A Slice of Orange


My Ultimate Hero

February 11, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Sandy Brown

My husband, Bob, is my ultimate hero. When I tell him this he acts embarrassed, but I can see the slight puffing up of his chest. Whenever I’m writing and need to figure out how my hero should react to a given situation, all I have to do is think of Bob. For thirty-three years he’s been by my side supporting me when I’m down, laughing with me when I’m up.

Bob will be the first to admit that he was not blessed with a silver tongue, but there are occasions when he manages, seemingly without his knowledge, to say something that simply melts me. Looking back over the years I can think of many incidents when he’s shown his love for me through word or deed. One time sticks out in my mind, though, because of its poignancy and timing.

A few years ago, I was diagnosed with three aneurysms on the carotid arteries in my head. Any surgery is frightening, but knowing they are going to drill through your skull and move your brain around to reach the aneurysms is completely terrifying.

There’s something about having three brain surgeries within five months that defines your life afterwards. Everything is divided into pre-aneurysms and post-aneurysms.

I have to tell you by the end of that five month time span I was pretty well worn out. The length of the recovery period and the exhaustion factor is unbelievable. Plus—put this image in your mind—my hair was shaved in a two-inch swath on both sides of my head from the center of my forehead down to the tops of my ears. I certainly did not look like our typical heroine. Unless, of course, you’re writing Goth! The half-shaved look might fit into that frame.

Bob sat by my bed in the hospital everyday, all day. Each time I opened my eyes there he was letting me know by the strength of his presence that everything was okay.

One day after I came home I must have been feeling blue, because I remember Bob looking at me with that expression of tender love men can get when they don’t realize it. He said, “You know, honey, I thought I was losing you. But, every time you opened your eyes in the hospital and saw me, you always smiled. That was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.”

Wow! It gives me goose bumps just retelling my story! Is it any wonder that I love to write Romance when I live every day of my life with Bob, my ultimate hero?

Sandy Brown
Ways & Means Director, 2006

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Everything I Know About Love…

February 10, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Louise Knott Ahern

Everything I know about love, I learned from a letter my grandpa wrote to my grandma during World War II.

Well, today is VE Day. I am glad that much is over… There is no celebrating here. We had a parade and several speeches today, but no shouting. Everyone is restricted to the post until things quiet down. I think everyone should wait and celebrate when the whole thing is done…

Henry “Hank” Shellenbarger was a big John Wayne of a man. A bomber pilot, the Army recruited him to teach others how to fly. Helen Mary Shellenbarger was a teacher – a college-educated woman far ahead of her time.

As I knew them, they were always old, always wise. Grandpa could take one look at the sky and tell you if it was going to snow that night. He could build or fix anything, including our first house. Grandma kept a stash of every grandchild’s favorite treat in her pantry. She had a saying for every situation, a collection of old colloquialisms she picked up in her youth. Most of the time, I had no idea what they meant, like when something got lost, it “went the way of the rug.”

When I got old enough to understand, I would beg Grandpa to tell me about the war. Was he a hero? Did he ever get hurt? Could I be a pilot, too? One day he answered with his silence. He got out of his well-worn rocking chair and went into his bedroom. A moment later, he came out, his hand closed tightly. He told me to hold out my hand, and I obeyed. In it, he placed a tarnished set of Army Air Corps wings.

“Now you can be a pilot,” he said.

It never occurred to me to ask Grandma about the war until college. I interviewed her for a history class term paper, and being a natural writer, I used her answers to craft a creative narrative of a woman struggling on the home front.

It wasn’t until after I discovered the letter in Grandma’s dresser drawer – neatly creased inside a yellowed envelope along with a single dog-tag – that I realized I had asked both of them all the wrong questions.

They are moving the whole engineering training school to some other field. We don’t know where for sure but it looks like Shepherd Field… Don’t worry. I will still be in the same program, just in a different place.

Grandpa died in June 1997. The day he passed, the entire family gathered at their home in the small farming town where I grew up. One by one, we filed into the bedroom, where he lay in a hospice bed, to say good-bye. And one by one, we all cried. But not Grandma. Not that day.

She didn’t cry in front of us until she viewed him for the first time in his casket. I hung back and watched as Grandma moved toward the front of the room. She stared for a moment and then reached out her hand. She placed hers over his. And then she began to cry.

“Oh my Hank, my Hank,” she sobbed.

Before my eyes, she was transformed. She wasn’t my grandma anymore, and he was no longer my grandpa. Instead, I saw them as they were fifty years earlier, a young couple passionately in love. A young couple about to be separated by war and distance.

I miss you and love you very much, sweetheart. I am glad we are going to have the baby. I guess I’ll read and go to sleep.
Forever Yours,

Today, I hang onto Grandpa’s wings and the letter. Grandma hangs on to his heart.

Louise Knott Ahern is a freelance journalist and public relations coach who writes contemporary romances. She’s the author of “Opting Out: A Career Woman’s Guide to Going Home Without Going Crazy,” a blog for mothers at www.optoutguide.blogspot.com. She is also a contributor to The Writer’s Vibe (www.thewritersvibe.typepad.com), a blog for professional writers.

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Fairy Tales Do Come True

February 9, 2006 by in category 25 Days of Romance tagged as

By Gillian Doyle
Rubye Freeman looked more like Cinderella’s fairy godmother than the mailroom lady at a factory. Sweet-faced, gray-haired, rolly-polly Rubye may not have worn a long blue gown or waved a magical wand, but the mischievous twinkle in her eyes should have given me a clue.

One summer break from college, I took a job at a temp agency, filling in for a sick clerk in that same mailroom. My first day, I looked up from sorting mail to see a man filling the doorway with his broad shoulders. As he entered the room, his russet-blond hair brushed the top of the door despite his slight bow to clear it. My hands stilled. My mouth went dry. His thick wavy hair curled over the white collar of his oxford shirt. Unlike the other executives in traditional dark business suits, he wore a buckskin suede jacket with the required necktie and dark slacks. No brown wingtips for him, though. Only cowboy boots make that distinctive heel strike on the hardwood floor in the slow stride of Gary Cooper in High Noon.

But did he notice me? Hardly. This young executive was out of my league.

Little did I realize that Rubye thought otherwise. She had a soft spot for Donald, as she called him even though he was Don to everyone else. He had started as her assistant a few years earlier, and he still liked to stop by the mailroom to see if there was anything she needed. When he came around, he charmed her with the quiet impeccable manners of a real gentleman. With that slow half-smile, he was her soft-spoken knight-in-shining-armor, running errands for her on his lunch hour, lifting boxes too heavy for her to manage, stocking the higher shelves in the supply room, dropping by after he’d clocked out so he could help her finish her own work.

I struggled between mute gawking (when he wasn’t looking) and joking with him as if he was just another friend of my brothers. Growing up a tomboy, I was more comfortable as the gal-pal to all the guys. I was far from being a statuesque brunette capable of winning the affections of Mr. Marlboro Man in the Mailroom.

After a few days, the regular clerk was ready to return to work and I moved on to another temp job. A month later, I was called back, specifically requested by Rubye. I was not only flattered– I truly enjoyed working for her– but I was also looking forward to another opportunity to secretly fantasize about that tall urban cowboy.

But that seemed to be as far as it would ever go….pure fantasy. Oh, I had a few hopeful moments, like when he stuck his head into the mailroom at lunch time and asked if I wanted a bite to eat. Was he asking me out? No, he and another guy were going to pick up burgers and would bring one back for me if I was hungry. Oh geez…he was only offering to feed the hired help. Or, as he liked to refer to me “Rent-a-Girl”.

One afternoon Rubye asked me to retrieve a five-gallon jug of Sparkletts from the warehouse. I was in a dress and high heels and had no idea where to find the warehouse. No problem, she assured me. She had asked Donald to drive me. Minutes later, I followed him out of the air-conditioned building and into blistering July heat where the bright Southern California sun bubbled the black asphalt parking lot. I stopped dead in my tracks when he escorted me to a brand-spanking-new blue fastback Mustang Mach I. Oh, Lordy…(Should I mention that I was a sucker for guys with hot cars? Shameless, I know. But to be fair, I had fallen hard before I knew about his car, okay?)

Still, the feeling did not appear to be mutual. Oh, he did take me out to lunch eventually…at Jack In The Box. I joked about being a cheap date, even though I knew it wasn’t a real date. Feeding the Rent-A-Girl, remember? I must’ve bruised his gentlemanly ego because he invited me to lunch again. This time it was a local bar that served lunch for the workers at the surrounding industries. (Hey, what did you expect, a five-star restaurant nestled among the factories?) Unfortunately, when he ordered a drink, I had to admit I was not yet twenty-one. I was sure that my admission of being underage had slammed the door on any potential romance with this older guy.

My last day on the job was Friday the Thirteenth. As (bad) luck would have it, there was no invitation to lunch. So I spent my free hour driving to the bank to deposit my paycheck. On the way back, a car ran a red light. I don’t know how he missed me by mere inches. Back in the mailroom, I was shaky but lucky to be alive. If only I could have a bit of that same luck in regard to a certain cowboy, I thought to myself.

With only an hour left till the whistle blew, Rubye came out of her office to say goodbye. Patting my hand, she said, “I left my appointment calendar open on my desk. I want you to write your name and phone number on today’s date.”

I assumed she wanted my number for future temp jobs. She’d already said as much. But she added, “If Donald doesn’t ask you out by the end of work today, I’m going to tell him on Monday to check my calendar for his mileage. I keep track of his errands so he is compensated for the gas. And it’s about time for him to do that again.”

I felt my face burn with embarrassment. “He doesn’t even like me.”

She only smiled with that mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “Let me take care of that.”

But Rubye didn’t have to send Donald to her calendar on Monday. As I gathered my things and prepared to leave, I heard the distinctive sound of his boot heels. I turned and found myself staring at the center of his broad chest. I craned my neck to look up at him. Lord almighty he was a tall drink of water.

With that sexy half-smile lifting one corner of his mouth, he gave a casual shrug. I honestly thought he was about to give me one of those Hollywood lines like, “It was nice knowin’ ya, kid.”

Instead, he said, “There’s a John Denver concert this Sunday….”

Many years later, a package arrived in the mail with a postmark from Washington state where Rubye had moved to live next door to her only daughter and family. Inside was a bundle of letters tied with a blue ribbon, accompanied by a note. Rubye had passed away in her sleep, her daughter wrote. Among her things were my cards and letters sent over the years. Her daughter told me that Rubye had cherished them. As my tears fell unchecked, I reverently untied the ribbon and went through each and every card, the invitation to our wedding that Rubye had attended, the birth announcements of our baby girl, then our baby boy, their photos from each year of school, the graduation announcements.

Near or far, Rubye had watched over Don and me and our little family throughout the years, our real-life fairy godmother…Always and forever.

Sue Phillips | A Slice of Orange



Gillian Doyle
Author of Paranormal Suspense

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Romance Heroes, Always There When You Want Them

February 8, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Michelle Thorne

I love ROMANCE as a concept, although I haven’t really had much success in the real world. Don’t feel sorry for me. I have a store full of heroes who are romance personified. There’s Phillip from Tom and Sharon Curtis’ Lightning That Lingers. Was there ever a more caring, sweet or HOT guy than that? A stripper with a PhD. Sounds about right to me. How about Archie Goodwin from the Nero Wolfe series. I have loved him since I was twelve years old. Stylish dresser, snappy patter and a really good dancer. What’s not to like? Then there’s Nick Lightfoot from Jayne Ann Krentz’s The Golden Chance. What a guy!

Janet Evanovich has created quite a conundrum with Joe and Ranger in her Stephanie Plum series. I’m like Steph, I just can’t make up my mind. Then there are ANY of Linda Howard’s heroes. They all need the help of a good woman to save them from a life that is cold and without any soft place to land. I could be that woman, really. Consider Linda Lael Miller’s Vampires. Wonderful, very human and great looking, forever. Just a thought. Susan Elizabeth Phillips has all those Chicago Star football players and who could resist the guys in shoulder pads and tight ends. Not me. Don’t get me started on Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole. Great boyfriend material. Love him! And the “Bob” ain’t to shabby in the good lookng and funny area either. Yes, I am stalking him but in “a public place and he knows all about it, literary ” sort of way. Sue me.

There are many more fictional heroes who are very real to me but this is a blog not a book. Alas, I have to mention, The Man, The Guy, He who makes my heart stop on a regular basis.

For the last 11 years there has been one man who never fails to meet my expectations of a romantic hero. He is the whole package. He is suave, but has an edge. He is gorgeous, but isn’t afraid to get a little mussed. He has more money than God, but he made it himself and does good works with it. He is a great friend and a feared enemy. He’s funny and smart and he loves his woman with every fiber of his being and she’s not always that easy to love. Eve Dallas is one very lucky woman. Nora Roberts has created the PERFECT romantic hero in Roarke for the In Death series. OH, MY GOD. I want him. I don’t really know that I would have a clue of what to do with him once I got him, but it’s probably like a bicycle, you never forget. Roarke is the gold standard for me. Twenty five days of romance, ALL ROARKE, ALL THE TIME.

I’d love to hear about your fictional guys, I could always use another man to keep.

Reality, it’s overrated. Fiction ROCKS.

Michelle Thorne
Bearly Used Books…123

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What A Mess

February 7, 2006 by in category Archives tagged as

By Tina Ralph

Strolling down the aisle, all dressed in black, as gorgeous as ever, was the one person in the world, April didn’t want to see. Still, the unexpected sight of him caused her to choke out his name. To her horror, he turned and looked at her.

Kirk’s face showed he wasn’t any happier to see her, but he quickly recovered.

She ignored the sudden butterflies in her stomach. “Hello, Kirk, it’s been awhile.”

He pushed his cart closer. “Not since Janet moved out. Almost a year.”

“Janet told me when your divorce was final. I wanted to call – but – well… I didn’t know what to say.” To cover her awkwardness, she rushed on. “I always consider you, my friend too. We had fun together, but…”

Embarrassed, she looked down. The divorce had been a hot item among friends. They wanted someone to blame. She’d been mentioned as a contributing factor.

“Don’t worry about it, April.” Kirk continued. “I haven’t had much time to socialize anyway. I received the house in the divorce settlement. I spent my weekend on home improvement projects. You remember our fixer-upper. Don’t you?”

“Yes,” Amber was glad he’d changed the subject.

A lady with two small children broke up their conversation, as she tried to edge passed them.

“It looks like we are holding up traffic.” April pushed her cart forward, letting the woman pass. “Besides, my ice cream is melting.”

He hesitated a moment. “Maybe we can get together sometime…do something?”

Thrilled with the idea of pursuing a relationship with him, April tempered her enthusiasm with a wave of her hand. “Sure, give me a call.”

At the checkout counter, her pulsed danced at the possibilities of him calling. Kirk, with his incredible teddy bear brown eyes, made everyone feel special. He a wonderful man, except for the fact, that he was her best friend’s ex-husband.

Would Janet mind? She was dating other men.

Was it worth their friendship?

It could get complicated.

“It really doesn’t matter,” April said to herself. “He’s not going to call, anyway.”

* *

April stood in the middle of the video store with a movie in each hand, trying to make up her mind.

A rich baritone voice over her left shoulder caught her off guard. “I’d pick the comedy. Heavy drama is too depressing.”

Turning quickly, April brushed against Kirk’s shoulder as she looked up into his face. “Fancy meeting you here.”

His quick grin and the spark of interest in his eyes lightened her heart.

“I like to get my videos on Thursday. That way I beat the crowds.” He reached for the case in her hand. “Why don’t I rent this one? And you can come over Saturday and watch it with me.”

Letting him take it, she attempted to settle her racing heart. “I’m not sure you’ll like that one. It’s a chick flick.”

“It doesn’t matter.” He slid a friendly arm around her shoulders.

* *

Nervously, April took a deep breath and pushed the doorbell. Dressed in jeans and a tee shirt, she wanted to look friendly but not eager.

The door opened, Kirk stood before her holding a paint roller in his hand, paint splattered all over him.

Shock flashed across his face. “It can’t be six o’clock?”

Fascinated by the blue specks in his hair, April questioned. “Is it a bad time?”

He stepped back, ushering her into the house. “No, its just I–forgot the time.”

“I…” Seeing the living room in total disarray with furniture piled in the middle of the room, a plastic tarps lying next to a half-painted wall, April paused. “Maybe I should come back later?”

He blocked the door. “I can have it cleaned up in a minute. All I need to do is pour the paint back in the can, and clean out the roller. Then we can turn on the movie.” He hurried past her.

“But Kirk, you’re not finished. You don’t want to have to drag all this stuff back out tomorrow.” April argued.

“It’s no big deal. I can leave it like this.”

Her eyes roamed the room. “This type of chaos drove Janet wild. She likes things to be neat and tidy with no changes to upset her peaceful tranquility.”

Considering all work he had accomplished, April continued. “I could never understand why? I think it might be nice to change things up ever so often. It’s what makes a house a home.”

He studied her for a moment over the paint can before he replied. “It makes a mess.”

“Funny, I always enjoyed a little adventure in my life.”

He looked up again, their eyes met. In that moment, something passed between them. April wasn’t sure what it was, but she felt the spark of electricity.

With a wicked grin, Kirk asked. “Wanna get messy?”

Tina Ralph
OCC/RWA Membership Director

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