Saturday, November 22, 2014

Free Kindle Books + Book Deals

Free
Douglas by Grace Burrowes
Lost Highlander by Cassidy Cayman
The Wolf Within by Cynthia Eden
The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox
Bayou Noel by Alexandra Ivy & Laura Wright
Pleasure Cruise by Michelle M. Pillow & Mandy M. Roth
The Duchess War by Courtney Milan
Red Light Specialists by Mandy M. Roth & Michelle M. Pillow
Embrace the Dark by Caris Roane
Her Secret Agent by Paige Tyler  *pre-order*

$0.99
First to Burn by Anna Richland
Haunting Nathan by Lillie J. Roberts
Prince of Pleasure by Mandy M. Roth

$1.99
A Witch's Handbook of Kisses and Curses by Molly Harper
I'm Dreaming of an Undead Christmas by Molly Harper
Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning
King of the Unblessed by Michelle M. Pillow
The Guardians by Mandy M. Roth
Her Perfect Mate by Paige Tyler

$2.99
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Divergent by Veronica Roth

Friday, November 21, 2014

Winner: Frostbitten

and the winner is...


Congrats! Please send your mailing information here: 
annasbookblog@gmail.com 
You have 5 days to claim your prizes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Guest Blog & Giveaway with Paige Tyler

 Top 10 List of Favorite Shapeshifters

1. Derek Hale (played by Tyler Hoechlin) in the current TV series Teen Wolf. It helps that he runs around with his shirt off all the time.

2. Etienne of Navarre (played by Rutger Hauer) in the movie Ladyhawke. The romance of forbidden love, the pain of Rutger and Michelle Pfeiffer only getting to see each other for mere seconds at dawn and dusk…never able to touch. Wow, this movie gets me every time and Rutgers plays the part of the haunted hero to perfection.

3. Clayton Danvers of the Women of the Otherworld book series by Kelley Armstrong. I love Clay as the big strong alpha male. Never understood why Elena even considered walking away from him. I haven’t seen the TV series yet, but I will

4. Laura Alden (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) in the movie Wolf. Pfeiffer gets to be the werewolf this time, nipping Jack Nicholson in order to turn him into a werewolf.

5. The Lycans of Underworld Not necessarily tied to any particular actor in this series (preferred the first movie to those that came after). I just love the re-imagining of the werewolf form by Patrick Tatopoulos.

6. George Sands (played by Russell Tovey) in the BBC paranormal TV show Being Human. Just loved how this show transformed about the most un-alpha (if adorkable) guy that I’ve ever seen into a werewolf. Loved the show, but had to stop part way through Season 4. Just too many main characters killed off to sustain the show…in my humble opinion.

7. Oz (play by Seth Green) in a re-occurring role as a werewolf in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I pretty much love all things Buffy. 

8. Ruby Wilder (played by Mia Kirshner) in the short lived TV series Wolf Lake. I loved the premise of the show, but it didn’t last long enough to even see where it might go. Stupid TV execs…don’t know anything!

9. Wilby Daniels (played by Dean Jones) in the 1976 movie The Shaggy D.A. This may not be a traditional shifter story, but I loved this movie as a kid…and this is my list...so there!

10. Peter Hale (played by Ian Stuart Bohen) in the TV series Teen Wolf. I started the list with Teen Wolf, and I’ll finish it with Teen Wolf. Peter is here because he’s just so good at being bad. Most of the time, I’m sitting on the couch wondering why the heck they haven’t offed him already. Is it my imagination, or is Peter getting buffer as the series goes on?

*hugs*
Paige


Her Lone Wolf
Series: X-Ops Book 2
Author: Paige Tyler
Pubdate: November 4th, 2014
ISBN: 9781402292125

Leaving him was Impossible…
It took everything she had for FBI Special Agent Danica Beckett to walk away from the man she loved. But if she wants to save his life, she has to keep her distance. Now, with a killer on the loose and the stakes higher than ever before, the Department of Covert Ops is forcing  these former lovers into an uneasy alliance…whether they like it or not.

Seeing her again is even worse
The last thing Clayne Buchanan wants is to be shackled to the woman who broke his heart. She gets under his skin in a way no one ever has and makes him want things he has no right to anymore. All he has to do is suffer through this case and he can be free of her for good. But when Clayne finds out why Danica left in the first place, everything he’s tried to bury comes roaring back—and there’s no way this wolf shifter is going to let her get away this time.

Buy Links:
Amazon
| iBook | BAM | B&N | Chapters | Kobo | IndieBound

Author Links:
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads | Google + |
Newsletter | Pinterest | Tumblr


GIVEAWAY
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Giveaway: Black Widow by Jennifer Estep

Black Widow
Elemental Assassin #12
By Jennifer Estep
Website | Facebook

Release Date: November 25, 2014

Lethal, sexy, and always ready to protect her friends, Gin Blanco (a.k.a. the Spider) takes on the mysterious M.M. Monroe in book twelve of the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series.

There’s nothing worse than a cruel, cunning enemy with time to kill—and my murder to plan. With wicked Fire elemental Mab Monroe long gone, you’d think I could finally catch a break. But someone’s always trying to take me down, either as Gin Blanco or my assassin alter-ago. Now along comes the Spider’s new arch-nemesis, the mysteriously named M. M. Monroe, who is gleefully working overtime to trap me in a sticky web of deceit.
The thing is, I’m not the only target. I can see through the tangled threads enough to know that every bit of bad luck my friends have been having lately is no accident—and that each unfortunate “coincidence” is just one more arrow drawing ever closer to hitting the real bull’s-eye. Though new to Ashland, this M. M. Monroe is no stranger to irony, trying to get me, an assassin, framed for murder. Yet, as my enemy’s master plan is slowly revealed, I have a sinking feeling that it will take more than my powerful Ice and Stone magic to stop my whole life from going up in flames.

Elemental Assassin Series:
Spider's Bite | Web of Lies | Venom | Tangled Threads | Spider's Revenge | By A Thread |
Widow's Web | Deadly Sting | Heart of Venom | The Spider | Poison Promise | Black Widow

GIVEAWAY
Thanks to Simon & Schuster I have a copy of Black Widow to giveaway.
To enter leave a comment along with you email address. Open to U.S. & Canada.
The winner will be announced on November 25th.

Monday, November 17, 2014

[Series Spotlight]: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

This months series spotlight is on The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. The last two months I've been listening to them on audiobook. I wasn't sure I was gonna like it, but oh my is this series addicting. I can't wait for book 4 to come out. :)

Cinder
Book #1

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.


Scarlet
Book #2

Cinder is back and trying to break out of prison—even though she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive if she does—in this second installment from Marissa Meyer.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn't know about her grandmother, or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother's whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana.


Cress
Book #3

Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker; unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.

Fairest: Levana's Story  - January 27, 2015
Winter - The Lunar Chronicles #4  -  November 24, 2015



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Haul [107]

What did you get this week? Leave your links in the comments to your Book Hauls, IMM, Stacking the Shelves etc... and I'll check them out. Happy Reading!

Here is what I got this week:



Library:
The Blood of Olympus- Rick Riordan

Bought:
Gifted- Kelley Armstrong
Moon Kissed- Donna Grant
Rule Breaker- Lora Leigh


Current Giveaway

YA Paranormal. Ms. Beck is giving away a digital copy. Stop by and check it out

Friday, November 14, 2014

Slack Friday: Holiday Ebooks from Pocket - Rocky Mountain Miracle by Christine Feehan

SLACK FRIDAY - NOVEMBER 28, 2014
Avoid crazed shopping crowds! Keep calm and carry on at home with these great Merr-E Holiday Treats from Pocket Star eBooks!

Rocky Mountain Miracle
By Christine Feehan
November 17, 2014
$3.99


SUMMARY: 

When Cole Steele, a womanizer rumored to have killed his father, meets Maia Armstrong, a veterinarian rumored to practice magic, the sizzling romance could melt all the snow on his Wyoming ranch.

And when an injured horse brings them together, Cole can’t help but believe that Maia casts spells on animals—and men. What else could explain the burning passion he feels for her and the thawing of his heart just in time for Christmas?




EXCERPT:
Cole Steele could hear the screams coming from the room down the hall. He knew those nightmares intimately, because the demons also visited him every time he closed his own eyes. He was a grown man, hard and disciplined and well able to drink his way through the night if necessary, but Jase was just a young teenager. Guilt edged his anger as he made his way through the dark to the boy’s room. He should have done something, to spare his half brother the horrendous legacy of his own past.

In truth, he hadn’t been in touch with his father for years. It hadn’t occurred to him that his father would remarry a much younger woman and produce another child, but he should have considered the possibility, not just dropped off the face of the earth. Cole shoved open the bedroom door. Jase was already fully awake, his eyes wide with the terror of his memories. Something twisted hard and painfully in Cole’s chest.

“I’m here, Jase,” he announced unnecessarily.He wasn’t good at soothing the boy. He had been born and bred in roughness and still had a difficult time being gentle. Worse, Jase barely knew him. He was asking the teenager to trust him in spite of his reputation and the rumors of attempted murder flying freely through the town. It was no wonder the boy regarded him with some suspicion. “I hate Christmas. Can’t we just make it go away?” Jase asked. He threw back the covers and paced across the room, the same edgy tension in his teenage body that Cole had in abundance as a grown man. Jase was tall and gangly, like a young colt, all arms and legs, looking a bit like a scarecrow in flannel pajamas.He had Cole’s dark hair, but his eyes must have been his mother’s, as they were a deep, rich brown. Right now, his eyes were wide with terror, and he turned away to hide his trembling.

Cole felt as if he were looking at himself as a youngster, only Jase had poured himself into books and Cole had become a hellion. Cole knew what it was like to hide the bruises and the terror from the rest of the world. He had grown up living in isolation and hiding, and he still lived that way, but he would be damned if this boy would endure the same.

“Did he shoot your dog for Christmas?” Cole asked bluntly. “That’s what he did for me the last time I wanted to celebrate the holiday like my friends. I haven’t ever wanted a Christmas since.He also beat the holy hell out of me, but that was insignificant next to the dog.”

Jase faced him slowly. The horror was still all too stark in his eyes. “I had a cat.”

“I’ll bet he said you weren’t tough enough and that only sissies needed pets and Christmas. He wanted you to toughen up and be a man. Not get attached to anything.”

Jase nodded, swallowing an obvious lump in his throat.

“He did a lot of things.”

“You have burn marks? Scars from cuts? He liked to whip me with a coat hanger. And when I didn’t cry, he took to using other things.”

“I cried,” Jase admitted.

“I did too, at first. He was a mean son of bitch, Jase. I’m glad he’s dead. He can’t touch you anymore. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you the nightmares go away because I still have them. We both lived in hell and he had too much money for anyone to want to believe us.” Cole rubbed his hands through his thick black hair.

“He was sick, Jase. I got out, changed my name thinking he’d never find me, and stayed as far from him as I could possibly get. That’s no excuse. I should have kept tabs on him. Maybe I could have gotten you away from him.”

Jase shook his head. “He never would have let me go.”

“You know what they’re all saying, don’t you? They think I had something to do with his death.”

Jase nodded, his eyes suddenly wary. “I’ve heard. Why did you come back?”

“I was named your guardian in his will. It was the first I’d heard of you. I didn’t know you existed until five months ago. I knew he must have done the same thing to you and your mother that he did to me and mine. I thought I could protect you, at least until you’re old enough to live on your own. I figured I would be a better guardian than anyone else the court might appoint or that our father had named if I didn’t accept.”

Dawn was creeping in through the huge plate-glass window. Cole watched the sun come up. It was cold, and the ground outside was covered with several feet of snow, turning the hills into a carpet of sparkling crystals. “You hungry?”

“Are you cooking?”

Cole managed a lazy shrug even though he really wanted to smash something. It was always there, that volcano inside him, waiting to erupt. The thought of his father, the time of year, it wasn’t all that difficult to bring rage to the surface. “I thought we’d go into town and give them all something more to gossip about.”

Jase met Cole’s eyes squarely. “They say you killed the old man and that you’re planning to kill me next. Sixtyfour million dollars is a lot of money, twice as much as thirty-two.”

“They do say that, don’t they?” Cole said. “And don’t forget the ranch. It’s worth twice that easily, maybe more with the oil and gas deposits. I haven’t actually checked into how much yet.”His eyes had gone ice-cold, a piercing blue stare that impaled the boy. “What do you say, Jase? Because in the end, you’re the only one that counts as far as I’m concerned.”

Jase was silent a long time. “I say I’m glad you came back. But I don’t understand why he left us the money and the ranch when he hated us both so much. It doesn’t make any sense.” He looked around the enormous room, frowning.

“I keep expecting him to show up in the middle of the night. I’m afraid to open my eyes because I know he’s standing over the bed, just waiting.”

“With that smile.”Cole’s voice was grim.

Jase nodded, a small shudder betraying the fact that he wasn’t as calm as he tried to seem. “With that smile.” He looked at Cole. “What do you do when the nightmares come?” He punched his fist into his pillow. Once. Twice. “I hate this time of year.”

Cole felt a sharp pain in his chest and the familiar churning in his gut. His own hand balled into a fist, but he tamped down the smoldering anger and hung on to control for the boy’s sake. “I drink. I’m your guardian, so I have to say that’s not allowed for you. At least not until you’re a hell of a lot older.”

“Does it work?”

“No,” Cole said grimly. Honestly. “But it gets me through the night. Sometimes I go to the workout room or the barn. I hung a heavy bag in both places, and I beat on them until my hands hurt. Other times I take the wildest horse we have and go out into the mountains. I run the hills, using the deer trails, anything to make me so tired I can’t think anymore.”

“None of that works either, does it?” Jase had tried physical activity as well, but he was finding that talking quietly with his half brother was helpful. More helpful than anything else he’d tried. At least one person believed him. And one person had gone through the same torment. It created a bond in spite of the ugly rumors that surrounded his tough, harder-than-nails half brother.

Cole shook his head. “No, none of it works, but it gets you through the night. One night at a time. He’s dead, Jase, and that’s all that matters.”

Jase took a deep breath. “Did you kill him?”

“No, but I wish I had. I used to lie awake at night and plan how I’d do it. That was before Mom died. Then I just wanted to get out.” Cole studied the boy’s face. “Did you kill him?” He concentrated his gaze on the boy. Every nuance. Every expression, the way he breathed. The flick of his eyes. The trembling of his hands.

Jase shook his head. “I was too afraid of him.”

Cole let his breath out slowly. He had stayed alive using his ability to read others, and he was fairly certain that Jase was telling the truth. Jase had been in the house when someone had shot Brett Steele right there in his own office. He wanted to believe that the boy wasn’t involved in Brett Steele’s death. Cole wasn’t certain how he would have handled it if Jase had admitted he’d done it, and for a man in Cole’s profession, that wasn’t a good thing.

“Cole, did he kill your mother?” For the first time, Jase sounded like a child rather than a fourteen-year-old trying to be a man. He sank down onto the bed, his thin shoulders shaking. “I think he killed my mother. They said she was drinking and drove off the bridge, but she never drank. Never. She was afraid to drink. She wanted to know what was happening all the time. You know what he was like, he’d be nice one minute and come after you the next.”

Brett Steele had been a sadistic man. It was Cole’s belief that he had killed for the sheer rush of having the power of life and death over anything, human or animal. He’d enjoyed inflicting pain, and he had tortured his wives and children and every one of his employees. The ranch was huge, a long way from help, and once he had control over those living on his lands, he never relinquished it. Cole knew he’d been lucky to escape.

“It’s possible. I think the old man was capable of paying everyone off from coroners to police officers. He had too much money and power for anyone to cross him. It would be easy enough for a medical examiner to look the other way if there was enough money in bribes. And if that didn’t work, there were always threats. We both know the old man didn’t make idle threats; he’d carry them out.”

Jase met his brother’s stare directly. “He killed your mother, didn’t he?”

“Maybe. Probably.” Cole needed a drink. “Let’s go into town and get breakfast.”

“Okay.” Jase pulled a pair of jeans from the closet. They were neatly hung and immaculately clean, just like everything else in the room.“Who do you think killed him? If it wasn’t either of us, someone else had to have done it.”

“He made a lot of enemies. He destroyed businesses and seduced as many of his friends’wives as possible. And if he killed anyone else, as I suspect he must have, someone could have known and retaliated. He liked to hurt people, Jase. It was inevitable that he would die a violent death.”

“Were you surprised he left you the money and guardianship over me?”

“Yes, at first. But later I thought maybe it made sense. He wanted us to be like him. He had me investigated and found I spent time in jail. I think he believed I was exactly like him. And the only other choice of a guardian he had was your uncle, and you know how much they despised one another.”

Jase sighed.“Uncle Mike is just as crazy as Dad was. All he talks about is sin and redemption. He thinks I need to be exorcised.”

Cole swore, a long string of curses. “That’s a load of crap, Jase. There’s nothing wrong with you.” He needed to move, to ride something hard, it didn’t matter what it was. A horse, a motorcycle, a woman, anything at all to take away the knots gathering in his stomach. “Let’s get out of here.”

He turned away from the boy, a cold anger lodged in his gut. He detested Christmas, detested everything about it. No matter how much he didn’t want the season to start, it always came. He woke up drenched in sweat, vicious laughter ringing in his ears. He could fight the demons most of the year, but not when Christmas songs played on the radio and in every store he entered. Not when every building and street displayed decorations and people continually wished each other “Merry Christmas.” He didn’t want that for Jase. He had to find a way to give the boy back his life.

Counseling hadn’t helped either of them. When no one believed a word you said, or worse, was bought off, you learned to stop trusting people. If Cole never did another thing right in his life, he was going to be the one person Jase would know he could always trust. And he was going to make certain the boy didn’t turn out the way he had. Or the way their father had.

The brothers walked through the sprawling ranch house. The floors were all gleaming wood, the ceilings open-beamed and high. Brett Steele had demanded the best of everything, and he got it. Cole couldn’t fault him on his taste.

“Cole,” Jase asked, “why were you in jail?”

Cole didn’t break stride as he hurried through the spacious house. At times he wanted to burn the thing down. There was no warmth in it, and as hard as he’d tried to turn the showpiece into a home for Jase, it remained cold and barren.

Outdoors it was biting cold. The frost turned the hills and meadows into a world of sparkling crystal, dazzling the eyes, but Cole simply ignored it, shoving his sunglasses onto his face. He went past the huge garage that housed dozens of cars—all toys Brett Steele had owned and rarely ever used—to go to his own pickup.

“I shouldn’t have asked you,” Jase muttered, slamming the door with unnecessary force. “I hate questions.”

Cole paused, the key in the ignition. He glanced at the boy’s flushed face. “It isn’t that, Jase. I don’t mind you asking me anything. I made up my mind I’d never lie to you about anything, and I’m not quite certain how to explain the jail time. Give me a minute.”

Jase nodded. “I don’t mind that you’ve been in jail, but it worries me because Uncle Mike says he’s going to take you to court and get custody of me. If I lived with him, I’d spend all my life on my knees, praying for my soul. I’d rather run away.”

“He can’t get you away from me,” Cole promised, his voice grim. There was a hard edge to the set of his mouth. He turned his piercing blue gaze directly on his young half brother. “The one thing I can promise is I’ll fight for you until they kill me, Jase.” He was implacable, the deadly ruthless stamp of determination clear on his face.“No one is going to take you away from me. You got that?”

Jase visibly relaxed. He nodded, a short jerky gesture as he tried to keep his emotions under control. Cole wasn’t certain if that was good or bad. Maybe the boy needed to cry his eyes out. Cole never had. He would never give his father the satisfaction, even when the bastard had nearly killed him.

It was a long way to the nearest town. There had been numerous guards at the ranch when his father was alive, supposedly for security, but Cole knew better. Brett had needed his own private world, a realm he could rule with an iron fist. The first thing Cole had done was to fire all of the ranch hands, the security force, and the housekeeper. If he could have had them prosecuted for their participation in Brett’s sadistic depravities, he would have. Jase needed to feel safe. And Cole needed to feel as if he could provide the right atmosphere for the boy. They had interviewed the new ranch hands together, and they were still looking for a housekeeper.

“You, know, Jase, you never picked out one of the horses to use,” Cole said.

Jase leaned forward to fiddle with the radio. The cab was flooded with a country Christmas tune. Jase hastily went through the stations, but all he could find was Christmas music and he finally gave up in exasperation. “I don’t care which one I ride,” Jase said, and turned his head to stare out the window at the passing scenery. His voice was deliberately careless.

“You must have a preference,” Cole persisted. “I’ve seen you bring the big bay, Celtic High, a carrot every now and then.” The boy had spent a little time each day, brushing the horse and whispering to it, but he never rode the bay. Jase’s expression closed down instantly, his eyes wary. “I don’t care about any of them,” he repeated.

Cole frowned as he slipped a CD into the player. “You know what the old man was all about, don’t you, Jase? He didn’t want his sons to feel affection or loyalty to anything or anyone. Not our mothers, not friends, and not animals. He killed the animals in front of us to teach us a lesson. He destroyed our friendships to accomplish the same thing. He got rid of our mothers to isolate us, to make us wholly dependent on him. He didn’t want you ever to feel emotion, especially affection or love for anything or anyone else. If he succeeded in doing that to you, he won. You can’t let him win. Choose a horse and let yourself care for it. We’ll get a dog if you want a dog, or another cat. Any kind of pet you want, but let yourself feel something, and when our father visits you in your nightmares, tell him to go to hell.”

“You didn’t do that,” Jase pointed out. “You don’t have a dog. You haven’t had a dog in all the years you’ve been away. And you never got married. I’ll bet you never lived with a woman. You have one-night stands and that’s about it because you won’t let anyone into your life.” It was a shrewd guess.

Cole counted silently to ten. He was psychoanalyzing Jase, but he damned well didn’t want the boy to turn the spotlight back on him. “It’s a hell of a way to live, Jase. You don’t want to use me as a role model. I know all the things you shouldn’t do and not many you should. But cutting yourself off from every living thing takes its toll. Don’t let him do that to you. Start small if you want. Just choose one of the horses, and we’ll go riding together in the mornings.”

Jase was silent, his face averted, but Cole knew he was weighing the matter carefully. It meant trusting Cole further than perhaps Jase was willing to go. Cole was a big question mark to everyone, Jase especially. Cole couldn’t blame the boy. He knew what he was like. Tough and ruthless with no backup in him. His reputation was that of a vicious, merciless fighter, a man born and bred in violence. It wasn’t like he knew how to make all the soft, kind gestures that the kid needed, but he could protect Jase. “Just think about it,” he said to close the subject. Time was on his side. If he could give Jase back his life, he would forgive himself for not bringing the old man down as he should have done years ago. Jase had had his mother, a woman with love and laughter in her heart. More than likely Brett had killed her because he couldn’t turn Jase away from her. Jase’s mother must have left some legacy of love behind.

Cole had no one. His mother had been just the opposite of Jase’s. His mother had had a child because Brett demanded she have one, but she went back to her modelthin figure and cocaine as soon as possible, leaving her son in the hands of her brutal husband. In the end, she’d died of an overdose. Cole had always suspected his father had had something to do with her death. It was interesting that Jase suspected the same thing of his own mother’s death.

A few snowflakes drifted down from the sky, adding to the atmosphere of the season they both were trying so hard to avoid. Jase kicked at the floorboard of the truck, a small sign of aggression, then glanced apologetically at Cole.

“Maybe we should have opted for a workout instead,” Cole said.

“I’m always hungry,” Jase admitted. “We can work out after we eat. Who came up with the idea of Christmas anyway? It’s a dumb idea, giving presents out when it isn’t your birthday.And it can’t be good for the environment to cut down all the trees.”

Cole stayed silent, letting the boy talk, grateful Jase was finally comfortable enough to talk to him at all. “Mom loved Christmas. She used to sneak me little gifts. She’d hide them in my room. He always had spies, though, and they’d tell him. He always punished her, but she’d do it anyway. I knew she’d be punished, and she knew it too, but she’d still sneak me presents.” Jase rolled down the window, letting the crisp, cold air into the truck. “She sang me Christmas songs. And once, when he was away on a trip, we baked cookies together. She loved it. We both knew the housekeeper would tell him, but at the time, we didn’t care.”

Cole cleared his throat. The idea of trying to celebrate Christmas made him ill, but the kid wanted it. Maybe even needed it, but had no clue that was what his nervous chatter was all about. Cole hoped he could pull it off. There were no happy memories from his childhood to offset the things his father had done.

“We tried to get away from him, but he always found us,” Jase continued.

“He’s dead, Jase,” Cole repeated. He took a deep breath and took the plunge, feeling as if he was leaping off a steep cliff. “If we want to bring a giant tree into his home and decorate it, we can. There’s not a damn thing he can do about it.”

“He might have let her go if she hadn’t wanted to take me with her.”

Cole heard the tears in the boy’s voice, but the kid didn’t shed them. Silently he cursed, wishing for inspiration, for all the right things to say. “Your mother was an extraordinary woman, Jase, and there aren’t that many in the world. She cared about you, not the money or the prestige of being Mrs. Brett Steele. She fought for you, and she tried to give you a life in spite of the old man. I wish I’d had the chance to meet her.”

Jase didn’t reply, but closed his eyes, resting his head back against the seat. He could still remember the sound of his mother’s voice. The way she smelled. Her smile. He rubbed his head.Mostly he remembered the sound of her screams when his father punished her.

“I’ll think about the Christmas thing, Cole. I kind of like the idea of decorating the house when he always forbade it.”

Cole didn’t reply. It had been a very long few weeks, but the Christmas season was almost over. A couple more weeks, and he would have made it through another December. If doing the Christmas thing could give the kid back his life, Cole would find a way to get through it. The town was fairly big and offered a variety of latenight and early-morning dining. Cole chose a diner he was familiar with and parked the truck in the parking lot. To his dismay, it was already filled with cars. Unfolding his large frame, he slid from the truck, waiting for Jase to get out.

“You forgot your jacket,” he said.

“No, I didn’t. I hate the thing,” Jase said.

Cole didn’t bother to ask him why.He already knew the answer and vowed to buy the kid a whole new wardrobe immediately. He pushed open the door to the diner, stepping back to allow Jase to enter first. Jase took two steps into the entryway and stopped abruptly behind the high wall of fake ivy. “They’re talking about you, Cole,” he whispered. “Let’s get out of here.”

The voices were loud enough to carry across the small restaurant. Cole stood still, his hand on the boy’s shoulder to steady him. Jase would have to learn to live with gossip, just as he’d learned to survive the nightmare he’d been born into.

“You’re wrong, Randy. Cole Steele murdered his father, and he’s going to murder that boy. He wants the money. He never came around here to see that boy until his daddy died.”

“He was in jail, Jim, he couldn’t very well go visiting his relatives,” a second male voice pointed out with a laugh. Cole recognized Randy Smythe from the local agriculture store. Before he could decide whether to get Jase out of there or show the boy just how hypocritical the local storeowners could be, a third voice chimed in.

“You are so full of it, Jim Begley,” a female voice interrupted the argument between the two men. “You come in here every morning grousing about Cole Steele. He was cleared as a suspect a long time ago and given guardianship of his half brother, as he should have been. You’re angry because your bar buddies lost their cushy jobs, so you’re helping to spread the malicious gossip they started. The entire lot of you sound like a bunch of sour old biddies.” The woman never raised her voice. In fact, it was soft and low and harmonious. Cole felt the tone strumming inside of him, vibrating and spreading heat. There was something magical in the voice, more magical than the fact that she was sticking up for him.His fingers tightened involuntarily on Jase’s shoulder. It was the first time he could ever remember anyone sticking up for him. “He was in jail, Maia,” Jim Begley reiterated, his voice almost placating.

“So were a lot of people who didn’t belong there, Jim. And a lot people who should have been in jail never were. That doesn’t mean anything. You’re jealous of the man’s money and the fact that he has the reputation of being able to get just about any woman he wants, and you can’t.” A roar of laughter went up. Cole expected Begley to get angry with the woman, but surprisingly, he didn’t. “Aw, Maia, don’t go getting all mad at me. You aren’t going to do anything, are you? You wouldn’t put a hex on my . . . on me, would you?”

The laughter rose and this time the woman joined in. The sound of her voice was like music. Cole had never had such a reaction to any woman, and he hadn’t even seen her.

“You just never know about me, now do you, Jim?” She teased, obviously not angry with the man. “It’s Christmas, the best time of the year. Do you think you could stop spreading rumors and just wait for the facts? Give the man a chance. You all want his money. You all agree the town needs him, yet you’re so quick to condemn him. Isn’t that the littlest bit hypocritical?”

Cole was shocked that the woman could wield so much power, driving her point home without ever raising her voice. And strangely, they were all listening to her. Who was she, and why were these usually rough men hanging on her every word, trying to please her? He found himself very curious about a total stranger—a woman at that. “Okay, okay,” Jim said. “I surrender, Maia. I’ll never mention Cole Steele again if that will make you happy. Just don’t get mad at me.”

Maia laughed again. The carefree sound teased all of Cole’s senses, made him very aware of his body and its needs. “I’ll see you all later. I have work to do.”

Cole felt his body tense. She was coming around the ivy to the entrance. Cole’s breath caught in his throat. She was on the shorter side, but curvy, filling out her jeans nicely. A sweater molded her breasts into a tempting invitation. She had a wealth of dark, very straight hair, as shiny as a raven’s wing, pulled into a careless ponytail. Her face was exotic, the bone structure delicate, reminding him of a pixie.

She swung her head back, her wide smile fading as she saw them standing there. She stopped short, raising her eyes to Cole’s. He actually hunched a little, feeling the impact in his belly. Little hammers began to trip in his head, and his body reacted with an urgent and very elemental demand. A man could drown in her eyes, get lost, or just plain lose every demon he had. Her eyes were large, heavily lashed, and some color other than blue, turquoise maybe, a mixture of blue and green that was vivid and alive and so darned beautiful he ached inside just looking at her.

Jase nudged him in the ribs.

Cole reacted immediately. “Sorry, ma’am.” But he didn’t move. “I’m Cole Steele. This is my brother, Jase.” Jase jerked under his hand, reacting to being acknowledged as a brother.

The woman nodded at Cole and flashed a smile at Jase as she stepped around them to push open the door.

“Holy cow,” Jase murmured. “Did you see that smile?” He glanced up at Cole. “Yeah, you saw it all right.”

“Was I staring?” Cole asked.

“You looked like you might have her for breakfast,” Jase answered. “You can look really intimidating, Cole. Scary.” Cole almost followed the woman, but at the boy’s comment he turned back. “Am I scary to you, Jase?”

The boy shrugged. “Sometimes. I’m getting used to you. I’ve never seen you smile. Ever.”

Cole raised his eyebrow. “I can’t remember actually smiling. Maybe I’ll have to practice. You can work with me.”

“Don’t you smile at women?”

“I don’t have to.”
AUTHOR:
Christine Feehan is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of thirty novels, including the Carpathians, the Ghostwalkers, the Leopard People, and the Drake Sisters series. Her books have been published in multiple languages and in many formats including palm pilot, audiobook, and ebook. She has been featured in Time magazine and Newsweek, and lives in Cobb, California. Please visit http://www.christinefeehan.com/.


Complete list of Merr-E Reads:
Blond Cargo by John Lanshing - Oct 20th $5.99
Tim Cratchit's Christmas Carol by Jim Piecuch - Nov 17th $1.99
The Perfect Gift by Dani-Lyn Alexander - Nov 17th $0.99
The Christmas Train by Rexanne Becnel - Nov 17th $1.99
Rocky Mountain Miracle by Christine Feehan - Nov 17th $3.99
A Last Goodbye by J.A. Jance - Nov 24th $0.99
Branded by Colette Auclair - Dec 15th $5.99

Slack Friday: Holiday Ebooks from Pocket - Tim Cratchit's Christmas Carol by Jim Piecuch

SLACK FRIDAY - NOVEMBER 28, 2014
Avoid crazed shopping crowds! Keep calm and carry on at home with these great
Merr-E Holiday Treats from Pocket Star eBooks!

Tim Cratchit's Christmas Carol:
The Sequel to the Celebrated Dickens Classic
By: Jim Piecuch
November 17, 2014
$1.99

SUMMARY:
In A Christmas Carol, evil Scrooge was shown the error of his ways by three helpful ghosts and vowed to become a better person. Bob Cratchit and his family benefited most from Scrooge’s change of tune—but what happened after the goose was given, and Scrooge resolved to turn over a new leaf?

Tim Cratchit's Christmas Carol shows us Tiny Tim as an adult. Having recovered from his childhood ailment, he began his career helping the poor but has since taken up practice as a doctor to London’s wealthy elite. Though Tim leads a very successful life, he comes home at night to an empty house. But this holiday season, he’s determined to fill his house with holiday cheer—and maybe even a wife.

When a single, determined young mother lands on Tim’s doorstep with her ailing son, Tim is faced with a choice: stay ensconced in his comfortable life and secure doctor’s practice, or take a leap of faith and reignite the fire lit under him by his mentor, Scrooge, that fateful Christmas so many years ago.

EXCERPT:
Dr. Timothy Cratchit emerged from his Harley Street office shortly after six-thirty in the evening. He was surprised to find that the yellow-gray fog that had blanketed London for the past week had disappeared, swept away by a biting north wind. He paused for a moment to gaze up at the stars, a rare sight in the usually haze-choked city. Then, pulling his scarf tightly around his neck, he walked quickly down the steps and along the path to the curb, where his brougham waited. The horses, a chestnut gelding and another of dappled gray, stomped their hooves on the cobblestone pavement. They made an odd pair, but Tim had chosen them for their gentle nature rather than their appearance.  As the doctor approached, his coachman smiled and swung open the side door. The coach’s front and rear lamps barely pierced December’s early darkness. 

“Good evening, Doctor,” the coachman said as Tim approached.

“Good evening, Henry,” the doctor replied. “How are you tonight?”

The coachman, who was tall and lean, wore a knee-length black wool coat and a black top hat, his ears covered by an incongruous-looking strip of wool cloth below the brim.

“Cold, sir,” Henry replied. Tim grasped the vertical rail alongside the carriage door and was about to hoist himself inside when he heard a shout. Stepping back from the carriage, he turned to his left, toward the direction where the sound had come from.

The gas lamps along the street penetrated just enough of the gloom to allow Tim to distinguish a figure hurrying toward him. As the person drew nearer, Tim could see that it was a woman, clutching a dirty bundle to her chest. Thousands of poor women in London made a meager living sifting through the city’s dustbins for usable items and selling them for whatever pittance they could fetch. The bundle this woman cradled so carefully probably contained an assortment of odd candlesticks, worn shoes, frayed shirts, and the like. Still, this was not someone who would normally frequent Harley Street.

“Wait a moment, please,” Tim told the coachman, resignation in his voice. He was eager to get home, and too tired to wait while the woman unwrapped the bundle. He reached into his trousers pocket, found a half crown and two shillings to give her so that she would continue on her way.

When the woman came to a stop in front of him, Tim noticed with surprise that she was young, perhaps twenty years old. She was small, not much over five feet tall, clad in a tattered dress covered by a dirty, threadbare gray blanket that she had fashioned into a hooded cloak. Her dark brown hair was matted in greasy clumps, and a smudge of dirt smeared her right cheek.  Her face, though it was beginning to show the premature wear of a hard life, was still quite pretty. She stood with her brown eyes downcast, silently waiting for Tim to acknowledge her.

“Can I help you, miss?”

“Thank you for waiting, sir,” the woman said, still struggling to catch her breath. “I was hoping that you could take a look at my son. He’s very sick.” She tugged back a corner of what appeared to be a piece of the same blanket that constituted her cloak to reveal the face of an infant.

Tim suppressed a groan. It had been a long day—all his days seemed long now—and he was eager to get home. “Come inside, please,” he instructed the woman. To Henry he said, “This shouldn’t take too long.”

Unlocking the office door, Tim went inside, lit a lamp, and then held the door for the woman and baby to enter. Inside, the woman gazed at him with an earnestness that aroused his sympathy.

“I’m very sorry to bother you like this, Doctor. I didn’t mean to come so late, but I had to walk all the way from the East End, and it took longer than I thought,” she explained. “I never would have found your office yet, except that a kind old gentleman asked if I was lost and then pointed me to your door. A friend of yours, he said.”

“Well,” Tim replied in a reassuring tone, “you’re fortunate that I had to work late; I usually close the office at six.”

The woman shuffled her feet uneasily. “If it’s too late, sir, we can come back tomorrow.”

“No, no, that’s all right. Now tell me, what is the matter?”

“It’s my Jonathan, sir. He’s been sickly since birth, and now he’s getting worse,” she said. Tim noticed that her eyes were moist.

“Let’s take him into the examination room.” Tim led them in, lit the lamps. The woman laid the child on the table and pulled back the blanket and other wrappings. Tim was shocked to see that the boy was not an infant—his facial features were too developed—but he was clearly undersized, and Tim did not dare hazard a guess as to his age.

“How old is the little fellow?”

“Three last summer, sir.”

Tim studied the boy. His eyes were open, brown like his mother’s, and though they gazed intently at Tim, the little body was limp. No mental defect, but something physical, and severe.  Tim placed a thumb in each of the tiny hands.

“Can you squeeze my thumbs, Jonathan?” he asked. The boy did so, feebly.

“Very good!” Tim said. Jonathan smiled.

“I didn’t know who else to go to, sir,” the woman explained as Tim flexed the boy’s arms and legs. “There’s no doctors who want to see the likes of us, but then I remembered you, sir. You took care of me many years back, when I had a fever. You came by the East End every week then, sir, and took care of the poor folk.”

“I’m sorry, but I treated so many patients that I can’t recall you, Miss, ah, Mrs.—”

“It’s Miss, Doctor. Jonathan’s father was a sailor. We were supposed to marry, but I never seen him since before Jonathan was born. My name’s Ginny Whitson.”

It was already clear to Tim that the child, like his thin, almost gaunt mother, was badly malnourished. That accounted in part for his small size. Tim also noticed that the boy’s leg muscles were extremely weak. Jonathan remained quiet, looking at the strange man with a mixture of curiosity and fear.

“Does Jonathan walk much?” Tim asked.

“No, sir, never a step. He could stand a bit until a few weeks ago, but now he can’t even do that. I think it’s the lump on his back, Doctor.”

Tim carefully turned the boy over to find a plum-sized swelling along the left edge of his spine at waist level. He touched it lightly, and Jonathan whimpered. “How long has he had this?” Tim asked.

“I didn’t notice it till a year ago, sir. It was tiny then, but it’s grown since. In the last month or so it’s gone from about the size of a grape to this big.”

Tim hesitated. He needed to do some research and then give Jonathan a more thorough examination before he could accurately diagnose and treat the boy’s condition. He did have several possibilities in mind, none of them good, but there was no sense alarming Ginny prematurely. After she had swathed her child in the bundle of cloth, Tim ushered them back into the waiting room, where he studied his appointment book.

“Can you come back at noon on Saturday? I’m sorry to make you wait that long, but I have some things to check, and it will take time.” Ginny nodded. “I’ll see then what I can do,” Tim said.

“Oh, Doctor, thank you so much,” Ginny blurted, grateful for any help regardless of when it might come. She shifted Jonathan to her left arm, and thrust her right hand into the pocket of her frayed and patched black dress. Removing a small felt sack, she emptied a pile of copper coins onto the clerk’s desk.  Most were farthings and halfpennies, with an occasional large penny interspersed among them.

“I know this isn’t enough even for today, sir,” she apologized. “But I’ll get more, I promise. I’m working hard, you see, sir. Every day I go door-to-door and get work cleaning house and doing laundry, and save all I can.”

With his right hand, Tim swept the coins across the desktop into his cupped left palm and returned them to Ginny. He was touched by her attempt to pay him, knowing that she must have gone without food many times to accumulate this small amount of money. Her devotion to her son and effort to demonstrate her independence impressed him.

“There isn’t any fee, Miss Whitson. I’ll be happy to do whatever I can for Jonathan at no charge.”

“But I can’t accept charity, Doctor,” the surprised woman answered. “It wouldn’t be right, taking your time away from your paying patients.”

“We all need charity in one form or another at some time in our lives,” Tim said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for a great act of charity long ago, and as for taking time away from my paying patients, that may be more of a benefit than a problem. Come along, now, and I’ll give you and Jonathan a ride home.”

Tim locked the office door and escorted Ginny and Jonathan to his coach as tears trickled down her face, picking up dirt from the smudge on her cheek and tracking it down to her chin. Jonathan began to cry soon after the coach got under way, and Ginny comforted him with a lullaby, one that Tim remembered his own mother singing to him. When the child finally fell asleep, both remained silent, afraid to wake him. Once they reached the narrow streets packed with sailors, beggars, drunks, and an assortment of London’s other poor wretches, Ginny asked to be let out. Tim knocked twice on the roof, and Henry reined in the horses.

As she was about to step out of the carriage, something she had said earlier occurred to Tim. “One moment, Miss Whitson. You mentioned that someone directed you to my office. Do you know who he was?”

“No, Doctor,” she replied, “and he didn’t say. He was an old gentleman, thin, with a long nose and white hair. Neatly dressed, but his clothes weren’t fancy, if you know what I mean, sir.”

Tim bade her good night and watched as she walked down the sidewalk, past gin mills and dilapidated rooming houses. She soon turned into the recessed doorway of a darkened pawnshop and settled herself on the stone pavement. Tim briefly thought of going back to find out if she even had a home, or if she was going to spend the night in the doorway. Fatigue slowed his thoughts, however, and by the time the idea took root, the carriage was a block away and gathering speed.

Tim lay back against the soft, leather-covered seat cushions, pondering which of his Harley Street neighbors had directed her to his office. Most of them would have ignored such a woman, or ordered her back to the slums. Her description, though, didn’t fit any of them. He shook his head, trying to remove the cobwebs from his tired mind. It must have been someone else, someone he just couldn’t recall in his fuddled state. No sense wrestling with the question, he concluded.

During the long drive across town to his home in the western outskirts of London, Tim tried to relax. It had been another in a seemingly endless string of days filled with consultations and surgeries. Tim had arrived at his office at five-thirty that morning, half an hour earlier than usual, to prepare for a seven o’clock operation on the Duchess of Wilbersham. She had been complaining for weeks about pain in her left shoulder, which she attributed to a strain that refused to heal. Since she never lifted anything heavier than a deck of cards at her daily whist game, Tim doubted the explanation, and several examinations showed no sign of any real injury. The duchess had a reputation as a hypochondriac who sought treatment for her phantom ailments from the best doctors in London, then bragged about how she managed to maintain her health by not stinting on the cost of good medical care. To placate the pompous woman, Tim had finally caved in to her demand that he operate to repair the tendons and ligaments she insisted had been damaged. Because the surgery was minor and the duchess, with good reason, abhorred hospitals, Tim performed the operation in his office, which was equipped for such tasks. A small incision and internal examination verified his suspicion that the duchess’s shoulder was perfectly sound. When she awoke, with more pain from the surgery than she had ever experienced from her imaginary injury, along with sutures and an application of carbolic acid to prevent infection, she swore that the shoulder had not felt so well in ten years. Tim wondered if she would be so pleased when the effects of the morphine wore off.

“Just give the doctor that bag of coins I asked you to bring,” the duchess had ordered her maidservant. “I won’t insult you, Dr. Cratchit, by asking your fee, but I’m sure there’s more than enough here to cover it, and worth every farthing, too.”

When Tim’s clerk opened the leather pouch, he found it contained one hundred gold guineas. Tim could not help contrasting the way his wealthy patients tossed gold coins about with Ginny Whitson’s offer of her pathetic little hoard of coppers. The thought stirred memories of his own childhood, when pennies were so scarce that he and his brothers and sisters sometimes had to roam through frigid alleys to scavenge wood scraps to keep a fire burning on winter nights. It was on one such night when he lay awake, shivering on his thin straw mattress, that he overheard the conversation that changed his life.

“I’m to get a raise in salary,” his father murmured excitedly, trying not to wake the children.

“I don’t believe it,” Mrs. Cratchit declared. “That old miser would die before he parted with an extra farthing.”

“It’s true, dear,” Bob Cratchit insisted. “I’ve never seen Mr. Scrooge like that. We sat for an hour this afternoon, talking. He asked a lot of questions about our family, Tim in particular.”

“I’m surprised that he even knew you had a family, Bob.”

“I was, too, dear, but he seemed to know a good bit about us. Why, from a few things he said about hoping we had a good Christmas dinner, I think he’s the one who sent the turkey yesterday. Who else could have done it?”

“Well, I hope you’re right, Bob. I’ll not believe any of it until I see the proof.”

Tim smiled at the recollection of his mother’s skepticism. She had always been the realist in the family, Bob the optimist. Tim had shared his mother’s doubts. She and the children had despised Ebenezer Scrooge, blaming his greed for the family’s struggles. But with his stomach filled to bursting with turkey left over from Christmas dinner, Tim dared to hope that his father was right, and that old Scrooge might truly have undergone a change of heart. After all, it was Christmas, a time when good things were supposed to happen.

The sudden stop as the carriage arrived at his front door shook Tim from his reverie. He was out the door before Henry could dismount from the driver’s seat and open it for him, a habit that Tim had observed left his coachman more amused than chagrined.

“That’s all right, Henry,” he said, waving toward the carriage house. “You and the horses get inside and warm up.”

Entering the large, well-lit foyer, Tim was greeted by his maid. Bridget Riordan was a pretty Irish girl, with long, flaming red hair pinned up under her white cap, numberless freckles on her cheeks and small nose, and green eyes that always seemed to sparkle with happiness. She took Tim’s top hat, coat, and scarf. “Dinner will be ready in a half hour, Doctor,” she announced, “so you can rest a bit if you’d like.”

“Thank you, Bridget,” Tim replied, watching her walk gracefully toward the kitchen. He loosened his cravat as he climbed the stairs, thought briefly of skipping the meal and going directly to bed, and decided that he could not afford the luxury since he had a long evening of work ahead of him.

As usual, Tim dined alone. At the time he had purchased the large house, Tim had expected that he would one day need the space for the family he hoped to have. However, the demands of his practice and the memory of his one previous and unsuccessful attempt at courtship kept him from actively pursuing any romantic interests. Now he sometimes wondered whether he would spend the rest of his life a bachelor, without the happiness he had enjoyed as a child in the crowded and bustling Cratchit home.

Solitary meals in the cavernous dining room always seemed to dim Tim’s pleasure despite the hot, tasty food that Bridget prepared. When he had hired them after buying the house, he had often insisted that she, Henry, and William, the gardener, join him in the dining room. But the trio had been servants since their childhood, and their previous masters, who had not shared Tim’s lack of concern with class distinctions, had impressed upon them the idea that it was improper for servants to associate with their master outside the scope of their duties. The dinner conversations had been stilted, with Tim trying to make conversation and Bridget, Henry, and William replying in monosyllables punctuated by “sir.” Tim had quickly given up the experiment, yet he still could not help feeling a pang of sadness, mixed with a bit of jealousy, every time the sound of their friendly conversation and laughter in the serving room rose high enough for him to hear. Still, he admitted that all three servants had warmed to him over the past two years, and had grown more willing to engage him in informal conversation. Perhaps one day they could dine together without the awkwardness of his previous attempts, he thought.

Shortly after nine o’clock, Tim retired to his upstairs study. There each night he reviewed the next day’s cases, looked up information in his medical books that he might need, and, if time permitted, read the most recent scientific journals to keep up to date on the latest advances in medicine and surgery. At one time he had contributed his share of new knowledge to the medical profession, but for the last several years he just could not find the time to do so. He really didn’t have the opportunity, anyway. How could he devise innovative treatments, he asked himself, when most of the patients he saw, like the duchess, had nothing seriously wrong with them to begin with?

Having finished his preparation for the next day’s work, Tim drew out his pocket watch. Not quite half past ten. He reached across the wide mahogany desk for the latest issue of the Lancet, which had lain unread for more than a week. Tim pushed it aside. It would have to wait until he had researched Jonathan’s condition. Tim walked over to the bookcase, scanned several volumes, removed a reference book, and returned to his chair. The coal fire that Bridget had stoked was still burning strongly; he would see if he could find confirmation of his suspicions regarding the boy’s problem, or alternative, less dire diagnoses, before retiring. Balancing his chair upon its two rear legs, he put his feet on the desk and opened the volume.

Tim did not know how long he had been reading. It seemed he had gone over the same paragraph a dozen times without registering the information in his mind when he felt how cold the study had become. He glanced toward the fireplace, where a single small log emitted a parsimonious warmth. The room seemed dark—looking over his shoulder at the gas lamp, he was surprised to see only a candle in a tin wall sconce, flickering in a chill breeze that came through a cracked windowpane. Strange, Tim thought, he was certain Bridget had closed the curtains. And when had the window broken?

His eyes better adjusted to the gloom, Tim turned back toward the fireplace. His surprise turned to shock when he looked down at his legs and saw that the new black trousers he had been wearing were now coarse brown cloth through which he could see the outline of his legs, withered and weak. The elegant marble of the fireplace had been replaced by cracked, ancient bricks. Leaning against them was a crutch. His childhood crutch.

Tim stared at the hearth, baffled, for how long he did not know. Then he started to get up, reaching for the crutch, only to find that his legs were so weak he could not stand. He gazed at his extended right hand. It was that of a child. He leaned back in his chair, rubbed his eyes, and when he looked around again, he was back in his own comfortable study. The gas lamp burned brightly, the fire still blazed in its marble enclave. There was no crutch to be seen. He flexed his legs. They were strong. He shuddered, perplexed at what had occurred. Although he was quite sure that he had not fallen asleep, he reassured himself that it must have been a dream. Not surprising, considering his thoughts about Jonathan, and the unavoidable realization that the boy’s plight reminded him so much of his own childhood illness. Tim stood, uneasy, and dropped the reference book on the desk before heading to bed.

Standing over the washbasin, he poured water from a pitcher into the ceramic bowl. He wet a washcloth and rubbed his face. Even in the light of the single gas lamp, he could see the creases beginning to form on his forehead, the dark circles under his blue eyes. A few strands of gray were sprinkled through his blond hair. He thought he looked at least a decade older than his thirty-two years. Combined with his short stature and thinness, Tim reflected that in a few years he would look like a wizened old man.

Too much work, that was the cause, he thought. Unpleasant work. And now he also had to do something about Jonathan Whitson, who had what was likely a malignant tumor. A boy not yet four, probably sentenced to death by nature before his life had a chance to begin. Five years ago, Dr. Timothy Cratchit would have tackled the child’s case enthusiastically and with optimism. Now he was reduced to performing fake surgeries to placate hypochondriacs.

Ginny Whitson had met him years earlier, and believed in his abilities. He only wished that he shared her confidence.

AUTHOR:
Jim Piecuch is an associate professor of history, and has published several works of nonfiction. Tim Cratchit’s Christmas Carol is his first novel. 

Complete list of Merr-E Reads:
Blond Cargo by John Lanshing - Oct 20th $5.99
Tim Cratchit's Christmas Carol by Jim Piecuch - Nov 17th $1.99
The Perfect Gift by Dani-Lyn Alexander - Nov 17th $0.99
The Christmas Train by Rexanne Becnel - Nov 17th $1.99
Rocky Mountain Miracle by Christine Feehan - Nov 17th $3.99
A Last Goodbye by J.A. Jance - Nov 24th $0.99
Branded by Colette Auclair - Dec 15th $5.99



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