A Love to Keep Me Warm
Publication date: November 10th 2017
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
After living in the carnival world, Polina Kominski is anxious to put down roots and build a life that includes a permanent home and, someday, a family. But first, she has to spend Christmas in Kraków, Poland to satisfy the final request of her late mother. Angry at having her strings pulled one last time, she’s resigned to follow the detailed instructions left to her, but refuses to believe the superstitions and allusions to magic Mom wants her to experience. And what’s with number eight on her mother’s itinerary, Kiss a Stranger?
To avoid facing his family’s sins, international banker, Rhys Linsey, will travel the lengths of the globe in his quest to regain the collection of ancient artifacts stolen from him years ago. When he runs into Polina on a Kraków street, he volunteers to help her experience the beauty of the holiday while sharing the history and folklore of this charming city. No matter how much she denies the existence of magic, he’s determined to prove her wrong.
Christmas in Kraków weaves a powerful spell, but Polina is running toward her future, while Rhys is stubbornly mired in the past. Can the magic of the holiday extend beyond December to bring Rhys and Polina full-circle to love?
EXCERPT:The day after they meet, Rhys takes Polina on a tour of Krakow and begins with the city’s origins according to legend:
“Back in the eighth century, all of this land was a village on the River Vistula, with nothing but mud huts and peace-loving people who traded goods up and down the river. Set into the deep side of Wawel Hill was a cave where a terrible dragon named Smok Wawelski slumbered.”
She stopped in mid-step on the sidewalk and tilted her head to stare at him with disbelief. “A dragon? Really?”
“Give me a chance to prove it, okay?”
He gave her a pleading look that melted her polar heart. How on earth did he plan to prove a draconian legend? Curiosity overrode common sense, and with a light laugh, she agreed. “Go for it.”
Eyes crinkled with a secret smile, he gave one simple nod. “Thank you. Generations were warned against waking the dragon and unleashing its fury upon the poor village, but one day several young boys who, like you, refused to believe the tales, strode bravely up to Wawel Hill to see the dragon for themselves. They crept into the cave and soon came upon the enormous scaly tail of the horrible beast. Well, apparently, one of the boys was so terrified, he screamed, awakening the dragon. The children turned and fled, but the damage was done, and the horrible creature soon began wreaking havoc upon all the townspeople. The dragon would come into their village, day after day, stealing the livestock and carrying off the virgins to be devoured at its leisure.
“The villagers attempted several times to kill the beast, but always failed miserably. Until one day, a shoemaker’s apprentice named Krakus mixed up a huge vat of sulfur and coated dozens of sheep with the mixture. When the sheep were ready, he led them to a grassy spot where the dragon was sure to see them. The dragon, naturally, spotted the sheep and swallowed them just as quickly. Soon the sulfur began to take its toll, and the dragon could not contain his thirst. He raced to the River Vistula and drank, but no matter how much water he swallowed, the thirst continued to burn inside him. He nearly drank the river dry until, at last, he swelled so much, he burst like a balloon. Boom!”
As Rhys’s hands flew in front of her face, Polina jumped back with a squeal of surprise.
Chuckling, he pulled her closer and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Nothing had ever felt so right as this man’s arm holding her close to his heart. She tilted her head at a slight angle, studying his lips, wondering how they’d taste against hers. All he had to do was bend his head forward a few inches…
“Well, of course,” he continued, apparently oblivious to her thoughts, “the village rejoiced at the dragon’s demise.”
She shook off the romantic silliness and refroze her heart. What had she been thinking? A kiss? Good God, she was behaving like her mother, acting on impulse, rather than logic. The last thing she needed was a love affair. Furrowing her brow, she took a step away from him to increase their distance then tried to refocus on his story.
“Krakus was named king and built a castle at the top of Wawel Hill where the dragon’s lair once sat. The village prospered into a city and was named Kraków in honor of their hero.”
Outside Wawel Cathedral, he stopped in front of a large stone wall where a strange collection of bones sat chained against the rock. An odd-looking snout rode above a rib cage about the size of a giant whale’s, some kind of bizarre cloven feet at the base.
“Behold,” Rhys whispered against her ear, sending delicious ripples of warm breath across her neck. “Proof. The dragon’s bones.”
Soft laughter escaped her lips. “Right. Good thing you brought me here. I wouldn’t want to waste my time on dusty old artifacts when I could see something as authentic as a dragon skeleton.”
Songs always play an important role in every story I write. To put me in the mood for Christmas in Poland (while sitting in New York in July), I relied on two classical pieces, and then for the personalities of my characters, I reverted to my usual standard modern songs:
Vivaldi – Winter: This piece was especially important for me to write the opening chapter of the story. You can feel the snow falling, sense the rush to Polina’s steps, and the hectic crowd around her. It’s an ideal symphony of the mood I was trying to create.
Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker, The Magic Castle on the Mountain of Sweets: When writing about a traditional European Christmas, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is a go-to source of lots of inspiration. This lesser known piece has enough lighthearted melody set against a brooding background to provide the feeling of dark and light living together harmoniously in historic Krakow and in my characters.
Ed Sheeran – The A Team: Yes, it’s about a crack whore, but the lyrics are so full of winter desperation, they perfectly captured Polina’s backstory of never having enough food and never being warm or loved while living with a mother too drunk or stoned to care about the inconvenient child.
The Academy Is… - About a Girl: An odd choice, maybe, but this tune with its fast pace and obsessive lyrics fit Rhys’s feelings for Polina from the moment he met her on the sidewalk in Krakow to the day after New Years when she flew away from him after their biggest argument.
Angie Aparo – Cry: The saddest and angriest songs are needed for those moments when I wondered how Rhys and Polina would ever figure it all out. “If your love could be caged, honey I would hold the key.” Yeah.
Rick Astley – Cry For Help: See above.
Florence & the Machine – Dog Days are Over: I love good strong female voices. Give me one singing about love lost or found and I’ll incorporate it into my story.
The Kongos – Escape: Rhys has one goal. To travel the world, escaping the sins of his father and regaining the treasures stolen from him. He spends a lot of time trying to convince Polina that she should accompany him on his adventures.
Travis – Flowers In the Window: This is Polina’s dream goal in song form: a home of her own with flowers in the window and a man who appreciates the simple things in life.
The XX – I Dare You: A song where two people discover love isn’t necessarily the fairy tale they grew up with, but it could be something much better.
Bing Crosby – I’ll Be Home for Christmas: Because every Christmas story needs a Christmas carol, and because this was rumored to be my grandfather’s favorite.
Texas – I’ll See it Through: Another strong female vocal determined to find love.
The Mills Brothers – I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm: Obviously, the inspiration for the title!
Chris Cornell – Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart: Because every black moment needs a male point of view.
Alice Merton – No Roots: I admit, this one got added in final edit stage, but it’s so perfect for what Polina wants to leave behind while Rhys wants to fully embrace it.
Save Ferris – Nobody But Me: Every happily ever after needs a good ska song.
A Fine Frenzy – Now is the Start: This tune gave me the carnival hopeful mood I wanted without resorting to calliopes.
Ian Dury and the Blockheads – One Love: For secondary characters, Bianka and Henryk, I chose this song. I could almost picture them dancing to it as they shared little bits of domestic bliss each night.
Baio – Sister of Pearl: This was a must-have for my gypsy girl.
Grouplove – Spinning: Just another song about finding yourself.
The Doobie Brothers – Take Me In Your Arms: A classic breakup song.
The Dirty Heads – Vacation: This one isn’t for the book so much as it is to remind myself how much I love writing—even when the words don’t come easily.
I hope you’ll play some of these songs while reading the book. See if you can figure out how I put them together or what scenes were perfect for which songs!
I kill houseplants. There. Now you know one of my greatest shames. I'm not boasting. I just figure that if you're reading this, you're looking for more than how wonderful life is as a writer. So here are a few more of my flaws:
I sing all the time. I sing in the car. In the shower. While I'm grocery shopping. And I headbop while I sing. When I'm not singing, I talk to myself. Just ignore me and move on. You get used to it after a while.
I don't eat my vegetables. Seriously. I'd rather have a cookie.
I'm extremely fair-skinned and could burn under a 60-watt light bulb.
I can't sleep without background noise. If it's too dark and too quiet, all I have are my thoughts. And even *I* don't want to be alone with my thoughts.
Don't ask me to Zumba, line dance, or march in the parade. I have absolutely no rhythm.
Regrets. I have more than a few.
My favorite activity is sleep. I don't clock a lot of hours, but I powernap like a Persian cat and rejuvenate within ten minutes.
I consider shopping and dining out excellent therapy for anything wrong in my life.
My feet are always cold. Always. My husband claims it's because I'm an alien sent to Earth to destroy him. (He might be right about that.)
Coming to my house for a visit? Unless you've given me plenty of advance notice, be prepared. My floor will not be vacuumed, there will be dishes in my sink, and I only make my bed when I change the sheets once a week (I'm climbing back into it ASAP. Why make it?) Housecleaning is not high on my priority list. Okay, to be totally honest, it's not on the list at all.
I can resist anything...except ice cream.
Since this is our first date, I figure I've revealed enough secrets for now. But if you've read this bio and think I might be the author for you, pick up one of my books. You won't be disappointed.