Slippery When Wet

Corrine tucked her keys in her purse and, with precise steps on her discounted designer stiletto heels, marched into Holiday Market on a mission. To wipe her crappy day away, she needed her girls tonight. Her best friends, Ginger and Melody, already said they were ready to commiserate with the tidal wave of emotions she was feeling.

Corrine planned to pull together some cheese, crackers, and wine. Lots of wine.

She sighed and was hit with a whoosh of hot air as the sliding doors closed out the cold air behind her. December had arrived with a miserable portion of wet and wintery with a portion of slushy on the side. She swiped at her hair, an array of tangledly wet strands that probably matched her mascara tear-streaked face. She hadn’t dared look into a mirror.

Embarrassed because of her wrecked face, and the random time’s tears decided to make their presence known, Corrine wiped her cheeks. She wouldn’t let anything stop her from getting her multiple bottles of wine. And food. She couldn’t forget the food. “Hell, who cares about food.”

As she grabbed a cart Corrine knew people were staring. She didn’t care. It wasn’t any worse than finding out your sister was sleeping with your fiancé. “Ha!”

Corrine’s meeting in Birmingham had been canceled so she’d decided to surprise him with a floor picnic. His office was in the same building, so she’d gone to the small grocery store on the corner and picked up a few of his favorite things and a bottle of wine. She knew he’d be in because he was pushing through a major project and he always forgot to eat.

She sniffled and reached for some raspberries as her thoughts of what she’d seen tumbled through her mind. “Yuck, yuck, yuck!” A woman also reaching for some raspberries, looked at her, and pulled her hand back slowly like any sudden movement would have her turning rabid and biting it off.

“Sorry,” Corrine mumbled as she moved on.

On to the deli, she started throwing cheese of all kinds in her cart. Eyeing the summer sausage, she took a few of those for a well-balanced meal. Next was bread. She needed something to sop up all the wine she was going to drink. “Right.”

Her twin sister, Cory, had always been the bur in her designer shoe causing her to limp through life. She should have known something like what she walked in on would have happened. And every time the bur dug deeper into Corrine’s skin she would forgive Cory for what she’d done. They were hitting twenty-seven this year. How many more times could she forgive her sister, she asked herself. This might be the first time she thought about finally walking away. So much pain was intertwined with the love she felt for her twin.

Corrine grabbed a tissue from her pocket, wiped her nose again and then turned down toward the seafood.

“Two pounds of shrimp, please.”

The Seafood person stared open-mouthed at her. She must look pretty scary to cause the man’s reaction to freeze on his face. Corrine glared at him. He closed his mouth and got the food she asked for.

“Thank you,” she said with forced politeness. He nodded and handed her the paper wrapped package.

Turning down the canned food aisle she picked up pickles and some small white beans. A nice vinaigrette would add some tang to the beans, mixed along with a sweet onion, to balance it out. It would pair well with the baguette she had grabbed. She loved the bean recipe. It was fresh and flavorful with the salt and pepper and onion. And who cared about bad breath? Maybe she would add more onion just in case David decided to stop by and try to apologize.

Her phone signaled. She ignored it. It was probably David the Douche. “Who slept with my fucking sister.”

A gasp came from her left.

“Sorry,” Corrine raced away again. The woman was someone from her church. No doubt the woman would go gabbing to her mother and father. “Crap.”

Arriving at row after row of wine bottles, Corrine grabbed her favorites since saving money wasn’t on her mind. Getting drunk to forget was.

She gazed into her cart at the obscene amount of red, white and pink colors staring back at her and shrugged. Oh, well, she thought. Her friends would help her drink through them all.

“Whatever. Ice cream.”

The multiple freezer doors called to her. She steamrolled around a man crouching in front of an open door toward the ice cream she favored but the little cream puffs covered in chocolate ganache caught her attention across the aisle. Spinning her cart around with careless speed she focused on those cream puffs.

She grabbed a couple boxes and spun back around aiming for her Stroh’s ice cream. Before she could reach out for the handle her heel slipped out from under her. Her feet flew up as her ass went down and what followed was her head knocking on the floor inviting China to open up the door to the other side of the world.

Corrine saw stars of black skate across her view. She blinked, her eyelids the only thing moving. The edges fading, as the stars increased in number causing her site to be enveloped by complete darkness. Almost.

More blinking.

Was someone talking to her?

Blink.

Lips moving. What was he saying?

“Are you okay, miss?”

His hands felt nice. She looked at her feet.

“Should I call an ambulance,” a woman somewhere asked.

I didn’t hear an answer.

“Miss?” the voice said as her hand was squeezed.

That’s when Corrine came back to herself and looked up.

All she could think of was the quote that went something like, you can see into the soul of someone through their eyes. Whoever said it knew what they were talking about. Staring into her own was an exquisite pair offset by strong cheekbones and the darkest of darkest hair. Those eyes were caught behind a million black lashes. The color of his eyes was that final second before the light went out in her world, and night captured the day. That line of black that held the blink of the darkest purple like the color of red wine but even darker.

She licked her lower lip as her breaths raced along with her heartbeat.

“Let’s sit you up.”

Corrine noticed he wore fatigues with a helicopter insignia on one shoulder.

“Ohh!” The room spun as the man helped her sit up. One of his hands shifted to her neck as the other still gripped her hand. When his fingers raked through her hair to move the wet hair off her forehead, she shivered. And not from the cold. But they moved further up, and she groaned again.

“You’ve got a nasty bump here.”

“Yeah, kind of guessed that, with the pain and all.”

Corrine looked up when she finished speaking and stopped breathing. He smiled. He had dimples. Two. On both sides of his face. She held in the moan that went along with all the dirty thoughts that unexpectedly popped up in her mind.

Things went fuzzy again.

“Hey, hey. Breath, miss.”

“Corrine,” she wheezed out.

“Huh?” he said and leaned in.

He smelled nice. “My name. It’s Corrine. Corrine Dennesey.”

She scooted her legs under her and suddenly they were both moving, his one arm wrapping around her as she wobbled to standing on her stilettos.

“Thanks.”

Corrine took him in, her eyes wandering. He was taller than her maybe a few inches above her five-nine. As he held her for one more instant before, unfortunately, setting her away, she swallowed the hum that almost would have reached his ears. He was a solid wall of muscle. She still held his biceps gripping harder than necessary until she gave one more squeeze and took a step back.

“Thank you. Ah?”

Corrine said again after she cleared her throat.

“Oh,” he laughed. “Ace.” He smiled down at her. She smiled back. “I mean, Aiden. But everyone calls me Ace.”

She reached out her hand. “Nice to meet you,” She paused, “Aiden.”

His eyes flared as she let his name slide off her tongue. What was wrong with her, she thought. Was she hitting on someone in a grocery store? She shook her head.

But then the intense heated moment was broken when he said, “You sure you’re alright?”

“Yes. I’m fine.”

Aiden hadn’t let go of Corrine’s hand.

“And everything else?”

“What?” She was confused.

“Ah…” Aiden motioned to her face. “You’ve been crying.”

Corrine’s eyes widened. “Oh, God.” She was mortified. Her eyes were probably swollen and red, her cheeks tear and mascara-stained. She probably looked like that girl that’s being chased in a serial killer movie.

She fumbled through her purse grabbing another tissue to sop up some of her make-up smeared face. She was also trying to distract herself, so she wouldn’t verbally vomit all her problems onto his combat covered feet. But of course, his mild and soft demeanor, his caring and deeply seductive eyes had her doing it anyway.

“My sister decided to screw my fiancé and I just so happened to take lunch to my now ex-fiancé’s office. He was tucking in his shirt along with his cock,” she pronounced the last consonant with a harsh tongue. She laughed with a leaching edge of hysterics. “And it gets worse. My sister walked toward me while tying off my…my,” she pounded her chest, “favorite wrap around dress. And it was also David’s favorite. Her mouth was smeared with lipstick. Can you believe that?” Her voice hitched. “David’s mouth shared the same shade as her lips.” By the time Corrine’s words ended her anger and sadness were coming out through pants.  Her forehead hit Aiden’s chest as almost all her weight fell on him causing his fingers to grip her arms, so she wouldn’t topple over.

“Sorry,” Corrine said to their feet. When she dared to look up with her embarrassment now beyond even the fourth-grade mishap when her sister “accidentally” pushed her out of the girl’s locker room in only her underwear. Her lips pinched together as she took in the anger on his face, a contradiction in emotions, to the way his fingers caressed her arms. “I’m,” she hiccoughed, “I’m a mess.”

His thumbs kept circling in a hypnotic rhythm and she almost forgot they were in the middle of the freezer aisle, his eyes never leaving hers. And then he cleared his throat and then stepped away.

She felt the loss and wanted it back. This man, this stranger made her feel inappropriate things. Corrine should be thinking about David and Cory and their betrayal, not wondering why this man, Aiden, seemed to make her want to burrow in his warmth. She sighed. He was a nice distraction from her life. But she didn’t need to be thinking about another guy. It just wasn’t right.

“Well, if you’re okay I’ve got to get going.”

Corrine nodded and tried to hide her wince. Aiden’s eyes narrowed at her.

“I’m fine,” she said.

He nodded once but didn’t move to leave. What was he waiting for?

Aiden cleared his throat, looked down to his combat boots and then back up to her and surprised her by asking, “Can I call you later?”

Corrine’s mouth opened, and her breath caught. Did he want to call her? She nodded but was still frozen. He wanted to call her. She was a mess and he still wanted to call her. He must be a saint, she thought.

“To see if you’re, all right?”

She kept nodding.

“Your phone number?”

“Oh, right, right,” she giggled.

Aiden pulled out his phone bringing up his contacts. Corrine input her digits and he texted her back–her phone rang–a smiley emoji popped up.

She bit her lip. He didn’t have to give her his number. Did he want to call her for something other than checking in with her? Her belly flipped over with desire she shouldn’t be feeling. She just caught David screwing her sister.

“Well, thank you for rescuing me, Aiden.”

“You’re very welcome, Corrine,” he said, giving her one last look from head to toe causing her to hold her breath. He turned and walked away and the view from behind was just as sexy as the front view.

She grabbed her cart and the ice cream she never got to and dialed Melody. “Did you get the Rocky Road,” her friend asked. But Corrine ignored the question speaking right over her, “You will never guess what happened!”

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His to Hold

An insidious hot bubbling from Lucas Remmer’s past started to rise inside his chest. He’d been out of practice blocking it out, a kid the last time it happened. But he felt it when he heard a scream come from inside a suspect’s house. They were there to question him, but the sound lit a fire inside his limbs to get in and help. When he saw what had happened after kicking in the door his helplessness ignited the final spark that took him out. It gripped him from the inside out and there was nothing that could have stopped it. The darkness came.

“Lucas!” Someone yelled. “Lucas! Eyes on me, man.” His back slammed into something hard. “Lucas!”

Muscles tight. Fists curled around flesh. “Lucas!”

Something pulled him back. He knew that voice. His best friend. A slow blink and then, “Joe?”

“Fuck.” Joe’s whole body went slack. “What just happened, man?”

A stack of images surfaced, fluttering like a deck of cards in his mind. Images from the past he didn’t want to remember, others that weren’t clear of the woman he’d seen lying on the floor. His body jerked out of Joe’s grip. He needed to get to the woman. He had to help her. Lucas looked around.

“Where is she? What happened to the woman?” His mind still lost to the black haze that had coated his mind his focus driven to the woman who needed help. Until he looked around to see the other officers on scene. Their eyes were wide. Some looked away. Others, stood with arms crossed their bodies primed to jump.

Joe had been his friend since the academy, the same graduating class. The man tensed as Lucas went to move around him. Joe stepped in his way. Lucas moved toward the front door, his hands fisted at his sides, his anger jumping across his skin. He didn’t want to hurt his friend, but he needed to see the woman for himself.

“Move out of the way, Joe.” He went to move again, and Joe caught his arm.

“Just hang on. Coop and Mick got her loaded on the ambo. They’re headed to Beaumont West Emergency.”

“Let me go, Joe.” Lucas’s voice low, disembodied like it was from another person said. “I need to get to her.” The whole time Lucas pushed Joe, Joe pressed him harder back into the wall.

“No.” Joe’s eyes narrowed on Lucas, searching. Joe shook him. A tiny jerk. “What the hell just happened?”

Lucas shut down. He didn’t want to acknowledge what had just happened. He didn’t think he would ever have to speak of that time in his childhood again.

Joe waited for him to respond. Lucas stayed mute. What could he tell his friend without revealing too much? He broke Joe’s intense stare and his eyes took in the room. It was destroyed. Blood. There was a pool of it.

Lucas’s panic jetted with the congealing puddle of blood that rested not too far away from his feet. Had he done this? No. He shook his head. Maybe he could un-see it. Had he caused this? He couldn’t remember. Only flashes of memory came to him. They were memories of the woman, not the man they came to question. “No,” he whispered.

Joe looked over his shoulder and jerked his head toward the door. The other officers stepped outside to greet the continually blue and red flashing lights. Lucas now recognized the flurry of movement and more officers and an ambulance. Another ambulance?

“Where’s the suspect?” Lucas asked. That was when he noticed the throbbing in his hands and uncurled them. He just stared. His knuckles were a jagged mess, red and oozing blood. Lucas’s jaw hurt too.

“Where’s the woman?” He ignored the mess he made of himself and concentrated on the one thing that mattered above all else. “I need to see her. Let go.”

“Only place you’re going is the precinct. The Lieutenant wants your ass in her office.”

“Shit.” Margo was the only one who knew his secret. He had to fully disclose his one and only weakness. He should have told Joe, but what would the guy think of him if he knew what he’d done.

“You good?” Joe asked.

“Huh?”

Joe rubbed his face. “I don’t know what the hell just happened but you’re gonna tell me all of it.”

“Yeah,” Lucas responded. He didn’t know if it was to Joe’s statement or just to appease him so he could get the visit over with his Lieutenant.

Joe’s fingers uncurled from Lucas’s arm and he stepped back. It was then he got a full look at the destruction and carnage left behind after his blackout. Furniture was overturned, blood was splattered over the floor, the sofa. The drapes were marred with stains.

What had it looked like when they’d arrived? His hand twitched. And he flinched. A memory took a front seat in his cortex. The scream. Lucas had been through the flimsy door in a second, breaking it down with the slam of his boot.  The locks had torn from the jamb. He blinked again. He saw the woman lying in a pool of blood. He blinked again. He’d moved toward her to get to her. Her swollen eyes in macabre relief, the slits barely open. Fingerprints embedded purple on the woman’s arms and neck. The suspect hovering over her. That’s when things got fuzzy.

He thought he might have groaned at one point as he exited through the tiny house’s front door. He walked straight to his unmarked ride keeping his gaze forward afraid what he might see in the other officers’ eyes.

Lucas stood at the passenger door and looked at Joe over the roof of the car. He went to open his mouth and make some excuse for his actions but closed it. What could he say? He got in and buckled up. Joe yelled something over to one of the other guys and got in.

Lucas looked down to find his hands shaking. His opened and bloodied knuckles a reminder of what he didn’t remember doing.

The driver’s door slammed, and Lucas jumped. Fucking jumped.

Joe gripped the steering wheel, his friend taking a quick look over at Lucas. Lucas ignored him.

The drive to the precinct seemed to take a lifetime.

*****

Rubbing his face with his fucked-up hands, Lucas slammed his locker.

“Fuck!”

He’d been suspended. Lucas wasn’t surprised.

His badge now sat on the Lieutenant’s desk along with his police-issued Smith n’ Wesson M&P. He had to fix this so he could get back to work. He was the job.

Margo didn’t want to take his gun and badge because she was on his side. But she couldn’t have one of her Detectives going off, losing his shit on a suspect to the point where Joe had had to restrain him. But he knew the man he’d beat the shit out of deserved it. That and a lot more.

The wife or woman the man had been assaulting had barely been conscious when they’d busted down the door.

Joe and he had arrived to ask the man some questions on a case they’d been trying to solve for a couple of months. It was the first break they had gotten. At least the asshole was in a cell. Joe had struggled to pull him off as things went critical, but he’d also said it had taken longer for Lucas to snap out of what had gone down. Lucas took a slow breath trying to calm his heart rate, a trick one of his earlier shrinks had taught him. He could have killed the guy without even remembering it. From what the paramedics had told him, the man only needed some stitches after they’d woken him up with some smelling salts. Lucas had punched the guy hard enough, Joe said, that he hit the floor with such an impact it rattled the whole place.  He and the other officers had gotten him cuffed, on a gurney, and quickly assessed he would be fine. He’d been quickly hauled off to jail.

As his hands still trembled with emotion he opened his locker once again and pulled his coat and go-bag out of his locker. He threw everything else that was in his locker in his bag and was just about to leave when he smelled tobacco and fabric softener. Joe must have changed while he was in with the Lieutenant.

“You okay, man?”

Lucas’s head shook with a jerk. He kept silent. When Joe’s hand landed on his shoulder Lucas pulled away turning to his best friend.

He regretted Joe seeing him at his worst. The scene Lucas and he had walked in on had him on a precipice. On one side was the rage on the other was a helplessness he’d not felt in a long time. And then there was the shame, but he pushed that down. All sides daggers to his psyche. The beast of emotions inside him had been dormant. Not so much anymore.

A ball of inanimate emotion ready to burst out of his skin had been his nemesis as long as Lucas could remember. And it had gone off today. He didn’t grow up with violent parents. There was no sordid past that had him sitting in a shrink’s chair to sort out teen angst. No, that had come as the edge of adulthood crept closer.

He’d seen violence all his life growing up in a neighborhood that stood on a line, that if crossed, could bring a world of hurt followed by a lot of bad decisions. He had never crossed that line but it had crossed his. Images from the past crowded his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced them into the small box deep in his mind.

He looked up past Joe and saw the sign over the door. “Protect and Serve” Lucas laughed. There was no humor in it.

Joe frowned. “Talk to me, Luc.”

Lucas hadn’t done his job. He’d added more problems for everyone in his unit.

When he’d walk in on the scene, his mind remembering more as the day dragged him across a graveled pavement, he’d seen the look in the woman’s eyes. Abject terror. Her muddled and beaten body had probably still been in a fight or flight mode but it wasn’t able to react, and she’d seen him, and the panic had pushed her to the point of passing out. When he’d looked at her he was pretty sure she thought he was a monster.

“I got to go.”

“Come on. Jesus, Luc. Had I not stopped you, that guy would have been done. As it was, it took three of us to pull you off him. What’s going on?” Lucas thought it had been just Joe. Now he understood all the other guys in the room.

Lucas could see the hurt in his friend’s eyes, but he didn’t want to talk about it.

“I need to go,” he repeated.

“Fine. You don’t want to talk about this with me. But you need to talk to someone about what happened.”

He nodded, not able to look his friend in the eyes and left the building. Lucas drove straight to the hospital. Once there he was glad to see a nurse on duty that knew him. With his badge on his Lieutenants desk, he had nothing to show proof of his identity that had some pull to get in and see Marcella.

“Hi, Detective Remmer.”

“Cindy,” he said. “I need to ask Marcella Neens, the woman who was attacked and brought in earlier some questions.” Since he wasn’t so lucid after his blackout he had had to ask Joe on the way over what the woman’s name was.

It made his insides curl up to think that Marcella would still have the frightened look on her face when he went in to see her. Lucas didn’t want her to fear him but there was a definite chance that she would feel that way. Remembering a little more of what had happened he’d gotten to the woman at one point, such a quick second before the suspect tried to get back at the woman and Lucas had gone at him again, she was still lost in fight or flight mode and Marcella had seen his figure leaning over her and had cowered in fear, a natural reaction.

“She’s in room 201, Luc.” She smiled and stopped him before he could move away. “Hey, do you want to catch a drink with me later? I had a nice time the last time we hung out.”

Lucas tried to remember if he’d ever spent time with Cindy without giving away that he didn’t really remember a time they’d hung out.

“Sure, I’ll call you.” Cindy frowned and went to stand up, but Lucas quickly walked down to Marcella’s room without looking back. He probably deleted Cindy’s phone number. He wasn’t much for relationships. His job was what mattered. And he wasn’t interested in getting her number again either. He had to get his shit together and even thinking about a relationship gave him hives.

He stood outside Marcella’s room and tried to stockpile some courage to walk past the threshold. Once Lucas walked in he knew what he would see. It made him curl up his fists as his anger once again grew causing his nails to dig into his skin. One more deep breath and he moved into the room the ground shaky. Or was that his legs.

“Oh, Jesus!” He couldn’t help the outburst. She was black and blue everywhere and what he couldn’t see Lucas was pretty sure it would be the same.

He took a seat that was close to the barred bed and didn’t look away. As quietly as possible he released the pin in the side barricade and moved it down. Lucas scooted his chair closer. She was too thin, the bruises more evident because of it. Her one hand lay next to her covered form. It seemed to be the only place that she didn’t have bruises and without thinking of the consequences he slid his bigger hand under her delicate one. Thin and pale, the manicure still perfect but without color now, Lucas stroked her fingers like he was touching the cap of hair on a baby’s head.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more,” he whispered. “If I’d gotten there earlier maybe we could have prevented what happened to you.” His forehead went to her hand and rested there. Then to his cheek.

The hand under him jerked and his head shot up. Marcella’s eyes were only the narrowest of slits, probably making it hard to see.

“I’m sorry,” Lucas said but didn’t let her hand go. He continued to stroke her fingers so she would understand he wouldn’t hurt her. She tried to pull away again. “I’m Detective Lucas Remmer. You’re in the hospital. You’re safe.” Her breaths were getting faster and the beeping on the machines sped up. “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you. My partner and I rescued you. I’m sorry…I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you sooner.”

Marcella began turning her head in hard angry jerks. Back and forth, back and forth. Moaning.

“Are you in pain?” Lucas stood up to get a nurse. This time he felt her grip harden and he held in a wince.

“No, no, no,” she whispered repeatedly. “Not your fault.” Her breathing hitched a few times and her eyes skittered around the room.

“He’s not here. You’re safe. The man who beat you is in jail.”

Her eyes met his. Marcella’s breathing began to slow and finally level out. Cindy rushed in breathing heavy. Her eyes flashed down where their hands were joined, and her lips pinched together. She took some vitals and wrote some things down on a chart.

“She needs her rest, Luc. And you’re obviously not here to question her. You need to leave.”

Marcella squeezed his hand hard. “No,” came the small voice, her throat still swollen, which it would be for a while. Cindy’s head turned toward Marcella and her face softened. But as soon as she took in Lucas sitting next to her bed, again the woman glared at him like his head was an empty can and her eyes were a forty-five that had just shot at him. She turned on her heel and left the room.

“I’m Marcella,” she said.

“I know sweetheart. I’m Lucas.”

“I know.” A small smile lit her face as tears welled in her eyes. But in the next moment something banged outside in the hallway, and what followed was a deep roar from, Lucas guessed, another patient. There was shouting and running feet. Marcella reacted and jumped pushing herself back as far as she could go, her body starting to shake uncontrollably. She groaned and curled in on the pain he could guess was bad.  Lucas stood up and moved slowly toward her never dropping eye contact. Her eyes never leaving his stare.

“You’re going to be alright. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Lucas decided then and there that he would do everything he could for Marcella in her recovery. Even though they were complete strangers, when he looked at her, there was a connection that he couldn’t deny. Something had happened to him in that house while she lay on that floor bleeding. More than just the blackout. Something that brought back the past he’d kept buried for too long. He didn’t know what his time with Marcella would bring but he wasn’t going to hide behind his badge or his past. He needed to figure things out. And he thought Marcella might just be the first step.

 

Aspirations and Efficiency

This past December my Deadwood Writers Voices editor, John McCarthy, asked us if we were thinking ahead into 2018 and would we like to share what was on our minds for our writer’s life. There was also a post by Robin Covington on her Facebook page asking if we could pick one word to carry us through the new year what would it be. My word was efficiency. To reach my goal, I’m combining the answers to both questions because I find that I need one to go with the other if I’m going to make any progress in my career.

The answer to the first part is:

  • Dive deep into A NEW LIFE, book 1 in my Leeti vampire series, and see what needs to be done so it’s ready to be published.
  • Write on a schedule instead of when I feel like an idea is brewing.
  • Continue to develop new stories in a loose format so when I’m ready I can start writing the novel.

To help with the points above, I asked the same person, Robin Covington, what she used as an organization tool. She had mentioned Erin Condren’s Life Planners. What’s great about them is that an individual can customize it for a particular use. Plus, bonus, the planners, are made in America. In my case, writing. Here’s the link https://www.erincondren.com/. What it’s going to help me do is narrow my focus on writing while the appointments and scheduling for my family are on the periphery of this schedule.

In my twenties, I used Franklin Covey’s planning system, but I don’t think that style works for what’s happening in my life. I need more visual space to plan my day to day tasks. And I don’t want it to be on the computer. I want to be able to spread it out, look at it, touch it, get a feel for what’s happening next. I won’t stop using my computer schedule because I love being able to get a notification telling me that I better get on my way to make my appointment on time. But having something that is not digital helps my creative side and allows me to get down on paper the ideas of the sexy heroes and heroines I’m writing into stories. And one thing I did learn from Franklin Covey was how to prioritize a full schedule and strive to reach my life goals.

For the first point, regarding A New Life re-reading and editing content, I also need to tackle the grammar errors for publication and make sure the storyline is consistent. With all the things listed above scheduling is essential. If I tell myself I’ll set aside some time for the next day, if I’m not being specific in my listed tasks it won’t get done. I’ll sit down and read or go shopping.

Writing on a schedule seems natural enough, the dates and times and all. It’s the other things that get in the way that hinder the process. So, scheduling the time to write is what’s got to happen.  I’m used to free-writing on Tuesday’s. It’s my day off from making coffee and I have a significant amount of time. What should I do, I write it on the schedule. Appointment. Write on the schedule. Cello lessons for Kid #1. Write it on the schedule. My hope is, the time I set aside to write is productive. I still want to read as many romance novels as I can, but with my hours laid out, it will be easier to focus my ideas and get things done.

Marketing Hot Blacktop is something I’ve been doing throughout 2017, but I don’t think I’ve been as consistent as I can be. I could be using Facebook more efficiently plus all the other media platforms. I need to plan time to watch some tutorials. I need to link my Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat accounts to ramp up my marketing presence. Each one is part of my story, and I need to use them the best that I can. Here’s a helpful video I’ve watched regarding scheduling for a marketing focus by author Hildie McQueen.

And for the developing of stories, this planner system will allow me to add pics and fun notes about characters I’m developing, story ideas, arcs, and other tidbits. There are extra pages to use just for this purpose.

Now I have a plan. Here’s to being more efficient in 2018. Happy writing!

Audrey and Jex

Wool. Rows and rows of wool. Everywhere. Audrey Cannon was going to fire the imbecile that screwed up this order.

“Who orders this much wool!”

Her hands flew up in the air and then her fingers dove into her hair and tugged. Hard.

What she wanted to do was cry.

“Jesus.” What was she going to do?

Audrey knew who’d they blame. Her. An intern whose name was Paul Richards demanded to be called Tymber because Paul was too mundane, was probably the one who put the damned order in for the wool. But he had the ear of Cardinal, the Designer. He also had his mouth, ass, and other parts.

Audrey kicked a bolt.

“Ow! Dammit. Stupid Audrey.”

She sat on the nearest pile of wool and covered her face with her hands. She sucked in some breaths and stood up.

“Lemonade out of lemons.”

Next, on Audrey’s list, figure out how to make all this wool disappear.

The studio was empty. It was just Audrey. She went to the office and started to make some phone calls to see what had happened.

Cardinal and Tymber had the crew out at the newly renovated Michigan Central Station. Had it still been dilapidated Cardinals new line would have been spectacular in the space. But now his sparse cuts of fabric he barely pinned together was not appropriate for the venue.

Audrey thought of her classic mid-century modern designs in her look-book, now they would be perfect for the train station’s new interior.

She slammed the phone down. Of course, her name was on the order. Of course, she signed off on it.

“Dammit!” She was so screwed. Audrey might as well quit now. Cardinal would never believe it wasn’t her fault because he was screwing Tymber.

She needed to stop the direction of her thoughts. She didn’t want to be angry at Cardinal. He was a good man, one of the only designers in the industry that was not a snide backstabbing bitch, and he thought she had a lot of talent. But when he was in a relationship he was blind to prissy attentive gay boys, and he forgot all the other things that were important to him. Like maybe he should choose boys that had good morals.

Going over to the design side of the space, she switched up what she was doing. Her need to stop thinking about all her troubles led her to pull out the summer line designs she was mocking up.

Audrey sat down at her drafting board and focused on the abstract deconstructed patterns and materials Cardinal wanted to come together with recycled materials.

She sighed. Her sketches weren’t working. Her mind kept going back to the piles of wool in the other room. Cardinal’s theme for the new season was bold and exciting, but it wasn’t her style. She was tired of working on other people’s designs. Audrey liked refined materials and classic lines more like her namesake Audrey Hepburn had worn. Style’s like the actress wore in her movies Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

She was gorgeous, and so were the clothes she wore and the designers who transformed her.

Wiggling her cramping fingers, she moved the accessory sketches she wound up working on and replaced them with her sketches from inside the messenger bag stored at her feet. She’d been working on them the previous night. It was a line of business dress that emulated her vision of the past with a contemporary twist on the modern woman.

Her hand put pen to paper without thinking, and she began to draw. Before she knew it, her pen became an extension of her hand, and the clothes she was sketching came to life. Designing clothes was when she was happiest. Everywhere else there were too many responsibilities that rested on her shoulders.

Words pierced through her concentration, and her fingers caused the ink to stutter across the page. She crumpled up the sketch and started a new one.

“If you would just pay more attention to what your sister was doing maybe she wouldn’t have the problem she does.”, “Why can’t you be more like your sister. She’s beautiful, elegant, excels at bringing in donations for the charity’s she’s working. It’s what you should be doing Audrey. Trying to find a husband with a name and means to take care of you. Not this willy-nilly hobby with fashion. And if you’re helping your sister you can keep an eye on her, so she stays out of trouble.”, “We do not need any more scandal making your mother, and I look bad.”

Audrey squeezed her pen tighter, and it skidded across her paper ruining another sketch. This time of a dress that she just couldn’t get right. She ripped it off the drafting board and threw it aiming for the garbage, but of course, she missed. She was single-handedly the worst person to have on a sports team ever.

She got up and rounded her table bending over it to pick up the discarded sketch.

“Hello!”

“Ow!” She was a walking disaster and hit her head when she stood up too quickly.

No one should be here.

She forgot to lock the door. Again. Cardinal was always telling her how she never looked at her safety as important.

She heard the voice coming from the long hallway adjacent to the fabric storage room they used for their runway. She was currently peeking around the archway.

“Anybody here?” The voice shouted.

She sucked in a breath, and her eyes went wide. “Oh, boy.” She whispered. The man’s eyes snapped to hers.

He strutted down the hallway, and she covered her eyes. “Stop!” She yelled.

Her fingers parted letting her eyes see again what she thought she was seeing. A really, really, stunningly hot, naked guy coming right at her.

“Please stop,” she begged.

Because if he didn’t stop and put some clothes on she might embarrass herself by jumping him. She fanned her flushed face.

Audrey couldn’t help it. She had to peek again.

“Isn’t this where the Cardinal photo shoot is?”

“Ahh,” she stammered. “No.”

He reached around as if to go for a phone in a pocket of his non-existent pants and found only ass cheek. She squeaked, pinched her lips together and tried to hold in the moan that gathered deep in her throat. Taking another look-see didn’t seem to help the situation.

He was the most handsome man she’d ever seen.

“My agent said to be here at ten. Was there a change in location?”

“The shoot is at the Michigan Central Station. The models were scheduled for sunrise this morning.”

The man whipped around facing away from her, and his hands ran through his hair. “What the fuck. What, the, fuck!”

She barely heard his words because she couldn’t focus on anything other than his gorgeous ass that was now front and center. She gave up hiding her view and dropped her hands.

Audrey cleared her throat. “Do you want to put some clothes on,” unfortunately she asked, “and we can sort this out?”

“What I want is just one fucking thing to go right.”

“Well, if you put some clothes on it would be a lot easier for me to help you do that.”

He turned around, and Audrey looked down to the plank wood floor memorizing its wood grain.

“Yeah,” he said and took a step toward her. She saw him move and knocked her elbow into the wall.

“Yeah.” She squeaked. Pretty soon she’d fit in with the mice that made their home in the studio.

He laughed, and she melted a bit and tingled in a few places that hadn’t tingled in a while.

“Sure. I’ll be back in a minute.” He walked away, and she watched. God what a sight, she thought. He strutted like he was walking into a room full of people to give a speech about world peace. If only she had that much confidence.

The man had zero body fat, a light tan that said he protected his skin and didn’t bake outdoors or get a silly spray on tan. No, that man was perfect.

She went back to her desk, and a few minutes later he was walking toward her fully clothed and on the phone looking a whole lot like a pissed off male.

“Mack, you said ten. I’m here at ten. There’s a woman named,” He was looking at her expectantly while she was still thinking of all the goodness that he’d covered up.

“Oh, right. Audrey Cannon.”

He smiled, and she tingled some more. His eyes flipped down to her lips, and she unconsciously couldn’t help but lick her lips to catch the drool that was making a run for it. His eyes became hooded, and he watched every long second of her tongue moving.

“Audrey Cannon,” the man said into his phone.

Audrey smiled, and the man watched that too. That was nice she thought.

“Mack, you knew this was a good gig for me, a stepping stone out of the club.”

He waited, and his eyes got hard, and he looked out the window.

“Yeah. Damn, straight you’ll fix it.”

He hung up.

They both stared at each other.

“So,” Audrey mumbled. “I, ah, guess you don’t need my help to fix things.”

He didn’t say anything but kept his bright autumnal eyes on her. She couldn’t look away. But silence always killed her.

“What’s your name?”

The Adonis turned his head and slowly blinked like he was waking from a spell. Which at this point quite possibly could have happened.

“Jex.”

It was her turn to look be-spelled. “Jex?”

“Yeah. Most people call me Jex.”

“That’s not your name?”

“Nickname.”

“Oh.”

Silence again. Ridiculous, she thought. He must think she’s an idiot.

“What’s your real name?”

“You’ll have to get to know me better before I tell you that.”

Audrey blushed. “Um, well, I’ve seen you naked, so that’s something.” She blushed a brighter red this time. She couldn’t believe she was flirting with him. She barely had enough experience to count on one hand. But this man made her nervous but also forward in a way she never felt she was confident enough to try. He seemed so comfortable in his skin that it must be rubbing off on her.

Jex chuckled.

“So, why aren’t you at the shoot, Audrey Cannon?”

He moved and leaned a hip on her desk forcing her to fall into her seat.

She cleared her throat. “I help design and Cardinal wanted me to keep moving on next summers line.”

“Hm.” Jex looked over her shoulder which put his front close to her back because she shifted around to look at her drawings. His nearness was dancing across her skin, and her heartbeat was jumping as if she’d just gotten off a treadmill.

He reached around her and tapped the red tapered pantsuit and jacket with the tulip pocket and accidentally brushed the side of her breast. She shivered. His chin dipped, and he hummed right next to her ear. Trying to ignore the luscious way he smelled, the sweet and musky forest scent, she focused on the sketch and quickly shoved it to the side into a folder in her look-book. It was one of Audrey’s favorites. She didn’t want his opinion on them. They weren’t ready to be seen yet.

“Those are my designs.”

She pulled out Cardinal’s designs.

“These are the ones I’ve been working on for Cardinal.”

“I like yours a lot better.” He pulled her work out again and pointed to the lapel in one of the jackets.

“Hey,” she squawked into his ear, but he didn’t step back. Not until he had her designs laid out on her table. She tried to put them away, but he grabbed her hands and set them on her lap. Now she was annoyed.

“Relax,” he said, and he let go and took a step to lean once again on her drafting board. “You shouldn’t hide these. They’re really good.”

“How do you know? You just wear the clothes.” She snapped harsher than she thought possible.

He took another step, and this time it was away from her table. “Sorry. I was just complimenting you.” He raised his hands above his head. “I’ve got to go anyway, straighten things out regarding this shoot.”

He turned away, and she popped out of her chair and grabbed his arm. “Wait! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. I’m just frustrated that I haven’t shown them to anyone. Not even Cardinal.” Aubrey sighed. “Things are always going wrong these days, and I didn’t want to take the chance he might reject my ideas.”

“What I’ve heard about him says good things for you. I don’t think he’d shit all over them. You should show him.”

“Maybe.” She whispered. “But not today. Jesus he’d crucify me alone for the wool issue we’re going to be having for a while.”

“That is a lot of wool for such a small lapel,” he flicked a thumb toward the wool, across the hall.

“Yeah. A mistake I have to rectify.”

“You don’t look like someone that makes huge mistakes. Did you really order that much fabric?”

“No. But it might as well have been me since I’ll get blamed for it.”

Jex frowned.

She waved him off and sat on her stool.

“So, what are you going to do about missing the shoot?” Audrey asked to guide the conversation in a new direction.

“Hopefully, my agent will get his shit together, and I’ll finally get a gig that’ll get me noticed. In the right way.” He said the last part under his breath. Audrey barely heard him. She wondered what he meant by that.

“I’m surprised you haven’t. You’re stunning.”

He laughed. “Yeah, stunning.”

She tilted her head and looked at him. Did he not think he was gorgeous, she asked herself? He answered.

“Some people think so.” He shrugged. “But apparently not the most important people.”

“I could talk to Cardinal if you want. See if you can catch the next shoot.”

He shrugged again, looked down and away. “Sure, if you think it won’t be too much trouble.”

Where did the confidence go she saw when he was walking down the hallway? This person in front of her seemed to have the light taken right out of him. It didn’t make any sense.

“If he doesn’t fire me over the wool debacle I think he might take my word that you’re worth a second chance.”

He nodded. “That works.”

Jex looked around and then his eyes came back to her.

“Now that we have the nudity portion of the relationship out of the way how about I take you out for lunch.”

Audrey’s words wouldn’t form. She froze. Her life was complicated enough without adding a hot guy to the mix. She should give herself permission enjoy her life. Enjoy an attractive man, find out what was behind the pretty face and the body of a god, because she sensed a lot was going on behind his amber eyes. It would be nice to feel something besides the worry and anxiety over her sister. It followed in her sister’s wake wherever she went, and it was a stifling mass that always hung low and thick in the apartment they shared. Why couldn’t she think of herself for once? There was something about Jex that she liked very much. Very, very, much.

With a deep cleansing breath and a long exhale, she nodded.

“I’d like that, Jex. I’d like that a whole hell of a lot.”

Heaven Fated

Voices. Millions of voices, chaotic noise, buzzed in her head. She couldn’t focus. She was scared. Pain infected everything.

“Paddles! We’re losing her!”

Darkness.

She slowly became aware. The edge of a storm, a line that blends the white and blue horizon into gray, abstract parts seen coming. It’s as if thin fingers rake through the soupy sky, the storm speeding closer, drawing the moisture down. From far away it’s like a calm mist that’s being pulled toward the ground in slow motion. But it isn’t. It’s a brew of thick moisture and tumultuous wind and molecules that come together forming a moving, breathing entity that can’t be controlled.

Whirling air drives people to seek shelter, heart rates gallop at what seem to be unstoppable speeds. Fear is a permanent lattice across the skin, hairs on arms dancing to greet what’s coming. Lightening slices the thick and heavy blackening atmosphere in abstract patterns, the wildness bringing hail, causing debris to rip apart the landscape. It touches lives with a menace only the devil would deliver with glee.

But she hadn’t seen the storm coming, didn’t see what held her now in its grip. She was floating. A stillness that was all wrong. She was all wrong. Something was gone. Missing. What had she forgotten?

Hello? Her lips didn’t move.

The woman tried to wiggle her toes. Still, she remained suspended, motionless, trapped in what felt like nothingness. Oh, but she felt fear. Her mind in the soupy thickness of its tendrils. A fear that held her like barbed wire synching ever closer, cutting and slicing. It was the storm just outside her skin and if she moved the barrier holding it back would break and tear her apart.

What had happened before this existence?

Racing panic crept into her consciousness and she tried to breathe through it but when she went to open her mouth for air nothing happened. Not even her jaw moved. She needed to breathe. Oh, God! This made the storm dance macabre across her skin as if it were laughing at her.

You have to go back,” a voice jarring her said, its echo all around, inside and outside of her, like a pitchfork vibrating through her whole being.

What do you mean?” she said inside her head. Her jaw, her voice still not working. Did she want to go back? She wanted to go forward. Something was ahead of her. The woman was sure of it. Whatever it was, it was where she needed to be. A great sadness swelled inside her, pushing and pulling like the tide sluicing over her like she was sand and she would erode more over time finally disappearing into the nothingness that held her.

Flashes snapped in her mind as sadness turned into fear.

Fire. Metal. Hands pulling, voices screaming. No, no, no! She screamed. And then the blackness enfolded her again while the storm still raged. Silence.

You have to go back,” the voice said again. Her mind opened, an aperture letting in the calming voice. She was glad. She didn’t like the storm. Or the dark. She didn’t want to see the awful images in her head. She wanted to forget. Forget the loss, the emptiness that pitted in her belly.

Why?” She asked.

You’ll see. Go back. Go back.” The voice said fading gently, it like hands soothing with a touch. “Go.”

The woman tried to define the voice in her mind. The inflection seemed small and innocent, not touched by the world, the temptation, the agony it could cause. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. She needed to move forward. But the voice said to go back. Should she? What had she forgotten? She couldn’t remember and it made her heart hurt as if a weight kept pressing down on her chest. The weight was growing so heavy that it was crushing her.

I have to go back.

You’ll see.” The voice was a whisper so small she almost didn’t hear it. “It’s important.

What?” The weight pressing down on her was forgotten.

Im…portant.”

The resonating voice suddenly went silent. “Nooooo! Come back. You have to come back and tell me what to do.

Her mind went blank.

With unexpected speed, the weight returned to her chest like an anvil after anvil was being dropped on her heart. If she was breathing she would have passed out. But the weight kept getting heavier and heavier. What did she do? What could she do? What was she forgetting? What had happened? Why was she here? She was scared to go back. Pain awaited her if she went back. She knew it. Felt the truth of it in her mind. But the voice said she should go back. But peace lies forward.

Silence enveloped her as her mind whirled and the storm outside of her skin cinched closer and closer. That barrier shrinking into her pores until it burst.

Chaos swirled around her in beeps and whirs, metal against metal. Silver flashes. Silver. A rush of sound overwhelmed her as her eyes opened to bright light, watering as she tried to focus. Voices gave clipped orders and the body she was in screamed through the silent maw of her mouth.

“Miss, can you tell me your name?”

“My baby!” An inhuman keening echoed, bouncing off the walls. Was that her?

“Your name?”

She blinked and tried to concentrate on the face asking the question.

What was her name?

Someone yelled in the bright room. Her breathing was becoming ragged. She couldn’t remember her name. Her head began to turn side to side, her panic increasing. She needed to do something. The people leaning over her began to blur.

“Miss, you have to calm down.” The man over her was holding her shoulders as her mind screamed for her to get off the table, to find the face that matched the voice in her head. The more they pressed the more she panicked. Her body started to shake and spasm. Her arm radiated with pain and hung useless at her side, her legs seemed to be on fire and pain ricocheted tearing through her skin, her bones and her heart.

“Have to go back,” she gurgled nonsense.

“What?” the man said.

She tried again. “Back.” She needed to go back. Back to the voice. Back to the nothingness. Peace.

“What’s your name?”

Her head began to shake back and forth again.

“I need 5mg of Diazepam IV push STAT!”

She saw the doctor take something from someone and he hovered over her. Her eyes widened. She stared at him and his eyes seemed to soften and hers began to close, get heavy.

“You’ll be alright. Everything will be fine.” He reached out and touched her cheek as if time seemed to stop with the motion. “You’ll see.” The man shook his head and blinked.

You’ll see. You’ll see. You’ll see. The words repeated over and over in her head. Where had she heard those words before? Limbs heavy, eyelids drooping she continued to hold the doctor’s concerned gaze as his hands moved over her. There was a burn along with the darkness that was gradually pulling her lids closed. The last words she heard over all the chaos were, “You’ll see.”

*****

Karo, which wasn’t her real name, woke for what seemed to be the hundredth time in the hospital. Her mind identified the noises she’d cataloged over the days she’d remained in the bed with white sterile sheets and cloying smells and noises that were just as unpleasant. The incessant squeak of rubber-soled shoes. The knocking wheel of the food cart and the beeps and alarms that were the music dancing along the corridors of the hospital kept her awake too often. And don’t forget the formidably atrocious scent of Pine-Sol and urine.

“Karo!” The nurse named Nurse Ratchet clapped. “You’re awake.” Karo smiled. For all the pain, she’d suffered so far, Betty Ratchet was the highlight of her days. One, Nurse Betty was not the Nurse Ratchet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which for some reason she could remember watching, but not where and with whom. Two, she was as sweet as spun sugar and cared deeply for her patients. Whenever she’d come into Karo’s room it brightened like the sun had stepped into the room.

“You ready for physical therapy today, cookie?” Karo laughed and pouted. Betty had started calling her cookie soon after she’d chosen the name Karo.

She leaned over the wheelchair and whispered in Karo’s ear. “I snuck in some sugar cookies from my friend Angel’s bakery.”

“Thanks, Betty,” Karo said and grabbed the woman’s hand and held on tight. Try as she might she still couldn’t hold back the tears that escaped. She quickly let go and wiped the unwanted tears away. She’d cried enough. Things were going to change again and she wouldn’t see Betty every day. The woman was her touchstone and kept her grounded. Karo feared to let go. Afraid that she would spiral down again into a depressive abyss and not be able to get out.

She shook the pain and fear out of her mind. Karo would be positive, consider the future, and try and forget what she couldn’t remember. Instead, she recalled the first day she met Betty.

The staff had called her Jane when she couldn’t remember her real name. It made her sad to think she would be called Jane Doe. Not knowing her name, she wanted to pick one to make a new place in her uncharted reality. The police hadn’t found any information in her car. Not a purse, or a registration. The car they had pulled her out of had burned through and through.

The memory of that day burst forward in her mind. A morning in physical therapy, when the pain was so great she could have screamed until her voice was shredded.

“I don’t want to be called Jane,” she’d said to the nurse in floral scrubs. She had white blond hair and a thin but muscled stature. Betty had grabbed Karo’s wheelchair and rolled her out from the first day of physical therapy taking over her case while Karo tried to catch her breath through the lingering pain and depression.

“What do you want to be called, sweetie?”

“Karo.”

When Betty helped her back into bed she’d looked at Karo with a tilt of her head, bright eyes and with arms crossed, she nodded once. “Alright cookie,” she’d said with a laugh. Karo couldn’t help but smile because Karo knew why she’d picked it even if Betty didn’t get it, she seemed to understand.

Karo thought of it now. Cookies. She had been making cookies in the memory. And she was happy. Really happy.

Karo saw herself pouring and measuring. Her hands were smaller, softer, younger, as she held the red and bronze labeled curvy bottle of syrup in her hand. Batter blended together as she stirred over and over folding in the thick syrup. Wrinkled hands, not hers, she noted as she looked down at her own, were framed in the snapshot but when she tried to look up to see into the face a pain would slice through her forehead and make her grab the sides of her head. Something was blocking her from the wonderful view.

She hadn’t told anyone about the memory. It was private and hers. No. She wouldn’t share.

As Betty rolled her out of her room for one of the last times Betty spoke about the small town where she grew up. “You’re going to love it, Karo. Angel’s bakery sells the most delicious cakes and cookies and pastries.”

When Karo heard the word angel images of her floating in the storm flooded her mind. Angel. She put away the thought for later. She didn’t have time to think about it right now when she was going in to be stretched like a rubber-band. One that she hoped would find its shape again.

“Even the recipes we concocted when were out of control twenty-somethings Angel still uses on occasion,” Betty continued not sensing Karo’s distress. And then the woman laughed like she was remembering how much trouble she got into and Karo looked at her over her shoulder to see, yes, a wicked smile from the remembering. Karo laughed.

“What kind of trouble did you get into, Betty? You seem pretty uptight and straight-laced to me.” Karo pressed her lips together trying not to laugh herself.

“Oh, you! I’m definitely not all starch young lady.” She whopped her on the head gently.

Before she knew it, they were at the entrance to the TP room.

“Hi Trevor,” Karo said. “I’m ready for your idea of a walk in the park.” Trevor looked up at Betty as she stopped her in front of the padded vinyl covered table.

“Alright miss, let’s see what you got today.” He nodded to Betty as she locked Karo’s ride and Karo gripped the chair handles. Trevor tipped up the footrests. He was there to support her if she needed it but didn’t touch her until she stood. Karo gritted her teeth as her skin grafts, not so freshly pink, pulled and stretched unnaturally with the effort.

Trevor helped her up onto the table for the first big push of the morning and then they got down to business.

She looked down at her legs, the burns not as bad as when the emergency bay was the first thing she remembered. Her rescuers had gotten her out in time.

Karo pulled in a slow breath that she released just as slowly so she wouldn’t remember what else they’d told her not soon after she woke up. She touched her stomach, her fingers shaking as Trevor pushed her leg up to give it a good stretch.

His lips pinched a bit when he saw where her hand lay. He looked quickly back down. It was a sadness they shared. He’d lost a child too, but his memory wasn’t faulty. She couldn’t even remember being pregnant. Was the baby’s father important? Did she need to find the man? Did she love this person? She wouldn’t know. She couldn’t remember any damn thing. Her anger she used and pushed it through her limbs too hard. A grunt alerted Trevor to the discomfort and he pulled her back from the edge. Sweat gathered all over her skin and soaked her clothes that Betty had bought her. She kept working the routine as hard as Trevor demanded. Maybe if she could fix her body, her memories would return too.

She shook her head.

“Settle down, Karo.” He sighed, as she brought her leg down for the last time that day.

She wiped some of the sweat and swallowed almost a full bottle of water Trevor handed her.

“I’ll miss you, kiddo.” He sat next to her on the bench. One foot on the floor the other bent and on the table. “I’m glad you’re getting out of here. I hope you’ll find some peace.”

He helped her sit up, her arm sore but okay now. It had only been dislocated.

“You know what you’re doing, where you’re going?”

Karo nodded. “Yeah. Betty’s set me up to work with her friend Angel. One of her employees is going back to school. Angel’s also got a vacant room above the bakery.”

“That’s good. You’ll be happy working with all that goo and sugar.”

Karo laughed.

“Just remember it’s not good to eat too much of what you love. You still need to get into tip-top shape to keep up with the healing process. You’re doing great but you’ve still got a lot of therapy in front of you.” He tapped her head and her heart and her knees.

“I’m quite aware of how far I still need to go. At least I have someplace to go.” She scrubbed her face with a towel with tired shaking hands. “The police came to visit me again. Officer Clomb was really nice about telling me they never were able to find any information about where I’m from. I wouldn’t have anywhere to go if Betty hadn’t suggested it.”

“You be fine. You’ll see.” She had been looking at her hands lying in her lap when her head snapped up at his words.

“What?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” she answered shaking her head to clear it just as Betty walked in.

“All finished?” she asked and smiled with a sparkle in her eyes at Trevor. Karo was sure there was something between them. It was the only time Trevor seemed to smile a genuine smile.

“Yep,” Karo replied. She looked up at Trevor his hairs grayed at the tips, and the smile wrinkles ingrained around his eyes. “Thank you, Trevor.”

He didn’t say anything just came over and kneeled to give her a long hug once settled in the wheelchair. He touched her cheek and held it as his stare started to sink into hers as if he wanted to tell her something but couldn’t get the words out, just the emotion. Then he gave her a short peck on the cheek, stood up and took a quick step back. They’d adopted her it seemed and become like her little family. She wiped a tear from her cheek. He smiled, nodded, and went to his desk in the corner and started to write something down.

As Betty rolled her out of the room Karo’s head was down, not paying attention. Her thoughts stuck on a list she was making in her head of the things she would have to do when she moved to the small-town Betty had grown up in. It was only a few miles and minutes away. It would be a fresh start she told herself. She was nervous. Excited. Scared. And then none of that mattered because Betty’s running monologue about things to know about the small town was abruptly cut short. There was a loud crash as they turned a corner. Karo screamed and moaned as her leg met silver metal. Silver. Silver. Silver. Her heart started racing and her mind was struck by a streak of white light reflected off a small silver object moving too fast to get out of the way. Memory twisted with reality as past crashed with the present. She whimpered. What was real? She tried to shift away from what was falling toward her but Betty was locking the chair and coming around to her. Karo couldn’t move. Images that blurred one after the other took hold of her as Betty’s voice tried to creep in.

The images fled, metal crashed to the floor along with the man who was carrying it. Crutches met the linoleum and a hand came down to the wheelchair right next to hers. Betty was on the other side. She was asking if Karo was okay and put a hand on the man too also trying to get his attention. Harsh breaths came out of his mouth burrowing heat across her compression bandaged legs. All Karo could see though was the man at her feet bent over her legs holding the wheelchair with white knuckles.

Her voice shook. “Are you okay?”

Dark hair was spread across her lap as people raced from down the hall to help. His breathing was heavy and she noticed his hands again. They gripped the chair as if once he let go he would keep on falling.

She reached out and touched the man’s head. “Hey?” She said and couldn’t help but stroke his hair. It was thick and long with iridescent strands of black scattered with dark browns. It was beautiful and lush.

“I’m sorry,” his words whispered across her skin. Karo shivered she didn’t know if it was the unexpected pain or the man’s touch.

He looked up and their eyes met. And something inside her settled with inexplicable peace. But it didn’t last long. His gaze bored into hers. It was so dark she thought she was looking into lost caverns deep on the ocean’s floor, they were that deep of a blue. There was pain there and she wanted to make it go away.

“Able Prescott, you know you’re not supposed to leave your room!” A nurse was sprinting down the hall alongside another woman.

“Dammit, Jacklyn! I can’t stay in that room another second.” When he spoke, his head jerked around and he almost fell in Karo’s lap.

She squeaked when he landed on her again. The pressure uncomfortable because she still wasn’t fully healed.

He moaned and the hand that didn’t have a white-knuckled grip on the chair went to his head and their fingers touched. She sucked in a breath as an energy tingled through the contact. He turned back to her and their eyes met again and held. Her heartbeat tripped up and she asked herself, who was this man. Why did his glance put her at ease?

And within seconds the connection was broken. People moved all around them to get him back to where he had escaped from, she guessed. Her fingers dragged across his jaw, the rough hairs making her tingle again, as he was helped up. Then the woman who had yelled at him was at his side.

“Able! You know I don’t like it when you call me that.” She said with almost a chihuahua growl. Karo looked between the two.

“Step-mother quit coddling me. I feel like I’m suffocating in this God-awful place.” And as people got him into a chair like hers he really did growl, but more like an alpha wolf. It made her shiver. “Dammit. I can walk.” His head turned slowly back to hers but he turned away when the woman started chirping words at him. He grabbed his head again.

“Obviously you can’t since you were practically laid out in that woman’s lap.”

As their words drifted down the hallway Karo was struck by the feelings that had enveloped her when their fingers touched. She felt less indifferent to her fate. It gave her hope that she would feel something. Less empty. She touched her belly again. She wanted to feel full. And maybe once she started her new life in Buckington doing what she remembered things would be okay. She’d see.

You’ll see.