Nancy: They Shoot Lounge Lizards, Don’t They? Part 1

Two years ago, I returned from a trip to LA shortly before we got our Christmas story prompt and challenge words. One of the words that year was flamingo, and somehow my trip and that word sparked a fun, steamy story I called They Shoot Flamingos, Don’t They? It was a blast to write that story, and I’ve always intended to revisit that world. So for this year’s challenge, I’m doing a prequel to Flamingos, flashing back to the previous Christmas when Cynthia and Derek met. In Las Vegas, because of course. Since this will be another long short story, I’m breaking it into two parts. I hope you enjoy it and come back next week for part 2!

Regarding the story prompt, our heroine receives an unexpected gift in the form of an open bar tab…you’ll see what I mean. And the challenge words I’ve used in part 1 are: blinking, warm, seed, bittersweet, bauble, invitation, coat, sticky, aversion, and challenge.

They Shoot Lounge Lizards, Don’t They? A Christmas(ish) Tale, Part 1

There had to be a better way to get a date.

I sucked down the last few bittersweet drops of my Jack Daniel’s Black Label—neat, thank you very much—and tapped my phone to consciousness to check the time. My could-be loverboy from LoveStruck was officially fifteen minutes late. That’ll teach me to swipe right on anyone willing to meet for a drink on Christmas Eve in Vegas. Continue reading

Nancy: They Shoot Flamingos, Don’t They? A Christmas(ish) Tale

Happy New Year! It’s official. It’s now 2018.

And yet, I come offering my 2017 Christmas story. It’s a long one. (Had I been a wise woman like Jilly, I would have posted it in two parts.) It’s involves a bit of romance. And a clandestine organization. And, as promised, flamingos. Whether you’re nursing a hangover, agonizing over returning to work, or mulling over your new year’s resolutions, I hope you enjoy it!

They Shoot Flamingos, Don’t They? A Christmas(ish) Tale

There had to be a better way to make a living.

Going straight was for the birds. Literally. I glanced down at the deflated inflatable flamingos I clutched by limp necks. Who the hell had ever heard of flamingos in a Christmas lawn display? There weren’t flamingos in Bethlehem or at the North Pole. No respectable Christmas story featured the ridiculous pink birds. But Mrs. Leary had insisted that the damned things – part of her year-round yard décor on her 2-acre plot in the heart of Beverly Hills – be included in the Christmas decoration design.

“Miss Klauson, you wanted to see me?” Old Mrs. Leary, probably never very tall but now well under 5 feet, with tight shoulder-length curls shot through with gray, tottered toward me.

“Please, it’s Sandy.”

Sandy Klauson. Seriously. I mean, Jesus of Nazareth. Never let it be said that Ms. X doesn’t have a sense of humor, but if she had to cut me loose a few weeks before Christmas, she sure as hell could have come up with a better cover name for me. And a better civilian job. And a better place than LA at Christmas time, under a beating hot sun with nary a snowflake in sight. X had probably done it out of spite, but it was ridiculously unfair. Anyone could have made the mistake of tranquilizing an overly handsy ambassador from a small but important US ally. OK, so it was more of a choice than a mistake, but still.

Mrs. Leary sucked in her breath and opened her eyes wide in surprise. “Oh, this is a catastrophe!” She reached out and petted one of the limp plastic birds. “My dearly departed husband gave me these flamingos on our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I’ve had them in my yard ever since.” Her eyes filled with tears.

Well hell. So much for the suggestion of rehoming the birds in the trash can.

“I don’t know what happened.” I didn’t mention the small slits I’d found in their throats. “I found them like this. But I’ll fix them for you. We’ll make them good as new.”

Mrs. Leary wiped away a tear. “Oh, you’re a good girl. Thank you, dear.”

As the old lady returned to the house, I looped around the outskirts of the palatial building until I found TJ, the job foreman, and explained the dilemma and my plan. “I’ll just take the van, find a garage or bike shop, and have someone fix these for me, like a flat tire. I should be back in a few hours.”

Across the lawn, the old lady emerged from the side door with her oversized chauffeur – whom I suspected doubled as a body guard – steadying her, and headed for the detached garage. Her daily 2 PM outing to get a newspaper, a cup of tea, and a comb-out at the beauty parlor. Yes, I’d clocked her movements and done some recon. So sue me. Old habits die hard.

I turned back to TJ, who’d been watching me watch her. He had his own interesting habits, and with his height and heft, I wouldn’t mind having him at my back in a fight, just like Derek…I wouldn’t let my mind go there. Still, TJ would have been good Company material, and if X hadn’t lost her mind and fired me, I might have recruited him.

TJ shook his head at me. “Get the old lady’s birds fixed. But you can’t take the van. We still have half the strings of lights in there. Take an Uber and get a receipt.”

I nodded and headed for the front gates, which stood wide open to give us easy access to our van and equipment that Mrs. Leary refused to let us park in her driveway. I’d just pulled out my phone to contact an Uber – and yes, I would save the receipt and turn it in for reimbursement, thank you very much, since X had frozen my assets – when something caught my eye. Something that didn’t belong on this neat, narrow, tree-covered street in the Hills.

The scuffed black work boots immediately gave away the game. Half a block down and on the other side of the road, leaning against the side of a shiny, black, expensive-looking pick-up truck, thumbs hooked in the belt loops of his jeans, wearing a tight blue tee shirt that showcased his broad chest his rock-hard biceps, with his long legs stretched in front of him and crossed at the shank of those boots I’d know anywhere.

“Bastard.” Continue reading

Jilly: Midnight Reflections – A Christmas Short Story

Happy Holidays, everyone!

It’s Christmas story time again, already! Check out Elizabeth’s post for this year’s challenge words. Click here for Kay’s deliciously feelgood snowy tale, and here for Michaeline’s steampunk treat.

As my posts fall on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve this year, I decided to write a two-parter covering both nights. I picked off the prompt words in Part One, below, but the Happy Ending will have to wait until next Sunday.

***

Midnight Reflections

Bong!Bong! … Bong!

The unmistakable chimes of the Great Bell of London, commonly known as Big Ben, resonated across the moonlit, traffic-free city. A random snowflake drifted from the cloudless sky and settled on the roof of the Elizabeth Tower. It was officially Christmas.

Below the belfry, in the mechanism room, Sandy Sharp, the youngest horologist in the Palace of Westminster, waited until the last echo of the final chime faded. Then she threw the temporary switch that disconnected the hour train that caused the half-ton hammer to strike the fourteen-ton bell.

She wiped her hands on her jeans and traced the raised, gold-on-black inscription at the base of the legendary clock. Made in the Year of our Lord 1854 by Frederick Dent of the Strand and the Royal Exchange, Clockmaker to the Queen, from the Designs of Edmund Beckett Denison, QC. Fixed here 1859.

Officially the clock was shut down for refurbishment, but the powers that be had decreed the Great Bell should ring out to celebrate the start of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. The Keeper of the Clock had asked for volunteers to babysit the process, and the other mechanics, who had families to consider, had accepted with guilty relief when Sandy offered to cover both shifts.

The team thought they knew why she wanted to do it. They weren’t wrong exactly, they just didn’t know the half of it. The critical aspects of her plan were too unorthodox to share with her profoundly rational colleagues.

Her earliest memory was of being carried in her father’s arms, up, up and around endless stairs to this room. As a tenth birthday surprise, Dad had let her place an old copper penny on the pendulum stack to speed up the mechanism by two-fifths of a second per day. On her sixteenth, he’d signed her up as his apprentice. On her twentieth, she’d joined the team as a fully qualified mechanic.

And then a scant few weeks later, joy had turned to catastrophe. Some time between the beginning of his shift on New Year’s Eve, and the end of it the following day, Dad had simply disappeared. It was as though the Elizabeth Tower had swallowed him whole.

Sandy was almost sure she didn’t believe in ghosts, but Continue reading

Jilly: Till Death Do Us Part–A Winter Short Story

I’ve been having trouble with my WIP this week—I think the Girls in the Basement are in holiday mode—so after much fruitless wheel-spinning I decided to see if I could tempt them back into action by trying something different.

I’ll let you know whether it works, but for now here’s a chilly short story using the prompt words from Elizabeth’s most recent Friday Writing Sprints post: Guide, Reflection, Freedom, History, Hope, Pageant, Cherish, Winter, Rattle, Sleep, Amusing, Celebrity, Ankle, Frog, Kingdom, Eruption.

***

“In sickness and in health, to love and to cherish…”

Arturo Black, the celebrity-slash-actor playing immortal anti-hero Constant Dangier, stared deep into my eyes. His beautiful voice echoed around the vaulted ceiling. To his right a strategically placed sheet of polished steel bounced light on to his pale skin, but his reflection was non-existent.

I started shivering, and no matter how hard I bit my lip or dug my nails into my palm, gelid tremors kept cascading down my spine. I told myself it was because Dartmoor in mid-December was no place to be wearing a strapless, backless froth of white lace and precious little else.

Continue reading

Jilly: Mistletoe and Ivy – A Christmas Short Story

mistletoe-and-ivyHappy holidays, everyone! Here’s my contribution to this year’s 8 Ladies Christmas Short Story Challenge.

Check out Elizabeth’s post on Friday for the rules, prompt words, and a magical snippet from Michaeline. And click here for Kay’s delightfully tweaked fairytale.

Mistletoe and Ivy

Rob Smith (not his real name) fixed a large spray of mistletoe to the deer antlers that branched conveniently over the sheepskin rug in front of the log fire. Saving the free world from the bad guys was what he did, three hundred and sixty four days a year. Accepting personal thanks from a single representative of those he saved was his annual gift to himself on the three-hundred-and-sixty-fifth.

This year he had the Ambassador’s daughter to snuggle with. When he’d returned the gorgeous Gina safe and sound to her famous, wealthy and relieved father, she’d made it clear, in scandalous detail, that she wished to reward him in person.

Gina hadn’t been happy he’d made her wait so long, but really, what better time than Christmas to turn that fantasy into reality?

His pager buzzed. Oh, no, you don’t. Not today.

He turned it off.

It turned itself back on and buzzed louder.

He threw it out of the cabin door and into a snowdrift where it vibrated loudly for a third time before falling silent.

Three times? Whatever it was, it was bad.

He fished carefully into the breast pocket of his woolen shirt as though his satphone was an IED. It might as well have been. He turned it on and waited for his boss’s PA to ruin his holiday. Ivy McPherson, probably not her real name. Known as The Icicle, which should have been. Continue reading

Kay: ‘Twas Daybreak on Christmas

Sleigh-Silhouette’Twas daybreak on Christmas, and all through the hall
All the servants were stirring, for tonight was the ball.
The Yule log was laid and the mistletoe hung,
In hopes that Sir Darcy’s fling would be flung.

Miss Lizzie still nestled all snug in her bed,
While nightmares of family danced in her head.
But Mary and Kitty, and Lydia, too,
Argued at breakfast about whom Darcy would woo.

Continue reading

Elizabeth: The Christmas Wager

db_Christmas_Traditions0056“Oh, Papa, what have you done now?” Charlotte asked her father as he sat at the table calmly eating his Christmas pudding.

He raised his head and peered at her over the top of his spectacles with a frown. “What have I done?”

Charlotte pointed to the man standing in the doorway. “Lord Bickershaw has your note of hand for this house. He claims he won it from you.”

“Oh. That.” Lord Atherton sighed. “Meant to tell you about that, my dear.   I was testing my new mathematical theory–“

“By gambling?” she interrupted.

He rubbed his forehead as if trying to erase a bad memory. “I don’t know where I went wrong. Things were going splendidly all evening, then all of the sudden they took turn for the worse.” Continue reading

Jilly: Runaway Match – 500-Word Short Story

Welcome to the 8LW Christmas Week Short Story Challenge. The rules, as made up on the spot in the comments to my Man-Caves and Brainwaves post a few weeks ago, are simple – write a short story of no more than 500 words including ‘Derbyshire’ and at least three of the following: Darcy, Rhinoceros, Woolly, Admire, Love, Mine, Villain, Volcano, Ghost. Extra kudos for including more than three, and kudos with sparkles for Christmas references.

Okay, here goes:

Runaway Match

Runaway Match“Goddamn it, Darcy, this is no time to behave like a gentleman!” Rhett Favre snarled. Barely a handful of grains left in the game timer, one score behind, and still his best friend hesitated.

“I admire your ingenuity, Rhett.” Darcy Moncrieff looked over to the far corner of snow-covered Chatsworth Field, where Lady Elizabeth stood, desperately waving her woolly white pom-poms. “I love her more than my honor.” He stood tall and squared his broad shoulders. “Very well. Let us do it.”

What the hell had the Duke of Derbyshire been smoking when he decided to offer his daughter’s hand in marriage to the winning captain of the Christmas football game? He’d surely never expected Continue reading