Friday, July 22, 2016

A Young Reader Turns to Writing Award Winning Romance

Author Heidi Ashworth

As the sixth girl born into a family of smart women, I had something to prove and I set out to do so at a rather young age.  I was only four when I wandered into my 17-year-old sister’s bedroom and spied the paperback novel she was reading.  The cover was just too swoony to ignore:  a man with a bandaged head propped against the pillows of a bed draped with a colorful patchwork quilt.  Beside him sat a lovely young lady, her hand tender on his arm. 

I should have been too young to pick up on the implied message, but having five older sisters is an education.  In fact, I was already in the throes of a dizzying crush on one of their boyfriends.  He had a California tan (we lived in the San Francisco Bay area), very white teeth (his father was a dentist) and his sun-streaked hair curled just right against his brow.  In my hand was an illustration that seemed to encapsulate all that my tiny heart felt.  As such, I had to have that book. 

Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind
I begged, I pleaded, and cried until my sister said she would give me the book if I could read it.  I opened the cover and read the first three words before, in her shock, she slipped the book from my hands and marched away.  I never saw that book again.  Some years later I learned that the stories she and my other sisters were reading so avidly were Regency romances, particularly those by Georgette Heyer.  I promptly attempted to write my own, but knowing nothing about the genre, or romance novels, or book-writing in particular, I ended up with a (very) short contemporary story that took place in Paris.  It was, of course, awful, including my use of the word “sashay” to describe the way the heroine made her way down the “gangplank” of an airplane.

O'er the River Liffey by Heidi Ashworth
This was when another sister introduced me to the fantasy genre to which I was faithful to the point of exclusivity until I was twenty-five.  Then I read my first Regency romance and I immediately abandoned the fantasy novel I was working on to write a “Regency”.  The result was eventually published in 2008 by Avalon Books as Miss Delacourt Speaks Her Mind.  It does not have a scene with a patchwork quilt or a wounded hero.  However, it does contain one with a fainting heroine who is carried to safety by a frantic “Regency dandy”.  I can’t express how much I love these two characters who knocked on the door of my brain and demanded I tell their story.  I have been writing Regency romance ever since. 

My most recent release, O’er the River Liffey, takes place in Ireland just after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.  It is part of the Power of the Matchmaker series and includes sights and characters inspired by my 2014 trip to one of the most magical places on earth.  I directed the photo shoot for the cover photo for O’er the River Liffey in England last year.  Tales of that day, my books, and my travels can be found on my blog at www.heidiashworth.blogspot.com


Oh!  And the name of the book with the wounded hero?  The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer.  The copy I read had a much less interesting cover but I recognized the scene the moment I read it—over twenty years later.

Heidi can be reached on her Website and Facebook

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Historical Romance Author Cheryl Holt Showcases Her New Debut: Only You

Author Cheryl Holt
When I first sat down to configure the plot for my next book, ONLY YOU, I quickly realized that it actually needed to be told in two novels.  So I have a 2-book "duet" coming.  Book 1, ONLY YOU, will be here on July 1st.  And the companion novel, ONLY MINE, will arrive in October.
The heroine in ONLY YOU is Lady Theodosia Postlewaite.  She first appeared in a Christmas short story at the terrific blog site, Ramblings From This Chick.  Every December, the site hosts a fun event where authors are given a holiday topic and asked to write a story about it. My topic was, “Caught in a Compromising Situation on Christmas Eve.”
Only You by Cheryl Holt
In my story, Lady Theo was unwittingly caught in a dark parlor with England’s most notorious roué—on the night her engagement was to be officially announced.  As you might imagine, her engagement never occurred, and she was completely ruined.
After the story appeared, I heard from many readers who wondered—with her life in tatters—what would become of her?  I thought she was a delightful and very sympathetic character, so I decided to tell her story in ONLY YOU.
The prologue to the novel is the actual short story that appeared last Christmas.  Also in the prologue, there is a cameo appearance by one of the most intriguing and infamous characters I've ever created:  Charles Sinclair, Lord Trent.  For those of you who read and loved my "Lord Trent" trilogy, I thought it would be fun to see the wily rogue back again--and definitely causing his usual kind of trouble.
The two heroes in ONLY YOU and ONLY MINE are Soloman Grey and his cousin, Benjamin Grey.  Both men suffered through a terrible scandal when they were twenty years old that chased them out of England.  Soloman has been in Egypt, passing the time as an adventurer and explorer.  Benjamin joined the army and has been away for a decade, fighting for the Crown.  But their old scandal has to be resolved, and they both come home to London make things right again.  
I hope you'll read and enjoy both novels:  ONLY YOU  on July 1st.  ONLY MINE in October.  Happy reading!

Only You
Synopsis:
CHERYL HOLT does it again with another fast-paced, dramatic tale of seduction, passion, and romance. This time, love blooms on a lazy, decadent trip down the Nile! 

Lady Theodosia Postlewaite, known as Theo to her family and friends, has always had the worst luck. On the night her betrothal was to be announced, she was unwittingly caught in a compromising situation. With her engagement ended and her reputation in tatters, her incensed father demands she flee the gossip by accompanying her dour, grumpy aunt on a sightseeing trip to Egypt. Theo reluctantly agrees, and she's determined to spend the months abroad proving she possesses the highest moral character. Most especially, she vows to never so much as speak to a handsome man ever again.

Soloman Grey has lived in Egypt for the past decade. His own scandal chased him out of London, and he's built a new life for himself as an adventurer and explorer. Because of the gossip that ruined him, he doesn't trust anyone, and he constantly vows that he’ll never so much as glance at a pretty woman ever again.

But when Soloman meets Theo, he's dragged into her world in a dozen ways he never intended. She's beautiful, funny, and lonely, and he can't resist. Yet, he's the bastard son of an earl, so he could never be worthy of her. When her relatives would do anything to keep them apart, dare he risk all to have her for his very own?

Check Cheryl on her Website, Facebook ,or Twitter

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Discover how a Comedian Writes Horror

Author Robert Ryan

Hello everyone! I’m Robert Ryan, horror novelist, but don’t be afraid. Renee has built a nice fire and made this a cozy place to gather around and chat about Dracula Lives. As Dracula himself says in Bram Stoker’s classic novel:

“Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!”

As a writer of horror novels, my ultimate goal is to scare the bejeezus out of people, but I am a comedian by nature—even dabbled in standup years ago. I love to laugh and make people laugh. One of the cornerstones of my philosophy is that laughter is the medicine of the world. But seriously folks…

I took an early retirement several years ago to pursue the goal of having a second career as a novelist. I had gone the traditional route, writing query letters, getting an agent, and so on. The rejections got more encouraging, but they were rejections nonetheless. Then Amazon changed everything with their self-publishing Kindle platform. I re-wrote the novel that had been rejected as The Root Of All Evil and published it as 2013: Beyond Armageddon. It spent six months on one of Amazon’s bestseller lists, got about a hundred reviews, and—voila! The dream had become reality.

Dracula Lives by Robert Ryan
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of Robert Ryan (friends call me Bob):

We lived behind the neighborhood movie theater, and my mother took me to everything from the time I was barely out of diapers. When I reached the ripe old age of about six, I couldn’t wait for the Saturday creature features. Giant mutant bugs, the monsters of Ray Harryhausen, Roger Corman’s Poe films, and the frightfests of William Castle were among the early influences that warped my writer’s muse into a breeding ground for—to borrow a line from Morbius in Forbidden Planet—my 
“Monsters from the Id.” On the literary front I soon discovered Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and followed the trail they blazed into Poe’s “ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.”

All of that somehow came together as the inspiration for Dracula Lives. Writers are always told to “write what you know.” I kept thinking how much I loved the classic horror from Universal Studios that I had watched so many times—Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and what became known as their “monster rally” movies, in which they combined as many monsters as they could: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Ghost of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, and so forth. I kept thinking: “What if I could capture the feel of a monster rally in a novel?”

2013: Beyond Armageddon by Robert Ryan
The seed from which the novel grew was the idea of having someone who worked on Dracula in 1931 being still alive. From there I started—to use Poe’s words from The Raven—“linking fancy unto fancy,” and that became Dracula Lives. The dedication reads: “This novel is dedicated to all those who love the classic monsters from Universal Studios.”

See you in the haunted places I call The Shadowland. Best Regards to all—and don’t forget to tip your waitresses!

Check out Robert on his website

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

On Writing in Chaos and other Necessary Habits

Author Adriana Koulias

Every author will tell you that he or she has developed habits proven to help in the conjuring forth of magical words and brilliant sentences, habits that dictate where and how they write and writers can be as superstitious as sailors when it comes to them. For instance, Stephen King hibernates in his den, which is off limits even to his wife, until a book is finished.  Earnest Hemingway wrote in the early hours of the morning when everyone was asleep; Vladimir Nabokov wrote standing up; Truman Capote lying down; Richard Powers in bed; Junot Diaz in the bathroom perched on the edge of the tub with his notebook; Victor Hugo wrote naked and William Wordsworth composed out loud to his dog - if it barked he knew a revision of his work was necessary!

I write in the midst of the chaos of family life, in other words, before and after P and C meetings, around car pooling, piano lessons, HSC exams, parent teacher interviews and concerts, house renovations, house selling and house buying, helping with homework, training in a new puppy and even while cooking dinner! And for me every book starts with the end, which often forms the beginning. This end meets itself again at the end - somehow - but I never know how! This means that what arises in the middle has to connect the two - and it always miraculously does, but not without moments of uncertainty!

Temple of the Grail
So, I often go back to my old characters for advice when I’m feeling particularly stressed. I like to hear their voices in my head. When I do, there is an added bonus - I remember when my son was composing a piece of music or what chapter I was formulating when my daughter was rehearsing for a play, I recall how, during a particular spot in the Sixth Key, my daughter called about her orthodontist appointment, and I vividly relive the struggles I was having with a plot point when my son wanted a recipe for Teriaki tuna. In this remembering there is a form of comfort, because I know that I have been here before and I will finish the book!

I look back at twenty one years of writing and I see that not a lot has changed! I'm still writing around the chaos of life and I admit that I couldn’t write any other way, so I suppose not having a habit is my habit!

Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or her Website

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Characters Make the World Go Round!

Author D.L. Gardner

I wanted to talk about characters because good heavens, this world is filled with them!

We all have our strange little quirky things that we do, the way we talk, walk, laugh and bat an eye. Maybe it’s our hair that won’t rest against our heads but instead flies around like a mad spider’s web, and we just let it!  It could be our energy, (or lack of) our cool, our crooked smile or laughing eyes. Maybe our voice. Or maybe it’s the clef in our chin or the size of our ears, who knows?
To ‘have character’ means you stand out in some way. There’s something about you that people remember you by.

Character is important in novels. Who wants to read a book when the characters are flat and uninteresting or all look the same?

Take caricatures, for instance. A cartoon artist has a comical way of portraying public figures so that they stand out in the crowd. I’m sure you’ve seen those funny drawings, especially this election year!

An Unconventional Mr. Peadlebody
For me, as an author, creating characters is one of my favorite things to do. Whether they are serious individuals stuck in some kind of drama, having to fight a dragon, (the Ian’s Realm Saga) fall through a time portal (Cassandra’s Castle), contend with a Seed company taking over the world (Altered) or mermaids fighting the oil tycoons (Pouraka) I’ve had an interesting time coming up with the characters in my books.

Some of the most amusing characters I’ve created, though are in An Unconventional Mr. Peadlebody. Why? Because the story is a comedy, a vampire comedy, none the less, and I could make these guys over- the-top whacko!

Of course, we have one handsome young half-breed vampire in love with a perfectly sane young lady to hold the story together. But the others?  Yes, they’re nuts! And I had a lot of fun spending time with them!

So some people might be wondering how do I come up with these personalities?

Good question!

Creating characters isn’t the first thing I do when I begin writing. First I design a premise, that is, a story line. After that I figure out what kind of people need to be involved on all sides of the spectrum; good, evil, and in-between. I have to come up with fellows who will contend with each other and grow, (or fail) as the story progresses. Discovering the protagonist’s weakness and why he can’t succeed (at first) to accomplish his goal, who and what prevents him from moving forward, and how he deals with it will open the door to his, or her personality. The story line will also uncover the personality of the antagonist, because he too will be struggling toward a goal.

Granted, the imagination has to be pretty active when creating these fictional people. Pulling different traits from individuals we know is certainly possible. (That’s why I have a T shirt warning folks to stay on my good side!) The most important thing is that they be consistent in their speech, their actions, the way they dress, and their habits.

Creating characters is enjoyable and I discovered that my fictional characters can be almost as entertaining as those in real life!

D.L. Gardner can be found on Facebook, Twitter or through her Website



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Having cancer is not the end of romance

Author Cheryl R. Lane

My mother developed breast cancer at the age of 81.  I’m not sure she had ever had a mammogram before.  She was very old-fashioned and didn’t go to the doctor unless she absolutely had to.  I confess I am the same way, except I do have my yearly mammograms.  My mother also had Alzheimer’s, which is the worst disease I’ve seen.  It’s very hard to see your mother lose control of herself and do things she would never have done normally, as well as call you by a different name.  Even on your birthday.  She had this disease for at least three years, maybe longer.  It’s uncertain because my three older brothers and I all lived out of town, and she was widowed nearly twenty years previously.  Fortunately, we were able to keep her in our homes in a rotating schedule between us, so that she was able to stay out of a nursing home.  Because of the breast cancer, she passed away probably many years before she otherwise would have from the Alzheimer’s.  I think that was maybe a blessing in disguise.


Because of the family history of breast cancer, including a cousin who is an eight-year survivor now, I decided to write about a character in my romance novel, Sunrise Kisses, who had terminal breast cancer.  I think mostly I did this to help me deal with my mother’s death.  In my story, Scarlett Laurent has breast cancer, but she meets a man named Jackson who makes her laugh, brings her happiness and eventually love.  There are two problems with this, obviously.  First, she is dying.  Second, she finds out he is not human; he’s an angel of death.  Yes, this is a fantasy story with angels.  I’ve always wondered what angels were really like and if they ever did wrong things and would they be punished for it?  In my fictional world, they do and they are.  Sometimes.  Jackson comes to help Scarlett deal with her upcoming demise but ends up falling in love with her.  Some of the elements in the book took even me by surprise as I was writing it, as I made up my own thoughts about the afterlife.  This is a work of fiction and may not be truthful, but it has helped me deal with my mother’s death in a new way.

Sunrise Kisses by Cheryl R. Lane
Sunrise Kisses is part of my new Angel series and is book two, the first book being Starlight Wishes.  In that book, the reader first meets Jackson, who is keeping up with another angel, Skyler, who is a guardian angel who falls in love with his “client,” Cassie Callaway.  You can find both of these books, as well as a historical romance series called the Wellington Cross series, set on Virginia Plantations in the 1800s, on Amazon.


You can follow me as Cheryl R. Lane on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, and YouTube, as well as on my website, www.cheryllaneauthor.com .


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mystery Novel Vote for on Amazon Kindle Sout

Author Jada Ryker
Take the Body and Run is live on Amazon’s Kindle Scout program through June 3!


A hunted woman hiding under a dead friend’s identity, a handsome lawman, a death doctor with fart machine-will travel, and a cranky cat with a nose for crime…

Please consider nominating the fun mystery with a chick-lit twist. An excerpt is included on the Scout page. If it's not to your taste, then please think about nominating other books to help those authors. Here's the link:

Fleeing her past, Macey hurtles into danger.

Macey’s first day in the college employee relations department ends with a knife at her throat.

Macey is certain things can’t get any worse. She’s wrong. An angry employee vows to put her on an online hit list. When he turns up dead, she’s a suspect—and on the hit list.

To keep her secrets and her life, Macey partners with Vince, a driven lawman, and fun-loving pathologist Brett, who drives everyone crazy with his quirky humor and his fart machine. Her cat Wikket grumpily leaps into the fray.

Here is the cast of wickedly funny characters and the first chapter.

Welcome to Macey Malloy’s World

My name is Macey Malloy. My world is chaotic. In the midst of mysterious deaths and scary happenings, you’ll be meeting a very diverse group of people. You’ll also be right here with me as I start my new job as the university Employee Relations Director. You would think with that job title, I’d be better with people. But no.

The Work Gang:

Leila Frey is the Recruitment Director. She’s cute, funny… and her accountability to me chafes her butt like a leather thong.

Whitney Smith is a recruiter, both for the university and for her team. She loves to stir the animosity between Leila, who is her boss, and Angela. Her pink-haired friend Luci plays guitar in a band and possesses hidden talents.

Angela Langford is the Employee Relations Manager. She needs emergency mentoring with her relations with employees, especially me, her new boss. I snatched her coveted promotion out from under her, to hear her whining about it. She hates me almost as much as she does Leila.

Joris Cobb, supervisor of the Employee Records Department, is rotund, white-haired, and sweet as a molasses cookie… one baked with a tart lemon filling and rolled in green persimmons.

Katie Brewer, one of Joris’ Employee Records Clerks, hides behind her fall of long brown hair. She only ventures out to suck up to her boss or to make my life miserable. Considering Joris’ attitude toward me, she can hit two goals at one time.

Greta is the receptionist. Rather than greeting visitors and answers the phone, she watches slasher movies in bloody streams on her work time. She’s also determined to take me down, with the help of a bulky friend.

My Boss

Tanna Woods is the Chief Human Resources Officer. She’s also my boss. My predecessor, Jennifer Hughes, asked Tanna a lot of questions. So do I. Let’s hope I don’t end up like Jennifer. She was deleted from the payroll… permanently.

People I Pissed Off My First Week at Work

I have limited space, so I’ll stick with the Top PO’ed at Macey List.

Dr. Eric Monroe functions as both the county coroner and the medical examiner. They got a BOGO, buy one, get one, with him. His talent is great eye contact… with my breasts. I’d like to take him back for a refund.

Dr. Andrew Paine runs the university’s Body Bequeathal Program. When he’s not drooling over body donations to promote science, he teaches classes in the School of Medicine. His students call him Dr. Pain in the Ass.

Cynthia Myers is the Chief Nurse Executive and chief pain in my ass. She’s waging a one-woman war on cooties. She also runs the nursing area with an iron fist in a titanium glove.

Lareton Smith, Nursing Director, growls like a guard dog when Cynthia invades his territory.

Charity Settle, Nurse Manager, is caught between Lareton and Cynthia. She may have to get creative to keep them both happy.
More garage mechanic than professional nurse, Craig Roberts is incensed when he gets caught threatening a patient. As the Employee Relations Director, I suspend him. An unknown stalker has a chilling, longer-term plan for the nurse.

Minerva is a beautiful Latina firecracker, intent on opening a can of Whoop on my Ass.

Other People Not Likely to Join the Macey Malloy Fan Club

Feel free to mix and match people from my Gang at Work, My Boss, and non-fan club members. They won’t mind.

Legal expert Trusty Cole is ambitious. He wants to climb the campus ladder… and his statuesque administrative assistant, with rungs in all the right places.

Candi, a cute, jiggly blonde college student, uses her Cam to record her entire life on video. She streams it to middle-aged men to stock her war chest… and to pay for its enhancements. 

Bethany Spencer is another blonde, neither jiggly nor flighty. She’s the assistant to Dr. Paine, helping him with the administrative side of the Body Bequeathal Program. Dr. Paine would love for her to donate her body, but not to the Bequeathal Program.

Sergio is Minerva’s handsome brother. He exudes a certain earthy charisma. His pet name for Minerva is Minnie Mouse, but I like Nervy Minvery much better.

Rowen Sands cannibalized his family farm to develop a luxurious community. Austin Cramer has a vested interest in the real estate beyond the role of caretaker.

Hunky Guys Who Don’t Like Secrets, Surprises, or Secret Surprises

Detective Vince Knox is dedicated to law enforcement. He’s muscular, handsome, and disconcertingly intuitive. If opportunity Knox, I may or may not answer the door.

Dr. Brett Reed teaches medical students. He also sees a special sort of patient in the academic medical center. He’s funny, brave, and not afraid to drive a conga line to the rescue. If he wrote a joke book, I might be tempted to Reed it.

My Roommate

Wikket is strong, courageous, and ready to rumble. He’s grumpy, sensitive, and hard to live with. He’s a nosy busybody, loves to meddle in my business, and thinks he knows everything. He’s not my mother. He’s a cat. Note I didn’t say “my cat.” He’s his own feline.



CHAPTER ONE

“It’s your fault my husband is dead. Now, I’m getting even.” Her black, curly hair wild around her contorted face, the woman slapped my desk with one hand. Her body, the generous curves stuffed in a tight black dress with the hem barely south of the law, shook. She held the butcher knife in front of her like a short sword, the blade gleaming in fluorescent light.
The first day at work is the hardest. I’ve had difficult first days, such as the day I began my job at the trauma hospital. I’d parked in a board of director’s plum, downtown space. Her contorted face at odds with her pretty pink suit and white silk blouse, she’d screamed at me, attracting the attention of everyone walking from the parking garage. An onlooker had called the police. I’d ended up in the irate chief executive’s office, trying to look contrite as he’d droned on and on about how much money she’d contributed to the hospital. Good thing he was old school when it came to technology. He didn’t find out until later about the viral video.
I’d thought that was my most horrible first day. Now, this was shaping up as the new winner of the Worst First Day at Work award.
The strange woman’s eyes burned with rage as she leaned over the desk. She pointed the knife at my chest. “Virgil killed himself because you fired him on trumped-up sexual harassment charges.”
My primitive hindbrain screamed run. The more intellectual thought processes clamored that running equaled a knife in my thorax. I quelled the flight instinct with a promise to listen if I couldn’t think of another option.
As my heart hammered and my body shook, I forced myself to concentrate. Since it was the first day of the fall semester as well as my first day at the university, the lobby upstairs was jammed with students, signing up for their work study assignments. My staff was helping out with the melee, excuse me, the high volumes, leaving me alone in the deserted basement work area. My office was tucked away in the far corner with the other offices. The cube farm, employee records dungeon, and the front counter were between me and help.
The front counter! Fear jabbed my racing heart. “What did you do to Angela?”
Surprise replaced the fury on her face. “Who?”
“The woman at the counter! Did you kill her?”
The woman rolled her eyes, pulling down the edges of her mouth in disgust. “I wouldn’t hurt an innocent person. There was no one at the counter. I simply hoisted myself over the barrier. I wandered around until I found you.”
I was relieved Angela was safe, in spite of her thinly-veiled animosity toward me. She’d wanted this director job. Tanna Woods, the Chief Human Resources Officer and my new boss, had warned me about the venomous Employee Relations Manager. Angela had thought my job would be the next logical stepping stone in her career. When she told me about it, Tanna had snorted. She said Angela did well enough in the role, but lacked the skills to move up the ladder. Tanna said the other woman didn’t have the needed diplomacy skills, poise, and tact for the director role. Angela had a tendency to say what she thought, especially when senior leaders said and did stupid things. I didn’t think it was the best time to inform my new boss that I shared my new subordinate’s weakness.
I jerked my thoughts back to the present. I couldn’t dial 911 on the office phone before she stabbed me. My cell phone was in my huge black-and-red purse. I’d tossed it in the corner when I’d come in. The bag might as well have been across campus. Some human resources offices have panic buttons. If this office had one, then I didn’t know where it was. I felt gingerly under my desk top. Nope, nothing but a wad of old gum. Ew. 
Out of ideas, I decided on honesty. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t fire your husband. This is my first day at work.”
“Nice try. You fired my husband, Miss Hughes. You deliberately kept him from getting unemployment. You leaked the story to the local newspaper. With the false accusations dogging his steps, he couldn’t get another job. Out of options, he killed himself.” Tears flowed down her round cheeks, along with mascara.
“You’ve made a mistake, ma’am.” I did my best to look open and honest. “My name is Macey Malloy. I took Ms. Hughes’ position as the Employee Relations Director.”
She glared. She was mad, upset, and grieving. She was not convinced of my innocence.
Very slowly, I stood. Over the years as a manager, I’d been in meetings that dragged on and on. I’d thought death would be a sweet release. I winced now at the irony of those irreverent thoughts. Over time, I’d learned that standing up would generally end a meeting. I didn’t have much hope that the body language would work on a grief-stricken widow bent on bloody revenge.
I was right.
“Do you think I’m stupid?” Twisting toward the doorway, she used the knife as a pointer. “The name on the office door is Jennifer Hughes.” She pivoted back to me. With her free hand, she grabbed a sheaf of loose papers from the desk. She glanced down at them. “Memos to Ms. Hughes.” She threw the papers to the side. She picked up the nameplate engraved Jenn Hughes from the messy desk. She used it to shove my office phone off the desk, baring her teeth when it clattered to the floor. She waved the nameplate in my face, and then she threw it.
I screamed and ducked as the metal whistled past my ear to crash into the corner behind me. I stumbled, my knees weak. I fell backward into my office chair. “Ms. Hughes left the university very abruptly, without cleaning out her office.” My voice shook with fear. I didn’t sound convincing, even to myself.
“You’re exactly as Virgil described you. He said you have thick, black hair, shoulder length with the ends curled under. You’re not pretty, but you’re attractive, despite your long nose and wide mouth. He also said you’re exactly eight inches taller than me, which makes you five feet, ten inches tall.”
A new frisson of fear slid down my spine. Did Tanna hire me because I resembled the previous Employee Relations Director? I remembered the president of the small Kentucky college where I’d worked until a month ago. He hired petite blonde women, collecting them as if they were dolls for his curio cabinet. Tall, dark, and not even close to petite, I didn’t fit the profile. His predecessor had hired me. He inherited me, so to speak, but he wasn’t happy about it. His chagrin went deeper than just my non-Barbie-doll looks.
“Virgil was right, you’re a little pudgy, but hey—” she broke off to stare down at her short, thick body “—even a dog likes some meat on his bone.”
I preferred healthy, not pudgy, but I wasn’t correcting an enraged woman with a knife. “I can’t help it if I share a physical description with Ms. Hughes—”
“Shut up. I’m talking. The university owed my husband. Virgil Greene played football for this university. He was—”
“—the Lean, Greene, Fighting Machine,” I finished. In spite of my watery insides, I was impressed. “He carried the university to prestigious bowl games every year he played. He went on to the NFL.” I frowned, poking through my memory. “He got hurt his second year as a pro. He packed on weight. The last I heard, he was bankrupt, diabetic, and working a dead-end job as a custodian for a university—”
Mrs. Greene bellowed like a wounded moose. “The university made millions off him, without paying him a dime.”
Too late, I realized I’d been less than diplomatic. Good thing Tanna’s not here to see it, I thought.
“The pros used him up, and didn’t care when he shattered his leg on the field. Virgil never planned; he thought he’d always have the money rolling in. He spent millions of dollars partying with his entourage. When the money was gone, so were his friends. Broke, he came back to the university, begging for work. People still remembered his name. He got a job as a janitor. He was working for ten freaking bucks an hour, coming in when he was too sick to work, and cleaning up after self-centered students who couldn’t be bothered to pick up after themselves. After all, their mommies and daddies made them the centers of their universes, giving them everything they wanted—”
As Mrs. Greene continued down what sounded like a well-worn rant road, I tried to think. In the outer area next to the cube farm, high windows were on a level with the parking lot. There were no windows in my new office, and only the one door. In the basement, like outer space, no one could hear me scream.
“And then, you investigated Virgil for sexual harassment. You claimed he was following the cheerleaders around campus. Actually, he just loved the football field.” Mrs. Greene’s face softened, the dark eyes melting like milk chocolate.
If I ignored the knife, Mrs. Greene was a pretty young widow, her face reflecting her grief and love for her dead husband.
“He spent the happiest years of his life on the field,” she continued, her voice low. Without the rage, her tones were musical. “In some unconscious way, he was trying to recapture those glory days. He wanted the kids cheering for him, asking him for his autograph, and reporters interviewing him.”
I pictured a sick man wishing for his glory days. In the here and now, I saw a woman who loved her husband. My heart melted. I tried to reason with myself. This woman was holding me at knife point, ready to plunge her weapon into my chest or swipe it across my throat.
I sternly ordered the sympathy to get the hell out of my heart. It refused. I sighed. This was exactly why I had taken in a cantankerous old cat, against my better judgment. Of course, the cat couldn’t hold me hostage. At least, not yet. Wikket was a pretty smart feline.
“Those hoity-toity sorority girls decided he was a creepy old man following them to cheerleading practice. And you agreed, you heartless bitch!”
Spit flew in my face. I was afraid to reach for the hand sanitizer. 
Mrs. Greene growled. Her fury chased away the remaining wisps of humanity. “He was just crossing the campus behind them, not stalking them!”
My sympathy dried up more quickly than the globules of saliva on my face. I was sick of being at the wild woman’s mercy. I couldn’t keep waiting for the staff to return to the basement. They were scheduled to help in the lobby all day.
I decided I’d had enough. Mrs. Greene was focused on her husband and the great injustice. If I rushed her, I might overpower her. I might even live through it. I braced my hands against the arms of my chair.
Movement at the door caught my attention.