Before I’m thirty.


A few weeks ago a friend of mine turned thirty and it got me thinking about what I’d like to do before I turn 30.  And then

a member of my writing group here in Florida posted a few things today on the things she wanted to do before she was thirty and it got me thinking about my own list of goals.  I’ve decided to do the same and post what my list was, just for funsies.

Things I’d like to do before I’m thirty. 
1)   Get a publishing deal from one of the big five
2)   Meet my agent, my BFF from Canada, and all the members of my critiquing group. 
3)   Go to Mardis Gras.  (I keep telling myself I will do it this year, but it never happens.  So next year, I’m MAKING it happen. )
4)   Go to comic-con in San Diego
5)   Meet one famous person.
And there you have it.  My List.  I’d love to know what your list is.  Feel free to comment below.

Interview: Cathleen Holst


                                 Photo and Bio courtesy of her publisher, Canonbridge, LLC
Today on writer Wednesday we have another debut author with her first book coming out from Canonbride, Cathleen Holst.  She can be found on her website, Facebook, twitter, and her blog.
BIO: Born and raised in Atlanta, Cathleen Holst is a “Georgia Peach” whose stilettos are firmly planted in the South.  She has no desire to relocate anywhere good old fashioned sweet tea is not readily available.  She lives just outside Atlanta with her extremely patient husband, their three children and two rambunctious dogs.  Although her love of literature is not confined to one particular genre, it has always been the “feel-good” stories that have resonated with her. Calling her stories “chick-lit” does not offend her in the least.  For her, these delightful easy reads are as perfect as the cherry sitting atop a banana split.  Her debut novel, The Story of Everleigh Carlisle, will be released in November of 2010.
JS:  Thank you for joining me today, Cathleen.  It’s a pleasure to have you.  When did you begin writing, and did you always envision being an author?
CH:  Writing is something I’ve always loved doing. Even as a young girl I remember writing stories, but it was something I always kept very private. I remember writing a short story for my history class during my sophomore year of high school, which I based on the Salem Witch Trials. Ms. Ray, my history teacher, returned the stories and had written a note on the top of my paper that I will never forget. In red ink she wrote, “You’re a great writer.” The seed was officially planted, but I never thought seriously about writing until I read a book (that I will leave nameless) in 2009 that I really enjoyed. The story was great and highly addictive (I literally could not stop reading). The writing, however, was mediocre at best, and I thought if writing like that could get published, than certainly mine could.
(JS:  Hmm, I wonder what book that is.  😉 )
JS:  What have been the most rewarding aspects of being a writer?
CH:  The feeling of such accomplishment I have once I complete a novel has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Second to that, (and I can only imagine) when a reader tells you how much your book means to them. I know I adore my books and each one has touched me in some way or another. I can only wish that after reading my book, the readers feel the same connection to the characters that I felt.
JS:  The most challenging?
CH:  I would have to say the most challenging thing, for me, is finding good blocks of uninterrupted writing time. My mother-in-law has been so helpful in that respect and watches my four year-old a couple days a week for me. That is such a huge help. But on a technical note, that would have to be the outlining process. I find it almost impossible to outline before I start writing. I will get an idea and just start writing like mad, but inevitably stall around the third or fourth chapter. That’s when I start outlining or really what I like to call my “what if’s”. I’ll take my idea and twist and turn it in as many different directions as I possibly can until I get something I like.
JS:  Tell me a little about your book, “Everleigh in NYC.”
CH:  Oh dear. This is something I have yet to master, how to tell a little about my book without reciting my five-page synopsis…articulately. Let’s see if I can do this. It’s about a small town girl with big city dreams who mistakes one dream come true for the real thing, while letting the other walk away.
JS:  Can you tell us a little more about how you conceived the story?
CH:  I wish I had some type of prolific answer like how the story came to me in a vivid dream, or I was sitting on train and had this sudden burst of inspiration, but sadly I have none of that. I literally had no idea what I was going to write about when I began. All I knew was that I had this burning desire to write something…anything. I had no outline, no plot ideas, not even the name of a single character. I just started typing the first thing that popped into my head. And that’s how Everleigh was born.
JS:  When you write, do you always know where you are going, or do your characters lead you in their own directions?
CH:  In the beginning I usually have a general idea of how I want the story to progress, but it’s not long after that when the characters take over and I just follow their lead. If I don’t listen to them, they tend to get very angry and will stop speaking to me for a while. Just recently my MC stopped speaking to me for a couple of weeks. She didn’t care about my looming deadline; the only thing she cared about was that I was trying to make her do something she absolutely did NOT want to do. I got the hint and things are flowing smoothly again and she’s quite happy.
JS:  What advice do you give to budding writers?
CH:  I’ve said this before, but if writing is what you want to do never stop writing and don’t let rejections get you down. It’s all part of the business. John Grisham, Stephen King, JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and countless others…they’ve all received rejection letters and after receiving mine I was now a member of that club. That’s some great company to be in. If you want it bad enough, it will happen. Don’t let a few “no’s” stop you from pursuing your dream. Another piece of advice I would give is to take your time when writing your first novel, and get as much HONEST feedback as you can. That means stepping outside your comfort zone and sharing your writing with others who are not close friends (unless your close friend is also a writer) or relatives. It may be painful sometimes, but believe me it will help you grow as a writer. I received a comment about my writing once that almost had me in tears, but once I calmed down I realized everything this person had pointed out was spot on. In the end it was the best comment I’d received.
JS:  What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up?
CH:  When I was a young girl I loved “Amelia Bedelia”. But as odd as it sounds, as I got older I didn’t read much. If ever. (maybe I shouldn’t say that.)
JS:  What’s a typical day like for you?
CH:  I try to wake up as early as possible. I tend to be most creative in the early morning. That doesn’t last long, though. With three kids (two who are school age) and a husband, the house begins to stir early. Once the kids are off to school and my husband is at work, I try to squeeze in as much uninterrupted writing as I can before my youngest wakes up. Then it’s off to the races with breakfast, countless juice refills, lunch, laundry, cleaning the house, grocery shopping and somewhere in there I fit in my workout and a shower. It’s madness, really.
JS:  How long does it generally take to write one of your novels?
CH:  For my chick-lit novels, anywhere from six months to a year. Historical fiction, those tend to take a bit longer due to the time needed to dedicate to research.
JS:  How many have you written?
CH:  I have four works in progress. Of course, at the moment I’m only concentrating on “Everleigh in NYC”. Aside from that I have “The Pink Dress Collection” which will be a three-part series (that I cannot wait to get back to) and two historical fictions.
JS:  Can you tell us more about your journey?
CH:  It’s been quite a ride. I’ve had several setbacks during the time I was writing this book. The biggest was the death of my father. He passed away before I could tell him I was writing. I wanted to surprise him once the book was complete. Now I’ll never have that chance. Aside from that, it’s been amazing. When I sat down in front of my computer to write something all those months ago, I never in a million years thought I would be sitting here answering questions trying to promote my debut novel. I feel like I’ve won the lottery.
JS:  Prada or Gucci?
CH:  Yes, please.
(JS:  Ah, a girl after my on heart.)
JS:  Is there anything else you’d like to say?
CH:  I would just like to thank you, Jessica, for taking the time out of your own busy schedule to interview a fledgling novelist like me. I also need to give a huge shout-out to my dear friend Tamara. If it wasn’t for her reminding me (almost on a daily basis when I was at the lowest point in my life) not to forget about this book, that I had truly done something special, I may not be where I am today. Yes, I have a long way to go, but I have come so very far. Tamara, I will be eternally grateful to you; for your patience, for your ear, and most of all for putting up with my flakiness. I love you, girl! You get me!
And to my readers, I just hope you love reading “Everleigh in NYC” as much as I’ve loved writing it.
JA:  You’re welcome, and thank you for sharing with me today.  

Don’t worry, guys, when it gets closer to the release of her book, I’ll rerun this interview so you can refresh your minds.
If I have anymore authors (or editors or agents) out there that would like to share with me and my readers please contact me at j.souders  (at) jsouders (dot) com. 

Teaser Tuesday: It’s Complicated


Today’s teaser is from It’s Complicated. I wrote this just yesterday so it’s a little rough, but I thought you all would enjoy something from further into the story. Not exactly sure where this is going to go, but that’s half the fun. 🙂 Hope you enjoy!

Aidan smiled when he saw me and waved me over.  I hurried over, trying to ignore the horses that were tied everywhere.  If I pretended they weren’t there, I could get through.
            When I reached him, he asked, “You okay?”
            I tugged my t-shirt down.  “Perfect.  Did I make it in time?”
            “Just. He’s up next.” He led me through the groups of people so I didn’t get lost.  Or panic and bolt, I thought when a horse poked it’s head near my head and snorted.  I jumped and clung to Aidan, who laughed, but moved faster.
            Why did I come again?  Oh yeah, because Sloan deserved to have someone he knew watch him win.  Just because Maggie and my dad couldn’t be there for him, didn’t mean I couldn’t be. 
            We stopped at the fence and watched, as the horse Sloan would be riding was loaded into the chute.  Then Sloan settled himself on top and was prepped by his and the horses handlers. 
            He glanced over toward Aidan and smiled, but it slid off his face when he saw me.  His eyes widened, but before he could say anything the gate opened and the horse ran straight out into the arena, bucking the whole way.  Unfortunately, Sloan hadn’t been ready and he’d been tossed to the ground within moments of leaving the gate. 
            My heart leaped into my throat as the horse reared and came way too close to stomping on him, but he got up immediately while the wranglers soothed the horse and brought him back in.  Sloan on the other hand brushed off his hat and stomped over to me. When he reached me, he grabbed the upper part of my arm and dragged me along behind him. 
            Even though I’d dug my heels in, he was able to pull me out of the arena, past the livestock pens, and into a shaded spot that was away from the main drag. 
            I yanked out of his grasp and rubbed at my arm.  I was so angry I couldn’t form the words to tell him off. 
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?  You made me lose!” He glared at me, taking a step closer.
“I made you lose?! No, you did that on your own. You’re the one who fell. I did nothing but watch,” I said.  My back hit the wall behind me and I realized I’d backed up away from him.  Refusing to let him scare me, I set my feet shoulder width apart and stared him down.  But my eyes wanted to do a study of him and make sure he was all right.  He’d taken such a hard fall.
            “If it hadn’t been for you watching me, I wouldn’t have fallen.  Why are you here?” He took another step closer.  His toes bumped mine and he put his face into mine.
            I shoved my hair away from my face.  “I came to see you win.  What did it look like?  I knew you were disappointed that Maggie and my dad couldn’t come watch, so I came.  But don’t worry about it.  I won’t do it–”
            I was cut off when his mouth came down on top of mine.  At first I was frozen in place, but before long my eyes fluttered closed and I brought my arms up around his neck.  He made a sound that was a cross between a groan and a moan. His hands grabbed my hips and yanked my closer, pressing his body against mine.
            My head spun and my pulse bounded in my throat as he pulled back to give us a chance to take a breath, but I dragged him back to me again.  His mouth met mine and he pushed me so I crashed into the wall behind me.  My body was crushed between his and the wall, but I didn’t care.
            He moved his mouth to my throat and I tilted my head, enjoying the sensations of his tongue running down my neck and along my collarbone.  His hands slipped under my shirt, but stayed at my waist, his thumbs running circles over my skin and driving me crazy.
            As if from a fog I heard his name being called, but neither of us seemed to care.  When we heard it again, he groaned and pulled back, but only enough to look and see who was calling him.  A brief second later, he cursed, dropped his hands and took three huge steps backward.  I kept my eyes glued to the ground as my emotions and body tried to adjust itself to what had happened and what I needed to do now.

Author Interview: Steven Novak


Today on the interview block I’ve had the distinct privilege of interviewing the uproariously funny author, Steven Novak. Please join me in extending a little Southern hospitality—and fresh squeezed lemonade—and welcome him to my humble blog.  He can be found on his website, blog, or FB page.
BIO:  Born in Chicago, Illinois, Steven Novak has spent the majority of his life drawing, writing, and creating. In doing so he’s forsaken things like a personal life, social graces, and good hygiene. After spending four years at the Columbus College of Art and Design, in Columbus Ohio, he moved to California and married a woman able to look past the whole hygiene thing. He has spent the last ten years working as a freelance illustrator, designer and writer for a wide variety of clients in both print and web media.  Steven’s book Fathers and Sons, will be released in March of 2010 from Canonbridge.  He is collaborating with Paul Wood, illustrating Here Comes Cousin Albert, which will be released in April of 2010.
 (Bio, cover art, and author picture courtesy of Canonbridge, LLC.)
JS:  When did you begin writing, and did you always envision being an author?
SN:  I suppose I’ve been writing all of my life, though I never for a second imagined becoming an author. For years the first thing that came to mind when hearing the word “author” was some guy with an expertly manicured mustache, sporting a pair of dark glasses that’s dressed head to toe in black with one of those silly little beatnik hats on his head.
Maybe he’s sitting in a coffee shop puffing away at a cigarette or something.
Later he has a political rally of some sort to attend.
It’s weird, I know.
I was into comic books as a kid, but it was more because of the pictures than the story. Painting, sketching, scribbling, drawing – these were my first loves, and if I’m honest they remain so to this very day. If I’ve had a bad day I tend to reach for my sketchpad before my laptop.
Still, I’ve always had a love affair with books and enjoyed the act of writing. It didn’t come naturally the way drawing did though. I knew early on that I was going to have to put in some effort if I wanted to get any good at it. Unfortunately effort and I have a history of going together as well as a Thanksgiving dinner with the Hatfields and McCoys.
JS:  What have been the most rewarding aspects of being a writer?
SN:  Mostly just clearing out some space in my grossly overcrowded head. It’s spring-cleaning. There’s far too much going on up there and if I don’t dump some of it onto the curb for the garbage man to haul away I would likely go bonkers. I could give a more standard answer like, “watching as my characters come to life and begin to breathe before my eyes” or something along those lines, but in truth they’re already alive inside my head anyway.
I talk to them all the time. It scares people.
I won’t deny that there is something undeniably fulfilling about knowing – if I’m lucky – someone out there might read, and enjoy, and fall in love with them as much as I however. There’s some vanity involved I guess. I’ll fess up to that much. It’s not the most important thing though, and it’s not why I do what I do. I write, or paint, or film little movies because I have to. It’s what I’ve always done, and what I’ll always do. It helps me sort things out for myself, and quite honestly keeps me sane.
Which is a pretty astounding feat.
You know, because I’m a bit of a weirdo.
JS:  The most challenging?
SN:  Without a doubt it’s the technical stuff. Up until about five years ago I was still using the wrong “your” in my sentences. It’s not that I’m an idiot – because I like to think I’m a fairly intelligent man – it’s just that I didn’t much care. I don’t think I ever took the act of writing seriously enough to be bothered with the little things – you know, like “proper grammar.”
Another big issue for me is that my head is “The Flash” and my fingers are your ninety-four year old grandma lugging a couple tanks of oxygen behind her – more often than not they can’t keep up.
I know what I want my characters to do, what I need them to say, and where I’d like them to be while they’re saying and doing it. That being said, I often have to stop myself and figure out the ideal way to express what they’re doing, saying, and why in the world anyone in their right mind should care about the lot of it. 
JS:  Tell me a little about your book.
SN:  “Forts: Fathers and Sons” is the first in a three-part series telling the story of a group of kids that stumble through a doorway leading to another world and find themselves caught up in a war in which the fate of the universe is at stake. It’s epic scale stuff that I tried my best to tell on a very small scale. A lot of people have asked me what age group it’s for and my answer is that it’s part young-adult, part adult-adult, part adult that refuses to grow up-adult.
Does that make any sense?
Maybe not.
Long story short, there’s a lot going on. I touch on friendship, and creativity, hint at youthful infatuation and love, and even delve fairly deep into child abuse – which is the aspect I think will catch most people off guard.
JS:  Can you tell us a little more about how you conceived the story?
SN:  In one form or another it’s a story I’ve been writing for twenty years now. The overall theme of the entire series has popped its way into just about everything I’ve ever done.
Except when I painted my living room the color my wife told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to paint it…
It wasn’t there.
The lead character has a whole lot of me in him – right down to the hair – and there are nods to people I’ve known or met over the years. I find it easiest to write what I know. Anything else comes off not only feeling weird, but false. I like to think that I managed to sneak some meaty, worthwhile stuff in-between the sword battles between giant turtle-men and overly muscled lizard soldiers with forked tongues. Hopefully there’s a little something for everyone to relate and latch onto.
JS:  When you write, do you always know where you are going, or do your characters lead you in their own directions?
SN:  Know where I’m going? As Whitney Houston might say, “hells to the naw.”
Don’t get me wrong; I have a rough outline in my head. I know where the story is going to start and how it’ll end for the most part. In fact, as of this very moment I know exactly what the last two words on the very last page of book three are going to be. This is despite the fact that I haven’t even written twenty-five pages yet. Beyond that however, I generally like to let things go where they’re going to go.
If I write my characters into a situation and can’t come up with a logical way to get them out of it, guess what – they aren’t getting out of it.
Forcing the issue doesn’t make any sense to me.
JS:  What advice do you give to budding writers?
SN:  The same advice I give to any artist working in any medium – if your only reason for doing it is to get rich, don’t bother. You’re missing the point. On top of it all you aren’t likely to make any money anyway so you’ll not only end up broke, but disappointed as well. The term “starving artist” exists for a reason, and it’s not because we’re all living in mansions, and sipping drinks brought to us by members of the opposite sex in outfits so skimpy they would make Lindsay Lohan blush.
If you’re going to do this, first and foremost do it for yourself. Do it because it’s out of your hands. Do it because you’re compelled to do it – because it fills a void, and because you can’t imagine doing anything else.
Do it because you love it.
JS:  What were some of your favorite books when you were growing up?
SN:  There are so much of them I hardly know where to begin. Lets see – I stated earlier that I was a big comic book nerd growing up so something like Allen Moore’s “Watchmen” absolutely blew my mind when I was a kid. “The Dark Knight Returns” was another, as well as “Maus: A Survivors Tale.” In junior high and high school I started delving deep into science fiction stuff – pretty much anything by Ray Bradbury, and of course “The Time Machine,” “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “1984,” and a million others.
Considering the kind of stuff I’m writing these days a lot of people find it odd that I never got into the “Lord of the Rings” or anything like.
Movies were a big thing for me growing up as well – more so than books maybe. At thirteen I was already filled with an almost terrifying obsession with Alfred Hitchcock. While everyone else was rushing to the theater to see “Indiana Jones” I was hunting down Beta-Max copies of “Strangers on a Train.”
Needless to say, it didn’t make me many friends.
(JS:  I have to interject that I LOVE Alfred Hitchcock and that is one of my favorite movies of his.  Good on you for picking a wonderful obsession.  J )
JS:  What’s a typical day like for you?
SN:  Despite having not gone to bed until one in the morning, I generally wake up around six, wipe a few crusty boogers from my eyes and wobble on Frankenstein legs into the office to get to work.
The brunt of my income comes from graphic design and illustration work, so that’s first on the agenda. Four or five hours are spent wading through emails from clients, making obscure – sometimes entirely unnecessary – font changes and staring mindlessly at the computer screen. Seeing as I’m lucky enough to work out of home I generally bother with a shower, or for that matter a pair of pants until well after lunch.
Trust me on this – you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten your lunch while your hair is still so bed-stiff that it’s sensitive to touch.
My wife of nine years is the absolute most wonderful, caring, intelligent woman I’ve met over the course of my life. I’m a lucky man to have her. That being said, she couldn’t cook a can of microwaveable soup if her life depended on it, and because of that I generally handle the cooking chores for the evening.
Unfortunately I usually don’t get around to writing until long after the sun has gone down, and I can hear my same loving wife snoring from the other room.
JS:  How long does it generally take to write one of your novels?
SN:  It took me a year to finish “Forts: Fathers and Sons” and another year to finish the follow up, “Liars and Thieves.” To be fair though I ended up having to remove myself from both of them for two or three months at a time while writing.
When writers block hits me, it hits me like a slab of concrete to the noggin tossed in my direction by the world’s strongest man. I don’t bother trying to work through it because the stuff I write when attempting to do so is usually pretty awful. For me personally it makes more sense to let it pass on its own. If it’s not going to work, it’s not going to work and there’s no point in forcing it.
JS:  How many have you written?
SN:  I’ve started and quit so many novels over the years that I couldn’t even begin to count them.
Counting the novels I’ve actually finished is a far easier task however – in fact, I can do it on one hand.
JS:  Can you tell us more about your journey?
SN:  It’s been a long one. I’m still pretty young, so hopefully there’s a lot left. Growing up my mother would often call me “old man Novak” because I tended to not do things other kids my age were doing.
There was also the fact that I couldn’t stand when those sticky candy-mouthed rascals would ride their bikes on our lawn!
I got married when I was twenty-one, found myself with a stepson only eight years my junior, and there’s a chance I’ll sort of, kind of, be a grandfather before my thirty-third birthday.
When you think about it, I’ve lived a fairly accelerated life. If things continue on this way, maybe there isn’t much of a journey left. Maybe I’ll be sitting in an old folks home by the time I reach forty and pooping my diapers again by forty-five.
It’s been a heck of a ride though, and I wouldn’t change a single moment.

JS:  DC comics or Marvel?

SN:  Ahh…there it is, the ultimate fan-boy question. I suppose it was only a matter of time before it reared its ugly head. You’re trying to expose my nerdiness, Souders – trying to see just how high I rank on the nerd scale.
You’re a tricky one. I’ve underestimated you. I shall not make this mistake again.
Honestly, I’ve always leaned toward Marvel and I think it has to do with the fact that despite the superheroes, and the villains, and the alien races, and the mega-battles between superheroes, villains and alien races – Marvel always felt more like it existed in the real word. The DC universe is closer to pure fantasy for me, and I’ve never found pure fantasy quite as interesting. I like my characters grounded in something I can relate to.
JS: Superman or Batman?
SN:  Rorschach.
(JS:  Nice choice!  I have to admit that, that’s one of my favorites too, though he is a little…scary?  J)
JS: If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?
SN:  You’ve succeeded marvelously.
Ask the person sitting to your right for a high five.
JS:  Is there anything else you’d like to say?
SN:  Please buy my book. I really need you to buy my book. I promise you’ll like it. Please? Come on, I’ll be your best friend.

Does that sound too needy?
Maybe so.
Seriously though, I would like to thank my publisher, “Canonbridge” for seeing something in the novel that no one else did. I have a stack of rejection letters so high I could probably form them into a crude paper mache table with a matching set of chairs that I could then use to type another novel on.
I also want to thank all the people that I’ve met over the years while blogging and whatnot. The encouragement and friendship has meant a lot – more than they’ll ever know, and certainly more than I’m willing to say out loud for fear one of them will sarcastically respond by telling me to “go home and put on a tutu.”
Despite the dinosaurs, and the swords, and the epic battles on far away lands, there’s an awful lot of myself sprawled across the pages of this series of books. I’ve always been a glass is half-empty sort of guy and a notoriously hard critic of my own work, but I’m fairly proud of what I’ve done here.
Believe me, if it were garbage I’d be the first to point out. I would honestly feel like kind of a jerk for trying to pawn it off to you.

 Thank you for joining us today, Steven and please let us know when Forts is available, so we may buy it.  And for the record, I fully expect my copy autographed. 

Teaser Tuesday: Maid of Honor


 Here’s an excerpt from my adult romance novel Maid of Honor.  It needs some work, but it should be good enough for a teaser.  Enjoy!

“God, I hate weddings,” Ariel proclaimed, tossing her controller on the bed. She watched as it bounced once, before switching the television off.
 The whole beautiful disaster that was flowers, and music, and what cake to have.  And don’t forget what color dress, and how to stand for this picture and that picture.  Ugh. It was just too much.  That is why I’m never going to do it.  They were just too much of a bother and God knew they never worked.  What were the recent statistics?  Over fifty-percent of all marriages failed?  Yeah.  No, thank you.
            “Well, it’s not your wedding, Ari,” Cat reminded her.  “It’s mine.”
            “Ah, yes, but as your maid of honor I’m expected to go through absolutely every awful stage of this thing with you.  You’re going to want to know if pink or red roses are better or should you hire a DJ or a band?  Sit down or buffet?  Not to mention the hours of invitation addressing.”  She shivered at the thought. “Then you’ll cry or scream at me when I don’t pick the one you wanted to begin with.”  She knew. She’d seen it before. 
How many times have I been a bridesmaid now?  She counted them quickly in her head.  Six, she’d been a bridesmaid six times in the last five years. What was that statement?  Always the bridesmaid, never the bride?  Not that she wanted to be the bride.
            Cat’s whispery laugh echoed through the phone lines. “I’m not going to be that bad.  Promise.  The whole big wedding is to appease our mothers anyway.  They’ve pretty much got the whole damned thing planned out for us.  So, please, please, please will you be my maid of honor?”
            Ari ran her ring-studded hand through her black hair. She hated it when Cat used that tone of voice.  It always crumbled her control.  “Damn it. I hate when you beg.  Fine. Fine.  When is it?” she asked.
            “In a month.”
            Ari’s jaw dropped.  “A month?  Are you crazy?  Why so soon?”
            There was a long pause, and then Cat asked, “Why not?”
            “Why not? I’ll tell you why not.  There is no physical way you can get everything taken care of in a month.  I can’t even comprehend the fact that you’re doing this but…wait…you’ve never rushed into anything in your life.  That’s my job.  Why so soon?” she asked again. 
            Cat sighed, making a sound like static on the phone line. “I just want to. Anyway, I’ll explain everything when you get here.  You’re coming for two weeks anyway.  Can’t you just extend the trip?”
            Knowing Cat could keep her mouth glued tightly shut when she wanted to, Ari glanced at her calendar.  She didn’t have anything pressing to do and her boss was harping on her to use up all her vacation time this year. She’d just have to see if she could use it all up at once.  “I don’t know. I’ll have to call my boss and find out.”
            “Great,” Cat said.  “Call me when you know. Toodle-loo.” She hung up, leaving Ari staring at the phone.  Why is she always doing that?  Back you into a corner until you had no choice but to agree, than leave you standing there to figure out the details on your own.
             Shaking her head, Ari punched in the numbers for her boss and crossed her fingers that she would side with her.
She should have known it, she thought, an hour later. Everyone is insane.  Who knew my bitch of a boss actually had a soft streak for weddings in that icy heart of hers? 
            “Go, go,” she’d said. “Weddings are fun.  So romantic.  Go and bring back lots of pictures. I just love weddings.”
            Damn it, Ari thought as she packed. The one person I’d hoped could stall the inevitable had failed me.  Now what? 
            Now, I fly to North Carolina and watch my best friend fall into the trap of Holy Matrimony.  Lovely, she thought with a grimace.
* * *
            Wonderful, Josh thought with a scowl, simply wonderful.  Not only had he gotten roped into marrying his best friend’s sister, now he had to go pick up her best friend from the damn airport. What did she have to come so early for, anyway? The damn circus–oh wait, that’s marriage, how could I forget?– isn’t for another month anyway
            He stared at his watch. The plane was late.  Figures. The damn things never came on time.  Especially when you needed them to.  He really didn’t have time for this.  He had other, more important, things to do.  Like supervise the construction on that pretty little Victorian he was restoring. 
            Idiots.  Who in their right mind would try to “modernize” a Victorian?  Well, at least with his restorations, the old lady would once again shine. Probably even before the wedding.
            He looked at his watch again.  Where the hell was that damn plane and how was he even supposed to recognize her?  All Cat had said was, “Pretty, with black hair and blue eyes. My height. Thin.”
            Nice description, Cat. How many thin women with black hair and blue eyes are going to get off that plane? He’d reserve judgment on the pretty part.  Most women thought their pals were pretty.  Didn’t mean they actually were.
            And what the hell kind of name was Ariel anyway?  Didn’t the mermaid have red hair?  And if she was named after Shakespeare’s Ariel, wasn’t he a guy? 
            Just then he saw a fairly attractive woman of about thirty with black hair step through security.  Straightening his shoulders he walked up to the woman, who was holding her bag to her body as if terrified that someone would steal it.
            “Hi. I’m Josh. Uh, Cat sent me instead of Connor.  I’ll take your bag for you,” he told the woman, who just kept staring at him like he’d lost his mind. He felt a hand on his arm and looked over to see another dark haired woman.
            He goggled at her.  She was simply stunning.  Her hair wasn’t really black, more of a sable, and there were yards of it.  Her eyes weren’t simply blue, either. They were cobalt and just as striking as the rest of her.  She was petite. A curvy five-two, he reckoned.  And all of it leg. 
            When she smiled he almost swallowed his tongue.  “Hi. I think you’re looking for me. I’m Ariel Sutherland.” 
            This was Ariel? She couldn’t have been older than twenty-five.  He turned away from the other woman who took off like a mouse who’d just escaped from being eaten.
            He grinned at Ariel causing her to blink. “Hi.  Josh Stanton.” He held out his hand and she took it without hesitation.  That is, until he brought it to his lips and kissed it. 
            She raised an eyebrow, trying to pull her hand away when she felt sparks shoot up her arm at his touch.  “You’re Cat’s fiancé, right?”
            He grimaced.  He’d forgotten for half a second he was engaged and wasn’t too happy she’d reminded him of it. “Yes,” he said and took her bag from her, slipping her arm through his. 
            She let him lead her to his car, but didn’t say thank you when he opened the door for her.  How rude, he thought, obviously manners weren’t something they taught in New York. He tossed her bags into the trunk and then drove away from the airport. She was staring out the window, but he could see her quite plainly glaring at his reflection.
            What the hell did I do? he asked himself. He tried a few more times to start a conversation, but she only ignored him or answered shortly, continuing to glare at him in the glass.
            Giving up, he drove the rest of the way in silence.  When they pulled into the driveway of Cat’s parents’ house, a beautiful old plantation home, she visibly relaxed. When she saw Cat, with her long blonde hair, blue eyes, and long, lean figure, waiting on the wrap-around porch, she started bouncing on the seat.  Weird woman, he thought, as she tore out of the car toward Cathy before he’d even put the car into park.
* * *
            God, what a creep, Ari thought, watching Josh on the other side of the dinner table.  The way he had stared at her in the airport should have been illegal.  It had made her blood pressure skyrocket before she’d reminded herself he was her best friend’s fiancé. 
            Well, to be truthful it wasn’t just his stare that had done it.  It was the thick wavy brown hair that had just begged for her to run her fingers through it and the eyes -the same color as her grandma’s prized jade elephant- that did nothing to detract from his tough, sharp jawed face. Even the small scar on the bridge of his nose was sexy.  She shivered, remembering how his eyes had clouded with just a hint of desire when they’d looked at her.
            Then, remembering, she scowled.  He was taken.  Not just taken, but taken by her best friend.  That louse, she decided.  Already fantasizing about other women and he isn’t even married yet.  Maybe he didn’t want to be married, she thought. 
            If he didn’t want to get married, why was he?  It’s not like he had to.  Even if Cat was pregnant it’s not as if her father would make them have a shotgun wedding.  She pursed her lips as she thought about it.  Maybe it was a shotgun wedding. This was the South, after all. She tried sneaking a glance at Cat’s stomach, surreptitiously.
            Idiot, Ari thought, shaking her head, she wouldn’t be showing yet
            The front door banged open and Connor, the male equivalent of his younger sister, Cat, slammed through. 
            “Well, really, Connor.  Can you make any more noise?” Amelia, Cat’s mother, demanded.
            He grinned at her. “Sorry,” he said, his blue eyes scanning the room until he saw Ariel sitting by his father, Colin.  His smile got larger and he leapt across the room in three large bounds, picking her up and kissing her soundly.
             “There you are, gorgeous.  How was your flight?” he said, oblivious to his mother’s shocked stare.
            Just fine,” Ari replied, ignoring his demonstration.  He’d done the same thing every time he’d seen her, ever since they’d dated five years earlier.
            “Connor, sit down this instant and leave Catherine’s guest alone,” Amelia said.
            He grinned again and sat in Ari’s chair, pulling her with him and into his lap.  His mother scowled at him, but he didn’t release her. “How’s my best girl?”
            “Perfect, now that you’re here,” she told him, glancing over at Cat who was grinning at her.  Cat was way too used to the openness of their friendship to be concerned. But when Ari looked over at Josh, he was scowling at her. 
            Wonder what got his nose out of joint, she thought, before turning back to Connor.  “So, what was so important that you couldn’t pick me up from the airport?” she asked.
            He smiled and whispered in her ear, “What else would keep me away?”
            Ari laughed, knowing the only thing that would keep him away would be another woman. 
* * *
            Josh sat on the front porch enjoying a cold beer.  One of those rare moments in his life he usually enjoyed.  The hot, muggy air and a cold beer. Listening to the cicadas croon along with the crickets.  Even the mosquitoes weren’t a bother tonight.  But, not even the calm of the evening could relax him tonight. He wasn’t enjoying the sounds of the cicadas or crickets and, while he appreciated the mosquitoes finding their dinner elsewhere, he really couldn’t have cared less. He was annoyed.  And that annoyance held a name, along with its shapely figure.  Ariel Sutherland. 
            His reaction to her was simply male hormones, he told himself.  What man wouldn’t want her? Jesus. She had legs up to her ears and her voice had poured through him like warm brandy on a cold night. If that didn’t set a man’s nerves to humming, nothing would.
            It wasn’t any of that that was bothering him.  No sir, it was how she’d responded to him.  Warm and friendly one minute. The ice-queen the next. And it was obvious that she only had a problem with him.  Look at the way she’d responded to Con.  No ice on her then.  Betcha he’s had a piece of her, Josh thought with a scowl. 
            So, what? It’s not like you’re interested.  She’s your fiancée’s best friend.  Shit, now how did that happen?  He was going to get married.  Not for another month, but he didn’t want to be married.  Never wanted to be married. He saw his parents’ marriage.  Not a marriage, a farce.  Not a very funny farce, though. More of a cataclysmic disaster.
            Why they still lived in the same house was beyond him.  It wasn’t sex that was for sure. As far as he could tell, they hadn’t so much as slept on the same side of the house since he was ten. 
            And now, he was letting them do what his father’s parents had done to his father.  Forcing him to marry someone he didn’t love all for the family name.  How pathetic.  He should have said no. He should have put his foot down. 
            But no, his mother and father had ganged up on him and he’d caved.
            “Joshua, you are thirty-three years old.  It is time you settled down and married.  Since you haven’t found someone suitable, we have found someone who is,” his mother, Debra, had told him.
            He’d laughed and poured more brandy. “Who do you believe is suitable, Mother?”
            “Catherine Kordovan,” she’d said with a smile.
            He’d set down his brandy with a snap of glass against wood.  “No, she’s one of my closest friends. Practically my sister.  I refuse to destroy her life, and our friendship like you and dad did.  For some stupid ideological bullshit about bloodlines and heirs.”
            His father stood up. “You will marry her or I’ll cut you off.  I’ll make sure that every trust fund you have is cut off and if it can’t be, it’ll spring a leak.  By the time you hit thirty-five it’ll all be gone. Then how are you going to fund your precious house-flipping business?”
            Knowing his father all too well, Josh knew he’d make good on the threat, so he’d agreed to the marriage. And he’d asked Cathy.  To his great surprise, she’d agreed.  Now they were to be married and he was miserable.
            He looked up when he heard laughter and saw Ari and Connor start up the walk from the gardens.  He had his arm around her and she was leaning into him, her face lifted to his, and her mind-blowing smile on her luscious lips. 
            Josh scowled into his drink before he could entertain any thoughts in that direction.  Nope, that would cut off his trust fund faster than refusing to get married.  She was exactly what his mother termed unsuitable.  Gorgeous, but unsuitable.  Any woman who looked like a Playboy pin-up had to be, didn’t she?
            Connor and Ari glanced over when they walked up to the porch and Connor stopped laughing.  “Hey, Josh, why the long face?” he asked.
            Josh looked up and over at Ariel pointedly. “No reason.”
            Ari laughed, knowing that she was the problem, and kissed Connor’s cheek. Serves him right, she thought.  “I’ll see you later, Connor,” she promised, and ignoring Josh completely, flounced into the house with hips swinging.           
            Connor stared after her, and then sighed and patted his heart. “I love being a man.” He sat down next to Josh.
            “Isn’t it hard to make time with her through all that ice?” Josh asked.
            “Ice? On Ari? Man, have you got it wrong,” Connor told him, stretching out.
            “She was nice enough when I first met her and, Jesus, her looks stab right through you, but the minute we hit the car she iced up.”
            “What did you do?” Connor asked, looking at him. “Ari’s the nicest woman I know.  Most are vindictive little wenches in pretty gift-wrap. Not our little Ari, though.  She’s as sweet as they come.”
            Josh snorted. “Yeah, right. I’ll believe that when I see it.”
            Connor twisted his body to look at him. “What did you do?” he repeated.
            “I didn’t do anything.”
            Connor laughed. “You did something.  Ari isn’t one to turn ice-bitch for no reason.”
            “She asked me if I was Cathy’s fiancé and I said yes.  That’s when she went all ice-queen on me.”
            “Connor?” Ari’s voice called out from the door.  “Your father wants you.”
            “Damn.  I’d better go,” Connor said jumping up.  “It’s probably to discuss the ‘business’ again. I really hate that.”
            Josh chuckled and waved his friend away.  He heard his footsteps go into the house, then Ariel’s as she walked on to the porch. “May I?” she asked, gesturing to the space beside him. She’d heard what he’d said about her and thought it better to try and be friends, at least until the wedding.  Then, she could forget all about him.
            When he shrugged, she sat next to him.  “It’s beautiful here. I keep forgetting that.”
            “So, you’ve been here before?”
            “Yes, I used to come with Cat on our school breaks.”
            “Didn’t want to go home?” he asked, rudely. When she didn’t respond he looked over and saw sadness on her face. 
            “No. I didn’t really have a home to go back to.  My parents died when I was three. Car accident.  My grandmother raised me, but she died right after I graduated high school.”
            Insensitive clod, he chided himself. Stepped in that one. Keep that up and she’ll never like you.  Not that he cared whether or not she did.  “Sorry.”
            She turned her face to him and smiled. His breath caught in his throat and he had to turn away so he could breathe again. “It’s okay. I don’t really remember my parents.  And it’s been almost ten years since Nana died. It’s just a bittersweet memory now. I miss her though.  She was an awesome woman,” she told him.
            “Ten years?  How old are you?”
            He spun around to stare at her. “You graduated high school at fifteen?”
            She smiled and his heart skipped a beat.  “Yeah, I’m a good student. My grandmother pushed me, but not too much.  I was the one who decided to go as fast as I did.  I preferred it.  I wasn’t really good around other people so I studied,” she said, shrugging.
            He stared out over the backyard, trying to control the hormones surging through his body. What is with that smile? It should be banned as an illegal substance.  “It was good of you to agree to be her maid of honor,” he finally managed. 
            She frowned. “I guess. I’m not into the whole let’s-go-crazy-and-spend-the-rest-of-our-lives-together, thing. Usually ends up in divorce.
            Boy, did he agree with that. “Or worse,” he muttered.
            She looked over at him, her cobalt eyes searching his face. “Or worse,” she agreed. 
            “Yet, here you are,” he pointed out.
            “She’s my best friend.  There isn’t much I wouldn’t do for her.”
            They were silent again, then she blurted out, “Did you knock her up?