Today I am so pleased to welcome R.L. Merrill to Joyfully Jay. R.L. has come to talk to us about her latest release, A Peace Offering. She has also brought along an exclusive excerpt and a great giveaway. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Greetings, oh Joyful ones! I’m tickled to get to spend Friday the 13th with you! Why do you ask? Because I am the opposite of someone with Triskaidekaphobia. I love this day! I’m also an “Every day is Halloween” kinda gal, in love with all the things that go bump in the night. So why, you might be asking, am I here with a semi-Christmas-y holiday story? Glad you asked! I have a confession…
I am not a fan of Christmas.
I decorate and celebrate with my family out of duty, but it’s a struggle. Being the child of divorced parents who married a child of divorced parents…you get my drift. So while the thought of taking down my beloved skulls and jack o’ lanterns has me on the brink of tears, I do have a fondness for holiday stories. Specifically the stories I’ve found as part of the Advent collection from Dreamspinner each year. It probably helped that the first year I read them, the theme was Bah Humbug, which totally suits me. My very first one was Teddy Bears by Brandon Witt. Oh my…someone understood me! Someone knew what it was like to go through the holidays spending time with people who were constantly trying to change you or were disappointed in you. People who criticized everything you loved…Yes. I found those stories and got to watch awkward folks like me find happiness and a bit of holiday joy. Then I read Krampus Hates Christmas by Andi Van (which I HIGHLY recommend) and by then I’d decided…
Someday I, too, will write a holiday story about someone whose differences make them feel even more alienated during the holidays.
Fast forward to May of 2019 when I sent in a novella I was ridiculously excited about to my publisher. I dreamed that maybe, just maybe, my story would be good enough to be included in this year’s collection. I wrote the story while housesitting for my friend up in Portland, Oregon, surrounded by antiques and dark wood finishes. Old places really inspire me and the story came together pretty darn well! And guess what? It’s out there now tucked into a collection with authors I admire. I’m beyond thrilled, honestly. For someone who never thought writing was something they’d be able to accomplish…I’m living the dream!
A Peace Offering was inspired by one of my very favorite events in the Bay Area. Several years ago I began sharing a classroom with an excellent teacher who is my opposite in nearly every way. Jennifer doesn’t listen to loud music, or much music at all. She doesn’t do horror movies. My 13-year-old boy sense of humor makes her cringe and she loves to cook. When I cook? My food tastes like hate, people. Despite all of those things, we’ve been great friends ever since being roomies. For about seven years we shared a classroom and I was fortunate to get a behind-the-scenes education of the Charles Dickens Family Christmas Fair and Victorian Holiday Party, an annual traditional gathering held in San Francisco and Jennifer happens to be one of the actors in the event as part of Dickens’ family parlor. The amount of preparation that goes into this affair is staggering. A few of the years, Jennifer spent months piecing together a new dress or undergarments and when I finally got to visit, I was stunned by the transformation of the Cow Palace, and of my dear friend. She’s so in her element, it’s a joy to watch. Between the actors, performers, and vendors there’s so much to see…and buy. It’s a great place to get one-of-a-kind gifts for friends and families, and there’s something for everyone. Check it out here
So as I began to ponder this year’s theme of Homemade for the Holidays, visions of a brooding artist who takes part in celebrating the holidays out of necessity and watches others from the outside and Dover Billings was born. His rival? Landry Malcolm, golden boy tailor and corset maker, a much younger man who is everything that Dover dislikes…and yet he’s drawn to him, which is highly annoying! They spend the better part of a year sharing awkward interludes until…well, here’s a little excerpt for you.
Check this out:
You can see my lovely friend Jennifer at :13 seconds in.
“All right, all right, pipe down everyone. Welcome to the 2019 Dickens Family Christmas Fair Season. Belinda will be coming around to hand you your information packet, complete with a map and schedule for the season. If there are questions, you can speak to us after the meeting. Now, a few announcements….” Dover tuned out as soon as he saw Belinda coming around with the packets.
Please let me have the Williams booth. Please let me have the Williams booth.
Belinda started on the other side of the room, and Dover watched as Landry received his. The two women he was with both looked over his shoulder and squealed at the contents of the packet. Landry smiled and exhaled as though he was relieved. None of this boded well for Dover.
“Whatever happens, it’s going to be fine.” Miranda slid into the seat next to his with a little difficulty. “Oooo! A Shirley Temple? I love Shirley Temples!”
Dover couldn’t stop staring in Landry’s direction, as though he could somehow, through telepathy, find out what had Landry smiling like that. And then Landry caught his eye. His smile seemed to convey sympathy.
“Fuck,” Dover growled under his breath. Well, at least they wouldn’t be right next to each other again. If he got Williams’s old booth, he’d be in the center of the bay, smack-dab in the center of all the action.
If Dover took his own interests out of the equation, it really made the most sense for Landry to have that booth.
Belinda finally made it to his table, and Miranda reached for the packet. She immediately flipped to the map, then sighed.
“I already know,” he said when she started chewing on her lip.
“I’m sorry, Dover.”
“It’s fine. Really. We’ll make it work. Where are we?”
She pointed on the map to the booth directly across from the booth he’d wanted. The booth Landry had had the year prior.
“We’ll have more room than we did, at least,” she said, trying to make the situation better
“I know, but I had plans. Hey, take good notes for me.”
She smiled at him as he stood from the table and headed toward the men’s room, probably hoping he wasn’t going off to sulk. He wasn’t. Not totally. He simply needed a minute to breathe.
He was washing his hands at the sink and trying to regain his composure when the door opened.
“Oh, hey. Dover, I’m sorry—”
He held up a hand. “It’s fine.” If he said it enough times, he might actually believe it.
“I’m okay with what I had last year. Maybe they’ll let us switch.”
Dover shook his head as he dried his hands on a towel. “Don’t do that.
You need the bigger space. It’s fine.”
Landry snorted and then covered his mouth. “I’m sorry. That was rude. It’s just ‘It’s fine’ sounds a helluva lot like ‘Fuck you.’”
“Oh God,” Dover said, laughing a bit himself. “That’s not what I mean, I’m sorry.”
Landry waved his hand and moved past Dover to the sinks to wash up and straighten his hair in the mirror. He looked flushed, as though he’d maybe had a few more drinks than Dover. He also smelled really good.
“Don’t worry. I promise, I’ll make it up to you. I’ll be sure the window facing your booth will have an excellent view.”
“Why? Are you planning to model?” Oh, God, did I actually say that?
Landry’s shock was evident. Dover knew he couldn’t take it back. He stood a little taller and kicked his chin out. Maybe all the drinks were a little strong tonight. No way he would have been brave enough to say that.
Landry’s cheeks reddened further, and he dried his hands quickly. He stepped close, really close, well into Dover’s personal space.
“That could be arranged. I was actually going to ask you to model. Perhaps we can pose together.” His voice had taken on a breathy quality that made Dover’s heart race. Heat radiated off Landry, or perhaps it was Dover’s own libido coming to life, warming him from the inside out at the thought of seeing Landry in fewer clothes. But then he picked up on what Landry said.
“Me? Model? No—”
“Oh, please? Why not? It’ll be fun, and you are absolutely stunning, don’t you know that?”
Landry reached up and twirled a loose strand of Dover’s long hair around his fingertip, a quiet moan issuing from his throat.
Dover swallowed and absently swayed closer to Landry, their chests brushing, the contact giving Dover goose bumps. “I—”
Landry closed the distance, cradled Dover’s face in his soft hands, and pressed his lips to Dover’s, taking him so by surprise, he groaned. He didn’t pull away. He stood leaning in, memorizing the feel of Landry’s soft lips—which had some sort of tingly lip balm on them—touching his own and every point of contact between them. Landry’s stubble burned his skin, and Dover wanted closer, wanted to feel that burn on other places. Landry smelled like cherries, menthol, and liquor; the latter so strong it brought tears to Dover’s eyes. It was enough to wake him. What the hell was he doing kissing someone, a fair-someone, in the fucking john at the all-hands meeting?
“I’m… wow…. Dover. I—”
Dover took a step back, stunned. He reached up to touch his still-tingling lips. “Excuse me.”
Rather than freak out in front of the guy, Dover pushed past him and practically ran for the table he was sharing with Miranda. He slid into a chair next to her, and put his head in his hands.
“Where were you? They’re already done talking about the schedule and the build weekends—”
“Sorry. Did I, uh, miss anything?”
Miranda looked at him and blinked. She leaned closer. “Why do you smell like Carmex?”
Dover Billings has sold his handcrafted wares at the Dickens Fair in San Francisco for over twenty years. He’s not as outgoing as the other artisans at this yearly Victorian celebration and prefers to observe the festivities from the shadows. That is until a new corset maker moves into the booth next door and unsettles his carefully constructed life. Landry Malcolm is handsome, well dressed, and the life of the party… one Dover wants no part of. Too bad he’s attracted to his confident younger rival.
Landry desperately wishes to get through to the beautiful artist next door, but every move he makes seems to be the wrong one, until a drunken kiss breaks through Dover’s serious demeanor. Miscommunications plague any attempts to find common ground, though, leaving Landry wondering what—if anything—he can do to make things right. Will a custom-made peace offering open the door to friendship, cooperation… and maybe more?
A story from the Dreamspinner Press 2019 Advent Calendar “Homemade for the Holidays.”
Once upon a time… A teacher, tattoo collector, mom, and rock ‘n’ roll kinda gal opened up a doc and started purging her demons. Several self-published books and two series with Dreamspinner Press later, with more tucked away in her evil lair, R.L. Merrill is still striving to find that perfect balance between real-life and happily ever after. You can find her lurking on social media where she loves connecting with readers, being a mom-taxi to two brilliant and busy kids, in the tattoo chair trying desperately to get that back piece finished, or headbanging at a rock show near her home in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance.
R.L. has brought a $10 Amazon gift card to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter (she’d love to know whether you are Gung-Ho for the Holidays or Bah Humbugged over it all and what gets you through the madness.) The contest ends on Wednesday, December 18th at 11:59 pm ET.
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