Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gadgets R Us: The Good, The Bad and the Really Ugly

Our resident techie, Collin, makes sure we always have what we need to keep our life support equipment (you know, smartphones, smart TV, Blu-Ray player, computer, Roku, and tablets) functioning because we can't live without them. 

At least that's how it feels sometimes.

Most recently, he bought each of us a solar charger to keep our stuff going in the event of a power outage. Had that recent massive solar storm taken out the earth's power grids and all things tech, it might have killed us.


At least that's how it feels sometimes.

When I had trouble navigating my Windows 8 tablet, he got me a Bluetooth mouse. Problem solved.


But the best find of all came quite by accident. A couple of weeks ago, we spent an afternoon at Five Below. They have some really great stuff--tablet cases, waterproof phone cases...and headphones. Using earphones has always been a problem for me. Once upon a time, I had Bluetooth for my phone. I couldn't keep it in my ear. I'm still not sure what I was doing wrong. I like earbuds, but they tend to fall out. Again, I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. Five Below had something I had used a long time ago--large, padded headphones. There was quite an assortment--different brands, a multitude of colors. Collin and I each got two.


It wasn't until we got home that I discovered these headphones weren't just for listening to music and audiobooks--they also worked for talking on the phone. There's more, but I'll get back to that discovery in a minute. Here comes the ugly. 

For some reason, my entire Audible library had disappeared from my Kindle Fire HD. After a few choice expletives, I got on live chat with an Audible rep. This shows just how desperate I was--I hate chat almost as much as I hate talking on the phone. Both are considered last resort methods of communication in our house. The chat went nowhere, and I was transferred to an Amazon rep, since the problem, they said, was in my Kindle.

The Amazon rep informed me that the problem was that my Kindle had been de-registered. De-registered? I knew that wasn't possible. I use it every day. I had just downloaded a new Audible book the day before. In fact, I had just gone through the naming process. Yes, for those of you who have never done this, there is a way to name your devices. Most of mine have Minion names, except the Windows tablet. That's Rocket, so named in honor of the trigger-happy raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy.

I fired off an angry email to Audible, telling them I did not want to get a phone call. I did not want to chat. I just wanted my audiobooks back on my Kindle--or I would cancel my membership. It wasn't long before I received an email from a very helpful tech who gave me detailed directions for restoring my library. Collin followed the instructions, and my books were back in minutes.

I know some people are still skeptical about ebooks, but this just made me more certain of my choice. Twenty years ago, I lost 90% of my books, mostly hardcover. It would have cost me a fortune to replace them--which, at the time, I didn't have. So, my books were gone--until the Kindle came along. My audiobooks may have disappeared from my Kindle, but they were never really lost. I got them back at no further cost to me other than the stress that had my blood pressure shooting into the stratosphere until the problem was resolved.

Now, back to my unexpected headphone discovery. As some of you already know, my new publisher is going to re-release all of my backlist in print and ebook format--but there's a problem. Most of those books were written on a typewriter, which meant there were no digital copies of the manuscripts. I no longer had the typed copies, either. This meant Collin and I would have to scan the pages and use an OCR program to produce a Word document for the publisher. That's time-consuming and after full of errors. Or I could retype everything (even more time-consuming). Or I could dictate the text into the computer--where do I begin to explain why that wouldn't work?

I do most of my writing on my phone or tablets. My phone does have a text-to-speech option, but the results are mixed. As I sat at McDonald's waiting for Collin yesterday, I started to think. If the headphones worked for the phone, why not for dictation? It was worth a try. I started small, sending Collin a dictated text. It was perfect. As it turns out, my cheapy headphones ($1.99 at Five Below) produce flawless text from my dictation.

This might not take forever, after all.




Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spotlight on Creativity: Carole Morden



This is the first of a series I plan to do, regular posts focusing on the many creative people I've come to know and love--authors, bloggers, photobloggers, etc. I'm starting with first-time author Carole Morden, whose debut novel, Dry Bones, is getting off to an impressive start. Carole is not only a pastor's wife, she's my pastor's wife (yes, I'm biased). I've known her for about ten years now--and lived with her and Pastor John for three months. Of course I'm going to promote her and her book!



Carole was working on Dry Bones when I first met her. I knew the first time she showed it to me that she was going to be a successful author. (Yes, I'm patting myself on the back for being able to recognize talent. So sue me.) Buy the book and you'll see I'm right. But now, let's hear what the newly-minted author has to say for herself....


Most of the writers I know realized they wanted to write at an early age. Do you recall when you knew you were a writer? What was your earliest inspiration?  

I never dreamed about writing.  That would have been a far too lofty goal.   I only knew I loved to read from the minute I read the Dick and Jane books in first grade.  Every word was so amazing to me and even as a very young girl, I read 4 to 5 books a week.   And I thought authors were to be revered.  In fact, I never went to book signings, because I thought the authors would think I was too lowly to buy their books.  So about 15 years ago I decided to write a few things and try to get them published, instead of just journaling. 

Revered? We wish. Most of us can't get recognized in the grocery store. Our families want to know when we're going to get "real" jobs. We're like the prophets. We get no respect in our own homes.

Your protagonist, Jamie, is a pastor's wife, as are you. How much of you is in Jamie? Have you used any of your personal experiences in the book?   

Not much of me is Jamie.  She has guts.  I think of things, but never do them.   She does them.   Yes, I use some experiences, things that are common to many in the parsonage.  That is mostly just background info and not plot lines.   The rest is just stuff I imagine.  

Is Dry Bones being marketed as a Christian novel? I noticed it wasn't mentioned in any of the book's tags on Amazon.  

On the book it is listed as a Christian mystery and cozy. You notice the little things.   I don’t.  But I will have to start learning.  

As a pastor's wife/church secretary/mother of three and grandmother of five, you've got a pretty hectic life. How do you find time to write?  

Early in the morning, whenever everyone else is asleep. And I only work three days a week so I usually can take a Friday or Monday morning to myself and the computer.

The Kindle edition of Dry Bones has gotten off to an impressive start. Aside from mysteries being a popular genre, to what do you attribute that? 

I think most of my friends have been such good promoters.  They post links to my book on Amazon and share my Facebook posts on a regular basis.   It is good to have people who believe in you.

This question is for your husband, John: writers are generally a quirky lot. We're considered odd ducks by normal standards. How has it been for you, living with a struggling writer and now a published author?  

John says: For twenty-five years in ministry this author stood by me in everything I did.  She stood by my side through thick and thin and now it is my turn to stand by her and be her greatest champion and cheerleader.  And yes, she is quirky.

Carole, tell everyone about the contest you announced on your Facebook page.

 I just finished a contest, but I will start one soon.   Because I do all my promotion through my Facebook author page, every time I get a new page “like” I add that person’s name in a hat.  If I can trace the source of who recommended the page, I also put their name in the hat.  That becomes the basis of who wins the next contest.  Then I also add some twist to the contest.   I am not sure what it will be next, but I might just ask you, Norma, to give me an idea.  You are always thinking.

Well, thank you, Carole, but not everybody thinks that’s such a good thing.

You mentioned that you’d considered using a pseudonym, your maiden name.  I think that was a clever idea.

At first…but I changed my mind. Marjerrison.  Just Marjerrison.  No first name.

Dry Bones is the first of a planned series, right? What’s up next for Jamie Storm?

I am about a third of the way through with Earthly Treasures.  This is based on real life hidden treasure in Montana.   A young sheriff by the name of Henry Plummer was hanged when he was about 28 (in 1864) but before that he hid a bunch of gold.  He tried to trade it for his life but wasn’t allowed to.  It is still considered one of the best hidden stashes of gold that has never been found.  Fast  forward to Jamie. She is trying to solve a cold case about a mother and son who were murdered 20 years previously.  And guess what it all ties into?  Yep, the hidden gold.   I am really enjoying writing it.  Abigail Thornbush stays but the Cliffhangers will not make an appearance in this book.  This all takes place in Montana.

Speaking of Abigail…any chance I can get you to finally tell me who was the inspiration for the old bat?

Abigail Thornbush is a conglomeration of several “Saints” but I have already had several people tell me that she is their favorite.

Good save! She is quite a character. I can see why she's getting so much attention. And it's obvious why you're getting so much attention, too, Carole. You have more guts than you realize. You stuck it out in this perpetually nutty business, after all, and you made it!

For anyone who hasn't yet read Dry Bones, it's available at Amazon.


Monday, March 9, 2015

In the Meantime...Yep, I'm Running Behind Again....

I had planned to post my interview with new author Carole Morden today, but I have to take a few more shots at her ask her a few more questions before I finalize the post (just kidding, Carole, I'll behave, I promise). Since it's been more than a week since my last post and I didn't want anyone to think I'd croaked, I'll share my two most recent book reviews. One is, of course, my review of Carole's novel, Dry Bones. The other is The Toy Collector, a novel published some years ago by screenwriter/director James Gunn (yep, that James Gunn, as in Guardians of the Galaxy). He mentioned the book on his Facbook page, and after a brief exchange there, I found the book in ebook format at Amazon. 


First-time author Morden will be a real treat for amateur sleuth fans. Launching her mystery from familiar territory--her own background as a pastor's wife--she creates realistic, well-developed characters, from the insufferable Abigail Thornbush (good, prickly name for the old bat!) to Jamie's former classmate Rachel, whose troubled past still haunts her, to Jamie herself, a woman who dearly loves her husband, her children and her life but has begun to feel she has no identity of her own. That changes with the death of another former classmate, who leaves her his estate--and makes her the prime suspect in his murder. I was skeptical at first of the idea of a group of old high school friends taking on the search for his killer--it seemed too convenient that the former classmates had once had a "mystery club"--but Morden pulls it off beautifully. She writes in a straightforward, simple style that makes her novel an easy read, relying on sharp dialogue and a gift for just enough details in sight, sound and smell to give her readers a you-are-there feeling. Strongly recommended. 

 
I'll confess up front: this is not the kind of book I normally read. I bought it because I became a James Gunn fan after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy. I didn't even know he'd written a novel until he mentioned it on his Facebook page. This book is very different from Guardians, but I ended up reading it in one sitting. To call it quirky is a monumental understatement. It's well written (not surprising), with a cast of odd but believable characters (again, not surprising) the reader can root for even at their lowest points. I did find find myself wondering, since the character and the author have the same name and background, how much of the story is fiction and how much is fact.

My only complaint is directed at the publisher, not the author. A publisher, even a small one, should be able to properly format their ebooks. The formatting of The Toy Collector is abysmal.


Friday, February 27, 2015

My Mind Wandered...And Still Hasn't Come Back!

All my life, people have told me how smart I am. When I was having trouble in school, Mom asked my guidance counselor if I had a learning disability. "Not at all," he assured her. "She could make straight As if she made the effort. Your daughter is bored. She's smart and she has a photographic memory. She picks up things much faster than her classmates, and gets restless when the teachers have to spend the time normally needed for the kids to learn. Because she's bored, she cuts class and acts out."


I ended up quitting school. I think they were secretly happy to see me go.

In the hospital following my first head injury, my doctor came into my room one day and announced, "I have a surprise for you. You're going to college."

"I have a surprise for you," I told him. "I didn't finish high school." All the effort I'd put into going over the wall, and here was this guy wanting to send me back? No way!

These days, there are courses to be taken before taking the GED exam. I never took any classes, just the exam. It wasn't that difficult.

I left St. Louis University with one year to go to get my degree. Why? Bored again. I just don't do well in a classroom environment. I see Collin taking his courses online and wish I'd had that option. I might have actually finished what I started.

I've never felt all that smart. I've certainly made some stupid decisions in my life. But then, intelligence and common sense don't always go hand-in-hand.  Dad used to say smart people know they don't have all the answers, while idiots are too stupid to know they don't know everything. Sometimes, emotion overrides intelligence. Sometimes, pride gets in the way. Pride can be a dangerous thing. I speak from experience there.


But that's not what today's post is about. Nope, today, I'm writing about my latest screw-up.

I've been a writer--professionally--for thirty years now. I've written sixteen published novels. By this time, I should know the drill, right? Write, rewrite, revise, edit, proofread--I'd done it all with each book. Since signing with Creativia, we've already prepared two of my books for re-publication. Yet when I received the proofread copy of The Unicorn's Daughter a few days ago, as I went over it, I was surprised to find so many words in red. Why were they in red? Was something wrong with the file?

I quickly emailed my publisher. As I waited for his response, it was pointed out to me that the red words are words that had been changed. They were in red so I could find them!

I've been doing well on the new medication, but I'm not completely seizure-free yet. Sleep deprivation is a real seizure trigger. After a seizure, I'm often confused for a little while. I had gone over the proof copy after a seizure, knowing I should wait. As a result, I didn't recognize the red words for what they were.


Facepalm time....


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Catching Up is Hard to Do--When 15 Posts on Your Blogroll Are New!

Yep, it looks like I'm behind again.

I did four consecutive posts last week for Valentine's Day...and nothing since. I have a good excuse reason, I really do. I was sending material to my new publisher (big shout out to Miika and the rest of the team at Creativia), streamlining my social media activity, and skipping the Oscars telecast to watch a WWE pay-per-view, Fastlane. It was as huge a disappointment as the Oscars. Collin and I skipped the Oscars because we didn't really care which nominees won. We hadn't seen any of them. The movies we loved this year--Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 were snubbed in all of the major categories. Over at the WWE Network, things weren't much better. Predictably, most of the wrestlers we were rooting for lost their matches. The only match in which we'd be happy no matter who won was the main event pitting Roman Reigns against Daniel Bryan to satisfy some outraged fans who felt Bryan got cheated at the Royal Rumble last month.



Rocket Raccoon is NOT pleased at the Oscar snub....

For anybody who's been living on Mars for the past century, wrestling is scripted. The guys go into their matches knowing who's going to win. The legendary Undertaker, who won every one of his Wrestlemania matches for 21 years, lost last year to current part-time champ Brock Lesnar. Unlike other champions who must be able to defend their titles every thirty days, "The Beast" is usually watching the events from the comfort of his home. And now, adding insult to injury, it looks like the Undertaker will be competing against B-list "Superstar" Bray Wyatt at this year's Wrestlemania. For the unfamiliar, Wyatt could be the inspiration for the mutant characters in The Hills Have Eyes. His entrance theme should be Dueling Banjos from Deliverance.

That's no exaggeration. He's creepy.

But enough whining and complaining. I think I've finally caught up on my blog reading/commenting. If I've missed anyone, just give me a hard slap. And I just received the PDF, mobi and EPUB files for Chasing the Wind from my publisher, and they look great! In addition to the reformatted ebook, a paperback edition will be available (the one that's currently up Amazon/Create Space is an earlier edition).

Doing the happy dance now....





Yeah!


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Beauty and the Beast...and the Other Beast

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! As promised, this is fourth (and last, for this year, anyway) of my Valentine's Day salute to love. This excerpt is from Sucker-Punched, featuring pro wrestler Paulie Cantwell (also known as The Punisher) and restaurant owner Amelia Hartman. Amelia and her sister, Amy, are Paulie's guests at a wrestling event in Los Angeles--but things don't exactly go as planned....



Amelia

I couldn't believe it.

That is, I couldn't believe I was here, that Amy and I had flown all the way to Los Angeles to attend a wrestling event at the Staples Center. Who am I kidding? I still couldn't believe I was dating a pro wrestler. No...that was something Amy would do, not me. I always figured I'd end up with somebody more...stable. Like an accountant. Or maybe a funeral director. Definitely not a guy who beats people up for a living.

When I imagined my ideal guy over the years, well, it wasn't Paulie. He only had two of the traits on my wish list: a good heart and a great sense of humor. But then, those two were the traits that mattered most to me.

He'd gotten us front-row seats. We had an unobstructed view of the ring. This was the first time I'd actually attended one of his matches—and I wasn't sure what to expect. Yes, I'd watched him wrestle on TV, but I knew everything was scripted. They knew who would win the match before they entered the ring. Still, wrestlers did get injured, sometimes seriously. If this was all staged, how could that happen? I had so many questions....

He'd told me about his opponent. He said his feud with Mad Dog Mueller wasn't just part of the act. He and the current World Champion really did not get along. How had he put it? Oh, yes—"I hate the dumbass, but tonight, I get to take the belt from him."

That was why he wanted me to be there. He wanted me to celebrate his victory with him. He wanted Amy and me to meet the rest of his family—his parents, his sister, and his brother-in-law, the artist. Meeting his family suggested he was ready to take our relationship to the next level.

I was well past ready. I loved him. I wanted to marry him.

I took a deep breath as the program got underway. Maybe the World Championship wasn't the only thing we'd be celebrating before the night was over....

Paulie

Mad Dog was in a foul mood. To say he wasn't crazy about the idea of losing the championship—especially to me—had to be the understatement of the century.

"I may have to let you have it, but I don't have to make it easy for you, Cantwell," he growled as he yanked open his locker. "You just might be having your victory party in the hospital."

I laughed, even though a part of me thought the douchebag might be serious. "Just don't forget your trunks this time," I told him. "I can take a lot of abuse, but the sight of your junk flappin' around in the wake of me body slammin' you would be cruel and unusual punishment."

Mad Dog looked at me, eyes narrowed—and growled!

Mike and J.J. came into the locker room. "Hey, Mad Dog—goin' commando for the TV cameras tonight?" Mike asked as he dropped his duffel on the bench.

J.J. laughed, too. "Nobody saw anything last time," he said, pulling off his shirt. "The camera crew would have had to have at least one camera on zoom to catch anything that small—"

Before he could finish, Mad Dog grabbed him and slammed him against the wall, almost choking him. It took both Mike and me to pull him off our kid brother. "Let him go, you stupid dick!" I yelled.

He reluctantly released J.J. and turned his venom on me. "It would be worth getting fired just to be able to keep you from getting this." He snatched up the championship belt and shoved it in my face for a minute, then pulled it away and headed for the exit.

"Like you could!" I called after him.

Mike looked at me, worried. "He's a powder keg tonight," he said. "You better be careful out there."

"Think he meant it?" J.J. wondered aloud.

I tried to shrug it off. "I can handle Mad Dog," I assured them. But I was wondering, too. It was no secret that Mad Dog and his manager, a loudmouthed, brain-dead moron who looked more like Jabba the Hut than a real human being, had vehemently protested the relinquishment of the belt. They'd tell anybody who'd listen that Mad Dog was getting screwed.

Personally, I thought that would make Mad Dog happy. That's the closest to screwed he's ever gonna get.

*****

Finally. Time to head for the ring.

It felt like an eternity, watching match after match on the monitors while I waited for my turn. I wanted to get it all over with, take the belt and get out of here. The championship would have meant more to me if I could win it honestly, but that wasn't going to happen. It's not how things are done in our business. But tonight wasn't really about the championship. It was about Amelia and me. It was about my parents and Robyn and Alex meeting her and her sister, Amelia and Amy getting to know them....

I poked around in my duffel until I found the box—the jeweler's box with the ring inside. Amelia loved rubies, so I got her a ruby and diamond ring—an engagement ring. I was going to pop the question tonight—I'd ask her as soon as we were alone. I'd tell her I'd been thinking of a short engagement and let her decide when and where we'd get married.

I just hoped I wouldn't be popping the question in the emergency room.

Amelia

I looked toward the ramp as Paulie's entrance theme started to play. AC-DC's Shoot to Thrill...Paulie was an Iron Man fan and thought it the perfect entrance theme. He appeared at the top of the ramp, wearing only black spandex trunks. “He looks pretty hot,” Amy told me.

“He looks even better without them,” I replied, unable to not smile.

He did something called a crotch chop, then started down the ramp toward the ring. As he climbed up on the ropes, he looked down at me and winked.

I waved and wondered if I'd be too much of a distraction for him. Maybe I shouldn't have come.

"It's like watching a gladiator about to go into battle for the hand of the woman he loves," Amy said, seeing a romance to this spectacle that completely escaped me. As much as I loved Paulie, to me this seemed to me more a reality TV show—and like all reality shows, there was little in the way of reality going on.

Then, his opponent emerged to the sound of wild booing and Who Let the Dogs Out? The guy who called himself Mad Dog looked like a rabid dog—a big, incredibly ugly rabid dog. I almost expected him to hike his leg and pee on the ring post to mark his territory.

"Is he actually wearing a dog collar?" Amy asked, amazed.

I hadn't noticed before Amy mentioned it, but he was—he was wearing a thick leather collar with metal spikes. His manager was holding something—he had his client on a leash!

“It's hard to tell which one belongs on the leash,” Amy said. “It's a clear case of the owner being uglier than the dog.”

“I think it's a toss-up,” I disagreed.

"Hey, Harvey!" Paulie called out. "When you gonna get that ugly critter neutered?"

"I'll neuter you!" Mad Dog shouted.

"And maybe a flea dip, too," Paulie taunted. "It's hard to pin him when he stinks like that!"

Mad Dog jumped up onto the ring apron, then turned his attention to me. "Say goodbye to your little friend and his little friend," he snarled. "He gets this belt over my dead body!"

"Hey, MD—you don't have to give me an extra incentive," Paulie shouted.

The bell was rung to start the match. It didn't get off to a good start for Paulie. Mad Dog was tossing him around like a rag doll. "It's like watching the T-Rex fighting the raptors in Jurassic Park," Amy commented.

I might have laughed, had anyone but Paulie been in the role of raptor. This was scripted? Paulie was being paid to have his bones broken? I wanted to jump into that ring and take on the monster myself. "This looks too real," I said in a low voice.

"Paulie's going to become champion tonight," Amy reminded me. "They have to make it look good.

It didn't look good to me at all. Stop it! I screamed internally. Leave him alone! The beating seemed to go on endlessly. “How's he supposed to win the belt if this monster keeps beating the crap out of him?” Amy wanted to know.

“I don't know,” I said, concerned. Paulie had told me they had to make it look good for the fans, but this beatdown was scaring me.

Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, they took the battle outside the ring. They were fighting brutally on the ramp, hitting each other with trash cans, metal folding chairs, ladders, anything they could get their hands on. Then they disappeared backstage.

“This can't be right,” I worried aloud. “They're supposed to fight out here, where the fans can watch. Paulie was right. This guy's out of control.”

“It's got to be part of the act,” Amy disagreed.

“I don't think so.” I kept my eyes on the entrance at the top of the ramp, waiting for them to come back. Then, abruptly, an image appeared on the jumbo screen above the entrance. Mad Dog was slamming Paulie's head into the front of a truck. Paulie's head was bleeding. “This isn't put on,” I gasped. “They're fighting for real.”

“I don't think so.” Before Amy could do anything to stop me, I pushed my way through the barricade separating the audience from the ring area and ran up the ramp.

“Who's that?” one of the commentators asked.

“I think it's the Punisher's girlfriend,” his colleague said, also for the entire arena to hear.

“The Punisher has a girlfriend? And she's human?”

“She kinda looks human.”

I ignored them. I ran to the backstage area to put a stop to the brutality. I found them near the production trucks. Mad Dog was still slamming Paulie into the front end of the truck. I looked around for something to use that might actually stop the brute. I found an empty beer bottle, grabbed it—and smashed it over Mad Dog's head.

He never knew what hit him. He fell to the floor in a heap.

“Mad Dog Mueller just got taken out by...a girl!” one of the commentators shouted.

Friday, February 13, 2015

"Is That the Garden Hose, Or Are You Really Happy to See Me?"

My third Valentine's Day excerpt was written before I switched to the multiple third-person character viewpoints I now use. It's from An Army of Angels and takes place after the wedding of Alex and Robyn, as Alex prepares for his first gallery exhibit.....



Robyn was worried about Alex.

He was so stressed over the exhibit, his anxiety was overtaking him. He barely ate, didn’t sleep, couldn’t make love. No matter how she tried to reassure him, he was a wreck.

“You’re worrying for nothing,” she told him. “You’re going to be a hit. A big hit.”

“You’re biased,” he said grimly.

“Yes, I am. But I know talent when I see it, and you’re the best,” she insisted.

She woke during the night to find him pacing in the darkness. She decided then she would have to resort to drastic measures to release him from his anxiety.

The next day, she found him in the studio, standing before a blank canvas, unable to paint. “Could you come outside for a minute, sweetheart?” she asked.

He shook his head. “I need to work.”

“You do, but you’re not. Get your butt out here or I’m coming in after you,” she warned.

Reluctantly, he put down his brush and went outside, only remotely curious as to what his unpredictable wife might be up to. “Whatever this is all about--”

He didn’t get to finish. A water balloon smacked him in the face, He reeled for a moment. “Heads up, sexy!” she shouted, another balloon in hand.

He was angry at first. “Stop!”

“Incoming!” she yelled as she scored another direct hit.

“What are you doing?” he asked, still bewildered, as the second balloon hit. “Stop it!”

Then he saw the child’s wading pool, filled with water balloons. She grabbed another and took aim. “Come on, defend yourself!” she laughed.

“Robyn!”

“Chicken!” She started doing her chicken dance, stepping high as she moved in a circle, arms moving up and down like wings.

He couldn’t help smiling. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous you look?” he wanted to know.

“You’re the one who’s all wet--chicken!”

He realized then that she had gone to a great deal of trouble, making a complete fool of herself, with only one objective in mind: to make him smile.

He grabbed a balloon and threw it, hitting her shoulder. Water splashed across her T-shirt. She only laughed. “Is that all you’ve got?” she challenged.

He snatched up another balloon and aimed. When the cold water spilled over her torso, she danced around, enjoying it. He hit her with another. Her clothes clung to her body, her hair a mass of wet curls.

For the first time in weeks, he wanted to paint. He wanted to paint her as she looked at that moment, wild, uninhibited, a free spirit who looked as though she’d just emerged from the ocean.

He wanted to make love to his wife.

His thoughts were interrupted by the smack of another balloon that split open against his thigh. He looked up at her. “You need to be hosed down!”

Robyn’s eyes widened as he reached for the garden hose. “You wouldn’t!” she gasped.

He only laughed as he turned it on, spraying her with ice cold water. “Surrender?” he asked.

“Never!”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He turned up the force of the spray. She screamed and tried in vain to dodge it. He advanced on her menacingly.

“Alex, don’t you dare--”

He grabbed her wrist and held onto her, spraying her at close range. She squirmed wildly, unable to break his grip. “Give up yet?” he wanted to know.

“No way!”

“Okay.” He took aim again.

“Okay, okay, I give up!”

“Say it!”

“You win!”

“Say it!”

“You’re the master!”

“That’s more like it.” He dropped the hose abruptly and lifted her up. She wrapped her arms and legs around him and gave him a wicked grin.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Is that the garden hose, honey, or are you really happy to see me?”