Monday, September 17, 2012

Giveaway and Book Review of The Carriage Trade

Giveaway and Book Review of 
     The Carriage Trade
Sponsored by 
       Virtual Book Tours

Welcome to Books, Books, and More Books.  I am pleased to share my review of this book with you.  Thank you for visiting and please come again.

Publisher Self
Genre Contemporary Romance
Release Date June 15, 2012

Blurb : 

How do you get to a "Happily Ever After" when you can't remember where it began?

Carlin "Carlos" Farley's life is an open book. Unfortunately, she can't remember most of it. She's losing her barn manager, Bill, the guy who's been running her horse drawn carriage business while she's been in extended care recovering from an accident. Bill has always been there for her, in fact they've grown up together, but now he wants to pursue the career he put on hold and Carlin's resigned to the idea that he's leaving her.
Bill Fantazma is the kind of guy who always tries to do the right thing. But sometimes doing the right thing is not the right thing to do. He's been in charge of Carlin's care and the business he helped acquire for her, and has accepted the accident and her subsequent brain damage as a chance for a do-over, since his previous actions to attract her affection were less than honorable.
Richard Cooper appears to be the answer to their business problems. Knowledgeable about horses, willing to step in and take over the barn manager position, helpful and solicitous to Carlin, he's not put off by her sometimes bizarre and quirky behavior.
But when Richard sees an opportunity to move in and draw Carlin's affection, Bill realizes just what she means to him and must make a decision; come clean about their past and risk her anger, or step aside to allow Richard to have a romantic relationship with the woman Bill has loved all of his life.
It's a romance she can't remember and he can never forget.

About the Author:

Lisa Deon told stories for years before she ever thought of writing them down. Had it not been for the invention of the PC and Microsoft Word, she never would have, because typing was just not her thing. So much so that her first novel, written in Junior High, was dictated to a friend who was a superior typist, speller and had a much better appreciation for proper grammar and punctuation. After they parted ways, Lisa shared her tales by cornering people at cocktail parties and telling them stories until someone had to give up and go pee.
Now, with the advent of the previously mentioned technological miracles, you can enjoy Lisa's yarns in the comfort and privacy of your home and use the restroom whenever the spirit moves you, without having to formulate a creative way of escaping her clutches, like faking a heart attack or pulling the fire alarm.
If you feel it necessary, you can stalk Lisa online at Facebook or send an email to which she might answer depending on if you are actually being sincere or if she thinks you are trying to sell her diet water, erection pills, or advise her she has won the Nigerian Lottery. In any case, this "About the Author" is the only place where she talks about herself in the third person.
Offline, she has three rescue dogs, a rescue husband, a daughter in the military, a mother living in her basement (of her own free will) a beloved but seldom ridden Appaloosa and is babysitting a Bearded Dragon. Or would that be Dragon-sitting? Either way, her favorite foods are wine and popcorn, her favorite color is dog, and her favorite smell is horse. Not necessarily in that order.




In Carlin 'Carlos' Farley's estimation, today was not the single worst day of her life; that distinction belonged to the day Bill Fantazma's grieving parents sat her down and told her about the accidental deaths of her mother, father, and big sister, along with their own precious daughter. In hindsight, had she been older than six, Carlos would have immediately recognized that day as a turning point. A significant moment in time that, upon closer examination, would have unveiled to her a future vastly different from the one she once imagined.

It was the day from her past that all other shitty days were judged against, and found to lack the same emotional shock of that particular day.

Still, today certainly counted as a day that sucked ass.

What began as a leisurely Friday off from her job as a private chef, and the promise of an enjoyable evening at her part-time job driving carriage, had, due to an over-zealous process server, morphed into a cluster fuck of epic proportions.

After being served with divorce papers, which were not scheduled to be delivered until the next day, her douche-bag, under-age-girlfriend-impregnating, dick-head of a soon-to-be-ex-husband now had her cornered in the little barn of the horse drawn carriage company owned and operated by his family. Not her first choice of locations for a showdown, and she certainly did not want their toddler son, Oscar, to be a witness to the altercation. But Bill was running late, held up at the university, unable to pick Oscar up and watch him while Carlos worked her shift driving a horse drawn carriage. Plus Jason, her future ex-husband, was not reacting in the joyous, celebratory, "I'm so happy to at last be rid of you, bitch!" manner in which she optimistically hoped he would.

Things were not proceeding the way Carlos had meticulously planned.

So here they were, her best friend, Nora Hobart, keeping Oscar busy in the office while Jason and Carlos engaged in a shouting match. The only saving grace was none of the other employees had arrived to work their shifts.

"It'll be a frigid day in Hell, missy, when I allow you to dictate what happens to our marriage!"

Jason's Australian accent made even his threats sound almost charming. But Carlos knew she had him cold. A phone call to the right people would set the wheels of justice in motion. Jason would soon be charged with statutory rape, among other crimes. Even if he wasn't found guilty of any charges, he would at the very least be deported. She figured out long ago that although it hadn't started out that way on her end, theirs was a green card marriage. Everyone concerned knew it sure as shit wasn't because he loved her.

After several years of misery, and a very intense two weeks of debate, Bill finally convinced her that she deserved better. And while Jason stomped around, flailing his arms, shouting and posturing, her heart swelled with the knowledge that, despite everything she and Bill had been through together, and separately, despite every bad thing in their shared past, somewhere ahead there was a future for them together.

"… I'll work you over until you can't walk! Now get your fat ass upstairs, and start cooking my supper, you ugly cow!" His once handsome face had lately taken on the translucent and gaunt look of a drug user. Exactly what he was using, she wasn't sure of, besides herself, of course. Because of his increasingly erratic behavior, she made sure Oscar was never alone with him. Even Jason's controlling parents had begun to curtail the time they spent in their son's company.

Carlos inhaled deeply through her nose, blowing all of her rage out across tight lips while contemplating the man she had been coerced to marry. Let's face it, she reminded herself, I only married him because he got me pregnant. Bill's parents encouraged it and I settled for him. But I don't have to settle any longer.

"I don't think so," she replied, the freedom within her grasp bolstering her resolve. And when Jason surged towards her, fists clenched at his side, shoulders back, in a feeble attempt to intimidate her, she stood her ground.

Nose to nose, his rage radiated off of him in almost visible waves.

"If you ever lay a hand on me again, I guarantee you will end up as a bad smell in the high Uintas. It's a well documented fact that people get lost in the mountains all the time, Jason. If you dare touch me or Oscar again, you will become nothing more than a statistic."

"Are you going to sic that Sasquatch step-brother of yours on me? I'll press charges against him. I'll tell the cops he wanted to jump into the Poly Crips gang, and I was his initiation."

Carlos huffed out a laugh, sidestepping around Jason to get to her locker. Spinning the dial on the combination lock she noted the idea that the Docker pants and Polo shirt wearing, football playing, finance majoring, Bill Fantazma would throw his future away to jump into a gang was just the sort of asinine story that an unimaginative dumbass like Jason would cook up.

"You know he's not my brother, step or otherwise, and the only thing that's kept Bill from killing you, is me. Personally, I'm starting to re-think my policy on the situation. Having you dead would save me the trouble and expense of divorcing you." Carlos opened her locker, grabbed a lead rope, and headed for the halters hanging against the wall.

Extending his middle finger and flipping Carlos off, Jason stomped out the door, throwing a shoulder check as he passed her. Maintaining her balance, Carlos grabbed a halter big enough to fit Tony, the Belgian gelding she was driving that night. Exiting the little barn, she passed her white carriage decorated with pink and purple flowers and headed out to the covered horse pens, taking slow, deep breaths. From past experience she knew the confrontation wasn't over; he'd be back to spew more verbal abuse on her before she left to go to the carriage stand for the evening.

The crisp smell of pine shavings calmed her as she wound her way through the herd of draft horses. A pat on a plump rump here, a stroke on the neck there, she was alternately followed and nuzzled by various horses as she forged a path to Tony. Placing the halter on his enormous head, she attached the lead rope and walked him out of the gate. At the uneven sound of clanging on the concrete, she stopped and looked at his hooves. Tony was missing a horseshoe.

"Tony, do you deliberately peel off a shoe every two weeks?" With a sigh she turned the massive animal around and led him back into the pen. Removing his halter, she pressed her forehead against his muscular neck and inhaled his warm musky aroma. Grabbing his face, she placed a kiss on his soft nose, and moved on to catch Jack, her second favorite horse co-worker.

Towing Jack behind her, Carlos returned to the small barn and tied him to a rail anchored to the wall. Heading to the equipment rack, she gathered a hoof pick and brushes and began the process of grooming Jack. Once he was clean she retrieved his leather harness out of the tack room and dressed him for work. The monotony gave her a chance to reflect.

It's almost over, she told herself. Keep all the frustration in check, and focus on the future. Jason had to be served sometime, and while tomorrow would have been more convenient, at least now Oscar and I can move forward. We'll spend the weekend up at the cabin with Bill, look through the newspaper for a place to live, and move next week.

Finished with getting Jack ready, Carlos entered the driver's locker room and changed into her work clothes, consisting of black jeans, a white shirt and a dark purple vest topped off by a black cowboy hat. Her preparations complete, she opened the office door and stepped inside to get Oscar.

Nora leaned back in the office chair, feet propped on the desktop, and paged through a tack catalog while Oscar lay sprawled on the floor, coloring book open, scribbling furiously with a fat blue crayon.

"That sounded like a lot of fun." Nora flipped a dark brown braid out of her face. "Next time, hire a lawyer who doesn't work out of the basement of his mom's house and maybe the summons will arrive when it's supposed to. As it turns out, you do get what you pay for."

"Mommy!" Oscar dropped his crayons on the floor and jumped up, raising his arms. Carlos lifted her son; love for him flooding through her, as she planted a kiss on his almost white hair and parked him on her hip. He pointed out the door opening into the barn at Jack, patiently standing by the rail.

"Hish," Oscar said, displaying a toothy baby grin.

"Horse," Carlos corrected.

"Hish!" Oscar clapped his chubby hands together. "Wide hish! Wide hish!"

"Like mother, like son," Nora snorted. "Are you taking the little prince to South Gate with you or is he my date for the evening?" Nora walked around the desk and carefully combed Oscar's hair out of his face, the corn silk blond a stark contrast against her cocoa skin and bright red nails.

"Noowa," Oscar squealed, reaching to pat Nora's cheeks with both hands.

"Nor-ra," Carlos absently corrected him. "No, I'll take him with me. Bill can pick him up from the hack line when he's done meeting with his professor. He should only be about an hour or so. It's early yet; I seriously doubt I'll pick up any rides between now and then."

"Has Jason figured out you're leaving him for Bill?" Nora asked, crossing her arms and leaning against the door frame.

Carlos glanced at her surroundings, cut her eyes towards Oscar, then grimaced. "That's not the reason I filed for divorce, Nora. Brandy is sixteen, and pregnant. My husband is the father. I'm done."

"Underage was never a problem for you where Bill was concerned," Nora smirked.

"There wasn't twenty years difference between us," Carlos replied, "only three." Switching Oscar to her right hip she continued, "Whose side are you on, anyway? Are you jumping over to Team Jason?"

"No, but I want you to be careful." Nora gave her friend a knowing look. "And smart. I don't want to see that ass-hat put you in the hospital. Or the morgue. Get moved out as soon as you can. You have a tribe of friends to help, you know?"

An unexpected rush of blood flushed north to Carlos's face induced by a mix of embarrassment and gratitude at Nora's remark and tears welled up in her eyes. She did have a support network of friends. She was not as alone as she had believed for the last several years.

"There you go again," Carlos sniffed back her tears, trying to sound tough, "bossing me around as usual." But the hand she laid on Nora's arm and squeezed left no doubt as to her gratitude.

Turning, Carlos hitched Oscar higher on her hip and headed out to her carriage where she settled Oscar in the passenger compartment.

"Stay, baby," she instructed him.

Collecting Jack from his position on the hitching post in the barn, she proceeded to ground drive him out and harness him to the carriage. When Carlos finished she climbed onto the carriage and patted the spot on the driver's seat next to her. "Up here, Oscar," she said, and watched as her nimble son scrambled up over the upholstered seats onto the driver's box next to her.

"Hish," Oscar said, pointing at Jack.

"Walk on, Jack," Carlos instructed the enormous animal.

Jack stepped out and they headed down the carriage company driveway. After passing the stock trailer parked alongside the building Carlos felt the carriage sway. Turning, her heart sank to see Jason, smarmy look on his face, seated in the passenger compartment.

"Jack, ho," Carlos told the gelding.

"Get out!" she ordered her husband.

"Jack, walk on," Jason said to the horse.

Carlos tightened the lines, silently instructing Jack to stand still.

The barn office door burst open and Nora emerged, two hundred pounds of attitude and barely controlled animosity. "Problems?" she queried.

Carlos shook her head at Nora.

"Let's go for a little carriage ride, Carlin. I want to talk about that brother of yours. You know, the one you're leaving me for."

Nora and Carlos locked eyes. Sorry, Nora mouthed. Carlos shrugged her shoulders and Nora faded back into the building. Glancing down at Jason she replied, "Once again, not related to me in any manner, we just grew up in the same house." Carlos slacked the lines and clicked at Jack. The big horse stepped forward.

"You think you have this all figured out, don't you?"

At Jason's comment, Carlos swiveled her body so she could watch both Jason and the road. Oscar snuggled up next to her, wrapping his little arms around her waist.

"You think you're so smart with your fancy private chef job and your butch girlfriends always hanging around, interfering with our lives. Well you know what, missy? I'll make sure every damn one of them gets fired from this place."

Carlos rolled her eyes. "That'll be interesting to see. Your folks won't have any employees by the time you get through firing all of my friends. Not to mention the ones that'll just quit. Nobody can stand you, Jason. Nobody will stand by you, either. In the end you'll be exposed as the pathetic excuse for a man that you are."

"Is that so?"

Carlos ignored him, snaking her arm around Oscar to tuck him closer to her side. She had no intention of allowing Jason to ruin her life any more than he already had. As Jack plodded down the almost deserted street, she shut out his ranting and focused on piloting the horse and carriage. Turning, she steered Jack as far to the right side of the lane as possible, keeping out of the main flow of traffic.

"Oscar, come down here son. Come to Daddy," Jason cajoled, followed by a slapping sound.

Carlos felt Oscar turn around. Looking over her shoulder she watched Jason repeat the words and action again, slapping his hands against his thighs.

"He's not a dog, you monkey-fucker," Carlos snapped at Jason.

"Money-fuffer!" Oscar squealed, attempting to escape his mom's grasp and climb into the passenger compartment. Carlos edged closer to the curb as a car passed.

"Nice mouth," Jason snarled, motioning Oscar to come.

"No, baby-doll," Carlos corrected, "muf-fa-ler. Muffler."

"Muf-fa-ler," Oscar yelled triumphantly as he wriggled away from his mother and scrambled across the seats to Jason's lap.

"That's a good boy." Jason stroked Oscar's hair. "You stay right back here with me, son, where I can keep an eye on you. You and your mom aren't going anywhere. I will make sure she never gets to spend another day in your presence if she ever thinks she can pull a stunt like divorcing me."

The chill Carlos experienced could have been attributed to the shade of the building they passed by, or it might have been due to Jason's threat. Carlos shook it off, and turned to look at Jason.

"I'm leaving you," she said through gritted teeth, "I've had it with your lies, your drugs, and you’re fucking anything that can't outrun you. I know you will never change. I'm taking Oscar with me, and he'll finally have a father who's a role model, not a horrible example." They approached the overpass, and Carlos checked for traffic then veered out of the far right lane and into the left turn lane.

"I know you've been with Bill, and you're dreaming if you think for one minute I'll just let you walk away from me, and take my child with you," Jason's voice rose and took on a mocking tone as he spoke. "Bill's parents will never allow the two of you to be together; you'll never be good enough for their son. You're nothing but trash to them. A burden. A constant reminder of what they lost, getting stuck with you instead."

A pickup truck loaded with scrap metal rattled past, and Jack flinched a little.

"Easy, boy," Carlos softly intoned.

Closing her eyes, she shut out the image Jason was creating, trying to replace it with the look on Bill's face when she finally told him she would divorce Jason. His eyes shining with emotion, the relief on his face and her realization that he worried about her constantly. And the sudden burden lifted from her soul when she finally committed herself to a future with him.

Oscar's fussing yanked her out of her reverie.

"Lo go, Daddy!" Turning, Carlos watched as Oscar struggled to get out of Jason's grip, wanting to climb back up onto the box with her.

"Jason, let go of him," Carlos requested. Her heart jumped as she watched Jason grab Oscar's arm and wrench him onto the seat beside him. Oscar's scream sounded of both pain and fear.

"Stop hurting him!" Carlos yelled, her voice lost in the sound of a revving engine. Reaching for the carriage whip, she held it aloft, ready to hit Jason with it should the need arise.

"Wan Mommy!" Oscar cried, sliding off the seat and reaching his arms up towards his mother.

"Look out!" The warning shout came from the office building they'd just passed. She looked to her right and saw a man standing at a window, waving and pointing. She snapped her head to the left just in time to see the delivery truck bearing down on them slam into the carriage.

And then there was nothing.

Chapter Nineteen

The opportunity to use the restroom finally arrived, and Carlos took it. Bruce just pulled out, Phyllis was due back in half an hour and Amy should return any minute. She asked the two couples in line to please tell anyone else who showed up that she would be right back. She hurried to the West Gate restrooms and talked security into waiting a minute before he locked her out. We call you the Mormon Mafia, she thought as she begged him to let her use the john.

She gave him a gift certificate when she came out. She forgot to write, "Ask for Bill" across the top. Her pee stop had just cost her $11.60. That was the commission she would have to pay any other driver who gave the ride. Oh well, it was worth it, better than wetting my pants.

She scurried out of Temple Square as quickly as possible without breaking into a run, stopping short when she saw her carriage parked out front, Bill and Tony the Belgian waiting for her. He even turned her string of fancy pink lights on, which she knew he hated. Early in her driving career she had decorated her carriage, adding flowers, lights and speakers for romantic music on the Grove ride.

You're just not a pink flowery kind of a girl, Carlin," Bill remarked, inspecting what he called her 'rolling bordello'.

"You know, Bill, I'm a money making kind of a girl, and in this business the girls pick the carriage and the boys pay. If the boys picked out the carriage, rest assured I'd cover it in beer cans and boobs."

He agreed that she had a point.

She approached the carriage. Bill sat on the box, the last couple standing in the line already seated in the passenger compartment. Carlos looked at them, frowning.

"Wasn't there another couple ahead of you?" she asked.

"I gave them ten bucks to come back later," the young man replied, jerking his thumb at the girl seated beside him. "She likes this carriage. This is the one we want." The girl rolled her eyes and said nothing.

"O–kay." That kind of threw Carlos off; nothing like that had happened as long as she could remember. "Well, your driver's name is Bill and the horse's name is Tony. Do you know what ride you want?"

"Memory Grove," the man answered.

"It's already handled, Carlos. Come on up." Bill patted a spot on the seat next to him.

Carlos looked at Bill and then down at the ground.

"Come on, Carlos, better late than never, right?"

"Hey lady, could you get up there with your boyfriend so we can go? I haven't got all night." The customer's girlfriend elbowed him. "What?" he said to her.

Bill leaned down and spoke so only Carlos could hear. "Carlin, would you consider going carriage driving with me tonight?"

"I suppose," she whispered, non-committal. Standing there, clenching and unclenching her fists, she finally grabbed onto the carriage and heaved herself up, settling in next to but not touching him. She was still mad.

Bill lightly flicked the lines, "Walk on, Tony," and steered out into the lane, making sure not to clip the curb with the rear wheel on his way out.

Carlos had her iPod on with only one ear bud in. Bill picked the left one up off of her shoulder and held it to his ear. Carla Etude played softly.

"Elton John?" Bill whispered. Carlos nodded. "Nice," he said. She knew it was one of his favorite songs. He dropped the ear bud back on her shoulder. Bridging the lines with his left hand, he put his right arm around her, pulling her closer. Carlos stared at his left hand, mildly impressed. She didn't think he knew how to bridge lines. You had to be a pretty decent driver to control the horse with a twist of the wrist.

How long has he been driving carriage? She tried to remember.

He was a junior in college and had turned twenty-one the November after Oscar was born. She had dragged him into the carriage barn the day after his birthday to fill out an application and start the training process. She would have brought him in on his birthday but he had been drinking then, starting his freshman year, and they had spent the day partying themselves into oblivion. Oscar spent the night at the Sommers, cared for by the nanny.

"I don't want to be a carriage driver, Carlos." Bill told her, looking a bit green and obviously nursing a nasty hangover.

Finally she confessed why she wanted him to train. "I've had a baby, Bill, and my bladder control isn't what it used to be. I need you to be ready before Christmas so you can give me a pee break when I need it."

Bill had stared at her through red-rimmed eyes, running his hands across his face.
"You want me to learn to drive a carriage so you can pee?"

To Carlos it made perfect sense. "Yes, Bill. I need you, and I'll pay you, too. And if any of the other drivers need you to spot them for a pee I'll make sure that they pay you also. It could be a goldmine for you Bill. It's a fabulous opportunity."

So she spent the next three days training him, even taking him out and purchasing all the cold weather gear he needed to stay warm. Bill said it looked like she was shipping him off to the Antarctic.

But when the busy Christmas season rolled around and he worked outside in the cold and snow for hours at a time, he had to admit that she certainly knew her stuff. He was warm and dry and made good money from the other drivers, bringing them food and giving them breaks. She was happy because she got to drink coffee and go to the john, and when things were slow Bill would jump on her carriage and ride around town with her to keep her company. They would sit up tight next to each other for warmth and look at the twinkling Christmas lights at Temple Square and the Gallivan Center.

He's been driving for five years. Almost as long as I have if you count the time I took off to go to cooking school, while pregnant and the time I spent in the hospital. And now, but I guess I don't drive carriage any more, do I? So pretty soon he'll be driving longer than I did.

They waited at the traffic light at West Temple. Bill turned his head left to watch for traffic. Carlos studied his profile while he was occupied. He wore the standard carriage driver attire: black jeans, white button down long sleeve shirt, black cowboy hat, black boots, plain black belt. He had on one of his nice shirts, Carlos noted, not one of the usual sweat stained, dirty rags he wore to drive. That's odd; doesn't he have any clean driving shirts? Why the hell is he wearing nice clothing? She thought she smelled cologne. She leaned back and took a more thorough look at him. Does he have a girl friend? Maybe that's why he didn't want to go driving tonight. He had a date. That would explain the good clothes.

Why is he here? She had been so mean to him, attacking him like that, asking him stupid questions like, "Do you think I'm pretty?" What a pathetic idiot she was, unable to operate a small business without running to Bill. "I need help! Come drive for me tonight!" Whining like a baby. I'm such a stupid ass. No wonder he wants to be rid of me. Who could blame him?

 He'd found Richard to replace him. And yes, while Richard was easy on the eyes, Carlos did not quite trust him. Of course, she was a half-wit. Apparently Bill trusted him or he wouldn't have let Richard get within twenty feet of her. The truth was, she didn't know what to think anymore. And frankly, she was too tired to think about any of it right now.

Traffic cleared allowing Bill to turn. He said nothing, but looked down at her and smiled. She rolled her eyes and looked away, still mad.
Bill made the right at the corner of West Temple and North Temple. Carlos hadn't spoken to him since he commented on her choice of music. Bill still had his arm draped around her. Apparently unable to stand the silence anymore, she leaned close to him, sat up tall and whispered in his ear. "I saw Raggedy Man tonight." He was a local, homeless and a paranoid schizophrenic. Most of the time his filthy clothes were falling apart and he shuffled around town in gym shoes with no socks. He never made eye contact with anyone, except occasionally Carlos. The drivers were all shocked the first time they saw him speak to her.

"Did he talk to you?" Bill was so relieved she had broken the ice. He had no idea what to say, except to apologize for being such an ass and he really didn't want to do that in front of Mr. Big Shot.

"He didn't say anything, but he beckoned to me with his nasty dirty finger with the long freakin' nail like this." Carlos made a come-hither motion with her index finger.

"What did he want?" Bill couldn't help but wonder what attracted this crazy man to her. Bill knew what he saw in her, but some crazy guy?

She leaned into him just a little more. He inhaled. She smelled like she usually did, the warm, dusty, horsey scent. He wished she smelled like almonds; that cookie smell was addicting. But he knew she used the barn shower and he didn't think she had any of that lotion in there.

"I think he wants me to be a Celestial Wife," she whispered, nodding knowingly.

He whispered back, "Really? Is there some kind of gift registry for that cause I could get you a really nice toaster…" She elbowed him in the ribs and they both started snickering, trying to be quiet because they had passengers who obviously wanted a romantic ride. Carlos always schooled the drivers, "If they want a romantic ride then just shut up and drive!"

About half way up the North Temple block they got their giggles under control and settled down. Bill nudged her and tilted his head, indicating their passengers.

"Proposal," he mouthed.

They both snuck a peek at the couple, sitting on the same side but opposite ends of the seat.

Carlos shook her head. Holding up two fingers she mouthed, "Second date."

Bill raised his right eyebrow at her. She raised hers right back at him. He took his arm from around her and held out his pinky finger, "Want to Bet?" he mouthed. Although she had no idea what the stakes might be, she was still game. He knew what he would like them to be. It might surprise her. With all the things that were wrong with her, you could never say that Carlos Farley didn't have balls.

She immediately held her pinky out too. They hooked them together and pulled them apart. It was a bet. They sat in comfortable silence, a truce had been called. Their thighs barely touched. Bill put his arm back around her, drawing her closer to his side.

They crossed State Street and the noise dropped exponentially. It always did when they entered City Creek Canyon. This was Bill's favorite carriage ride. He would drive more often if all he ever had to do was give rides up to Memory Grove.

They arrived at the gates of the park and Bill removed his arm from around Carlos. Bridging the lines, he reached down and hit the gate opener with his left hand. Returning the lines to both hands, he urged Tony on.

Usually the park was of people and dogs roaming off the leash. On this evening the park appeared deserted.

As soon as they passed through the gate Mr. Big Shot began speaking to his date in a rehearsed sounding monotone. Giving them privacy, Bill and Carlos stared straight ahead.

"Are you proposing to me?" the woman asked, loud and irritated.

"I'm trying to," Mr. Big Shot replied, a little peeved sounding himself.

"You know, we discussed this and I already told you no!"

At the loud 'no', Bill and Carlos turned around to check on what was happening in the passenger compartment. They both saw the girl stand up, jump off the carriage and run back towards the gate. Apparently unaware of the pedestrian walkways on either side, she grabbed hold of the gate and jumped it, running down Canyon Road. With no one else around, the night unusually quiet, they could all clearly hear her feet smacking the pavement with every step.

"Tony, ho." Bill stopped the carriage.

Mr. Big Shot stood up, looked at Carlos and Bill, and said, "Oh my heck, she has my car keys in her purse." He jumped off the carriage, but apparently he knew about the pedestrian walkway because he went around the gate. After thirty seconds or so they heard, "Cynthia, wait!" echo back up the canyon.

Carlos and Bill looked at each other, eyes wide.

"What the hell just happened?" asked Carlos.

"I was going to ask you the same thing." Bill replied.

"Was that a refusal?" She got indignant. "I've never had a refusal!"

"I believe it was," he replied. Bill had experienced one of those before. All the drivers had, except Carlos. Usually when that occurred the ride was finished in awkward silence, with little eye contact.

Tony stood patiently, waiting for a command.

Carlos rose, turned around and yelled, "Get back here you silly twat! I've never had a 'no' in my carriage and I'm not gonna have one tonight!"

Bill grabbed her by her belt and yanked her back down. They were still parked in the same spot; Tony hadn't moved. Bill looked around. The night was beautiful, it was almost time for the park to close and the canyon was empty. They no longer had passengers. There was only one road; it went up past a bridge, came to a turn around and then back down to the gate, maybe a quarter of a mile total. Remembering something that happened earlier in the week, he turned to her, held out his hands and offered her the lines.

"Would you like to drive your carriage?" he asked, delighted to offer her the opportunity.

She glanced down at the lines and looked up into his eyes. She scanned the road ahead, and then returned her gaze to him, searching his face for a moment.

"Bill, letting me drive the carriage here is like letting me drive the cars at the amusement park. You can turn the wheel all you want but the car is never going off the track. It's not really carriage driving."

He transferred the lines to his left hand and slid his right hand across her shoulders where it drifted down to her side, up high along her ribs. She used to be ticklish there but she wasn't anymore.

He leaned into her, putting his lips close to her ear. "Do me a favor," his voice quiet and low, "can we just pretend we're normal people for a change?"

She looked down at the lines again for a moment and then she took them from his hands, lacing them between her fingers, flexing. She simultaneously flicked them and gave the horse the command, "Tony, walk on!"

Tony stepped out like a good boy. Bill looked around the park. The lights on the path up the east side of the canyon were on; fairy lights dancing up the canyon wall, giving the park an ethereal ambiance. It was about ten degrees cooler here than at South Gate. He could smell the dew rising. Bill felt her shiver slightly and he held her tighter, edging closer to her.

Tony walked slowly.

"Bill…" she started.

"Don't," he said.

"But I want to…"

"I know. Me too. Just... let's not talk until we turn around and start heading back, okay?"

Carlos shut up.

The night was silent, the park tranquil, and Bill just wanted to enjoy it with her, so he also shut up. The silence lasted almost five whole minutes.

They made the turn around.

"You know," she said, "I've never had a 'no' in my carriage. That girl just ruined my stats."

Bill snorted, "So if someone is proposed to in your carriage they should say 'yes', no matter what, just to keep your streak going?"

"Well, yes, of course," she nodded.

"What if they were proposing to you?"

"Ah…" she stalled.

"See? See now? I see how you are!" He joked with her, giving her a little jostle. He wished she was still ticklish.

"No, I would tell them to propose to me somewhere else," she said seriously.

"Why? That doesn't make much sense. People pay us all the time to propose in a carriage. It's romantic."

"It may be romantic to them, but being in a carriage to me is being at work, Bill. Would you like to have someone propose to you while you're working at the bank?"

"I'm not a bank teller, Carlin. I manage investments."

"Whatever, Bill. I'm sure you could get a job at 7-11 being a Slurpee wrangler if you really wanted to, that's not the point. Would you want someone to propose to you at work?" She posed the question to him again.

He thought about it. "Probably not," he agreed. "But if someone proposed to you what would you say?"

"Well, of course, it would depend on the someone." Bill sat up a little straighter. Then she continued.

"Don Key, no, because he's married already. Scarecrow, no, because he…" She shuddered a little, "doesn't have hardly any teeth left. Richard…" She tossed her head back and forth with indecision.

The very thought of him raised Bills hackles.

"Eh, I don't know, maybe. Antonio Banderas, I'd say HELL YES!!!" she jumped up and laughed which spooked Tony who jumped a length ahead and caused Carlos to be knocked off balance. She almost fell into the passenger compartment, but Bill caught her before she went over and Carlos got Tony back to a walk.

They both laughed, then Carlos got serious again. "Bill, I'm sorry about the way I acted this afternoon."

"You need to get a hold of your temper, darlin', before you really hurt someone. You won't be able to find anyone to marry who will put up with your…" choose your next word carefully, Bill's brain reminded him, "antics."

"What 'chu talking 'bout, Baby Huey?" Her eyes danced with amusement; they'd been laughing, so rare for her, and having a good time, making up after their fight.  Silent, Bill removed his right arm from around her, unbuttoned his cuff, unbuttoned his shirt from neck to waist, pulled it down over his shoulder, and slid his arm out of the sleeve.

"What are you doing?" she asked. "Why are you undressing in the park?"

They passed a streetlight and in the soft glow he showed her his tattoo. She had stabbed him with the pen, drawing blood and gashing it horizontally across the center, almost evenly halving it. He had cleaned up the blood, but the welts and scab were there as evidence of her actions. In seconds her look went from curious to horrified and tears welled up in her eyes. Her sharp intake of breath warned him she was going to have a meltdown.

"Tony, ho!" Bill grabbed the lines from her and stopped the carriage. They were almost to the gate now, almost back to the real world.

Bill wrapped both of his arms around her and held her very tightly. "No crying!" he commanded. He hadn't wanted to upset her; he was just trying to make a point. She trembled with emotion.

"No crying," he said softer, kissing the top of her head, stroking her back trying to calm her down.

"No crying," he whispered, resting his cheek on the top of her head. "No one ever died of ink poisoning."

Her sobbing slowed and then stopped and she relaxed as her breathing became more regular. His shirt was half off, his chest damp from her tears; she put her arms around him, under his shirt so she touched bare skin. Her hands felt cool, her forehead rested on his pectoral muscle and her breath flowed over his abdominals.

Finally she spoke, her voice thick with emotion. "I am so sorry, Baby Huey. I would rather die than hurt you."

That's how I feel about you, Bill thought, but he said nothing, he just held her.

She lifted her head, looking into his eyes, searching. "How can I make it up to you?" her voice, so smoky and low, caused heat to flood through him.

Oh YES! I have an idea! Overwhelmed by the urge to kiss her, a battle raged within. Her lips were so near, so ready, there waiting to be kissed. The heat between them made him weak and flushed, his pulse quickening with desire. He took a deep breath, maintaining control through sheer force of will. He had learned to quash his impulsive side some time ago and giving in to the temptation right now would be the end of him.

Unconsciously tightening his embrace, he looked away, across the park, and licked his lips, his brain churning: Something simple, something simple…

He looked back down at her. She waited. He swallowed past a huge lump, and cleared his throat.

"You can kiss it, and make it better," he said, his voice husky.

She gave him an odd look. A cross between puzzled and whatever. She backed away from him on the seat, out from under his arms and brought her hands back around to the front of him, sliding them across his skin the entire time. As they traced a path, he could feel her fingertips, her nails lightly scraping his flesh, making him shiver.

He gripped the seat rail beside him with his left hand.

She wrapped both hands around his upper arm. Fascinated, he watched her closely. Her hands felt cool on his hot skin. She rubbed her thumbs across the now scuffed tattoo, slowly shaking her head. She looked up at him with a slight tilt and a crooked smile.

"I was bad," she said to him, her voice low and sexy, so much like the old Carlos it sent a jolt through his body.

"Yes, you were," he agreed, hardly breathing, not daring to move.

Her tongue flicked across her lips, moistening them. She pressed them in the center of his tattoo, the spot where both the horse heads, black and white, came together and left a small eye shaped space. But instead of a chaste peck, he felt her soft lips moving.

 Everything stopped. The breeze, Tony, sound; there was nothing but the feel of her lips and the pounding of his heart in his ears. It lasted only a second, but it felt like she branded him, the skin on his arm burning, his body engulfed by a tsunami of desire.

He stifled a moan. His hand squeezing a death grip on the rail to keep from pulling her into his arms.

He was always touching her, rubbing her, holding her, kissing her. He could hardly keep his hands off of her, but she hadn't kissed him for a long time. He had forgotten how sensual she could make even something simple.

Closing his eyes, he exhaled, wondering how long he had been holding his breath.

It's time to go! You have to go! His brain screamed at him.

But his body didn't want to go. His body wanted to tie Tony to a tree, put the carriage top up and move this party into the passenger compartment. The urge to kiss her was overwhelming. He wanted to kiss her long and deep and thoroughly. He wanted to make her dizzy. He wanted to make her melt. He wanted to ignite the same flame in her burning hot within him. But he couldn't. He wouldn't. A long time ago he had thrown caution to the wind and followed his heart, knowing what he did was wrong, and they had both paid dearly for it.

"Are you all right, Bill? You look nauseous," she asked.

His eyes still closed, he released his grip on the rail, flexing his cramped hand, he pulled his shirt back on.

"We have to go, it's getting late," his voice sounded strained.

Opening his eyes he buttoned up his shirt, adjusted the lines, reached down and hit the gate opener attached to the carriage and said, "Tony, walk on."

Carlos leaned against him wearily. He didn't look at her again until they were at South Gate. Neither one of them said a word.

Book Review:

            Sweet, sad, scary, funny, romantic.  Quite a love story.  I rooted for Carlos and Bill all the way.  I loved this story.

            I give this story 4 out of 5 clouds.

This product or book may have been distributed for review; this in no way affects my opinions or reviews.

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  1. Mindy, thank you for hosting my blog tour and your kind review of my book.