Sunday, January 19, 2020

10 Scariest Places On Earth

I recently came across a list that claimed to be the 10 scariest places on Earth.  The list isn't a reference to most haunted places. That would have made it a Halloween blog. :) Although, a couple of the places on this list are said to be haunted. Some of these places have been abandoned due primarily to man's misdeeds. This list is in no particular order.
1)  Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
When you have the remains of over 40,000 people, what do you do with all those bones? The Abbot of Sedlec went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1278 and brought back some dirt he claimed came from Jesus' burial site. Immediately thereafter Catholics from all over Europe started demanding burial in the Sedlec Ossuary cemetery. The cemetery obviously didn't have the space to accommodate all the continual requests. In the 16th century, the church staff dug up everyone buried there and used those bones for decoration: there's a chandelier made from one of every bone in the human body, garlands of skulls, and a replica of the Schwarzenberg coat of arms made from bones.

2) Centralia, Pennsylvania
Our incredible natural resources is one thing that has made America such a prosperous country. Unfortunately, those natural resources can occasionally turn on us and that's what happened when a coal mine near Centralia, Pennsylvania, caught fire in 1962. The veins of coal ran under the town which ultimately turned Centralia into a literal hellhole. Temperatures over 1000 degree Fahrenheit accompanied by belching clouds of poisonous gas. Once the initial conflagration settled down, people began to move back but soon discovered that the veins of coal were still burning resulting in blazing hot sinkholes that swallowed people without warning. Most of the residents have moved away.
3)  Pripyat, Ukraine
A colossal example of man's ability to really screw up the planet is on display in Pripyat in the Ukraine. The town's former population of 49,000 was evacuated following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Now referred to as the zone of exclusion, it looks like a freaky ghost town. The few people who have ventured back into the town report an atmosphere of desolation and terror. Dolls on school house floors, vehicles in disrepair on the roadsides, and the skeleton of an abandoned amusement park that's hauntingly scary.

4)  Aokigahara Suicide Forest
The Aokigahara Forest at the base on Mt. Fuji in Japan is associated with multiple demons in Japanese folklore. There's something about the supernatural forest that drives people to suicide. An average of 100 people travel to Aokigahara every year to kill themselves, mostly by hanging or drug overdose. Legend says that in the 19th century families would abandon their elderly relatives there to die when they couldn't take care of themselves.

5)  Lome Bazaar, Togo
If you've ever been to a street market in a third world country, then you know how crazy things can be. So, take all that energy and put it in a bazaar that sells only materials for voodoo and you have the Lome Bazaar in Togo. The bazaar is a one stop shop for a wide variety of terrifying things used to perform frightening functions. The absolute volume of grisly death that stares at you is enough to make the strongest person weak in the knees.

6)  Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia
The Khmer Rouge period of Cambodia's past is one of the scariest genocides in history. Millions of innocents were slaughtered and the museum is located where it all happened. In Khmer, "Tuol Sleng" translates as "Strychnine Hill." The museum is housed in a former death camp and notoriously haunted by ghosts of the thousands who died there. Of the 17,000 people who were admitted to the prison, only seven survived.
7)  Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee
Sometimes science has to do some pretty disgusting things to make advancements, but we don't make them vacation spots. Studying the decomposition of the human body can give researchers lots of knowledge useful to medicine, forensics, and others. To monitor a body decomposing in real time, you go to the body farm on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It's a 2.5 acre of land and at any time has multiple bodies laid out in various positions. Over 100 corpses are donated to the Body Farm every year. Several detective/forensics/crime shows, both entertainment programming and documentaries, have used the concept of the Body Farm in their episodes.

8)  Helltown, Ohio
The village of Boston was founded in Ohio's Summit County in 1806 and succeeded until 1974 when something weird happened. President Ford signed a bill authorizing the area to be turned into a national park, the houses were purchased and boarded up, but no park was ever built, resulting in a deserted town in the middle of nowhere. The newly named Helltown spawned some terrifying legends including Satanist sacrifices, mysterious toxic waste spills, and an escaped mental patient who wanders the woods.

9)  Fengdu, China
With China's population, there isn't much room left for a ghost town—except for Fengdu, located on the north bank of the Yangtze River. Fengdu is completely abandoned. It's rumored to be a junction point between Earth and the underworld where rampaging demons grab unaware souls.
10)  La Isla De La Munecas, Mexico
Dozens of small, uninhabited islands dot the canals south of Mexico City. It's not just the polluted runoff from Mexico City that makes the area less than desirable. Fifty years ago, a man named Don Julian Santana lived the life of a hermit on one of the islands. One day he fished the corpse of a young girl out of the water. As a form of protection, he started hanging dolls from the tree limbs and branches on his island. He continued to do this over the next few decades until the entire island was cluttered with broken, weathered dolls giving it the appearance of a terrifying place.

And that's the list of ten. Have any of you ever been to any of these places?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

10 Things You May Not Know About Vikings

With last week's blog about myths of medieval torture, I decided to follow it up by repeating my blog about Viking myths.

So…you think you know all about the Vikings?  Those seafaring Scandinavians who raided and settled coastal sites in the British Isles and beyond between the 9th and 11th centuries?  You've watched the movies and television shows, have been exposed to the caricatures and stereotypes.  But I'll bet there's a lot about the Vikings you don't know.
1)  Vikings Didn't Wear Horned Helmets
Forget all those Viking warrior costumes you've seen in those movies, television shows, and pictures seen with the characters wearing those elaborate horned helmets.  Descriptions from the Viking age don't mention it and the only authentic Viking helmet ever discovered is horn-free.  This concept seems to have originated with painters in the 19th century, possibly inspired by ancient Norse and Germanic priests who wore horned helmets for ceremonial purposes long before the Viking Age.

2)  Vikings Were Known For Their Excellent Hygiene
What with all that boat rowing and decapitating their enemies, the logical assumption would be that Viking men must have stunk.  However, excavations of Viking sites have revealed tweezers, razors, combs and ear cleaners made from animal bones and antlers.  Vikings also bathed at least once a week, much more often than other Europeans of that time period.

3)  Vikings Used A Unique Liquid To Start Fires
The Vikings collected a fungus called touchwood from tree bark and boiled it for several days in urine then pounded it into a substance similar to felt.  The sodium nitrate in urine allowed the material to smolder instead of burn.  This gave the Vikings the availability of taking the fire with them on the go.
4)  Vikings Buried Their Dead In Boats
The Viking's boats were very important to them so it was a great honor to be buried in one.  It was believed that the vessels that served them well in life would see them safely to their final destination.

5)  Vikings Were Active In The Slave Trade
Many Vikings became rich through human trafficking.  They captured and enslaved women and young men while rampaging through Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Slavic settlements then sold them in giant slave markets in Europe and the Middle East.

6)  Viking Women Enjoyed Some Basic Rights
Viking girls married at age 12 and took care of the household while their husbands sailed off on adventures.  However, they had more freedom than other women of their era.  They could inherit property, request a divorce and reclaim their dowries if their marriage ended.

7)  Viking Men Spent Most Of Their Time Farming
Most Viking men swung scythes rather than swords.  True, some were callous pirates who only left their boats long enough to burn villages but most planted crops and raised cattle, goats, pigs and sheep on their small farms.

8)  Vikings Skied For Fun
Scandinavians developed primitive skis approximately 6000 years ago.  By the Viking age, Norsemen regarded skiing as an efficient way to get around and a popular recreation activity.  They even worshiped Ullr, the god of skiing.

9)  Viking Men Preferred Being Blond
Brunette Vikings, usually men, used strong soap with a high lye content to bleach their hair and in some regions also their beards.  These treatments also helped with a health and hygiene problem—head lice.

10)  Vikings Were Never Part Of A Unified Group
They probably didn't even call themselves Vikings.  The term simply referred to all Scandinavians who took part in overseas expeditions.  During the Viking Age, the land that is now Denmark, Norway and Sweden was a patchwork of tribes that often fought against each other…when they weren't busy creating havoc on foreign shores.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

10 Biggest Myths About Medieval Torture

I came across an odd bit of information a while back.  Even though I don't write historicals, I decided to save it with the thought in mind that it might make an interesting blog.

Medieval times…the Dark Ages.  There are many documented tales of truly barbaric treatment.  But, unlike the message we get from Hollywood's entertainment industry, Medieval times overall weren't as barbaric as we've been led to believe.  And with that thought in mind, here's a list of the ten biggest myths about justice in the Dark Ages.

10)   Go Directly To Jail?
Most Medieval communities actually had a judge and jury type of system, although it was much quicker than today's long drawn out sessions.  Court generally lasted less than half an hour.  At the judge's discretion, he could ask a few simple questions and deliver a verdict without consulting the jury.

9)   The Lawless Middle Age Villages?
Earlier Medieval communities had much more social responsibility than today.  If one member claimed to be wronged, every resident had to join in the hunt and persecution of the criminal, otherwise they would all be held responsible.

8)   Those Strict Church Types?
The pious Middle Ages were serious about religious offenses.  Each town's church usually ran its own kind of court to investigate everything from bad attendance to heresy.  However, the concept of sanctuary was also well known with the church as a place where criminals could avoid sentencing or punishment.

7)   Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind?
Criminals who committed lesser offenses were often subject to a policy of three strikes and you're out—literally.  Repeat offenders were often simply banished from a city and not allowed back rather than killing them or having them clutter up the prisons.  Humane and cost effective.

6)   Executions: Left, Right, and Center?
According to Hollywood, Medieval evil-doers were killed on whim and often in public squares for even the slightest of offenses.  In reality, capital punishment was used only in the most serious cases which included murder, treason, and arson with the guilty usually hanged.

5)   Royal Highnesses High Above the Law?
Medieval nobles did enjoy certain privileges when it came to bending laws or making new ones to serve their purposes.  However, most European countries had legislation preventing their kings and queens from running wild, such as England's Magna Carta signed by King John in 1215.

4)   Public Beheadings as Weekly Spectacle?
Beheading was swift and painless—as long as the axe was sharp.  It was considered a privileged way to die and reserved primarily for the nobility.  Treason was the crime of choice with the beheadings usually taking place inside castle walls rather than in public.

3)   The Burning Times?
A few witches, as proclaimed by their accusers, were burned at the stake during Medieval times.  But it was during the following Reformation period (beginning approximately in 1550) that burning witches at the stake really took off.  However, in England witches were rarely burned and were hanged instead. At the Salem witch trials in the U.S., most of the accused who were actually put to death were hanged.

2)   Off With Your Ear?
Mutilation—severing of an ear or hand—was occasionally used as a punishment for serious crimes, especially in larger jurisdictions such as London.  But more often, Medieval law enforcement used it as an empty threat rather than actually doing it.

1)   Rack 'Em Up?
Immortalized in the film Braveheart, the most famous torture device of all time was the rack.  It probably wasn't used in England until the very end of the Medieval period.  It was used extensively along with other devices beginning in the torturous days of the 1500s when Queen Elizabeth I, and other European monarchs, began purging religious opponents.

So, next time you're watching a high budget film set during Medieval times filled with bloody and torturous actions, remember there's a good chance it didn't really happen that way.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

New Year's Resolutions You'll Be Able To Keep…and other miscellaneous end of year stuff

New Year's resolutions have basically become an annual joke.  Every first of January we make resolutions for the upcoming year and if we're lucky, they remain valid for the rest of the month.

So, this year how about making some resolutions you'll actually be able to keep during 2020?  Here's a list of several such resolutions.  I hope you accept these suggestions in the spirit of humor in which they are offered.  If I've offended anyone, I apologize in advance.

1.  Gain Weight.  Let's face it, you already have a start on this one with all the holiday meals, candy, beverages, and snacks starting with Thanksgiving and continuing on through Christmas.

2.  Go Deeper Into Debt.  You probably have a head start on this one, too, from holiday gift shopping.  After all, even buying new things for yourself…well, it was probably stuff you needed and with all the great sales this year who could resist?

3.  Spend More Money.  This goes hand-in-hand with the second item on the list.  Spend it now while you're still physically able to get out to do it.

4.  Don't Get A Better Job.  Since having any job is better than not having one, be happy with status quo.

5.  Whatever Shape You're In Is Fine.  Seriously…round is a perfectly acceptable shape.

6.  Don't Go Back To School.  Look at your current life and time schedule.  Now add a part time college schedule to that plus the cost of tuition (probably the same amount as that new curved 80-inch 3D HDTV home theater with Dolby Surround Sound you bought in item two on the list) and the cost of expensive college textbooks.  Hmmm…a fine bottle of rare vintage wine or a bottle of aged single malt scotch vs. Concepts of Economics Vol. 1.

7.  Drink More Alcohol.  Open that fine bottle of wine or scotch and watch your new 80-inch TV.

8.  Smoke Like A Chimney.  When someone chastises you for putting second hand smoke out there, ask them if they've traded in their gas-guzzling car for a bicycle.

9.  Stay At Home for your vacation.  If, however, you prefer to find toilet paper that's hard enough to scrape paint, really weird television, and even weirder food…then travel out of the country.

And last but not least…

10.  Don't Volunteer!

And now for something completely different (with apologies to Monty Python for stealing…uh, I mean borrowing…their catch phrase).
As a follow up to Christmas, a few words about that much maligned holiday treat, the butt of so many jokes, that humble yet seemingly inedible concoction—fruitcake.

Food historians theorize that fruitcake (any cake in which dried fruits and nuts try to coexist with cake batter) is older than Moses.  Ancient Egyptians entombed fruitcake and Romans carried it into battle, probably for the same reason.  Fruitcake was built to last and it did, well into medieval times.

It was in the 18th century that fruitcake achieved totemic status.  At that time nut-harvesting farmers encased fruits and nuts in a cake-like substance to save for the next harvest as a sort of good luck charm.

And thus the problem.  Any cake that is not meant to be eaten doesn't deserve to be classified as food.

Our love/hate relationship with fruitcake began in the early 20th century when the first mail-order fruitcakes became fashionable gifts.  It ended up as a mass-produced product using barely recognizable fruits and packed into cans as heavy as barbell weights.

And another something different…
While celebrating the arrival of the New Year, there's one thing you should keep in mind—the darker the liquor, the bigger the hangover.  According to a new study that compares the after effects of drinking bourbon vs. vodka, what sounds like an old wives' tale is true…to a point.

Brownish colored spirits such as whiskey and rum contain greater amounts of congeners than clear liquors such as vodka and gin.  And what are congeners, you might ask?  They are substances that occur naturally or are added to alcohol during the production and aging process, many of which are toxic.  They contribute to the alcohol's color, odor, and taste.  They also interfere with cell function, and I'm NOT talking about your mobile phone. :)  And they viciously punish your head and tummy the next morning.  According to the study, bourbon is aged in oak barrels and has thirty-seven times as many congeners as vodka, which is heavily filtered to remove impurities.

Drinking in the study was relatively moderate compared to some New Year's Eve binges.  The average blood-alcohol content of the survey participants was 0.1 percent, somewhere between 0.09 ("mildly intoxicated" and considered legally over the limit in most states), and 0.15 ("visibly drunk" and definitely on your way to jail if you're driving a vehicle).  The study's findings may not translate to your holiday party.

The bottom line, however, is that congeners are not the primary culprit in the dreaded hangover.  The credit goes to the alcohol itself.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Legend of St. Nicholas

Who is that man in red? The man who, every Christmas Eve, brazenly breaks into people's homes, helps himself to cookies and milk, and leaves things behind resulting in a mess of wrapping paper and ribbon for others to clean up the next morning. Reindeer and a heavily laden sleigh can't be good for the roof. Soot from a chimney tracked all over the floor…something else left behind for others to clean.

Yet every year we anxiously anticipate his arrival, track his progress through the skies, and welcome him into our homes.

Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father when he provided them with a dowry so they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas' popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

Sinter Klaas Comes to New York
St. Nicholas made his first inroads into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death.

The name Santa Claus evolved from his Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a rascal with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a "huge pair of Flemish trunk hose."

Shopping Mall Santas
Gift-giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday's rejuvenation in the early 19th century. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus. In 1841, thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to attract children, and their parents, with the lure of a peek at a live Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. Those familiar Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.
A Santa by Any Other Name
18th-century America's Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance at Christmastime. Similar figures were popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was believed to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. Meaning Christ child, Christkind is an angel-like figure often accompanied by St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, a jolly elf named Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. British legend explains that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children's stockings with holiday treats. Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children. In Russia, it is believed that an elderly woman named Babouschka purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn't find Jesus. Later, she felt remorseful, but could not find the men to undo the damage. To this day, on January 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and she will be forgiven. In Italy, a similar story exists about a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.
The Ninth Reindeer
Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. The red-nosed wonder was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store.

In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to help bring holiday traffic into his store. Using a similar rhyme pattern to Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, May told the story of Rudolph, a young reindeer who was teased by the other deer because of his large, glowing, red nose. But, when Christmas Eve turned foggy and Santa worried that he wouldn't be able to deliver gifts that night, the former outcast saved Christmas by leading the sleigh with the light of his red nose. Rudolph's message—that given the opportunity, a liability can be turned into an asset—proved popular. Montgomery Ward sold almost two and a half million copies of the story in 1939. When it was reissued in 1946, the book sold over three and half million copies. Several years later, one of May's friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph's story (1949). It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since then, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie, narrated by Burl Ives, which has charmed audiences since 1964.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL

We all know Charles Dickens' story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his visits from the three ghosts on Christmas Eve (four if you count the initial visit from his former partner, Marley).  A story of redemption—a miserly man whose concept of the Christmas spirit is "Bah, Humbug!"  Then his life is turned around after Marley tells him about his upcoming visits from the Christmas ghosts. The first one from his past to remind him of what was and the promise of what could have been, the second from his present to open his eyes to what he had become and how others felt about him, and the final visit from the ghost of the future to show him where he was headed if he didn't change his ways.

From a writer's perspective, it was the first time a story had been told from the point-of-view of a character within that story rather than an omniscient point-of-view of an unidentified narrator.  Point-of-view—something vital for today's writer of fiction.

The novella, first published in London on December 9, 1843, has been a staple of the Christmas season as a movie, television show, or play for well over a century.

This year, Hallmark's two cable movie channels started showing non-stop Christmas movies in October.  I wondered how many different versions of Dickens' story there were.  So, I did what I usually do when I want a quick answer to something…I Googled it.

And the results came as quite a surprise.  Things I knew, things I had known but forgotten, and things I never knew.  Twenty-eight films, twenty-three television productions, plus other miscellaneous offerings such as staged plays.  Live action, animation, a 3D computer generated images theatrical movie from Disney in 2009, one television movie version set in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and even a couple where the character of Scrooge was portrayed as being female.

The first filming of A CHRISTMAS CAROL was a fifteen minute silent movie made in 1908 followed by two other silent versions made in 1910 and 1913.  There have been the dramatic theatrical films, musical versions, and animated versions with favorite and very familiar cartoon characters taking on the roles of Dickens' famous characters.  Of the twenty-eight movies, ten were released under Dickens' exact original title of A CHRISTMAS CAROL as were six of the twenty-three television productions.

I have noticed over the last few years that several game shows, especially this time of year, have used this trivia question—How many ghosts visited Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol? And most of the time the contestant got it wrong. They usually answer with the number three when in reality it's four. They seem to forget about the first ghost being that of Marley, Scrooge's former business partner who sets the scene for the appearance of the next three ghosts.

            Even though all the various productions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL tell Dickens' story of Scrooge and the visits from the Christmas ghosts, many had their own unique twist and flavor on the original.  I think my favorite is a 1970 theatrical musical version titled SCROOGE which stars Albert Finney as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge who learns the lessons of the spirit of the Christmas season.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

OPEN IN PRIVATE—A Conversation With Carli and Parker

It's a little over two weeks until Christmas and by an incredible coincidence I just happen to have a Christmas romance eBook available.

OPEN IN PRIVATE by Samantha Gentry is an adult Christmas romance novella published by The Wilder Roses, the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance from The Wild Rose Press.

I was fortunate to be able to snag a few minutes with Charlene Vance and Parker Simmons who agreed to sit down with me and share a little bit about their Christmas story.

Thank you Parker and Charlene for taking time from your busy schedules.  Especially you, Charlene.  As a professional personal shopper, this is definitely your most hectic time of year.

Carli:  Thank you for inviting us, Samantha.  And please…call me Carli.

Parker:  (grins at Carli)  She's so well organized that even with this being her busy season she's able to make time in her schedule.  As for me, I'm happy to tackle any questions you want to throw my way.

Carli:  You're right about this being my busy time.  In addition to individuals, I have several corporate clients whose shopping lists include employees and business associates in addition to family and friends.

If I'm not mistaken, wasn't Parker one of those corporate clients?

Parker:  I still am.  In fact, that's how we met.  Carli had been doing all my shopping, both personal and business, for five years.  It had become a very comfortable and efficient working relationship.  We had also become friends during that time.  Then one day, everything changed.

That sounds ominous.  What happened?

Carli:  We had our Christmas shopping meeting just like every year—prior to Thanksgiving.  I gave him a list of everyone I purchased a gift for on his behalf the previous Christmas, what I bought and how much it cost.  The process was always the same.  He would go over the list, add and delete names, and approve a price range for each individual.  Only this time it was different…very different.  This year he hit me with a real shock that changed everything.

That's a very dramatic statement.

Parker:  (laughs)  It wasn't really all that dramatic.  I told Carli I had gotten divorced several months earlier, the previous April to be exact, and my ex-wife, all her family, and all her friends were off the list.

Carli:  I have to admit…once I got over the shock, I was elated.  (shoots a sly sideways glance at Parker)  I had secretly lusted after this man the entire five years we had worked together, but he was married which made him off limits.  Besides, he had never done or said anything improper that would indicate his marriage was in trouble or that he had any interest in me beyond our professional relationship.  Then suddenly he was available, but second thoughts reminded me he was a client.  I had always believed that it wasn't wise to mix business with personal, to possibly jeopardize an excellent working relationship for what could end up being nothing more than a short-lived fling—a momentary mistake.

Parker:  My marriage had actually fallen apart a year earlier, before the previous Christmas. Then last Spring I finally took that big step of getting a divorce.  I had trouble coming to terms with what I had originally perceived as my failure.  And during that year my thoughts had often gravitated to Carli, thoughts far removed from anything connected to business.  So, I turned our Christmas shopping meeting into lunch…

Carli:  Which resumed that evening as dinner…

Parker:  Which unexpectedly exploded into one hell of a night!  But the cool clear light of dawn also brought its share of doubts and concerns.  The thought of jumping into a relationship, of once again becoming emotionally involved, frightened me big time.  Commitment to another relationship was definitely not on my agenda.  Been there…done that…was very leery about trying it again.

Carli:  Everything happened so quickly.  I didn't know which way to turn or what to do.  I was so confused about what was happening between us.  Could I be content with the no-strings-attached situation Parker seemed to prefer?  I had been divorced for seven years and 'never again' for a serious commitment had been the constant in my life.  But with the passage of time and the prospect of developing something real with Parker, the concept of 'never again' began to rapidly slip from a priority position to no longer occupying an important place in my life.

It sounds as if the two of you definitely had some problems to work out.

Carli:  Smooth sailing it was NOT.  For a while, I thought it was over as soon as it began.  My pragmatic side also feared that I might have lost my best client.

Parker:  And I have to admit that I didn't help matters.  Everything seemed to be moving too quickly and I didn't know how to handle it.

I'm sure there are many couples who have had to deal with these same issues.  Could you share with us how you handled it?

Carli:  We certainly could, but…

Parker:  We won't.

What?  You're going to leave us hanging?  Or worse yet, let us think that everything suddenly and miraculously turned out okay?

Parker:  Nothing is that easy.  You don't wake up and discover that there are no longer any problems.

Exactly.  So…what happened?

Carli:  (smiles)  I'd love to tell you, but…

Parker:  (nods his head in agreement)  You'll need to read the book.

That's all you're going to tell me?

Parker:  (makes an exaggerated show of looking at his watch)  Oh no!  I think we're out of time. (laughs)

Well, I guess there's nothing left to say except thank you, Parker and Carli, for being with us.
BLURB:
As a personal shopper, Charlene Vance values her professional association with long time client Parker Simmons. But at the meeting to discuss the list for this year's Christmas purchases, she learns that Parker is divorced and the ex-wife is off his list. When lunch leads to dessert between the sheets, Charlene is eager to move their relationship beyond good business and incredible sex.

Parker Simmons doesn't want anything more permanent than what's on the menu for today. But Charlene's enthusiasm to experiment in bed satisfies his darker appetites and suddenly he's craving more. Parker might need her help with holiday gift ideas but he's got his own shopping agenda. On his list? Gifts only for Charlene—to open in private.

PG-EXCERPT #1: (publisher's excerpt)
"Everything looks so good. I think I'll have the shrimp salad." Carli closed her menu and set it on the table.

Everything looks good to me, too, and I don't mean the food. "I'm going to have the chicken carbonara…and a glass of wine with my lunch. Would you join me?"

"Well, I usually don't drink during business meetings, but yes," she extended a sparkling smile, "I'd like that. A chardonnay."

He placed their lunch order with the waiter, then returned his attention to her. "We've had a very nice business relationship for five years. You obviously know a lot about me from doing my shopping, but I don't really know that much about you personally, other than you have great taste, are very intelligent, and have a good sense of humor."

The waiter arrived with the bottle of wine Parker had ordered. After opening the bottle, he poured each of them a glass, put the bottle in the ice bucket, and left.

Parker raised his glass toward Carli in a toast. "Here's to another successful Christmas holiday season." He tilted his head and raised a questioning eyebrow. "And perhaps to an even closer working relationship?" Maybe something hot and naked in a big bed?

"I'd like that, too."

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