Romancing the New Year Blog Hop

Woo-hoo! Welcome to the first blog hop of 2011. I'm sure you all know the drill by now, don't you? Simply use the bar at the top of the page, follow the trail all the way to the end (visiting lots of fabulous authors along the way) and you'll be entered to win a pre-loaded Kindle and other great books.

If you stumbled upon this tour by accident (or if you happen to fall off along the way)  not to worry! Just go to  http://justromance.me/bloghop/ to start at the beginning.

Also, don't forget to join us this Sunday, 7 pm EST, at Gem Sivad's chat room for the chance to win even MORE prizes! Details can be found HERE and HERE.

(c) Aaron Rohde

Tony and Kristy

That strip of bare skin across Kristy’s back—the one that appeared in the gap that stretched between the hem of her shirt and her pant’s waistband whenever she bent to get something from beneath the bar, as she was doing right now—had been driving Tony crazy all evening. Working this New Year’s Eve party together—why had he ever thought that was a good idea?

Oh, yeah. The money. And the chance to spend time with her. Perhaps the chance to sneak a kiss at midnight.

That hadn’t happened though. When the balloons had dropped, just a couple of minutes earlier, they’d both been far too busy pouring drinks and making sure everyone's glasses were topped off for the thought to even enter his head.

The guests were kissing though, especially that one couple on the other side of the bar. They’d locked lips even before the final ten-second countdown had begun and if they’d come up for air any time since, Tony must have missed it. All around them, people continued to celebrate the new year with toasts and smiles and kisses…

“Hey, bartender, can I get another over here?”

...all except for the old man who sat alone at the end of the bar. nursing his porter Tony  had no idea what the man was doing here tonight. Why come alone to a New Year’s Eve party? Why sit by yourself and drink alone all night? 

“Bartender?” the man repeated.

“Yes, sir,” Tony replied. “Right away.”

But getting the man his beer meant passing behind Kristy, who was still bent over the bar. And that was a problem because all Tony could think about was how it would feel wanted to press close behind her, slide his hand up her back beneath her shirt, and pin her against the polished teak surface of the bar. He could imagine the look of surprise on her face as she'd turn to look at him, the flare of heat in her cheeks, the way desire might darken her eyes...

“Tony. What are you doing?” she’d ask.

“Don't move,” he’d say, using his other hand to tug at her pants; so curious to discover what type of underwear she had on.

A thong would be hot but he doubted that was the case. Wouldn’t the strap be visible with her bent over the way she was, her tempting derriere on display? Maybe a pair of bikini panties then…but, on second thought, surely there would be lines, if that were the case?

He glanced again at Kristy’s upturned butt. Could it be…?

“Going commando?”  He’d raise an eyebrow, put on an expression of shocked disapproval. “Have you been a naughty girl this year?”

So, okay, the year was, technically, only a couple of minutes old and, besides, he was a week late for the whole naughty or nice thing, but who could resist the temptation she represented? He’d push his hand deeper into her pants, seeking the wetness that would let him know she was enjoying this game as much as he was. 

She’d wiggle her ass, as though she were trying to get away, but her fingers would be clenched on the edge of the bar. She’d rock her hips, pushing herself more firmly into his hand with every motion until his fingers were sliding back and forth over slick, wet flesh. He’d lean in even closer then and whisper, “Do you need a spanking?”

At that she’d gasp. “Tony, not now. There are people watching!”

Well, that was a given. There would definitely be people watching them. Like those two at the back of the room. The ones who hadn’t once taken their eyes off that couple near the bar who were still kissing.

“Let ‘em watch,” he’d murmur, stroking harder.

“Hey! Buddy,” the man at the end of the bar barked suddenly. “Think there might be a chance  of me getting that beer some time this year?”

Tony started, coloring as he was jerked back to reality. “Yes, sir,” he replied, shaking his head in an effort to clear away the fantasy.

He headed for the cooler where the beer was stored. “Behind you,” he said as he passed Kristy, his voice so thick with lust he barely recognized it.

 She straightened abruptly and collided against him as she took a startled step backward. Her hair, and the scent of her fragrance tickled his nose and he reached for her without thinking.

“Careful,” he cautioned, instinctively taking hold of her hips to help her regain her balance.

“Tony.” She craned her neck to glance up at him, arching her back a little as she did, so that her butt brushed against his groin. He groaned softly. A faint flush colored her cheeks. “Sorry. I didn’t see you there.”

"No problem," he said with a weak smile. Impulsively, he leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Happy new year.”

“To you too.” Kristy turned in his grasp and pressed against him, planting a kiss on his lips that seemed every bit as heated as the ones he’d been imagining. "A very happy new year." 

oh, yeah, baby, Tony thought, the old man and his beer forgotten now. But, just as he was about to pull her closer, Kristy pushed out of his grasp. “No,” she whispered.  “Not now. We’re working.”

Not now? Tony grinned. “So…you're saying...later then?”

Kristy flashed a wicked look as she spun around and bent down again to reach into the beer cooler.  “Maybe,” she said as she passed him the beer he’d come to get.

The hell with that. Tony shook his head. “Definitely,” he corrected. Then he brushed his lips against hers and turned away once more.

Another couple of hours and this party would be over. Theirs would be just beginning. The New Year was already off to a great start.

Happy New Year, everyone! I wish you all a very peaceful and prosperous 2011.

Please visit my website at: www.PGForte.com


Let Me Count the Ways--now at ARe

I guess it's a "Slow News" day, here at Casa Forte. Or did you really want to hear about my plumbing crisis instead?

Yeah. Didn't think so.  lol!

So here's a promo and excerpt. You know, sometimes I forget how much I really like this book and these characters.  Enjoy!


Let Me Count The Ways

By: PG Forte | Other books by PG Forte
Published By: Liquid Silver Books
ISBN # 9781595784070
Word Count: 66391
Heat Index    

Available in: Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader, HTML, Mobipocket
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About the book

As the owner of The Body Electric, LA's hottest new exercise studio, sexy, former film star Claire Calhoun has her pick of studly young men eager to do her bidding. Small wonder she's used to calling the shots, both in and out of bed. But everything changes the night the actress-turned-entrepreneur has one mojito too many at a party and decides it would be fun to pick up her accountant, Mike Sherman. She's thinking fling. He's thinking forever. Claire has been Mike's fantasy since the first time he saw her bare it all for the camera. Now, she's in his bed and he'll do whatever's necessary to keep her there. But he's not a stalker, right? He's just a devoted fan.

An excerpt from the book


I guess you could say I fell for Claire Calhoun the first time I saw her up there on the big silver screen. I don't know what it was about her that affected me so strongly. Maybe it was the Titian hair. The sultry shimmer in those hazel, hellcat eyes. The curve of her lips when she turned and smiled right at the camera--right at me. Whatever it was, it was simply ... stunning. Literally. It hit me hard and low and just wouldn't quit.

She looked like an angel with all that California sunshine spilling down around her; like sweet, lust-inducing innocence dipped in honey. A vision straight from some Garden of Earthly Delights.
But if her face was made for heaven, everything south of that had been built with a far different destination in mind. Her body was sinful enough to tempt even a saint into straying. Happily. Right through the gates of Hell. And I'm far from being a saint.

Despite my on-going fascina tion with the woman, I'd just like to state for the record that I never deluded myself into believing we had a relationship. Claire could have been as fictional as any of the characters she played for all the good I figured it was ever going to do me. There had to be at least a million other guys in the world who wanted her as badly as I did and I knew any number of them were more likely than I to even meet her. Not that it stopped me from dreaming, of course. But dreaming, fantasizing, collecting memorabilia--along with copies of every one of her films I could get my hands on--that's as far as it went.

For a while, Claire's name was box office magic. Everything she touched turned golden. But then a string of unsuccessful movies and even less successful relationships caused her star to plummet. These days, her screen appearances are mostly limited to round-ups subtitled 'Where Are They Now?'

To me, however, Claire would always be a major star, a full blown fantasy, a lush and lovely dream come true. Which is why I could scarcely believe my eyes the day she walked into my office hoping to secure my services as accountant to her new exercise studio, The Body Electric.

To say I was star-struck in her presence is to understate the case by a very, very wide margin. I was hopelessly tongue-tied, socially inept, and all but physically impaired by the kind of hard-on most men my age have given up expecting to achieve without pharmaceutical assistance. It still surprises me that we both made it through that first meeting; that I didn't embarrass myself any worse than I had; that she didn't bolt for the door after spending less than five minutes in my bumbling presence.

Luckily for me, I had come highly recommended by Claire's attorney, Dave Gillen. Dave, who'd recently extricated Claire from marriage number six and brokered the deal that allowed her to walk away with enough money to start her business in the first place, w as also one of my oldest clients.
Claire trusted Dave, Dave trusted me, and the rest, as they say, is history...

* * * *
Chapter One

Yoga is not easy, so the Bhagavad Gita warns, for those whose minds are not subdued. But I can tell you, it's pretty damn hard for any of us. Especially after forty.

I suppose I shouldn't say such things. After all, Yoga did save my life. I turned to it in much the same way Tina turned to Buddhism after Ike. Married to a cruel, emotionally distant man, my career, my health, my looks, my self esteem had all hit the skids. Yoga offered me a way out, a way back. It offered sanity, peace of mind, discipline, and the courage I needed to pick myself up and turn my life around.

That's why I used the money I got in my divorce settlement to open The Body Electric. I wanted to give something back, to share the blessings I'd received, to support myself by working a t something I could still believe in. Still, as the Gita says, it's not easy. Of course, the same can be said of pretty much anything; business, relationships, life itself. There are days, and today was definitely one of them, when it all seems damn near impossible.

Standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling smoked glass that lined one entire wall of my second-floor office, I watched the class working out in the studio below me. A dozen and a half youthful beauties--mostly female--twisted their bodies into pretzels. Willingly. Eagerly. Effortlessly.

The first two were something I could completely understand and totally empathize with, given that their instructor was Derek Novello. Derek has some of the most beautiful musculature I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot. What woman wouldn't be eager to give her all for a piece of that? But the effortless part--now, that's where they had me beat. That's what had me feeling every last year of my age today.
How many years, you wonder? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but there are some things I just don't share. Age is nothing but a number, you know, and a girl's entitled to keep a few secrets.

Derek is the most popular teacher we have here, which is saying rather a lot. Especially when you consider that his classes are also among the hardest we offer. He's tough enough to challenge the men to push themselves to their limits, charming enough to make the women want to melt--into those same willing pretzels I've mentioned.

Tireless, talented, passionate, intense. Derek brings everything he has to his teaching. For almost five months, he brought most of it to our lovemaking, too. All but his heart. That, I suppose, was par for the course, and frankly I wasn't expecting anything more. These older woman/younger man things rarely last long and are almost never about love. I knew the moment it was over. Probably before he did. I could tell right away that Derek's heart had been lost to a pretty blonde pretzel.

Still, I really can't complain. I've been dumped before, but never so discreetly. To the casual observer I'm sure it appeared that I'd tired of him, rather than the other way around. I think even the pretzel was confused. And, in the months since our affair ended, I'd discovered another reason to be thankful. I no longer have to take even one of his classes. I can't tell you what a relief that's been!

At least I still look fit, I thought, taking a step back so that I could see my reflection in the glass. I sucked in my tummy, tucked in my buns, pivoted from side to side. "Not bad," I murmured as I thrust back my shoulders and studied my breasts, wondering how much longer I could get away without having them lifted. "But you're not what you used to be, that's for sure." Still, things could be worse, and no doubt they will be, in time.

"Nonsense," a male voice insisted from somewhere behind me. "You're as beautiful as ever."

I spun around, startled to find Mike Sherman watching from the doorway--which just goes to show you the kind of funk I'd been in all day. I'd totally forgotten his standing, bi-monthly appointment to go over the books, three p.m. every other Thursday.

"Sorry," he mumbled, his face flaming. "I didn't mean to intrude."

"Don't be silly." Calling on all my training to hide my own embarrassment, I rolled my eyes and grimaced slightly. "Actors, you know." I waved my hand in a negligent gesture as I seated myself--not in my chair but on the edge of my desk--where my crossed legs would appear to their best advantage.
"We're always so focused on appearances." And ain't that the truth?

"Well, you have to be, don't you? The same way singers have to take care of their voices." He looked so sincere as he said it too. As if he really might mean it.

"What a nice way of putting it." I beamed at him as he crossed the room to his own desk. "How are things with you, Mike? How's your day going?"

He didn't answer right away. A small smile played over his lips as he slid his briefcase beneath the desk and seated himself. Then he glanced up at me, his eyes twinkling. "It's always a good day when I know I'm going to see you, Claire. Don't you know that?"

"Flatterer." Laughing, I leaned forward a little, just enough to flash some cleavage in his direction. Call it a reward, if you will. "You have all the right answers today, don't you?"

If they ever make a movie of my life, no doubt they'll get someone like Danny DeVito to play the part of Mike, which will be a shame. Don't get me wrong, I think Danny is a fine actor and he's got the bald head, the soulful brown eyes and the teddy bear physique the part calls for. He'll do a fine job of catching the nervous, slightly awkward exuberance Mike exhibited when we first met. But there's so much more to the role than that.

For starters, Mike is big. Brian Denehy big. With Denehy's surprising gracefulness--when he's not acting all nervous. Mike, I mean. Then there's his impeccably trimmed beard, the wicked twinkle in his eye and his rare and wondrous smile, all of which bring Sean Connery to mind.

But, even though Sean would be a dream to work with, if I were casting for the part I'd go for something different. I'd pick someone like a young James Earl Jones, for example. For his eyes and his smile and his size. For his astonishing ability to shift from fearful to fierce, from stern to boyish, from gentle to regal to commanding to jovial--or back again, or all at once. But, more than anything else, for his voice. For that deep, dark, delicious river of sound that could never be anything but male and can't help but leave you wondering, why all the fuss about Tenors?

"It doesn't count as flattery if it's fact," Mike replied in that lovely, low rumble of his.

"Oh, fact, is it?" I couldn't help but smile as I recalled my recent conversation with Dave, my lawyer, over tapas and drinks. Dave had been pleased I'd taken his advice and gone to see Mike, but he'd seemed shocked by the deal we'd worked out...

"He's handling it himself?" Dave asked, looking up from his seared tuna, clearly having trouble coming to grips with the idea. "Didn't he assign you to one of the people who works for him? You don't have to bring your paperwork there? He just shows up at your office--himself--every month?"

"No, twice a month," I corrected, nibbling at the celery stalk that had come in my michelada. "Why? Isn't that what you told me to do--to hire someone reputable? Someone I could trust? You said he was the best."

"I know I did, but, damn it, Claire, he doesn't even do that for me anymore, and I was one of his very first clients! How much is he charging you, anyway?"

Surprised, I told him.

"Oh, hell, no," Dave replied, sounding almost insulted. "That's n othing!"

I sipped my drink and refrained from pointing out that, in my current financial state, it hadn't seemed quite like nothing to me. Then again, neither had Dave's fees. You get what you pay for, I suppose.
Dave's gaze had turned speculative. If he were anyone else, I know exactly what he'd have been thinking--that I must be giving Mike some additional form of compensation. Entirely too many people still confuse the terms 'actress' and 'prostitute'.

"He's a fan, Dave," I tried to explain. "It's not that uncommon." Although, these days, I'm afraid it really is.

But Dave had his own ideas. "You know what I think it is? He probably knows your business is too small to afford his usual rates yet. Probably he figures he can afford to give you a break because he's banking on the fact he can use your name to attract other Hollywood types."

"Well, that would be foolish," I sighed. I knew just how far my name would take him in Hollywood, even if Dav e didn't. It wouldn't even take him as far as it takes me. Which is close to nowhere anymore. "Maybe he's just being nice."

"Nice is no way to stay in business," Dave grumbled, which only made me laugh because Dave is one of the nicest people I know. "He probably doesn't want to pay one of his employees to work on an account he's not making any money on. I bet that's why he's doing it himself."

"I'm sure you're right," I murmured. One thing I've learned over the years is that there's no arguing with a man who's made up his mind about something. So why bother trying? Reason and logic are no match for sheer, pig-headed, male determination. And, when it turns out you were right all along, that'll just prove to him that you're a bitch. Directors are especially good at making that connection.

"It is," Mike insisted now. "Absolutely fact."

And I wasn't about to argue with him, either. Not just because he's a man. Not just because I didn't want him to re-think the great deal he was giving me, or assign my account to someone else. No, I had an even better reason than those.

Mike's a fan, no matter that Dave doesn't see it that way, and you never, ever argue with your fans. That's rule number one of being a celebrity. Fans are the lifeblood of our business. They're why we do what we do. They're the customer. They're always right. And you never want to run the risk of their turning into Kathy Bates

* * * *

Amusement shimmered in Claire's eyes. "Whatever you say, Mike," she murmured as she slid off her desk. She stood there for a moment, staring absently, running her hands up and down her thighs in a way that couldn't help but focus my attention there.

All sorts of inappropriate thoughts followed. I had to clear my throat to relieve the tension there.

Claire started and smiled. "Well, I guess I'd better stop wasting your time and let you get to work, huh?"

Her voice was tinged with regret as she said it. As though she really was sorry. As though she'd like nothing better than to spend the rest of the day chatting with me. I loved that. Even though I knew it was an act, I loved the tinge and the implication that went with it. And I loved her all the more for that small gift of pretense. For taking the trouble to sound like that for me. For allowing me the tiny pleasure of pretending right along with her.

I nodded with mock gravity. "Yes, well, you know what they say. Time is money." And was rewarded again when she flashed a swift smile in my direction before she turned and slipped into her seat.

Silence settled over the room as we both settled into our work.

I'm good at what I do. That's not bragging, it's just a fact. And Claire's account is simple, straightforward--boring work really--nothing I can't do ... well, pretty much in my sleep at this point. Which was lucky for both of us since, wi th the best will in the world, I still could not manage to keep my mind completely focused on what I was doing. Not with Claire seated in the same room with me, constantly re-igniting every fantasy I'd ever had about her.

She'd caught me off-guard with her question about my day. Since taking her on as a client, my life had become a surreal, slightly pathetic routine of counting. Every morning when I got up I automatically counted the days until I'd see her again. When every other Thursday rolled around, I counted the hours, and then the minutes. Finally, I counted the blocks I had to drive to get to her studio, the stairs I had to climb to reach her office.

And then there were most of my evenings. Nights when I could find no better way to occupy my time than to spend them conversing with her shadow in my mind. Or replaying our actual conversations. Remembering in detail each word, each look, each nuance. Weaving her every gesture into the fantasies I'd already spent years honing.

Well, what did you expect? I said it was pathetic, didn't I?

But I couldn't help it. I reveled in the knowledge that when she spoke my name, when she turned her head and saw me and smiled in greeting--her eyes shining, her whole face lighting up--that it was really me she was talking to and smiling at.

She hadn't been smiling when I arrived today, however. Her face, reflected in the glass, looked sad, vulnerable. I was pretty sure I knew why. It was him. Derek. Her former lover. The ... kid ... she'd recently broken up with. Or who'd broken up with her, if my suspicions were correct.

Which is not to say she didn't put on a great act, just like always, but I'd seen the way she looked at him--the way she was looking at him today through the windows in her office. I know what it's like to watch and want and worship from afar; to long for something you can never have. He'd moved on--that's how I read it--and Claire was putting the best f ace on it that she could. But it was all for show When she thought no one was looking, when she was alone, unobserved, that's when she let down her guard. That's when her real feelings shone though.

I would have liked to have said something more to comfort her, but what could I have said? Should I have told her it was all for the best? That she should have known better? He was too young for her. She was too good for him. It was doomed from the start. All true, but hardly likely to make her feel any better.

I could have told her that a woman like her shouldn't have to waste her time playing with boys. Not when there was a man around who could understand what she wants, what she needs...

But, no, what was I thinking? A woman like Claire? Impossible. Such a creature doesn't exist. There's no one like Claire. She's an original. She's in a class all her own.

"Are you doing anything later this evening?" Claire's voice broke into my reverie.

Startled, and pretty certain I was hearing things, I glanced at her. "I'm sorry ... what did you say?"

"I was wondering if you were busy tonight?" she said and then shook her head and smiled. "Sorry. I guess I'm thinking aloud again. It's just that a friend of mine has a new gallery. They're having an opening party tonight. She's sent me a bunch of invitations and I was wondering if you would be interested in attending?"

"A gallery opening? Tonight? Will you be there?"

Claire nodded. "I try to attend as many of these things as I can. This seems like a nice one ... cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, live music. But, it's short notice. You probably have other plans..."

"No, actually, I don't." The only thing I had going tonight was the start of a new countdown. Fourteen long days until the next time I'd see her. Or thirteen days, twenty-one hours and change, if you want to be exact. But so what? It would feel like a long time, that much I knew. Why would I not want to shave even a few hours off that total? "I'd love to go."


Holiday Rush Blog Hop

Merry Christmas Glitter Graphics - Glitterlive.com
Happy Holidays, Blog-Hoppers,
and welcome to another great tour! 

I'm sure most of you know the drill by now. Simply use he bar at the top of the page, follow the trail all the way to the end of the tour (visiting lots of fabulous sites and getting lots of eye candy on the way) and you'll be entered to win a sleigh-full of really cool books and other fun prizes. 

If you stumbled upon this tour by accident, go to  http://booknibbles.com/bloghop/ to start at the beginning. 

Also, don't forget to join us this Saturday, 7 pm EST, at Gem Sivad's chat room for the chance to win even MORE prizes!  Details can be found HERE and HERE.

Today I've decided to entertain you with my own (decidedly different) version of the Twelve Days of Christmas, inspired in part by Frank Kelly's version, which can also be found below.  Mind you, I have nothing against birds, but I think you'll find my "gifts" a bit more fun...

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partially clad man in a tree...

I have no idea what he's doing up there, but he sure improves the scenery.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two (excuse the pun) lovey-doves...

and a partially clad man in a tree.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three French men...

(they're from the Olympic fencing team, if you must know, and who doesn't love that?) two lovey-doves and a partially clad man in a tree.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me four call girls...uh, I mean birds(wings, see?)...

three French men, two lovey-doves and a partially clad man in a tree (I dunno, maybe he thinks he's Peter Pan?).

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me five wedding rings...

Heart Glitter Graphics - Glitterlive.com

Heart Glitter Graphics - Glitterlive.com

(and a wish for Marriage Equality for everyone!)

four calling birds, three French men, two lovey doves and a partially clad man in a tree.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave up on the geese and substituted goose down comforters and a lot of sexy sleepers laying around in it and also, well, you know, laying. Yeah. it's another pun. sorry about that...

five wedding rings, four calling birds, three French men, two lovey-doves and a partially clad man in a tree.


On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me seven surfing Santas (give or take a dude)...

six sexy sleepers, five wedding rings, four calling birds, three French men two lovey-doves and a partially clad man in a tree.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love thought about giving me eight maids a milking...

but decided one was enough and instead concentrated on the cowboys she would obviously need to help her with the herd...

(Good choice, don'tcha think?)  seven surfing Santas, six sexy sleepers, five wedding rings, four calling birds, three French men, two lovey-doves and a partially clad man in a tree.

Could be he's up there 'cause he's trying to stay clear of the cows.  Smart man.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love resorted to You Tube to give me nine pipers piping...

eight helpful farmhands, seven surfing Santas, six sexy sleepers, five wedding rings, four calling birds, three French men, two lovey-doves and a partially clad man in a tree.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me ten drummers drumming...

nine pipers piping, eight helpful farmhands, seven surfing Santas, six sexy sleepers, five wedding rings, four calling birds, three French men, two lovey doves and a partially clad man in a tree.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me eleven lords a leaping (hell, yes, they leap. trust me. just wait for the end)...

 ten drummers drumming, nine pipers piping, eight helpful farmhands, seven surfing Santas, six sexy sleepers, five wedding rings, four calling birds, three French men, two lovey-doves and a partially clad man in a tree.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me twelve ladies dancing (and most appropriately, too)...

eleven lords a leaping, ten drummers drumming, nine pipers piping, eight helpful farmhands, seven surfing Santas, six sexy sleepers, five wedding rings, four calling girls (oops. I mean birds!) three French men, two lovey-doves and a partially clad man in a tree.

And, just in case you haven't had enough yet, here's two more versions. First, Frank Kelly with an Irish rendition...

And, finally, this version from Straight No Chaser...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (take two)

I'm blogging about this same subject over at the Nine Naughty Novelists' blog today as well. I guess you could say it's on my mind, especially as I gear up for this weekend's Holiday Rush Blog Hop. Time was, I'd be drowning in Holiday Cheer at this point...uh, in a good way, that is. But somewhere along the way, writing stories centered around Christmas (well, at least in part) seems to have superseded actual decorations, at least in part.

So here's a few short excerpts from some of my Christmas-themed books. Enjoy!

A blacksmith with a tragic past. A faery princess with an uncertain future. And a love that burns like iron.

That Christmas was the happiest Gavin had known since childhood. He was up early for Christmas Mass, leaving the house shortly before dawn, and leaving a pouting Aislinn in his bed with the promise he’d be back within a few hours time to fix breakfast for her.
While the world lay silent and cold, he made his solitary way into town, his path lit only by the stars that sparkled overhead and the Christmas candles that burned in the front window of every house he passed. And a thought occurred to him, as he walked along the empty lane, that each flame was a sign of hope for the future—and that, perhaps, he could feel an answering flicker, newly kindled in the darkness of his own heart. And he laughed at himself then, for putting on such airs and for the absurdity of his thoughts and his breath puffed out in little white clouds that melted away in the frosty air.
When he got to Saint Ita’s he found a seat in the very last pew, where he’d be sure of being among the first out the door when mass ended. He didn’t take Communion, although he’d made his Confession just the day before and he was sure Father Cullen would remark on that fact the next time he saw him. But too much had happened between then and now and his soul did not feel easy with the thought of it. Although he’d still have sworn to anyone who’d asked him that the woman he’d made love to the day before had been his wife, a small part of him doubted whether the Church—or Mairead herself—would choose to see things in quite the same way.
Not that he regretted his actions of the day before. To the contrary, he felt more at peace with himself that morning than he had in many a year. But his mind was so consumed with thoughts of repeating the act he barely heard a word of the service and hurried off as soon as it was over, before anyone could engage him in conversation, or take notice of his agitation.
Then it was home again, where breakfast and a sulky fae awaited him. Aislinn was wearing her own, repaired green dress and, at Gavin’s request, she once again resumed her impersonation of Mairead. It was obvious she was less than happy about it, however. But Gavin was in a good and generous humor so, once the goose was cooking, he took a few minutes to tease her out of her bad mood. He sat her on his lap, just as if she were his bride in truth, and fed her pieces of orange, tickling her as she tried to eat them until she laughed and then licking at the juice as it ran down her chin, until, finally, her smile was restored. And she rewarded him with several songs while he saw to the rest of the meal.
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There’ll be a lot of creatures stirring in Oberon this Holiday Season. It’s Christmas. Got ghosts?

Christmas Eve dawned foggy and cool. The heavy air seemed to muffle sound.   Long before the silent night could fall, the day had a hushed and breathless feel to it.  As if the whole world was holding its breath....
Last minute shoppers thronged The Crone’s Nest all day long, keeping Marsha too busy to ponder the irony.  It flew in the face of logic, but every year she sold more of everything on the day before Christmas than she did on the day before Yule.
Business was brisk at Cavanaugh’s nursery, as well.  Shortly before noon, Dan packed up most of the unsold trees from the lot and delivered them to a local food bank.  There, they would be handed out to the families who came in to pick up boxes of groceries and canned goods that kids in the local elementary schools had spent weeks collecting.
At Lupa e Cervo, goodwill of a slightly different kind was being dispensed.  Sinead had set up a table of appetizers in the winery’s tasting room, turning the daily free wine sampling into an impromptu party.
Out of deference to Adam’s feelings on the subject, she’d had a separate table set up on the terrace outside the tasting room—and out of his direct line of sight—where she offered prospective customers a holiday twist on the winery’s usual offerings.
Mulled wine?” Adam stared at her, appalled when she explained what she was doing.  “Hot mulled wine?”
She nodded, lips trembling as she tried not to smile too broadly.  In truth, it was all she could do to keep from laughing out loud at his outrage.
“You’re taking my wine and...heating it?  In a...in a crock pot?  With—?”
“With spices, yes.”  She smiled at him, and added, gently, “That’s how it’s done, I’m afraid.  It’s what we did last night, too, you know.  Out on the back terrace?”
Adam shuddered, his revulsion obvious.  “No.  I didn’t know.  Thank the gods for that.”  He eyed her suspiciously, and then asked in a voice filled with dread.  “Which vintages?”
But Sinead knew better than to answer a loaded question like that.  She was just damn glad Nick could have no idea about Adam’s feelings on the subject.  There was no telling how much mileage he’d try to get from it, if he did.
As it was, she was more than a little worried about what kind of surprises the two men might have in store for each other…
It was a subject that was causing Scout some concern, as well.  “I can’t believe you won’t tell me what you got Adam for Christmas,” she complained.  Perched on the kitchen counter, she watched as Nick pressed fresh dough into the pasta maker, turning it into noodles for tonight’s lasagna.  They were celebrating this evening with his daughter Kate, who would be spending the next couple of days with her mother.  Tomorrow, they would be going to Lucy’s.
If she were honest, Scout would have to admit that she wasn’t all that disappointed that Adam and Sinead would not be at Lucy’s as well.  She’d already spent two days this week playing referee.  She deserved a day off.
But, she would have found it a whole lot easier to relax if she hadn’t learned—only last night—that both Nick and Adam had purchased presents for each other.  And, how weird was that, anyway?
Nick glanced up from his pasta and smiled.  “Tell you now?  And spoil the surprise?  No way.”
She watched him for a moment longer, but he was focused on his work, and his expression gave away nothing. “It’s not something that’s gonna...oh, I don’t know…blow up in his face, or something.  Is it?”
“No, of course not,” Nick said, feeding another sheet of pasta into the machine.  “I mean, not unless he’s really careless.  If he got distracted, or something, then I guess, theoretically, it might be possible.”
“Oh.  Right.”  Scout rolled her eyes.  “So, I guess, in that case, your plan is to be around when he uses whatever it is.  So you can make sure he’s distracted?”
Nick grinned at her, eyes twinkling.  “You know, you used to be a lot more trusting of me.”
“You used to be a lot more predictable,” Scout snapped.  She thought about that for a moment. 
Maybe predictable wasn’t quite the right word.  He’d just been…defensive.  Like a fighter who had gone too many rounds but was still too stubborn to stay down.  Sheer determination might keep bringing him to his feet, but he had nothing left for anything more.  He was too beaten up by life to do anything other than put one foot in front of the other and, over and over again, walk right into the next punch it threw him.
Scout thought back over the last year.  He was so much more relaxed now.  So much more lighthearted and carefree than he’d been, even last Christmas.  She’d like to think she could take some of the credit for that.  Maybe, after a year and a half, he’d finally begun to trust that, this time around, the happiness that had eluded them for so long would not be snatched away again.
She slid from the counter.  Nick turned his head to smile at her as she came up behind him and put her arms around his waist.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked.
Nick nodded.  “There sure is.  Just stay right where you are.  That’s all I need, you know.”
“Good,” Scout murmured happily, resting her head against his back.  “Me, too.”
She’d been running for such a long, long time.  Right now, staying put was all she ever wanted to do.

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When you live forever, you're bound to make a few mistakes...

Holding her breath, Suzanne went up on her toes, her arm stretched out as far as it would reach, to hang yet another sparkling ornament on the tree. Her hand hovered over the branch tip. She released the hook and smiled as the tiny, silver bell swayed safely in place. Relaxing again, she took a deep breath. The scent of pine was so strong it nearly knocked her off the ladder.
She loved Christmas—all the shiny, bright wonder of it. Familiar carols playing on the stereo. The cool taste of peppermint tingling on her lips. The sugar and spiciness of gingerbread cookies still warm from the oven mixing with the buttery fragrance of freshly made popcorn. And, this year, she was going to have the best Christmas ever. There could be no doubt about that.
Cocking her head to the side, she admired her handiwork, or as much of it as she could see from this angle. The tree was so big it was impossible to take it all in at a glance, so big that, even standing on the top of the stepladder, she still couldn’t reach the highest branches. That meant the placing of the final star would have to be done by someone else, by Conrad, she hoped, as her mind started spinning a happy little fantasy.
They would stand on the ladder together, his arm around her shoulders, and after he’d affixed the star to the top-most branch he’d turn to her with love in his eyes and a smile on his lips. “Merry Christmas,” he’d whisper as he bent to kiss her…and outside the house, in the dark, star-filled San Francisco night, it would begin to snow…
Well, maybe someday. Or, then again, maybe not. What were the odds, really?
From inside the room—where it was almost as dark as night—came a long, low, furious rumble to distract her from her thoughts. Words she didn’t know, yet whose meaning couldn’t be more clear, spilled in a seemingly endless stream from Armand’s lips.
“You know what’s funny?” she said as she turned to face him. “Even in French, cursing still sounds like cursing.”
Eyes narrowed, he glowered at her, glancing up from where he sat on the floor surrounded by the string of lights he’d been attempting to fix. Most of the exterior decorations were already in place when this string had inexplicably gone out and the workmen, unable to discover the problem, had returned it to Armand in its present condition: a dark, tangled seaweed-looking mass. That had been almost an hour ago.
“This is all your doing,” Armand growled, sounding so much like Conrad, she had to laugh.
“I know,” she said, unable to keep from ginning. It was for her—all for her—that Conrad, that Armand, that all of them, were doing this. The tree, the tinsel, the cookies, the lights—all because she said she wanted it. And she wasn’t about to feel the least bit sorry about that, either.
Armand watched her for a moment longer, his expression softening until he was smiling too. “Well then, don’t you think the least you could do is come down here and help me straighten this mess out?”
“All right.” She jumped down from the ladder, grabbed the plate of cookies from the side table, then seated herself across from him, with the bulk of the lights—and the plate piled high with gingerbread—on the floor between them. “Now, what do you need me to do?”

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