When Shawn Donnelly gets into trouble, she does it well. She can’t even go on a little weekend getaway with her old college chums without running into a corpse or two. And to top things off, her new co-worker seems to have a very unnatural interest in the serial killer that’s running rampant in the Detroit metro area. It’s no wonder why Shawn decides to take up a nice, safe hobby like theatre.

No matter what Shawn does—from falling in love with a woman who might be a murderer, to breaking into a co-worker’s home in search of dead bodies—she does it with her own flair.

Join Therese Szymanski as she takes a walk on the sillier side of the gritty crime scene detective novel and introduces readers to her newest alternate personality—Shawn Donnelly.

• • •


© 2007
ISBN-10: 1594931178
ISBN-13: 978-1594931178


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Whence My Story Begins

I looked up at the dark and roiling clouds overhead and thought about turning back.

When I left work in Southfield early to head up to Lexington for the reunion of my best college friends at Karen’s place, Michigan had already begun her little trick of changing the weather. You see, in Michigan, if you don’t like the weather, all you have to do is wait fifteen minutes and it’ll change. The problem with this is that even if you like the weather the way it is, it’ll still change in fifteen minutes. Of course, after growing up in Ireland I was accustomed to such frequent and fast changes of climate.

For instance, this morning when I got up, the day was disgustingly bright, sunny and shiny, yet when I left work early to drive up north for the weekend, it was dark and brooding, and you could virtually see Mother Nature wondering what to do next, like a vindictive ex-girlfriend plotting how to destroy your life.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature is considerably more powerful than any ex. After an initial foray into snowflakes, she dropped something that resembled Mt. Everest.

I hoped Karen’s remote cottage on a secluded shore of Lake Huron would have all the regular conveniences, and that those things, like heat, running toilets, electric outlets and lighting, would be up and running. I really didn’t care much for the idea of going out in this weather to take a dump, let alone be forced to do something butch like chopping wood for the stove. Especially because I had never hefted an ax in my entire life. I’d hate to learn something like that at twenty-eight.

When I drove through Lexington Village it seemed like something out of some sort of cheesy horror flick—the sort where hapless folk go to some small town, are immediately surrounded by people saying “the Others are here,” “the Bates Motel always has a vacancy” or “we have need of a ritual sacrifice,” and are never heard from again.

I glanced down at my directions and continued merrily along, trying to avoid thinking of anything much, like what I would do out here in the middle of nowhere if my car slid off the road and into a pole.

I was thankful there were no poles anywhere in sight.

Every bad movie I had ever seen about stranded motorists suddenly flew through my mind. Fortunately, there was no corn for children to hide their prey in, nor were there any cops to haul me to a jail from whence I’d never reappear. What there was was plenty of snow.

Well, I thought there was also a road somewhere beneath the snow, but I wasn’t exactly sure about that.

It didn’t help that the sense of foreboding I had awoken with that morning was still with me—and my old granny always did tell me I’d inherited the ability to see the future.

Unfortunately, this ability did not help me to foresee that on my first try, I would drive right by Karen’s place. I only realized that I had done so, when I managed, somehow, to see a number on a place a bit beyond it, a creepy place with an ominous totempole reaching into the sky in front of it, reaching as if it were beseeching, praying toward an other-worldly power. (Frankly, it sent shivers down my back.)

I turned around and inch by inch, foot by foot, yard by yard, slowly headed back toward town.

All the houses were a good half-mile off the road, located much nearer the lake than the road on their lengthy lots. When I figured out which place was Karen’s I really wasn’t surprised I had missed it on my first try—there was a wall of firs right on the road, blocking the house proper from all but the sharpest eye.

The white-crusted trees loomed like ghosts around my car as I crept slowly down the snow-covered driveway, carefully trying to follow in the deeply embedded path of the last vehicle that must’ve just gone down the drive.

A big, red Explorer was parked beside the attached garage, engine still ticking as it cooled, so I pulled next to it, grabbed my bags and followed the footprints to the house. I’d go back for my skis if the weather improved enough to make use of them. Karen was at the front door, trying a variety of keys from an expansive key ring on it, to no avail.

Snow poured from the sky directly into my collar. I was thankful the weekend hadn’t been called off, but still Karen seemingly unable to gain access to the house did not give me good feelings. It in fact gave me shivery visions of sleeping in my car during a blizzard.

“What the fuck?” Karen was obviously thrown by my bundling within parka, black turtle headband, gloves and boots. “Irish!” she cried after she got a good look at my helpless grin.

“Nobody’s called me that since college.” My rebuke was said with a laugh, because I’ll take Irish over the little Irishwoman, which I had also endured all through college because of my red hair and impish (or so I’ve been told) green eyes. And Irish was also heaps better than bad leprechaun remarks—doubly insulting as real Irish didn’t believe in them. Beyond that, leprechauns were ugly and evil. Now faeries, the true little people (not fagboys who had a tendency toward saying “Fabulous” and doing three-snaps), could be really evil, especially if you pissed them off by cutting down their tree or something, but at least they weren’t ugly.

“Please tell me you have the key,” I said, shivering slightly as Karen continued her assault on the door. Of course, they probably also called me Irish ‘cause my family’d just hopped to this side of the pond when I was thirteen, so I was still, well, really Irish when I’d hit college.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Unfortunately, I think it’s in the top drawer of my desk. At home.”

“You are taking the piss, right?” It’d be just like Karen, one of the ringleaders of our little crew, to do such a thing. After all, she’d orchestrated a great many practical jokes and ridiculous stunts back in our days at Uni—as had we all. But we were more often than not her merry little gang of pranksters.

“Don’t worry about it, we can get in, I’m sure.”

“Are you talking about breaking and entering? Because you know I try to keep my criminal activities confined to between the hours of two and three on alternating Jewish holidays in oddnumbered years during the full moon.”

“What’s illegal?” Karen asked, leading me around the house to the deck. “I own the place. It’s not like it’d be a criminal activity.”

“Well, let’s see. Obviously you’d need to break in order to get in, so we have the ‘breaking,’ beyond that, the entire point of this escapade would be to enter, and thus we have the ‘entering’ portion of the entire phraseology. Thus, you have every intention in the world of involving me in the criminal activity of breaking and entering.” I knew this would get Karen’s goat and a wicked little grin slid across my freezing lips.

Karen turned to me in exasperation. “Fine. Then we’ll just freeze to death out here.”

“So which window are we gonna break?”

We ended up fudging with the sliding door that led out to the deck on the lake side of the cottage, lifting it up till we could slide it open.

I went through the house to the side door, mentally making a note to discuss with Karen the minor security measure of putting a bar across the deck door. I grabbed my gear and was almost inside again when a baby blue Beemer came sliding down the driveway.

The BMW made my cheap little Sundance look exactly what it was: cheap and little—but it was what I could afford, given my meager Assistant Media Buyer/Planner salary. Kevin Dinello’s lean, six-four body came bounding out the passenger’s door, a big grin plastered across his face as he leapt through the snow like a little puppy dog being told he gets to finish the Thanksgiving Day turkey all by himself.

Kevin lifted me up off the ground by more than the foot that separated us in height, swinging me around in a circle, heedless of the slippery footing. I could’ve told him how this would end up, which is exactly how it did—a jumble of arms and legs on the cold, frozen ground.

A burly man I assumed was Kevin’s boyfriend gave me a hand in extracting myself from Kevin. “Hi. I’m George Lewis,” he said, a wide grin peeking out from behind his gray-splattered black beard. Kevin was probably in seventh heaven now because he had always been massively attracted to older, bearish men who were big and covered in coarse, thick hair—but he had hated the interpersonal dynamics caused by the combination of his and his tricks’ ages. They always looked at him as a chicken and themselves as the chicken hawks. He just wanted an ordinary relationship, even though he was attracted to such men.

And George Lewis definitely fit the bill.

“I should just leave you lying there,” George said, looking at where Kevin lay in the virginally white snow. Kevin stuck out his tongue and proceeded to make a snow angel.

While I was getting all the snow off me, George labored inside with his and Kevin’s multitudinous bags (I was willing to bet I could guess which set of luggage belonged to whom—especially because there was only one bag from one set and four from the other), when I heard a massive rumbling.

I would have recognized the big blue economy Ford van anywhere. Granted, the paint was a little more chipped, the muffler a little louder (if there actually was still a muffler on the vehicle), and the odometer even higher, but I’d recognize Jamie Reed’s love machine anywhere. As would most of the other lesbians who had been on-campus with us.

Jamie’s arrival most assuredly ensured an interesting evening.


Where There Are Flames . . .

There were several bedrooms upstairs, each with some bare furnishings, including a double bed. Karen led me to the one I’d been assigned to, but then I had to dash back down to greet my ex, Trisha, with a good and proper bear hug.

“Some joint, huh, Irish?” Trisha said as we toured the cottage.

“Too right.” The cozy main room was dominated by a large Franklin stove. Trisha was every bit as beautiful, poised and groomed as ever. “You’re looking good.” I already knew she’d grown up to be a Realtor, and by everything I could see (and all I’d heard through the years), she was a very successful one at that.

She smirked at me. “I am good.”

Stairs led up from the living/dining room, which was separated from the kitchen by a counter. Down the hallway were a bathroom and what I expected was the master bedroom, which led into the breezeway and the garage. A sliding door led from the living room out onto the deck.

“Oh, thank God! I never thought I’d make it!” a woman I didn’t know said, coming in via the breezeway and stomping her snow-encrusted feet on the floor.

“It’s a mess out there,” Don Taylor-Williams, Karen’s fiancé, said, coming in right behind the other woman. He carried several bags.

“I wasn’t sure you two were going to make it!” Karen said, running up and hugging Don. She hugged the other woman and, with her arm about her waist, said, “Denise, this mixed cast of characters are Kevin Dinello, George Lewis, Jamie Reed, Trisha Laskowski, Shawn Donnelly and Robert Jackson. Everyone, this is Denise Teisman. She’s a fellow accountant I met at work. She’s heard so much about all of you, she wrangled an invite from me for this weekend. Oh, and of course, you all know my guy, Don.”

“Robert?” I said, quickly finding him. “You must’ve sneaked in when I wasn’t looking!” He’d been the only straight boy in our class, but had since turned queer as the proverbial threedollar bill.

“Girlfriend,” Robert said to Karen, “you need some professional decorating advice here, stat!”

I looked about the main room and realized just how correct Robert was. Colorful throw rugs brought some life to the rather plain linoleum, tiled floors and paneling I normally would’ve thought tacky (its main color was yellow and there were little flowers in it, but it seemed quaint in this setting). Some of the furnishings looked like things that might’ve been picked up at garage sales, and it was all done at a relatively low cost—from the shelves hung on the walls with their collection of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, an old radio and an assortment of board games, to the ‘70s-style couch and table, with the plastic-padded chairs. A few modern touches, like a stereo, TV and cordless phone made it just off-balance enough to amuse me.

Something about it all took me back to my childhood. I could imagine my Seanmhathair living in a place like this, or maybe one of her friends. Well, without the CD player, that is.

“Okay, so everyone to your rooms—” Karen started.

Don said, “We’ve only got six rooms, so a few people had to double-up besides the couples—”

“I’ll show the newbies to their rooms,” Karen said. “Don, get settled and help everyone else. Shawn, man the bar and build up the fire!”

• • • • •

We all lounged by the fire, drinks in hand, and I took a thankful sip from my Bailey’s-spiked cocoa. I pulled my chair a little closer to the Franklin stove, which was the sort of thing that sat away from the wall so all the heat stayed in the room, instead of blowing up and out the flue.

“I hate to disappoint you, Shawnie, in case you were looking forward to some quality alone time,” Karen said. “But I remembered how cold-blooded you are, so I put you and Ashley in the room the flue runs through.”

My heart plummeted to the floor when I thought of Ashley with her long, blond hair and vivid green eyes. “Me and Ashley?” I stopped to think of the setting—the room would be the warmest in the house.

Karen sounded like the perfect hostess, but the smirk on her face belied her innocent expression. “I remembered you two like things a bit warmer than anybody else here.”

I heard the word “warmer” in conjunction with Ashley and my mind went crazy. It didn’t go to merely warmer but went all the way up to hot-enough-to-burn-the-feet-off-a-fire-walker. I hadn’t realized I’d be sharing the double bed in my room with anyone else. Let alone Ashley.

A double bed. Just one double bed. And two of us. Me. Ashley. Me and Ashley in a bed together. In a warm room. Under the covers. Alone. Together.

Of course, Ashley wasn’t here yet, and it was still snowing, so it was quite likely she wouldn’t make it at all. But she hadn’t called to cancel yet, either.

“Hmmm . . . And just what does that look mean, Irish?” Kevin teased from across the room. “Do we have a thing for blondes?”

Trying to cover my blush, I quickly retorted, “I don’t know, do we?”

“Uh-huh, I remember how you used to hang on her every word during class.”

“Sure, sure,” Trisha said. “Have her room with Ashley and stick me with Jamie.”

“I resemble that remark!” Jamie called, coming into the room with another drink. She had brought her own bottle of Jack Daniel’s, and I was somehow certain that there was a lot more where that came from.

“Girls, girls, girls,” Kevin said, “please, let’s not get too graphic here. Remember there are some present who are simply not interested in all the nasty details of who puts what where and why.”

“Hold on, I thought you said Ashley was straight?” Denise said.

Karen said, “I figured I could trust Shawn more than either Trisha or Jamie,” she referred to the other two lesbians, “and thought Ashley might be uncomfortable rooming with a boy.”

“Oh, and I’m just too weird to room with her,” Denise said, her short brown hair swaying with the movement of her head.

“Oh, sweetie.” Karen left her comfortable perch against Don’s shoulder and wrapped an arm around her. “You know I love you to death, it’s just that I figured you weren’t in that feminist drama class with us when we all started hanging out together . . .”

“So I should just be ostracized, like a head of lettuce that’s been forgotten for several months in the veggie drawer.”

Karen grinned and went back to Don. “You know perfectly well that’s not it. I just thought we might have some fun reminiscing, y’know.” We’d all seen each other off and on again in the years since college, sometimes complete with college-style pranks, but this was our first big, all of us together, reunion.

Robert sat beside Denise. “Oh, sweetie, we can room together if you think you’re gonna be too lonely,” he said. The flames from the fire brought out the richness in his chocolate brown skin.

Denise swatted him. “Mr. Queer as of last year, like you could really keep me company anyway! A straight girl has no use for you except as fashion consultant.”

“Well, we all know you and Ash wear those straight-girl shoes.” Robert mugged for the guaranteed laugh with a Queer Eye swish I was certain he never got to do during the week. Contractors aren’t allowed to swish.

“Yeah, but I’m not your type anyway.”

As they bantered I was grateful that Karen had recently told me about Robert and his brother. Had I not known I might have teased him for those years in college he’d played it very straight. But it was really no wonder that Robert couldn’t come out during college—not only had his gay older brother killed himself before Robert was old enough to shave, he’d also left a note saying that he’d done it because he was gay.

I was glad Robert had finally made enough peace to accept himself, and knowing the truth behind things kept me from the most annoying and embarrassing habit I have of firmly sticking my foot in my mouth.

Of course, sometimes knowing the back story didn’t help one wee bit—I’d still stick that foot right down my throat regardless.

When I got up to refill my drink, Jamie followed me to the kitchen. We hadn’t had much of a chance to talk so far tonight—what with Jamie doing the big, butch thing of bringing in lumber and building the fire while I lugged my luggage upstairs and tried to be helpful as Karen made everyone snacks and drinks.

“Hey you, long time no see.” I put my mug on the counter and reached over to grab the hot cocoa mix and mini marshmallows.

“Hey, you know where to find me. Have known for quite a while.”

“I’m sorry, I just don’t have time to get out much anymore.” I swirled water and hot cocoa mix in my mug and—

It all foamed up into a snow-like substance. Well, if snowflakes were made of fiber or Styrofoam. Regardless, I couldn’t drink it.

“So what you been up to?” Jamie asked nonchalantly. Studiously nonchalantly. With studied nonchalantness, even.

I stared at her.

She shrugged. “Hey, you can’t blame me for taking advantage of an opportunity like that. You put your cup down and walked away from it.”

“What is this shite anyway?”

“Insta Snow. Pretty cool, isn’t it?”

Jamie’d always liked playing with props and toys like flash paper and such. I put my cup in my sink, pulled a new one from the cupboard and prepared a new cup of hot cocoa, which I never took my eyes off of, even when it was in the microwave.

Jamie frowned at how closely I was watching my cocoa. “So, really, what you been up to?”

“About five-foot-four.”

Jamie slammed the heel of her hand into her forehead. “When will I ever learn? You’ve been using that line since college. Fine, then what’re you doing with yourself these days?” I shrugged, so Jamie grinned and shrugged back. “One day at a time, huh?”

“Yeah, something like that. What about you?”

“Well, ya know, keeping busy. Between the plays and the bar, I’m meeting so many women even I can’t keep track of ‘em.”

“Same old Jamie, huh? Always on the chase. I never could understand how you could keep up with them all.”

Jamie grinned and shrugged. “If ya got it, ya got it.” She ran her hand over the stubble on the side of her head. She wore her blondish-brown hair long in the back and almost shaved on the sides.

I dumped the weird snow-like substance into the trash, since it was totally dry, cleaned up the counter and added a shot to my cup before I headed into the living room, where a clatter from the front door announced Ashley’s arrival. She carried a briefcase in one hand and a worn, compact dark blue suitcase with wheels in the other.

Karen hung up Ashley’s snow-covered coat and everyone gathered around her, going on about how long it’d been since anyone had seen her.

Feeling more than slightly tongue-tied, I grabbed Ashley’s suitcase and briefcase. Of course, when I took it upstairs I realized how much I was being an absolute wimp, trailing after Ashley with her tightly packed, heavy bag up to our room.

But I’d been a big girl’s blouse from the moment she whipped my arse at Trivial Pursuit years before—and it wasn’t just luck either. She boasted she was going to annihilate me and then she unleashed a shark attack from the first roll.

Dear God in heaven, that made me hot. I never lost at Trivial Pursuit. Ashley was still every bit as beautiful as I remembered. Even though her long blond hair was soaked from the short trek from her car to the house, even though her bright eyes didn’t flash so brilliantly in the dim light of the hallway because of the long, nerve-wracking journey to the cottage in the blizzard, even though her creamy skin was beet red from the cold outside, she was still drop-dead gorgeous. And the smile she gave me when I took her bag was enough to send a warm current running through my entire body. Hell, it wasn’t just warm, it was . . . electric.

‘Course, the Bailey’s in my hot chocolate probably didn’t hurt any on that last count. I really liked Bailey’s, and if my sweet tooth was really acting up, I’d mix Kahlúa with my Bailey’s and put it on ice. That was something I really yearned for at a certain time each month. If that didn’t fulfill my chocolate craving, nothing would.

I put her suitcase on the bed. I longed to open the suitcase and smell Ashley. I longed to bury my face in her clothing, knowing her scent would be on every piece of it.

I stared at the suitcase for a moment, then realized how sick and twisted that thought was. I really needed to get laid.

• • • • •

When I returned to the living room, Karen and Don were cuddling together at one end of the long, plaid sofa, while Kevin and George were at the other. Trisha sat in one of the chairs at either end of the oak coffee table, while Robert mirrored her position on the other end.

Jamie, who had always been a lesbian activist, wasn’t too surprising in how she turned out—she was now a bartender at a local wimmin’s bar and worked with a theater troupe on the side. A lesbian theater troupe, nonetheless. But that was just so Jamie—she’d always had us doing theater and staged readings together at school, even if it was just to break out into a scene or other such caper suddenly in the study lounge. She even got us all into a few theater classes together, convincing us the publicspeaking sorts of elements of it would help us out no matter what line of work we went into after university. All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.

Jamie truly lived the Bard’s old saying.

And now, of course, Jamie was acting like she always had—she was leaning against a wall near Ashley, already trying to make time.

Ashley was warming her extremely cute butt and elegant, long hands in front of the fireplace. Red on her nails made those incredible fingers look even more elegant and exciting.

Oh, God, I was really losing it, I was thinking of fingers as exciting. Well, okay fine, fingers can be exciting when you think of what they are used for. Or can be used for. Hm.

The loose, cream-colored sweater over snug blue jeans that accentuated the swell of her hips and the fine line of that oh-sonice butt—it all made my palms sweat. Her arse was a thing of beauty, firm and just right to fill your hands when you cupped it. It was high and tight and you just knew it would be smooth and soft.

She had left her western-cut boots at the door when she came in, and was now sporting stockinged feet. Argyle socks. She always liked those, I remembered with a smile. She said everything else about her was so boring and humdrum that she didn’t need her socks to be as well.

I found absolutely nothing about Ashley boring.

“God, the roads are such a mess,” she said, running her hands over her shapely butt. “I thought I was just going to fall off the side and not even know it!” I was really stuck on her butt. And her hands. Her fingers. Her.

“I know I barely saw the roads at all when I was driving up,” Jamie said. “It was like playing a fun game of ‘Guess where the lane’s at.’ “

“Days like today I wish I had a big truck like yours,” Ashley said.

“Ashley! I never knew you to be such a size queen!” Robert said, getting up and going over to the stereo to find some music. “Any preferences?” he asked us all in general.

While Robert put on some dance music and Karen refreshed everyone’s drinks, we all did a brief catch-up on each other’s lives. As it turned out, the two in the group who were coupled off had done very well for themselves: George Lewis, Kevin Dinello’s catch, was a software engineer, and I could only guess that he made six-digits a year; and Karen had caught herself Don Taylor-Williams, a very upwardly rising attorney.

What I found most humorous and unexpected thus far about how everyone turned out was that Kevin, a cute lil’ flaming fagboy, was a successful writer of Harlequin romances.

“The most exciting part about it,” Kevin said, “is that when I’m blocked, George helps me out by dressing up in all these pirate and heathen costumes and ravishes me so I can get in touch with my heroines and their bold, handsome,” he ran his hand across George’s rough cheek and then grabbed his crotch, “well-hung heroes.”

George jumped back, grabbing Kevin by the wrists, and said, “Now don’t go telling them all about me without explaining why those books you write are known as bodice rippers.”

Apparently the world was a stage to all of us.

An abrupt banging from upstairs brought Don and me to our feet.

Karen burst out laughing, stopping the two of us from charging toward the stairs. “Oh, I’m sorry about that. I think a couple of critters found their way into the attic. You can’t really blame them on a night like this.”

Kevin pulled his hands free from George’s grasp and began dancing with him, moving to the fast beat of the music. I noticed with some distaste that Jamie went to the kitchen for another drink. Although I myself was on my second, Jamie must’ve had four by now, and knowing Jamie, they were pretty stiff ones. That was probably what most concerned me about Jamie being a bartender—she always seemed to be a bit of an alco.

The lights flickered. “Ooo, scary,” Denise said with a definitely lop-sided grin. I realized everyone was drinking a bit, so I shouldn’t be too hard on Jamie. I took another long sip of my drink, wanting to catch up with the others and lose myself in the gaiety of the moment. After all, I was here in a quaint cottage with some of my best friends, and the snow outside made me feel snug and secure, like I was in a cocoon.

When the lights flickered again Karen frowned. “I’d better find the candles and flashlights just in case the power goes out.” She hurried to the kitchen.

Trisha said with a worried look, “Does that happen a lot here?” I had always loved running my fingers through Trisha’s long, thick curly hair that hung loosely from her head, providing a perfect frame for her coffee-and-cream complexion. Sometimes Trisha would complain about those who said she wasn’t black enough and I would pull her into my arms, telling her she looked like wonderfully creamy milk chocolate I wanted to eat up whole.

I knew it was totally politically incorrect, but it always led to some really hot sex. What can I say? I don’t excel at political correctness, but I’ve been told I excel at hot sex. In fact, girls say that all the time.

I wish.

My mind seemed to keep focusing on sex tonight. Perhaps I should stop drinking. Or else get laid.

I glanced around at the women present and realized my chances for the latter were practically nil. Chance would be a fine thing. I could entertain fantasies all night about Ashley, but nothing was going to happen. I downed my drink, deciding if I couldn’t have one, I didn’t want the other either.

Karen shrugged in reply to Trisha’s concern. “I don’t know. I mean, it only happened occasionally when I was growing up, but that was during the summer. We really didn’t use this place much during the winter, so I don’t know how likely it is tonight.”

“Well that’s a reassuring thought,” Trisha replied. I allowed my gaze to follow her hair down to her arse, which was every bit as nice as it ever was. Was it really such a big mistake to sleep with an ex?

Yuppers, I thought, I should stop drinking while I was ahead. I always got horny when I was drinking and that was the last thing I’d need tonight when I was in bed with Ashley.

In bed, alone, with Ashley. I glanced surreptitiously around the room and decided Ashley had the nicest arse, and fingers, in the room. At least I thought I was discreet about it, till I looked at Trisha.

“Checking out asses and hands again, huh?” she murmured so that I was the only one who heard it when our eyes met.

“Oh, don’t worry, baby,” Jamie said, sitting next to her on the none-too-spacious chair. “I’ll keep the boogey-man away if the lights go out.” Obviously, Jamie had something in common with me as far as the effects of alcohol went.

Ashley rubbed her arms as if still chilled. “But won’t it get awfully cold if the power goes out?”

Jamie looked at Trisha, then glanced suggestively across the room at Ashley. “I could keep you both warm.”

I bolted upright. Robert said, with a slight leer at me, “Oh, but I believe keeping Ashley warm should be up to her roomie.”

Kevin grinned. “Now that will be a homework assignment Shawn’ll enjoy.”

Ashley turned to me as a slow smile danced its way unbidden across my lips. My gaze slowly slid up her long body, stopping at a few crucial points along the way. By the time my eyes met hers, I was sure my face was the kind of red that totally clashed with my carrot-top of unruly locks.

“Care to let me in on the joke?” Ashley said in a near purr, her gaze locked on mine.

My gaze dropped to the floor almost as quickly as it would’ve had I been hit in the back of the head with a frying pan. “We’re roomies—there’s only six rooms in the house so some of us who aren’t in couples have to share even though all the rooms only got double beds and Karen figured you’d rather room with me than with Denise ‘cause we were both in class together and might wanna reminisce and—”

“Shawn,” Kevin said.

I allowed a breath into my choking lungs and looked up to find Ashley smiling at me. “What?”

“You still do it, huh?”

“What?” I repeated, panic swelling in my chest as I realized everyone in the room was grinning at me.

“Ramble,” Ashley said.

“Blither,” Kevin added.

“Especially when she’s nervous,” Karen said, coming into the room with several candles, a few books of matches and a couple of flashlights.

I growled and Ashley burst out in laughter. “You’re adorable.” She smiled and went into the kitchen for a refill on her white wine.

I met every gaze that was left in the room and allowed a slow growl to build in my chest and rumble on out.

Karen ruffled my hair. “Face it, Irish. You weren’t born to be ferocious.”

I growled my reply.

When Ashley came back into the room, Karen looked at me. “By the way, you don’t have to worry about heat, Ashley—this old Franklin stove can keep the whole place pretty toasty so long as it’s kept well-stocked.”

Jamie’s gaze dropped rather stupidly to the timber next to the fireplace. If nothing else, she was definitely getting toasty. Or toasted. Whatever.

“I suppose that means we gotta bring some more in,” she said.

“Well,” Karen said, sidling up close to Jamie. She was always a notorious flirt, not ever worrying about flirting with lesbians because she was also a notorious het. “Jamie, if you butch types are volunteering to bring more in . . .”

The lights flickered, this time staying out.

“Y’know, we should tell ghost stories,” Kevin said, breaking the silence in the unexpected blackness.

There was the sudden sound of a slap.

“Jamie!” Karen yelled. “Keep your hands to yourself!”

“Hey, you started it!”

I felt around for one of the candles or flashlights Karen had brought over. I heard the featherlight padding of stockinged feet and my hand found someone’s denim-covered leg. I paused, knowing I should move my hand and look elsewhere, but instead I slid my hand up the long, slender limb until a soft hand slowly enveloped mine and drew my hand higher up the shapely thigh.

I looked up toward where the woman’s face would be. I knew it was a woman. No man, no matter how flamey, would have a hand so soft or a leg so shapely.

Lips as soft as the kiss of night brushed over mine while a swirl of the softest, most feminine scent I had ever encountered wafted around me.

My hands were suddenly empty, as empty as the air that surrounded me. A burst of light broke the darkness.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” Kevin said, turning a flashlight on his face.

I looked around. Every single woman in the room was the same distance from me and they were all wearing jeans. It could’ve been any of them. The only way to know would be to sniff them all out, like a dog searching for the scent of another on its master.

But my heart told me who it was, although my head tried to explain, rather eloquently, that that was simply wishful thinking and not at all possible. Ashley was straight. At least she had been. Okay, Robert had been straight too, but now he screamed “gay,” while nothing about Ashley seemed in the least different.

“We should leave that sort of thing up to Jamie,” Karen said, taking the flashlight from Kevin, cutting off his story, and aiming the beam toward Jamie. “After all, she is the theatrical one of us.” She played the flashlight around the group, aiming it like a spotlight.

“Hey, hey, hey,” Jamie said, “I’m just backstage help. A behind-the-scenes sorta gal.”

“C’mon,” Don said, tugging on George’s shirt sleeve. “We butch-types don’t have time for all this nonsense, we gotta bring in the wood.”

“Just so long’s we don’t have to fry it up in a pan,” George said. When no one got it, he explained, “Oh, c’mon—bring home the bacon, bring in the wood—fry it up in a pan?”

Yup. He was an engineer all right. The only thing he lacked was a pocket protector. It must be hard to be a geeky fagboy—torn between the stylish and wearing one’s pants two inches too short.

Jamie joined George and Don, as did I, until Jamie stopped me. “C’mon, you ain’t butch. Why don’t you stay in the kitchen with the rest of the girly-girls?”

“ ‘Scuse me?”

“I jes’ called you a girly-girl. I’m just surprised you ain’t wearing makeup and heels and plucking your eyebrows.”

I grabbed my parka and gloves and led the way to the woodpile.

“Oh my God,” I heard Ashley say as I left. “She is such a butch. Jamie just used the oldest femme trick in the books on her—and it worked!”

I wouldn’t let just anyone get away with saying something like that, but then again, Ashley wasn’t just anyone. It’s so nice to be utterly transparent to your friends. I decided I was not yet having sufficient fun, but I didn’t know what I was going to do about that.

Behind the Book

This book was a good many years in the making—since taking something a bit rough and developing and molding it and baking it till it's exactly right can take a while. Like years.

I think I might have done a draft of this book back when I wrote Dancing, in fact. So that would be around 1995, but I'm not quite sure. What I can definitely say, though, is that a full draft was done before 1998. And there's a reason I know that, but I'll get to that in a minute.

First off, there are a few things I remember about all this book went through, like when Marianne K. Martin told me that I should write about a little "imp of a dyke." (Her words. She apparently seems to think I'm "a little imp of a dyke." And I scoff at that. Hear me scoffing?)

Now, by the time she said that, I already had something of a draft of this done—and although the character Shawn was pretty much who she is now, the first draft of the book was very dark and a bit scary. Well, since Marianne and my editor of the time were both after me to write something a bit lighter than Brett, I decided to really go with it on the next draft of Shawn.

Obviously, though, somethings took up the many years from the first draft of Shawn to where she is now—and that trip wasn't always an easy one. After all, rewriting is hard work.

Anyway, at one point, during one Shawn rewrite, I was dating an Irishwoman. That is, a woman actually born in Ireland who came to the U.S. for university. That was when I realized Shawn’s name was decidedly Irish, a realization that made me decide to make her even more Irish. Then, later still, I had to find another Irishwoman to make sure that Shawn’s Irish was really Irish. After all, since there's so much that's so wrong on the Internet, you can't always depend on it for real research. With me, I used it for a starting point. I assumed most of the online dictionaries of Irish were wrong, so I used what I'd thought I'd heard Ethel say (Ethel the ex), and what seemed reasonable.

Effey then stepped in at the end to make sure it all sounded like things someone born and raised in Ireland might say.

The other fun note about this book is that, early on in my fiction writing, maybe it was during my first-ever reading, some folks asked if I’d incorporate any of my theatre into my fiction.

I did that with this book. Too bad I'll likely not see those folks again—but if anyone from back at my days in Detroit theatre sees this, feel free to give a shout!

Oh, and btw, back when I started fiction writing, I thought I was a lot more Brett. These days, I realize I've switched into being a lot more Shawn. Boy, life is weird.

Ethel making a face at me at a reading.
Me doing a reading. Ethel making a face at me during said reading.

• • • • •

Any more questions on why so many writers have so many problems with doing readings and/or doing any public speaking?

Buy the Book

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