Friday, October 24, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Kelly Crigger, Author and Curmudgeon

Kelly Crigger, Curmudgeon and Author
Kelly Crigger is a self-avowed curmudgeon, and he’s used his knowledge to write a guide for others to follow. As one reviewer said, “The world needs a great big dose of reality, and this work here is exactly where it starts.” Crigger started to write “life lessons” for his children, but his journal evolved into CURMUDGEONISM: A SURLY MAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE.

Crigger continues to enjoy writing and is now co-authoring a book “I Am Haunted” and has four other novels underway. He likes spending time with his family, and appreciates the days he gets to spend with them.

Q: What inspired you to write CURMUDGEONISM: A SURLY MAN’S GUIDE TO MIDLIFE? Why did you write it?

Kelly Crigger: I went through a dark period in 2013 where I lost my father and my business and was kinda pissed at the world and people in general. When you own a business you see the worst in people. They all want to take advantage of you or lie to your face and it really jaded me. At the time I’d been writing down life lessons for my kids and was planning to put them into a book for them. So I just got drunk one night and took all those lessons and rewrote them with a “fuck you world” attitude and 8 weeks later the book was done. Once I got started I couldn’t stop myself.

Q: When did you comprehend the significance of curmudgeonism?

Kelly Crigger: About a year after retiring from the Army I was lost and really wasn’t sure who I was anymore. I was used to a life of selfless service where everyone helps and trusts each other and landed in a world of backstabbing, lying assholes. I figured there were probably a lot of midlife men like me struggling with their place in life and wrote this for them.

Q: How helpful is humor to recognizing and coping with curmudgeonism?

Kelly Crigger: Very. My book comes across as angry (and it is) but it’s also laced with humor…if you can recognize it. John Cleese said it best – “Humor is best when it’s mean spirited.” I took that to heart.

Q: You offer advice on “how to cope” with this “midlife tailspin.” Is this advice based on your own discovery of Curmudgeonism? Or did you research scientific or medical authorities?

Kelly Crigger: My own tailspin that I am only just barely coming out of. You have to remember that men are wired to provide (at least the ones who give a shit are). When anything threatens our ability to bring home the bacon, put a roof over our family’s heads, or pay for braces, we freak out just a little and dedicate our energies to bringing the world back into balance by ensuring we provide now and in the future. 

Q: One of the reviewers of CURMUDGEONISM says, “this book is about one thing above all else: reality.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

Kelly Crigger: Of course I agree. I dedicated part of the book to those namby pamby souls who turn a blind eye to reality and try to wish it away. Men go to war, immigrants are here, drugs are everywhere. To encase yourself in a cocoon of denial is stupid and doesn’t help solve any of these problems.

Q: Do you believe that your insight into curmudgeonism applies to men worldwide? Or is it more pertinent to men in the US and developed countries?

Kelly Crigger: I’d like to think it’s applicable to men everywhere, but I’m willing to bet there are cultural differences that would make men in different countries look at me like an idiot. Islam doesn’t treat women like we do, so I’m sure my views on the opposite sex would not go over well with them.

Q: What are the top three to five tips you might offer to curmudgeons?

Kelly Crigger: 1. Live and let live, meaning when you encounter morons just give them a wide berth and be comfortable in knowing they’re morons and you’re not.
2. When you cannot avoid encountering a moron, let him have it. Prove he’s a moron not to be an asshole, but to help him recognize that he’s a moron and you’re only trying to help reduce his moronism.
3. Never apologize for being a curmudgeon.

Q: Did you learn anything when writing CURMUDGEONISM?

Kelly Crigger: I write angry subjects better when I drink.

Q: What’s next? Any novels in your future or do you prefer non-fiction?

Kelly Crigger: I’m co-writing a book with Zak Bagans called I Am Haunted that comes out in February. It’s on Amazon now. After that I’ll be working on novels. I have 4 in various stages of production.

Q: Tell us about Kelly Crigger. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Kelly Crigger: Drink and hate everything. Just kidding. I love to write and be with my family. I’m kind of a hermit. My job is Chemical and Biological Defense, but for the most part I’m just sitting in my house with my family as much as possible because I know these days are limited. The kids will move out eventually and if they’re like me they’ll never look back.

About Kelly Crigger

Kelly Crigger is an angry troll who lives under a bridge, eats goats that wander past, and throws their bones into the canyon of despair.

Discovering who you are is not just for teenagers. Midlife men must also rediscover the world around them while struggling with their own impending mortality and legacy, especially those who change careers and lifestyles.

Middle-aged men like me are under siege, beset on all sides by personal ambition, internal expectations, familial pressure, disillusionment, uncertainty, and legacy. It’s a constant battle to balance the needs of the self and the needs of others and a struggle to discover which ones really take priority. Some win this battle and some tragically lose.

Curmudgeonism is a state of mind, unwavering, unapologetic, and uninterested in what people think. We are the proverbial old dog that can’t be taught new tricks because we know the old tricks are tried and true. We have firm beliefs that can’t be shaken. Free trade is good. True leaders are rare. Happiness is a luxury. Golf is a waste of time and we don’t have enough years left to be unproductive. We don’t apologize for our views because we’ve spent half a lifetime developing them. Theory and idealism sounds good in school but only until it becomes cost prohibitive and the real world determines ground truth. Curmudgeons are uncaring about what people think and have low expectations on the world because it’s done little more than disappoint us. We’re middle aged and tired of looking, acting, feeling the way people want us to, so we’re breaking out and being who we were meant to be; irascible curs who make the world a better place through brutal honesty. We see this as our duty and take it seriously.


Twitter address - @kellycrigger or @curmudgeonism

Follow the entire Curmudgeonsim Tour HERE
Brought to you by Worldwind Virtual Book Tours

Monday, October 20, 2014

CHECK IT OUT: Character Jillian Hillcrest Introduces New Protagonist and Cover of Mystery HILLTOP SUNSET

Character Jillian Hillcrest solves mysteries written by yours truly, Joyce T. Strand. When she’s not sleuthing, publicist Jillian promotes her company. She joins us today to introduce a new protagonist, Brynn Bancroft, and the cover of her premier mystery, HILLTOP SUNSET: A BRYNN BANCROFT MYSTERY scheduled for launch Nov. 12, 2014.

by Jillian Hillcrest 
Character from the Jillian Hillcrest Mysteries

I am so excited to introduce Brynn Bancroft as the latest protagonist for Joyce T. Strand’s mysteries. My fans will recall that in the Jillian Hillcrest Mystery series, Brynn was my boss. She served as Chief Financial Officer of Harmonia Therapeutics in Silicon Valley, California. Unfortunately, Brynn—a shapely blonde with a MENSA IQ—had an affair with the CEO of the company. The CEO’s wife figured out that the two were involved and asked Brynn to leave the company, which she agreed to do.

In the meantime, Brynn’s husband, Liam grew tired of waiting for Brynn to commit to their relationship after 14 years of marriage and asked for a divorce--even though he was aware of her upbringing in an abusive family. At the same time, he solicited her assistance in developing his new winery in Sonoma County, Calif.

Much like me in my series, Brynn, too, attracts mystery and murders as she grows to enjoy life at her ex-husband’s Hilltop Sunset Winery. 

Oh, and by the way, I do appear now and again in the Brynn Bancroft mysteries. I’m just not the star!

HILLTOP SUNSET, a mystery set in wine country pitting financial exec—my boss—Brynn Bancroft against a determined stalker, a troubled love interest, and career clashes. Like all Joyce T. Strand mysteries, HILLTOP SUNSET is drawn from a real California case.

Brynn learns that a former employee who beat her nearly to death has returned to stalk her and me, Jillian Hillcrest, also a former victim.  Recently divorced, Brynn turns to a new love interest only to encounter additional unwelcome issues. Meanwhile, I notice that short-timer Brynn, who has resigned from her Silicon Valley company, becomes bored fulfilling her remaining responsibilities there. She seems to prefer supporting the launch of her ex-husband’s new hilltop winery while waiting to move to her next position.

Between our stalker and her new love interest, Brynn faces a series of life-threatening events—some of which I share.

Brynn says, “I welcome readers to watch how I transition from Chief Financial Officer to winemaker amid confrontation with a stalker, murders, and a new love interest.”

You won’t want to miss Brynn’s premier mystery. Watch for it! If you doubt me, you can

Publication date for HILLTOP SUNSET is November 12, 2014. It will be available in e-book and paperback on Amazon and e-book on Nook.

Watch for blog tours and giveaways.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Sylvia Stein, Author

Sylvia Stein, Author
Sylvia Stein brings us her first novella, CLOSURE, reviewed as “a story about monsters, but not the monsters of typical horror books, these monsters (alcohol and cancer) are reality.” Stein says that she pulled her story partially out of her own childhood and she tells it to inspire readers to hope. Her villain is alcohol, coupled to death and child abuse.

Stein currently lives with her husband and three children. She loves to speak Spanish, and when she’s not writing, to spend time with her family. She has published several short stories, and is currently working on her second novel, “Chasing Clarity.”

Q: What inspired you to write a book about child abuse? Why did you write CLOSURE?

Sylvia Stein: I began writing CLOSURE not as a book about child abuse but to tell a story of a young girl who grows up into a woman and is left with the lingering abuse of her past due to her father.   This book was not only to show the affect of child abuse but also to show how the loss of her mother affects Sara and her father Garrison and how it leads them both into trying to find their way back and if it is even a possibility for them.

 Q:  Reviewers tout how real your characters are in CLOSURE. How did you achieve this? Were you able to draw on any actual people?

Sylvia Stein: I am pleased with the Reviews.  I am also happy that the readers have connected with CLOSURE and have found the characters so real.   The main reasons are because I based them off many of those people I knew back home.  These characters of Sara and Garrison are based on them and their experiences and I added the alcoholism because that affected my parents and ultimately ended their marriage, which affected all of us.  It was a bit of what we went through; the only difference was that my father got help eventually and he was never abusive to any of us but for my mother enough was enough. Luckily they were able to become friends and then after getting sober my father lived a happy life with all of us.  He loved all of us, and we all built a great relationship and then sadly in 2005 he passed away. 

Q: A story about death, alcoholism, and child abuse could be depressing. Where do you make CLOSURE compelling and inviting to read?

Sylvia Stein: Yes, CLOSURE tackles death, alcoholism and child abuse but I tell the story in a way that the reader is able to follow not only Sara’s Journey but also find out a bit more about Garrison’s as well.   The way I make it compelling and inviting is to have written it with all the emotion that lets the reader not only follow the story but ultimately lets them reach their own empathy for the characters. 

Q: How do you create the emotional response felt by many reviewers of CLOSURE?

Sylvia Stein:  As I said CLOSURE is close to my heart because I have known others that have dealt with these issues.   I also added my own struggles within my family in regards to how I felt when someone you love is caught up within the monster that is alcohol and what it does to the entire family.   This is why I believe reviewers are responding in the same way.

Q: How accurate are the attributes of alcoholism and child abuse? Did you need to do research for credibility?

Sylvia Stein: The attributes of alcoholism are accurate because I did the research and I made sure all of it was compelling within the story. 

Q: Does the concept of hero vs. villain apply to CLOSURE? If so, who do you consider to be the villain? What attributes contribute to creating an effective villain?

Sylvia Stein: No, for me I do not think I would classify any of the characters as villains.  I would say the villain is alcohol and that is the monster.  Then there is the sadness that is Cancer. However, I do see heroes in the story; for example, Sara’s Aunt Valerie and her Uncle Kyle, Dr. Baker, the AA for Garrison and all the nurses of the Hospice.  And let’s not forget in the end Sara and Garrison became heroes in their own right. 

Q: Did you write CLOSURE to entertain readers, to educate them, to deliver a message, to inspire?

Sylvia Stein: I wrote CLOSURE to deliver a message and to inspire their emotions and to ultimately create the faith to hold on to hope.

Q: How relevant or supportive to telling your story was the setting? Could CLOSURE have occurred anywhere at any time?

Sylvia Stein: For the setting I focused on cities that I am familiar with.  I think they could have occurred anywhere. 

Q: What’s next?

Sylvia Stein: Well, right now I am working on my second novel called, “Chasing Clarity” which I began writing for my first National Novel Month last November 2013.  It should be out in December and I am also taking my online classes for my Master’s of Creative Writing and English with a concentration in Fiction; I will be graduating next August. 

Q: Tell us about Sylvia Stein. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Sylvia Stein: I love speaking Spanish.  I was born and raised in Brownsville, Texas to my parents Catarina and Ramon Olivares.  They immigrated from Mexico along with their parents and they provided a better life for all of us.  When I am not writing I love to spend time with my family.  My three children and my husband are my everything. I love having a fun night of being mom and going out to a nice dinner with all of them.  I also love to attend church because my faith is everything too.

About Sylvia Stein

Author Sylvia Stein began her path to writing when she joined the Writer’s Group on Linked in 750 in 2012.  She continued her journey by creating short stories, which were published in the Giant tales Anthology series.

While obtaining her Masters degree at Southern New Hampshire University online, author Stein built a solid foundation with her colleagues who encouraged her to continue her writing. That’s when CLOSURE was born.

With the help of her editor CLOSURE grew from a short story to a full novella that Author Stein is excited to share.  CLOSURE is her debut book as a solo writer.   To quote author Stein,  “ This is the first of many to come.”


After years of abuse, Sara’s aunt visits. She recognizes the abuse and removes Sara. The frail girl begins the delicate journey of finding herself, while struggling to leave her father and the monster behind.

Despite the emotional and mental scars she carried, Sara manages to start a new life. She is finally happy.

A phone call changes everything.

Will Sara continue her new life? Can she face the monster, or will she find closure?


Chapter 2

In the dark corner of a room, Sara James waited until the monster fell asleep.

Who was the monster?

Garrison James, her father.

It amazed her how much had changed in the few short months since her mother, Lila left. It felt as if it happened over night.

At first, he seemed absent. Then the yelling, drinking, and angry glares erupted whenever she entered the same room as him. Soon, he began calling her names. When she thought things could not get worse, the real abuse began.

He’s not my dad! He’s a monster!

Heavy footsteps tromped towards the room. She gulped in jagged breaths and looked to the ceiling while blinking rapidly. A feeble attempt to control her tears.
When hiding from the monster found her, she would replay what she did wrong and how he caught her the time before.

Don’t cry, she reminded herself, that’s how he finds you.

She looked around the once lively home for a sweet reminder of better times. There was a time when the house was surrounded by a beautiful garden. Her and her mother would walk hand in hand and choose which flowers to bring inside. Now, the windows were closed, and the vase that usually held flowers sat empty. No matter where she looked, there was no sign of happiness or life.

The house had become a vessel of sorrow and pain.

Mommy, think of her.

She closed her eyes and forced images of her favorite memories. A brief smile appeared as thoughts reverted her to one of the many times when her mother taught her how to bake cookies.

“Oh, Momma, I miss you,” she whispered.

The memory of her mother distracted Sara from the harsh reality. However, nearly as quick as the memories arrived, they dissipated, and before she knew it, the monster began lashing out.

“Sara! Sara! Where are you?” he screamed.

Realizing she had made noise. Sara covered her mouth and began internally praying.


Twitter address: @sylvia_stein07

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Jan Moran, Author
Jan Moran applied her expertise of perfumery and the beauty industry to write FLAWLESS, described by one reviewer as A classic romantic tale with a modern business twist.” Moran’s “Hostile Beauty” series features “smart, gutsy women” who encounter and overcome opposition in the beauty business.  Moran describes the Hostile Beauty series as a behind-the-scenes look into the “beautiful” industries.

Moran, a bestselling and award-winning author, once wanted to be a ballerina, started several companies, and created special touch-screens for shoppers of perfumery and skin-care. She loves the freedom of dancing and has enjoyed dancing with her husband from New York to Paris. Her next novel, SCENT OF TRIUMPH, is scheduled for release in late March 2015 and pre-orders can be placed now on Amazon.

Q: Where did you get the plot for FLAWLESS and the Hostile Beauty series?

Jan Moran: I worked in the beauty industry for many years. My mother and grandmother had a great love of perfumery. In college I worked as a fragrance model and makeup artist, and later wrote two books on perfumery, Fabulous Fragrances, which earned top ten positions on Rizzoli Bookstore’s bestseller list.

After writing and distributing books for the beauty industry, I conceived and created a software program called Scentsa. These touch-screen programs helped shoppers find fragrances, skincare, and cosmetics in stores such as Sephora, DFS, JCPenney, and Nordstrom. We translated Scentsa into five languages and displayed it at retailers in eight countries (United States, France, Canada, Hong Kong, Denmark, Brazil, Abu Dhabi, and Mexico). The Fragrance Foundation in New York even awarded us a coveted FiFi Award for Technological Innovation of the Year. It was covered in Women’s Wear Daily and Wall Street Journal. The technology was sold to Sephora in August 2013, and the touch-screen programs are now exclusive to Sephora.

My Scentsa team and I worked with the world’s leading beauty brands and luxury retailers. This background was rich inspiration for the Hostile Beauty series.

Q: I love the series title of A Hostile Beauty Novel.” What makes it “hostile?”

Jan Moran: In my experience, there are many less-than-honorable people encountered in business. In the beauty business, I say that there is often an “ugly side to beauty.” I really wanted to delve into these personalities and their actions, and demonstrate how smart, gutsy women protect their businesses and come out on top in life and in love. Hence the series title, Hostile Beauty.

Q: Did you base any of your plot or characters on real occurrences or people you encountered as part of your background in the perfumery industry?

Jan Moran: While my experiences in the beauty industry inspired this series, the people and occurrences are fictional. Yet the situations are all plausible, and truth is often stranger than fiction.

Q: Reviewers tout your characters and say they, “reach out of the pages and pull you into their lives, and they stay with you long after you close the book.” How do you create such compelling characters?

Jan Moran: My characters have heart; they’re the kind of women you’d want to plan a girls’ weekend with, and share your deepest secrets. I’m so blessed to have wonderful friends. We cheer each other on! My books reflect these supportive relationships, especially the Hostile Beauty series, which is about a group of entrepreneurial friends in the “beautiful” industries.

Q: Does the concept of “villain vs hero” help tell your story? Do you believe that you need a villain in order to have hero?

Jan Moran: My stories are about overcoming the challenges life hurls at us. It might be a villain, a war, a recession, or something else. And, while there are heroic men in my stories, the women are the real heroes. My heroines save themselves. They’re smart, savvy, genuine women who, despite the odds, create the lives they want for themselves and their families.

Q: How supportive is setting FLAWLESS in Beverly Hills to creating your plot?

Jan Moran: The Hostile Beauty series is a behind-the-scenes look into the “beautiful” industries. I used to live in Beverly Hills, so I know the community well. In Los Angeles, one’s exterior is important, from physical appearance to accoutrements, clothing, and settings. It was the perfect place to set this story.

Q: Reviewers also praise your “compelling plot that had me turning the pages faster and faster.” How do you create this suspense?

Jan Moran: I like action! In every scene, I’m intent on driving the story forward. I’m glad readers are enjoying it.

Q: Did you write FLAWLESS to entertain or did you also intend to deliver a message?

Jan Moran: First, my mission is to entertain and deliver a great story. Second, my stories are inherently about hope, triumph over adversity, appreciation of other cultures, and belief in your own abilities. If readers enjoy the Hostile Beauty series, and also feel empowered, then I’ve done my job!

Q: What’s next?

Jan Moran: St. Martin’s Press is publishing my historical novel, SCENT OF TRIUMPH, which is about a French perfumer during World War II, and takes readers to Paris, London, and Hollywood. The next historical is set in the wine industry, in Napa Valley and Montalcino. For the contemporary Hostile Beauty series, I’ll be taking readers to fabulous international locations and spinning sexy new stories.

I’ll make announcements on my website, blog, Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter. Stay tuned on the blog through, where I’ll post previews. Better yet, sign up for my newsletter to learn about new books and enter to win Advance Reader Copies and autographed books.

Q: Tell us about Jan Moran. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Jan Moran: Well, once upon a time I was a ballerina, but now I’m quite good at reading financial statements, too. I’ve also worked with PR firms representing brands to the media. And I’ve started several companies. My last company, Scentsa, was sold to Sephora, and shoppers can still use the touch-screens I designed for perfumery and skincare.

I love a spa weekend with girlfriends, or an all-girls ski trip. I also enjoy going out dancing with my husband. We have danced around the world, from the hottest discos in Paris, to dancing in the rain by Central Park in New York to a jazz street band. Dance frees the spirit. I also like to visit art museums to fire up the creative side of the brain.

I have a weakness for shoes and jewelry. I’m a true girly girl, and I’ve designed and created many of my own jewelry pieces. And did I mention desserts? Don’t even get me started on chocolate!

About Jan Moran

Jan Moran is a bestselling and award-winning author. She writes historical women's fiction for St. Martin's Press, contemporary women's fiction, and nonfiction books. Her stories are smart and stylish, and written with emotional depth.
Jan often draws on her international travel and business experiences, infusing her books with realistic details. The Midwest Book Review and Kirkus have recommended her books, calling her heroines strong, complex, and resourceful. She blogs for ProjectEve and at
Jan has been featured in numerous prestigious media, including CNN, Women's Wear Daily, Wall Street Journal, Allure, InStyle, O Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Elle, and Costco Connection. As a serial entrepreneur, Jan is the founder and creator of Scentsa, a touch-screen software program for retailers and brands. The fragrance and skincare programs are at Sephora stores in the US, Canada, and international locations.


Verena Valent is at the helm of her family's legendary Swiss skincare company, which caters to a glamorous clientele in the heart of Beverly Hills. After her parents are killed in an automobile accident, she becomes the sole provider for her younger twin sisters and her grandmother. Instead of attending college with her friends as planned, she rises to the challenge to guide and expand her family's business. She is in the midst of a critical international expansion into Asia when her carefully organized life begins to unravel.

Verena is shaken to discover that her fiancé, Derrick, might be behind a scheme to take over her growing company. While she struggles to save the business that means everything to her, she meets Lance, an executive chef at the Beverly Hills Hotel. She encounters this intriguing man again while on a business trip to Paris, and soon gains a new perspective on love, romance, and relationships.

When the unthinkable occurs and Verena's world collapses, her friends rally around her, among them Scarlett Sandoval, a top intellectual property attorney; Dahlia DuBois, a perfumer from an esteemed line of French perfumers; and Fianna Fitzgerald, a fashion designer with her own trendy boutique.

Ultimately, Verena learns that truth, family, friendship, and love are the unshakable pillars of life. But will she get a second chance in business, or in love?

Flawless is the first book in the Hostile Beauty Series. Follow a group of smart, stylish, entrepreneurial friends as they navigate the turbulences of modern life in the business of beauty. Set in Beverly Hills with action flung across the globe, this engaging series features gutsy, determined best friends, and how they manage to live the lives of their dreams.


As she walked, watching the moonlight wavering over the faint ripples on the pool’s surface, Verena thought of her grandmother, Mia, and her parents, and how hard they’d worked to build up the business. It had been a slow process, ‘brick by brick,’ as her father had been fond of saying. Her father, Joseph, and her mother, Angelica. How she missed them; she’d ached for them every day of her life since—
A large man in a white shirt stepped in front of her. “Excuse me, do you have a light?”
Verena jerked her head up, startled. “No,” she snapped. “And you shouldn’t jump out in front of people like that.”
“I’m sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you.”
His voice was a deep, warm baritone, and he sounded genuinely apologetic. Bright pool lights behind him illuminated his broad physique.
She couldn’t make out his face, but she could see a cigarette dangling from his silhouetted fingers. “Besides, you shouldn’t smoke.” She heard him sigh.
“I know. I quit, but I really need a cigarette right now. It’s been one of those weeks.”
“Tell me about it,” she muttered. He made no reply but remained rooted to the ground before her, blocking her way. She put up her hand to shield her eyes from the light. “I can’t see you, and you’re in my way.”
He stepped aside, and brought his face near hers. “Is that better?”
A shaft of light from the pool shone on his face. Verena caught her breath. Behind his engaging smile, his white teeth sparkled. His eyes crinkled in a nice way when he grinned, and his kind face drew her in. He looked around her age, maybe a couple of years older—about thirty, she guessed. With tanned skin and sun-streaked, chestnut brown hair, it was obvious he enjoyed the California sunshine. He also had a distinct inviting aroma about him—garlic and rosemary. She looked at his clothes. White jacket, thermometer in a slender pouch sewn onto the sleeve, casual cotton pants. “You’re a chef.”
He laughed and bowed. “At your service.”
“You smell wonderful.” Verena grew warm. With her fair skin, she blushed easily, and she was glad it was dark outside. She was far too old for such immature reactions.
“I had dinner, sort of, but I didn’t really eat it. Actually, I’m starving.”
He raised his eyebrows, alarmed. “What was wrong with it?”
Verena realized he thought she didn’t like the food. It must have come from his kitchen. “No, it was delicious, but I can’t eat much before I have to appear in public or give a presentation. Audiences make me nervous; it’s stage fright, I guess.”
 She laughed. “I’m always starving by the time an event like this is over. Everyone else has eaten well, and then I have to find a late night diner. Or room service.”
“You’ll have none of that tonight. Come with me.” He took her hand and smiled at her again when she hesitated. “What’s the matter?” He glanced down at her barren left hand—Derrick hadn’t given her a ring yet. “Boyfriend waiting for you?”
There it was again, that warm feeling that grew along her neck. “No, not really, but my friends are waiting for me in the Polo Lounge.”
“They’ll be fine, but you should eat something. Look, you’re so weak you’re shaking. I’ll call the maître’d at the Polo Lounge for you. What’s your name?”
“What’s yours?”
“Ah, my manners. Forgive me, too much time in the kitchen. My name is Lance, Lance Martel.”
“Verena Valent.”  
“Beautiful name for a beautiful woman.” A smile curved on his full lips. “You’re going to eat well tonight, Verena. Come with me.” He took her hand, letting his fingers glide to her fingertips in a causal, friendly grasp.
His fingers seemed magnetic. She was starving, and he seemed innocuous enough, though he was disarmingly attractive. Not in the powerful, intense way Derrick was, but in a charming, friendly manner. She hesitated for a moment, and then thought, Why not?


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