The Pit and the Passion

She held her gaze steady, mainly so she could delve deep, deep into those chocolate eyes. Together with his sharp, angular nose and intense, almost predatory, expression, he reminded her of a peregrine falcon on the hunt.

The Pit & the Passion

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Julie Howard Visits with Crime Times Two

Please welcome Julie Howard, Wild Rose author, and her new release Crime Times Two. This is the second book in her Wild Crime series. Tell us about about your series, Julie.

I’d be happy to, and thank you for having me at Tale Spinner.

When I first moved from California to Idaho, I was struck by the remote places people chose to live. The story for my Wild Crime series came immediately upon moving there: what would happen if a woman didn’t want to move to such a isolated location? What if her husband didn’t want her around anymore? What if she believed her only escape plan was to kill him?

The first book, Crime and Paradise, just about wrote itself, except for one major detail: the identity of the murderer. My first version was pretty different and it didn’t feel right. I rewrote the book with a completely different murderer. This version, the final version, made so much more sense.

Crime and Paradise is on sale today only for 99 cents.

I’m excited to have the second book in the series, Crime Times Two, released this month.

I know what you mean about finding the version that makes sense. In my last book, the Pit and the Passion, I only realized who the real culprit was when I was almost at galley stage!  So tell us the story of Crime Times Two.

Long Valley

When divorce is out of the question, can murder be forgiven?

Meredith knows three things: First, the man in the library begged her to help him. Second, he was afraid of his wife. Third, now he’s dead.

While the evidence first points to a natural death, Meredith is certain there’s more to discover. People are tight-lipped in this small mountain village, and the man’s wife isn't talking either. Then a second death occurs, with remarkable similarities. It’s time to talk about murder. 

As a slow-burning relationship heats up in her own life, Meredith struggles with concepts of love and hate, belief and suspicion, and absolution and guilt. Nothing is clear cut…
She must decide: Is guilt, like evil, something you can choose to believe in?

The Wild Rose Press, Inc. (October 8, 2018)
296 pages

Excerpt (G): Say What?

Jowls quivered under the man’s weak chin, and Meredith noted the stained and frayed shirt of someone who spent a lot of time alone in dark rooms, sending out a better version of himself into the virtual world. His eyes were anxious and beseeching at her as though she should have a clear understanding of him and his life.
Somehow, over the past hour and a half they’d been sitting next to each other – him playing video games and sharing his life story and her ignoring him the best she could – she had become his confessor and friend.
Meredith gave him what she hoped was an impartial-though-quasi-friendly smile. She reached for her purse and papers and rose from her chair. “Well. Nice talking with you.”
The man was lost in his own train of thought and seemed only slightly aware that Meredith was leaving.
He shook his head, morose.
“To make a long story short,” he summed up, “I think my wife is trying to kill me.”

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Julie Howard

About the Author:
Julie Howard is the author of the Wild Crime series. She is a former journalist and editor who has covered topics ranging from crime to cowboy poetry. She is a member of the Idaho Writers Guild, editor of the Potato Soup Journal, and founder of the Boise chapter of Shut Up & Write. Learn more at


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Mount Vernon Bliss--Milo & Tristram Under the Lights--Excerpt from Artful Dodging

Murders,  mistrust, misfits, and miscreants—needlepoint artist Milo Everhart has her hands full. Can Tristram Brodie prove to her that love conquers all?

Brooding on both the death of her husband and the four needlepoint stockings she has to finish,  not to mention two mysterious murders, Milo Everhart is distracted by the handsome man standing in the pub doorway.

Tristram Brodie, hard-driving lawyer and former Marine, is focused on his plan to convert the Torpedo Factory Art Center into a box store. He is drawn to the beautiful woman watching him, but blocking the road to romance is his proposal to gut her beloved studio. 

As Milo and Tristram edge closer to love, they must find a way to overcome not only their differences but also the still painful memory of her loss.

Gideon's house on Windmill Hill

A Bit About the Scene:
Just south of Old Town Alexandria is Mount Vernon and the Arlington Cemetery, where Milo and Tristram go to see the Christmas decorations. Mount Vernon was, of course, George Washington’s home, a delightful colonial plantation house overlooking the Potomac River. Built in 1735, Washington expanded it over the years to twenty-one rooms. An interesting fact is that it is actually made of wood that was beveled and painted with a mix of paint and sand to look like sandstone.

At Christmas, when Milo and Tristram visit Mount Vernon, the house is beautifully decorated and there is a fireworks show. Also in attendance is Aladdin the Camel. Washington paid to bring a camel to the house the Christmas of 1787, and the event has been reenacted every year since 2008.
In this excerpt we find Milo & Tristram enjoying the holiday lights of Mount Vernon before heading home to light up the bedroom.

Excerpt (R): Mt. Vernon Bliss

“Exactly what I was thinking.”
On the other side of the river the lights of Fort Washington dotted the water with pinpricks of phosphorescence. Behind the couple on the bench the strings of silver bulbs outlining George Washington’s home shone brightly, casting long black shadows across the lawn. Two heads nestled together. Milo purred.
“Are you cold?”
“A little.”
“You want to go in?”
“Not yet. I’m too content to move.”
She heard the chuckle in his voice. “It’s been a…nice day, hasn’t it?”
She snuggled closer under his arm. “Very.”
He kissed the top of her head tentatively. “Do you mind?”
“Uh uh.”
He pulled her chin toward him and softly kissed her lips. She was too relaxed, too happy to argue. Tristram peered at her. “I can’t see your face. Are you smiling?”
For an answer, she reached up and pulled him to her. A few minutes later he placed a gentle hand on her breast and tickled the nipple through the layers of fabric, making her heart spin.
“Let’s go home.”
The familiar words brought her back to reality. “What about Ursula?”
“Ursula? What about her?”
“Don’t you live together?”
He paused. “No.” The unspoken words were clear. No more questions.
On the drive back, her tranquil state gave way to anticipation. Tristram whipped his Jaguar in and out of the sleepy parkway traffic, never overly reckless, but enough to get her heart beating faster. He didn’t speak. For some reason, his silence aroused her even more. What is he thinking? Is he going to make love to me or drop me off like so much used tissue?
They pulled up in front of Tristram’s townhouse on Lee Street. The last time they’d been together, the surroundings had paled before other, more pressing needs. Now, as he handed her out, Milo paused to survey the park that lay between them and the river. The sky opened up here, a change from the tall, impendent row houses and narrow streets of Old Town. Stars flashed in the Milky Way, and the moon grinned at her as she shivered in the chill breeze.
Tristram took her arm. “Do you think we’ll have a white Christmas this year?”
The question first hit her as so unromantic, she worried her little dream would dissipate into the night, but then the words took on a cozy kind of comfort, like the chitchat of an old established couple. “I don’t know.”
He sniffed the air. “Smells like snow. Come on, Milo.”
She followed him, stifling both the disappointment and her desire. He’s going to offer me a drink and send me home. And that’s okay. I’ll be fine. Oh, but look at that butt and those shoulders. Is he sexier in Armani or L.L. Bean?
He closed the door behind her, ran his arms around her middle, and kissed the back of her neck. The little hairs rose to meet him. Electricity shot through her like a high-tension power line. He touched the top of her head and slowly spun her around to face him. His eyes burned into hers, and her mouth went dry.
“Yes, Tristram?”
“Do you know where you are?”
“Um…your house?”
He grinned. “Just checking. You didn’t remember much about our last…encounter, and I want to make sure you are conscious during every single minute you spend here.”
Yeah, right. Forget the small talk and take me to bed, you big gorgeous lug.
Oh my God, I said that out loud! Shit.

Old Town Alexandria at Christmas

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

Melissa Keir & Her Brand New Romance Only This Tuesday Visits

Please welcome Melissa Keir and her brand new romance Only This Tuesday. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for the story?

A couple of months ago, D’Ann Lindun and I were talking about the demise of Kindle Worlds and thought about how much we enjoyed the aspect of a shared world. We created Copper Mills in less than hour and set about to find other authors who would like to write in our new venture.

As a guest (substitute) teacher, I work with a variety of students from a special needs preschool to sixth grade. I love working with the students. They inspire me in so many ways. One day over the summer, I worked in a special needs school with developmentally handicapped young adults. They were being taught basic skills like sorting. The secondary character of Gil was born. I knew he needed life skills and set about to tell his story through my main characters, Tuesday Benson, who is a strong supporter of helping the disabled and the mayor, Blake Rogers, who wins her heart. Toss in a jealous ex-fiancée and the conflict was born.

Only This Tuesday: A Copper Mills Novella


Only This Tuesday...

Tuesday Benson sets out to escape her past. A thieving boyfriend. A bankrupt restaurant. Memories of her brother. She's started over in Copper Mills with a taco truck more popular than most of the local eateries. But when Tuesday hires a local boy to help, will she stir up something more than a tasty treat?

Mayor Blake Rodgers enjoys the simple things in life. An early morning jog. Down-home cooking. The camaraderie of the small-town residents. With his help, Copper Mills has become a trendy tourist destination. But when Blake falls for the controversial food-truck owner, will he lose the town's backing?

Toss in bigotry and gossip as well as the mayor's former fiancée, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Come Visit Copper Mills, Arizona--a small town with a heart as big as the wide-open spaces and a long history of making dreams come true.

Available in ebook and print


Tuesday rammed into another cart, jostling her and pitching her toward the floor. She closed her eyes and prepared for pain, but muscular arms wrapped around her waist and steadied her.

“Are you okay?” A deep masculine voice resonated near her ear, warm breath brushing across her cheek. “Did you bump your head?”

A zip of energy from where he held her slid across her skin and sent tendrils of heat throughout her limbs. Feeling buzzed, Tuesday unwrapped herself from his body and pushed herself to stand on her own. She rubbed her fingers along the side of her face from her hairline down to her cheek, to clear her brain.

Slowly she inhaled and exhaled, feeling more like herself. Raising her gaze, she met the bluest eyes she’d ever seen. They were the light-sky blue of a summer morning. She took him in from the determined chin, which could have been chiseled from granite, to the strong Roman nose softened by full kissable lips underneath it. His dark-brown hair reminded her of dark chocolate and was styled in an Ivy League cut with shorter, tapered sides. While not traditionally handsome, the different aspects of the man’s face came together, creating a boyish yet sinful appearance.

“Thank you.” Her words came out breathy and deeper than normal.

“Are you okay?” He leaned in, bringing his face closer as he gazed into her eyes.

“I’m fine. No concussion. I didn’t hit my head. Thanks to you. Just a crazy accident.” She ran her tongue over her top lip and shoved her hand out. “I’m Tuesday Benson. Sorry about the crash, and thank you, once again.”

Zips of electricity flew through her skin when he grasped her hand. “I’m Blake Rogers. It’s nice to meet you.”

Tuesday caught herself staring at his teeth—shiny white teeth. “Do you use a whitening toothpaste?” Quickly, she clasped her hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry. Sometimes I talk before I think. You have a nice smile.”

His laughter lightened her mood. “I do use a special toothpaste my dentist recommended. While much of the work is my dentist’s skill, the real credit goes to my mom. She still has a beautiful grin at eighty-three.” He ran his hand over his chin, where a hint of a five o’clock shadow showed. “You’re honestly charming. I don’t think I’ve met anyone like you before. Would you like to stop for a coffee before you continue your shopping?”

“Sure. It’s the least I could do since you kept me on my feet. There’s a Starbucks at the front of the store.” She wiggled her brows. “Wanna race?”

He chuckled. “You’re on!”

Tuesday grasped her cart and sped off.

About the Author:

Melissa doesn’t believe in down time. She’s always keeping busy. Melissa is a wife and mother, an elementary school teacher, a movie reviewer with WHMI (a local radio station), owner of a publishing company as well as an author. Her home blends two families and is a lot like the Brady Bunch, without Alice- a large grocery bill, tons of dirty dishes and a mound of laundry. She loves to write stories that feature happy endings and is often seen plotting her next story.

She’d love to hear from you!

Other Books by Melissa Keir
Wilder Sisters Series:
Forever Love
Beach Desires
A Christmas Accident
Coming Home
Home is Where the Heart Is (combine print of Wilder Sisters’ Books)
The Cowboys of Whisper, Colorado
The Heartsong Cowboy
The Heartbroken Cowboy
Claiming the Cowboy’s Heart
A Pigskin Cowboy
Broken Dreams
Broken Vows
Redeeming Dreams
Bidding for the Cowboy’s Heart
Charming Chances:
Charming Chances (print of combined ebooks)
Second Time’s a Charm
Three’s a Crowd
Pigg Detective Agency:
Protecting His Wolfe
Protecting Her Pigg
Protecting His Red
Tempting Danger Box Set (Coming Soon)
Magical Matchmaker
Chalkboard Romance
One Night in Laguna
One Night Behind Bars
Crash and Burn
Redeeming Love
The House that Built Me
Wildly Drawn to Him
Rescue Love
Love, Bake, Write (recipe book)
The Way to the Heart (recipe book)
We’d Rather Be Writing (recipe book)
Musings of a Madcap Mind (memoirs)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Dear Philomena Lost in a Cemetery in the Dark---What Happens Next?

Let’s go back for a minute to my Chincoteague mystery romance, Dear Philomena: Love, Lust & Murder on Chincoteague Island.

Something crashed in the woods.  Was it a deer?  Or something more dangerous? Dagne didn’t care; she just kept running…


Dagne Lonegan, aka Dear Philomena, advice columnist, hoped that spending a year on the Eastern Shore island of  Chincoteague would extinguish any feelings she had left for Jack Andrews, erstwhile lover and long-time jerk.  It’s just her luck that in her first week on the island she’s entangled in a murder.  Only she doesn’t know it.  Unfortunately, the murderer doesn’t know she doesn’t know.  Strange and dangerous things begin happening to her, disrupting her new romance with Aidan Ellis, the handsome manager of the National Wildlife Refuge.  As if that weren’t enough, Jack arrives to take charge of the murder investigation.

Will Dagne stick with the tall, cool glass of a Ranger or risk falling back into the arms of the man who broke her heart?

In Dear Philomena: Love, Lust & Murder on Chincoteague Island, Dagne is not only an advice columnist, but a fiction writer. Searching for historical details for her novel, she explores the many cemeteries on Chincoteague Island. Most were established and maintained by the fraternal lodges—groups like the Red Men, the Odd Fellows, Heptasoph—that once were the centers of social life on the island. That is, until Carrie A. Nation took her hatchet to them, railing against them as havens for demon rum.  Unfortunately for Dagne, in one graveyard she meets with a terrifying accident, complete with shadowy figures and open graves. The only element missing—which greatly disappoints her mother—are zombies.

Excerpt (G): Into the Grave

She must have wandered farther than she thought from the entrance, and couldn’t make out the gate in the darkling sea of monuments. She started down one path, then another. Finally, as she reached the end of one narrow corridor between two six-foot-high granite obelisks marked Howell, she saw the glint of chain link in the moon’s feeble glow. Hoping the fence would lead her to the entrance, she sidled along it, her back to the cold metal ribs. She had edged about ten yards when a pile of fresh soil six inches high and four feet wide barred her way. A wilted nosegay of plastic flowers lay strewn on the mound of a new burial, as though tossed indifferently over an uncaring shoulder. She could barely make out an inscription carved in the white marble. “Terri, beloved daughter of Silas and Violet Aster, born October 7, 1992, died September 5, 2010.”
Oh dear, this is the murder victim’s grave. How awful. As she stood there saying a little prayer for the poor girl, a rustle sounded behind her. She spun around. A couple of small grey objects flitted into a bush to her right. Gnatcatchers. Just birds. She flinched anyway. Stop it, Dagne. You’ve become way too skittish since that night on the trail. There’s nothing here but dead people and they can’t hurt you.
Her mother’s voice echoed in her ear. “Zombies!”
She spoke aloud. “That’s enough, Mother. I’m going home now.” The sound of her own voice gave her the ounce of courage she needed.
Black night descended like a preacher’s cloak thrown over the congregation. Dagne started to move past the grave, but first took a step back in an automatic gesture of respect. Her right heel met nothing but air. She twisted her body in an attempt to avoid putting the other foot down and felt something knock into her. She fell, face first, for what seemed like hours, landing squishily in soft mud. Yuck. Double yuck. She wiped her face with the back of her hand. The darkness was thicker here. She sat up and blindly stretched out her arms, palms out. Her exploring hands hit a dirt wall about two feet to her right, and another one two feet to her left. She looked up. “Hello?” No response. She could make out the dim light of the sky about…how far up? Oh my God, it must be six feet! Six feet under…I’m in an open grave!
She fought down her panic. The walls are not closing in, Dagne. She pushed herself off the floor, sinking an inch into the ooze. Raising her arms, she could just touch the surface with her fingers. She called out again without much hope. “Hello? Anyone there? Yoohoo!” Nothing but the hush of desolation echoed back. She couldn’t help herself—Great image. Remember to write it down.
She closed her mouth and exhaled through her nose, the better to listen. No birds twittered. No bushes rattled in the breeze. Come to think of it—other than her own muttered curses—she’d heard no sound after the gnatcatchers startled her. She rubbed the sore spot in the small of her back. Did something—someone?—push her? Ridiculous. Just like her mother said, she’d been reading too many thrillers. She’d probably only hit the corner of another tombstone. Come on, Dagne—no one’s there. Grab a root or something and pull yourself up.
She felt around the walls until she came across a thick tree root jutting into the hole. With one foot on it, she managed to hoist herself up. Her hands scrabbled frantically over the gravel at the top, searching for something to latch on to. Nothing. Wait. What’s that? Something hard. Stone. It seemed to be solid. She got a good grip on it and dragged herself out of the grave. She rested on her stomach for a minute to let the pounding in her chest slow down. One hand still clutched the stone so tightly she’d lost some feeling in the fingers. With her other hand she pried it off and ran her palm over the object. Raised letters. A gravestone. Her hand traveled down to soft earth and landed on a pile of plastic stems. Terri’s tombstone. She let them go, stifling a shriek.
The word drifted down through the moon’s rays. “Zombies.
At that moment, the high beams of a car flashed over the cemetery. A door slammed, the chain link gate rattled, and she heard the sound of footsteps running toward her. “Lady? Lady? What the hell are you doing?” The male voice was angry, disconcerting her.
“Who are you? Can’t you see I need help?” She pushed herself off the ground and stood up, unwilling to have this jerk find her prostrate in the dirt.
The man skidded to a stop before her and turned a flashlight full on her face. She couldn’t see more than a shadow behind the light. “Say, aren’t you that writer lady? Lives over near Piney Island?”
Déjà vu all over again. Her voice came out a little shaky, but strong enough. “Yes, I am. I fell in the open gr…hole here.” Like it isn’t obvious. “And you are?”
The man didn’t seem to hear the question. His head bobbed as though he were looking her over. He took a step toward her and now stood framed in the car’s headlights. In outline, he stood only about five feet tall. A ridge of leftover hair stuck up from the crown of his head. “You okay? What happened?”
“I...I couldn’t find the gate. I…fell. I think I’m all right.”
“Well, then, if it’s okay, I sure do wish you’d get off my daughter.”
Dagne realized she had stepped onto the fresh mound that held Terri Aster’s coffin. She scrambled off, slipping on the fresh dirt. The man held out a hand. She took it gratefully.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Aster. I didn’t mean to.”
“Yes. Well. It sure is lucky I came by when I did. I’d heard someone was hanging around here. Wanted to make sure my little girl was safe.”
“I understand.” No I don’t. His daughter is dead, isn’t she? And Mother, do shut up. Zombies do not exist. “Look, I think I’d better go home and clean up.”
“Just a minute, Miss. You haven’t told me what you’re doing here.” Did she hear an implied threat in his voice?
Dagne sighed. Her arms hurt and lumps of slimy mud kept sloughing off her stomach. “I’m researching the graveyards around here for my book. The evening came on so fast, I became disoriented and couldn’t find the entrance. I…I’m sorry. I didn’t see the …the…grave there.” No need to mention Terri’s name. Or the push or whatever it was. I’m sure I imagined it.
“Researching cemeteries, huh? Isn’t one grave same as the next? They’re all just dead people.”
Now where had she heard that before? Determined not to get into a long debate, Dagne walked unsteadily toward the gate. “Well…er…thanks, Mr. Aster. I do apologize if I upset you.”
He shrugged his shoulders, the picture of desolation. “It’s all right, Miss. Nothing much seems to matter now that my little girl’s gone.” His voice held a full measure of grief.
Dagne wracked her brain for something to say. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Mr. Aster stood quietly for a minute. She wondered if he was praying. His flashlight swept over Terri’s grave. “When I find him, I’ll kill him.”

Chincoteague ponies

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

A True Story that Inspired My Mason's Mark

The Mason's Mark: Love and Death in the Tower, arose in part out of a true story. Starting in the 1940s an Italian named Licio Gelli embarked on a lifetime of bizarre scams and crimes. Alternately linked to rightists and leftists, he bilked or used people from Italian politicians, to the Nazis, the Communists, the CIA, even to Juan Peron, dictator of Argentina. His exploits cross the globe and spanned four decades. At last check, he was still alive, in his nineties and writing poetry from prison. In 1996 he was even nominated for the Nobel prize in literature.

Gelli with Masonic symbols from his renegade lodge
Gelli is most famous for founding a Masonic lodge called Propaganda Due, a renegade group that was first dissolved, then reinstated, then erased by the Grand Orient de Italia. He had ensnared many prominent Italians into P2, which ultimately led to several huge scandals.  He is the model for the shadowy puppetmaster in my new romantic suspense novel The Mason's Mark: Love and Death in the Tower (an Old Town Romance).

The Mason’s Mark: Love & Death in the Tower

In both the best and worst first day at work ever, docent Claire Wilding meets the man of her dreams, but her carefully rehearsed guided tour of the George Washington National Masonic Memorial collapses when she discovers a body and is drawn into a dark world of black ops and Italian renegade masons, of secret cabals and hidden treasure. Also cloaked in mystery is handsome Gideon Bliss, a George Washington expert who haunts the Memorial, his manner evasive. What is his secret? Claire fears she'll fall in love with him only to learn he's a thief or even a murderer. Juggling two eccentric mothers, an inquisitive sister, and an increasingly smitten detective, Claire must find answers to a complex web of intrigue, including who to trust and who to love.

Wild Rose Press, May 6, 2016 (Crimson Rose imprint)
Mystery/Cozy Mystery, Romantic suspense
ebook 79,000 words; print 322 pp.
M/F;  3 flames

Where Gideon & Claire meet

Excerpt (PG):  First Meeting
“Next we’ll be visiting a museum devoted to George Washington. The Masonic Memorial houses an impressive collection of artifacts, some of which were donated by the Washington family and some rescued from the fire in 1871 that destroyed the first lodge. Please be sure to check out Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick’s pocket watch. He was George Washington’s close friend and presided over his death bed.”
As they filed out on the fourth floor and automatically turned right as all human flocks do, Claire surveyed the room. The black and white parquet floor sparkled. Around three sides ran a balcony, filled with small alcoves and paintings. The light from a porthole window flooded the room. As she headed toward a bust of George Washington, a shadow moved behind a column. She took a step toward it, but Mrs. Malloy’s voice stopped her. “Frank, Luther—you be good, hear? I’m gonna sit down for a bit.”
Claire watched, horror-struck, as the woman plunked down on the Chippendale chair Washington had used as Worshipful Master of the Lodge. The yellow tape meant to prevent access to it lay in tatters on the floor. She had lunged forward, one hand stretched out to grab the transgressor, when the shadow flitted across her vision again. Feeling like a spectator at a tennis match, she spun around. There. Shaking a finger at the woman and barking “No!” in her most imperious voice, she rounded a pillar. Sure enough, a man stood there by a small bookcase built into the wall.
During Claire’s training, Mr. Quinn had ground into her the absolute prohibition against unauthorized individuals wandering around in the Tower. Oh God, I hope I don’t have to call for backup. “Sir? Can I help you?”
The man jumped and turned to her, his eyes wide, giving Claire the opportunity to admire two very large orbs tinted a luminous tourmaline green. His mobile face sported a Roman nose of reasonable proportion, a strong chin only slightly marred by a salt-and-pepper stubble, and the high cheekbones of an Aztec chief. His tan was not so deep as to seem artificial. Claire had raised her eyes to behold a head of wavy, chocolate brown hair when he began to speak. His sonorous baritone—a cross between Dean Martin and Elvis Presley—captivated her and she found herself humming “That’s Amore” under her breath.
“No, thank you…er…” He peered at her chest. Her hand went protectively to the bosom that drew most eligible bachelors’ attention until she realized he was trying to read her name badge.
“Um…Claire. Claire Wilding. I’m the docent here.” She indicated her troops, at least two of whom were attempting to wreak irreparable damage on each other with a wooden staff carved in the likeness of John the Baptist. “Who are you?”
He smiled suddenly, revealing brilliant white teeth. His whole face lit up, and Claire swallowed hard. “I’m Gideon Bliss. And in case you’re wondering whether I’m here lawfully, the answer is yes.” He stuck out a large hand, calluses prominent on his trigger finger. They reminded Claire of her father’s hands. “David—Mr. Comfrey—gave me permission to visit the museum.” His eyes glinted with little flecks of gold and humor.
Claire found herself at a loss for words and not just because he’d invoked the name of the Worshipful Master of the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge. She sank into the depths of his verdant eyes, while the mellifluous voice rolled over her. Just before she nodded off, he stopped speaking. She shook herself. “Oh, I see. Well, I’ll leave you to it.” Sheesh, Claire, are you shooting for the most pitiful female in Washington award?
Bliss hadn’t moved. “You say you’re the docent here? Could you help me find something?”
Claire dropped her eyes and mumbled, “Uh…”
“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Um…this is my first day. I…I doubt if I can help you.”
He chuckled. “So you didn’t actually mean anything by your first question.”
“My first…Oh, well, you know, that was sort of…rhetorical. I mean, no one is supposed to be here. Other than me. And of course them.” She waved at the group, who had now begun to congregate by the elevator doors. All except for the two boys, who were nowhere to be seen, and their mother, who continued to sprawl blithely on the President’s priceless antique chair.
Her abrupt answer seemed to annoy Bliss. “I see.” He turned back to the bookcase and pulled a large, dusty leather tome off the shelf. Claire spent a painful second staring at his rigid back and finally tore herself away, visions of emerald eyes filled with admiration at her beauty quickly evaporating.

A Mason's mark penny

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