Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Boys of Winter - A Free Holiday Short Story


 This story was originally part of Literary Escapism's Black Friday event. I'm posting it here for those of you who want more Mike Solo, the hero of CAUGHT BY YOU. Baseball and shopping, what could go wrong ... or right? 

THE BOYS OF WINTER

As a professional baseball player, catcher Mike Solo considered the time between the World Series and the start of Spring Training pretty much a wasteland of workouts and off-season trade rumors. Every gray November day, every dark December night brought him closer to the start of the next baseball season, when life began again. And every year, right around Christmas Eve, it sank in that something else happened in the off-season.
Christmas shopping.
Make that Christmas shopping for his entire family of six brothers and sisters, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and lately, little nieces and nephews. Honestly, it was surprising that Chicago had room for the entire Solo family. His list was enormous and his shopping time was running out. In baseball terms, he was down to the last inning and he hadn’t yet gotten a hit.
Time to swing for the fences. 
Time to dig deep.
Time to hit the malls.
The last few years, he’d resorted to gift certificates. This year, he was determined to shop for real presents selected with his own two hands. Nothing else would get him to set foot on Chicago’s famous Magnificent Mile, a eight-block stretch of pricey boutiques and soaring skyscrapers crammed with department stores.
As he made his way down Michigan Avenue, Mike hunched against the bitter wind blowing off the lake. It felt like icicles slicing through his coat. This was why he’d never been interested in hockey. Give him green grass, blue skies and a sunburned neck any day. He was a baseball guy down to his core.
Much as he detested shopping, Mike had to admit that the city had done a spectacular job decorating the Magnificent Mile. Fairy lights were strung through the bare-branched trees lining the sidewalks. Storefronts offered elaborate displays of gingerbread houses, giant candy canes, evergreen adornments. An early snowstorm had left behind piles of snow, which managed to look festive instead of dingy in the gathering twilight. The sidewalks were thronged with bundled-up shoppers. A fake Santa Claus wandered through the crowds, bellowing, “Ho ho ho” and handing out flyers for the mall.
Mike gritted his teeth and forged down the sidewalk. How hard could this be, anyway? People survived Christmas shopping all the time. If he could hit a knuckleball, he could handle this, right? He scanned the dizzying lineup of stores – Prada, Cole-Haan, American Girl, the Lego Store. Should he get the boys Legos? Or were they a choking hazard at this age? Did his dad need new shoes? Should he blow his entire budget on a single item from Prada? Maybe his sisters could pass it around.
Maybe he should have made a list first. Maybe he should have started before Christmas Eve. Maybe he should go home and admit this was a huge mistake.  
He was in the midst of turning back when something whipped through the air toward him.
This, he could handle. He threw up one hand and snatched the flying object before it could hit him.
A snowball.
He spun around to find a skinny boy in a Chicago Bulls jacket gawking at him. “How’d you do that, dude?” the boy asked in amazement. He looked to be about twelve, with a full head of frizzy hair.
“It’s what I do. I’m a catcher.” He tossed the snowball, which was really more of a chunk of dirty ice, back toward the kid. “You know, baseball.”
The boy tried to catch the ice ball, but missed. “I know baseball. It’s my second favorite sport.”
Mike raised an eyebrow. “Let me guess. Bulls fan?”
“This is Chicago, ain’t it?”
Another snowball winged through the air. Mike had to dive for this one. He flung his arm out, snagging it before it could hit the fake Santa just passing by. “Hey,” Mike called to the snowball hurler. “Watch it, will you?”
A second boy skidded down the sidewalk and joined the first one. Slightly younger, he wore torn jeans, high-tops, and glasses held in place by a headband. “Sorry, Mister! I wasn’t aiming at Santa. I was trying to hit my brother.”
The Santa stopped next to Mike and put his hands on his hips. “Got some troublemakers here?”
“No!” Both boys said at one. “We’re chill. We’re not doing nothing bad.”
“Where are your parents?” Mike asked them. “What are you doing out here?”
They exchanged guilty looks. “Mom’s working at the food court in the mall.” The brother in the Bulls jacket indicated Water Tower Place, one of the multi-story megaplexes on the Mag Mile. “We got bored and she told us to come outside and play.”
“She’s working on Christmas Eve?”
“Yeah, Christmas too. It’s okay. She gets overtime.” But Mike could tell it wasn’t okay. Both boys had that long-faced look that meant their holiday season was likely full of disappointments.
Mike exchanged a glance with Santa. Behind the long white beard and little wire-rimmed glasses, he could tell this Santa was on the young side. “I don’t know about you, Santa, but I have a real problem with this situation.” He offered Santa a wink, hoping he’d play along.
Santa nodded and stroked his fake beard. “Young troublemakers throwing snowballs in the middle of Michigan Avenue? Darn right it’s a problem.”
“It’s not that so much. It’s the baseball taking second place to basketball. I’m not okay with that. You a Cubs fan, Santa?”
“White Sox.”
“I can work with that. Hang on.” A sixty-ish woman was walking by, several rolls of wrapping paper poking out of her tote bag. “Ma’am, I’ll give you twenty bucks for one of those tubes.” When she hesitated, he said quickly, “make it fifty.”
With a beaming smile, she handed over a roll of red and gold striped paper in exchange for the cash. Triumphant, he turned back to Santa and the boys. “We have a bat! Now, for a field.” He jogged to a spot across the street where a storefront sat empty save for a “For Lease” sign.
“You.” He pointed to the kid with the Bulls jacket. “You have a pretty good arm. You pitch. Little brother, you’re up first. Santa, how are you at fielding?”
“All-City, two years in a row.”
“Our lucky night.” Mike exchanged a high-five with Santa. “Let’s show these kids why baseball’s the best game in the world.”
Looking around, he realized that the woman with the wrapping paper had stopped to watch, and other shoppers were pausing in their headlong rush down the Mile. In fact, a small crowd had gathered. He crouched over a spot that seemed like a good place for home plate. The kid with the glasses took a few practice swings with the roll of wrapping paper.
“Pitcher provides the balls!” Mike called to the older brother. Laughing, the boy scooped up some snow and packed it into a tight ball.
“Y’all ready for this?” He made an exaggerated show of winding up and flinging the ball toward Mike. The younger boy swung and missed. Mike caught the ball in his mittened hands, where it fell apart in a spray of snow crystals.  
“Strike one,” someone called.
A few yards behind the pitcher, Santa clapped encouragement. “Hey, batter batter. You got this.” A few more voices called from the crowd.
“Come on, kid … keep your eye on the snowball … swing, baby, swing …”
The next ice ball must have been more tightly packed, because when the boy swung, the roll of wrapping paper thunked against it and sent it soaring overhead. It shed icy sparkles in the fairy lights twinkling from the trees.
“I got it, I got it,” yelled Santa. The crowd cleared the way for him. He caught it softly against the chest of his red Santa suit. The bystanders erupted into applause.
“Need someone to play first base?” A businessman in a long gray overcoat stepped forward. A little girl bundled into a neon orange parka held his hand.
“Can I bat next, Santa?” she asked eagerly. “I love baseball.”
“Sure thing,” said Santa. “I bet you’re going to knock it out of the park.”
Her face lit up. Mike beckoned her toward the ‘plate.’ The boy with the glasses handed her the roll of wrapping paper, which was nearly as tall as she was. Warm laughter spread through the crowd.
“Hey, I’ll cover the outfield,” said a college-aged kid in a thick hoodie.
Mike gave him a “welcome to it,” gesture. The pitcher packed another snowball and, nice and easy, tossed an underhand throw toward the girl in the orange parka. She whacked it to the ground, where it skipped once, twice, then broke apart.
“Fair ball,” Mike roared.
“Run, sweetheart! Run!” Her father yelled from ‘first base.’ The crowd shouted and whooped as she scurried toward her father. Laughing his head off, the pitcher bent to pick up the remains of his snowball. His younger brother cheered for the little girl as if she’d just gotten a hit in the World Series.
Mike met Santa’s eyes, and they both grinned.
For one enchanted moment, everyone stopped hurrying, stopped worrying about what was left on their shopping lists, stopped racing through Christmas Eve. Everyone forgot about the cold wind and gritty snow. For one moment, summer reigned on the Magnificent Mile as baseball—or was it snow-ball—worked its magic on a random collection of shoppers.
And, best of all, two boys had the time of their lives.
Mike would once again be doling out his traditional gift certificates on Christmas Day. But as he looked around at the shining faces around him, he figured it was worth it.

Read Mike and Donna's story in CAUGHT BY YOU, now available at bookstores and all e-retailers! 


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

CAUGHT BY YOU is out!

It's here! It's here! CAUGHT BY YOU, the second book in the Love Between the Bases series, is now available at bookstores and online retailers everywhere. I hope you enjoy Mike and Donna's story. Let me know what you think!


As a special incentive to leave an early review, I'd like to offer you a FREE, brand new Bachelor Firemen short story set on New Year's Eve. It's called "Three, Two, One ... Fireman." All you have to do is leave a review within 72 hours of release (that's New Year's Day) and email Wendy at JenniferBernardAssistant@gmail.com. The story, which stars Ace the Rookie, will be delivered right to your inbox. :-)

Purchase CAUGHT BY YOU at these handy links! 









HAPPY READING!!

xoxo
Jennifer


Monday, December 28, 2015

CAUGHT BY YOU Blog Tour and Giveaway

The blog tour for CAUGHT BY YOU begins today! Avon will be hosting a tour-wide giveaway for Five (5) winners to receive a Love Between the Bases Print Bundle (including ALL OF ME and CAUGHT BY YOU), so be sure to stop by for a chance to enter. See ya there! 


Dec 28th - My Book Snack -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Busy Bumble Bee Book Reviews -Rev/P
(Stop 3) - Okie Dreams Book Reviews -Rev/P
(Stop 4) - VampyRelady's Fav - Promo 
(Stop 5) - Born to Read Books - Promo

Dec 29th - Cris Conquers -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Book Readers Anonymous - Rev/P
(Stop 3) - Becky on Books - P/Int 
(Stop 4) - The Lusty Literate - Promo
(Stop 5) - Ellesea Loves Reading -  Promo

Dec 30th - mignon mykel : reviews -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Bookaholics Not-So-Anonymous - Rev/P
(Stop 3) - IrishDaisylovesRomance -Rev/P
(Stop 4) - Majorly Delicious -Rev/P 
(Stop 5) - Cat's Guilty Pleasure - Promo

Dec 31st - Forget the Housework, I'm Reading... -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - The Book Disciple -Rev/P
(Stop 3) - Book Reviews & More by Kathy -Promo

Jan 1st - Christine's Words -P/Int
(Stop 2) - Reading in Pajamas  -Promo
(Stop 3) - E Romance News - Promo

Jan 4th - Books & Spoons -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - SOS Aloha - Promo
(Stop 3) - Teatime and Books - Promo

Jan 5th - Happily Ever Chapter -Promo 
(Stop 2) - A Bluestocking's Place -Promo

Jan 6th - What I'm Reading -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Kitty's Book Spot! - Promo
(Stop 3) - A Sky Full of Stars Blog - Promo

Jan 7th - Jen's Reading Obsession -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Ever After Book Reviews -Promo
(Stop 3) -  Buried Under Romance - Promo

Jan 8th - SiK Reviews - Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Nelle's Nightstand -Rev/P
(Stop 3) -  Life With Two Boys - Promo 

Jan 11th - Lush Book Reviews -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Brooke Blogs - P/Int

Jan 12th - The Many Faces of Romance -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Those Crazy Book Chicks - P/Rev

Jan 13th - Thoughts of a Blonde -Rev/P 
(Stop 2) - underneath the covers -Rev/P

Jan 14th - My Reading Reality -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Crystal Blogs Books- P/Rev
(Stop 3) - I'm A Book Shark - Rev/P
(Stop 4) - Nerdy Dirty & Flirty -Rev/P

Jan 15th - Romancing the Readers -Rev/P
(Stop 2) - Sizzling Pages Romance Reviews - P/Rev
(Stop 3) - I'm A Sweet And Sassy Book Whore -Rev/P
(Stop 4) - Nicole's Book Musings -Rev/P

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Holiday Extra: "The Boys of Winter"


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! 

I hope you're enjoying this wonderful time of year. In celebration of the season, I wrote a free holiday short starring catcher Mike Solo, the hero of Caught By You.  See what happens when Mike brings his baseball magic to Chicago's Magnificent Mile on Christmas Eve. Click here to read The Boys of Winter at Literary Escapism. I hope you enjoy it!
And don't forget, Caught By You will be coming your way on December 29. Warm holiday wishes to you and your family! 




Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Deleted scene from CAUGHT BY YOU

When Donna MacIntyre met Mike Solo, they were both side characters in ALL OF ME. At the moment CAUGHT BY YOU begins, they've already known each other the whole season. Which means that the scene in which they meet never got completely written. It wasn't so much "deleted" as "never existed." I fixed that, and here it is for your reading enjoyment! If you've read either book, you might recognize a couple moments. As you'll see, the sparks start flying right away for these two. :-)


 
Donna MacIntyre wasn’t nearly as buzzed as she was pretending to be. People at the Kilby Roadhouse expected her to play the wild and funny party girl, especially on her birthday. If it helped get her best friend Sadie out of her cubicle of sadness, she’d turn cartwheels across the floor while juggling maraschino cherries with her teeth. Whatever it took.
Bumping into a couple of insanely attractive men with physiques that screamed “athlete” was just a bonus. Even better, the sight of the blue-eyed one had made Sadie nearly drop the two White Russians she’d fetched for them. Verrrry interesting, considering Sadie hadn’t even glanced at a guy since the horrible Hamilton Wade breakup.
“What’s your name, cowboy?” From her perch on one of the tables, Donna flirtatiously touched his leg with her booted foot – it was a test, and it got just the reaction she wanted out of Sadie. If that wasn’t jealousy in her friend’s gorgeous dark eyes, she’d eat her faux-alligator boot.
“Caleb Hart.”
“I’ve heard of you. You’re on the Catfish. I’m Donna and this is Sadie.” No time for subtlety. Sadie’s happiness was too important. “You should really ask her to dance, because even though she’s acting kind of strange right now, she’s super cool. Like, the bestest of the bestest.”
Caleb shot an amused glance at Sadie, who made a little face to indicate Donna’s buzzed state.
Well, guess what, she wasn’t drunk at all. She had a master plan here, and so far it was working. “Besides, she doesn’t go out much anymore.” Donna leaned forward, nearly toppling off the table. “She had a bad experience.”
Okay, maybe she was a tiny bit buzzed.
“Donna.”
“It’s my birthday and I can say what I want. Besides, I can see the sparks flyin’ here.” She waved her hand back and forth between Caleb and Sadie. They both looked kind of stunned by that statement, so when Caleb’s curly-haired friend returned with two Lone Stars, she jumped on the distraction. “And I think your friend’s a hottie, Caleb Hart. I’ve decided to put my money on those cute little dimples.” 
“Now that’s an interesting bet,” said Caleb. “We’ll leave you to it. Let’s go, Sadie.” He grabbed Sadie’s free hand and tugged her toward the dance floor. Donna wanted to pump her fist in triumph. A sexy ballplayer was just what Sadie needed.
Caleb’s friend looked down at the two beers he held in one big hand, then up at her. He pasted an exaggerated scowl on his face. “Cute little dimples?”
“Adorable. You know what those dimples say to me?”
“Don’t call me cute?”
Quick comeback. She gave him a closer look, noting the mischief in his green eyes and the power in his body. This man was smokin’ hot. “They say you’re as pure as a baby lamb, so you’d better hand that beer this way.” She gave him a cheeky grin.
“Is that right? Well, you’re not the only one who can interpret body language. You know what your smile says to me?”
“I’m just dying to know.”
“It says you prefer drinks with cream.” Flashing a smile, he brushed a drop of liquid off her upper lip. Her mouth dropped open in shock at how quickly he’d gotten the best of her. That never happened. Also, that light touch had done crazy things to her equilibrium. She had to get it back. Flirt, Donna, flirt.
“Maybe I’m flexible and open-minded when it comes to drinks. And other things.”
His eyes darkened to a deep emerald. “Me and my dimples are going to pretend we didn’t hear that. We’re too pure, remember?” He put one bottle on the table and tilted the other to his mouth, which brought her attention to his broad chest and powerful shoulders.
She swallowed hard, taking a sip from her White Russian to hide her strong attraction to him. “I’m trying to remember. But the rest of you makes it hard. Are you a ballplayer too?” He certainly had the body for it. Not just because of his muscles, but the confidence with which he carried himself.
“I am. Mike Solo, catcher.” He extended his hand, and they shook.
“Donna MacIntyre. Flirt.”
He laughed at that, his eyes dancing. “You don’t fool me. There’s a lot more to you than 'flirt.'”
“How would you know? Something else you read in my smile?”
“No. I saw the way you got Caleb and Sadie to go off together. A real flirt wouldn’t do that. You’d want the star pitcher of the Catfish all to yourself.”
She shrugged. “So I’m a good friend. Anyway, maybe I wanted you instead of him.”
He cocked his head, considering. “Maybe. Except you didn’t even notice me at first.”
“So … you noticed whether or not I noticed you?”
“A-ha.” He gestured at her with his beer bottle. “Very coherent. You’re not nearly as tipsy as you want people to believe.”
That can be fixed.” Alarmed by his perceptiveness, she drained the rest of her White Russian. “Ta-da. By the way, I totally noticed you. I just didn’t think you were interested.”
Something sparked in those green eyes of his. “What made you think that?”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Just something I picked up on. You’re here with your friends, you’re having fun, drinking, hanging out, but you’re not looking for anything. You didn’t set off my play-dar.”
“Play-dar?”
“My play-dar helps me spot a player from two hundred yards.”
His burst of laughter lit up his face. “You should patent that. You’d make bank.”
“I’m right, aren’t I?” She wasn’t sure if she wanted to be right or wrong. If anyone would tempt her, it would be catcher Mike Solo.
“As a matter of fact, you are, at least for now. It’s the baseball season,” he said as if it explained everything.
She shook her head, not understanding.
“I take a Vow of Celibacy at the beginning of every season. I stick to it until the last out of the last game.”
“A Vow of Celibacy? You mean, like a monk?”
“Yep.” He took another swig from his beer. “I pour all my energy into baseball. No distractions. No drama. It’s great for my concentration. According to my calculations, it adds an extra fifty points to my batting average.”
“Wow.” She eyed him, fascinated. This was the most intriguing conversation she’d ever had at the Roadhouse. “So you haven’t had sex since … when, Opening Day?”
“Spring Training, actually.”
“So if I invited you back to my place and told you every naughty thing I’d like you to do to me, you’d say …”
His eyes darkened and his Adam’s apple moved up and down the strong column of his throat. “I’d say you’re trying to kill me.”  
Damn. Now he was even more tempting than he had been before he’d revealed his Vow.
“You know, as a public service, you should be less attractive,” she told him. “Get a mullet. Or wear those shiny, baggy sweats. And a wife-beater. It’s only fair, if you’re going to be off-limits.”
“Sorry, you lost me at attractive. After that all I heard was blah-blah-blah.”
They both burst out laughing. Somehow it felt as if she’d known him much longer than the approximately ten minutes since they’d met. “So you’re a hottie who won’t put out, and I’m a flirt who just wants my friend to have fun. We’re quite a pair, aren’t we?”
He clicked his beer bottle against her empty glass. “To us.”
“To us,” she echoed, then slid off the table she’d been perched on. He caught her arm to help her, setting every nerve ending on that side of her body aflame.
He put his hand in the small of her back and guided her through the crowd toward the bar. Hmm, she wondered, her mind filled with images of Mike’s laughing green eyes and hard body. Just how long did the baseball season last? 

CAUGHT BY YOU, AKA the rest of Mike and Donna's story, will be out on December 29! Click here to preorder.


Monday, November 30, 2015

.99 Sale Alert!

News flash! Deal alert! Confetti explosion! ALL OF ME is only .99 today for Kindle. Fair warning, I don't know how long the price will be this low. With book 2, CAUGHT BY YOU, coming out on December 29, this is the perfect time to start this fun, sexy baseball series if you haven't already.

Happy reading!
 
http://www.amazon.com/All-Me-Between-Bases-Novel-ebook/dp/B00U1TTATC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448909181&sr=8-1&keywords=all+of+me+bernard




Monday, September 7, 2015

Favorite Things for Fall Giveaway



Have you signed up for my newsletter? If you have (and you read the September issue), you know all about my Favorite Things for Fall Giveaway. If not, here's the scoop. If you join the list, you'll be automatically entered into my Favorite Things for Fall Giveaway -- exclusive for newsletter subscribers. Every month until the end of the year, I'll give away a super-cool prize. Each prize will be something that I personally LOVE and hope you will too. The September prize is a gift set from Suki Tea, a wonderful tea blender based in Belfast, Ireland. One of my favorite readers introduced me to Suki. As a tea aficionado, someone who literally cannot write without a cup of tea on hand, I can vouch for this tea as being among the best I've ever tasted. I'll pick a winner on September 29, and will announce the next prize in the October newsletter. It could be a treat from Alaska or something from Hawaii or beyond. Whatever it is, it will be one of my favorite things ever, I promise you that.

Is that enough to get you to sign up? I'm also sharing exclusive sneak peeks at CAUGHT BY YOU, the next Love Between the Bases novel due out on December 29. In September's newsletter, I posted half of Chapter 1, and will include the entire first chapter in October's issue.

What else? How about recipes, book recommendations, and more giveaways? And, of course, snapshots of life in Alaska, Hawaii, or wherever I happen to be. Have I lured you in yet? Here's the link to sign up. :-) I'd love to see you there!


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