Hello my little samurai kitties! I've got a new release to feature today, this time for my Indelibles teammate Lee Strauss. So here's a bit about the book, the pretty cover, an excerpt, and even a giveaway!
Heart & Soul
The Minstrel Series Book 3
ROMANCE. SUSPENSE. MUSIC. DANGER. HOT BRITISH GUY.
She's heartbroken. He's heartless.
Gabriele Baumann-Smith is deliriously in love with her young husband Lennon. Except, it turns out that Lennon Smith isn't his real name. In fact, he's full of secrets: a cottage on the southern British coast, an old girlfriend and... an identical twin brother.
Callum Jones—not his real name—can't believe his brother's widow came to England. He'd warned Mick—Lennon—that an inheritance could put the girl's life in danger, and he was right. “Mrs. Smith” is the last thing Callum needs to worry about right now. She's beautiful, sure, takes his breath away at times. But when she looks at him, who does she see?
Gabriele's heart is battered and bruised. Can one brother fix what the other left behind? And will they live long enough to find out?
BUZZ for Heart & Soul
"...this took a turn for the spy/thriller genre, which surprised me, but still carried the strong romantic flavor and wonderful accompanying music, like the first two books. I think this is a great series and would recommend it to contemporary romance fans."
—Denise Jaden, author of Foreign Exchange
"Another great book by Lee! This one had action, wit and a forbidden love! Love the characters and their interaction with each other! Can't wait to see what she has in store for us next!"
—Tressa Sager, Amazon reviewer
"I don't want to give away what the danger is, but suffice it to say, it's a real and plausible threat. Gabrielle is a good leading lady. She doesn't back down from anything or anyone in this book, but she's still vulnerable, making her well-rounded and likable."
—J Harrell, Amazon reviewer
About The Minstrel Series
The Minstrel Series is a collection of contemporary romance novels set in the singer/songwriter world. The books are companion novels, with shared settings and characters, but each is a complete stand-alone story with a HEA (happily ever after) and no cliffhangers!
The books include MP3 links to original music by talented Indie Artists, so you can hear the characters sing!
#1 Sun & Moon
#2 Flesh & Bone
#3 Heart & Soul
#3.5 Peace & Goodwill (Christmas Novella coming Fall 2014)
The Music from The Minstrel Series Volume 3 Heart & Soul
Featuring the author's daughter, Tasia Strauss!
"My musician husband and I just randomly started talking about the idea of working on a project together - wouldn't it be great if we could collaborate and merge our two artistic worlds? Writing and Music? That was the seed that started the muse talking, and soon afterward The Minstrel Series was born!
For Heart & Soul, I knew I wanted to move the series from Germany to England (next to Ireland and Boston!) and that I needed a small coastal town not far from London. I used Google Earth to examine the British coastline to search for the perfect town and found it in Emsworth. Living in Germany part-time has its advantages and one of them is its proximity to England. My husband and I did a quick five day research trip. (It also came in handy for the next book, a Christmas novella set in London - stay tuned!)
Because of the musical aspect of this series, I'm always on the prowl for songs and singers. My connection to the singer-songwriter world via my musical husband has been a big advantage. My husband's musical genes have also been down to our kids, so it's exciting to involve my daughter Tasia in the project to be the singing voice of Gabriele."
An excerpt from Heart & Soul
Life Goes On
The flight to London was turbulent and the elderly lady sitting beside Gabriele spent the whole time white-knuckling the hand rests. Gabriele reached over to pat her arm. “It's going to be all right.”
The woman smiled through yellow teeth and squinted through watery eyes.
Gabriele smiled back reassuringly, though her heart jumped a little with the next bump.
“Business or pleasure?” the woman asked when the flight had smoothed out. Her accent reminded her of Lennon, and Gabriele had to wrestle down her emotions. Everyone she would meet in England would sound like Lennon. She couldn't break down every time someone spoke.
“Business,” she answered.
“I'm just returning home from visiting my grandchildren. My daughter married a German fellow. He's nice enough, though I wish they lived closer. Your family's in Dresden?”
Not long ago Gabriele had said good-bye to her parents at the Dresden airport. Her papa had wrapped her in his customary bear hug and her mama dabbed at tears. The way they went on about her leaving, you'd think she was on her way to America and not just to London, only one hour difference, a time zone away.
Gabriele answered, “My parents and my sister.”
The woman's eyes darted to Gabriele's hand. She’d been playing with her wedding ring absentmindedly.
“And a husband?” the woman prodded.
“Oh, no, he's... waiting for me in England.” Gabriele didn't know why she said that. She just couldn't bear another bout of pity, especially from a stranger.
“That's nice,” the lady said.
Thankfully, the captain announced they would be arriving in London soon. The flight attendants came through and collected the trash and made sure everyone had their seat belts fastened and their chairs in the full upright position. Gabriele hoped she was doing the right thing by coming.
Now she gawked out the window of the black, boxy cab as the driver navigated on the left side of the road. More than once she had to grab her heart when she momentarily forgot they drove on the other side in the United Kingdom, and she believed the approaching traffic was motoring towards them in the same lane.
The cabbie had tried to talk her out of hiring him to take her all the way to Emsworth despite the sign on the inside of the cab that said, “Available for longer journeys.”
“That's at least two hours,” he said carefully. “That’ll cost you a few quid.”
Gabriele didn't care. Normally, she was careful with money. Mostly. But now she just needed to see the cottage. Try to find out why Lennon failed to tell her about it. Find out if there was anything else he'd kept from her. Try to find out why he was compelled to keep secrets.
It was a tall order and she knew it. But, even if she went back to Germany without any answers, she hoped to find some kind of closure for her trouble.
Closure. That was the current buzzword. Eva said it. Julia said it. Mama and Papa implied it. Everyone was eager for her to move on and be happy again.
“How long will y'be visitin' England?” the cabbie asked. He was a jolly man who liked to chat, it seemed. Driving all day could be boring, otherwise, Gabriele imagined.
“I'm not sure. A week.” Maybe more. Maybe less.
“Yer from Germany? I can hear y'accent.”
“Ah. I was in Berlin once, back in '89. Wall was still up.”
The traffic was heavy as the cabbie directed them through the city along the River Thames. Gabriele strained her gaze out the window, looking for a familiar iconic landmark and was rewarded with a view of the Tower Bridge in the distance. She held her breath. She was really here. In London!
She pulled out her phone and opened the window, captured a shot, then sent it to Eva.
It looks amazing! Happy for you!!
“Oy, our beautiful Tower Bridge,” the cabbie said. “T'was opened a hundred and twenty years ago in 1894. The suspension bridge opens to let tall vessels through. A bloody headache for auto traffic if you're caught in it trying to get to the other side. Looks like we'll be okay today, though.”
Gabriele cranked her head up as they drove across. “It's amazing.”
“Even lovelier at night all lit up and reflectin' off the river. You'll have to make sure you see it in the evenin’ before you go.”
The rest of the trip took them through smaller villages and green pastures. Gabriele leaned her head against the glass, staring out as the minutes ticked by. She couldn't help but wonder how many times Lennon had traveled this very road. Her heart squeezed tight. This was her husband's homeland. He should be here with her, giving her the tour. Being here alone was not the fairytale she'd imagined.
She let out a sad sigh.
“You all right, love?” The cabbie glanced at her in his review mirror. “Yer much too pretty a lady to have such a sad expression on yer face.”
Gabriele forced a smile at his reflection and then returned to the pastoral view out the window. There was a patch of blue sky overhead and Gabriele could see the sunlight reflecting off the sea as they grew closer.
The green space ended suddenly as they crossed under the rail tracks and into a neighborhood of small, tightly packed brick houses and then into a snug commercial area.
“This is Emsworth, love,” the cabbie said. “Do you have an address?”
Gabriele did. She'd entered it onto the notes app on her phone, but also scribbled it on a piece of paper at the last minute before leaving Dresden, in case something happened to her phone.
The taxi circled around a roundabout and farther into the village in the direction of the English Channel. She knew from studying Google Earth that Emsworth sat on a square-ish peninsula with water along three sides.
The village was quaint and Gabriele could imagine that it looked postcard perfect in the summer. They came to a triangular intersection off High Street, and Gabriele knew the cottage was nearby.
“I can get out here.”
“Are you sure, miss?”
“Very.” Gabriele had traveled light, only one medium-sized suitcase on wheels and a carry-on that she swung over her shoulder. After traveling all day, she was ready for a walk, and besides, she didn't want a stranger with her when she arrived at the cottage.
She paid the cabbie, careful not to let the shock of the large fee show on her face and then breathed in deeply. She could smell the saline air from the middle of town. It was soothing somehow.
Gabriele pulled her suitcase along the uneven cobblestone surface of the large triangular road divider. It had a little dark wood kiosk with benches attached to the exterior, a decorative lamp post, and a visitor information board. She noted an Indian restaurant and a newspaper outlet along with other small businesses on one side. On the other was a brick building with a sign that said Methodist Church. Tucked beside it was The Greenhouse Café surprisingly full for such a small town in off-season. Public access to the sea lay directly south.
Gabriele unfolded the sheet of paper she had tucked into her pocket and studied the map. According to it, she just had to take a right at the next intersection and head straight towards the water.
A pub on the corner had a sign hanging over the door read “Callahan’s Irish Pub.” Gabriele paused to read a chalkboard sandwich sign situated on the pavement. It listed a schedule for several music events: karaoke, live bands, open mic night. The door opened and a couple walked out, stopping briefly to light cigarettes. Laughter filtered out while the door remained open.
“Wait while I do up my zip,” the woman said. “The wind is cold.”
Gabriele watched as they walked away in the other direction, towards the town center. The woman linked her arm through the man's and rested her head on his shoulder.
People still played and sang. They still loved and laughed. Life went on.
Gabriele tugged on her suitcase, which felt considerably heavier since she began her trek, and turned the corner.
The street was narrow, hardly wide enough for two cars to pass each other, and was lined with tall brick walls that protected whatever lay on the other side. It ended in a small cul-de-sac. Two roof-lines silhouetted against a smoky-grey, cloud-filled sky. The one on the left was significantly smaller and Gabriele betted that it was the one she was looking for. She double-checked the address and confirmed her assumption. She shivered. This little brick house was hers.
Gabriele pulled her suitcase along the walkway. Long strands of dry grass waved from between the cracks in the red tiles. She removed the envelope from the lawyer from her purse and retrieved the key. It was rusty and she had to fiddle with it, even bumping against the door with her hip to pry it open. The hinges squeaked from lack of use. She was greeted with a waft of stale air. With only the light from the open door, she could hardly make out exactly what was inside.
She left the door open to air out the place. Abandoning her bags, she made a quick sweep of the cottage. The hallway had three closed doors which she didn’t take the time to open. Instead, she went directly to the patio doors off the living room that faced the sea and drew the curtains wide. She unbolted the door that led to a terrace. There was a wooden table and a couple matching chairs. A gate on the side of the terrace opened to a set of wooden steps that led to the shore. Everything was wind worn and weather-beaten.
But directly in front of her, a stone’s throw away was the sea.
Or at least the seabed. The tide was out and though she could see the glistening water on the horizon, her immediate view looked like a graveyard for old sailboats. To the west a rock wall created a promenade around a manmade pond. It appeared to be a favourite gathering place as a number of people were strolling around it. Gabriele shielded her eyes from the glare of the setting sun. Was that… a swan?
It was. She smiled as she took in the beauty of the large white bird with its long neck looped back so it could tuck its black beak into its wings.
This wasn’t the kind of beach that people swarmed to for sunbathing. In fact, it didn’t appear to be anything more than a good place to go sailing if she could go by the number of boats tied to buoys in the distance. She leaned over the edge of the rail and stared at the silty seabed below. Crushed shells, pebbles and black moss-like seaweed littered the sand.
Seagulls and other waterfowl chattered overhead. The waves whooshed gently against the shore. Laughter carried from the common area at the foot of the promenade. Broad pink streaks formed in the sky as the sun began to set.
This was the backdrop to Lennon's childhood.
It was beautiful.
The burn of grief pulsed in Gabriele's chest. Why didn't he want to show her this?
The nippy wind whipped strands of hair across her face. She blew out sharply in response and jerked her head.
A tall, brick privacy wall covered in dry vines shielded the cottage from the house next door. It was a larger home about two or three times the size, but all she could see from her current vantage with clarity was a row of windows on the upper floor.
A sudden strong wind picked up the debris on the patio, blowing sand into Gabriele’s face. She rushed inside, but the wind caught the door before she could grab the handle. She jumped when the door slammed shut with a loud bang. Her pulse beat in her ears until she calmed and was suddenly cloaked with quiet.
She leaned against the door. This was his home.
To the right was a cozy living room with plush furniture and a wood-burning stove in the corner. Gabriele had noted a small pile of chopped wood stacked along the house outside. The kitchen was open with a round wooden table and four chairs in the dining area. She returned to the end of the hallway to retrieve her bags and then opened the doors that led to a bathroom and two bedrooms.
Which one was his?
Odd. None of them had anything remotely personal in them to identify the room's primary occupant. Gabriele searched for photos or awards or yearbooks and found nothing, just neatly made beds and clutter-free cupboards.
Lennon must've had all personal items removed when he decided to sell it. The unease that lay like a nesting cobra in her belly rose. There were so many things she didn't understand about her husband. So many things she didn't know.
She chose the smaller one figuring the larger one would've belonged to the parents, and rolled in her suitcase. She sat quietly on the edge of the bed for several long moments.
Only that morning she'd awaken in her parents' flat in the Neustadt. It was late afternoon and now she was here on the coast of England. It was like another world, so different from Dresden. This was Lennon's world. This was Lennon's cottage.
Well, hers now. If she didn't sell it.
Which she probably would. Her family, her friends...they were in Dresden. Even though the cottage was cute and right on the beach, it wasn't her home. It hurt her heart to be here without Lennon.
It hurt to know that he hadn't wanted to show this to her when he was alive.
Dust coated everything, so the first matter at hand was to give the place a good cleaning. She sighed with relief when she found a cupboard filled with cleaning supplies and an upright vacuum cleaner. She needed to keep busy. She needed to ignore the rising tide of emotions that threatened to take her out. She vacuumed and dusted, wiped down the cupboards, cleaned the bathroom, and washed the dishes in the cupboard. She cleaned until the cottage sparkled and she was a sweaty, grimy mess.
Gabriele ended with a shower, slipping into her pajama pants and a sweatshirt. She sat on the edge of the bed, wondering what she should do next. It was too early for bed and she hadn't thought about dinner. Her stomach was always rolling, hunger a thing she experienced only in the past, but she knew she should eat something. Her mama had packed her lunch. Maybe she'd eat that.
She reached over to the pillow, pinched the corner and pulled it to her face. It smelled clean, with a mild musky scent?
Lennon? Was this Lennon's scent? She sniffed it again. And again, filling her lungs. Was it him? She couldn't be sure. Was she forgetting him already? Oh, Lennon! Tears erupted, dampening the pillow, its official initiation into Gabriele's life.
Her phone rang, snapping her out of her weeping bout. A look at the call display confirmed it was her mama. She’d left her parents that morning at the Dresden Airport with looks of longing and worry following her as she passed through security and out of sight. They didn’t understand why she felt she had to go, or why she had to go so soon. “You need to think this through, Schatzi.”
Her boss wasn’t thrilled that Gabriele hadn’t given proper notice before quitting, but they were heading into the off-season, and the museum had enough staff to cover her absence.
Gabriele lightened her voice and slipped into German. “Hello, Mama. No, I'm fine. I just got here... The flight was fine... The cottage is nice... I'm okay... The sea air will do me good... I don't know how long I'm staying... I should go... Take care.”
The cottage had grown chilly and Gabriele remembered the wood stove. Dusk had fallen so she clicked on a floor lamp which cast a warm glow. She shrugged on her jacket and slipped into her shoes, heading out for the small woodpile she spotted by the door when she arrived. She filled her arms with as much as she could manage, choosing pieces of every size.
Gabriele dropped the pile of wood beside the stove. Now what? She'd never built a fire before. She had watched it done at bonfires, but that usually involved a bit of petrol.
She found a pack of matches in the corner along with a box of old newspapers. Her first effort was a colossal failure. The cottage filled with smoke and she had to sprint to open the terrace door to air it out.
The cottage filled with the cool, evening air and she shivered. This time she examined the stove more diligently. Ah, a closed vent. She opened it, rebuilt the teepee of kindling over the crumpled newspaper and struck the match.
Much better. She had to blow to encourage the spread of the flame, and then she carefully added wood, and soon she had a roaring fire. She left the front panel open, the protective screen in front, so she could watch the flames. It was like a spectacular screensaver, orange flames dancing, weaving in and out, but with a mesmerizing soundtrack of crackle and hiss noises.
If she focused hard she could clear her mind, forget the pain for a little while. She almost dozed off.
A face in the window.
Gabriele's head snapped up, her nerves on high alert.
For a split second she swore she saw his face. Rejecting the impossibility, Gabriele flew out the terrace door, eyes searching the darkness. “Lennon?”
A voluminous lump formed in her throat. She backed up slowly and closed the door. Sliding her back down its surface, she crouched and buried her face in her hands. Her mind had started playing tricks on her. She was going crazy.
Her tears turned to hard sobs and she wept bitterly into her sleeves. Lennon, why did you have to go?
**One of the entry options will ask a question from the above chapter.
About the Author
Lee Strauss is the author of The Minstrel Series (contemporary romance), The Perception Series (young adult dystopian) and young adult historical fiction. She is the married mother of four grown children, three boys and a girl, and divides her time between British Columbia, Canada and Dresden, Germany. When she's not writing or reading she likes to cycle, hike and do yoga. She enjoys traveling (but not jet lag >:0), soy lattes, red wine and dark chocolate.