Today’s guest blogger is Judith Arnold. Like a lot of us, she’s been working hard to get her backlist books in digital format and this week, you lucky readers, not only do you get an excerpt from her latest, Cry Uncle, but if you like it, it’s free for a limited time!
And speaking of FREE, we’re in the last few days of Through A Dark Mist being free, so if you want it…better get it *s*
Without further ado, welcome Judith:
I’m so glad Marsha’s given me the opportunity to chat with you all. The best thing about being a writer is connecting with readers. Writing can be a joy or a torment, publishing is a crazy-making business, but being able to share my thoughts and stories with readers makes everything worthwhile.
A little about me: I started “writing” before I could write. As a young child, I loved hearing bedtime stories before I fell asleep, but sometimes no one was around to tell me a story. When I complained to my older sister about this, she said, “Tell yourself a story.” So I started making stories up. I’m not sure exactly when I started writing my stories down, but I do have a copy of a story I wrote when I was six years old. So I’ve been writing a long time!
After college, I worked for a while in the theater, writing plays. My first love was fiction, however. My first published novel came out in 1983, and I’ve been a full-time novelist ever since.
I grew up inNew Yorkand currently live with my husband in a picturesqueNew Englandtown. We have two wonderful sons who refuse to read my books because they have sex in them, and reading a sex scene written by Mom is just a bit too icky. Fortunately, their friends read my novels and assure my boys that their Mom is a really good writer. Needless to say, I love my sons’ friends!
I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Cry Uncle:
“LET’S SEE, NOW: you’ve got something old—” Kitty gestured toward the gold locket strung on a chain around Pamela’s neck “—and something new—” she tapped the white satin headband around which Pamela’s pale blond hair was arranged. Two more dabs with a cosmetics brush in the vicinity of Pamela’s eyes, and then Kitty hauled Pamela off the toilet seat and guided her to the mirror above the sink, so Pamela could see for herself the lush blue eye shadow Kitty had applied. “Something borrowed and something blue,” she said, snapping shut the cake of shadow and beaming proudly at her handiwork.
Pamela stared at the borrowed blue make-up, wondering whether two of the traditional bridal requirements could be met with a single item. Not that such details mattered. This wedding was a farce. Kitty knew it as well as Pamela did.
“I should have bought a new dress,” she grumbled, scrutinizing the sleeveless white shift that emphasized the ruler-straight lines of her physique. “This thing looks like an oversize undershirt.”
“It looks wonderful,” Kitty assured her, preening beside her in a strapless flowered sun dress. “Anyway, it’s white. How do I look?”
“Spectacular,” Pamela said, meaning it. Kitty’s cleavage bisected her sun-bronzed upper chest. The flare of her dress emphasized her narrow waist. Her bright blond hair glowed. Pamela wondered whether anyone would even notice the bride standing in the shadow of her bridesmaid’s resplendence.
“I’m so excited,” Kitty squealed. “I’ve been married four times, but I’ve never been a maid of honor. Ever hear the expression, ‘Never a bridesmaid, always a bride’?” When Pamela didn’t smile, Kitty slid her arm around Pamela’s narrow shoulders and gave her a comforting squeeze. “Trust me, Pamela—this is going to be the party of the summer. A major blast. You’re going to have a great time.”
Pamela had never thought of weddings in terms of blasts, major or otherwise. She’d certainly never thought of her own wedding that way. A wedding ought to be a solemn occasion. Relinquishing one’s freedom shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Of course, Pamela had relinquished her freedom the moment she’d telephoned the police and announced that she’d witnessed a murder. Compared to that, marrying Jonas Brenner was hardly significant.
“You did say he cleaned up the Shipwreck,” she half-asked.
“We all did—Lois, Brick, me and a few others. You’re not going to recognize the place.” She marched Pamela into the bedroom, deftly navigating through the clutter, and lifted two bouquets from her unmade bed. Gardenias, Pamela noted wryly. Not exactly the sort of blossom she associated with weddings. When she thought of gardenias she thought of sultry Southern weather and fading Southern belles, and…
Sex. Gardenias implied eroticism, something hot and steamy and private.
With a weak smile, she accepted her bouquet from Kitty and followed her out of the flat. The late-afternoon air was sweltering. Pamela felt as if she were wading through sludge as she descended the stairs to the parking lot. By the time she reached Kitty’s ancient VW Beetle, she was drenched with sweat.
She settled onto the passenger seat and cranked down the window. Her palms were soaked, and she let the bouquet rest in her lap so she wouldn’t accidentally drop it onto the floor, which was littered with fast-food wrappers, bent straws and sand.
“Nuptial jitters,” Kitty said sympathetically as she coaxed the engine to life. “I had them before my first and third weddings. Don’t worry—a couple of beers and you’ll be feeling fine.”
Pamela eyed Kitty warily. “Jonas promised he’d have champagne.”
“Oh, yeah, sure—if you like that stuff. Me, I find it gives me a roaring headache. Plus, it’s too sweet. Tastes like soda-pop.”
Pamela considered explaining vintages to Kitty, and the difference between sec and brut, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. No doubt the champagne Joe would serve at a place like the Shipwreck would be just what Kitty predicted—sweet and guaranteed to cause a crippling hangover.
The drive took only five minutes. Emerging from the car, Pamela heard a cacophony of voices through the Shipwreck’s screened front door, on which was hung a sign that read “Closed for private party.” Judging by the noise, Pamela doubted the party was all that private. It sounded as if Joe had invited the island’s entire population to this shindig.
Before she could either march bravely into the bar or else come to her senses and flee, Kitty grabbed her arm and ushered her around the building, up an alley and into the small back lot where Jonas had offered his hand in marriage less than a week ago. “You can’t go in the front door,” Kitty reminded her. “No one can see the bride before the wedding.”
“What are we going to do? Stand out here roasting in the sun?”
Kitty ignored the exasperation in Pamela’s tone. “I’ll sneak you into Joe’s office. Hang on.” She opened the back door a crack, releasing a blast of boisterous voices. It sounded as if the party was already well under way.
Pamela glanced at her watch.Four forty-seven. The ceremony was supposed to start atfive o’clock. Jonas had taken charge of the invitations, and Pamela had no idea what time he’d told people to arrive. InSeattle, wedding guests generally came at the hour the service was scheduled to begin—and early arrivals were not served liquor.
Who cares? she muttered inwardly as, baking in the merciless heat, she waited for Kitty to sneak her into the office. Who cared if her wedding guests were three sheets to the wind? Who cared if she was getting married in a seedy bar, surrounded by strangers?
To her surprise, Pamela realized that she cared. If she’d resolved to get married, she should have asserted herself a bit on the particulars: a chapel, not a bar. A morning service followed by a brunch for a few close friends—although in Pamela’s case, the only locals who could pass for friends—not close ones, at that—were Joe, Kitty, and Lizard. But the event should have had at least a modicum of class.
Tears dampened her lashes. She hastily wiped her eyes before Kitty returned to the back lot to fetch her. “Come on,” Kitty whispered, as if anyone could have heard her over the din in the main barroom.
Pamela let Kitty lead her inside, down the back hall and through a door. Jonas’s office was a small room taken up with an old, chipped desk, an even older-looking swivel chair, a tattered sofa, and a few file cabinets. Crayon drawings decorated the walls, and a cardboard carton in a corner held assorted toys. Pamela peeked inside and saw a tricorn hat, a rubber knife and what appeared to be a cheesily constructed prosthetic hook.
“That’s Lizard’s stuff,” Kitty explained the box. When Pamela dared to pick up the plastic hook, Kitty added, “That’s part of her pirate costume. You should see her when she gets all decked out as a pirate—the eye patch, the peg-leg, the gun… It’s adorable.”
I can imagine, Pamela thought wryly. “Why does she store her toys in Joe’s office?”
“So she’ll have something to play with when she’s hanging out here.”
“Here? What on earth would a little girl be doing in a bar?”
“Well, it’s not like she’s knocking back a few,” Kitty explained. “But if Joe has a baby-sitting snafu or something, he brings her along with him. She used to spend lots of time here when she was younger. He had a little port-a-crib set up in here for her to sleep in. Although sometimes it was hard to get her down with the juke box going, or if there was an especially rowdy crowd, so we’d bring her into the main room—”
“The bar?” Pamela couldn’t believe it. An innocent, defenseless little girl spending her evenings in a bar?
Then again, innocent and defenseless weren’t appropriate words to describe Lizard. In a brawl among a group of drunken brutes, Pamela would bet on Lizard to land the most punches.
“Everybody in the bar loves her. Me and Lois, even Brick. And the customers. And Joe, of course, most of all. It’s not like he wants to bring her here, but he’s got to earn a living and he can’t just leave her home alone. His mom was supposed to be Lizard’s baby-sitter, but sometimes she didn’t come through. Great lady, but less than a hundred percent dependable. And now she’s off inMexicodigging up bones—”
“That’s the rumor.” Kitty swung out the door, calling over her shoulder, “I’m gonna see if we’re ready to roll.”
Pamela sighed. She wasn’t ready to roll. She wondered if it was too late to bail out of this charade. Surely people had been stranded at the altar with far less cause. And there wasn’t even an altar at the Shipwreck.
But if she didn’t marry Joe, where would she go? She was tired of running, and she’d literally reached the end of the road. And even if Joe’s child-rearing strategies included bringing Lizard to the bar, he deserved to keep his niece.
Pamela wasn’t a quitter. She followed through on things, finished what she started and obeyed the dictates of her conscience. Right now, her conscience was telling her she couldn’t jilt Jonas Brenner.
Kitty returned to the office, smiling brightly. “It’s show time,” she announced. “Brick’s got the boom box set up, the judge is here, and you’re about to tie the knot.”
Swallowing a lump of emotion—part rue, part dread, part sheer panic—Pamela straightened her shoulders and joined Kitty at the door. They tiptoed out into the hall as a tinny rendering of the Wedding March resounded through the small speakers of a portable stereo atop the juke box.
As Kitty had promised, the barroom had been spruced up. The tables, pushed to the perimeter of the room, were all draped in white paper table cloths, and white satin ribbons had been looped over the exposed rafters and the steering-wheel clock. A strip of what appeared to be unbleached muslin lay the length of the room. Although chairs had been arranged on either side of the runner, most of the guests were standing, peering toward the front of the room, where a silver-haired man in a straw hat and a dapper seersucker suit stood before a table which was bedecked with flowers. Pamela assumed he was the judge.
Lizard abruptly appeared at the rear edge of the bar, near where Pamela and Kitty were standing. Nudged by a wizened dark-skinned woman in a caftan trimmed with feathers, Lizard started down the muslin runner. She wore a cotton sun-suit with a pretty floral pattern—not a dress, but infinitely more respectable than a plastic hula skirt or pajamas. Her hair was half braided, half loose, and she carried a bouquet of peacock and gull feathers.
Pamela couldn’t see her face, a fact for which she was grateful. She knew Lizard didn’t care much for her. Lizard’s reluctant shuffle down the aisle, her feathers fluttering and her steps making clicking sounds as her rubber sandals slapped the bare soles of her feet, told Pamela all she needed to know about the child’s opinion of her uncle’s wedding.
She shifted her gaze from Lizard to the wedding guests. Perhaps they’d been whooping it up before, but now they were still and nearly silent, respecting the sanctity of the occasion. It looked to Pamela as if at least a hundred people were crammed into the room. In her plain white cotton shift, she seemed to be the most elegantly dressed person present.
It isn’t really a wedding, she told herself, but the thought rang false in her soul. A thousand-dollar wedding dress, engraved invitations, a live organist and a sun-filled church weren’t what made a wedding real. When she stared down the long, wrinkled strip of muslin to the judge at the other end, she knew this was a real wedding. Her wedding.
The comprehension staggered her. She reached out to grab Kitty, but she was too late; her matron of honor was already sauntering down the aisle, sending her smile to the left and to the right and occasionally acknowledging a familiar face with a cheerful wave. Pamela remained alone at the rear of the barroom, gathering her wits and praying that going through with this marriage wasn’t even a bigger mistake than testifying against Mick Morrow had been.
From the front of the bar, Kitty turned and beckoned Pamela with a crook of her finger. Pamela felt the assembled guests turn en masse to stare at her. The hum of voices she heard as she took her first step onto the runner was no doubt not the hushed murmurs of people admiring a beautiful bride but rather Joe’s friends whispering, “Who the hell is she? Where did he find her?”
Once again she had to resist the urge to bolt. Holding her head high, squeezing her gardenia bouquet, she walked sedately down the aisle, refusing to glance to either side, refusing to admit that she felt queasy. She concentrated on the judge’s benign smile and counted her steps, maintaining a slow, courtly pace.
The late afternoon sunlight sifted through the windows, casting the front of the room in a golden glow. When she was nearly at her destination, Joe stepped forward to greet her.
Pamela froze. Not from fear, not from panic, but from the shock of her response to him. He looked tall, relaxed and absolutely sure of himself. His hair was brushed back from his face, his cheeks were clean-shaven, and his glorious blue eyes seemed to connect with her, communicating that this was okay, everything was going to be okay, she was going to make it to the end of the muslin runner without losing her lunch. He wasn’t quite smiling, but she noticed his dimple. And his earring, a tiny gold heart that caught the light and glittered.
Clad in a white linen blazer, a brightly patterned shirt and cotton slacks, with an orchid pinned to his lapel, he was put together as informally as she was. But he looked…if not like a husband, at least like a man who didn’t regret having chosen Pamela for his wife.
He also looked extraordinarily handsome.
Pamela recalled her first impression of him—that he looked like a bum. Not all that much had changed since then. His hair was still way too long, and the laughter in his eyes seemed teasing, and of course he had a hole through his ear. And yet… It wasn’t just because none of his apparel was obviously torn, or because he had suddenly transformed into a model out of GQ, but… In the instant her gaze locked with his, Pamela honestly believed marrying him was the right thing to do.
For a complete list of Judith’s books, visit her website: http://www.juditharnold.com/