a self-deprecating head shake. ‘I must have been reading the books.’
‘Did you ever find it?’ Hope had asked, and he’d smiled.
‘Would you believe me if I said yes?’
That had been the moment she’d known she loved him – really loved him – and his refusal to elaborate, because he’d sworn an oath never to reveal the secret, only delighted her more. And now, listening to the tick of the clock in this quirky, magical shop, she could half-believe that all grandfather clocks hid doors to other worlds. Here was a story she could tell, although she doubted she’d do it justice.
Taking a moment to calm her racing heart, she gathered her thoughts. ‘I’d like to tell you about the clock,’ she began, clearing her throat. ‘It was made centuries ago for a duke and duchess and stood in the hallway of a grand house for many years, although they never really noticed it until it was gone. Even then, it was the absence of the tick they noticed, which was a great shame, because the clock had a secret that might have changed their lives.’
Hope paused and risked a glance at Mr Young but he gave no indication whether this was what he’d been expecting. Instead, he tipped his head to indicate she should continue.
‘The clock was given to a boarding school, where it stood for many years, watching children hurry past on their way to and from classes. Until one day, a child didn’t hurry past. This child stopped and studied the clock. That evening, at midnight, he crept downstairs when everyone else was asleep and lifted the hook at the side of the door.’
Now when Hope looked at Mr Young, she thought she detected a spark of interest in his expression. ‘Inside the clock, the child found another doorway – one that led him to a world of adventure and enchantment.’ She hesitated and swallowed the lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat. ‘And when he ran out of time in this life, far sooner than anyone expected, he breathed his last breath without sadness or complaint, knowing he’d lived a thousand lives in the world through the clock.’
The words seemed to hang in the air for an age as Mr Young regarded Hope steadily. ‘Wonderful,’ he said at last, with the gentlest of smiles. ‘Just wonderful. When can you start?’
One month later
It had been raining for three days. Hope watched rivulets of water cascade from the awning over the florist’s shop opposite the Ever After Emporium and sighed. The River Ouse was fuller than normal for the time of year and the Foss seemed higher too. If it didn’t stop raining soon, Hope thought she might actually need the faded orange and white lifebuoy that was propped against a battered ship’s chest opposite the counter. In fact, it was just possible they might need to drag the Noah’s ark from the window display.
High Petergate was uncharacteristically empty of its usual horde of May tourists, although Hope knew they were rarely deterred for long. The occasional car splashed through the puddles and any pedestrians who had braved the deluge hurried along with their heads hidden by umbrellas or tucked inside hoods. No one was stopping to gaze into the windows of the Ever After Emporium, let alone come inside. It was the quietest Thursday morning Hope had experienced since she’d started work there three weeks earlier and she was starting to wonder whether she’d see a single customer before lunch. Of course, it meant she had plenty of time to study the book Mr Young had given her on Victorian furniture but although she was keen to learn, it wasn’t the most engrossing read she’d ever picked up.
The Minster chimed outside, accompanied by the faint call of the cuckoo clock that hung on a wall deeper inside the shop, and Hope saw the time was 11.15. Stretching her arms over her head, she bookmarked the page and considered making a cup of tea. Mr Young was in the store rooms upstairs, undertaking some restoration work with a local craftsman, but she didn’t want to disturb him. Surely it would be fine to leave the till unattended for a few minutes while she nipped into the tiny kitchen tucked away beneath the curving staircase at the rear of the shop . . .
No sooner had she clicked the kettle on than the bell above the door jangled. Swallowing a huff of disbelief, Hope dropped the teabag she held into a cup and hurried back to the shop floor. A man stood in front of the door, his umbrella dripping onto the mat. Beside him was a blonde-haired little girl of around four or five, dressed in a bright yellow raincoat, with yellow wellington boots.
‘Good morning,’ she said, smiling. ‘There’s an umbrella stand by the door if you’d like to use it.’
The man looked up as she approached but the child’s eyes stayed firmly downcast. ‘Thanks,’ he replied. ‘Although I’m bound to forget it on the way out.’
She watched as he slotted the folded umbrella into the stand. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll remind you. Is there anything in particular you’re interested in or would you prefer to browse?’
His gaze flickered to the little girl as he wiped the rain from his fingers. ‘Brodie was very taken with the rocking horse in your window. And the flamingos next door.’
Hope’s smile deepened. ‘Ah, the flamingos are my favourites too,’ she said, trying to catch the girl’s eye. ‘Would you like a closer look?’
But Brodie didn’t look up or respond. Instead, one yellow-booted foot turned inwards to rub against the other.
‘I think she’d like that very much,’ the man said, moving away from the doorway and into the aisle that led deeper into the shop. ‘Thank you.’
Hope lifted the counter and slipped through the gap to join them. ‘I hope they’re going to behave themselves,’ she said gravely. ‘Last time I took someone to meet them they caused a dreadful hullaballoo.’
This time she did get a reaction but it wasn’t the one she’d anticipated. Rather than laugh, Brodie moved closer to her father’s leg and hid her face. He threw Hope an apologetic look. ‘She takes things a bit literally, I’m afraid.’ He dropped down to the child’s level and spoke in a soothing voice. ‘It’s okay, the lady was only joking. The flamingos aren’t going to hurt you.’
Hope shook her head in dismay. ‘No, they absolutely won’t. I was being silly – I’m sorry.’
This met with silence, although a tell-tale wobble of the shoulders suggested it wouldn’t last long, and Hope felt a scarlet flush of consternation start to creep across her cheeks. Any minute now the child was going to burst into tears and it would be all her fault.
‘I’m really sorry—’ she began, as the man straightened up and looked around.
His gaze came to rest on a small North African puzzle box that sat on the counter beside the till. ‘Look, Brodie, it’s a secret keeper,’ he said. ‘Like the one Grandma has.’
He glanced at Hope, as if asking permission to pick it up, and she hesitated. The polished cedarwood puzzle box was one of the items that wasn’t for sale – Mr Young had given her a list and reminded her that a red dot meant ‘Do Not Sell’. But it wouldn’t hurt to let Brodie look at it, would it? Especially since the box didn’t open. Little fingerprints could be polished away and no one would be any the wiser. ‘Go ahead,’ she said.
Brodie’s focus changed the moment her father held out the box. She let go of his leg and took it, stretching her small hands around the ornate cube and tilting it this way and that. A faint rattle from inside seemed to catch her attention and she raised the box to her ear, shaking it gently. A moment later, she sat cross-legged on the floor and began to probe the carved cedarwood surface with deft fingers.
Disaster apparently averted, the man relaxed and studied Hope with fresh curiosity. ‘You’re new here, aren’t you?’
She nodded. ‘Yes, I started a few weeks ago. Look, I’m really sorry for upsetting your daughter. I was just trying to be friendly.’
An odd look crossed his face and Hope cringed inside, wondering if she’d made another faux pas. But then he glanced down at the girl, engrossed in the puzzle box, and he offered Hope a wry smile. ‘No harm done. Brodie is – well, I suppose you might say she’s sensitive.’ He held out his hand. ‘I’m Will Silverwood. I own Silverwood’s jewellery shop, over in the Shambles.’
Something in the way he spoke suggested there was more to Brodie’s reaction than simple sensitivity. For a split second, Hope was tempted to ask what he meant but it wasn’t really any of her business. She shook his hand instead. ‘Hope Henderson. Pleased to meet you.’
His fingers were still cool from the rain and the skin felt the tiniest bit rough against hers. But it was his smile that really caught her attention – the kind that was so warm it was like coming in from the cold on a frosty day. She liked the way it made his eyes crinkle at the edges, as though she was an old friend he hadn’t seen for ages. His eyes were nice too, she decided – hazel, framed with generous lashes – and he had good hair, golden brown with a hint of curl, although it was touching the collar of his coat and looked in need of a trim.
Will cleared his throat, a gentle, barely there sound that brought Hope back with a jolt. With an icy rush of horror, she realized she’d been staring dreamily at him for an embarrassingly long time. And worse – so much worse – she was still holding his hand. ‘Sorry,’ she said, letting go as though his fingers had burned her. ‘I didn’t mean to – I’m so sorry!’
‘Don’t apologize,’ he said, and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes deepened. ‘I’ve been known to daydream mid-conversation too. I like to think it’s the sign of a creative mind.’
His generosity made Hope cringe even more, because she hadn’t been daydreaming, she’d been – what, exactly? Not perving, she thought with an inward shudder, but definitely . . . admiring. And that wasn’t something she wanted to admit to a total stranger – to a customer, no less. ‘Ha ha,’ she said weakly. ‘I’ll have to remember that for the next time I – er – drift off.’
‘It’s a useful explanation,’ he agreed. ‘So what brings you to the Emporium? Have you always worked in antiques?’
Praying she didn’t look as flustered as she felt, Hope wondered how to reply; admitting she’d applied for the job on a whim would make her seem even flakier than she already appeared and it was hardly a professional response. ‘I’ve always had an interest in old things,’ she answered, choosing her words with care. ‘And who could resist the opportunity to spend every day somewhere like this?’
‘Not me,’ Will said. ‘Or Brodie, for that matter.’
They both glanced down at the girl, who was still absorbed in her task. ‘I’m afraid the box isn’t for sale,’ Hope said. ‘It’s a bit of an enigma – no one’s been able to work out how to open it.’
He nodded. ‘My mother has one. I remember spending hours trying to get into it and was ready to take a hammer to it until my brother revealed the secret.’
‘A few impossible-to-detect sliding panels and cleverly hidden compartments,’ he replied. ‘But each box is individually crafted – what opens one won’t work on another. They wouldn’t be much good for keeping secrets if they all worked in the same way.’
Hope smiled and felt the last vestiges of embarrassment fade away. ‘Well, this one seems set to keep its secrets forever. I don’t think Mr Young would appreciate us taking a hammer to it.’
Will laughed and Hope decided she liked that too. They stood for a moment, smiling at each other, until the bell over the door jangled again and a tall woman with a hood over her eyes hurried inside. ‘Hells bells, Hope, is it ever going to stop raining?’
She paused in the doorway, shaking down her hood to reveal a mane of lustrous dark hair as she took in the scene. ‘Oops, I didn’t realize you had a customer.’ And then her expression lit up. ‘Oh, but it’s only Will. I don’t have to mind my manners after all.’
Hope had to swallow a grin; she’d met Iris on her second day at the Ever After Emporium, when the florist had hurried across the road and begged to borrow an Art Deco vase for the Blooming Dales window display. From that first whirlwind encounter, Hope had formed the distinct impression that Iris wasn’t really one for observing the social rules that governed most people’s behaviour. She was forthright and bold, wore scarlet lipstick and winged eyeliner as though she woke up that way every day, and had the kind of irrepressible smile that hinted she might bubble up into laughter at any moment. Hope had warmed to her immediately and thought she might be on her way to making her first new friend in York. It wasn’t surprising that Iris would know Will – Hope got the impression that there was a real sense of community within the ancient walls that surrounded the city’s heart. There was probably a traders’ association, where the glamorous florist must turn heads and steal hearts in equal measure.
‘Not just me,’ Will said, shifting slightly so Iris could see the child at his feet.
‘Oh,’ she breathed, walking towards them. ‘This must be Brodie.’
‘It is,’ he replied. ‘So, minding of manners is definitely still required.’
Not that Brodie was paying any of them the least bit of attention. She was still poking and prodding at the box, turning it over and over in her small hands, and Hope could almost feel the girl’s determination to solve the riddle. But the secret had eluded all the adults of the Ever After Emporium – was it possible that a child would succeed where they had failed? Hope pictured her nephews and their boisterous, exuberant approach to play; the box would have been discarded in favour of a football within seconds. But Brodie was entirely different – all her concentration was focused on the job and she seemed to be enclosed in her own little world. It was remarkable.
‘How is she coping?’ Iris asked, lowering her voice. ‘More to the point, how are you coping?’
Will smiled but this time it didn’t reach his eyes. ‘Oh, you know. Taking it one day at a time.’
Wary of being caught staring again, Hope let her own gaze drift around the shop as she wondered about the exchange. There’d been sympathy in Iris’s tone and sadness in Will’s. Hope recognized the vagueness of his reply too, using the sort of words she had when she’d needed to politely fend off well-meaning enquiries after Rob’s death. A failed marriage, perhaps, and all the heartache and adjustments that brought. It would certainly explain the way Iris was watching Will, as though he might break at any moment. Hope was familiar with that look as well, although thankfully not from Iris or anyone else in York, apart from her family. She’d told Iris she was single, when the florist had asked what her partner did, and then deflected the conversation onto safer ground. Another coping mechanism.
‘How’s business?’ Will asked, glancing at Blooming Dales through the rain-speckled window. ‘I suppose the flowers don’t mind the wet weather.’
‘They might not but I do,’ Iris said, wrinkling her nose. ‘Walk-in trade is down this week – it’s a good thing we’ve got plenty of wedding orders to keep us busy.’
His eyes drifted to Brodie once more. ‘Your windows always look so amazing. Maybe we’ll pop in and pick up a bouquet for home, to remind us it’s almost summer.’
Iris dipped her head. ‘I could deliver it, if you like, save you having to carry it in this rain. Do you have a favourite flower, Brodie?’
That got the little girl’s attention. She raised her blonde head to study Iris, then flicked her gaze towards the window.
Hope thought she understood. ‘Pink, like the flamingos?’
Brodie gave a shy nod.
‘Flamingo pink,’ Iris repeated approvingly. ‘Very nice. I’m thinking gerbera, roses and maybe some alstroemeria. Tall and graceful, just like the birds.’
Will gave her a helpless look. ‘They won’t look graceful if I have to arrange them. Do they come in a vase?’
Iris winked at Brodie. ‘I’ll take care of everything. All you’ll have to do is put the bouquet into water.’
‘I can probably manage that,’ Will said. ‘With Brodie’s help, obviously.’
‘Then how does a Saturday morning delivery sound?’ Iris asked. ‘You can drop me a message later with the address for delivery.’
‘Sounds like the perfect way to start the weekend,’ Will said. ‘Thanks, Iris. This is very kind of you.’
The florist waved away his thanks. ‘It’s no trouble. I deliver all over the city – have bike, will travel.’
Hope blinked as she tried to build a mental picture. ‘You deliver flowers by bike? How?’
‘Of course,’ Iris said, grinning. ‘We’re very eco-conscious. I attach a lightweight trailer to the back, load it up and off I go.’
‘In all weathers?’ Hope said, with a dubious glance at the rainy street outside.
‘Us Yorkshire women are made of stern stuff,’ Iris replied. ‘But we’re practical too – I also have a cosy little Volkswagen van for when the weather is really grim.’
Hope was about to say that she was a Yorkshire woman too, although her years in London had worn her accent away, but Brodie stood up abruptly and handed the puzzle box to Will. He checked his watch. ‘You’re right – we should probably think about lunch.’ He gave the box to Hope. ‘Thanks for letting her handle it.’
‘It’s a shame she didn’t crack the mystery,’ Hope said. ‘Mr Young would have been delighted.’
His eyes creased at the edges as he smiled. ‘I’m sure we’ll be back.’
‘Maybe next time, then,’ Hope said. ‘I’ll have a word with the flamingos too.’
It was only after Will and Brodie had made their way back out into the rain, with the umbrella safely in hand, that Hope realized what had been troubling her. In the whole time they’d been in the shop, she’d hadn’t heard the little girl make a single sound.
Iris puffed out her cheeks when Hope mentioned Brodie’s silence. ‘No, she doesn’t speak. Not since the accident.’
Cold dread settled in Hope’s chest. Maybe Will wasn’t newly separated. Maybe it was more awful than that. ‘The accident,’ she repeated slowly.
‘The car crash,’ Iris said. ‘Back in February, on the A64. You might remember – the road was closed for the best part of a day.’
Hope swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. ‘I wasn’t living here then.’
The florist sighed. ‘It was terrible, one of those freak accidents that doesn’t seem to be anyone’s fault. You only needed to glimpse the car to know no one could have survived.’
One hand flew to Hope’s mouth as Iris confirmed her worst fears. ‘Oh no.’
‘Brodie was devastated, as you’d expect. Will’s doing his best but it takes time, doesn’t it? I know kids are resilient but that’s an impossible hole to fill.’
Especially when he’d be struggling with the loss of a partner himself, Hope thought as sympathy and pity welled up inside her. It was a miracle he was coping as well as he was; she certainly hadn’t after Rob’s death.
‘Poor Brodie,’ Iris went on, with a sorrowful shake of her head.
‘Poor Will too,’ Hope said. ‘He must be grieving as well.’
A frown creased Iris’s forehead. ‘Of course. Losing a brother is awful. But Brodie lost both her parents – I’m not surprised she’s retreated into herself.”
The words crashed over Hope like a wave. Had Iris said Brodie had lost both parents? ‘But I thought . . . isn’t he—’
Iris stared at her for a moment, then slapped her own forehead. ‘Oh, I’m an idiot! Of course you assumed Will was Brodie’s dad – why wouldn’t you?’
Bewildered, Hope pieced together the evidence. ‘So he’s her . . . uncle?’
‘And her closest living relative,’ Iris replied. ‘Or at least, the only one capable of looking after a five-year-old. His mother has dementia, I think, and lives in a care home. And Will is Brodie’s godfather – there was no question of her going anywhere else.’
Anywhere else being foster care, Hope guessed, or a distant relative or family friend who were virtual strangers. Another wave of pity swept over her. ‘That poor girl.’
‘Yeah,’ Iris agreed. ‘Obviously, it’s been tough for Will too. It’s not as though he’s got anyone to help him. Imagine going from being a single bloke to a surrogate parent overnight.’
While dealing with his own loss too, Hope thought. Although she could imagine having someone else to care for might help with the grief; plenty of people had suggested she get a puppy or a kitten in the months after she’d lost Rob but it hadn’t seemed fair when she’d be out at work every day. A child was another ballgame entirely. The sense of responsibility must be overwhelming.
‘He took a shine to you, though,’ Iris went on, a smile playing at the corners of her scarlet lips. ‘And you’re single too. New in town.’
Hope’s face bloomed with sudden heat. ‘What? That’s not true. I mean, yes I am single and new here but he definitely wasn’t . . . he didn’t—’
She broke off as Iris threw her a disbelieving look. ‘Hope. You could have cut the tension between you with that silver letter-opener over there.’
‘But –’ Hope flailed in mortified bewilderment, thinking back to the moment Iris had burst into the shop. ‘But there was no tension – we were chatting about the puzzle box.’
‘It looked like more than that to me. You were both smiling for a start.’ Iris waggled her eyebrows. ‘Really smiling.’
She couldn’t deny that, Hope thought, resisting an urge to fan her overheated cheeks. ‘Maybe we were,’ she said. ‘But it was on a strictly professional basis.’
The other woman nodded. ‘I’m sure it was. But even so, I know chemistry when I see it.’ She paused to smirk at Hope. ‘Sexual chemistry.’
Hope wanted to crawl under the nearby Edwardian occasional table. Iris was sharp – of course she’d noticed her admiring Will. She might as well have been projecting an enormous cartoon love heart over her head. ‘I’m sure he has enough on his plate at the moment,’ she said, hating the stiffness in her voice. ‘And I’m not looking for a relationship either.’
Instantly, Iris looked contrite. ‘Ah, I’m getting carried away – making assumptions. It’s a weakness of mine – sorry.’
Hope took a deep breath and willed her flaming skin to cool down. ‘It’s okay. No harm done.’
‘Good,’ Iris said and paused, looking at Hope with a speculative gaze. ‘If you’re not looking for a relationship, are you at least in the market for making new friends?’
‘Yes,’ Hope said cautiously.
The florist beamed at her. ‘Great! How do you feel about dancing?’