Hey there! I’m sharing the story behind the story. I hope you’ll click on ALL the links in this post–it will be a fun few minutes to walk this journey together, and before you click away from my blog, please reserve your copy of Christmas Bells. Thank you!
My first book, Bayou Born, was published in 2013. As a debut and very newbie author, I was mesmerized by the writing community. I attended a Reader’s Conference in Kansas City and had my first launch party. (Oh the things I’ve learned since then.)
There, I met a woman who had started an online romance magazine and in exchange for exposure to the subscribers of her magazine, she was looking for authors to submit short stories. I wrote Cupid’s Arrow and submitted it. It was published, and I was thrilled. Now at first blush, you may think it would be a Valentine’s Day story, but no, instead, a young girl dressed as Cupid for Halloween–she had a specific mission in mind.
Dance was element in the story. I don’t recall how I came across the song, Cupid’s Shuffle, or the videos, however, I’m offering several here. The first is the Official Music Video. The second is how Rap, yes rap, translates into country line dancing, and the third is an instructional video so you, too, can learn to do this easy dance. Be brave. check them all out. Then get out of your chair and DANCE!
Fast forward to December 2015–USA Today and Amazon Best Selling Author Ciara Knight put out a call for authors to contribute novellas to an anthology titled Love & Grace, an anthology of sweet and inspirational romance. (In case you’re wondering, that means no sex and an uplifting story.) 100% of the proceeds of all sales benefit Gracepoint School, a unique place for students with dyslexia. Happy for a chance to have my writing benefit a great cause, offered up my services. I was happy when I was selected to be a contributing author. But I needed a story… and at the time my mother was sick, which distracted my writing focus, so I decided to go through my short stories pile and determine which one could be easily rehabbed. I came across Cupid’s Arrow and loved Avery, a real girl who inspired the story. You see, I met her at physical therapy after severely spraining my ankle and hoping on crutches for three month. Avery had her own physical issues, and despite them, she had a positive attitude which charmed me.
I rewrote the story of Cupid’s Arrow and it became Christmas Bells. Not much of the story remained the same, except for the inspiration from Avery.
I’m sharing Cupid Arrow below:
Cupid’s Arrow By Linda Joyce
The antique cuckoo clock in the study crowed three times. Marissa looked up from her work. A smiled played on her lips when her gaze rested on the vase of flowers on the small, round table by her reading chair that sat across the room. Joy danced a sprightly jig in her stomach and made her want to sashay up the hall and back. The colorful fall bouquet of yellows, golds and oranges, had been delivered earlier, but no card accompanied it. The delivery person had promised someone would call and let her know the identity of sender, but so far, that hadn’t happened. Though her intuition had tattled, she preferred real world confirmation about who sent the lovely gift.
“Yellow chrysanthemums for cheerfulness. Orange roses for desire. I need to look up the meaning of Asiatic lilies.”
Behind her, the printer whirred and Gentleman Jack barked. Three plus Jack could be a sweet family, she mused.
“Yes boy, it’s almost time.” Marissa chuckled over her furry companion’s excitement. Maybe he wasn’t the only male in her life any longer. She’d shared a toe-curling kiss with a man recently, but since then he’d disappeared like a ghost. No word from him in over a week. But just maybe, she hoped—fingers crossed—the flowers were from him.
The printer in her office produced the recipe she’d just finished writing. She scooped up the pages, one for each child, then closed her laptop. “Let’s go Jack. It’s almost showtime.”
Monday through Friday during the fall, her schedule ran with precision, especially on Wednesday when she hosted five special third-graders, with their parents’ approval, for cooking lessons in her home after school. The children walked in a group to her house, and often she heard their giggles before they reached the gate of her white picket fence.
“We’re making ‘candy store’ cookies today,” Marissa told Jack when he came and sat at her feet. “But these are not cookies for you. I have some liver brownies as your treat. I think we have time for one before our guests arrive.”
The Brittany spaniel pranced beside her all the way to the kitchen where Marissa pulled from the pantry a large plastic bin that held cooking supplies. Jack followed closely, bumping her leg as she walked.
“I haven’t forgotten about you,” she said, opening the fridge. “This is just for you.” Jack wolfed down the treat then licked his mouth. “You’re a handsome boy.” She patted his head.
Walking around the large kitchen island, Marissa pulled utensils from the bin and placed them at specific locations, creating a cooking station for each child with a recipe page. She stood at the island—in the space between it and the stove—and gazed at Avery’s spot opposite from her. Skylar and Lawrence always stood on her left while Beatrice and Cody stood to the right. Each child’s station had an apron, measuring cups and spoons, a spatula, and a big bowl.
Jack stood on his hind legs and inspected her work, then laid on his bed in the corner near the hearth. “Good boy,” Marissa said as she remembered when a special little girl inspired her to start the afternoon weekly program.
“Do you hear them coming, Jack?”
The dog scrambled to the front door, his nails scraped the tile floor when he tried for traction like a racecar’s tires spinning furiously. He barked as if to say, “Hurry!” Laughter sounded on the other side of the door. She opened it and five expectant faces looked up at her.
“Come in.” Marissa held open the door for them to enter.
Avery brought up the rear of the line. As she passed, she took hold of Marissa’s hand, resting her other hand on Jack’s back. Ahead of them, the children marched to the kitchen.
Marissa narrowed her steps to match Avery’s pace. Wednesday afternoons were her favorite time of the week; she often learned more from the children than she was able to teach them. Their minds soaked up everything. They were more like old souls in small bodies and they fascinated her.
“Cody, no. Don’t touch. We wash our hands before we work in the kitchen,” Avery said.
“Why?” The blonde boy asked.
“Avery, thank you for reminding me—washing hands is important for hygiene.”
After that, cookie making commenced. Sweet treats made with giggles and smiles always tasted better.
“This is where the cookies get their ‘candy store’ name. The bowls in the middle of the island”—Marissa pointed—“have goodies found at a candy store. Toasted pecans. Candied walnuts. Chocolate chips. Raisins. Toffee pieces and peanut brittle. Different mixtures give the cookies interesting flavors.”
The children created their own special cookies and while they waited for batches to finish baking, Avery played an MP3 player and began dancing near the hearth on the opposite end of the large kitchen.
“I know that dance!” Lawrence cried.
Skylar jumped in next to Avery. “It’s the Cupid Shuffle.”
Lawrence joined the two girls in the line dance. Cody shook his head and backed into the opening of the hall.
“Come on, Cody,” Avery said, shuffling to the right, to the right, and reached for Cody’s hand. “The dance is easy.” The little girl showed the newest member of their Wednesday circle how to do the dance steps.
Marissa laughed and joined the dancing in her spot by the stove. Her heart swelled with happiness, a helium-filled balloon couldn’t be more buoyant. She looked at her feet to be sure she wasn’t walking on air. Having children of her own couldn’t be more fulfilling than sharing time with the ones in her kitchen now. Long ago, she’d accepted the fact that being a mother was not one of the perks allowed in her life. So she borrowed a little time each week with children, and hoped it benefited them all—the mothers usually appreciated the downtime, along with the treats she sent home with the kids.
“Halloween is coming.” Skylar continued dancing. “Let’s all go trick-or-treating together.”
“Yeah,” Lawrence said. “What do you want to be?”
“Zombie.” Cody bobbed his head as if confirming there could be no other choice.
“Bride of Frankenstein,” Skylar said, then she wiped all expression from her face, walked stiffly tottering from side to side with her arms swinging stiff like boards.
“Princess,” Beatrice stated firmly.
“I’m going to be a pirate.” Lawrence waved his arm as though he brandished a sabre.
“What about you, Avery?” Skylar asked, then stopped long enough to scoop up dough on her finger and plop it into her mouth while Avery continued dancing.
“Wait!” Lawrence cried. “We could all go as Super Heroes.”
“That would be cool.” Skylar scooped up another finger full of dough and Beatrice crinkled her nose.
“Nope. I have something else in mind,” Avery said.
“Cookies hot from the oven,” Marissa told the children.
Avery turned off the music and stuck the player in her backpack. The children gathered by the island to watch their creations cool before packing them into small, brown paper bags. Then the children divided them up, a dozen per bag, and put their name on two. They cleaned up the kitchen, put utensils into the dishwasher and wiped the island clean.
“Next Wednesday”—Marissa pointed to the calendar on the wall—“is the Wednesday before Halloween. We’ll try a new recipe and make pumpkin cupcakes.”
“Yay!” came the chorus.
“Glad that everyone is happy,” she said. Looking at the clock, she wondered if Avery’s father might be a few minutes late, that would give her time to talk to the child about a Halloween costume. Since Avery’s mother had died over a year ago, and Marissa didn’t know of an aunt, cousin, or even grandparents nearby to help with a costume, she planned to offer her assistance to Avery. But first, she wanted to clear it with Avery’s father.
Jack barked. He ran down the hall, then returned with Skylar’s mother.
“Sorry to just walk in, Marissa. I heard fun going on and I didn’t want to interrupt, but Skylar, we’re in a bit of a hurry.”
“She’s ready to go with her cookies,” Marissa replied, then turned to the other children. “Why don’t we all walk Skylar and her mother out, and we’ll wait for your parents on the front porch. It’s a wonderful fall day.” The change of the season, the hint of coolness in the evening air, ushered in a sense of hope. While other folks might prefer the bloom of spring, she preferred the dramatic colors and freshness brought by the autumnal equinox.
One by one, the children departed. Lawrence left with his father. Cody’s older sister arrived to pick him up. Beatrice walked two doors down to her grandmother’s house.
“It’s just us now,” Avery said, then sighed and plopped into a white rocking chair on the front porch.
Marissa took the next chair. “Is it a secret or will you tell me about your costume for Halloween?”
“I gave it a lot of thought,” Avery said as she rocked. “I found a picture on the internet of Cupid. I read all about it. I’m going to be Cupid, with white feathery wings, a silver bow and red arrows.”
“Not a witch? Ghost? Or hobbit?”
“I won’t hurt anyone”—Avery’s words rushed out—“if that’s what you’re worried about. I promise I won’t. Besides, I only need one arrow.”
Before Marissa had a chance to ask more questions, the girl’s father arrived. He pulled his car onto the driveway and parked it behind hers. Marissa’s heart quickened. It beat as though a drummer on a solo roll had taken her heart hostage. Harrison made her insides light up bright like Michigan Avenue when decorated for Christmas.
“How’s my girl?” Harrison asked as he pushed on the gate.
“Hi Daddy!” Avery jumped from the rocker and ran toward her father.
Harrison hugged his daughter tightly. He never looked like a college professor, but instead fit and trim, like a personal trainer at the local gym. Even when he wore a suit, his toned body was obvious. His black hair was shorter than the last time Marissa saw him. She admired his stylish neatness.
Marissa ran her fingers through her long, fawn-colored hair and wished she had a brush and lipstick as delicious tingles spread to her toes. She licked her lips to wipe away any possible lingering signs of cookies.
“Pumpkin, would you wait for me in the car? Buckle up. I need to talk with Miss Marissa for a moment.”
Avery hugged Marissa tightly around the waist, then skipped to the car.
“I’m a jerk for not calling. Work got crazy and I had to settle some things with Avery…but I hope you like the flowers.” Harrison’s smile was sheepish.
“So they are from you. There wasn’t a card when they arrived, and I was waiting for the florist to let me know who sent them. Thank you. Very sweet.”
But do they come with another kiss?
“I’m not sure what a guy’s supposed to do…in this age of immediate techy communications…when he’s interested in a woman.”
Harrison was truly interested in her? A flutter in her stomach rose to her chest, just like back in college when she fell in love for the first time. It had been that long since a man made her stomach flip-flop. Giddiness that came from that kind of love was ageless, and perfect kisses didn’t happen only in fairy tales.
“Back when Avery’s mother and I first dated, I was lucky to buy groceries. Flowers were a luxury I could only afford if I stole them from someone’s garden,” he said. “Life at forty is a very different.”
Marissa nodded. The age difference—maybe ten years— still gave them lots in common, including his daughter.
“Would you have time for dinner tonight? I know its quick notice, but I lined up a sitter for Avery. I might be slow on the draw, but I’m thorough.” Harrison reached for her hand, gave it a little squeeze.
Marissa drew in a long slow breath. Her heart fluttered faster than a humming bird’s wings. “What time?” Her voice came out in a hoarse whisper.
“I’ll pick you up at seven.” Harrison leaned in and kissed her cheek. The public display of affection surprised her, and she looked toward the car worrying about Avery’s reaction.
“I think we’ll have lots to talk about,” Harrison said when he started to leave.
Marissa stood on the sidewalk and waved until Harrison and Avery drove out of sight. The second they turned the corner, she raced inside to her closet.
“I haven’t been on an official grown-up date in a couple of years,” she whined to Jack. “I forgot to ask where we’re going. What do I wear?” She settled on a dove gray skirt, cream-colored sweater, and heels.
When the doorbell rang, the cuckoo on the antique clock had just crowed seven times. Jack barked and ran to the front door, then returned to her bedroom as though to say, “Hurry up! He’s here.”
Marissa opened the door. Harrison grinned and offered her a single red rose.
“Professor, I thought your history lessons were full of wars and conflicts, but not romance.”
“Too cheesy?” he asked, stepping inside.
“Oh, no,” she said quickly. “It’s perfect.” She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek, but Harrison turned and captured her lips. He intensified the kiss, then pulled her in so close their clothes could meld together. His kiss offered the promise of more.
Something poked Marissa near the front of her hip and she drew back. She cocked her head and stared at hard at him, wondering what Harrison had hidden behind his coat.
He shrugged, which made Marissa’s curiosity grow.
“Just before I left home,” Harrison said. “Cupid shot me with an arrow and said only my true love could remove it from my chest.” He smiled wide.
“Yes, Cupid. She believes in true love.”
“Cupid…with white feathery wings and a silver bow?”
“Yes, that’s the one. I knew you were a very smart lady.” Harrison laughed. “Those feathery white wings were pricey and handmade. As was this…” He opened his black sports coat and against his crisp white shirt, a red arrow dangled. The tip was shiny gold and taped to his shirt pocket.
Marissa clasped her hands together and brought them up to cover her smile. “You’ve been shot by Cupid’s one arrow. Oh my. Does it hurt?”
“Best feeling I’ve experienced in a long time,” Harrison said, his voice turning husky.
She reached toward the arrow, placing her hand over the spot where the tip met Harrison’s pocket. Beneath her fingers, she sensed the wild beating of his heart. She took a deep breath and settled. In a moment, their heartbeats matched beat for beat in unison.
Harrison placed his hand over hers. “Be careful now. This is serious business.” His tone deepened. “Remember, only my true love can successfully pluck this arrow from my heart without doing damage.”
Marissa lowered her chin and looked up at Harrison. “Don’t worry, love. I know mouth to mouth resuscitation.”
She plucked the arrow and tossed it over her shoulder, then wrapped her arms around Harrison’s neck, kissing him soundly. Her toes curled when he lifted her off the floor. He might not look like a prince in a fairy tale or a Roman god, but fairy tales and mythology coalesced in the kiss he delivered. She would love him until the end of time.
When he set her back on her feet, he cradled her face gently in his hands. “I love you, Marissa. As I said before, I’m slow on the draw, but I’m thorough.”
“Yes, you are,” she said, feeling the heat of his kiss still on her lips. She imagined her Halloween costume, a private one just for him. “And Professor, I’m going to show you just how much I love you.”
Don’t forget to order your copy of Christmas Bells!
Here’s what the story is about now:
After grieving the loss of her husband and son, TV host Morgan Marshall is ready to embrace life again. But she won’t risk a relationship with the father of her favorite cooking student, Avery, since the girl’s happiness is more important than her own.
Advertising executive Alex Blake never thought another woman could pique his interest after losing his wife to pneumonia, a complication of her cancer. Yet every time he’s in Morgan’s presence, she brings sunlight into the room. Plus, she’s a role model for his daughter, always assuring Avery that dyslexia can’t hold her back. But if he asks Morgan for a date and then she refuses a second one, the person he loves the most, Avery, could get hurt the worst because she adores Morgan.
When Alex is injured in a fallMorgan insists on caring for him and Avery. As they share holiday fun, Avery topples Morgan’s beloved crystal bell collection, shattering it to pieces. Through it all, they discover love of one another is more priceless than any object money can buy. Love rings in the air at Christmastime.
Did you get up and try the moves for Cupid’s Shuffle? What did you think about Cupid’s Arrow? Please let me know. Leave a comment. Thank you!
Amazon Best Selling Author
& 4-time RONE Award Finalist