Kingdom of Sand & Wishes: A Limited Edition Collection of Aladdin Retellings
Lycan’s Blood Queen
Title: The Outliers Saga
Author: Kate L Mary
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian
Publisher: Twisted Press
Editor: Lori Whitwam
Publication Date: February 22nd, 2019
Kate L. Mary is an award-winning author of Adult, New Adult, and Young Adult fiction, ranging from Post-apocalyptic tales of the undead to Speculative Fiction and Contemporary Romance! Her YA book, When We Were Human, was a 2015 Childrenâs Moonbeam Book Awards Silver Medal winner for Young Adult Fantasy/Sci-Fi Fiction, and a 2016 Readersâ Favorite Gold Medal winner for Young Adult Science Fiction. Her book, Outliers, was a Top 10 Finalist in the 2018 Author Academy Awards for Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction, and a First Place Winner in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards for Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction.
Title: Twisted Love
Author: R. Linda
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Editor: Spell Bound Editing Services
Cover Designer: Pink Ink Designs
It's what I do. What I've always done.
For fitness. For fun.
And now for fear.
He took me. Trapped me. Destroyed me.
Broke me down, little by little.
Something forbidden. The passion. The pleasure.
It's wrong. Unforgiving, and I should do what I do.
Run like Hell.
A coffee addicted, tattoo enthusiastic fangirl with a slight obsession for a particular British boy band and solo artist, she is a writer of Contemporary YA/NA Romance and Suspense, sometimes dabbling in Paranormal as well.
Renee lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two sons. When not writing she can often be found reading books to her children and cuddling up with them on the couch to watch their favourite movies.
I didnât even realise that I had reached for him, until Hendrix flinched at my touch. âSorry.â
âItâs okay.â He shook his head.
âDo you want me to stop?â I asked as I touched the small round cigarette burns.
There were hundreds of them, dotting his. I traced my fingers over each one, feeling his pain. My heart clenched.
Hendrixâs breathing increased and I wondered if I was pushing him too far, but he still didnât stop me.
My hand drifted down to a large triangular scar on his lower back. I traced the slightly curved edges and winced in pain as I thought about what could have caused such a bad scar.
âWhat did he do to you?â I whispered so soft I wasnât sure Hendrix heard.
âHot iron. My shirt was wrinkled and I looked like a slob.â
âI was eleven.â
If it were possible for my heart to break any more, it did, right then.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as images of an eleven-year-old Hendrix being held down by Ray flashed through my mind.
âIâm so sorry,â I whispered into his back, wrapping my arms around his waist until they came to rest on his stomach. His hands found mine, covering them completely. His body trembled, and I had no idea how to comfort him. How to take away the pain, torment, torture.
I pressed my lips to a scar on his shoulder and he tensed, tightened his fingers around mine. I wanted to make him feel better, make him forget the pain of his past for just a little while.
Throwing caution to the wind, I turned him to face me.
âLucy.â His voice was low, gravelly. âStop.â
âNo.â I cupped his cheek with my hand and pressed my lips together in a small smile. âKiss me.â
He froze. Conflict warred in his eyes as he lowered his gaze and dragged it leisurely over my body.
I just wanted a moment for us to both forget. For Hendrix to lose himself in me and forget his past. I wanted to forget where I was, forget that my life was hell. I wanted to feel something other than hatred, and Hendrixâs kisses and fingers on my skin always sparked something in me; a fire, a desire that I constantly had to extinguish. But right then, maybe it was the fact he was trying so hard to be noble and do the right thing, I just wanted to give into the flames and burn with him.
As if following my train of thought, Hendrixâs eyes flashed to life, a low growl erupted from his throat and he slammed his mouth down on mine. My hands were in his hair, my lips moulded to his, a small whimper escaped. And I really didnât know if it was me or him. Or if it was out of pleasure, comfort, or fear. It didnât matter. It just was.
His hands cupped my face as he stepped back. Breathing hard, he closed his eyes and rested his forehead against mine. âCan I tell you something?â he whispered against my lips.
âIâm scared, Lucy. Iâm scared I canât fix this.â His voice was full of pain, anguish.
âMe too.â I pressed myself closer to him, needing the comfort and needing to comfort him.
âI wonât let him touch you, Lucy. At all. Heâll have to kill me first, okay? I promise you, you will be safe.â
I kissed him again.
Gave in to the flames
Women's Fiction, Humor
Published: January 2017
Publisher: Champlain Avenue Books
Mary Wulf, wife of baseball slugger Gary Wulf, has invited her four dearest friends to her Southern Connecticut home for a fun-filled late August weekend get-together. Theyâre coming from Maryland, Ohio, Colorado, and as near as next door. Sports Wives coming together with their unique personalities and emotional perspectives.
Being together for the very first time, the women reveal far more of themselves during the weekend than they ever expected. Indeed, the humor is continuousâwhile tenderness, poignancy, and sorority will also pull at your emotions. There is much on multiple levels to draw one into the lives of these womenâwho are in effect, wedded to sports as well as to their men.
All right, letâs take stock. I am thirty-five years old. A reasonable, loving, and notoriously cautious woman. I am married to Gary Wulf, the current right fielder for the New York Mets. I am deeply in love with his agent. I have violated the Seventh Commandment. On several occasions. Other than that, I have no complications in my life.
Mary Wulf stood in her kitchen staring at her reflection in a bottle of tequila, wondering how much of the bottle would be consumed before the evening was out. She couldnât contain her delight at the prospect. The weekend series was about to begin--only minutes away now from the first pitcher . . . of margaritas. Ha, ha.
Look, itâs late August, and the Mets are only seven games out of first. They could still win the division; itâs not too late. But I canât say the same thing about my marriage, can I? Nor would I want to. At least the Mets have a chance not to finish in the Eastern Division cellar, the way Philadelphia âs playing. Yes, the cellar. If Gary only knew what I have hidden in mine. Figuratively, I mean. The poor Mets. This will be their sixth straight losing season. How many have I had in a row with my husband? About the same? More than that? Up in Boston they were for forever saying that this year could be the year theyâd win The Series. The Curse of the Bambino once and for all exorcised. And they finally had their year--twice. Here itâs the curse of Mary Wulf. But this also could be the year. My year.
While Mary pondered her personal life in the context of Major League Baseball, she put the CD player in âRandomâ mode. For once the batting order of her Broadway CD mix would be shaken up, providing Mary some variety and surprise rather than disgorging once again the same tracks in the same familiar patternâone long ago memorized. âMemoryâ from Cats was hitting second, instead of eighth as it usually did. Then again, this wasnât the song to come so early in the lineupâit seemed highly out of place in that position. It spoke too deeply to its listener; it was too emotional, too relevant for it simply to waft through a room without adequate preparation, without at least some expectation, without any anticipation from the woman in the house, who played it whenever she attempted to communicate with her soul.
Hearing the opening bars of the song, Mary came quickly into the room from the kitchen, where she had begun filling bowls with high-calorie, indefensible, and long-denied tortilla chips, pouring two kinds of salsa into âauthenticâ Mexican serving bowls, after having pulled down from the shelves of the liquor cabinet the accompanying tequila and margarita mix. She felt a bit startled moving from the gaiety south of the border to the tragic and poignant setting of Griselda the Glamor Cat among the piles of unwanted junk. Mary disliked sudden shifts of mood, sudden news of any kind, sudden demands on her time and emotions. And now one of her favorite songs was causing her sudden anxiety.
Six weeks into their relationship, eight months before they were married, she had given herself to Gary Wulf only because the tune was playing in the living room of her small apartment. She thought earlier in the evening that in spite of her physical attraction to the young and ardently insistent ballplayer, it was really too early in their relationship for sex. She just had too many questions about him as a man and as a potential husband. But the tune had begun to play at the exact moment he touched the top of her thigh with unmistakable amorous purposeâand there was little she could do or wanted to do to make him cease. The song stimulated her pity and understanding, and she felt more vulnerable every time she heard it. She had loved the song long before she had fallen in love with Gary Wulf, having sung it as part of a musical revue at a local community theatre, and she had frequently fantasized about making love while it provided the most erotic musical accompaniment she could have imagined. She wondered if she wanted a sexual encounter to purge the pain the song featuredâthe loneliness and regret as oneâs life sped off course to itâs inevitable end. Her doubts after that night about what she had allowed to happen with Gary had absolutely no effect on her love for the song. She knew now, however, that her feelings for Gary were never the same afterward. And still she had married him. When she was only twenty and a far distance from the aging Glamor Cat.
Mary turned off the disc, felt her tension immediately lessening, and replaced the compilation with the other CD sitting on top of the playerâCarole Kingâs gift to the 1970âs, the album Tapestry. Mary felt it almost a duty to listen to the CD at least once a monthâthat is, a duty to her mother, who found almost every cut an anthem worthy of respect if not devotion. Carole King was the first singer Mary could recall from her childhood. Her mother had loved the album for almost ten years before Mary was born, and Mary felt unashamedly wistful recalling how her mother wore her hair in Kingâs curly mane as shown on the album cover and how from the ages of one and a half to seven she would dance to âSmackwater Jackâ while her mother roared with delight, giving Mary a standing ovation after every performance. Mary put the CD in the player but this time did not want the âRandomâ mode dictating the lineup; no, what she needed now was familiarity and control. Of course she wanted to hear the albumâs opening songâafter all, her closest friends would arrive soon, and they would surely make the earth move if Carole King couldnât. But more importantly, Mary wanted to know where that third cut on the album was. She wouldnât listen to it. She hadnât listened to it for months. She couldnât, even though she knew it was too late for her and Gary.
Mary decided to stay in the room until the second song finished; then she could skip to cut four and go back in the kitchen and begin mixing the margaritas. She swished her lips from side to sideâher familiar though unconventional gesture of approvalâas she thought how well the renovations of this room had gone this past March. Her spring training, as it were, while Gary was doing his with the Mets in Port St. Lucie. The room was so much brighterâyellow and whiteâso perfect for listening to her music, contemplating the backyard through the French doors, and entertaining friends and guests. And how perfectly the room would serve the purposes of this special weekend. The inaugural meeting of âSports Wivesââthe name Mary came up with in the middle of the summer for her and her four closest friends, all married to men with intimate connections to sports. Why not invite them all to come to her place and meet each other? Why not have them all here in Connecticut to help shove her toward a decision about terminating her marriage? It seemed like such a brilliant idea.
Mary made a final check for neatnessâand for anything that might cause discomfort or embarrassment. As the song concluded, she noticed something lying behind the plush chair against the wall. She headed toward the chair at the moment the piano intro to âSo Far Awayâ began. Halting, Mary felt an immediate and depressing realization that she didnât want to hear that selection either, so she walked to the CD player and turned it off. The silence in the room put its arms around her; it was what she needed--at least until her friends arrived. This silence did not chide her, as had her conscience the past several months.
Expelling a soft breath, she bent down and pulled from behind the chair a baseball bat and a vintage Brooklyn Dodger baseball capâone of the many bits of sports memorabilia her husband just had to have but soon after discarded with indifference. Maryâs face registered no disdain or pleasure; she simply laid the bat on the sofa and brought the cap closer to her face. She traced the classic white âBâ on the blue cap with her finger and once more accepted the fact that she ought to think of herself as one lucky girl. Oh, absolutely--one lucky girl. But . . . thatâs what the âBâ stood for at this momentâthe contradictory tag âBut . . .â After taking the bat and cap to her husbandâs game room, she heard the steps on her patio, followed by the sound of a platter breaking on the flagstones, and then the expected âOh, Mother of Shit!â Yes, of course. Miranda Peterson. The weekend could now formally begin.
âMary, Mary, the song canaryâmy, how your garbage grows!â Miranda Peterson had branded her claim to Maryâs Wulfâs friendship with the habitual pun on familiar nursery rhymes when she was inclined to make a grand entrance. âThere was a young woman who lived in I-talian shoes. / She spent so much on sandals, her husband had no money left to loseâ was one Mary particularly loved, as her neighbor--one of Americaâs most successful authors of romance novels--didnât have enough of an ear for poetry to get the number of syllables right. On the other hand, Mary was highly embarrassed by âLittle Miss Wulfit sat on a toilet, touching her curls so gray,â because Miranda had thrice offered it while others were in the room. On the first two occasions, Mary protested with animation the unfair characterization; on the third, she merely smiled, recalling that she had in fact just celebrated the first anniversary of her touching-up the gray in her curls.
âDo you need a broom, Miranda?â Mary stuck her head out the French doors.
âI wouldnât want to borrow your favorite mode of transportation, Mary. Letâs just leave it alone. Clams on the half-shell biodegrade, donât they?â That faceâthat puckish pretty face. Not the same austere and intimidating one that graced a good number of dust jackets and that garish website of hers.
Mary headed for the kitchen. âThe clams biodegrade perhaps--not sure about the half-shells.â Within thirty seconds she was out on the back patio helping Miranda dump the two-dozen clams with accompanying half-shells in a paper grocery bag. She complimented Miranda for at least having her heart in the right place.
âMy heart may be, but unfortunately my heel got stuck between the flagstones on your patio. Right time, but wrong place.â
Maryâs face exploded like popcorn. âMy God, Miranda. I just realized. Youâre actually on time! How does it feel?â
âNot bad. I think the heel will stay on. Seriously, Mary, I told you that I wouldnât be late for the first of what we hope will be many an annual meeting of âSports Wives.â I promised Iâd be the first of the wives to check in, and--Voila!âhere I am. Sans clams, sans shells, sans everything.â Miranda was bouncing her heads from side to side in childlike excitement. Mary thought she looked like a little leaguer entering Yankee Stadium for the first time.
âRight, Miranda. Anyway, youâre the first here, but not actually the first to check in.â Mirandaâs face dropped and her lips bubbled forward in the classic pout that made her the darling of all her friends. âI am truly sorry, but Sherry McDuffie called me from New Rochelle, where she spent last night with a favorite cousin she hasnât seen in nearly fifteen years. She has a rental car and is on the way.â Mary knew Sherry would be both the jaw dropper and the ultra sweetener the others would absolutely adore. She might also be the soft rod of stability Mary would require if she could conquer her fear and share her big news with the rest of the Sports Wives. But then again, the happily-married and traditional Sherry McDuffie would likely be the last one to sympathize. But then again. Yes, but then again. How tired Mary was of all the âButsâ and âBut then againsâ that more and more bedeviled her waking hours. For her part, Miranda lamented the fate of her best friend--the âpoor, poor womanâ who had to take that âhorrific drive from parkway to parkway to parkway past golf course and golf course and another golf course until arriving at this little nineteenth holeâ Mary called a home in Southeastern Connecticut.
When the two women entered the house, Mary headed for the kitchen with the bag of unusable clams and Miranda toward the CD player. As she dumped the clams in the trash container, Mary heard Miranda informing her that she forgotten to take the âBest Valueâ sticker from her Carole King CD--and then uttering some half-unintelligible remark about how impossible it was to open those âdamned CDâsâ the way they have them wrapped. âThe ancient Egyptians should have been so good. Anyway, when are you going to upgrade to MP3?â Miranda flipped the case over and began going down the song list as Mary returned from the kitchen. âTell you what, Mary, letâs put on âYou Make Me Feel Like a Natural Womanâ and get naked on the couch when your friend Sherry comes in. What do you say?â Miranda began to unbutton her blouse. Again, one would not have imagined such behavior by looking at Miranda Petersonâs website.
âWhoa, Tigress. Sherry wouldnât quite approve.â Mary was therefore reminded of the single most glaring difference between the two of them. Miranda had seemingly never met that distasteful brood called The Inhibitions, whereas Mary had given them room and board for her entire life. Miranda would often brag to anyone who listened that she was one of the leaders of the short-lived âStreakingâ craze in the early 70âs. And even when Mary reminded her that she only five or six years old at the time, Miranda grinned and added, âWant me to show you?â Mary wondered whether her neighborâs effusive influence had finally begun to make inroads when she considered the changes she herself was making in her wardrobe since the spring. What made her uncomfortable about her new outfits and shoes, however, was any assumption that she was dressing to please Gary. She had claimed to friends on more than a few occasions that she was refitting herself to please herself and no one else. But she knew that to be a lie. There was most certainly someone else.
Miranda offered her characteristic mock horror at the possibility that Sherry McDuffie was a prude and would therefore ruin the entire weekend.
Mary countered, âNo, sheâs not a prude, Miranda. Sheâs a lot of fun. A lot of fun. Sheâs just a bit more conservative than you are when it comes to the matter of . . . you know.â Miranda raised her eyes in a way any hard-working imp would have envied. âThen again, Miranda, the far left is more conservative than you are.â
Miranda flung herself onto the sofa. âNow this fun-loving prude is just like me, right.â Mary spent the next six seconds shaking her head back and forth. âNo, no, Mary. I mean sheâs never met three of the five Sports Wives, right?â âRight. She knows only me. You know only me. The other two know me and each other." Having noticed Mirandaâs expanding and examining eyes, Mary was now unhappy with the color of her blouse. Miranda thanked her for the clarification and asked if Sherry was married to the college football coach âAlanâ McDuffie. Mary knew light blue, not the black she was wearing, would be the right color, especially since Miranda was wearing silver and black. âAlex McDuffie, Miranda. And heâs the defensive coordinator for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats.â
Miranda now lay completely stretched out on the sofa, appearing more fit for an interment or necrophiliac sex with Poeâs Roderick Usher than a fun weekend with Maryâs other friends. âHmm. She should tell old Alan that heâd get a lot more coordinating done if he werenât so defensive. Do you have an apple, Mary?â Miranda lifted her left leg straight upâfor a reason known only to her.
Perhaps red would be better, Mary thought. She ignored the apple request and informed her best friend that sheâd get the chips and margaritas percolating just as soon as the others arrived.
âWonder what it would be like to be married to a football coach. Think, old Alvin . . .â
â. . . makes Sherry bend over and . . .â
âMiranda, donât start with the lewd jokes now. You have no audience here for . . .â
â. . . hand him his eggs and bacon . . .â
â. . . through her legs like one of those centers?â
Yet, Miranda Petersonâs brand of vulgarity was always sanitized by her infectious and playful spirit. She never wrote in a vulgar wayâalthough her novels were surely far more than mildly stimulatingâbut her mouth was clearly sprightlier than her pen. At this moment, Mary couldnât help visualizing Gary Wulf, like Alex McDuffie, as a coach or manager when his playing days were over. And at thirty-seven, his days were surely numbered. The thought frightened her but only because she also saw herself standing next to him, older than she was now. Next to him. Having lost her chance at something to revitalize her spirits. She just couldnât tolerate the thought.
âWill you love me tomorrow?â
Mirandaâs intrusion startled Mary, but it at least swept away her disturbing vision of a lifeless future. âNo, Miranda. Iâm just in it for the quick and cheap thrill. What are you talking about?â
âOne of the songs on the Carole King album.â Miranda lurched off the sofa and walked again to the CD player. Yes, Mary concluded. Red was the right color. She informed Miranda that she was going to change her blouse and to âhold the fort.â Miranda saluted and as soon as Mary walked out of the room, Miranda commenced a thorough search for any trace evidence of Maryâs husband in the room. She wasnât quite sure, but it seemed to her that, recently, every time she came over to Maryâs something new was in the room and something Gary was removed.
The various tokens of Gary Wulfâs career in Major League Baseball, though certainly impossible to coordinate with the dÃ©cor, still had been conspicuous only eight months before, but after the Christmas Holidays, Miranda began to sense that an object here or an object there was no longer in the room. By the end of April, she was certain something was up. By June she knew pretty much what it was. Now it was late August and she wasnât yet sure what it would end up being.
âOkay, what do you think, Miranda?â Somewhere along the way, another color had lain in ambush.
âAs Iâve always said, greenâs your color, Mary. Goes really well with your red shoes. Christmas come early this yearâor are you auditioning to be a traffic light?â Yes, Mary thought, how perfect for her emotions--the green and red of âGoâ and âStop.â She found grim humor in the realization that she had out of character ignored the yellow caution light. First when she was beginning her relationship with Gary and especially more recently when she had given herself to . . . well, she didnât want to think about that now.
âDamn. Be right back.â Mary returned to her bedroom and Miranda finished her general sweep of the room, turning her attention to the CDs for any sign of Gary Wulf music. Admittedly, she had made frequent humor out of Maryâs love of classical music, opera, and Broadway tunes and Garyâs refusal to listen to, let alone understand, any of them. Gary preferred the hits of his youth and the videos that garnished them throughout the later 1980âs and early 90âs. He reached his teens in January of 1991 and, on the very last day of the 1995, he received yet one more recognition of his incredible athletic prowess with the offer to sign with Cincinnati Reds following his high school graduation.
Now at thirty-seven, Gary Wulf was playing for the Mets, at the end of what many felt was a sure Hall-of-Fame career, even though the last four years were many miles from Cooperstown. Mary had encouraged him to take the first steps toward the new period of his life by expanding his musical and recreational interests. But he would have none of it. He wasnât a man to let go. Miranda recalled that those were the very words Mary had only recently quoted to her over several Long Island Ice TeasââGaryâs not a man to let go.â Miranda had her share of friends and acquaintances whose marriages resulted in depression and a few of them in violence, but she had always been assured that the advice she freely offered was correct and appropriate. But with Mary, she found it difficult to come right out and ask the tough questionsâand she wasnât sure why it was so. Perhaps she had never cared for a friend or respected one as much as she did Mary Wulf. In many ways, she looked up to her, although again she wasnât exactly sure why.
âOkay, how are these?â Mary displayed her green sandals.
âHmm. Letâs see. Itâs not yet Labor Dayâbut itâs after St. Patrickâs Dayâso theyâre perfect.â Miranda started sifting through several discs. âCarole King I always hearâthat is, when Iâm here. Diana Krall? Could be. Nora Jones? Love her. Charlotte Church? Cute but I donât like mixing religion and surnames. Or perhaps some soprano arias byâhow do you pronounce this? Really Mary, what gives with these opera singersâ names? Mary patiently informed her that the name was pronounced âRenÃ©e Fleming.â
âHereâs one you like âVissi dâarteâ I know, I know.â Thatâs from Wagnerâs Toscaâright?
Almost. Itâs by Puccini. But Iâm impressed, Miranda. It wasnât long ago that you thought a âToscaâ was something new and tasty from âTaco Guaco.ââ
âHey. I was getting tired of burritos. So sue me.â
âYou should have gone to see the opera with me at the Met when it played a couple of years ago. Quite fabulous.â Mary had gone to Lincoln Center by herself while Gary was on a road trip with the Mets. It was at that performance that she began contemplating the possibility of saying goodbye to a husband and a way of life. But there would be no bows, no eruption of cheers, no flowers thrown at her feet. She wouldnât be surrounded by family and friends who would see the justice or inevitability of the split with Gary. His family and friends would of course view her as the villain. Gary wasnât agitating for a separation; he hadnât abused her in any way; he hadnât had an affair--at least as far as she knew. The scouting report his side would have on her would be nothing short of devastating. She was the one who had the affairâand with Garyâs agent no less. The line behind Judas wasnât very long, and sheâd have a prime place in it.
After the comfortable and exciting life Gary Wulf had provided her, she could do such a thing to himâand then want to leave him? She wanted badly to be taken out of the game, relieved of the responsibility of being Mrs. Gary Wulfâthe wife of one of the very few men good enough to make a successful career in Major League Baseball. She wanted to tell all the reporters in the locker room after the game was over that she couldnât help it. She had given it her all, but time had taken away the edge. She had lost her curve ball, her power, her speed on the bases. She had to call it a day. But Mary knew these now so familiar metaphors were literally what her husband was beginning to say about the past few years of his careerâabout the literal erosion of his athletic skillsâand she felt absolutely horrible for him.
âI know I should have gone to the Met with you, Mary. Itâs just that I donât like the kind of farewells you see at the end of operas. People dying and singing at the same time, with a knife sticking out of their throats. Ugghh. Too horrifying. That is, for a deeply sensitive soul like me.â Mirandaâs eyes met Maryâs and each understood what the other was trying to say with them. She knew Mary was thinking of âFarewellâ as some kind of grim literary personification, hovering over her and masking its intentions while it accelerated her anxiety. For a moment, Miranda didnât know where to go, but, as always, sports provided a welcome signpost. âSpeaking of the Met, Gary has been with them for how many years now?â
âThis is his sixth. He also played two transitional years with Colorado after his nine years with the Reds, before we came to New York.â Mary recited these facts without blinking her eyes. She now touched her blouseâso happy that she had chosen green. She could have told Miranda more about her husbandâs exploits, if her friend had the desire or capacity for remembering such specifics. She might then have reminded Miranda that when Gary was with the Reds he was an eight-time All-Star, twice National League Batting Champion. Just two home-runs shy in 2006 of winning the Triple Crown. That he made enough money to give his wife the kind of financial security very few women ever get. That he provided her with comfortable surroundings, money enough for her occasional desire for the lavish shopping spree, and time alone to pursue her needed diversions. Indeed, those needed diversions. Her friends, her occasional singing, and now another man.
âMary, I should know all that. Youâveâmy husbandâs--told me plenty of times. I just donât have the head for dates and statistics that youâmy Tony has.â Miranda was back in random comic mode again, convinced she could reanimate her closest friend. âI swear if my husband could recall the location of my erogenous zones as well as he does the middle initials of the eight guys who played third base for the 1962 Chicago White Sox, Iâd be one contented woman.â Miranda demanded that her friend enjoy the remarkâand Mary complied. Mary appreciated just how essential Miranda Peterson was to her life. She was always thereâwith her puns, with her bawdiness, with her teasing, and with her loving encouragement.
Mary sat on the arm of the sofa. âI wonder that theyâre saying about us about now?â
âTonight, Mary, our boys are in San Diego.â
âSan Francisco, actually. The first of three with the Giants.â Mary focused on the clock above the mantle of the fireplace. âItâs after 1:00 there. Heâs . . . theyâre probably through with lunch. How many road trips has your Tony taken this year with the Mets?â Mary again looked at the time and wondered how Sherry and the other two Sports Wives were doing in their life and death struggles with the traffic.
âThis would be, I believe, only this third. Been more of a homeboy this season. He actually once went twelve straight days without taking a sports-related trip.â Now it was Maryâs turn to provide the mock horror. Miranda ignored it. âThough I must say, Mary, that Tonyâs certainly had his share of epic sports travels over the past several months. Letâs see. In no particular order, this year heâs been to Churchill Downs for the Derby. Followed the Mets to St. Louis and Atlanta. He also went to Fenway Park for the intramural games the Mets played with the Yankees.â Mary reminded her that the proper term was âinterleague.â âBut I donât count going to the Bronx as a real trip. Anyway. Umm, Augusta for the Masters. Somewhere in the South for Tennisâor was it for bowling? Canât remember. Oh yes, in January up to Massachusetts for the KFC Championship game.â Mary asked if she meant âAFC.â Miranda said no. She was starving--that was why she said âKFC.â Again advising patience as a futile antidote to hunger, Mary felt once more buoyed by the familiar banter between them. Miranda continued. âAnd a few championship fights, some basketball, and who knows what else. Ah, the freedom of wealth. But Iâm in love.â
âWith the freedom, the wealth, or the man?â
âMary, dearest one, you know the answer to that. MÃ©nage Ã trois!â Maryâs smile seemed to Miranda only a bit qualified. Mary was laughing now at Tonyâs miscellaneous sports caravansâvery few on which Miranda ever ventured. And Miranda found a brief moment to think of the peculiar match she and her husband made. She knew of Tonyâs pathological obsession with all things sports when she first met him eight years ago, at the time she turned thirty. After he learned she was a highly successful novelistâhis library respectfully expansive but consisting of only one subject, of course--he demonstrated a gentlemanly regard for her career, restricting his inquiries to the way she worked as a writer, not to any feigned interest in her characters or plots. Miranda was especially pleased by his line of questioning, as no one had ever, at least socially, wished to know about the nuts and bolts of her craft. Tony had immediately made her feel comfortable, but more--appreciated and safe. Miranda knew she would never have to work to please him, as he was seemingly pleased just being around her. Pleased that she let him be him. Teasing him certainly, but more importantly indulging all of his sports-related activities and accoutrements without being part of them. Stepping over, around, and through a minefield of sports memorabilia filled her with neither frustration nor trepidation. Miranda appreciated what a good deal she had with Tony as a mate. Predictability and conservatismâtwo qualities that seemed like anathemas to her vivacious and daring personalityâmerged to form the very spine of her daily life.
âAnd you insist, Miranda, that Tonyâs never shown any jealousy over your success?â
âNor any reluctance to spend my money. Just kidding. No, Mary, to be fair--as a successful computer geek working out of the home, he makes enough to pay for all his trips. Of course, my money allows him to forego the bus and actually fly first-class all over the countryâand actually stay in nice hotelsâand actually eat decent meals.â
âAs you have so often told meâbut I ask againâno jealousy over the fact that his wife is Miranda Peterson, nationally . . .â Miranda interrupted with an âinternationally.â â . . . adored author of best-selling romance novels?â
âNo, and I mean that. You know Tony. Heâs never strays beyond the borders of his own little sports empire. Only drinks out of cups with team logos on them. You know, his Florida Marlin martinis? Wears little else but replica uniform jerseys.â Feeling her own stomach growl, Mary asked if he so bedecked himself on formal occasions. Miranda pointed to Maryâs stomach. âHeard that. No, on formal occasions itâs black tie and Cleveland Browns. More well-adjusted women might put on the latest hot number from Victoriaâs Secret and prepare for a night to remember. But in my case, I don a jock strap, a pair of shoulder pads, and catcherâs mask--and my forty-five year old tiger is rarinâ to go. Ruff.â
âAnd I know he sings a devastating âTake Me Out to the Ball Game.ââ Mary often saw herself as an engineer shoveling coal into the witty and amusing locomotive that was Miranda Peterson.
âHis âStar Spangled Bannerâ needs a little work, though. You know how low his voice is. Well, he always begins it in a tenorâs keyâor sopranoâsâand that part âand the la-a-a-nd of the freeeeeâ is so bad that weâve had five cats pack their litter boxes and move out of the house in the last year alone. Thatâs why we finally had to get a dog. Maybe you should give Tony voice lessons, Mary.â Mary was reminded that since she had no children, she ought to spend more time teaching voice. She would love to do thatâif she had more time. Yes. Time. More time. She wondered if there was still time or was it that now was the time? She wanted more time but she was running out of it. Miranda saw her friendâs fingers touch the bottom of her lower lipâthe tell-tale sign that Mary Wulf was once more giving in to her fears.
âMary, I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this weekend.â
âYouâre really going to like Sherry, Miranda.â Mary stared intently at Mirandaâs left wrist. When she needed a brief moment alone with her feelings, she refused to look anyone in the eye.
âSo . . . also soon to arrive are the pro football playerâs wife and the PGA golferâs bride.â Mary nodded and lowered her hand, providing her mouth the room to smile. The other two were coming together from La Guardia. They had called Mary earlier and she assumed they would arrive any moment as well. They might even beat Sherry.
âRand told me that her flight arrived on time and that she was waiting for Kipâs to land. Iâm sure they had no trouble getting a rental.â Miranda wanted to twist her head around in a circle. Did she really hear Mary correctly? Rand and Kip? âMiranda, didnât I ever tell you their names?â Miranda shook her head in that highly exaggerated manner that denoted incredulity. âRand Connor was born with the name Randee Lynn Beaufort. But as you will soon see, Miranda, sheâs not a Randee Lynn.â
âOkay. But what about Clipâor Crip?â Miranda and names. Natural enemies. Mary said that she would let Kip explain that oneâbut Miranda was certain she was a pretty young thing, to say the least. Miranda puckered her lips like an experienced crone. âOh, good. Someone to hate.â
âNo, Miranda. No hating. Just bonding. Sports Wives, remember?â
âFirst Annual Meeting. Got it. And good on the name too. Now refresh my memory. When did you meet the other three again?â Miranda sat down in one of the easy chairs, certain that she was weakening owing to starvation. She made a little finger gesture to Mary suggesting food going into mouth. She did a simply superb job of simulating a difficult death in an easy chair.
âI met Sherry in Cincinnati when Gary played for the Reds. And I met Rand and Kip at a party David threw four years ago for his new clients. Randâs Jeff, Kipâs Chris, and my . . . husband.â
âWhoa, whoa, partner. Too many namesânot enough chips. Iâm not good with names even when Iâm stuffed.â Mary had never been able to resolve this bizarre paradox. She asked how Miranda could have that much trouble with names considering all the characters she had created over the years. âYes, but I write them down, remember?â Miranda knew better, but the opportunity defied all restraint. No time was going to be a good time. Therefore, why the hell not? Miranda didnât even offer Mary a heads-up by clearing her throat. âAnd just how is that sports agent extraordinaire, Mr. David Rowe these days?â
Maryâs heart halted and then accelerated at the sound of his name from another pair of lips other than her own. âMiranda, not now.â Yet Maryâs voice belied the assertion. Miranda hesitated for a few seconds, and then rejected the impulse to pursue the matter at this time. Still, she was sure that Mary was simply dying to tell her everything about her relationship with her husbandâs agent. Yes, Miranda was sure about that. She just wasnât sure that Mary really understood that she was really dying to tell Miranda everything about that relationship.
âOkay, Mary. So youâve got Sherry coming from Ohio and the other two from . . .?â Mary replied that Rand was flying in from Maryland and Kip from Chicago. Having spent several years in the Chicago area when she was in her twenties, Miranda was curious to know exactly where Kip lived. âShe doesnât live in Chicago, Miranda. She lives in Denver.â Mary thought it was interesting how her friendâs top lip vibrated whenever she was confused. âSheâs flying in from Chicago.â No help to Miranda. âWhere she visited her parentsâwho just moved there from San Diego.â Miranda nodded, implying cautiously at any rate that she was all straightened out now. âAnd you cruised in from next door.â
âI did? Gee, Mary, all of these women coming from all parts of the good old USA just to see you. What an ego trip. Should make you feel like singing.â
A lovely melody began playing in Maryâs mind, but in an instant it was obliterated by the blaring sound of a car horn in her driveway.
About the Author
During his career as Professor of English at the University of Georgia, John Vance was the author of six books and numerous articles devoted to literary biography and criticism. He also began indulging his love of theater as actor, director, and playwright, with thirty-five of his plays staged. Now he has turned exclusively to fiction, and is the author of fourteen novels, including the humorous memoir Setting Sail for Golden Harbor and the recently BookBub featured In Mind of the Vampire. He lives in Athens, Georgia with his wife Susan.
Your one stop spot for delicious food and books you’ll devour!