Wednesday, November 30, 2022

A Room In Blake's Folly By J. Arlene Culiner

A Room In Blake's Folly
By J. Arlene Culiner

If only the walls could speak… 
In one hundred and fifty years, Blake's Folly, a silver boomtown notorious for its brothels, scarlet ladies, silver barons, speakeasies, and divorce ranches, has become a semi-ghost town. Although the old Mizpah Saloon is still in business, its upper floor is sheathed in dust. But in a room at a long corridor's end, an adventurer, a beautiful dance girl, and a rejected wife were once caught in a love triangle, and their secret has touched three generations. 




“You trust Big Jim?” Resentment rippled down Westley Cranston’s spine, meshed with scorn. “A lousy cad who jilted you when you were carrying his child? Who knew your bigoted family would kill you?” 

Seemingly unperturbed, Sookie Lacey dipped her forefinger into the oily pot of carmine on her dressing table, spread the rosy salve over her lips. Turned, met Westley’s eyes squarely. “Jim didn’t have a choice. He was on the lam. He had to keep moving.” 

“Because he was wanted for a violent robbery! Why the hell are you making excuses for an unscrupulous criminal who forced himself on an impoverished family?”  

“You weren’t out in this part of the world back then. You can’t even imagine that winter when cattle froze to death on the prairie. How could anyone, good or bad, have survived in the open?”  

“And while hiding out with your family, he seduced you.” 

“Seduced!” Her nostrils flared. “Being with Jim protected me from my vicious brother, my depraved father, I told you that. They both tried to have their way with me.” 

It was an old argument, one they’d had many times. Why couldn’t Sookie see that Big Jim’s perfidy could have ruined her life—would have ruined her life if she’d been a weaker woman? A pregnant fifteen-year-old runaway when she arrived in Blake’s Folly, Sassy Sookie had gone to work as a prostitute in the Red Nag Saloon. It wasn’t the lowest sort of brothel, but it wasn’t a classy parlor house either. Yet, clever, lighthearted, and a favorite with the men, she soon realized her own worth. Never succumbing to the temptations of alcohol or laudanum, she’d left the Red Nag, come to the Mizpah, and as a saloon girl, made such excellent money selling dance tickets, encouraging men to buy alcohol, and to gamble, she no longer needed to sell herself. 

“So, four years after jilting you, Jim walks into the Mizpah, sees you’ve become successful, and decides to stake his claim. That makes him a decent man?” 

He’s changed. Jim has become a respectable businessman, and he wants to marry me. He’s building us a big fine house where we can live together with our little son.” 

“Where? Where will this wonderful fine house be?” 

“In Virginia City.” 

“Have you ever been there? Seen what he’s building?”  

“You know I haven’t. Jim’s been on the road for the last five months. He sends me letters from Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Phoenix.” 

How can she be so blind? Westley took a deep breath, forced himself to sound steady and reasonable, not like a man hopelessly in love with the woman he would soon lose. “And what about us? What about what we shared? The nights you spent in my arms?” Nights when she had given herself without reticence but with warmth, tenderness. 

Sookie stood, shook out the short, ruffled skirt and colorful petticoats floating just below her shapely calves. Her golden beauty, caught in the lamp’s uneven flicker, made his heart ache. How desirable she was in the low-cut sequined bodice that barely hid the sweetness of her breasts. 

Westley, what you and I shared is our secret. A delicious secret that no one else can know about or even suspect, particularly since Jim has sent Doug Lazy here to protect me.” 

“To spy on you, you mean.” 

Sookie’s chin tilted defiantly. “Think what you’d like. Just don’t forget I’m marrying Jim in September.” 

Pushing past him, she swept out of her boudoir and into the long dark corridor. The tapping of her tasseled kid boots on the stair held a note of finality. 



About the Author 


Writer, photographer, social critical artist, and storyteller, J. Arlene Culiner, was born in New York and raised in Toronto. She has crossed much of Europe on foot, has lived in a Hungarian mud house, a Bavarian castle, a Turkish cave dwelling, on a Dutch canal, and in a haunted house on the English moors. She now resides in a 400-year-old former inn in a French village of no interest and, much to local dismay, protects all creatures, especially spiders and snakes. She particularly enjoys incorporating into short stories, mysteries, narrative non-fiction, and romances, her experiences in out-of-the-way communities, and her conversations with strange characters. 



Monday, November 28, 2022

Paws-Ing for Love by Gayle M. Irwin

Paws-Ing for Love
by Gayle M. Irwin

 Book Blurb: 

Christmas Hope or Heartbreak? 

Colter, Montana waltzes in brilliance during winter, with glistening snow on mountain peaks and diamond-like frost on trees and rivers. Romance and dreams flourish in this Christmas card setting. However, news of friends missing after a raging blizzard and a later accident and subsequent illness disrupt the lives of Rhiann and Levi Butler, who operate a horse ranch and pet rescue sanctuary. Will the joy of Christmas be silenced or strengthened after a pair of stray animals take refuge at the Butlers’ property? Can a cat named Mina and a Corgi christened Maverick deliver hope or will they add more heartache for a couple and community struggling with fear and sorrow? 

Book Excerpt: 

Levi relished the singing of Christmas carols as members of the Colter community gathered outside of Marnie’s Café. Large and small hands, children and elderly and all ages in between decorated the tall fir he had placed near the favorite town diner. Phil and others from the EMS and fire departments strung multi-colored strands of lights around tree. He watched as Phil conducted the honor of plugging in the end of the lower strand. Florence stood on the one step that led into the diner, and she counted, “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one!”  

Red, blue, green, and white lights ignited, turning the nearly midnight-colored tree into a twinkling barrage of star-like radiance. Ornaments ranging from tapered glass and hand painted balls to wooden sleds and carved bears dangled amid the branches. The throng of people cheered and clapped. Levi noticed Florence dab her eyes, and Rhiann, who stood near the woman, hug their friend. He smiled.  

Today is a better day, he thought.  

He raised his eyes to the sky. Stars winked at him, and the quarter-moon hung over the café, as if celebrating with the crowd below. He felt a hand slink through his right arm, and he looked into the face of his wife. She gave him a brief smile. 

“Penny for your thoughts,” Rhiann whispered. 

“Gratitude – I was thinking how grateful I feel.” 

“I think that’s the word describing this gathering.” 

He felt a shiver emanate from her. 

“Cold?” he asked. 

“A little,” she said. “I may have a chill coming on.” 

“I thought you going out on the little ski adventure this morning might not be the best idea, especially after spending several hours in the truck with me searching for the dog and cat. And now out here in the cold tonight.” 

“We had to be here tonight – I wasn’t going to not come, and neither were you.” 

Levi gave her a slight smile. “True. But now it’s time to go home. The last thing we need is for you to get sick just before Christmas.” 

He dug keys out from his coat pocket and gave them to her. “Go on to the truck and get it started; I’ll let Phil, Trisha, and Florence know we’re leaving.” 

Rhiann nodded her head and, keys in hand, walked to Levi’s pickup. He walked over to their group of friends, acknowledging other people he knew along the way.  

“Hey, guys,” he called out. Phil, Trisha, and Florence looked at him. The women smiled. 

“Such a beautiful tree, Levi!” Florence said. “You and Phil did well choosing this one.” 

Levi smiled. “Thank you, Florence. I’m so glad we’re celebrating. Sadly, though, Rhiann and I need to cut our time short. She’s not feeling well, so I’m taking her home.” 

“Not feeling well? She seemed fine ten minutes ago,” Trisha noted. 

“Came on kind of suddenly. Truth be told, I think between her accident, Arnie being lost, and then the two animals … plus moving into our house just before Thanksgiving, it’s all caught up with her. Getting her home, relaxing, and taking a few days off to simply ‘be’ is likely what she needs.” 

“The big October fundraiser likely contributed to her stress as well,” Florence said. 

Levi nodded. “But it’s all in the rearview mirror now, so, like I said, give her a few days and she’ll be fine.” 

He leaned in and kissed Florence’s cheek. “We’ll all be fine now that Arnie’s back. Tell that old man to not give us a scare like that again – I’m getting too old for the stress, too!” 

The woman chuckled. “Son, how do you think I feel?!” 

“You never age, Florence.” 

He gave her another quick smile and then kissed Trisha’s cheek.  

Tell that girl of yours I’ll call her in a few days. She’ll probably want to say goodbye to Oliver and Ember before they go back home.” 

“I’ll do that.” Levi turned to Phil and stuck out his hand. As they two men shook, Levi continued, “Thanks again, man. I’ll see you soon.” 

“Yep, we have a sleigh to finish by Christmas!” 

“I appreciate you, Phil.” 

He smiled at each friend and then walked to the pickup. The engine running, he heard coughing from inside the truck. Levi climbed behind the wheel and looked at Rhiann. She huddled against the passenger’s side door, a blanket wrapped around her. Levi heard her teeth chattering between fits of coughing. He frowned. 

Rhiann, you don’t sound very good.” 

“I … I really don’t … feel good. I … I can’t stop shaking.” 

He lay the back of his hand against her forehead. His heart lurched. 

“You’re burning up,” he whispered. “I’m taking you to the ER, now.” 

Author Bio: 

About the Author: 

Gayle M. Irwin is an award-winning Wyoming author and freelance writer. She is a contributor to seven Chicken Soup for the Soul books (#8 releasing in January 2023!) and the author of inspirational pet books for children and adults. Her Pet Rescue Romance series, a collection of sweet, contemporary romance stories set in the Rocky Mountain West, weaves pet rescue and adoption into the second-chance romance stories. She volunteers for rescue organizations and donates a percentage of book sales to such groups. Her own pets are adopted rescues. Learn more about Gayle and her writing at