Friday, April 29, 2016

Books, Chocolate and Wine with Mari Manning

How Tarot Cards Ended Up in My Latest Romance
I attended one of those old Catholic colleges located in a large Midwest city. For a restless suburban girl whose most traumatic experience was watching her Siamese cat murder the chick she’d just brought home from biology class, living in a down-at-its heels neighborhood clinging to the edge of a major metropolis was an adventure.
I walked a lot, lapping up new sites and situations like a kitten with a dish of milk. One day, I turned down a narrow side street and discovered a little occult shop. I was a good Catholic girl who did not subscribe to ghosts, Ebenezer Scrooge not withstanding. Still, I hesitated to poke my head inside although eaten by curiosity. So I walked past. A few days later I strolled by the shop again. I did not go in. The third time I approached, a beautiful girl came out. Tall and slender, jean shirt, paisley scarf tied in her long hair and college knapsack hanging from her shoulder.
I went in.
Lots of books, lots and lots of rocks, incense and tie-dye. Ordinary stuff, but I kept my arms at my sides and touched nothing. At one point, I had the urge to make the sign-of-the-cross, but restrained myself.
A girl with black hair and make-up wearing a tie-dyed T shirt stood at the counter. “Can I help you?”
“Just looking.” That never sounded so stupid. I realized I wasn’t afraid of the stuff in the shop, I was afraid of connecting with the people in the shop. Magic was hocus-pocus. People who believe in it were less predictable. I began to meander purposefully toward the door.
She held up a small red box. “Tarot cards,” she said. “Lots of fun at a party.” She cracked a smile. Literally.
“How much?” I was an impoverished student.
Was it those mysterious rocks or the patchouli-drench air or her pale eyes peering at me through a thick circle of eye shadow? I don’t know. But I plunked down my beer money and bought them.
She was right. They were fun. But they were also revelatory. People open up when you guess at their lives. When you face them one-on-one and say, “Let’s talk about you,” it is universally agreeable.
Were the cards magic? Not in the way you might imagine. But, if you can sense a melancholy air, you might guess someone is sad or preoccupied. A man who is older than the other students and limps might be a veteran. A girl with a Polish accent might have had a rough journey. You hint at those possibilities, and they see a chance to explain themselves or share what they cannot say elsewhere. The cards establish an intimacy, and I’ve treasured all the stories I’ve heard while “reading” tarots.
After college, as I began to write, I found my muse returning to that box of cards and the lives it opened up for me. I gave some of my characters the same gift. Dinah Pittman in my recently released romantic suspense, Stranger at My Door reads tarot cards. I have started a mystery series in which my sleuth, Lousann Linkous, is a tarot card reader who lives in an old house and has a neon sign in her front window. A character in my second romance, Angel Without Wings, is based on the veteran I met at a party in college.
I’ve never been back to the occult shop or entered another one. I never saw the beautiful girl again although she must have gone to my college. I’ve passed other occult shops and always thought, No need to stop. I got what I wanted the first time.
The only thing standing between her and disaster
is a man she can’t trust…
As far as Dinah Pittman is concerned, men can’t be trusted. Especially cops. Her own father was a cop and a convicted felon who stole a small fortune before dying in prison. The best part? No one knows where the money is…and someone is willing to kill off everyone who knows anything about it.
And Dinah is next.
Rafe Morales left the Dallas police force to settle down to a simpler life in the small Texas town of El Royo. Instead, he finds himself protecting an infuriating, tough-as-nails, oh-so-sexy victim—and driving himself crazy with a thoroughly unprofessional desire.
But as the body count rises, Rafe and Dinah must find a way to trust each other…before they both end up dead.
Reviews for Stranger at My Door
"This is the first book I've read by this author, but it won't be the last. This is a must read for romantic suspense fans."  …Amazon Reviewer
"Can't wait for the next Texas Romance."   …Amazon Reviewer
Excerpt from Stranger at My Door
The front door rebounded and clipped Rafe’s shoulder. He kicked it closed with his boot before raking his flashlight beam across the unlit entryway. The hall was clear. His heart thumping against ribs, he burst into the living room. His light hit the figure of a woman, and his feet froze. He tilted the beam up and framed Dinah Pittman’s expressionless face.
 Most girls would have screamed or hid when he kicked in the door. Not this one. She had balls, he’d give her that. 
Her forearm lifted to shield her eyes from the light. “Who are you? What do you want?” She sounded tired. “I already told Teke, I don’t know where the money is.” 
Rafe lowered the flashlight and rolled his shoulder to loosen a tight muscle. There were about two dozen abandoned bungalows in this part of town. When he saw a candle flickering in the window, he’d expected a confrontation with teenagers or maybe a squatter.
He stepped into the candlelight. “Officer Morales, ma’am. Got something against electricity?” As soon as the words were out, he regretted them. The pink flyers. She’d needed money to turn on the lights.
Her mouth tightened. “Get out.” Turning to a small table by the window, she gathered up scattered cards, probably her tarot cards. Had she found customers already?
He studied her as he summoned up an appropriate apology. She wore cut-offs and a white T-shirt. His eyes swept down her slim legs to her bare feet and red toenails before he could stop himself. Why were pain-in-the-ass women always hot?
“I didn’t mean to upset you—”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“That’s tough to do with you around.”
Her hand stilled for a moment, then returned to its task. “You could have knocked.”
“Sometimes we get squatters in these abandoned houses. They’re more likely to be discouraged by a show of force.”
“I could have been a mass murderer. Aren’t you supposed to call for backup?” She glanced down at his flashlight. “If I was a bad guy with a gun, you’d be dead, Officer Morales.”
She’d read him right. He’d tried to pull out his service revolver when he broke down the door, but—predictably—his hand had turned to Jell-O. After two years, he still couldn’t get past the night in Dallas when his beautiful, daring Sam’s luck ran out, and he’d avenged her but failed to live up to his own lofty ideals. So he relied on the element of surprise and big fists.
Gathering up the cards, she set them in a neat stack. “As you can see, I am not a squatter.” Her gaze flickered to his flashlight, then back up to his face. “There’s an empty house about two blocks down if you’re determined to rescue one.”
The corner of his mouth inched up. She’d be a handful…for the right man, which sure as hell wasn’t him. Not anymore. “Thanks for the tip.”
About Mari Manning
Let’s start with the fun stuff. I love small towns, mysteries, quiet men, laughter, old-fashioned spaghetti dinners. I love boots and shopping and jokes and Hershey’s dark chocolate and white wine. I love lots of things. But my first love is reading.
I love to read. Just about anything, but it has to be well-written. I go through periods where I am into historical novels or romance or mystery or history or biography. I never know when my desires will suddenly change.
Now for the writer-ish, official stuff: Mari Manning is the author of several contemporary romances and three romantic suspense novels set in the Texas Hill Country. Stranger at My Door is the first in her A Murder in Teas series. The second, Stranger in My House will be published by Entangled later this year. The third book in the series is Stranger in My Bed. Currently Mari is working on a series of cozy mysteries.
She and her husband live in Chicago.
You can contact Mari Manning at:
Twitter: @mari_manning


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