O: Grapefruit oolong tea #AtoZChallenge

I started drinking tea about ten years ago. Over that time I’ve tasted a lot of different teas and learned about the various growing regions and seasons. Black tea is generally my go-to variety, particularly Yunnan golden, Keemun and Assam.

Every once and a while, I pick up an oolong. I tend to order from Adagio most often, and this last order I got a sample of a grapefruit oolong, which I finally tried this morning. I had doubts how well this combo would work, but it was actually quite tasty.

What’s your favorite cup of tea?

M: Monica’s Match (my new release) #AtoZChallenge

I’m in full-on promo mode for my new release. I sent out a newsletter yesterday with details on the release, plus some contests and parties going on to celebrate. You can see it here.

And here’s all kinds of info about my book:

Monica has the ability to see a guy’s aura light up the first time he touches his soul mate, but she’s kept it a secret since her parents shamed her as a child. Still, she decides to start her own matchmaking company—even if she doesn’t advertise her unique ability. Business is so-so until she gets a call to find matches for the singles of the small town of Perry Grove. She’s not looking for love herself but has an immediate attraction to one of her clients. Too bad another woman lit up his aura.

Hunky dairy farmer Jeremiah wants nothing to do with his grandpa’s hare-brained matchmaking scheme but agrees to play along to appease the man who raised him.  But when he meets the sexy matchmaker, he starts to rethink his single status. Too bad she’s intent on pairing him up with another woman. If there’s one thing he knows, though, it’s how to be stubborn.

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 Excerpt:

The matchmaker was two hours late. Jeremiah Thompson already didn’t want to be here. However, since hiring a matchmaker for Perry Grove’s singles was his grandpa’s hare-brained scheme, here he waited with strict instructions to stay in the Sunday school classroom by himself. Evidently the matchmaker liked to “observe initial meetings,” as his grandpa had quoted from the matchmaker’s instruction guide. A guide Jeremiah hadn’t bothered to read because he had no intention of losing his bachelorhood anytime soon.

He’d given up on the kid chairs about twenty minutes in and now had his legs sprawled in front of him on the floor and his back against one of the brightly colored cinder-block walls. Tossing his Lego creation to the side with disgust, he hoisted himself to his feet. “Screw this.” He stormed out the door and headed straight toward the fellowship-hall-turned-waiting-area for the eligible bachelorettes. Of course they had adult chairs and refreshments.

He stopped at the end of the hallway and ran a hand through his short hair. As if he was going to find his soul mate through a matchmaker. Especially when he wasn’t even looking for a soul mate, no matter how much his grandparents wanted him to.

The temptation to sneak out the back stairway and return to the list of chores he had to accomplish at the family dairy farm almost won out. Then he recalled how happy his grandma had looked that morning when he’d stopped by her house after the morning milking. She’d fussed over him and then cupped his cheek, a wide smile and a dab of flour on her work-worn face. “I think this is going to a be a good day for you, Jeremiah. I just feel it.”

Guilt hit him square in the gut. He could go through the motions for a day at least. According to his grandpa, who was hovering in the parking lot waiting for the errant matchmaker, she’d had a flat tire on her way to Perry Grove but was due to show up anytime now. However, he was tired of waiting. It was time to take matters into his own hands.

He scanned the crowd of about twenty eligible women in the church’s fellowship hall, landing on a curvy blonde showing way too much cleavage. Her short skirt and spike heels screamed city girl. Five minutes at his barn and she’d be running for the hills—at least she would be if she could run in those impractical shoes. The perfect quarry to ensure his matchmaking adventure ended quickly and unsuccessfully so he could get back to his real life managing the farm.

Erasing the smirk from his face with each step, he approached his target. “Excuse me. Are you interested in starting without the matchmaker?”

The woman swiveled to face him, her overlarge blue eyes so vivid she had to be wearing contacts. “A rule breaker. I like it.” With a predatory smile, she placed a hand on his left biceps and squeezed. “Lead away, sugar.”

Sugar? Really? He was hard pressed not to roll his eyes. Instead he nodded and led her to the Sunday school room. At least now he could tell his grandparents he tried and it didn’t work out.

***

Monica Morgan slammed the door of her red Camry and kicked the offending tire for good measure. “Ow. Darn it!” Her sensible black flats were no match for the doughnut wheel. Smooth move, Sherlock. Get your head in the game. You need this job or your business is toast.

She took a moment for one deep breath then hurried to the entrance of the Perry Grove United Methodist Church. Before she reached the double door, it swung open and Ed Thompson greeted her with a kind smile. His white hair was a bit shaggier around the edges than when they’d met in person seven weeks ago. She’d spent that afternoon in Perry Grove meeting with only the town council, as she had a strict rule that she couldn’t come into contact with any potential bachelors or bachelorettes in public.

That edict had raised a few eyebrows, but in the end she had sold them on her “process” with no mention of the true reason for the rules. No one needed to know she saw a guy’s aura light up the first time he made physical contact with his soul mate. In a public setting, even one as small as Perry Grove, she ran the risk that more than one woman or man could brush against a man at the same time and mess up Monica’s aura-reading mojo. So she insisted on one-on-one intake interviews with each client early on. Then she oversaw each potential couple’s first contact with no other parties in the room under the guise of wanting to see their first impressions of each other in a closed environment.

Now that she was here for her extended stay, Mr. and Mrs. Thompson would be her hosts for the next month.
Mr. Thompson held the door for her. “Glad to see you made it in one piece. Lucky you were close enough you could make it on a doughnut, but now that you’re here, Sherman’ll get it fixed right up for you. He already ordered the tire. It’ll be in tomorrow.”

Pasting on her best professional smile, she headed down the walkway, hoping he hadn’t witnessed her meltdown. “Glad to be here and to see you again, Mr. Thompson.”

The crinkle around his cornflower-blue eyes deepened with his smile. “At your service. And I told you before to call me Ed. Now let’s get you settled. We have the bachelorettes from the dating pool in the fellowship hall downstairs and the bachelor in an adjacent room, as you requested. Pat Staley—she’s the church secretary in case you don’t remember her—called all the men for today to let them know the appointments have been pushed back a few hours.”

She did remember meeting Pat briefly, as she had made a point of recording everyone’s name, occupation, and relationships in the town. “Thank you for taking care of that, Mr. Thompson. I apologize again—”

He waved a dismissive hand as they reached the stairs. “Ed. And there’s nothing you can do about a flat tire except deal with it.”

She rolled her shoulders to ease some of her tension. She hated being late. “So your grandson is still up first, correct?” An involuntary shiver echoed through her just thinking about her first client’s dimpled smile and the striking blue eyes that stared at her from the photo she’d received along with his profile information—and how inappropriate that thought was. No dating clients.

“Don’t look so glum, girl. No one blames you for being late. Although, I should warn you that Jeremiah isn’t too excited to use your services. I have to admit I strong-armed him a bit, and he’s been stuck in the Sunday school room for a few hours. I was afraid if I let him leave, I’d never get him back, if you know what I mean.” He laughed and winked conspiratorially.

Well, that explained why he was one of the few clients for this job who hadn’t made the time to come meet with her at her office in Grand Rapids. This day just kept getting better and better. She focused on the steps. Grace wasn’t her strong suit, which was the main reason she wore flats for business and not heels. Not that she hadn’t tripped in flats before.

Mr. Thompson paused at the door to the fellowship hall. “Now, I don’t mean to scare you. He’ll behave himself. My wife and I are getting older, and we just want to see him settled and happy.”

Looking into his kind eyes, it was obvious how much he loved his grandson. The desire to help people find their happily ever after was why she was here—well, that and the money. With that pragmatic thought, her eyes lost their momentary mistiness. “I best get started. Point me in the right direction.”

He opened the door and ushered her in. She smiled politely at the single women and returned the wave from Edna Murray and Bea Walters, who were manning the refreshment station. She’d met the two older women during her planning session with the town council. Edna and her husband Gary owned the hardware store in town. Bea was a retired schoolteacher who’d appointed herself the town social coordinator and was Monica’s main contact for the biweekly social dances scheduled throughout her stay.

Ed also waved to Edna and Bea, then pointed to his right. “Down that hall. First door on the right.”

“Thank you.” She put on her practiced confident smile as she set off down the hall, her shoes making a quiet susurration on the threadbare, brownish carpeting. This was by far the most complex job she’d undertaken in the eight months she’d been in the matchmaking business, and she didn’t want to disappoint Ed or the other town council members. Everyone was so excited and hopeful that she’d find matches for their singles before any more of the younger generation gave up and moved away.

At the door, she paused and took a deep breath. She disliked the unknown of the meeting-the-client part of her job. Some had unrealistic expectations; others had no idea what they wanted. Some treated her like a therapist, and still others were just plain whacked. She’d yet to meet someone who had been coerced into the process as Jeremiah had. This was going to be fun.

Yeah, right.

She put her hand on the doorknob but paused again when she heard the murmuring of voices. Jeremiah should be alone, so she wondered if he was talking to himself. In different voices? Maybe he would fall into the whacked category after all. Or…

She flung the door open to see him seated on a table next to a buxom blonde with ridiculously high heels and an equally ridiculous low-cut top. Monica’s ire flared. “You didn’t follow instructions. I was clear that each client could not meet his or her potential dates until I was present.”

He didn’t flinch. Not a hint of remorse on his handsome face. “Monica, I presume? You were supposed to be here hours ago.”

She put an indignant fist on one hip. “You know very well I had a flat tire and had to wait for AAA.”

The blonde giggled, as unrepentant as her partner in crime. Monica was sure this was Cathy Sanders, but she’d still check her profile database.

She was about to continue her castigation when her inner voice suggested that she’d let her frustrated anger rule and consequently wasn’t acting professional. Darn it!

She took another deep breath to resume her cool, detached façade and looked first at Cathy and then Jeremiah. His blue eyes held a spark of wicked mirth that made it very hard to keep her voice level. “I apologize. I didn’t intend to berate you, but my process is very specific.” Although in hindsight, she realized that having the two of them alone didn’t actually screw up her ability. She just needed to be there the first time they touched in front of her to know if his aura was going to light up or not. “Let’s get started, shall we? I am, as you surmised, Monica Morgan of Monica’s Matchmaking.”

Jeremiah stood with a lackadaisical air that set her teeth on edge. He seemed entirely too amused by her discomfiture. Or maybe this was just his way of rebelling against his grandparents’ meddling. He reached a hand toward her to shake, but Cathy rose and laid her hand on his arm, halting the movement. Monica pulled her hand back quickly, not wanting to make the situation more awkward as Jeremiah said, “Pleasure to meet you, Monica.” He didn’t sound pleased, which made her heart sink. Very irrationally, she thought.

It was also irrational that she felt a mix of relief and disappointment that his aura had just lit up at Cathy’s touch.

Her gaze skimmed first his muscled profile in a casual button-down and worn jeans. She bet his behind looked mighty good in those pants. Her perusal ended at his slightly mud-encrusted work boots, which didn’t hamper his attractiveness one darn bit. She liked a man with a work ethic.

Yeah, she needed to wrap this up.

She studied Cathy next, from the woman’s high-heeled shoes to her perfectly coiffed hair and copious makeup. These two didn’t look like a match to her, but her mojo had never been wrong. Her libido had to suck it up, and maybe now Jeremiah would stop invading her more erotic dreams.

“So tell me how you two ended up in here together.”

Cathy cut off his reply. “Jeremiah chose me out of the crowd.” She leaned into him, squishing her ample breasts against his arm. He stiffened and looked like he wanted to pull away.

“I see. Let me just look up your profiles.” She pulled out her smartphone and started to fiddle. She didn’t need to see their profiles, but it served as cover since she didn’t advertise the whole aura-reading thing. As a child, she’d told her parents she sometimes saw men with neon-green light around them. They hadn’t believed her. When she wouldn’t let it go, they drilled into her head that most people would freak out about her ability and that she’d better keep her mouth shut. She still wasn’t sure they’d ever believed her, but they had taken her to their pastor for prayers and anointing with oil.

Pushing that unpleasant memory away, she pretended to read her smartphone for a few moments longer. “Looks like you two did the work for me. You’re a match.”

L: Life’s ups and downs #AtoZChallenge

Today I was going to talk about how lucky I am to be able to be a writer an to be releasing my fourth book on this very day. Then my husband woke me up at 5:30 AM because our dog couldn’t walk. We rushed her to the hospital. About twenty minutes ago, the doctor told us that she might have a brain tumor or she might just have idiopathic “old dog” vestibular disease. The only way to know for sure today would be to get an MRI, which is a *quite* pricey. So instead we’ll wait to see if she improves and go from there.

Sashi in younger days. This was not long after we adopted her. We figure she was about seven. That makes her 13 now.

I’m still lucky to be a writer and have a new book. I’m lucky to have a great, supportive husband, as well as friends and family. I’m lucky to live in a place where my dog can get treatment, even if it ends up mostly being supportive care for her final days.

I’m also on an up-and-down emotional ride, but, then, aren’t we all?

K: Foster kittens (cuteness and mess) #AtoZChallenge

Our current foster kittens: Ludo, Gordon, Floki and William.

My husband and I foster kittens several times a year. We’ve been doing this for 15 years now through a local animal shelter. Usually we get groups of two to six kittens who are too young to be adopted. Sometimes they have moms and we go through a weaning process with them (and drying out for momma kitty). More often they are without a mother. Once we even had a pregnant mom give birth at our house (to SEVEN! kittens).

Our latest group of four had a few days of bottle feeding before they got the hang of eating a watery gruel of canned kitten food and KMR (Kitten Milk Replacement). A few weeks later, they are now eating canned food and starting on kibble. About half the kittens we foster either come to us with a respiratory or gastrointestinal illness or develop one shortly thereafter. So far so good on that front with the current batch.

Lars was our second “foster failure.” He was with us while a bite wound healed (hence the collar). His hair has grown in now so you can’t see any scar.

I love helping kittens grow. Many are feral, and hiss and make themselves puffy before they learn that we aren’t there to hurt them. Others just aren’t too sure about humans yet. There’s nothing like the day when a kitten crawls in my lap and starts to purr.

Really young kittens are super messy. They tromp through their water dishes and food dishes. Then they tromp through the litter box with wet kitten feet. Then they tromp back through the water dish and leave behind specks of clay litter. Little paw prints mark the floor. And the smell. Kittens poop A LOT! At least most naturally use the litter box though. I’m not sure I could handle house training a puppy. :) I try to focus on how cute they are when they purr, sleep, and play with such joyful abandon when I’m really tired of cleaning up AGAIN.

Lux was our first foster failure. She’s a sassy troublemaker!

Most people are shocked that we can give up the kittens when they’re grown up enough to find their forever homes. I think those people have never had six hyper kittens running around their house at 2 in the morning. :) It’s never easy to say goodbye. Sometimes I cry. I did more in the early years. And we’ve had two “foster failures”–kittens who ended up adopted by us. Not too many considering the hundreds who’ve come through our doors.

In the end, we keep fostering because every kitten we take in is a kitten who doesn’t end up euthanized. And a lot end up euthanized. Millions of cats every year in the U.S. Spay and neuter, folks!

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