Congrats to my author friend Tracie Banister on the release of her latest novel!
Get it HERE!
I got my copy today and can't wait to read it!
Born with a silver spoon in her mouth, Manhattan upper-cruster Cecily Sinclair now uses that pricey utensil to dish up fancy French fare on her cooking show, Serving Romance. When there’s an executive shake-up at the network, she’s not worried. Not much anyway. Her show’s a hit after all. Why would the new CEO want to mess with success?
The driving force behind several buzzed-about networks, Devlin Hayes is considered to be a wunderkind in the television industry. Although his plans to rebrand CuisineTV and make Serving Romance more Millennial-friendly don’t thrill Cecily, her charming, blue-eyed boss is a hard man to say “no” to and she really wants to keep her job—even if that means sharing screen time with a loathsome blast from her past.
Mercurial Italian chef Dante Marchetti a.k.a. “Il Duce” was once Cecily’s boss, and she has the PTSD to prove it. Now the owner of one of the hottest restaurants in town, Dante’s egomania knows no bounds and his constant attempts to provoke and upstage Cecily make her want to conk him on the head with a sauté pan. She thinks they’re toxic together, but viewers love their chemistry and clamor for more.
As Cecily battles to maintain the integrity of her show, she finds herself scheming and manipulating right along with Dante and Devlin. Is she fighting a lost cause? Does she really belong on TV, or would her culinary talent be better served elsewhere? And could one of the men who makes Cecily’s blood boil ignite a passion in her for something other than food?
RELEASE WEEK GIVEAWAY
Purchase a copy of Mixing It Up between October 19th, 2016 and October 25th, 2016 and you could win this fantastic prize pack inspired by the book’s heroine and her love of French food!
This prize pack includes:
Garnier-Thiebaut Oh, La La, Chéri French-themed Kitchen Linens Set
(Apron, kitchen towel, pot holder, and oven mitt.)
Kate Spade Deco Dot Recipe Box
with 8 tabbed dividers and 40 recipe cards
The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano
To enter this giveaway, simply e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org with your proof of purchase. Entries will be accepted until midnight on October 26th, 2016 when a winner will be selected via random drawing. This is an international giveaway, so anyone who buys Mixing It Up within the allotted time frame is eligible to win. Good luck!
An avid reader and writer, Tracie Banister has been scribbling stories since she was a child, most of them featuring feisty heroines with complicated love lives like her favorite fictional protagonist Scarlett O'Hara. Her work was first seen on the stage of her elementary school, where her 4th grade class performed an original holiday play she penned. (Like all good divas-in-the-making, she also starred in and tried to direct the production.)
Tracie’s dreams of authorial success were put on the backburner when she reached adulthood and discovered that she needed a "real" job in order to pay her bills. Her career as personal assistant to a local entrepreneur lasted for 12 years. When it ended, she decided to follow her bliss and dedicate herself to writing full-time. Mixing It Up is her fourth Chick Lit release, and in it Tracie finally got to live out her fantasy of being a Cordon Bleu-trained chef.
CONNECT WITH TRACIE
Author Newsletter – The Banister Buzz http://eepurl.com/by0VAv
A new twist on A Christmas Carol, just in time for the holiday season!
Buy it HERE!
2016 BEST FICTION-Pacific Book Awards. FROM THE FUNNY AND NATURALLY BRILLIANT DAVID LAMB, award-winning playwright of the New York Times celebrated play, Platanos Y Collard Greens, comes a modern spin on Dickens' classic tale that perfectly combines humor and romance in a story re-imagined for our digital, consumerist age.
This version of Scrooge and Belle is familiar, yet unlike any you've come across before. Scrooge, or rather Scrooje, is music's biggest superstar, with one hundred million albums sold, fifteen million devoted YouTube subscribers, two and a half million Facebook likes, and twenty-five million fanatical Twitter followers known as Scroojites. Belle, is a legal shark who gulps down her opposition voraciously and whose beauty and stunning figure causes traffic accidents as she zips through the sidewalks of Manhattan stylishly adorned and taking no prisoners. They never imagined being music's most powerful couple, but that's exactly what happened when Belle fell head over heels and gave the Coke-bottle glasses wearing, plaid and stripe attired, scrawny, biggest nerd on her college campus the ultimate makeover, turning him into a fashion impresario whose style sets trends from Milan to NY Fashion Week and who can be seen courtside at the NBA Finals sporting a perfectly-fitted cashmere suit. Then it happens. Belle realizes too late that she's created a chart-topping monster as Scrooje's ego explodes and he starts acting a fool. Now, it's been three years since they ve spoken. But tonight at Hollywood s biggest red carpet event, with the whole world watching, they'll be given a second chance. Will Scrooje listen to the ghostly-advice of Marley, his best friend since the fourth grade, who at the time of his untimely drowning at his Brazilian poolside birthday bash was as big a star as Scrooje? Will Scrooje finally do right by his number one artist, Cratchit, a genius comedian, who Scrooje invariably rip offs every chance he gets? And with twenty-five million viewers tuned in will Scrooje finally shed his ego, jeopardize his image and declare his love for Belle, the one he betrayed and let slip away? Second chances don't often come around. Will Belle even give him a chance?
Mixing heart, soul, bling and romance in a fresh, original satire about race, class and celebrity worship Lamb establishes himself as one of the most talented and amazing writers today. And leaves no doubt that the Pacific Book Awards chose wisely when they selected On Top Of The World as the year's Best Fiction.
David Lamb is a native New Yorker, born and raised, bitten with the writing bug since he was in elementary school and had handwriting nobody could decipher. Like Charles Dickens, David grew up a poor boy in the big city who found that the pen really is mightier than the sword. In middle school Lamb's hero was David Lampel whose velvet voice could be heard reporting the news over David's grandmother's radio. Whenever he heard him on the radio, David would substitute Lamb for Lampel and pretend he was delivering the news. Sure that he was destined to be a famous reporter David was happy to go to a high school with a journalism program. Like most kids, by the time he finished high school he had a whole new career in mind. After high school he went to Hunter College and majored in Economics because he wanted to be cool like that college kid who came to speak at his last year of high school. He was an Economics major, he was dressed sharp and above-all the girls thought he was the man! So like any unreasonable high school boy fueled by overactive hormones David figured if he majored in Economics they'd think he was cool. After finishing college David went on to law school at NYU, but all the time writing was still his heart. While working as a lawyer by day, at night he transformed into a writer and eventually wrote and produced the award-winning hit off-Broadway romantic comedy Platanos Y Collard Greens. Being a writer and having the chance make people laugh out loud while challenging them to think about the world around them, and inspire each of us to believe in the power of love and our own ability to overcome life's challenges is a great gift that David truly enjoys and thanks you for allowing him to share with you in On Top Of The World (Until The Bell Chimes)
Congrats to Deb on her new release!
Get it here.
Book 6 in The New Pioneers series
For anyone who has read the series, this is a great continuation of the rocky life of Robert Teague. Whether you loved him or hated him in after reading China Doll, you definitely had an opinion, and I was happy to find out what really makes him tick in this novel. Deb was not afraid to dig into the twisted world of human trafficking to expose the ugliness most of us never see--and it was all done with the level of empathy and care we've come to expect from her.
Another winner in The New Pioneers series!
Boston Police Detective Robert Teague risked his professional reputation to close the case that ruined his father. He burned a lot of people to do that, and after six years the captain who saved his job hasn’t forgotten how much Robert screwed up. A detective of his experience should have something better to do than chasing down a complaint against a paroled convict, but maybe that's why his gut is telling him something doesn’t make sense. Why did this boyfriend pimp get such a light sentence in the first place, and why did one of Boston’s most prestigious law firms represent him? And what is it about the complaining witness that makes her less reliable every time he talks to her? (The fact that she’s using an alias isn’t helping.)
Even a hard-boiled cop would be shocked by the world Hannah Bruges has been slipping in and out of since she was a young teenager. Counterfeiting, child prostitution and slave labor in all its forms make the world a miserable place, and Hannah knows better than most how evil it can be when no one cares. When anyone can get what they want at every level of a dark market, nothing’s as cheap as a human life. Robert would be happy to close the case if Hannah didn’t keep walking into trouble and dragging him into it with her. And if he’s honest, the detective in him wants to know what she’s really after: the people the law can’t find, or the person no one bothered to look for?
There’s always someone who can give you what you want and what you need, but nothing comes without a price. How much are you willing to pay when it’s someone you love?
Deborah Nam-Krane loves Boston, romance, mysteries and thrillers, and you're going to find all of that in her latest work. When she isn't following her characters into their twisted adventures, she's homeschooling her sons and desperately trying to get some sleep.
Find Deb on the Internet:
As usual, my friend Karen and I had a killer time in Nashville at the Killer Nashville conference. We probably did more sightseeing than conference-ing, but that's what a girls' weekend is all about, right?
Here are some highlights from our trip.
The fifth and final installment of
THE LIZZIE HART MYSTERIES series
is now available!
Get it here:
Lizzie Hart’s crazy love life has been leading up this moment…when she finally gets to marry Blake Morgan. But with their luck, will they make it to ’til death do us part before the wedding even starts?
It’s June in the small town of Liberty, and that means it’s wedding season. Faster than you can say “I do,” the social height of the year turns deadly as a sadistic killer begins targeting couples on what should be their happiest day.
The terror begins as a groom keels over before he can get through his vows. The clever killer frames Bethany McCool, the dead groom’s ex, for the murder. Lizzie knows her friend Bethany is innocent, so she enlists the help of her fiancé, Blake, and sets out to find the real killer. But as the mayhem intensifies, the duo realizes they’re going to have to partner up with the police this time instead of trying to do all the sleuthing on their own.
As if they don’t have enough to do, Lizzie and Blake’s big day is fast approaching, and neither of them can wait to tie the knot. Lizzie’s domineering mother has taken over the planning for the wedding, but even she can’t hold everything together as one by one the florist, the baker, and the caterer start pulling out over safety concerns. With the string of violence threatening to ruin their happily ever after, Lizzie and Blake must rush to find the killer before they become the next victims.
Cover Reveal for Isabella Louise Anderson's
CARDS FROM KHLOE'S FLOWER SHOP
As the owner of a successful florist shop, Khloe Harper trusts her instincts. She has a strong bond with her family and friends, but after being betrayed by her last love, she's kept herself at arms’ length from romance. When dashing entertainment attorney Derek Thomas walks into her store, Khloe’s interested is piqued. What at first seems like a business relationship quickly turns into romance, and Derek slowly plucks away the petals she’s been hiding behind. Just as Khloe lets down her guard, she discovers that Derek may not be worthy of her love after all...
Frumpy Connie Albright has a faux fascination with an imaginary man named Walt, sending herself flowers from him to feel less out-of-place with the “mean girls” she works with. Gabby Lewis, a recently widowed senior, isn't ready to give up on love—which means releasing herself from survivor's guilt and taking a chance on finding happiness and companionship again.
As these stories intertwine through flowers and cards sent from Khloe's shop, the three women begin to learn that love can only truly blossom when you trust your heart.
Author Bio: Isabella grew up with a book in her hand, and to this day nothing has changed. She is a member of the Romance Writers of America and has been featured on several blogs. While Isabella doesn’t blog a lot, she focuses her time on featuring other writers, along with working on her next book.
Currently, she lives in Dallas with her husband. She enjoys spicy Mexican food and drinking margaritas, and can be found spending time with family and friends, cheering on the Texas Rangers, and reading.
Isabella’s short story, Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, was featured in Simon & Fig’s Christmas anthology, Merry & Bright, in November 2013. The Right Design is her first novel.
My author friend Monique McDonell has a new book out--read the excerpt below and get the book here! And enter the Rafflecopter contest below.
Mike warned Marissa back in high school that if they kissed, she’d never get over it. He was joking, but he was also right.
Ten years later and Marissa is well and truly stuck in Mike’s friend-zone and he’s made it very clear that’s where she’s staying. Her love-life isn’t the only part of her life that’s in a rut so when her elderly parents pack up and move South, Marissa admits it’s time to move on with her life.
With the encouragement of her friends Lucy and Cherie, the matchmaker, she updates her wardrobe and her attitude. Lucy’s engagement party is the perfect place to start fresh and find her old self again, the self that likes to dance until dawn. Mike wants Marissa to be happy and he’s convinced he’s not up to the job, but he doesn’t like watching her flirt with other men or worse, dating again. His twin brother, Todd, who is Marissa’s best friend warns him to back off, he’s had his chance.
Is this a case of not knowing what you’ve got till it’s gone? And if so what is Mike prepared to do to get Marissa back with the whole town there to offer him advice.
Will Marissa and Mike get their happily ever after or is it a case of too little too late?
Any Way You Plan It is Book 4 in The Upper Crust Series
Book 1 – Any Way You Slice It
Book 2 – Any Way You Dream It
Book 3 – Any Way You Fight It.
Excerpt from Any Way You Plan It
An hour later, she was sitting at the bar at The Pit and was on her third beer. She was tired and emotional and probably—no definitely—should have curled up in bed with a book that promised her a happily ever after.
“Hey there.” Todd Kowalski slid onto the barstool next to her. Todd was Mike’s identical twin brother and one of her oldest friends. The twins looked the same to the untrained eye, but Marissa’s eye was very well trained indeed.
“Hey, Todd. How’s it hanging?”
Marissa knew Todd had a faint scar in his right eyebrow where Mike had hit him with a Frisbee as kids. She knew that when Mike smiled the left side his mouth rose first and the reverse was true for Todd. She knew that her heart beat a bit faster near Mike and inexplicably never had near Todd.
“How’s it hanging?” He raised his eyebrows at her.
“I’m working on some new material,” she replied.
“Keep working.” He raised the beer that had been placed in front of him to her. “Cheers.”
The town thought Todd was a graphic designer, which he was. What they didn’t know was that he had also invented the online gaming app, Jungle Jam, and was currently worth an absolute bucket-load of money. She knew and Mike knew, and well, that was about it.
He nodded. “Yep, nearly done. I’m kind of excited.”
“Good for you,” she said, but her voice sounded flat even to her.
“You don’t seem happy tonight. Anything I can do to cheer you up?”
“I’m just in a funk. My folks are moving, I’ve wasted my twenties, and I’m a lonely librarian . . .”
“Ah, so nothing major.” He gave her a gentle shove with his elbow.
“Exactly.” She took a swig of her beer.
“What number is that, honey?” He pointed to her drink.
“I’ll drive you home.”
“Thanks, Todd. You really should find a nice girl to lavish your kindness on.”
“Yeah, thanks, but no thanks. I’m very happy being single and hanging out with you.”
“Who’s happy being single?” She’d know that voice anywhere. Not that she didn’t hear it practically every day. She looked over her shoulder and took him in. Dark hair, NYU sweatshirt, and jeans. Nothing that should make a girl’s heart flip, and yet hers did an elegant somersault.
“Your brother, of course.”
Mike slid onto the barstool on her other side. It was pretty standard. She was the rose between two thorns. “I see.”
They sat there in amicable silence. Or so it seemed. To the whole town, they were just three friends who hung out. It wasn’t like that, not really. Marissa had been in love with Mike for as long as she could remember, and Todd knew that as well. Meanwhile Mike, the object of her infatuation, acted, or was, oblivious. It was the routine they’d fallen into when they all drifted back to town. Not that Marissa usually drank at The Pit; that alone was out of the ordinary. She was only here because Lucy and Chase were in town. For years, she’d spent her weekends being bossed around by her mother or Patty, an old high school frenemy who bossed half the town around. Lately, she’d withdrawn even more and either went and played video games with Todd or was home with her folks.
Lucy and Chase came in with a whoosh of cool air, and they all moved over to a table.
“How is it at your mom’s?” she asked Lucy.
“It’s nice. That makes it weird in itself. I’m not used to nice.” She eyed Marissa. “Do you usually drink beer?”
“I’m trying new things.” She shrugged.
“How’s that working for you?”
“I’m on my third.” Lucy looked shocked. Even when they’d been at college together, she’d never been a beer drinker or much of a drinker at all. “Todd’s dropping me home. Don’t worry. I’m notoriously sensible.”
“I know. I’m a little worried about you,” her friend said, giving her arm a squeeze.
“I guess I just have some stuff to work out. Like who I am, what I want, and where I’m heading.”
“Just the simple stuff then?”
“That’s what Todd said.” She sighed.
“It is going to be okay, Marissa.” Her friend patted her hand.
“Yeah, if you say so.”
About the author – Monique McDonell
I am an Australian author who writes contemporary women's fiction including chick lit and romance.
I have written all my life especially as a child when I loved to write short stories and poetry. At University I studied Creative Writing as part of my Communication degree. Afterwards I was busy working in public relations I didn't write for pleasure for quite a few years although I wrote many media releases, brochures and newsletters. (And I still do in my day-job!)
When I began to write again I noticed a trend - writing dark unhappy stories made me unhappy. So I made a decision to write a novel with a happy ending and I have been writing happy stories ever since.
I am the author of five stand alone novels including Mr. Right and Other Mongrels and Hearts Afire and the Upper Crust Series. Many of my novels focus on an Australian characters meeting and visiting US characters.
I have been a member of the writing group The Writer’s Dozen for ten years. Our anthology Better Than Chocolate raised over $10,000 for the charity Room to Read and helped build a library in South East Asia. I am also a member of the Romance Writers of Australia. In 2015 had a piece on writing chicklit featured in the successful Australian non-fiction book Copyfight.
I live on Sydney's Northern Beaches with my husband and daughter where I run a boutique PR consultancy.
To learn more about my books, my writing, my caffeine obsession and my upcoming books please visit www.moniquemcdonell.com.au.
Follow her tour...
Welcome back, Laina Turner, on her
Necklaces & Nooses blog tour!
Get the book here.
When Presley’s boss is found hanging she thinks its suicide until the police discover its homicide. Who would want to kill a the owner of a high end women's boutique? Presley's not sure but she’s determined to find out.
Interview with Laina
What is the best dish you can cook?
My lasagna is world famous. Ok, maybe not world famous but my friends and family love it.
Can you fake any accents?
Not and be believable. I need to stick to my normal voice.
You wouldn't be caught dead, where?
In a minivan. My fiancé drives one and they are super versatile but I won best car of my high school senior class and I have to be in a hot car. You know, like a Buick.
Do you have any hidden talents?
None at all. Unless you count…nope. None.
What do you have in your pockets?
Right this minute chapstick and lint.
Most hated chore on the household chore list?
Grocery shopping. I despise grocery shopping. I love to eat but I wish the food would magically appear.
Which bad habit drives you crazy?
My son refuses to put the toilet seat down. Drives me nuts and I think of creative punishments all the time.
Name one thing you consider yourself to be very good at.
Household logistics. When I first had kids I was paranoid I’d forget one in the back. Now I juggle 2 kids, school, multiple sports, and their social calendars. Being a mom is the hardest job there is.
Name one thing you totally suck at.
Cleaning. I wasn’t meant to clean.
What was least favorite job that you had?
Kentucky Fried Chicken at 16. I did enjoy making biscuits but I hated smelling like chicken.
What is on your bedside table?
Nail file, reading glasses, pad of paper and pen, and usually a glass of wine.
If you could play any instrument, which would you play?
I play the guitar but not very well. I’d love to play well.
If you could be any cartoon character, who would you be?
Speedy Gonzales. He cracked me up as a kid.
Alcohol or coffee?
Yes. Oh, was I supposed to choose. I wish I could.
Are you a morning or night person?
I would prefer to sleep until noon and stay up until 3am but with kids I’m up at 5am and in bed by 10pm.
Name a singer you can't stand the sound of.
If you were to perform in the circus, what would you do?
I would totally be a trapeze artist. How cool would that be.
Name one thing you remember about your high school prom.
My dress which at the time I LOVED but now I am like “what was I thinking.” Got to love the 80’s.
What was the last thing you watched on TV?
Flip or Flop on HGTV.
What was the last photo you took on your phone?
Of a glass of champagne I was drinking at my bridal shower.
What's your favorite holiday?
Christmas by far. The decorations, the food, the pumpkin pie, and Chevy Chase in The Christmas Vacation.
When was the last time you fired a gun?
I was probably 10-11. My dad took me target shooting. Though it’s something I’d love to do again.
As a child Laina thought she would either be a truck driver (thanks to Jerry Reed in Smokey and the Bandit) or work at Taco Bell (her favorite restaurant as a child).
As she grew older she realized her talents lay in academics and business and for the last several years has been a business consultant and college professor where she uses the analytical side of her brain and not the side that makes up stories.
Through all her career choices she has continued to have a passion for writing. This stemmed from childhood whereas an only child she developed a vivid imagination spending most of her time making things up and thinking the Incredible Hulk lived in her closet.
Proud of her vast experiences in life from barrel racing to being on the dance team for a semi pro basketball team to being a mom of 2 amazing kids, she tells her family and friends that no one is safe from their escapades slipping in to her books.
Taking the plunge to write books (cozy mysteries and chick lit) that she actually let people read in 2010, she has worked her way up to being a real author, having 5 fans (maybe 6 now). Her blog, Writing is a Lifestyle, was launched to share the daily fun in the life of a Real Housewife of the Midwest along with the musing of other fabulous ladies.
My second Java Jive Series mystery,
is now available!
Get it here!
Full of humor and suspense, the bestselling Java Jive series heats up as the irrepressible heroine of Death Before Decaf faces off against Nashville’s upper crust to solve a shocking murder.
Former musician Juliet Langley has barely had a day off since taking over management of the coffeehouse owned by her best friend, Pete Bennett. But there’s always more to be done—such as prepping for the annual Holiday 5K Race organized by Pete’s snobby socialite girlfriend, Cecilia Hollingsworth. This year, Java Jive has a booth right at the finish line, and since Juliet and Cecilia don’t always see eye to eye, everything has to be perfect. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing . . . like Juliet stumbling over Cecilia’s dead body on the morning of the race.
When Pete is arrested for Cecilia’s murder, Juliet sets out to clear his name. She’ll do whatever it takes—even if it means standing up to the police, her ex-boyfriend, and the grande dames of Nashville. But there isn’t enough espresso in the world for the greatest challenge in her path: infiltrating Nashville’s high society to uncover the hidden hotbed of scandal without running afoul of the law herself. With her last dime staked on Pete’s bail bond and her staff growing jittery, the last thing Juliet needs is for her trademark temper to land her behind bars. As time drips away, Juliet needs to crack this case before the killer comes back for another shot.
LOVE this meme made by Collector of Book Boyfriends & Girlfriends!
Bestselling author Gina LaManna is bringing her fans a new series, The Magic & Mixology Mystery Series! The debut novel, HEX ON THE BEACH, comes out April 29th.
Get it HERE.
I'm thrilled to be able to share an exclusive excerpt
from this fantastic new series--thanks, Gina!
Here's your sneak peek!
Lily Locke has never believed in witches and wizards, ghosts and magic, shifters and vampires—especially cute blond vamps with blood-intolerance issues. A rising star at a hotshot marketing agency in Minneapolis, Minnesota, all Lily knows is she’s a PowerPoint guru, an Excel ninja, and a coffee-maker extraordinaire. Not to mention she’s next in line for a huge promotion.
All that changes when Lily’s assistant delivers a strange quiz to her, one titled A Magical Assessment for Normal Folks. With it comes the promise of a land Lily’s never known existed. A land where Lily not only discovers her biological family for the first time, but a place where she can make a difference, change people’s lives, and step into the role she’s destined to fulfill.
But first, Lily must admit she’s a witch. Then, she has to acknowledge that the tall, dark, and mysterious man who offers his help is strictly focused on business...at least, for now. When a body turns up dead and the next target is Lily, she must trust her powers and accept the help of her newfound friends. Otherwise, she'll never survive the trials of the magical island tucked far, far away in the frigid waters of Lake Superior.
Welcome to The Isle.
“It’s been confirmed there has been another sighting of The Isle. Nestled against the shores of the frigid Lake Superior, right off the coast of Grand Marais, we have one man who claims he’s seen the mystical island just this past weekend. Still, we’ve no record of any human stepping foot on the—”
“What does she mean by ‘no human’?” I asked, interrupting the radio program. “As opposed to what, aliens?”
My assistant scowled. “Shhh. I’m listening.”
“The Isle is rumored to have all sorts of creatures wandering its lands, traipsing The Forests beside the volcano…”
I tuned out, giving said assistant, Ainsley, a few more minutes to listen before I broke up the party.
When I couldn’t ignore it any longer, I stood and forced myself to take charge. “Okay, can we please shut it off? I can’t listen to this drivel right now. You know I don’t like to be the big, bad boss, Ains, but… this presentation is a big deal. The big deal.”
“But this show is all true,” Ainsley said. “There is an island. You know it.”
“I don’t know it. And this reporter lady is a kook!”
“I want to hear the rest of the program.” Ainsley reached for the radio, gulping the last of her virgin piña colada, a drink she said “added to the ambiance” of her weekly listening session. “Let me keep it on until the ending. Pretty please? I’ll work twenty minutes late and come in twenty minutes early tomorrow.”
“But you know the end of the show. You listen to it every week.”
“I like it.”
“You’re really telling me you believe there’s an island with magical powers nobody has ever seen? You know all these people she interviews are lying, right?”
“Ana is not lying.”
Anastasia, the host of the show, reminded me of Luna Lovegood and her belief in all things Nargles. Long blond hair, hippie skirts, big round eyes, and a belief in the unusual.
“I’m not saying Ana is a liar. I’m just saying she’s—”
“Different? What’s wrong with different?” Ainsley sat back, displaying arms streaked with tattoos and a rainbow head of hair. “Huh?”
“Nothing.” I lifted my hand from the radio. “Fine. Twenty more minutes, but I’m going for a walk. I have to get in the right mindset for tomorrow. Then shut it off, please. You’re making my job difficult.”
“I try.” Ainsley smiled, giving me a wink as she held her pink piña colada straw between her teeth and turned up the volume.
As Ana’s voice filled the room with her theories on witches and wizards, trolls and fairies, and sorts of creatures that didn’t—and could never—exist, I took off down the hallway, taking long, deep breaths.
At Lions Marketing, Inc., my official title was Senior Director of Marketing, though I was only twenty-six years old. I’d been promoted four times in as many years and wore many hats: Excel ninja, spreadsheet guru, coffee-maker extraordinaire. But after four years of grueling labor with long hours and little pay, tomorrow was my time to do or die.
After a lengthy stroll around the office, I ended up back at my desk. Shutting down my computer, I twisted my necklace into knots before I hurried out to my car, distracted by thoughts of the looming presentation.
If I aced this presentation, Lions Marketing was looking at an additional five million dollars of revenue by the end of this year, with the potential for more to come. Not only would that put us in the black for the first time, but it would line me up for my next big promotion.
If it went terribly wrong…
I didn’t want to think about that.
As I drove home, I told myself I’d practiced so many times, nothing could go wrong.
But somehow, I wasn’t convinced.
I clicked my pencil once.
Standing with a sigh, I stretched my neck in a slow roll, cracked my knuckles for good measure, then strolled around the conference room and tried not to look nervous.
Where is everyone?
Stopping in front of the floor-to-ceiling window, I pretended to stare at the skyscrapers of downtown Minneapolis. But instead of seeing the buildings, I double-checked my hair, which I’d done up in a tight bun for today’s special occasion. My makeup, though minimal, remained intact, and there were no coffee stains on my white shirt. Overall, a success.
Except for one thing.
I shuffled, for the zillionth time, through my sheaf of papers and flicked through one slide after the next. I’d thought of nothing except this presentation for the last three weeks, and frankly, I wondered if I might be going a bit crazy. These slides appeared in my dreams. They haunted my shower thoughts. The grocery clerk had heard at least six percent of my presentation while I checked out last night.
My mind drifted as I scanned the surrounding tall buildings, the mini concrete jungle of the downtown Twin Cities. I loved the hustle and bustle through the skyways, the whoosh of city bus exhaust pipes, the meetings of strangers day in and day out.
Then all of a sudden, a flash in the distance caught my eye. At first glance, it looked as if a bolt of lightning had struck ground just outside the city limits. Leaning closer to the window, my nose nearly touching the glass, I squinted, trying to see if, in fact, a storm was a-brewing.
“Uh, boss?” Ainsley knocked on the door and poked her head in the room as I jumped backward, self-consciously brushing off my fanciest pencil skirt. I wore one white blouse and had brought another to the office today, just in case. She raised her eyebrows, her messy bun bobbing along with her head. A tattoo peeked out on her shoulder. “Everything okay? You know, if you’re considering jumping from the building instead of giving your presentation, there’s an easier way. The roof doesn’t have windows.”
I scrunched my nose. “That’s enough. Not now, Ainsley. The clients will be here any minute.”
“Loosen up.” Ainsley took a few steps into the room, adjusting her stylish leather jacket. “You’re way too uptight. I’ve never seen anyone prepare more for anything. You’ve got this presentation down. Remember last week when I caught you sleeping at your desk?”
I nodded. I’d worked into the wee hours of the morning making sure the graphics of my PowerPoint were spot on. Around three or four, I must have nodded off, because the next thing I knew, Ainsley was making fun of an odd glob of drool on my desk while handing me a cup of coffee.
“Yeah, well, you were reciting it in your sleep.” She handed me a slip of paper. “So relax, okay, boss? You got this.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Ains, I appreciate it.”
“Whatever.” She turned and left without a glance back.
Ainsley, a whirlwind of tattoos, piercings, and colorful hair, had stumbled into the position of my secretary years before. I’d originally hired her as a favor to my own boss, but when she proved to be whip smart and insanely creative, I not only kept her on, I promoted her and did everything in my power to keep her around.
We were polar opposites. My hair was jet black and fastened in a tight chignon, and I wore black and gray and white almost exclusively. I had not a tattoo in sight, and I’d never even considered highlighting my hair. But I liked her because she wasn’t afraid to tell me when I was being crazy.
Except—I wasn’t crazy.
Where were they?
Remembering the slip of paper in my hand, I glanced down, expecting it to be a memo that the group was running late. Rush-hour traffic had held up more than one client meeting, so I wouldn’t be surprised, except… it wasn’t a note from Ainsley.
It was a quiz. Some sort of strange, bizarro magic test.
“What in the world?” I read the note once, twice, three times. I walked across the room and opened the door then shouted down the hall, “Ainsley? What is this?”
Ainsley, however, was long gone—probably out for a smoke break.
One more glance around the lobby told me the client hadn’t yet arrived. I reread my presentation one more time, but even in my head I was beginning to sound like a cardboard cutout. I turned my attention to Ainsley’s note and found myself shaking my head.
This must be her idea of a joke, something to get me to loosen up so I’d be more go with the flow for the meeting. It was sweet, in Ainsley’s unique style.
I clicked my pencil once more and doodled in the corner while I read the quiz.
Magic Assessment for Normal Folks
Have you ever found yourself wondering if you are a witch? If so, now is your chance to find out in ten easy questions!
Have you experienced one (or more) strange happenings that are impossible to explain with science?
*No, I’m a completely boring fuddy-duddy, and nothing interesting happens
*Yes, but I pretend it didn’t happen
What color are your knickers?
*Get out of town, they’re called underwear.
*Why wear underwear, anyway?
Did you wash your socks this week?
*I’m a barefoot beauty
Do you believe in magic?
*Duh, I’m a witch
*Magic is nonsense
The questions continued, all just as silly as the first few. Ainsley had succeeded in getting a smile out of me, I thought as I skimmed the rest of the article. But she’d forgotten a key, or a point system, or some way to tally my answers.
I circled random responses, as outrageous as I could get, planning to tuck it under Ainsley’s keyboard to show her that I had a sense of humor, and I wasn’t a total fuddy-duddy.
But when I got to the bottom, one of the lines caught me off guard.
** ** Surprise** **
If you can read this quiz, you are a witch. To everyone else, this piece of paper looks like a picture of David Hasselhoff in a polka-dot bikini.
So congratulations! You have magic in your blood. We’ll be in touch soon!
** ** Sincerely, Members of The Isle ** **
My pencil hovered over the page.
“Clever girl,” I muttered. Even Ainsley’s jokes were witty, not the average “tape-the-bottom-of-your-mouse” prank. I’d have to get her back good for this one…
My blood froze as someone cleared their throat behind me and an unfamiliar voice said, “Ms. Locke?”
I turned to see a dapper gentleman looking uber-professional in an expensive suit, tie, and polished shoes extend his hand. His eyes glanced toward the witchy quiz on the table before sliding back to mine.
“Hello, Mr. Davenport, it’s good to finally meet you in person. I’m Lily, Lily Locke.” I gestured toward the table where the paper sat in clear view, my cheeks warm with a furious blush. “My assistant thought she’d play a cute joke on me.”
“Cute?” A woman appeared next to Mr. Davenport. She too wore an expensive, form-fitting business suit and high heels that stated elegant. “I consider that rude. David Hasselhoff, didn’t he go to rehab? And why on earth is he wearing that bathing suit? He must be drunk again.”
My mind went blank. “Excuse me? David…”
“Your photo.” The woman sniffed. “I’d have my secretary fired if she considered something like that humorous.”
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled at her stuffy tone. Whether or not Ainsley should have tried to lighten the mood, the woman didn’t need such an attitude. Ains hadn’t meant any harm.
“She was just trying to make me smile,” I said. “It’s a joke quiz.”
“Quiz?” The woman furrowed her brow. “That’s not a quiz. It’s a raunchy photo. I’m all for a joke, but this…”
Mr. Davenport glanced at the photo, but he looked away just as fast. The tinge of red in his ears told me he was embarrassed by whatever he’d seen. He ran a hand through his gray hair. “Well, should we begin?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” I said, relieved.
I flipped the quiz over, still wondering how on earth Ainsley had pulled off that trick. I’d really need to have a word with her. A pretend quiz was one thing, but a rude photo that offended our potential clients was another entirely.
I focused on the presentation, pushing the odd events out of my mind. Grabbing water and coffee for everyone, I waited as another six or seven people filtered into the conference room. Eventually, my boss arrived as well and gave me a curt nod, his face stern as usual.
I nodded back, my nerves ramping up. Taking a couple deep breaths, I paused before holding up the clicker for the presentation.
“Welcome, and thank you for coming this morning.” I remembered to smile at the last minute, forcing myself to remain loose as Ainsley had cautioned. My fingers trembled slightly as I depressed the button to begin the first slide.
“Here at Lions Marketing, we provide the best, the most thorough, the most effective strategies in the industry. As our name suggests, we are the king of the marketing jungle, and…” My voice faltered as I glanced from one face to the next.
Not a single person was paying attention to me.
My first slide didn’t contain anything interesting on it, nothing at all except for our company name and logo—a roaring lion. Yet everyone was staring with rapt attention at the screen. As if it were David Hasselhoff in a polka-dot bikini.
My boss’s mouth hung open in an unflattering manner, which most certainly meant bad news. He looked surprised. And shocked. My boss was never surprised. I’d once told him a tornado had touched down five minutes away, and he hadn’t flinched.
Sensing something had gone terribly, terribly wrong, I made a slow turn until I faced the screen. Then my face fell slack. I dropped the clicker. And I squinted.
“What is that?” I asked in a hushed tone.
On the screen, what should have been our logo had completely disappeared. Er, sort of disappeared. The lion from our logo looked as if it’d come to life in a 2-D image, prancing around the screen, opening its mouth in silent roars, swishing its tail.
“Is this another joke?” The stuffy woman crossed her arms, but I didn’t sense as much hostility. More curiosity than anything else.
Join the club. I had no idea what was happening on the slide, and curiosity didn’t begin to explain it.
“No, uh, we here at Lions Marketing are all about new, out-of-the-box, forward-thinking marketing.” My boss stood, giving me a quick glare before putting on his “business hat” and facing the clients.
How he remained so calm, so collected, I had no idea. I was quivering in my knock-off boots.
“Do tell,” the woman said. “I don’t understand.”
“It captured your attention, did it not?” My boss gestured to the screen where, at the moment, the lion had apparently decided to take a leak on the company name.
I winced. Poor time for a bathroom break.
“We will catch your consumer’s eye like nobody before. I can guarantee that our tactics are on the cutting edge of the industry. Studies in China right now are proving that this sort of viral marketing is what’s new and hot.” My boss gave me another quick glare.
Lucky thing he was there, because I’d never have come up with that fake China study. That was probably the same reason he was my boss, and I was one of many minions below him.
“Interesting,” Mr. Davenport said, taking over for his female counterpart. “And how do you see this helping us?”
“Well, I will let Lily move on with her presentation. I know she has a wonderful explanation ready for you with plenty of numbers and graphs. Right?” My boss turned to me. “Lily?”
“Right.” I jumped to attention. “Next.”
I clicked the clicker but immediately regretted the move. Instead of advancing the slide, the click seemed to only anger the cartoonish lion. Lions Marketing’s logo turned toward us with an all-too-realistic expression and roared at the crowd.
Except this time, the animal wasn’t silent.
I felt the breeze, smelled the breath from the lion as the roar nearly deafened the room.
“I’m sorry about that,” I said, clicking the clicker once more.
This time, the click enlarged the lion’s figure. He grew to half the size of the screen, his roars growing louder and louder.
“Lily, what is this?” My boss’s tone was furious. In his defense, he had a pretty good reason to be upset.
“I don’t know! This isn’t my PowerPoint. I’ve gone through this a million times, you’ve seen me,” I said with a horrified glance at my boss. “I don’t know what’s happening or how to get rid of it.”
“Shut it off.” My boss’s tone was clipped, and I was sure that neither he nor I missed the raised eyebrows of Ms. Stuffy Bottoms in the corner.
“I’m trying!” But every time I clicked the power button, the lion grew larger, roared louder, and altogether became more animated.
“I’m leaving.” Ms. Stuffy Bottoms stood, nodding at Mr. Davenport. “I do not enjoy the idea of threatening my target audience with our marketing.”
“It’s not what you think, it’s…” I raised and lowered my shoulders, unable to explain it.
“A joke?” The woman raised her eyebrows. “I’m not sure if that’s better or worse, but either way, I won’t tolerate it. I’m sorry, but I have a lot of money at stake, and with this sort of showing, I can’t possibly put my money in your hands.”
Mr. Davenport followed the woman without question. On the way out, his eyes met my boss’s gaze, and he murmured, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out, Fred. Maybe next time.”
The rest of the crew filtered out, none of them making eye contact with me, most of them nodding sadly at my boss. When it was just him and me left, I limply raised one hand.
“I’m so sorry, I don’t know what happened.” I looked at the floor. “Er… are you going to say something?”
My boss’s silence bordered on murderous.
I cleared my throat. “You know, I never knew your name was Fred, Mr. Roberts.”
I had no idea where that observation had come from, or why it’d just popped out of my mouth. My legs trembled, my fingers shook, tears pricked my eyes—all signs my nerves were shot. Apparently that toyed with my ability to say appropriate things.
“Get your things.” Mr. Roberts’s voice rumbled throughout the room with a menacing tone I hadn’t known he possessed. “You’re fired.”
I hung my head. Ainsley would’ve fought back, argued that it wasn’t her fault. Part of me wanted to lash out at Fred, tell him this wasn’t my PowerPoint, that someone had screwed with me, played an unfair joke that had gone sour. Maybe it was Leslie from down the hall—she’d been angling for my job for a while. Or Sarah from one floor up—she’d been hankering for a promotion for months.
But I couldn’t find it in myself to blame anyone else. I’d put my blood, sweat, and tears into this presentation, and it couldn’t have gone worse. I could barely process what had happened, let alone form cohesive thoughts or argue my point. No, for now, I needed to lick my wounds and figure out what to do next.
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Gina LaManna is the bestselling author of the Lacey Luzzi Mafia Mysteries, The Little Things romantic suspense series, and the Misty Newman Mystery Series. Stop on by and say hello on Facebook! We've got lots of giveaways and an author takeover - coming soon!
Fun facts about Gina: I love cappuccino foam and whipped cream. I would live off sprinkles if possible. I have one imaginary dog. Laughing is my favorite :)