Tuesday, July 31, 2012

CJ Carmichael - The Home Office of My Dreams

Are you addicted to home improvement projects? I am. My kids claim there isn’t a room in our house that hasn’t been changed since they were little. Until this year they were wrong—my office was the one room in our house that hadn’t been touched (other than with paint.)

When we moved into our house about eighteen years ago I considered myself lucky that I had an office—my own separate room with a door and a window—where I could write. I didn’t have to write on the kitchen table or lock myself in the bathroom to get a little privacy. No, I was fortunate enough to have my own space and so I didn’t fuss too much about the sticky drawers, the poor lighting, the lack of storage. Over the years I added more and more stuff into my space, all the time dreaming of one day designing my perfect office.

Year after year I sat in this place and wrote books. In fact, about 32 of them. During this time we renovated almost every other room in our house. We redid the kitchen and bathrooms. Updated the basement. Replaced carpet with hardwood.

Finally this year I decided it was time to tackle the office. I made a list of what I wanted: more storage, better lighting, a huge bulletin board so I could map out my stories and put up inspirational pictures. I wanted a pretty, feminine space. A comfy chair and footstool for reading and editing.

I enlisted some help. Rose-ann from Normandeau Interiors consulted on the design and the cabinetry was designed and constructed by Sean at Athena Industries in Calgary.

The end result was this: Fabulous new desk, bookshelves, and file storeage—and check out the glitzy new light fixture:

My new story board takes up one entire wall and gives me lots of space for planning my stories and putting up inspirational photos.

And my pretty new chair is a great, comfy spot for reading, relaxing and enjoying my lovely new office!

Thanks to Rose-Ann and Sean for helping me achieve the office of my dream!
And thanks to my guy Mike for putting up with all the chaos we went through to get here. ;)

Which room in your house would you most like to renovate? Tell me about your renovation dreams and I’ll select one random winner to receive a copy of Cathy McDavid’s Harlequin American: Aidan: Rodeo Cowboy.

The year I worked with Cathy and 4 other super talented authors to create the 6 book Harts of the Rodeo series. You can see an amazing book trailer introducing the series here:
My book, Colton: Rodeo Cowboy (written in my ‘old’ office) will be available on August 7.

CJ Carmichael

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A pause in the usual programming... by Natalie Anderson

So did you watch the opening of the Olympic Games?!?! I did and I loved it. Here in New Zealand we could watch the live coverage from the very reasonable time of 8.a.m. Saturday morning. I loved the bit about the reference to the UK childrens' literary tradition and the hospital service--that giant Voldemort and the million Mary Poppinses! Was awesome. And of course Mr Bean was brilliant. So was Bond with the Queen - how cool she was cool enough to get on board with that!

Most of the sporting events over the next two weeks will be on the middle of the night but happily, there'll be a million replays. And of course there's always caffeine.

I love the Olympics - there's the aspiration, inspiration, an abundant display of the joy of youth, the incredible ability and grace of the human race. And the sheer energy that seems to ripple around the world even when you're just watching it 'on the box'. There's also heartbreak and so many 'if onlys'. But it is wonderful. That said,  I'm glad they're only every four years - it makes it super-special, don't you think?

So it's just a short post from me today, because I have much men's diving, rowing and swimming to watch. Not to mention that modern pentathlon--what an amazing array of skills you need to compete in that!!!

Are you watching the Olympics over the next couple of weeks? What's your favourite event???

USA TODAY bestseller Natalie Anderson writes fun, frisky, feels-good contemporary romance. With over twenty books published, she’s also been a Romantic Times Award nominee & a finalist for the R*BY (Romantic Book of the Year). She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand with her husband, four children and what feels like a million ducks. Her next release, WAKING UP IN THE WRONG BED is on the shelves in North America in August and you can grab  a copy from Amazon or B&N.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Our Fascination with Vampires - Jess Haines

Hello there!  Jess Haines here.  I’m the author of the urban fantasy H&W Investigations series (HUNTED BY THE OTHERS, TAKEN BY THE OTHERS, DECEIVED BY THE OTHERS, and the recently released STALKING THE OTHERS). 

As cheesy and ridiculous as most media involving vampires can be, I love them dearly.  Movies, TV shows, games, books—even music videos—there’s a little something for everyone. 

One of the first books I read about vampires was by R.L. Stine (I believe it was GOODNIGHT KISS). When I was younger, I loved reading his Fear Street novels, and devoured as many of them as I could get my hands on.  After reading this one, he sparked my interest in reading more about vampires.  Soon, I was reading Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, and watching movies like Interview With the Vampire and Fright Night. 

What was it about them that made them so fascinating?  As much as I’ve always loved fantastical things, vampires drew my interest like nothing else. Was it their power? Their charm?  A fascination with the dead?  Maybe all of those things and none of them. There’s something compelling about a creature that has no life force of its own, and must subsist on the blood and flesh of others in order to survive.  We see animals and insects like this in nature, such as ticks, bats, leeches, and lampreys. There is even a type of bird that lives on the Galapagos Islands called a “vampire finch” that supplements its diet of insects with the blood of bigger seabirds.

It’s also been said that the penetration of the vampire’s fangs is supposed to have some bearing on oral fascination. And why not? There is something to be said for the variations of aggression that can be alluded to when referring to the mouth, lips, teeth, tongue, and biting; whether to fight or in sexual play, it’s not hard to see how reading or watching movies about that might remind some primitive part of us about the darker side of nature.  The psychological implications are many and varied, but they are what you make of them.

Depending on the lore the book, movie, etc, used for their vampires, they can be smart, sexy, rich, suave, lonely, selfish, sensual, frightening, dangerous, beastly—or some combination thereof.  They might present a false front, an image of being cool, collected, and enticing their victims with promises of pleasure or power.  Others hid in shadows and pounced when their prey least suspected, too weak or monstrous or ugly to do otherwise.  Either way, they have always drawn my interest and left me wanting more.

What do you think?  Who are some of your favorite vampires in movies, books, and video games? If you’re a fan, what draws you to them?

Want to talk to me about your favorite vampires? Visit me on the web:

Thanks again for having me, Lee!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Shona Husk: The Rock Star Fantasy

There’s something about seeing your favorite band play live: the noise, the atmosphere, the performance. I’m one of those people who likes to be up the front standing and dancing. I find it very odd to sit at a concert as I always want to get up and move. Being at a concert is very different to watching a video clip—even if that is a recording of them playing. The show is more personal and there’s a kind of magic and atmosphere that can’t be recreated by TV.

I wanted to capture some that thrill of seeing your favorite band play live when I wrote the ‘Sex with Strings’ series—and take it one step further. What would it be like to be in a relationship with a man whose first love was music and performing? I added some leather and fangs and Lucinda’s Lover was born. Vampire rock stars, what could be hotter?

What if they weren’t your usual rock band but they played grungy electric strings? (The ‘what if’ game can be so much fun). Once I had that the rest fell easily into place.

In the ‘Sex with Strings’ series I’ve taken the band from inception (Kissing Phoenix) to break up (Enchanting Absinthe), there’s been concerts, backstage hook ups, fights, broken hearts, three in a bed, and one Vampire with a love of body piercing. Along the way the guys, Phoenix, Thanatos, Sirius and Absinthe have found love, sometimes where they least expected it.

This series was my way of exploring my love of music, rock stars and Vampires :) I’d love to know which rock stars you had pinned to your wall as a teen. For me it was Iva Davies from Icehouse—which probably means nothing if you’re not an Aussie—and Bon Jovi.

Who were your favorite rockers?


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Serial Readers…by Stephanie Julian

What are you reading this summer?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got a stack of paperbacks by your bedside and an electronic device full of ebooks, all of which you can’t wait to read.

And probably more than 90 percent are part of a series.

I love reading and writing series. There’s a sense of excitement in returning to the world of a great series. You can’t wait to see what’s new in this world you’ve grown to love and can’t wait to spend some time with favorite characters again.

Right now on my Nook, I’m reading Chasing Magic by Stacia Kane. This is part of the Downside Ghosts series and I’m totally hooked on this urban fantasy series. Kane’s mix of gritty supernatural plots and deeply flawed characters you either love or hate is a heady combination. Trust me, you will fall in love with Terrible, sideburns and all. And even when you want to smack Chess occasionally, you’ll still root for her to survive.
What I really love about this series, though, is that the characters continue to change and grow. The world continues to move forward and change and evolve.

Waiting patiently for me to finish Kane’s book is Shayla Black’s Embrace Me At Dawn, part of the Doomsday Brotherhood series. These books are straight-up paranormal romance but Black keeps all her characters as an integral part of the plot.

Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld is another great series if you’re looking for super sexy stories with hot men and even hotter romance. And of course, there’s always JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, if you’re into huge, hulking, hunky vampires, which, of course, I am.

Not into paranormal? How about Samantha Kane’s Brothers In Arms series, male/male/female historical erotic romance? Two hot guys for the price of one. Or Lora Leigh’s Bound Hearts series. Ménage, suspense, hot guys, super hot sex. Can’t go wrong there.

Which brings me to my newest release. Goddess in the Middle is the third book in the Forgotten Goddesses series. It’s a male/female/male erotic paranormal romance with two hot werewolf males, one sweet, sexy goddess of health and visits with characters from the previous two books in the series, What A Goddess Wants and How To Worship A Goddess, as well as characters from previous series, as well.

Sal the salbinelli makes an appearance, as does Cat and Nortia and Tessa and Lucy and Kyle and… well, you get the point.

As a writer I love creating a world that I get to play in for more than a few hundred pages. And I love being able to catch up with my favorite characters again.

So what are you reading this summer?

Wanna read Goddess In The Middle? Leave me a comment about a series you love and I’ll be back in a week to pick a winner for a book.

Want more info on me?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Happy Endings in a World That Doesn't Always Have Them

As I write this, news is coming in about someone shooting up a movie theater in Colorado, a writer friend is ill, and some horrible website is putting up personal information of book reviewers online and compromising their safety. There is some really ugly stuff going on in the real world ... and I am sitting here writing romance novels.

By definition, romances end happily, either "ever after" or "for now." I once had someone say to me: "But that's not what life is like!"


I can't wallow in all the awful things that get thrown into the atmosphere every day. I know how depressed it will make me. I read romances to give myself an out, a place to escape the evil. I write romances to hopefully bring those moments to someone else.

I'm not kidding myself. After a romance novel ends, I'm sure the happy couple will go on to fight about bills and deal with screaming babies and face evenings of less-than-satisfactory sex, but for now, I can read about passion fulfilled and hurdles overcome. I know that the good guys will win between the covers (and under them, hehe), when just outside my window that's not always the case.

Still, I do read books without happy endings. I can say I found them "incredible" or "profound" or "gut-wrenching." It is hard, however, to call them "wonderful," and I likely won't talk about them with a smile on my face. I might recommend them, but with caveats. Often, after finishing one, I'm left feeling uneasy or hollow. I have a need to fill myself with positivity. 

I whole-heartedly believe in karma. Putting good into the universe will create more good, whether it's from stories, or outward goodwill or just benevolent thoughts.

That moment I wrap up a novel, and the action and characters and plot all come together, is a joyous occasion. Even if some things in the characters' world have changed, and not necessarily for the better, I know that they've persevered and survived, and they will be rewarded justly. I can only pray that the real world might one day be the same.

What about you? Why do you read romance? Do you find that books can change your mood or mindset?

All my best,

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grey Hot - Opal Carew

Hi, everyone!  It’s a hot summer here in Ontario, Canada.  Hotter than usual.  I’m not complaining, though.  Since we have such long, cold winters in Ottawa, I’m happy to enjoy the heat as long as possible!  I’ve been in the pool almost every day since early June and that’s not true every year.

It’s a great time to stretch out in the sun and enjoy a hot summer read.  And by hot I mean steamy! 
Well, one of the hottest reads around right now is the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.   They’re still flying off the bookstore shelves!  Whether you loved the books or hated them, you have to admit that the trilogy is quite a phenomenon.

Publishers are scrambling to catch the attention of that new set of readers.  It makes sense.  The trilogy has captured the interest of a huge new potential audience and those readers are looking for something similar to read.  Publishers are trying to make it easier for them to find books along the same line.   For instance, St. Martin’s Press, has set up a webpage to show off their contenders.  They call it Fifty Shades Hotter.

This bid for attention is causing a new trend in book covers.  Grey covers are popping up everywhere.

The books are monochrome with the focus on an object, and often the title offers a subtle splash of colour, like on BEAUTIFUL DISASTER by Jamie McGuire.  On the cover of the first book of Sylvia Day’s new series, Crossfire, the yellow of the title is carried over to the cufflinks, too.  I love this cover!

Publishers are even repackaging some of their older books with snazzy grey covers.  For instance, my book BLUSH has a great new cover and will be popping up in bookstores soon.  Also, Lora Leigh’s WILD CARD.

My next two releases will also have grey covers.   A different cover was originally designed for Illicit (February 2013) and has been on Amazon and Barnes and Noble for months now.  The new cover isn’t public yet, but should be soon.

I like the simplicity and elegance of these covers and think it makes it easier for readers to identify some really hot (or should I say sizzling) reads.

What do you think of this trend?

Thanks for reading,

One lucky person who comments will win a free print copy of Opal’s book BLUSH.  (The new version of BLUSH won’t be available until mid-August, so the prize will be mailed then.)

***Opal's winner is Lagl23!!  Congratulations!  Please email with your full name and mailing info!!***

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Black, White and Shades of Blue - Shannon Curtis

Have you ever had one of those days when you looked in the mirror, and thought you totally rocked your outfit, only to have others stare at you in horror as you strut your way through the day?

Welcome to my world. I’m colour confused (not to be confused with colour blindness). I can’t tell my blues from my purples, my pinks from my oranges, etc.

So for my second novel, Guarding Jess, writing about a woman who not only knew her blues from her purples, but who could also advise others on what to wear, was a real stretch for me (cue my close friends and family rolling on the floor, laughing). I was initially drawn to writing about a character who was an etiquette and image consultant through a really bad customer service experience with a really rude employee at a phone company, and I discovered that talking, behaving and communicating successfully went hand in glove with personal presentation.

I learned of my…quirk…the hard way. I wore an outfit to work that didn’t co-ordinate. At all. A kind friend took me aside one day to ask me why I’d worn a purple blouse with a certain skirt. That was my first clue that something was wrong. (What do you mean it’s not blue? I won’t even mention the shoes.)  I’ve had many similar situations occur since then – so many, in fact, that I generally have to ask others ‘does this go together?’ before leaving the house.

I discovered a whole new world of beauty and creativity when I researched this story – clothing styles, shoes, handbags – I discovered a hidden desire for Olga Berg handbags and Christian Louboutin shoes, and I’m not sure how to recover from this affliction.

My heroine, Jessica Pennington, does not have this problem. In fact, she’s the opposite. She knows the right thing to say at the right moment, manages to look fabulous with a minimum of effort, and sees fashion shopping is a necessity, not a punishment. Yes, I know, this is the kind of woman you’d love to hate (hence her stalker), but despite appearances, she isn’t perfect. This imperfect Miss Prissy was the ideal mate for my hero, Noah Samuels – a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is kinda a guy – who doesn’t see the point in saying stuff just for the sake of polite conversation.

Oh, and he totally rocked, in and out of his clothes. Let’s just say that he convinces Miss Prissy to try a little naughty on for size, and leave at that.


I loved writing about these two – one who knew exactly what to do and when, and one who said and did what he wanted, and damn the consequences.

Anyway, getting back to totally rocking an outfit (not) tell me, what fashion trend would you like to see resurrected? Fluoro socks? Shoulder pads a Boeing 747 could land on? Safari suits?
Leave a comment and Lee will select a winner for a copy of my second romantic suspense novel, Guarding Jess!

Feel free to drop by my website,, for more information on the McCormack Security Agency series!

***Shannon's winner is Di!  Congratulations!  Please email with your name and mailing info!***

Friday, July 20, 2012

I Swore I'd Never Write A Vampire Novel by Jenny Gardiner

Really, I did.

For years I would lament to my friends, family, agent, anyone who would listen to me about how annoyed I was with the vampire trend; like the subject matter of these novels, they simply would NOT die. Made me crazy that fabulous novels were being passed on by publishing houses while mountains of tripe were being published under the guise of a "literary" craze. Sure there were good vampire novels out there, but really? I'd bet the vast majority of them were mediocre drivel.

 So I was meeting with my agent at a conference, bemoaning the finicky state of publishing, and jokingly mentioned an idea I had for a vampire novel, one I'd never write, because it was a ludicrous idea, so I figured it would be the thing publishing houses would go for (as opposed to the books I wanted to pitch but weren't the ones pub houses were looking for).

"So you have this woman who is turned into a vampire by her cheating husband, who was turned into a vampire by someone he'd slept with," I say with a laugh. "She then spends the rest of eternity trying to exact revenge on him for his betrayal. And it'll be a funny book."

 I expected her to pat me on the knee and tell me to get back to writing a good book. But instead she said she liked the idea and thought it might have legs.

 A week or so later, she tells me she had lunch with an editor who loved it and wanted to see pages. Pages of a book. One I hadn't planned on and wasn't planning on writing. So I got to work cranking out this non-novel of mine; I hunkered down and wrote and wrote and wrote. Got about 80 pages into it and slapped together a synopsis and sent it off to my agent, assuming that would be the last I'd heard of it.

 Turns out the editor loved the partial I'd sent on, and she was taking it to ed board. Well, if you've been around the publishing business long enough you learn about ed board. It's the gathering of insiders in a publishing house who either green light or kill your dream. Long gone are the days in which ed boards embraced risky books, or different books or anything but for what seems like something penned by the reality TV celebrity du jour, who doesn't actually write the thing anyhow but goes on a huge national tour earning gobs of cash while flacking their lousy book that no one with a modicum of self respect ought to even purchase, let alone read. Okay, off my soap box.

Anyhow, after the economy tanked and the publishing industry lost its last ounce of true soul, it became damn near impossible to find consensus on a whole lot of books, particularly in women's fiction, which at the time was a hard sell on a good day anyhow. So when my book went to ed board with an editor who loved it and really pushed for it, I still figured it had a minimal chance of getting the thumbs up. And sure enough, apparently the editor in chief or the publisher or someone all-powerful in this ed board determined that humor in these kinds of books either works or it doesn't work and they weren't going to chance it. Thus driving a stake in the heart of my vampire-novel-that-wouldn't-be.

My agent shopped it around a little bit more, found another editor who apparently really liked it but then she quit the business a week later. By then the genre had finally, finally died. Just in time for me to try to break into it. (This tends to happen with me--give me a genre and I'll kill it in a day flat; certainly worked well with chick lit).

Since then, my novel has been collecting dust in the far corners of my computer. I've entertained the idea of finishing it and publishing it myself, but really have just been too busy with other things to get around to it. So I figured I'd throw this up as my trunk novel and get your read on what you think of it. Should I keep this vampire hermetically sealed with garlic cloves and silver stakes in my laptop dead file that should be re-named "The Graveyard"? Or should I resurrect this monster and give it a new life on your e-reader of choice? You decide...


It all started innocently enough. Well, as innocently as these things can start, anyhow. And perhaps I wasn't entirely guiltless, if only because I succumbed to that most human of conditions: lust.

Although it wasn't the lust that killed my marriage. That came later. The demise of our union came courtesy of my execrable, lamentable and most deplorable husband, who decided to spring upon me an unexpected midlife crisis, in which he was overtaken by the entirely selfish urge to sow some wild oats. Or barley. Or grass seed, for all I know. For that matter I didn't know much of anything. All I did know was that that fucker dumped me. High and dry. While I was doing a load of his whites.

"I'm not feeling fulfilled," he'd said to me that day as I sorted the more stained clothes from the hamper into a separate pile.

"Fulfilled?" I asked, not even looking up as I un-mated yet another pair of his soggy gym socks (why he re-rolled dirty socks was always a mystery to me). I thought he was talking about a dearth of intellectual stimulation in his life. "Take a class or something."

Jude toed the ground in front of him with his black-soled sensible accountant shoes, scuffing the freshly-polished hardwoods of my sparkling laundry room. I've always felt that a laundry room is a reflection of the rest of one's life and my laundry room floor was clean enough to lick. Not that my life was particularly lickable, but you know what I mean.

I leaned over with a spray bottle of Murphy's Oil Soap, always at the ready, and pumped two squirts at the offending marks, wiping them clean with a pair of his BVDs that were awaiting a bleaching.

"Are those my Calvin Kleins?" he asked, grabbing them from me, glaring at the brownish Murphy splotch right on the butt of the things. I suppose if that didn't come out in the wash it could cause some embarrassment. But then again who would see them but me, anyhow?

"No worries. They're going in the wash for a good soak, so I thought I'd just save myself having to clean a dirty rag."

I suppose it should have been a red flag that the underwear in question was of the designer variety, and that he even knew that they were. Until a few months ago I could buy Jude's tightie whities in bulk at Costco and he'd have only praised me for my thrift. But at age forty-five, his seeking out designer drawers should have been the first of my indicators that our relationship had gone awry.

"Look, Marina, I don’t appreciate you using my Calvin Kleins as a dishrag."

"In case you hadn't noticed, there are no dishes here. Besides, I didn't use your underwear for anything more than wiping up your scuff." I pointed to the ground for emphasis.

Jude put his hands in his pockets and looked toward the doorway, sighing, his shoulders actually slumping as if I'd tossed a hefty sack of potatoes over each one.

"I need some space. Some time away. I'm not happy."

I stopped in mid-sort and stared at him, trying to peer into what I then realized was quite a blank face, one masked with apathy. 

"Just because I used your tight whites to wipe up some dirt off the floor?"

"They're not tight whites. They're boxer-briefs."

Oh, my god. Boxer briefs. Twenty years of marriage, dissolved over a semantic disagreement about a pair of undies. I began to wring my hands, stammering to find the right words to come out. But what could I say? One minute I was just attending to my household obligations and the next I was being kicked to the curb.

"Look," he said, his usually pleasant face contorted in such a way that he appeared as if he was torn between trying to apologize for being a dick and thrilled that he'd finally come out and said it — his inner demons plying his visage like a glob of silly putty. "I'm sorry. I tried to fight it. Really I did. I just need to work some things out."

"Things? What sort of things?" I sobbed, spritzing some Windex on the surface of the washing machine to clean up the liquid Tide that had dribbled there. "Or is it some woman named 'Thing'?"

He shook his head back and forth. "No, there is no thing. Well, there are things. But no Thing. Does that make sense?"

"Of course it makes no sense. You're not making sense."

Jude buried his face in his hands. "It's bigger than me. You simply have to believe me when I say this. It's out of my hands."

With that, he turned and walked away, striding through the kitchen and out the garage door as if he was late for a doctor's appointment, with only these parting words, "I'll make sure you're taken care of, you know. I don't want you to think I'm a complete asshole."

As if.


 But it goes without saying that when you've been married for two decades and you have gratuitous sex on a somewhat regular basis for half your life and then wham!, you aren't having any at all, well you might just overlook your better judgment when that green-eyed horntoad comes hop-hop-hopping along. I hadn't gotten laid in several months; a girl can only take but so much deprivation.

So how was I to know it was going to be a huge mistake? And not just shit, I wish I'd bought those fabulous shoes on sale at Nordstrom's last week huge, but oh crap, it's the end of the world as I know it huge. As far as mistakes go, this was of the A-bomb variety.

Jude had come by to drop off a support check. It was the least he could do after everything. Bad enough he abandoned me and our lives, but to do so and leave me with no cash to pay the bills and the mortgage, well that would be entirely unseemly and Jude was nothing if not seemly when it came to finances. What more could you expect from a CPA?

I’d already poured myself a second glass of wine (having tossed one down my gullet in anticipation of his arrival) so I didn't exactly notice Jude's peculiarly cold stare and peaked countenance at first, the whites of his azure eyes a stippled with red. I thought maybe he was just tired, and I was plenty satisfied to see that his footloose lifestyle might not be agreeing with him so much. Hey, I know at this point in life carousing all night is not as easy as it once was.

I invited him to have a seat and I took my place to his right, expecting him to initiate conversation. I straightened a stack of magazines in front of me on the coffee table, then fanned them out, finally settling on a neat stack while awaiting a word from his pursed lips.

"What's the matter  — cat got your tongue?" I finally asked him after a few long minutes of awkward silence. I know it seems weird that I'd even let the man into my house, all things considered, but I am a firm believer in trying to remain on speaking terms with one's ex. Of course I never knew I'd have to practice what I preached in that regard, but now that I must is no time to drop one's standards.

I grabbed another Waterford goblet (the pattern we'd registered for together at Bloomingdales all those many years ago) from the china closet to pour Jude a glass. I couldn't have the man leaving me money without being somewhat polite toward him.

"Wine?" I asked.

His eyes lit up a little bit. "What do you have?"

"Red okay?"

He loosened his necktie, looking ravenous, as if he hadn't had anything to eat or drink in days and my offering was going to solve that problem pronto.

"I've been dying for something red," he said.

Of course I didn't even think twice about it. Sometimes I could kill for something red myself. We talked for a little bit about this and thats, nothing important. I asked if he was doing his laundry fine and he said he'd found a woman in his apartment building who had offered to do it for him. Figures. Wonder if she's staining his Calvin Kleins.

"What's she getting in return?" I asked as I squinted a bit, afraid I could guess at the answer. He merely raised his eyebrows, but I swear I saw a passing glimpse of pain alight on his face. But just as quickly it dissipated, and he leaned back against the sofa, stretching his arms across while crossing one leg over the other.

"You look good, Marina," he said, nodding up and down at me. I guess he liked my new red highlights.

I half-laughed a sort of sad, hollow laugh.

"No, seriously. Good enough to eat." He reached across and tucked a finger beneath the strap of my pink camisole Hello Kitty! pajama top. I guess I had been looking a little better lately; a marital break-up has a way of helping a girl slim down in no time.

"But not good enough to see you through your crisis of self I suppose," I said looking down at the ground. I couldn’t help but remain conflicted about the man. Part of me hated him down to his DNA and wanted to reach into his throat and extract his internal organs and splay them in front of his face, just to exact a bit of revenge. But the other part of me couldn't get over what we'd once had. Up until a month ago I had loved this man and no other. I'd trusted him.

"I told you, Marina, I'm just trying to get my head on straight," he said, running the fingers of his free hand through his wavy, black hair as if whatever was on his mind was paining him. Yet he continued to twirl the strap of my top.

We sipped some wine and talked about Bittsy, our black cat, a bit. So far Jude hadn’t made a play for custody of Bittsy, which was good. Because I'd no sooner give her up than I'd die for the man.

Jude wiped his lips after finishing off his glass of wine. I took a final sip of mine and a trickle of wine missed my mouth, trailing down my chin to my neck. Just as I was about to dab it away, Jude, always the chivalrous man, came to the rescue.

"Here, let me," he said, and I fully expected him to blot the drip with his thumb. Instead he leaned forward and dragged his tongue from the base of my neck to just beneath my chin, then licked his lips for emphasis. It sent chills up my spine. Unfortunately not bad chills, either.

There was something eerily sensual about Jude that night. Like how a male stripper can be both a turn on and a turn off at the same time. Fact is, I'd never done it with someone as seductive (or forbidden) as a male stripper before, and for some reason the notion of illicit sex (or at that point, any sex) sounded so appealing.

"What was that for?" I panted out the question as if I'd just sprinted the hundred-yard dash.

"You know you can be terribly irresistible, Marina."

Jude licked his lips again in an almost wolfish manner. Now, throughout the course of our marriage, the sex was fine, but it was never downright erotic. There was never once a moment when I felt the kind of thrill you might get, say, if you rob a bank. Not that that would thrill me, mind you. Yet here was my ex-husband, the ink barely dry on the divorce decree, heating up my libido with the mere trace of his tongue across lips?

I was trying to figure out what to say next when Jude took matters into his own hands. He grabbed the bottle of Merlot from the coffee table, and poured a splash down the center of my neck, into my cleavage. A small part of me was mentally shrieking "Why! I never!"  — what with the guaranteed wine stain on my pajama top (and don't even remind me of the one on my dupioni silk divan). But an ever bigger part of me was in hubba-hubba mode, because I hadn’t ever driven a man to do something like that.

Before I knew what was happening Jude was atop me, licking me like a starving schnauzer that's been given a bone coated in peanut butter. His hands were under my top before I could even protest (and at that point how could I?) and before I could do much more but surrender both of us were clawing at each other, hurling clothes as far away as the kitchen. I should've demanded a condom —what if he'd been sleeping with the laundry lady?— but foolishly discounted it (we'd given up worrying about pregnancy years ago, to my dismay).

"Marina, you make me do strange things," Jude said as he entered me with far more force than I ever recall, yet far more passion as well, grabbing, groping, pulling, and nipping as he was.

"If this is what you call strange then I'm all for making it more familiar," I said as I searched for his mouth, which seemed to be in a frenzy trying to stake his claim all over my body.

"Oh, my God," Jude groaned with one final thrust as his hungry mouth came down along the column of my neck.

"Oh, sweet Jesus," I screamed as I felt as if a staple gun had just punctured my throat. "What the fuck are you doing?"

For a moment all I could hear was panting, his and mine intermingled, but mine more with fear, his more with what seemed to be repletion. As Jude finally released his grip on my neck, I reached to feel what the branding iron pain was from, and my fingers came away smeared with blood.

I pushed Jude off of me and sat up, naked, trembling. "What the hell is wrong with you? You hurt me!" 

"Oh, shit." He wiped away a trickle of blood from his lips then rolled off of me and groaned, first quietly, but then louder and louder until he was screaming. "Oh God! How could I have done that?"

"Done what?" He was really scaring me. First with that bite that came out of nowhere and then this, as if he'd unleashed the Hounds of Hell on me and now regretted it.

I looked closely at his face and saw that his pallor seemed to have perked up. He almost glowed with good health.

"Have you done something that will get you into trouble?" I ask, rubbing my neck, which hurt like a sonofabitch.

Jude stood up and began to pace, muttering inaudibles over and over again, dragging his fingers through his hair as if raking up a leaf-strewn yard.

"Marina, you'd better sit down."

Considering I already was sitting down  — stark naked, I might add — that was hardly sage advice. I had this feeling come over me, a really bad feeling. Like when my mother broke the news to me that my father was dying of cancer. Somehow I must have sensed that whatever Jude was about to say was going to throw my world into upheaval.

Jude was pacing like a convict awaiting the executioner, and deliberately not making eye contact with me. Naked pacing ought to be considered an obvious sign of trouble ahead.

"Now what I'm about to say you're not going to like," he started out. And by phrasing things that way he assured himself that I'd be unhappy with it. By then I'd grabbed a dishtowel to blot the blood from that bizarre little love bite of his. Whatever was up with that I figured I'd never know.

"You're giving me the creeps, Jude. Just get on with it."

Jude sat on the coffee table, facing me, then stood up again, pacing some more, his dangly bits flapping around like a semaphore warning.

"Christ, Jude, the floor's going to catch fire if you don't stop making so much friction on it. Okay, okay, I get the hint. You regret having slept with me. I can deal with it. To tell you the truth I only did it because I was horny anyhow—"

"You only slept with me because you were horny?"

I gave him a "no duh" look, rolling my eyes.

He began to knead his face with his hands. 

"When I said I had to leave you it wasn't because I didn't love you, Marina," he said. "It was because something happened. Something horrible happened." 

 I just stared at him, not sure whether I should call 9-1-1 or push him out the door.

"I met a woman. And I'll admit, she was beautiful. Blonde, stacked. She had an amazing ass."

"Cut to the chase. I don't need to hear about your infidelities at this point. We're divorced, now, in case you hadn't noticed."

Talk about tacky, fresh after hooking up with your ex, chatting about a booty call with another woman.

"No, but see, I didn't want to be unfaithful. Sure, I didn't mind looking at her. I mean she was a knockout. I'll admit she got my blood stirring. God, that wasn't well-phrased. Let's take that back. So maybe she inspired some thoughts in me. But I loved — love — you, Marina."

"Don't talk about love with me, Jude. I'm the one who loved you and look what you did to that."

"But that's what I'm getting at. I had to leave you. And it's because of this woman. I met her through work. She came in one day, without an appointment, said she wanted to meet with me. I told her to talk to DeeDee about setting up a time. She did, but in the meantime she followed me after work one day—she seemed so insistent about this. Claimed she needed an accountant for a business that had been in the family for many generations. Wanted to meet over drinks to discuss what she needed from me. I was going to tell her to just stick with her appointment but she begged me."

"Since when did you succumb to a woman begging you?" Jude was not your average bird dog when it came to women. I can't remember him even watching another gal in my presence.

He put his finger to his lips; I shut up and let him continue. "Finally I relented and told her we could meet for a drink. I met her at Q Bar, the one we went to for your birthday last year."

"You took her to my birthday bar?"

"I didn't take her — I was just meeting her there. I was a few minutes late and she was drumming her fingers on the bar, looking most impatient. Once we sat down to talk, I realized there was something about her, something eerily mesmerizing. I couldn't keep my eyes off her, like I had no control over myself. Sure I stared at her. Who can look at a Da Vinci without an appreciative eye?"

"Are you trying to piss me off?"

"I'm just saying. But I soon realized the more I tried to look away from her, the more she fixed her gaze on mine, pinning her focus on me so precisely it was like a laser beam being used to hone in on its target. I couldn't do a thing about it. Before I knew what was happening, we were in an alley behind Chili's and she had her hand on my—" 

"I told you I don't want to hear about your dalliances, Jude." 

"But it's relevant information," he said. "Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, she had her hand on my crotch and even though I knew in my heart it was wrong, I couldn't help myself, babe." 

"Don't babe me." 

"Honestly I couldn’t help it. And then I was pushing up her skirt and she was tugging down my pants and somehow deep down in my gut I felt certain I was going to be having the best sex of my life when she opened her mouth wide, wide like a snake about to eat something ten times its size, and then she clamped down on my neck and I felt this pain, like someone had—"

"Shot a staple gun in your neck," I said, my whole body beginning to tremble.

"I didn't know what had happened at first," Jude continued. "I looked over at this woman and she looked as if someone had just infused her with sunshine, she practically glowed all of a sudden. And then I—"

"Reached down and felt your neck—"

"And it was warm and wet—"

"And when you took your hand away—" 

 "There. Was—"


I was shaking, the sort of 7.0-on-the-Richter scale tremors that happen when you're coming out of anesthesia following surgery. I wanted a warm hospital blanket and a soothing nurse at that very moment to calm me, to tell me I was all right. For that matter I'd have been much happier to realize I'd emerged from mere surgery with a simple organ removed, rather than my entire future excised without having even signed a consent form.

"Before I could find anything more about this woman, she was gone. The only thing I had left with the slightest hint about her was a web address she'd given me: 

"I thought it was her business website, so I looked it up, but there was nothing there. Nothing. Then when I typed in the word sanguine, I hit the jackpot. Well, jackpot in a bad way. I realized then what had happened."

By that time I'd grabbed the wedding afghan that my Aunt Bertie had crocheted for me, her twelfth niece, and wrapped myself , mummy-like, with it. I didn't particularly like the thing, but always felt so badly that poor Aunt Bertie died a spinster and I knew someone had to appreciate her handiwork, even if it did catch fingers and toes if you tried to sleep with it. And was the color of — oh, God — dried blood. 

"I still hadn't fully embraced what had happened. I mean, yeah, I've watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But that was just television. I knew there was nothing like this in real life. Surely this was just some insane woman who had a really creepy fetish."

I was feeling especially lightheaded, the way you feel after you've given blood. Only no one was nearby to hand me a cookie and a glass of orange juice. Oh, wait, I had given blood. Only not of my own volition. I still hadn't the energy to say much of anything, so I sat back and listened, staring as if in a trance. 

"I knew I'd done everything wrong. Everything. I mean, I had sex with this stranger. Even though I was married to you. And that was bad enough. But then, but then…" he trailed off and just sort of stood there, still naked, his shrunken willy looking about as forlorn as I think he was. "After I came home, I tried to research more about this. But everything I read kept coming back to the same thing. And as the days progressed, I began to feel weaker, I knew what I needed, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. I mean what was I going to do, go down to the local blood bank and ask to make a withdrawal?" 

At that my stomach began to lurch, like a very flat tire trying to progress down the road. Flop, flop, flop. I could feel the wine and the Moo Goo Gai Pan I'd eaten an hour earlier (along with about four Chips Ahoys and a box of Jujubes) all vying against one another to be the first back up the chute. 

I raced to the nearest receptacle, my kitchen recycling bin, and heaved repeatedly. For the record, the Jujubes won. 

I stood up, my ugly vermillion afghan draped across me like Dracula's cape — oh, God, no — and stared at my husband. My ex-husband.

"You mean to tell me you've fucking turned me into a vampire?" For a whisper of a moment, the amount of time it takes a hummingbird to flap its wings, I stood frozen in place. But then I surged forward, pounding my fists against Jude in rapid-fire motion, as fast as Phil Collins with a set of drumsticks.

"YOU FUCKING TURNED ME INTO A VAMPIRE??? You bastard!" I screamed, pounding with what felt like a bizarrely superhuman strength, as if I'd suddenly been imbued with invincibility, but realizing that it wasn't even eliciting a flinch from the man. Beast. Whatever he was. Or I now am. "Everything!," I shrieked. "Everything! I had everything ahead of me!" 

 Well, maybe not everything, but I could have if I'd have wanted it. 

"And now, just-just-just look at me—" I pointed at my chest. "Look at these!" My droopy middle-aged breasts were slumped across my torso like a broken spirit. 

"I kept meaning to make an appointment with a plastic surgeon to discuss fixing these puppies! Couldn't you have at least waited till I'd gotten around to doing that? Now I'm stuck with sagging tits for all of eternity?" 

"I'm sorry, Marina, I tried to resist," he said, letting out a sigh that seemed to reached to the bottom of the earth. "But when I saw you looking all sexy like that, what could I do? You know that all men think with their dicks. Why would I be an exception? Besides, I love your breasts just the way they are." He reached over in an attempt to tweak one but I swatted him away immediately. 

"Sexy like what? I was sitting here minding my own business in my Hello Kitty! pajamas! You've got a hell of a lot of explaining to do." 

Jude grabbed a throw pillow and plunked down on my burgundy leather Queen Anne (which would surely stick to his sweaty flesh. Unless vampire flesh has a Teflon quality to it I don't know about). He at least had the decency to cover himself up with the pillow. 

"So the more I read about my dilemma—" 

"Dilemma? Are you mad? Dilemma is trying to figure out how you're going to get to work on time when you're stuck in rush hour traffic—" 

"Okay, fine, the more I read about my predicament, the more I realized it came with all sorts of, well, let's say contraindications to our staying together." 

"Contraindications? Now we're cribbing from the pharmacy warning labels?" 

"Would you let me continue? This is hard enough, in case you hadn't noticed." 

"You just sucked blood from my neck, Jude. Like some greedy two hundred pound mosquito. You've apparently just made me immortal, for fuck's sake — nothing I ever wanted, by the way. So don't look for much sympathy from this corner of the peanut gallery." 

He gave a subtle nod in my direction, meager acknowledgment for his transgressions if you ask me. "Anyhow. The longer I went without sustenance, the more I craved it. At first I was able to stave off the yearnings. I was eating steaks — rare — every day at lunch. But I soon discovered that steak alone wasn't going to do the job. I had to go on the prowl." 

"The prowl? Like some middle-aged Mr. Goodbar?" 

Jude rolled his eyes at me. "I was trying to protect you, Marina." 

"Clearly that worked." I glared at him. "So this is when the fancy underpants came into play?"

"They're not underpants."

"Whatever. So this is when you started dressing to, what, kill?"

Jude flinched at that. "I wasn't trying to kill anyone. But I didn't know what to do. And really, I didn't exactly kill them. I just changed their natural state."

"I'll say. Like going from a state of ecstasy to the state penitentiary. Only this prison's for all eternity." Was it for eternity? I was trying to probe the recesses of my memory for some notion about vampire lore. I dressed as Dracula for Halloween once or twice, but I didn't bone up on Drac's habits for the occasion.

"So did you have extended hook-ups with women? Or did you just nab 'em in the elevator and give 'em the old one-two?" I made a hook and an uppercut with my arms, then looked over and saw the truth carved like wrinkles into his face. "You slept with them and you killed them?"

"I couldn't help it, Marina," he said. "And I didn't kill them. I just—" 

"I know what you just—" 

"I was trying to preserve us. Honestly, I did this for you."

"For me!!!" For about one more millisecond I was rendered speechless but then the tidal wave of fury beckons forth from my mouth -— that very mouth that is now going to have to find a taste for blood. With me, a vegetarian. Jesus. I've always been pretty good at math, but this sort of calculation doesn't add up no matter how many ways I try to work the equation. 

"First you have sex with a strange, beautiful woman in a dark alley. Then you start cruising for new meat like some sort of, of, of cannibal, doing god knows what to get your fix, and now you've destroyed me, destroyed my life." I pace the room back and forth like some nervous father-to-be awaiting a cigar and an It's a Boy! declaration. "Jesus! My mother warned me about men! But did I listen? No. I told her you weren't like other men. But she told me one day I'd know better. This is one time I wish my mother wasn't right. 

"It's all making sense now," I said, trying to feign calm while teetering on the edge of manic rage, a veritable cattle stampede of anger. "First the damned underwear. Then the steaks! You gave up red meat for me years ago. But then you started sneaking behind my back eating steak again. I thought I smelled blood in your sweat at the gym, dammit. Steaks. Now my life is going to be about steaks and stakes. Jesus, fuck. And you knew about my blood aversion. It's why I didn't go to med school. I can barely attend the annual Red Cross gala. And I practically faint at the sight of blood! Goddammit Jude, how could you? You know I'm not a night owl! And now I have to avoid daylight?? How the hell am I going to get a suntan? You tell me that. Christ, I should've known ex-sex would lead to no good. This is bad. On a bad scale with zero being a paper cut and a hundred being my dog got hit by a train, this is a bazillion on that bad scale. A bazillion, Jude, do you hear me? You've just sentenced me to an even worse fate than you because a) you betrayed your wife when you fucked some strange woman behind the Chili's — and god, we don't even eat at Chilis! — so you deserve this, and b) this is going to really put a kink in my life. How the hell do you expect a vegetarian hemophobe to survive as a vampire? You tell me that? Am I supposed to mug a blood courier? Cause I'll never do what you just did to get by." 

Jude grabbed another nearby blanket and wrapped it around his waist. "First off, I don't know where you get the idea that somehow you'll be afraid of gay people—" 

I poked him in his forehead with my forefinger, wishing I had the power to make an actual indentation, a keepsake for him to remember what an ass he is. "I said hemophobe, not homophobe." 

"It was a joke, Marina. Remember, we always love to joke together?"

"Joke’s on you, too, cause this is no laughing matter. Why'd you go and kill me, Jude? Did you hate me that much?"

"I didn't kill you — I made you immortal!" 

"Whoo-hoo! I get to be immortal. With these!" I screamed, pointing again at my ta-ta's. 

"But don’t you get it? It's not about that stuff. It's bigger than all of that. It's about Us, with a big U. Us reuniting. Back together again. Maybe on some subconscious level I did this on purpose, because I wanted — I needed — to share my forever with you. Just think, now we can be together for all eternity." 

"Me? Together with you?" I shrieked yet again. It seems that shrieking might well be a hallmark of vampirism. "For all eternity? Are you out of your fucking mind? You just killed me, and now you want me to be yours? Put it in a goddamned valentine." 

I got up, supercharged with my newfound and roiling anger heaving like a stomach with a bad case of food poisoning. I stormed across the living room and kitchen, collecting bits of my ex-husband's clothing, confetti that started out celebratory but now only served as a stale reminder of what wasn't. I opened the fireplace screen, pulled the flue handle down, and piled his pants, shirt and shoes atop the andirons. I pulled the matchbox off the mantle, upon which was the last remaining picture of me and Jude together, which I grabbed and threw in with the rest, and lit the pile on fire. Jude came rushing over. 

"Marina! You can't do that!" 

"Oh I think you broke the bank on can't do that’s. I most certainly can, and watch me." I blocked his body as I let the conflagration erupt, the soles of his shoes smoldering longer than the flash-fire cotton of his shirt. 

"My clothes. I need my clothes—" 

"My life. I needed my life, and you snatched that right out from under me."

"Honey, why don't you just sleep on this, maybe you'll see things clearer in the morning."

"This isn't like breaking up with my first boyfriend. Nothing will become clear in this picture. Now. GET OUT." I wiped my hands against each other, as if erasing him from my existence. I grabbed a fireplace poker and skewered him in the butt, pushing him toward the front door.

"But Marina, honey, I love you."

"Out!" I began hitting him, hoping he'd finally take the hint. As we made it to the doorway, enacting the very reverse of that newlywed tradition of the groom carrying the bride across the threshold, a flash of white caught my eye, and I reached down to spear what I saw.

"Don't forget these," I said, passing Jude his beloved Calvin Kleins on the spear tip of my fireplace poker. "I think you're gonna need them."

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