Dear Reader,

Happy Memorial Day! Memorial Day signifies the unofficial start of summer. One of my favorite summer memories was when, during a visit with a college friend, a chicken salad rocked my world. A chicken salad with grapes in it! Grapes! Who knew the flavors of chicken, mayonnaise, cheese, and grapes would create such a fantasmic taste explosion in my mouth? (What can I say? My world is easily rocked… and often by food.) I wanted to share with you my recipe for Memorial Day Chicken Salad.

Memorial Day isn’t all about the salad, of course. It’s also a day to remember the sacrifices our troops have made for our freedom. I tried to honor this spirit of self-sacrifice as I wrote Lip Service, the second book in the Lone Star Sisters series. The hero, Mitch Cassidy, is a war hero who gave the country years of service, who dedicated himself to fighting for the rest of us. When he’s wounded and is forced to return home, he deals with more than the loss of his leg. For the first time, he’s also dealing with the realization that he’s not invulnerable. He feels weak, less than. Completely incapable of dealing with the feelings that resurface when he comes face to face with Skye Titan, the love of his life who betrayed him by marrying another man and then having his baby.

Have a wonderful weekend! I hope you get the chance to stretch out on a beach towel to read a good book. And maybe sneak in a chicken salad with grapes.

Susan

Excerpt from Lip Service

© Susan Mallery

Mitch pulled the sock over his stump, only to wince as the soft fabric came into contact with the raw and bleeding flesh. He’d been doing too much, too soon and he was paying the price. His therapist had warned him about pacing himself, not that Mitch had listened.

Ignoring the pain shooting through his leg, he eased it into the prosthetic, then tentative pushed into a standing position. While it hurt, the soreness was bearable. As the alternative was crutches and an empty pant leg, he told himself he was fine.

He left the make-shift bedroom and walked into the kitchen. He wasn’t hungry, but knew if he didn’t make an appearance, Fidela would come looking for him. He’d escaped her last night by turning out the lights in his room, guessing she would think he was asleep. But that wasn’t going to work for long. Fidela was stubborn and wily. He would rather face her directly. Besides, she was a whole lot easier than the dark.

When it was dark, the past returned, haunting him like a ghost. He remember what it had been like to be in love with Skye. How happy they’d been. He remembered his pain and disbelief when she’d told him it was over. Anger had burned and he’d held on to the sensation because the alternative was to feel his heart being ripped out of his chest.

In the dark, he remembered the explosion and how Pete had saved him, dragging him, not even slowing when he’d gotten shot himself. Pete had recovered in a couple of weeks and was already back in Afghanistan. Mitch knew the loss of his leg was just one of those things and the sooner he got over it, the sooner the dark would lose its power.

He stepped into the bright, sunny kitchen. Fidela stood at the counter, mixing something in a bowl.

“Morning,” he said, then frowned when he saw a young girl sitting at the table. “Who are you?”

She had red hair and big blue eyes and looked almost familiar. Her spoon dropped into her cereal as she sprang to her feet and beamed at him.

“You’re here! You’re really here. Fiddle said you were coming home and I’ve been waiting forever.” She moved close and reached out a hand, touching his arm as if to make sure he was real. “I’ve been hoping and praying. Fiddle and I prayed for you every day. And I talked about you in school and we sent cards to the soldiers. Did you get mine? I put your name on the envelope. It was pink. I know that’s a girl color, but it’s pretty. And you’re a hero and I thought you’d like something pretty and Fiddle said you’d come home and you’re here!”

“Who the...” He caught himself. “Who are you?”

She grinned. “I’m Erin. Fiddle and Arturo missed you so much. Arturo didn’t say anything, but I could tell. He was sad in his eyes. And Fiddle talked about you all the time, so it’s like I knew you and then I missed you, too. Are you hungry? Fiddle’s making pancakes. I really wanted some, but I waited for you because you’re back and it’s polite. So do you want pancakes?”

Fidela wiped her hands on a towel. “Good morning,” she said, moving behind the girl and putting her hands on Erin’s shoulders. “This is Erin.”

“I told him that,” the girl said happily as she smiled at him.

“Skye’s daughter.”

He got it then—the red hair, the shape of her eyes, although Skye’s were green, not blue. He saw the similarities in the set of her shoulders.

Here it was—living proof of Skye’s betrayal. Her child with another man.

The anger that lived inside of him flared again, making him want to raise his fist to the heavens. But then what? Did he plan to call God out? And if he did, what made him think God gave a damn?

“Why are you here?” he snapped.

Fidela glared at him. “Erin comes over most days. She keeps me company.”

Some of the brightness faded from the girl’s smile. “I wanted to see you,” she said, sounding less sure of herself. “I wanted to meet you.”

Skye’s daughter. The child they were supposed to have together. She’d promised to marry him and then had walked away because her father had told her to. She’d chosen Jed’s old friend as a husband, rather than him, and Erin was the result. She’d fucked some old man and had his kid.

“I’m going make pancakes now,” Fidela told the girl. “Why don’t you get the plates.”

“Okay.” Erin looked at him out of the corner of her eye, then turned away.

Fidela was at his side in a heartbeat and dug her fingers into his arm. “She is a little girl,” she whispered. “She has convinced herself that you’re someone special and you will not hurt her. Do you understand me? She didn’t do anything wrong. You have no reason to be angry with her.”

He would have ignored the words, except Fidela was right. Erin wasn’t to blame for her mother’s actions and he hadn’t fallen far enough into hell to take out his rage on an innocent child. Not yet, anyway.

He nodded once.

Fidela tightened her grip.

“I’m fine,” he told her.

She released him and returned to the stove where she picked up a pot of coffee. Mitch limped to the table. Erin stood there, looking uncertain. He forced himself to smile.

“It’s nice to meet you, Erin,” he said, feeling stupid, but determined to make an effort.

Her smile returned. “Do you want me to get you a mug? I know where they are.”

“Sure.” He eased into the seat. “Thanks.”

She brought back a blue mug and set it in front of him. Fidela poured his coffee.

“I’ll get started on the pancakes,” she said.

Erin sat across from him. “Are you happy to be home? I would get really sad if I had to go away. Were you sad? Do you have lots of friends where you were? I have friends and I have horses, too. I ride.”

“Erin rides over nearly every day all by herself. Very impressive for a little girl.”

Erin laughed. “Fiddle, I’m not little. I’m growing like a weed.” She smiled at him. “That’s what Mom says. Sometimes she calls me Bunny Face, which is funny, but nice. Do you have a special name? Are your friends going to come visit you? Did you fly on a big plane to get home? I was on a plane once. I wasn’t scared at all. Mom says I’m fearless. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s good, right?”

She kept on talking, apparently not needing anyone to participate. She had an energy he admired. These days it took everything he had just to stay standing. As long as he didn’t think about Skye, he could handle Erin sitting across from him, looking at him as if he’d just made her day.

“Fiddle says you’re getting more medals. She says you’ve saved our country.”

He glanced at the older woman. “I had help,” he said dryly.

“But you’re very brave. You’re a hero.”

He frowned. “I’m not a hero.”

Erin’s eyes widened. “But you are. Everyone knows that.”

He started to argue, then shrugged. Let the kid think what she wanted. Life would teach her hard lessons soon enough. Fidela slid a plate of pancakes in front of each of them.

Erin picked up her fork. “I told Mom there would be pancakes, but she didn’t want to get up. She said she was tired.” He wondered if Skye hadn’t slept well. Had she been haunted, as he had? Had she relived their time together? Had his harsh words wounded her?

He ignored any stirrings of guilt, telling himself she deserved what she got.

The pancakes were better than he remembered. He’d finished three when Erin asked, “Can you ride a horse without your leg? I hope you can because then we could go riding together. Does it hurt? You have a new leg, right? Fiddle told me about it. Can I see?”

Mitch froze, not sure what to say. No one outside the hospital and rehab center had been so open in discussing the amputation. He wasn’t sure if he appreciated Erin’s attitude or wanted to yell at her to shut up.

Fidela walked over and touched Erin’s shoulder. “Maybe less questions on the first day.”

Erin sighed. “I talk too much. Everyone tells me that. Sometimes I don’t want to talk abut stuff, either.”

“We can talk about it later,” Mitch said, surprising himself.

Erin brightened. “Okay. And it’s my birthday soon. I’m having a party. You can come. You don’t even have to bring a present. There’s cake. You like cake, don’t you?”

A kid’s birthday party? “I, ah—”

“It’s at my house, which is right next door. You can find it easy.” She looked hopeful.

He found himself not wanting to hurt her feelings, but there was no way he wanted to go. “Erin, I—”

“I’m going to be eight and that’s a big deal. Mom keeps telling me that. Eight means I’m getting big and everything.” She might have kept talking, but he wasn’t sure. The words became a hum that buzzed in the back of his mind.

Eight? Erin was turning eight?

The math was easy. Beyond easy. He knew the exact date of the last time he and Skye had made love. He knew when and where and how they’d held on to each other. They’d been planning on getting married. Laughter had shared space with the moans and cries. There had been so much anticipation.

He looked at Erin, studying the shape of mouth, the way she held her head. He saw it in her fingers and her movements.

The pancakes he’d eaten sat in his stomach like a rock. He felt both sick and stunned. Reality stared back at him in the form of a nearly eight year-old girl.

Erin was his. Skye’d had his child and hadn’t bothered to tell him.

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Contest!

Susan wants to thank her readers for the tremendous and wonderful support you gave her last month by going out and buying a copy of Under Her Skin, book 1 in the Lone Star Sisters series. Each and every one of her loyal readers helped her hit the New York Times list once again! The excitement now continues with the release of Lip Service and once again, Susan is giving away a book from her backlist to five lucky winners! For a chance to win, please check out Susan's website to answer this question:

What was Susan recently doing in the Detroit area?

Then email us at staff@authorsoundrelations.com with your answer and mark the subject heading as Lip Service. Be sure to include your full name and mailing address. Please note, emails sent to any other email address will be disregarded. Send your entries to staff@authorsoundrelations.com only.

Contest deadline - June 1st, 2009.

Winners will be contacted via shortly thereafter. Good luck!

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