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Posts tagged with: Hope Ramsay

Ruby Release–Last Chance Book Club

LastChanceBookClub_hi resSavannah White is running from a bad situation, back to the only place she ever really felt loved.  But much has changed since she last visited Last Chance.  For one thing, it’s cold.  Savannah always visited during the summer.  Thanks to the the early spring chill, the town feels different than she remembers.  For another, Aunt Miriam, whose practical caring offered a welcome respite from Savannah’s critical, impossible-to-please mother, seems to be fading since Uncle Harry died.

The changes discomfit Savannah, but it’s what remains the same that presents the real problem:  Dash Randall,  her childhood nemesis, is back home with Aunt Miriam.  Money precludes staying elsewhere, and proximity to Dash demands Savannah acknowledge that the snide, gangly boy she loathed is now downright drool-worthy.  Even so, the animosity founded in their youthful rivalry blinds her to the man the boy has become.

Dash, for his part, has a similar problem.  Savannah is as welcome in his world as another knee surgery.  Less welcome, actually.  The surgery cost him his career; Savannah might cost him the life he’s managed to cobble together since.

Old resentments and jealousies rear their ugly heads.  Forced to live in the same house as Savannah, to notice things that might soften his antipathy, Dash ruthlessly resurrects those feelings lest he yield to his unexpected attraction to the princess whose annual visits made his life hell.

Despite her uncertain future and her best efforts to remain apart, Savannah finds herself becoming woven into the weft and warp of Last Chance, going so far as to play peace-maker when the book club ladies rebel against reading dreary literary tomes and clamor for a romance.  Savannah suggests Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a book of sufficient literary merit to appease the town librarian, the driving force behind the book club, while still appealing to everyone else.

As it turns out, Savannah and Elizabeth Bennett have much in common.

You’d think a release announcement would be easy to write.  The topic is set in stone.  The book is read (and, in this case, enjoyed).  All that’s necessary is a brief summation to introduce the story to the world.

You’d be dead wrong.

Last Chance is a place we’ve come to know as well as we know our own home towns.  It’s become real, filled with people who could be our aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, or the crazy cat-lady down the street.  It’s familiar, comfortable, welcoming.

Most of us dislike change.  The very idea makes us shudder and mutter something like “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” even as we know what doesn’t change stagnates.  It takes a brave soul to mess with success.

There is no denying Hope Ramsay takes a risk in her new release, Last Chance Book Club.  There are changes aplenty.  The Sorrowful Angel has gone to her eternal rest.  We see brief cameos by the townspeople we know, but few play a major role; fans of Miz Ruby will see little of her in this tale.  Even the church ladies take a back seat, appearing only now and again to stir the pot and keep the town’s character alive.

Instead, several secondary and mentioned-in-passing characters have taken center stage—to good effect.  Some will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has visited Last Chance in the past, some will tease memories—including the war veteran with a knack for woodwork and matching people with the animals he’s rescued.

Oh, and did I mention he keeps company with a ghost?

This is a story about change, growth, understanding, and self-discovery, none of which would work with the beloved characters from previous books.

Some risks are worth taking.  This is one of them.

* * * * *

Thanks, Gwynlyn, for writing such a lovely summary of Last Chance Book Club.  Since this is the beginning of another series of stories that follow members of the book club, the life of Nita Wills, and a new character names Zeph Gibs, I felt I needed to shift the focus just a bit.

In the next few books, readers will be learning more about some of the younger folks in town.  This allows me to also keep tabs on what’s happening in the lives of previoius heroines and heroes.  Readers have made it clear they want to know.

Which brings me to an important announcement I would like to make here at the RSS blog.  If you’re a fan of the Last Chance stories and want to connect with other readers to gossip about what’s happening in town, or discuss the books, there is now a place to do so – the virtual Last Chance Book Club, which is has been set up as a Facebook group.  You can visit and join the group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/lastchancebookclub/.  I’ll be hanging out there on a regular basis, but I’m hoping that the group will give readers a place to connect with each other.  And I’ll be doing special giveaways and other stuff there from time to time.  But mostly it’s a place for folks who have read the books to come and socialize.

How do you feel about characters in a series of books?  Do you want to know what’s going on in the lives of past heroes and heroines?  Or are you a person who’s happy to leave it at happily ever after?  One commenter on today’s blog will receive an autographed copy of Last Chance Book Club.

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Hope Ramsay was born in New York and grew up on the North Shore of Long Island, but every summer Momma would pack her off under the care of Aunt Annie to go visiting with relatives in the midlands of South Carolina.  Her extended family includes its share of colorful aunts and uncles, as well as cousins by the dozens, who provide the fodder for the characters you’ll find in Last Chance, South Carolina.  Hope earned a BA in Political Science from the University of Buffalo, and has had various jobs working as a Congressional aide, a lobbyist, a public relations consultant, and a meeting planner.  She’s a two-time finalist in the Golden Heart, and is married to a good ol’ Georgia boy who resembles every single one of her heroes.  She has two grown children and a couple of demanding lap cats.  She lives in Fairfax, Virginia where you can often find her on the back deck, picking on her thirty-five-year-old Martin guitar.

Her books are available through Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.

Ruby Release: Last Chance Christmas

 (Looking for the MAKE IT GOLDEN Contest finalist list? Jump to here.)

I love, Love, LOVE Christmas stories!  Since I also adore the beguiling denizens of Last Chance, put both in one book, and I can’t resist.

Visiting Last Chance is always a joy, but Hope Ramsay has outdone herself this time.  She took a difficult hero, a wounded heroine, familiar characters, added a little Christmas magic, and—Voila!— gave us a story sure to touch the Scroogiest of hearts.

This story brims with subtext, emotion, difficult questions and situations.  It draws us back to a painful time when tensions—and prejudices—ran deep, compels us to remember and forgive, and reminds us that healing, redemption, and love are the true gifts of Christmas.

Thus, rather than interview one of the story’s characters, I opted to peek into the mind that gave Last Chance, and all who dwell within it, life.

Hope, tell us about Last Chance.  Is it a real place?  An amalgamation of places?  Or a product of your imagination?

Last Chance and Allenberg County, South Carolina are made up places.  But the town is very loosely based on Denmark, South Carolina—a place with one stoplight that you’d miss if you sneezed while traveling through.  A couple of aunts and uncles lived in Denmark, and I went visiting there every summer as a child.  Denmark was as far away from New York City, where I lived the rest of the time, as a place could get.  When I first set out to write about Denmark, I used the real place, but I soon discovered that reality can be a major drag, especially when I wanted to give Denmark a quirky miniature golf course.  So I reinvented it.  And of course my imagination took me to a whole different place altogether.  One setting is authentic, however.  The Edisto River Country Club is a real place in Bamberg County, and I’ve described it exactly as it truly is.  As you can see from the photo, the water really is the color of iced tea.

What inspired you to write about a tiny South Carolina town filled with colorful characters?

I know this is going to sound weird, but I’ve always known that someday I would write a story influenced by my childhood memories.  I can’t even tell you when I decided that – sometime when I was very young.  When I finally sat down to write the first Last Chance story – a novel called For Love or Money, which finaled in the 2009 Golden Heart – I had the oddest feeling that I had come home.  I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was meant to write these stories.  So I guess you could say that the inspiration came from on high or something.

What imp had you name the Rhodes children Stone, Clay, Tulane, and Rocky (aka Caroline)?

Rhodes is a family name.  And when I was a child I thought that my Cousin Clayton’s name was funny, especially since a lot of the roads in South Carolina were unpaved at the time.  If you ventured onto one of those red clay roads during a summer thunderstorm, you just might get mired deep in some slippery stuff.  My 2009 Golden Heart book, which will forever remain under the bed, thank you — was a sideways retelling of Cinderella.  My heroine, an early version of Caroline Rhodes, heroine of Last Chance Beauty Queen, was the Cinderella stand in.  She needed stepsisters, but stepsisters have been done, so instead I gave her a bunch of good ol’ boy brothers.  I thought it would be fun to give them silly names.  Clay was easy.  Stone followed Clay pretty fast.  I jettisoned Dusty, because it’s done before.  It took some serious thought to come up with the third name.  My husband and I were riding down a two-lane road brainstorming ideas when the name, Tulane, presented itself.  We laughed until we cried.

Golfing for God is so well planned.  Does such a place, or something similar, actually exist?  Or is this another gem mined from your imagination?

Once again I have to go back to my 2009 Golden Heart manuscript.  In that story Caroline has to take a visiting English baron on a tour of South Carolina.  Caroline wants to show the baron all the sights of the New South.  The baron wants to go slumming.  He’s got a guidebook with various roadside attractions that he wants to see.  So, of course I had to consult www.roadsideamerica.com to see what kind of roadside weirdness existed in the real world.  (I’m dying to visit the alien visitors’ center located in Orangeburg, South Carolina, but I digress.)  While researching I came across a putt-putt located in Tennessee that was Bible themed.  That place is no longer in business, but I’ve seen photos – the holes were all New Testament and kind of lame, if you want to know.  So I decided to have fun with the Old Testament, especially with the plague of frogs, which always struck me as funny when I went to Sunday School.  And once the idea sprouted, it was like Topsy, it just grew.

Many of the town settings in your books are revisited again and again.  Do you have a map?  Layouts of Ruby’s salon?  How do you keep it all straight?

Yup, I have a map.  It started as a map of Denmark and it’s grown.  I also created a map of the golf course, because so much action takes place there, I had to know which hole was located where.  You can see the golf course map here (http://www.hoperamsay.com/GFG/GFG.htm).  I keep a world building Bible that has all kinds of stuff in it.  Not just maps, but time lines that go all the way back to the Civil War.  I’m seriously OCD.

Having met Stone in previous books, he seemed a hard nut to crack.  Is that why his is the story told during the season of miracles?  Did you always intend for it to be so?  Or did your publisher desire a Christmas book?

Wow, that’s weird, Gwynlyn.  Years ago, when I was first plotting Stone’s book I gave it the working title: “A Hard Nut to Crack.”  Did you know that?

I had no idea!

Anyway, the heroine in that early outline was going to be a ballerina on the lam and I was trying to figure out how to work in the Nutcracker story.  So, yeah, it was going to be a Christmas book from the get go.  I didn’t get very far with this early outline.  And Stone’s book got shelved for a long time (years) while I worked on selling the series.  Once I made the sale, the series story elements had moved on, and Haley’s angel had come into being.  So the Nutcracker idea was jettisoned and I went with Christmas angels instead.  The publisher also wanted a holiday book, so luckily we were all on the same page.

Last Chance Christmas is rife with subtext, more so than any of your other books.  Was this a conscious decision?  Or did it result from the many threads this book finally ties?

It’s a complicated story for a couple of reasons.  The first is the obvious one that I needed to resolve a bunch of story lines, most important, the one involving Haley Rhodes and her sorrowful angel.  But, at the same time, I gave my heroine, Lark Chaikin, a very dark story goal.  She’s come to town to scatter her father’s ashes at the golf course, but she’s undertaking this last request without understanding why her father wanted to be interred there.  She very quickly discovers that in 1968 her father spent some time in Last Chance and became involved in an ugly racial incident.  Lark, a photojournalist by trade, is compelled to learn the entire truth of the matter.  In effect, Lark shines a light into the darkness of the past.  At the same time, the town is putting up Christmas lights, lighting Hanukah candles, and basically celebrating the darkest night of the year as we do every December.  The theme of light and dark runs like a heartbeat through the story, and that was not by accident, because Christmas is, at its heart, a Winter solstice celebration.  Even my heroine’s profession mirrors the theme of light in darkness.  She captures light with her camera.

Will there be more Last Chance books now that the Rhodes children have all met their soul-mates?

There will be more books set in Last Chance.  The next series of three books revolve around the members of the Last Chance Book Club, led by the town librarian, Nita Wills, who is an important minor character in Last Chance Christmas.  The first book in this series, Last Chance Book Club, will be published in April 2013.  In this book, Miz Miriam Randall starts matchmaking for her nephew, Dash.  Any resemblance to Pride and Prejudice, the book club’s book of the month, is entirely coincidental.

Cover Blurb

Dear Reader,

I’ve been wishing for a miracle for my oldest boy, Stone, and this Christmas my prayers might just be answered!

Her name is Lark, and she’s here in Last Chance looking into her father’s past—and stirring up a whole mess of trouble without meaning to.  As the chief of police, Stone sure has his hands full trying to keep up with her.  Ever since his wife died, Stone’s put everything into raising his daughters and dodging the Christ Church Ladies’ Auxiliary matchmakers.  And it’s clear Lark has been through some trouble and could use a place to finally call home.  I only hope Stone can let go of the past soon enough to keep her…

Goodness, I need to stop talking and finish up Jane’s highlights so we can make the town tree lighting.  You come back by because the Cut ‘n’ Curl’s got hot rollers, free coffee, fresh-baked Christmas cookies—and the best gossip in town.

See you real soon,

Ruby Rhodes

Hope Ramsay was born in New York and grew up on the North Shore of Long Island, but every summer Momma would pack her off under the care of Aunt Annie to go visiting with relatives in the midlands of South Carolina.  Her extended family includes its share of colorful aunts and uncles, as well as cousins by the dozens, who provide the fodder for the characters you’ll find in Last Chance, South Carolina.  Hope earned a BA in Political Science from the University of Buffalo, and has had various jobs working as a Congressional aide, a lobbyist, a public relations consultant, and a meeting planner.  She’s a two-time finalist in the Golden Heart, and is married to a good ol’ Georgia boy who resembles every single one of her heroes.  She has two grown children and a couple of demanding lap cats.  She lives in Fairfax, Virginia where you can often find her on the back deck, picking on her thirty-five-year-old Martin guitar.

Hopes books are available in e-book and mass market format at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

* * * * *

To celebrate Hope’s book release, one lucky commenter on today’s blog will win a copy of Last Chance Christmas, and a pretty little Angel wreath lapel pin.  Just to get the conversation going, tell us about your  favorite Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa tradition.

How NOT to Write a Series

When my Ruby Sisters asked me to blog about writing a book series, I stupidly agreed.  Then I realized that I didn’t set out to write a series.  I just blundered into it.

It started when I decided to write a novel set in the small South Carolina town where I spent my childhood summers.  No, it was not Last Chance.  It was a place named Denmark.  The book I wrote was titled Stealing Home.  Unfortunately it didn’t go over well with editors and I collected dozens of rejections.  A wise person would have stopped right then.

Not me.  I decided to write a Rom Com retelling of Cinderella featuring a heroine named Caroline Rhodes who comes from Denmark, SC.  I didn’t want to do the whole step-sister thing, so I gave my heroine three funny brothers: Stone, Clay and Tulane Rhodes. Sadly the book, For Love or Money was not well liked by New York editors either.

So, did I give up?  Of course not.  Caroline had brothers, right?  So I wrote another Rom Com about NASCAR driver Tulane and a pink race car.  This book was not even remotely set in Denmark, and it garnered some really nasty rejections.

Surely by now I really should have given up.  But no.  There were more brothers.  So I trotted out Clay and penned Welcome to Last Chance.  This book was entirely set in my small town, and I changed the name of the place in order to give me more flexibility in creating a somewhat humorous world.  And of course I went back and “borrowed” a bunch of characters from between the pages of previous attempts.

I knew the minute I finished this book that it was the best thing I had ever written.  But I couldn’t get any agents or publishers to look at it.  No one was buying contemporary romance.  So I finally put that book on the shelf (without any rejections) and gave up on Last Chance.  I moved on to seriously writing fantasy.

Flash forward five years (and ten years after writing the first book set in Denmark).  In 2009, I decided to enter all three of my now-dusty “southern” romances in the Golden Heart.  To my astonishment, For Love or Money finaled, making me a Ruby Sister and giving me a chance to pitch my often rejected stories one last time.

The wonderful agent, Elaine English, took me on.  She read all three books and sat me down at the RWA meeting that year and said, “Welcome to Last Chance is exactly the kind of small town story that editors are looking for these days, but the other two have to be completely rewritten so that the action takes place in the town.  The books need a common setting, because the setting is almost like a continuing character.  And you need a series arc too.”

I stared at her like she’d dropped in from Mars.  “Series Arc?  What the heck is that?  The heroes are siblings.  Isn’t that enough?”

She shook her head.  “No.  You need a narrative that ties the individual books together.”

“Uh huh.”  I nodded and smiled like I knew what the heck she was talking about.

I went back to the drawing board and spent a couple of months trying to wrap my brain about this whole series arc thing.  Finally I came up with a plot line that moves from book to book.  It involves a seven-year-old girl, Haley, with an imaginary (and somewhat sorrowful) angel.  This little girl’s story goal is to get the angel back to Heaven.  I had to rewrite parts of Welcome to Last Chance to insert this story, and then a magical thing happened.  Haley’s story became a driving point for the stories in the remaining books.  As I wrote their synopses, the existence of the series arc made the story arcs in each book just a little bit easier to figure out.  Haley’s problem gets steadily worse in each book, and reaches a crisis in the last book where it is resolved.  The resolution of the series arc is so tightly intertwined with the romance plot in the fourth book that they are almost indistinguishable.

I pitched my agent.  She loved it.  She went out and sold it.

So, if you’ve been paying attention here are the takeaways:

  1.  Start by writing the book of your heart regardless of whether or not it might make a good series. And don’t ever give up.
  2. Create a setting that is as real as you can possibly make it.  And make sure all your stories are set there.  Think about your setting as if it were a continuing character in your series.
  3. You will need more than just a cast of connected characters for a series to work.  You need a series arc with its own turning points, crisis, and resolution.  Just think about Harry Potter and how the series arc is all about Harry’s relationship with Voldemort and you’ll get the idea.
  4. Each book’s story arc has to stand on its own.  But the series arc can affect the action that goes on in the story.  Study Harry Potter, you can learn a lot about the action between series arc and story arc.  Rowling has a plot for each book, but the plot usually reaches a crisis that involves Voldemort in some way.
  5. And once you discover that you’re writing a series, you will undoubtedly need to keep copious notes about dates and times and events.  I have a bible that I use for Last Chance that has birth dates and death dates of characters, events of major importance, and other small details about character background.  I also have a master list of town characters and which books they appear in.

So, I hope I’ve saved you from making all the mistakes I made as I discovered that I was writing a series.  If you have questions or suggestions, please comment away.

Ruby Release: Last Chance Beauty Queen by Hope Ramsay

It looks like another normal summer is on tap for Last Chance, South Carolina.  The days are hot and sultry, the Watermelon Festival is underway, and right alongside endless pitchers of sweet tea, Trouble is brewing.   Yes, that’s Trouble with a capital “T”.

As near as I could tell during the course of Miz Ruby’s frantic phone call, there’s a mill, a senator, her daughter, Rocky, and Golfing For God  involved. 

Oh, and a British nobleman.  Which is why she called me.  I’m the only person she knows who has a clue about the British peerage (even if only in a historical sense, but Miz Ruby doesn’t quibble over details), and this fellow has the town in an uproar. 

Why a British nobleman would be in Last Chance is beyond me, but I’m willing to melt these Yankee bones to find out.

It’s THAT Time of Year!

The Thanksgiving turkey’s gobbled, the stuffing’s packed away, and the mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin pie have taken residence on our hips and thighs. 

We all know what that means. 

No, not cooking, baking, or cleaning like a demented castle drudge, watching your ice cream melt while the local Obsessive/Compulsive Coupon Clipper argues expiration dates with the cashier, or driving yourself mildly – or not so mildly – insane in the never-ending hunt for the perfect gift.  Those things await either like the sword of Damocles or a long-anticipated visit from a friend (depending on your outlook) and are simply part of the holiday mayhem. 

What it means is the Holiday Anthologies are available.  They are the unofficial signal the holiday season with all its joys and demands is in full swing. 

I have a shelf full of these miniature treasure chests—for that’s what they are, each containing a variety of romantic riches—and look forward to new ones.  One or two (or five – depending on the day and the budget) will join those I’ve collected, read, and reread year after year for longer than I care to remember. 

Anthologies are perfect for this frenetic season when time is at a premium.  They are a bite-sized indulgence when reading is limited to a much-needed bubble bath, waiting for children to escape whatever rehearsal church and/or school functions require, or for those precious minutes between batches of cookies.

They can also distract you from the OCD Coupon Clipper—and others of her ilk—-thus giving you a reason to appreciate her fifteen minute argument over a quarter.  So much better than slapping her silly, don’t you think?  No handcuffs. 

AND, on top of keeping you out of jail,  they come with a dollop of Holiday Magic between the covers. 

If the thought of all the seasonal brouhaha brings out your latent Ebenezer Scrooge, a good holiday romance can jump-start your holiday spirit.  When you think you’re too tired to address another card, hang another light, or wrap another gift that touch of magic warms your heart, reminding you of all the possibilities the season engenders.  

So, before you dot another “I” or cross another “T”, Bob Crachet, you should grab one or two of these lovely treasure chests and keep them close at hand.  Anthologies allow you to read a story, enjoy a satisfying “aaahhhh” moment, and still have time for everything else the holidays demand of you.

As always, the Rubies are here to help, and our very own Hope Ramsay has contributed to a wonderful anthology that might be your ticket to a dose of holiday magic. 

 (Surprise, Hope!)  No, she didn’t know I would include her latest release in this post.  Truth is, when I originally wrote this (shortly after Halloween, actually), neither did I since I was unaware of its availability.  Once I knew, however, being a devoted fan of her Last Chance stories and a avid collector of holiday anthologies, how could I not?  Small town Christmases are right up my alley.  Lots of homemade goodies, egg nog, spiced cider, hot cocoa, twinky lights, sparkling decorations, beautiful music, and a fire in the fireplace to add a little snap and crackle to a lovely cuddle.
 
Gives me anticipatory shivers just thinking about it.
 
No matter what holiday you celebrate, may it be filled with things that give you those giddy shivers, making memories to keep you smiling well into the New Year.  Oh, and a hefty helping of holiday magic.   While it seems harder to find these days, it exists and is just waiting for you to discover it anew.
 
A good holiday anthology might well be your catalyst to finding that special magic once again.  It could also suggest a few ideas to fuel those wonderful memories.  Mistletoe over the bed comes immediately to mind . . .
 
Well, um, anyway . . . where was I?   Ah, yes.  The value of holiday anthologies.  Needless to say, I love them.  How about you?

 

 

 

Ruby Release Spotlight! Hope Ramsay & Home at Last Chance

 

Haley Rhodes Tells All!

It’s August, and Last Chance, South Carolina is sweltering, but when Miz Ruby called to tell me another of her sons was in the cross-hairs, I couldn’t resist.  Clay and Jane’s story turned out so well, and I really do want find out what happened after the Great Lightning Strike at Golfing For God.

 Reaching the Cut ‘N Curl, I hurry out of the heat, my mouth watering for a long, cold glass of Miz Ruby’s sweet tea.  I no sooner enter the shop, however, than my arms are filled with young Haley Rhodes who looks like she’s gone ten rounds with an army of chocolate chip cookies. 

The cookies, obviously, lost, but not without doing some damage. 

“Praise the Lord, Gwyn,” Ruby says.  “You’re an answer to prayer.  Elbert just called. There’s a ruckus down at Golfing For God.  Watch Haley, won’t you?”

And with that, Miz Ruby and all the church ladies bustle out the door, leaving me gaping at the gamin sprite smearing chocolate on my white blouse. 

Now I remember Haley from my last visit.  Haley sees angels.  One particular angel, who she calls The Sorrowful Angel, seems to be her constant companion.

She’s grown and lost her two front teeth since last I saw her, but her hair is still defying restraint and her clothes refusing to stay clean.  She’s just precious, and I can’t help but give her a hug as we watch Miz Ruby’s van disappear.

“I wonder what that’s all about,” I murmur, glancing around the silent shop, unsure how I’ll keep Haley out of mischief until Miz Ruby returns.

“It’s Uncle Tulane, Miz Gwyn.”  Haley shakes her head, looking much too wise for her seven years.  “He’s come home, and he’s a magnet for trouble.”

Someday, I’m going to ask Miz Ruby what she was thinking when she named her children, but for now, Haley needs me.  “And how do you know that, Miss Haley?”

“Granny says so.  She says trouble follows him like his old blue tick hound used to.  It’s so bad, he has hisself a babysitter.”

A babysitter?  Interesting.

I make myself comfy in one of the well-padded salon chairs and settle Haley on my lap.  “Want to tell me about it?”

“Yes’m.  See it’s all on account of the fact that they painted Uncle Tulane’s  racecar pink.  I don’t see any problem with a pink car—after all Barbie has one, and Mrs. Henrietta Charles down over to Allenberg got one selling Mary Kay—but Granny says Uncle Tulane is kind of proud.  And besides, I reckon pink is a funny color for a man to wear.”

“Well yes, I suppose it is,” I agree, trying not to grin.  I’ve seen a couple of NASCAR races, and Tulane Rhodes drives a car sponsored by Cottontail Disposable Diapers.  The car’s cotton-candy color is more than enough to make a man cringe, but the sponsor added insult to injury and painted a huge cuddle bunny on its hood. 

Tulane’s pit crew looks pitiful in pink.

“So, anyways,”  Haley continues, “Uncle Tulane was supposed to help at the Value Mart with the baby-changing races only he played hooky.  I reckon his boss got really mad at him for that, and he got put in the dog house. ”

“Baby-changing races?” I ask.  “What the he . . eck is a baby-changing race?”

“Oh, that’s where mamas bring their babies to the Value Mart and have a race to see who can change their baby fastest using Cottontail Disposable Diapers with the quick release tabs for quicker pit stops.”

I stifle a groan.  The tag line is cheesy enough without the child’s deadpan delivery.

“Anyways, Uncle Tulane is supposed to go to the races and of.. off…”

Unwilling to watch her struggle, I hazard a guess.  “Officiate?”

Halely nods.  (Whew!)  “Yup, that’s the word.  So, you see, when Uncle Tulane played hooky, he got in big trouble.  And that’s when the folks who make the diapers sent Miss Sarah Murray.  She’s Uncle Tulane’s babysitter.  She’s supposed to make sure he goes to all the baby-changing races on his schedule.

“I guess he doesn’t like her very much.”

“I wouldn’t say that.  Miss Sarah is really smart.  She came up with an idea for Uncle Tulane to do something instead of baby-changing races.”

“Oh?  And what might that be?”

“She wants to help mamas learn how to use car seats to keep their babies safe.  And I think that’s a real good idea because, when I was little, I was in a car wreck, but I didn’t get hurt on account of my car seat.  I want to help Uncle Tulane and Miss Sarah with the car seats, but my daddy said no.  He’s a grump.  Even The Sorrowful Angel thinks helping with the car seats would be a good thing.”

Haley releases a long, woebegone sigh—just before her busy little mind lights on another thought.

“Hey, you know what”

“No.  What?”

“Miss Sarah is smart about some other stuff, too, like Granddaddy’s putt-putt course.  She told everyone she thought Golfing for God could be the kind of fun place folks from all around the world would come to.  And she even convinced Miz Hettie Marshall, the richest lady in town, to form a committee that’s going to fix up what got broke that time when Aunt Jane’s boyfriend came and made trouble.  I’m glad about that.” 

An index finger makes feathering swipes at one of the chocolate stains decorating my now ruined blouse.  “But I’m not so sure about what Miz Miriam says about Miss Sarah.” 

Oh, boy.  Now we’re getting to the good stuff.  Miriam Randall is Last Chance’s main matchmaker, and when she makes a match it’s a done deal.  “What does Miz Miriam say about Miss Sarah?”

“Well I’m not sure exactly, but Miz Polk and Miz Hanks have told everybody in town that Miss Sarah is going to marry Reverend Ellis.”

“Really?  He is kind of cute.”

Haley wrinkles her nose.  “He’s okay, but I don’t think Miz Polk and Miz Hanks got it right.”

“Why not?”

Despite the fact we’re alone in the shop, Haley stretches toward my ear and whispers, “I saw Uncle Tulane kissing Miss Sarah in Granny’s kitchen when they were visiting before.  He’s teaching her poker and pool and a lot of other stuff.  And I heard Miz Bray saying that Uncle Tulane and Miss Sarah were down at Dot’s Spot dancing and carrying on.”

“Carrying on?”

“Uh huh.  And Granny went shopping with her, too.  Granny says Miss Sarah hides her light under a bushel basket, and Granny should know—’cause she’s the bestest beauty consultant in all of Allenberg County.”

“Your Granny gave Miss Sarah beauty advice?”

Haley smiles and nods like she knows when Miz Ruby starts doing makeovers love is probably in the air.  “Yes’m, Granny sure did.  And after she did Miss Sarah’s hair and nails and took her shopping, I heard Granny tell Granddaddy that she thinks Miss Sarah is the one.” 

“The one?”  This was getting better by the minute.

“Uh huh.  I’m not sure what that means, but Granny likes Miss Sarah a whole lot.”

Before I can formulate another question, Jane enters the shop.  “Hey, Gwyn.”  She gives me a quick hug before taking Haley.  Needless to say, another blouse bites the dust, but Jane doesn’t seem to mind, planting a kiss on Haley’s chocolate-y cheek.  “You ready to go home, Sugar?” 

At Haley’s nod, Jane turns to me.  “Miz Ruby called.  Sent me to rescue you and lock up.  She wants you to wait at the house.”

Still jonesing for that glass of sweet tea, I hop out of the chair.  The thought of drinking it parked in a rocker on Miz Ruby’s front porch sounds like heaven, and it will give Jane and me a chance to catch up.  Knowing Jane, I’ll soon have the complete scoop on Tulane and Sarah.  I can’t wait.

“Let’s go.  I’m right behind you.”

  * * * * **

 One lucky non-Ruby commenter will win a free copy of HOME AT LAST CHANCE, featuring the story of Tulane Rhodes and Sarah Murray and a very pink NACAR racer.  You can buy HOME AT LAST CHANCE at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com.

 *****

Hope Ramsay was born in New York and grew up on the North Shore of Long Island, but every summer Momma would pack her off under the care of Aunt Annie to go visiting with relatives in the midlands of South Carolina.  Her extended family includes its share of colorful aunts and uncles, as well as cousins by the dozens, who provide the fodder for the characters you’ll find in Last Chance, South Carolina.  Hope earned a BA in Political Science from the Universityof Buffalo, and has had various jobs working as a Congressional aide, a lobbyist, a public relations consultant, and a meeting planner.  She’s a two-time finalist in the Golden Heart, and is married to a good ol’ Georgia boy who resembles every single one of her heroes.  She has two grown children and a couple of demanding lap cats.  She lives in Fairfax, Virginia where you can often find her on the back deck, picking on her thirty-five-year-old Martin guitar.  You can follow Hope on twitter (@HopeRamsay), visit her webpage (www.hoperamsay.com), or connect with her on Facebook.

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