Alice Treemont, the heroine of All About Charming Alice, is a herpetologist. She studies and photographs snakes (the most unloved creatures on Earth) then writes about them for nature magazines.
All snakes are passive and timid. If you leave them alone, watch them from a distance, they’d never think of hurting you. They would much rather slide away to safety.
Although most people are instinctively afraid of snakes, snakes aren’t instinctively afraid of people, so they sometimes slide into backyards, innocently passing through on their way to somewhere else. They should be left alone, of course, but people kill them as soon as they notice them.
Imagine what it was like when the early pioneers made their way west across the badlands. No trees anywhere, no grass, just creosote bushes, cat’s claw, and mesquite. When summer temperatures rose to a hundred and ten, pools of water turned into toxic shimmering scum before vanishing, and rivers evaporated. The way to find the trail was by following the abandoned sacks of putrid bacon, the skeletons of animals, and the graves.
Place names on maps—names like Endurance, or Desolation, or Last Gap—were never more than a stick in the ground where someone was buried. And in a landscape this desolate, many people went mad.
All About Charming Alice
by J. Arlene Culiner
Blurb: -All About Charming Alice
by J. Arlene Culiner
Trust in love and solutions will appear
Alice Treemont has no intention of falling in love. Living in Blake’s Folly, a semi-ghost town, she cooks vegetarian meals, rescues unwanted dogs, and protects the most unloved creatures on earth: snakes. What man would share those interests?
Jace Constant is in Nevada, doing research for his new book, but he won’t be staying. He’s disgusted by desert dust on his fine Italian shoes and dog hair on his cashmere sweaters. As for snakes, he doesn’t just despise them: they terrify him.
So why does the air sizzle each time Alice and Jace meet? A romance would entail far too many compromises.
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The sound of loud banging had Alice shooting down the stairs and out through the front door. What was going on? It sounded as if a whole wrecking crew was slugging away at the very walls of her house. Any second now, the whole entire building would collapse into a vast heap of dust and shattered sticks of furniture.
She found Jace sitting on the ground beside the veranda, nails sticking out of his mouth, a hammer in his hand and a stack of thick old wooden beams beside him. Now what was this absolutely infuriating person up to? He wasn’t going to make her life miserable all day long, was he? Yes, it looked like he was.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
He turned his head, gazed at her nonchalantly. Took the nails out of his mouth and whistled lasciviously. “Jeans. I didn’t know you owned a pair of jeans. I like your hair like that, too.”
She blushed. She’d pinned her hair back in a low, loose chignon but would rather have been eaten by ants than admit she’d taken special care with her appearance this morning. Why? Because she really did want to please him. “Jace, I want an answer. What are you doing?”
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you a house needs upkeep? If you want this place to be standing in another one hundred and fifty years, there are things that have to be done. Urgently. This joist here, for example. It needs to be reinforced, so I’m doing that.”
“You’ve no right!” She leaned forward aggressively, hands balled into fists.
His eyes twinkled. “A man likes to catch up on home repairs on his day off.”
“This is my house, not yours!”
“Quite right. You own the house. But, at the moment, this happens to be my home.” He put a nail into place and banged away at it.
All Alice could do was stand there, wait patiently for the noise to stop so she could continue the argument. God, he was infuriating. “It isn’t your home! Your home is in Chicago.”
“My apartment is in Chicago. That’s true enough. A nice, big, flashy apartment with expensive, modern furniture. I’ve also worked out that it’s perfectly impersonal and soulless. Simply an apartment, get it? Not a home. This place is a home. A real home. And I feel like helping you protect it.” He began attacking another nail. Stopped. Looked at her. “And when I’m finished with this job, the veranda isn’t going to cave in like it was threatening to do. And, by the way, I’m not stopping with the veranda. There’s all the rest.” The wide gesture he made encompassed the whole house, the yard, the road, all of Blake’s Folly.
“The entire state of Nevada,” Alice muttered sourly and glared ferociously, hoping he’d eventually take the hint or feel intimidated. But since he didn’t bother looking up again, her effort was wasted. Besides, he was right, and he was doing her a big favor. He might be gone in a few weeks’ time, but the veranda wouldn’t be.
She turned to go back into the house.
She stopped. “Now what?” She forced herself to look forbidding.
He stood, brushed off his pants. “Breakfast is waiting. After that, we’ll take the dogs for a walk. Together. I’d like you to show me more of the desert.”
“No way.” What would he come up with next? What was he trying to do? Run a revolution? “I go on my walks alone.”
“Not today, you aren’t. I bought a pair of walking boots like yours, and today’s the day I’ll be testing them.” His eyes twinkled mischievously. “Besides, it’s Saturday, and I promised the dogs we’d go walking on Saturday. Can’t disappoint dogs like that, Princess. Could mess up their psyches.”
“Why are you calling me Princess?” she asked suspiciously.
His grin broadened. “Private joke.”
“Between you and who else? The dogs?” Exasperated, Alice stomped back into the house, but not before she heard him coming up behind her and whistling a vaguely familiar tune. What was that melody? She searched her mind. The words rushed into her head: “You’ll never walk alone.”
No. He really was pushing things too far. Making fun of her too. Not that there was anything she could do about it. More useful for her to concentrate, get on with her life—as if she could with all the ruckus that man was creating.
About J. Arlene Culiner
Writer, social critical artist, and impenitent teller of tall tales, J. Arlene Culiner, was born in New York and raised in Toronto. She has crossed much of Europe on foot, has lived in a mud house on the Great Hungarian Plain, in a Bavarian castle, a Turkish cave dwelling, a haunted house on the English moors, and on a Dutch canal. She now resides in a 400-year-old former inn in a French village of no interest where, much to local dismay, she protects spiders, snakes, and weeds. Observing people in cafes, in their homes, on trains, or in the streets, she eavesdrops on all private conversations, and delights in hearing any nasty, funny, ridiculous, sad, romantic, or boastful story. And when she can't uncover really salacious gossip, she makes it up.