The last song flash fiction of the year. How it is the week before Christmas already? I’m still shopping, but no one is surprised. This month the song is Chances by Five for Fighting. I love love love this band. Love them. The Riddle is one of my fave songs. Anyway, if you haven’t heard the song, please give it a listen. I’ve shared the video below. And I hope you enjoy the accompanying short (lol, I even laughed myself) story.
“What are you doing? Seriously, man. What the fuck are you doing?”
Kane stared at his reflection in the mirror, listening to the last of his words slowly fade. He must be losing his shit if he’d resorted to talking to himself. Out loud. But…damn. He needed to hear the words. Watch the way his mouth formed them as he tried to make sense of why he was standing there, getting ready for another date with Justin. The same man Kane had told himself, a million fucking times not to get involved with. Because Justin—he was made for leaving.
Kane knew it. Had watched the man fall in and out of relationships, and sure, probably love, more times than Kane could count. It was as if Justin had a revolving door in his chest where he could let guys in then turn them around and shove them back out without ever being fazed.
Kane was fazed. He as the king of fazed. Maybe because he was always the guy on the receiving end of getting hurt. The one who never saw it coming. Who was continuously picking up the shattered pieces of his heart off the damn floor, knowing he’d never find every tiny shard. That he’d lost another bit of himself in another fucked up relationship with another wrong guy.
He should have “we can still be friends” tattooed on his forehead. Or maybe his ass because that was the last thing all his boyfriends saw of him as Kane walked out the door. Generally after finding his partner in bed with another man.
So why had he ever thought hooking up with Justin was the right call? Regardless of the fact he’d been halfway in love with the guy for the past three years. And by halfway, he meant ridiculously in love. Border line obsession. And not the good kind that entailed healthy habits or going to the gym everyday. The kind that messed with Kane’s head.
And his heart.
Fuck, his heart. He wasn’t sure it was even beating right now. Or maybe it was beating too fast. So fast he couldn’t even feel each individual thump in his chest. It was more like one long, never-ending thrashing against his ribs he just attributed to the crushing feeling any time Justin was in the room. Or inside Kane’s head. Which was basically 24/7, now that they’d started dating.
“You’re an idiot. Setting yourself up for another fall. You’d think you’d have learned your lesson by now. Justin’s way out of your league, not to mention not the settling kind. You’d be better off just stopping before you tell him just how far you’ve fallen. How long you’ve been waiting for a chance at…”
At what? And why didn’t it sound anymore convincing when he made it echo off the walls? He was in his last year of med school. He could stitch people up. Surely, he could figure out how to pick a guy who wouldn’t use him as nothing more than a safe place to fall for awhile. Someone who wanted him for…him.
Kane turned on the taps then splashed cold water over his face. The problem wasn’t Justin. It was him. The fact he was in love with Justin. That Kane didn’t want to play it safe. He wanted to be reckless. To kiss as if it was the first time. To love as if he’d never had a broken heart. And he wanted it believe it would last. That this time, they’d beat the odds.
He scrubbed his hand down his face. Him? Beat the odds? It’d take a miracle.
Or a way to cheat. To cheat love.
His name mixed in with an obnoxious amount of banging on the bathroom door. He glanced at it in the mirror, silently flipping his roommate off.
“Kane! Dude! Get stop talking to yourself and get your ass out here. Justin’s been waiting for ten minutes, already.”
Kane groaned. Great. Now, Justin knew he’d been talking to himself in the bathroom. That was fucking perfect.
Kane towelled off, then ran his fingers through his hair one more time before heading for the door. He opened it, stopping dead when he nearly ran into Justin. The man had both hands on the doorframe, boxing Kane in if he tried to leave. He’d taken off his coat and shoes, standing there in a form-fitting long-sleeved shirt and jeans that outlined every firm muscle in his legs.
Kane swallowed. Shit, he knew exactly how Justin’s ass looked in those jeans. He’d watched the guy walk away more times than he’d admit to, and those pants didn’t do the man’s butt justice.
He sighed. “Sorry. I just need to grab my coat and—”
Justin kissed him. No pre-amble, no hesitation, just slipped one hand off the doorframe and into Kane’s hair before dragging his face forward. Justin’s lips slid over Kane’s, then his tongue was inside, tasting. Tangling with Kane’s before easing back.
Kane stared up at the man. They’d kissed, but nothing like that. Just polite, good night maybe we’ll go out again kind of kisses. Not the kind that set fire to Kane’s skin. Made him feel as if he was melting into the floor.
Justin thumbed the corner of Kane’s mouth as he gave him a devastating smile. “You are definitely one of a kind.”
“Did I miss something?”
“Just the part where you’re not the only one feeling out of their league.” He chuckled at Kane’s furrowed brow. “You do know that there’s a vent in the living room, right? it pretty much echoes everything you say in here.”
Kane’s mouth gaped open. “So, you heard—”
“Shit. Look, Justin, I—”
“You’re wrong, you know. I’m not the one who’s out of your league. You’re the one who’s out of mine. You’re in med school. You play the guitar like it’s an extension of your arm, and I swear you can bench more than anyone else I’ve ever seen. And if that’s not enough…you’re a fucking nice guy. Too nice for the likes of me.”
Justin traced Kane’s lip. “You were also wrong about me, though. True, I’ve been a player, but not because I’m not the settling kind. But because the one guy I wanted was out of my league, and I didn’t know how to tell him I’ve been insanely in love with him for the past two years. Until now. So…how about we stay in tonight, and give this…give us…an honest chance. Because if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s beating the odds. And you’re definitely worth rolling the dice.”
And that’s it for me. Please join the rest of the ladies playing along this week.
Yeah, I’ve made a Wednesday blog. Time is so not my friend right now. I’m at the very end of my next book—releasing in January—and I tend to get caught in that time warp that happens when you’re on a deadline.
Anyway, the post is pretty self explanatory. The top 10 gifts for writers. So, without further delay, and in no particular order. It’s hard enough coming up with 10 without trying to rank them.
1 — A journal to keep yourself organized. I’ve been given a handmade one, and I love it. I’m guilty of not using it enough lately, but that’s going to change. And I think most writers would appreciate it.
2 — A colourful pen set for the journal. Hey… colour makes everything better.
3 — One of those colouring books of their favourite subject or theme. Because we all need down time and sometimes losing yourself in something else that’s creative helps other areas.
4 — Something sentimental regarding one of their favourite book or books that they’ve written. Maybe a picture frame with some of their covers displayed. Or a mug with a cover or logo. Something that celebrates their accomplishments.
5 — An ebook gift card. Writers are readers, after all and what better way to help them enjoy other works than by giving them the means to order a few of the favourite authors.
6 — A subscription to a reading venue like Scrib’d. Or another online reading subscription. I know… very similar to the first, but kinda different.
7 — A coupon redeemable for a cover on you. Especially for self published authors. Getting a good cover isn’t always cheap, so surprising them with an offer to pay for their next one would be a nice gesture.
8 — A clone. No really. I want one. I need one. I’m sure everyone else, does, too.
9 — A bubble enclosure where family can’t constantly intrude to ask where the peanut butter is or if you’ve washed their skinny jeans.
10 — A shiny new laptop or iPad Pro. Tablet. Whatever their preference it. I know this isn’t on the books for most of us, but damn, I’d love an iPad Pro. A new keyboard or mouse might be a good option, too.
I thought about including large boxes of ibuprofen. Endless carafes of caffeine laden drinks. Those energy drinks for when you have to squeeze out one more page. And chocolate. Just because. Honestly the list is endless.
Now hop on over and see what the other ladies have on their list of ideal presents.
December…how does it manage to sneak up on me every year? I’m sure lots of you are done your Christmas shopping. I haven’t started. I work better on a deadline. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
This month’s picture flash fiction is an interesting one. I had hope the story would be super short. I’d intended for it to be super short. It’s pretty much the opposite. Not super long, but… definitely not short. Anyway, here’s the photo and the resulting story.
Grace stood next to the table, staring down at the place settings. They weren’t anything special. A knife. A fork. She’d included a small sprig of evergreen and tied it with a bow. But it wasn’t special. Special didn’t exist. It had been put on hold. Placed in limbo until Kurt walked back through the door. Until he came home. Alive. Whole.
Whole. She wasn’t sure that existed anymore, either. Not for him. Them. He’d been deployed for over two years, the brief furloughs barely long enough to get reacquainted, again. To reconnect. It was more a mashing of bodies and souls in a whirlwind that left her feeling twice as empty once he’d returned to his unit.
How the military thought a few days would be enough to keep their marriage alive baffled her. Not that she’d give up. She hadn’t made her vows lightly. She’d known marrying a soldier had risks. Sacrifices. She just hadn’t counted on feeling so…
Lost? Alone? Angry?
She glanced at the shiny silver-plated cutlery. Twelve days. That’s how long she’d been waiting for him to come home. For good this time. Or at least, for longer. Twelve days. Like that annoying Christmas song. Only she’d gotten the same present each day—silence.
His team had been hit. There were massive casualties. She’d spent endless hours trying to get an update. To see if her world had been reduced to a casket and a folded flag.
Nothing. Not one damn word.
Be patient, they’d told her.
That word didn’t exist, either. Patient was waiting in line to return a gift. Patient was knowing she couldn’t take the pregnancy test until she’d missed her period. This…
This was torture. Cruel and unusual.
So she’d taken what little control she could. She’d gone to work, come home, made dinner then set the table. Every night with the same wrapped up silverware. The only thing in the house remotely Christmas oriented. Because without Kurt…
The doorbell rang.
She turned, hands fisted at her sides, stomach threatening to heave at any second. She wasn’t expecting anyone. Which could only mean one thing.
Good news didn’t come with a bell or a ringtone. It walked through the door. It welcomed her into strong arms with a long, slow kiss. A doorbell meant pain. Sadness. Meant her world was crumbling around her, and all she had were those stupid ribbon-wrapped place-settings.
It rang, again, the tone lingering on inside her head long after it had cut off.
She walked toward the door, feet shuffling. No need to rush. Whether she ran there or crawled, she’d get the same answer.
I’m sorry for your loss. He gave his life valiantly. He’s a hero.
She didn’t care because it wouldn’t bring him back. Make her whole.
Her hand shook as she reached for the doorknob. It felt cold. Heavy. And she wasn’t sure she’d be able to turn it without someone else helping her. Taking some of the weight off. She clamped her fingers around the smooth surface then willed her hand to turn. Face what had been hanging over her the past twelve days.
A man stood on the porch, hat clasped between his hands. He looked old. Tired. Though she doubted he any older than she was. His grey gaze met hers and held. He clenched his jaw, breaking eye contact as he stared at the wooden planks beneath his feet.
This was it. The moment where hope vanished like the morning mist. There one second, then gone, with nothing but lingering drops as proof it had existed.
He nodded. “Mrs. Harris? Mrs. Grace Harris?”
She nodded back. No use talking when nothing would come out. Her throat was frozen. Clamped shut. It was a miracle she was still conscious since she was positive she wasn’t breathing. Wasn’t doing anything but staring at the stranger about to destroy her life.
He swallowed. He looked nervous. “I’m Captain Grier. I know you’ve been waiting to hear news about your husband’s unit. I’m sorry it’s been so long in coming. It’s been…hard.”
Hard. He had no idea.
He waited to see if she’d say anything, but she didn’t. Just stared. Waiting.
He cleared his throat. “Anyway, I wanted to tell each family personally. That’s why it’s taken so long. I made the difficult visits, first. It’s never easy. Not for any of us.”
She frowned, trying to process his words. “You made the difficult visits, first?”
He startled, as if he hadn’t believed she could actually speak. She didn’t blame him. She hadn’t thought she’d be able to, either.
He wet his lips. “It only seems right that way. To give families closure as quickly as I can. But, there were so many. Spread out. It’s taken me this long to get around to you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand. I’ve been waiting twelve days. How is that giving me closure quickly?”
His brows furrowed. “Closure?”
“Where’s his body?”
“I’d like to see it. I need to see it.”
Captain Grier looked at her as if she’d spoken another language. Maybe she had. Everything was mixed up. Moving at a different speed. She just wasn’t sure if she was going faster or slower.
He put on his hat, giving her a smile. “His body should be here in about a minute, ma’am.”
It as her turn to stare at him.“You’re bringing his body here? To the house? But…”
She paused as another car pulled up. Big. Dark. The kind that brought death with it. It stopped beside the curb, the setting sun glinting off the windows. She shaded her eyes against the glare, watching as the car doors opened. Three men got out, faces hidden in the shadows from the backlit sunlight. They looked big, strong.
They’d have to be. Kurt was—had been a large man. Firm. Muscles that made women drool and other men jealous. Some thought he was too big. Jarhead, she’d heard him called. But it had made him seem invincible. Had helped her believe he’d come back.
They’d have trouble carrying him. Wasn’t there something about dead weight?
She swallowed, nearly choking, as the men headed for the door, their footsteps echoing around her. They weren’t carrying anyone. Hadn’t opened some other door to retrieve Kurt’s body. In fact, she doubted the car could carry a body. Not without it being strapped in.
Her stomach dropped. What if there wasn’t anything left of him? If she’d have to bury an empty coffin? Always wondering. Hoping they’d made a mistake. Live the rest of her life with a piece of a knife stuck in her heart, slowly bleeding her out.
The men climbed the four steps to the porch, obscuring everything but the dark color of their uniforms. The wide width of their shoulders. They saluted the captain in unison. One body with three arms. That’s what it looked like.
One of the men stepped forward, removing his hat like Grier had done. “Ma’am.”
She opened her mouth. Nothing came out. Not a breath. Not a whispered word. Just emptiness, like her heart. The rest of her life.
He glanced at the captain then continued. “We wanted to come here to tell you, we’re all alive because of Rachet…Lieutenant Harris.”
She couldn’t help the smile that lifted her lips at his nickname. Kurt could fix anything with a socket set and some spit.
The man’s face lightened a bit at her reaction. “We got hit. Bad. The three of us were trapped under rubble. There was gunfire and explosions sounding around us. But Rach—the Lt. He stood his ground. Dug us out then dragged us back to the LZ.”
Landing zone. God, she hated that she knew the terminology. Hated that it would haunt the last memories of her husband.
“Anyway, we begged the captain to let us accompany him home. Tell you, ourselves, how grateful we are. And that we’re sorry we made you worry. Made him late.”
She stared at them, hearing the words but not quite understanding them.
The men saluted her, this time, then parted. A shadow fell across her face and she looked up. Another man limbed through the ranks, a heavy scruff lining his jaw. Bruises colored his left cheek, a slash of white gauze covering part of his head. He looked lethal. Weather-beaten.
He moved forward out of the shadows, and her heart stopped. Just stopped, as if someone had flicked a switch.
Brown eyes gazed at her, his mouth curving into a smile. “I hope I didn’t miss dinner, tonight, sweetheart. I told the captain you didn’t like it when I missed dinner.”
That’s it for me. Please join the rest of the ladies by clicking on the links.
Almost the last song fiction of the year. That’s crazy. This month it’s Flaws by Bastille. I haven’t heard this one before and wasn’t fond of the regular, radio version. But dear god, the acoustic one—his voice. You really should give it a listen.
Anyway, you can watch the video below and I hope you enjoy the resulting story.
“You don’t have to do this, Izzy. You know that, right?”
Isabel McClaren glanced over at her brother. Ryan’s brows were furrowed, his left eye twitching slightly with ever other breath. He’d tightened his grip on the steering wheel to the point the flesh over his knuckles had bleached white. And there was no mistaking the slash of red on his cheeks.
She took a steadying breath, burying her hands in her lap so he couldn’t see the way they shook. “I know.”
“If you’re having second thoughts, all you have to do is tell me.”
Second thoughts? She was way past second and on her way home.
He turned to face her, unclipping the seatbelt when it caught on his shoulder. “They can’t make you testify against Zack. It’s called Spousal Privilege. I had a buddy at JAG double check.”
“So I’m just supposed to what? Walk away? Pretend I didn’t see him kill that…” Bile caught in her throat, making her gag. She forced herself to swallow—meet Ryan’s gaze. “That woman? That I haven’t spent the last five years married to a monster?”
Ryan’s jaw clenched, jumping the muscle in his temple. “I think the beatings you took from the bastard more than clears your conscience.”
“My conscience? I should have found a way to stop him.”
“You didn’t know.”
“But I should have! I should have seen it. In the way he treated me. Treated any woman he saw. And I should have left him the first time he hit me. Put a restraining order on his ass and had him charged with assault.”
Ryan cupped her hand, holding it gently in his. “Izz. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“Why not? You would have pressed charges. Anyone with half a brain would have. And maybe if I’d had the balls to do that, they would have figured out he was the psychopath roaming the streets, killing those prostitutes. Instead, I believed the lies.” She shook her head, punching her other hand against her thigh. “I wanted so bad for them to be true. Christ, I’m pathetic.”
She bowed her head. Tears threatened, but she knew she wouldn’t cry. Couldn’t. Not another tear for that bastard.
Ryan sighed. “You’re not pathetic. You’re brave as hell.”
She snorted, glancing at him. “I’m not brave. You are. You were always were. The golden child.”
“You know. The perfect kid. Got good grades. Never gave dad a hard time. Joined the army, and served your country for ten years. You have a shit ton of medals to prove just how great you are. And what have I done? Made a lifetime’s worth of poor choices.”
“We all make mistakes.”
Her chin quivered before she glanced at him. “You don’t. You’re flawless. Like a sculpture carved out of ice.”
“You’re wrong. The only difference between us is that you wear them on your sleeve.”
She frowned. This was a side of Ryan she hadn’t seen before. “And where are yours?”
“Buried. Deep. But still there.” He looked away. “And for the record, Zack isn’t on you. He was messed up long before you ever met him. I guess he’s really good at hiding his flaws, too.”
“It’s funny. I used to think that Zack was my redemption. The one thing I hadn’t fucked up since I was born. How it’s all played out? It’s poetic, really.”
“Then stop making bad choices. Starting now.” He grabbed her other hand, again, waiting until she met his gaze. “I have…a friend. Someone I knew overseas. He can make us disappear. For good. And we can start over. Anywhere you want. Another state. Hell, another country. Just say the word, and we’re out of here.”
“You’d leave everything for me?”
“In a heartbeat, sis.”
Izzy stared out at the courthouse, the rain creating tiny rings in the puddles lining the steps. It had rained the day she’d married Zack. Then, again, the night she’d stumbled upon him in the cellar. She’d heard the drops beating against the wooden door as she’d stood in horror, unable to move. Zack’s hands covered in blood. The woman’s lifeless eyes staring out at Izzy. Pale. Pleading. Bruises had bloomed around the dead woman’s neck, the same shades as the ones Zack had left on Izzy’s body.
“I want to disappear…” She grabbed Ryan’s hand before he could turn over the engine. “After the trial. After they lock Zack’s ass up for the rest of his miserable life.”
After I did something good. Something—flawless.
Ryan stared at her, his face unreadable, before he nodded. “After you hand that bastard his ass. Then, we’re gone.”
And that’s it for me. Just the amazing Bronwyn and Siobhan playing along today. So, go check out her masterpiece.
Welcome to November. Not that it’s been very welcoming out West. Can you say snow, snow and more snow. We went from 12 degrees, sunny skies and running in a tank and shorts to below zero and seven inches of snow overnight. The only plus is that it’s pretty, and likely won’t last. Rain, rain and more rain is forecast this week, so hopefully the white stuff will melt away. I’m starting to see why people want to live in Hawaii. I’d move there in a heartbeat.
Anyway, here is this month’s visual aid. No reoccurring story for me this month, just a new, short piece. Okay, it didn’t turn out to be short, but damn it, I tried.
You can never go home.
One of the oldest cliches in the books, and one Tabatha Knight knew all too well to be true. Yet, here she was, standing at the edge of her parent’s property, looking at the darkened shadows blanketing the rundown shack she’d once called home. Though, home was a loose translation. It’d been a prison—one that hid its bars and dingy walls behind cheerful wood paneling and splashes of colourful pillows. No one would have guessed that the welcoming fire flickering in the hearth had been used to burn away her individuality—her gift. That the scars of her parents’ lessons were covered by her black jeans and overly large hooded jacket. And despite all she’d done to leave her past amidst the leafless trees and scrubby brush by the pond that occupied the back corner of the yard, the marks were still there—the only vestige left from those days.
She’d changed her last name, bleached her hair blonde, and disappeared. Vanished into the faceless crowds in the city she’d always been told was the harbinger of evil. She’d made a new life for herself there—one that didn’t involve cringing in the darkness, hiding from the very people who were supposed to protect her. One where she could be free.
She laughed, the sound hollow and raw. Freedom was just another form of prison. The only difference was that it was one of her making. Her fears. Her weaknesses. At least in her world, she didn’t have to pay for mistakes she hadn’t made. For beliefs wrought from paranoia and fear. Where the only person who her hurt was herself.
Tabatha gave herself a mental shake. God, she sounded like a pathetic, whiny child. So, she’d had a rough upbringing. So, she was afraid to let anyone see her body in more that just muted light. She’d escaped, which in the end meant—she’d won.
And now…now she’d returned to reclaim the one regret she’d left behind.
Tabitha marched up the gravel driveway, the crunch of the rocks beneath her feet echoing in the cold air. A tiny, white cloud followed her every step, hovering around her face like a halo as her breath misted with every exhale. On an evening this cold, they’d have the fire roaring. Yellow and orange flames would dance along the wood, gleaming on the poker her father kept braced against the hearth. Before the night was over, the tip would glow with the same bright colours, extinguished only after another lesson had come to a close.
Not tonight. Not ever, again.
She bounded up the porch, took a deep breath, then walked inside. No knocking. No asking permission to enter. She hadn’t come her as their daughter. She’d returned a warrior. What had once seemed like a curse destined to destroy her had become her greatest alley. Her salvation. And tonight, she’d save her brother.
The door rocked against the wall, leaving a small indent in the wall as it bounced partway back. Just another scar, she supposed. Another mark in a house that had seen more sickening violence than a hundred homes put together. But it was all about to stop.
Her father spotted her, first. He was in his usual chair in the living room—the one she’d considered a throne. Each night he’d sit in that same spot and rein down his judgment. And she’d always been found lacking. But tonight, he’d be the one being judged.
He stood as she stopped in the entrance, his hands fisted at his side, a belt already clasped in one. He smacked the leather against his leg as his lips curled into a grin.
He took a step toward her, rhythmically hitting his thigh. “I always knew you’d come back. That you wouldn’t last long without that evil being beaten out of you. If you’re lucky, I might just agree to treat you one more time.”
She didn’t talk. Didn’t have to. There weren’t any words to describe what she was feeling. To justify what he’d done. Instead, she channelled her power into the strip of leather in his hand. It stopped mid-strike, wavering in the air before forcing up his arm. His eyes widened, and he tried to lunge at her, only to get jerked back when his hand refused to move.
He growled at her. “You fucking bitch. I’ll teach you where your place is.” He turned toward the fireplace, reaching for the poker.
One word. That’s all she could get out before she focused on the belt, wrapping it around his throat. Her father’s eyes bulged wide, and he clawed at the strap, going onto his tiptoes when she forced him back against the wall. Wheezing gasps filled the room, mixed in with the sound of his boots kicking against the worn wooden floors.
Frantic footsteps clattered in from the kitchen, her mother’s high-pitched scream cutting through the other noises. “Repent evil witch. As God is my witness I cast you out!” She held out a cross, brandishing it at Tabitha as if the sight of it would make her fall to the floor.
Tabitha stood her ground, her father’s desperate gasps fading into the background. “Where is he?”
Her mother sneered at her. “Get out!”
“Not without Troy.” She took a single step forward. “Tell me where he is, or I’ll burn this hellhole to the ground.”
Her mother’s gaze shifted to her husband, rounding her eyes until barely a hint of brown remained. She faltered, crying out when the man’s face turned red and his eyes rolled back in his head. “Stop this.”
“Where. Is. Troy?”
Her gaze skittered to the basement door.
Tabitha waved her hand, pinning her mother against the wall as Tabitha headed for the small door. The hinges creaked as she yanked it open, quickly descending the stairs. Flickering candle light illuminated the damp space, dancing shadows across the wall. She didn’t need more light to find her way. She’d been locked up in the belly of her parents’ home for days at a time.
A soft groan drew her to the far corner. Her brother hung from the wrists on the hard brick, the bruising on his skin like bursts of purple flowers. Pain shot through her heart, her anger snapping the cuffs and lifting him toward her.
Troy groaned, again, blinking several times before giving her a small smile. “Tab?”
She smoothed his sweat-dampened hair out of his face, cursing the tears that fell onto his skin. “I’m here. Let’s go home.”
He frowned, barely able to stumble beside her as she braced most of his weight, slowly climbing back up the rickety stairs. She didn’t look at her parents as she helped Troy out the front door. Gasping pleas followed her, but she kept walking until the effort of maintaining her hold made her stumble. She stopped, took a deep breath, then let her power sink beneath her skin. Troy glanced over his shoulder, but she urged him forward.
“Forget them. It’s over.”
He nodded, once again moving forward. “Are they dead?”
“Not quite. Do you want me to finish it?”
He stared at her, then shook his head. “I’d rather they spend the rest of their lives knowing we won.”
That’s it for me. Sorry it wasn’t as short as I’d hoped. And please go check out the other ladies…
It’s time for another Top 10 post… and it’s November. I don’t even know how that happened. But what’s really crazy is that I’ve still be running in a tank and shorts! The occasional need for gloves. Hey, my hands get super cold. But I have never experienced this kind of weather in October since I moved west, ages ago. And I’ll take it. I hope the entire winter is like this.
Anyway, this week’s blog is about 10 things I believe to be true. So… here we go, and in no particular order. That would be far too much work.
I know I’m not the only one who read the title, I Believe and didn’t break into a rendition of Whitney Huston’s Greatest Love of All…. I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way… Sing with me people… and for those of you who can’t go on until they’ve sung the whole damn thing (but you can’t remember all the words!) No worries. I’ve got you covered. I’ll just leave this here and go on to number 2.
That the truth is out there. Or that we’re not alone… however you want to phrase it. Now, I’m not claiming that there are aliens scooping people up and butt probing them. Maybe there are. That’s not the basis of my belief. All, I’m saying is that I don’t think we’re alone in this ever-expanding universe.
I believe in ghosts. Yup… not sure I have the science to back this up—and we all know I’m a hard ass science gal—but… I’ve had a few too many creepy, unexplained occurrences to discard that this shit happens, so… I’ll just leave a few pretties here for you…
I believe that exercise is a highly under-utilized form of medication. Not getting preachy here. And like all medication, no one said you’d like it 😀 or that it would taste good.
I believe you should be free to love whoever you want. And I honestly can’t believe this is even a concern any more. That it ever was.
I believe that willpower is our most powerful gift. No limits, baby.
I believe that it’s not whether we are all created equal, but that we treat each as if we were. #deep 🙂
To never give up. Never surrender.
That common sense is sadly, not that common.
And that no matter where you travel, there really is no place like home.
That’s it for me. I don’t even know if I did this right but… bam. Jump over and see how the other ladies faired.
Another Wednesday random post and this week we’re digging #deep folks. The topic is My Writing Process and has it changed/evolved. Honestly, this image pretty much sums up my entire writing process…
So post done!
Okay… maybe not quite that blunt, but… I’m pretty sure I’ve done a writing process blog before. No, I didn’t search for it. Searching, like writing, is hard… but… to be honest, not too much has changed. I’m still a ‘pantser’ gal. If I waited until I knew the entire book, they’d never get written. I try to trust in the bits that I do know and pray (or, yeah, crossroad demon deal) the rest will come. It’s actually a pretty sweet moment when you figure out how the whole thing ends! Kind of like having a baby and finally discovering whether it’s a boy or a girl.
I might try to figure stuff out more, now… but it’s not a guarantee that it’ll happen. More likely, I’ll just get vibes for a different book, I’m not currently writing, which is so maddening. Because you know once you move to that book, I’ll get stuck there the exact same way.
So for me, the process is still the same…
An idea—whether it’s from something I saw, heard, read, lived. Somehow, conversations start happening inside my head. For me, it’s generally at night when I’m trying to find a way to fall asleep. But it’s enough to make me want to dig deeper.
Start writing—yup. Once I have an idea, and hopefully it’s the beginning, I just jump right in. The first few chapters are usually not too bad until I reach the end of my idea. That’s where I spend endless time staring at the screen. Until either I figure out the next step, or sometimes… I gotta put the story away. If it’s too forced, it won’t flow or sound natural, so…
Keep writing—Assuming bits are still coming to me, I just keep writing, and trust it’ll all unfold on its own. There usually comes a time where it’s so stuck in my head, it becomes all consuming.
Plan a bit to the end—This last bit…if all goes well, I will know enough I can make a couple of notes for each of the remaining chapters so I have a rough idea how much longer it will be. This is not a synopsis or plotting. It’s seriously a sentence or two. Just so I stay on track. Especially if the book is getting long. I know… me? Long? Surely I jest!
And that’s really it. I do go back through and update bits as they become clearer or change. Or I think of a piece that needs to go between others, but I don’t do endless drafts. That first one is pretty much the book with some bits tweaked upon my read through. And the edits of course. That’s the polish… when someone else points out all the stuff I missed 🙂
Now… for you amusement, my process in a series of gifs….
When I start to run out of what I know…
About halfway through….
At any given point during this ride….
When I just want to finish it but I don’t know the damn ending, yet….
Pushing through toward the end….
Now go check out my amazing friends and see how they create their masterpieces…
I love this song. It’s epically sad, but it’s such a great song. And we get a taste of new country in the mix. I’m sure some of the other ladies are cringing, but… that’s the beauty of the song fic—you never know what you’re going to get as the motivation.
For this one, I’m diving into a prologue for the book I’m writing for the KW Brotherhood Protector series. Now that I’m into it, I kinda wanted my hero, Sam, to reveal a bit more about his time with the Army Ranger Battalion. So, here goes…
“Hey, jackass, you ready?”
First Lieutenant Samuel “Midnight” Montgomery grunted as his buddy punched him in the shoulder, nearly knocking his compass out of his hand. He fumbled with it, shoving the guy back once he’d clipped the unit onto his vest. “You are such a mother fucking pain in my ass, you know that, Grey?”
Grey laughed. “Fuck off. We both know you love me.”
“Yeah, like a freaking STD.”
He turned but grinned. Lieutenant Rick Samson—or “Grey” as everyone called him because of the white scruff of hair on his head, despite being twenty-nine—was a thorn in Sam’s side. And the closest thing to a brother he’d ever had. They’d been together from the start, and he couldn’t imagine a mission without the other jerk having his back.
“They’re called STIs now, you ass. Speaking of which…” He kicked at Sam’s ruck sack. “Did you pack your spare pair of boxers? We both know you’re gonna shit your pants on this one.”
“Got’em right beside your special cream.” He motioned to his buddy’s crotch. “Doesn’t look like it’s making anything bigger, though, bro.”
“Good.” Grey grabbed his junk. “Because if this gets any bigger, I’ll be splitting the ladies in half.”
Sam chuckled, checking his straps then closing his sack and tossing it over one shoulder. “I swear this shit gets heavier with every jump.”
“Just wait until you get the rest clipped on.” Grey’s smile faded as he pressed his lips together. “So…thirty big ones tonight.”
“Is there even air that high up?”
“That’s why we have oxygen tanks. But yeah, it’s kind of crazy. Can’t the plane avoid detection enough at twenty-five? Do you know how fucking cold it is at thirty-thousand feet?”
Grey rolled his eyes. “I know how cold it is. I was in the same briefings. Been doing the same training. It was a rhetorical question.”
“I just hope the intel’s worth it. The last couple of missions have been a bust.”
“On the plus side…two weeks off after this one. I say, we head to Vegas, grab us some pretty little college babes that think military guys are hot as fuck and do all those things we dream about.”
Sam grinned, moving in beside Grey as they headed for the plane. “You know half of what you want to do is illegal in most states, right?”
“Only if I get caught, brother.”
Sam gave the guy another shove. “Let’s just get through this mission, then you can brag about how you’re a master between the sheets.”
“You know, haters are just gonna hate…”
Grey just kept on talking, ribbing the other guys once they’d taken their seats. The easy banter helped pass the time until they were standing in front of the open door—wind eddying through the space, nothing by inky darkness beyond the doorway. Grey looked back at him, giving him a guarded nod, before moving forward. Just another minute, and they’d be out the door.
Sam steadied his breathing in the mask, frowning when Grey stumbled on his next step forward. He nudged his buddy, motioning to him. “You okay?”
Grey arched his brow. “Are you smoking something? Of course, I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“It’s not like you to stumble.”
“These packs don’t exactly make walking easy.”
“Still…” He grabbed Grey this time. “Is your hand shaking?”
Grey tugged his arm free. “I’m fine, Sam. Done this a hundred times before.”
“Doesn’t matter. You know it’s different every time. Any one of us could have adverse effects to the altitude on any given mission.” He held up his hand. “How many fingers.”
“Would you stop it? I’m fine. Better than fine, actually. Now, let’s do this.”
Sam looked over to the PT tech going down the line, nodding at Grey. The man focused on his friend, checking his gear then rattling off some questions. He gave Grey a nod, then shifted over to Sam.
“Lieutenant Samson’s fine.”
Sam narrowed his gaze, watching Grey take another unsteady step. “Are you sure?”
“As sure as I can be. If you think…”
His words died beneath a series of shouts as their commander motioned for them to go. Grey shuffled forward as the men in front stepped out, disappearing into the clouds as Sam moved to the door. He clenched his jaw, hoping he’d only been imaging things, then jumped, inhaling at the sudden rush of adrenaline that coursed through his body. There was a few moments of weightlessness then he was jerked upward, the force of the chute opening stealing his breath. Damn things packed a punch, and he knew he’d be sore for days after.
Sam gathered his bearings, using his night vision to pinpoint the rest of his team. He headed toward them as they sounded off, nothing but silence when Grey’s turn came. Same scanned the area, catching a glimpse of movement below him. A chutes billowed upwards, the tangled strings keeping it from properly deploying.
He hit the button on his headset. “Grey! You’re tangled. Release the main chute and deploy your backup. We’ll adjust our descent rate to meet up with you.” He waited, but Grey didn’t answer him. “Grey!”
A beep sounded in his ear. “I don’t see any movement, Midnight.”
“Shit. Okay, I’m releasing my main chute. I’ll head for Grey and we’ll tandem down. We’ll adjust the plan once I’ve got him.”
Sam muttered a curse then released his chute, dropping into free fall. He fanned his body out, then drew his arms together, increasing his speed as he angled toward his friend. He did his best to slow his descent as he neared the other man, hoping he didn’t hurt Grey when he grabbed him. Grey’s head was bowed to his chest, his body limp.
Sam opened his arms, catching the other man around the waist and propelling them forward. He grunted as the impact knocked their heads together, blurring his vision for a bit before he managed to shake it off. He released his friends chute, clipping them together before pulling his reserve. The material fluttered out behind him, once again jerking him up. Grey moaned, squirming against Sam’s hold.
“Easy. You’re suffering from hypoxia. Just…hold still.”
Grey mumbled something Sam couldn’t make out but relaxed. Sam talked to the others, doing his best to follow behind them. But the added weight altered their path enough he knew they wouldn’t make it to the landing zone.
The land rushed past, every minute drawing them closer to the ground. Sam cursed under his breath, doing his best to calculate their new arrival zone, when lights flashed from the ground.
His radio buzzed a second before one of his teammates sounded in his headset. “Incoming. Defensive manoeuvres.”
Sam angled them to the right, hoping to get clear, when bullets ripped through the canopy above him, dropping them toward the ground. He pulled on the ropes, slowing them as best he could. Jagged rocks rushed up toward him, the rocky landscape filling his view. He made one last attempt to veer clear before parts of the chute caught on an out jut, halting their descent and slamming them against the cliff. Pain ricocheted through his head, then the straps gave way and they fell.”
Sam jolted back, blinking against the wash of scenery until it stabilized. A young woman stood beside the booth, coffee pot in one hand, a slice of pie in the other. Lines creased her forehead as she stared at him, her fingers white-knuckled around the plate.
He glanced around the diner, the few people still in there looking over at him before turning away. Sam swallowed hard, nodding at the woman. “Sorry. I guess I dozed off.”
She gave him a timid smile. “You were talking. Calling for someone named Grey. I wasn’t sure…”
“It’s fine. I could use some more coffee, though. And is that my pie?”
“Sure.” She placed the plate in front of him as she refilled his mug. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
She nodded, but it was obvious she didn’t quite believe him, as she wandered off, moving to another table.
Sam stared down at his hands, hating the way they shook as he took a swig of his drink. Six months and the damn dream still haunted him—used every opportunity to chip away at what little sanity he had left. And god knew he didn’t have any to spare.
He scrubbed a hand down his face, catching a hint of movement in the window beside him. He looked out, inhaling at the silhouette wavering by the lamp post next to his truck. A familiar set of eyes stared back at him, the ghosted echo of his name curling around him.
Sam closed his eyes. It wasn’t real. Just a figment of his imagination. A by-product of guilt and pain that manifested as the image of his dead team mate. He’d been told it would go away—fade like his buddy’s voice had faded from Sam’s memory. He just needed to be patient.
Sam stood, tossing some money on table before heading out into the snowy night. Another six hours and he’d be in Montana. The one place he swore he’d never go back to, and the only place that might save what was left of his soul. A new job, a new beginning. He only hoped there was enough of him left to save.
That’s it. I’m sure the other ladies have some amazing stories waiting for you.
Hey all, and welcome to another month of Promptly Penned. This month’s prompt is rather… unique, lol. I can see so many great ideas cropping up from this one. So… here’s the prompt and the resulting story… note, this month won’t have the actual prompt appear as a line in the story. It’s more of a setup.
While cleaning up the attic, he/she finds a box of glass balls with names on them. One drops and, as it shatters, a person appears.
“Call me crazy, Barry, but when you asked me out on a date, I pictured something more exciting.”
Barry Jamieson released a weary breath, glancing back at Michael, wondering if he’d just blown his only chance at a possible relationship with the one guy who’d had him tied in knots since the semester started. That after three months of awkward gatherings amidst friends, and one poorly executed invitation, Barry had given Michael the excuse he needed to walk out the door before Barry had done more than try not to trip over his tongue.
He shook his head, turning to face the dusty room. “I know, I know. This sucks ass, but… What was I supposed to do? My mom’s having a hard time dealing with…” He waved around the stuffy attic. “This. I know my grandma was old, but… I don’t think any of us ever truly pictured her dying. She just seemed so…” He exhaled again. “When she asked me to clean this out…”
A hand landed on shoulder before he was tugged against Michael’s chest, his other hand sliding around Barry’s waist to rest on his hip. “I’d have kicked your ass if you’d said no just so we could go watch a bunch of redneck boys smash cars with their monster trucks. Besides, maybe we’ll find some priceless antique in here, and then I can date you for your money instead of your body and the amazing sex we’re going to have…” He leaned in and breathed against Barry’s neck. “As soon as we’re done here.”
Barry’s breath lodged in his chest, making the room feel overly hot before he finally managed to drag in a lungful of air. He wet his lips, cursing under his breath when Michael released him, winking at him before walking over to one of the walls lined with boxes. Had the man really just said he not only wanted to date him, but that there would be sex? After Barry had cleaned out the attic?
Michael whistled, tapping on one of the boxes. “Wow. Your grandma sure did love odd things. Are those crystals hanging by the window?”
Barry laughed. “Crystals. Orbs. Little jars of eye of newt or something. If I believed in witches, I would have sworn she was one.”
“You don’t believe in the supernatural?”
Barry stopped a few feet away. “Do you?”
Michael shrugged. “Let’s just say I’ve witnessed a few…odd things in my life. So, I consider myself open minded.”
Barry grinned, closing the distance between them. “Odd things?” He skimmed his fingers down the front of Michael’s shirt, toying with the fabric. “Like what?”
Michael glanced down at where Barry’s hands fisted his shirt, a hint of a smile lifting the corner of his mouth. “Just…things. Like having stuff move around. Hearing noises. Nothing earth shattering just odd—”
Barry tugged Michael against him, slanting his mouth over the other man’s and swallowing whatever else he was going to say. Spicy male mixed with coffee filled Barry’s senses, and he couldn’t stop from taking another step toward Michael, crushing the man’s hands against his chest when Michael grabbed Barry’s shirt.
Warm breath caressed Barry’s cheek, Michael’s heart strumming against Barry’s palm as he held Michael close, reluctant to release him. One touch, one fucking kiss, and it felt as if Michael had flipped a switch inside him.
Michael arched a brow. “I thought we had to clean the attic?”
Barry leaned in, brushing his lips across Michael’s. “We’ve got all day. Pretty damn sure we can make out for a bit, first, and still get it all done.” He smiled. “Unless you weren’t serious about dating me or having mind-blowing sex.”
“Mind blowing, huh? You’d just better hope you can live up to your hype because I’ve been imagining this for months.”
“Months? Then why didn’t you ask me out instead of waiting for me? Surely you knew I was interested?”
“Right, because you were all over me.”
“I was trying to determine if you even knew I existed. To be honest, no one was more surprised than I was when you said yes.”
Michael pulled Barry closer. “Then let’s make up for lost time.”
Michael crushed his lips to Barry’s, backing him against the row of boxes as he ate at Barry’s mouth, sliding one hand up to fist Barry’s hair as the other settled on the small of his back. Barry moaned into the kiss, trying to smooth his hands down Michael’s chest to grab the hem of the man’s shirt, when one of the boxes shifted behind him.
The movement threw off his balance, and he took a stumbling step toward the wall in an effort to remain upright, dragging Michael with him. The other man palmed the boxes, obviously trying not to fall onto the entire row, knocking the top one onto the floor. The impact billowed up a cloud of dust as the top flew open, scattering a number of glass balls across the floor.
Michael pulled back, cursing under his breath as he released Barry and turned, freezing when one of the balls hit a chair leg, stopping amidst the sound of breaking glass. “Shit, Barry, I’m≥”
The man’s voice trailed into a gasp as the ball broke, releasing a blinding flash of light. Barry grabbed his buddy, tugging him back then behind him as Barry took a step forward, squinting against the glare. The light seemed to gather strength, melding into a bright blue before finally winking out, leaving the room dimmer than before.
Barry waved his hand to disperse the lingering bits of dust, blinking in an attempt to focus before his breath lodged tight in his chest. Michael mumbled something that sounded like, “holy shit,” but it got lost to the frantic pounding of Barry’s pulse in his head. He rubbed his eyes, wondering if this whole interaction was nothing more than a vivid dream when Michael slapped him on the chest.
“For the love of God, Barry, tell me you see the guy standing on the other side of the attic. Because if it’s just me…”
Barry shook his head, still trying to find his voice. “I…I…”
“Yeah. That.” Michael bent over, retrieving another glass ball off the floor. He held it out in front of them, a series of black letters stamped across the surface. “This one says Derek. What the hell does that mean?”
“I… Christ.” He took a step forward, stopping when the man turned, their gazes clashing. Barry inhaled, trying to keep his mouth from gaping open. “You. I know you. You’re in the photo albums. You’re…”
Michael slapped him, again. “Finish the damn sentence. Who the fuck is he?”
Barry looked at his buddy, wishing they could go back to kissing because this… He shook his head. “His name’s Jason. And I think he’s my father.”
And that’s it for me. At least this week wasn’t 4000 words 🙂 Please check out the other tales this week…
Time for another music-inspired story. This month the song is Criminals, by Ms. Mr. I’ve never heard of this band or this song, so… it’s a new one for me. The song video, if you’d like to give the song a listen, is right below. I’ll admit. It’s an odd video, but… she has a nice voice. Though I do kind of feel as if I’m back in the 70s, lol. They had some weird ones back then, too.
For this one, I’m going to jump a bit into a story that’s in my head, but some of the important details are missing, lol. But… the recurring lyrics from the song… “do you want a way out” seems to fit perfectly. You can read the very rough beginning I wrote as another flash fiction, here… but this is jumping to the present and what’s looking like a potential joint case between my estranged couple.
Now… some preamble. First… this is a long, long one. I couldn’t help it. It’s a full chapter length, but it just kept coming. I looked for a place to cut it off, but… I decided, you can decide if you want to read it or not. It’s about 4000 words. I know. I really know.. so, your choice.
Having said that, I’m really looking forward to writing Maddison’s and Rhett’s story.
Rhett Grier pulled into the gravel parking lot, glancing at the neon sign blinking on the post—The Red Pony. He sighed. It was the fifth pub he’d checked tonight, and the last bar he’d pictured her in. It had always been his place, full of cowboys and country bands, with couples two-stepping on the worn wooden floor. She’d always made a point of rolling her eyes whenever he’d taken her there. Why she’d come here of all places…
The voice in his head laughed at him. Rhett knew exactly why she’d chosen his bar as her escape. She’d figured it would be the last place he’d ever suspect her to go, and the one spot where she might be safe from another encounter. Of course, she had no idea how desperate he was. He just wasn’t sure if it was the case or them that he wanted to talk about. Not that she’d talk to him about either.
He rubbed his cheek. His jaw still ached where she’d punched him, and he knew he’d have a bruise on his hip from impacting the floor in her boss’ office. While he knew their impromptu meeting wouldn’t go over well, he really hadn’t thought she’d hit him. Not like that. Damn, she packed a hell of a wallop for someone her size. And he hadn’t missed how much weight she’d lost.
He grunted under his breath. She’d always been stunning in his eyes, and had been athletic and fit before they’d separated. But having not seen her in nearly six months, he’d had to force himself not to stare at her with his mouth hanging open as he’d taken in her new look—one he wasn’t sure he was happy with. While she still have enough curves to prove she was all woman, there was a leanness about her he found unnerving. As if she’d gone to extreme lengths to become someone else. Someone who looked every inch the hardcore federal agent he’d been told she’d become—only more.
He’d been keeping tabs on her through friends, and he’d been more than concerned regarding her apparent lack of self preservation—taking high risk missions at every turn. Which explained the hours she’d obviously been spending running and in the gym. Though she’d been fully dressed, he had no doubt about the firm line of muscles that lurked beneath her clothes, and he’d bet his ass she had more of a six-pack than he did.
He chuckled. Not more than him. He’d been working out hard, too. But in an effort to keep his mind off of losing her. But he wasn’t sure her motivations had been the same, and it killed a part of him to think that she hadn’t seen herself as good enough, before. That maybe her obsession had stemmed from the anxiety of having to find another guy to take Rhett’s place. That no one else could have loved her the way she’d been. Which was insane, seeing as she’d always been the most beautiful woman in the room. Hell, the state. Now…now she seemed as if she didn’t even care whether anyone ever gave her a second look. And he knew men did. They’d have to be blind, not to.
A hand connected with his shoulder, and he turned to look at his partner. Carole frowned, glancing at the seedy looking bar.
“Really, Rhett? You think Maddison came here?”
“What’s wrong with this place?”
“Do you want the list numerically or alphabetically?” She snorted. “It’s just…it looks more like a place you’d go. Your ex seems far more…sophisticated.”
“Maddy’s not my ex. We’re not divorced, yet.”
Carole held up her hands. “Sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“And besides, that’s her Jeep.”
Carole glanced at the red Wrangler parked off to their left. “Funny, I didn’t picture as the Wrangler type, either. She’s definitely got BMW or Mercedes written all over her.” She grabbed his wrist as he opened his door. “We don’t have to do this tonight. Don’t you think it might be better to give her some more time to cool off? I’m not sure we want a repeat of her display in the office. Not here.”
“If time was a luxury we had, I’d agree. But that race starts in a few days, and if we aren’t on the docket as an official team, we’re finished. And it’ll be another full year before we get a chance to stop this before it goes too far. God only knows what might happen as a result of the information that will be passed during that week.” He shook his head. “We need to stop this. Now.”
“You’re preaching to the choir. I’m just not sure your ex—Maddison is going to agree. She seemed pretty upset.”
Of course, she’d been upset. Rhett hadn’t realized until she’d dumped him on his ass then stormed out that she thought he was the father of Carole’s unborn child. That he’d been having an affair during their last few months together. A fact which pissed him off more than anything else. How she thought he could ever hurt her that way—that he hadn’t loved her—burned hotter than having her walk out.
“It’s my job to make her listen. Maddy’s a lot of things, but she’s also dedicated to her job. To the oath she made to serve and protect. Once she realizes how many lives are on the line—how bad this could turn out if we don’t stop it—she’ll come on board.”
“If you say so. I guess it’s your jaw on the line.”
Rhett glared at her smug smile. The woman seemed to be enjoying his humiliation a bit too much. “Just, don’t get in the way of her fists. Or her legs. She’s got a hell of a reach.”
Rhett ignored the jib, taking a deep breath as he got out of the car and shut the door. The heady whine of a steel guitar carried across the parking lot, accompanied by echoed shouts and whistles. He smiled, the familiar sounds comforting as he headed for the door. He didn’t waste time searching for her, confident he’d find her at their old table near the window off to the left.
Carole tugged on his sleeve before he had a chance to move. “I’ll meet up with you in a minute. I have to use the ladies’ room.”
“Remind me never to get pregnant. I swear you’re in the washroom more time than you’re out of it.”
“I hardly think that’s something you have to worry about. Just remember to be nice to the woman who agrees to have your kids.”
He nodded, unable to reply. He’d always thought Maddison would be the mother of his children—had pictured her pregnant more times than he wanted to admit to—but those dreams had walked out the door with her. And he couldn’t see himself ever trusting another woman enough to get that serious. He’d known from the start that Maddison was the other half of his soul. If he couldn’t make marriage work with her, he knew he’d be doomed to spend his life alone, with only occasional one-night stand to curb the itch.
Pain tightened his chest as he wove through the throng of cowboys and country girls, catching sight of Maddy’s partner, Tyler, in Rhett’s usual seat. The guy was nursing a bottle of beer, absenting picking at the label when his gaze locked with Rhett’s.
Tyler’s eyes widened a moment before he huffed, palming the table as he rose to his feet. “Jesus Christ, Rhett. What the hell are you doing here?”
“Great to see you, too, Ty. What’s it been, six months?”
“Eight, you dick, and you know what I mean. Maddy’ll be back any minute, and the last thing we need is a scene.”
“I didn’t come here to fight. But since she wouldn’t listen to me in Bart’s office this afternoon, I had no other choice but to track her down.”
“You know what she’s like. And I can assure you she hasn’t come close to cooling off where you’re concerned. Fuck, this is the first time she’s asked me to go drinking since she came back after you two…” He sighed. “Why don’t you just let it go and try again tomorrow?”
“Because I don’t have any tomorrow’s left. Do you really think I’d be here if it wasn’t life or death? I know how she feels. She made it painfully obvious when she walked out.”
Tyler’s eyes narrowed as a light flush colored his cheeks. “She walked out? You’re blaming her for your fucked up situation? That’s rich, buddy, even for you.”
Rhett frowned, stepping closer when footsteps sounded behind him. He turned, his gaze clashing with Maddison’s as she sauntered back from the bar, two beers clasped in her hands. She stopped a few feet away, mouth half open as is she’d been about to say something, eyes impossibly wide. Some of the color drained from her face before she drew herself up and closed the last bit of distance between her and the table.
She placed one beer in front of Tyler, taking a long pull of the other before facing Rhett. “And here I thought our awkward meetings were over.”
Rhett steeled his resolve, doing his best not to focus on how her jeans hung low on her hips or that he could see a hint of her ribs beneath the hem of her crop top. He didn’t know if he was upset by how lean she’d gotten, or aroused by the flex of muscles beneath her skin. “If you’d behaved like an adult earlier, I wouldn’t have had to track you down.”
She snorted, taking another long drink. “If you don’t like my work ethics, feel free to bugger off.”
“That wasn’t you doing your job. That was you throwing a tantrum.”
Maddison’s eyes rounded, then narrowed, as a flush raced along her cheeks, down her neck and across her upper chest. “A tantrum? You bring your pregnant partner to my boss’ office, flaunt her in front of my face, then ask me to be part of a joint investigation, and you think me dumping you on your ass was a tantrum?” She slammed the bottle on the table then palmed the surface. “Trust me, baby. You haven’t seen anything close to a tantrum, yet.”
A gasp lit the air behind them, and Maddison turned to stare at Carole. Damn, Rhett had forgotten she’d been using the washroom, and he didn’t want her to get caught in the crossfire. Not that he thought Maddy would intentionally hurt her, he just wasn’t sure Carole would know when to back down.
Carole glanced at him, then back at Maddison. “Oh my god. You think Rhett’s the father, don’t you?”
The muscle in Maddison’s jaw jumped before she took a step to the side. “Doesn’t matter what I think. I already told you I wasn’t interested. So you can both leave, now.”
“He’s not.” Carole reached into her purse and removed her wallet. She pulled out a photo then held it in front of Maddison. “This is Rick. He’s a flight service specialist close to the ranger station we’ve been stationed at. We’ve been dating for about a year, now.” She smiled as she rubbed her slightly rounded belly with her other hand, though Rhett didn’t think she was even conscious of it. “We hadn’t planned on starting a family just, yet, but…” She giggled. “We’re happy.”
Carole extended her hand. “See? We’re engaged.”
Maddison glanced at the diamond sparkling in the bright lights. “I don’t recall seeing that on your finger this afternoon.”
“I’ve been having some issues—retaining water, and some other problems. I don’t often wear it in case I can’t get it off. But, I missed the comforting weight of it, so…” She met Maddison’s gaze. “Rhett and I are just partners. That’s all we’ve ever been. I swear.”
Maddison slid him a quick look, then motioned to the chair beside Tyler. “You should sit down.”
Carole focused on Rhett, slowly making her way to the chair when he nodded.
He waited until she was seated before continuing. “Like I was saying…we need to talk.”
“Talk?” Maddison thumbed her beer. “Funny, but I’m not really in the mood. I came here to drink, so unless you’re buying the next round…”
He watched her down half of the bottle in her next gulp. “I didn’t know you drank that much.”
Maddy arched her brow, finishing off the last of the beer. “I didn’t know you cared.”
Heat burned beneath his skin as he inched closer to her. “All this time and you want to have it out in a bar? Fine. Let’s have it out.”
Maddison glared at him, looking as if she was going to start a fight, after all, when some redneck cowboy shouldered up beside her, smoothing one hand down her waist to settle on the curve of her ass.
He leaned in close. “Hey there, pretty mama. How about you and I take a twirl on the dance floor? Then maybe we can go somewhere and get to know each other better.”
Maddison’s mouth pinched tight as she turned to face him, glancing at where his fingers rested on her butt, then up to his face. She arched a brow, knocking his hand off her body. “What part of my persona suggests I’m the least bit interested in getting hit on, let alone going home with you for some lousy sex?”
He chuckled, palming her ass, again. “Feisty. I like that. Bet you’ll be just as wild in the sack.”
The pink hue on her cheeks deepened. “Get. Lost.”
“Just as soon as you give me a dance.”
Rhett lunged forward, fisting the guy’s shirt and lifting his feet off the floor before shoving him roughly back. He waited until the jerk caught his balance on the table before grabbing him, again, and drawing him in close. Rhett’s breath ruffled the guy’s shirt collar as he glared down at him. “You touch my wife’s ass one more time and I’ll break your arm then shove it up your ass.” He exhaled, leaning in even closer. “And then I’ll get nasty.”
The guy tripped backward when Rhett pushed him away, looking from Maddison back to Rhett. “Wife?” He took another hurried step back at Rhett’s grunt. “Hey, she’s not worth getting arrested over. You can have her.”
He stumbled his way through the crowd, disappearing out the door.
Maddison groaned, swatting him in the shoulder. “What the hell was that?”
Rhett arched a brow. “That, sweetheart, was me keeping you from getting pawed, again. Jesus, you toss me on the floor just for showing up, but you let some drunk cowboy grab your ass? Twice? And you do nothing?”
She moved closer, getting up into his personal space. “I’m a federal agent. I can’t go around punching every jerk who thinks he can manhandle me. But I had it completely under control.”
He did his best not to inhale the sweet scent of her perfume, but it wove through his senses until he knew he’d still smell it long after they’d parted ways. Hell, he was pretty sure he’d never stopped smelling it.
Tyler appeared beside them, gently pushing them apart. “Easy, you two. The last thing we need is more of a scene. So…neutral corners.”
Maddison stared at her partner, chest heaving, hands twitching at her sides before she backed away. She kicked out her chair then sank into it, thumbing her empty bottle. “What do you want, Rhett?”
Rhett nodded his thanks to Tyler, taking the seat across from her as Tyler returned to his on the other side of Carole. “I need your help.”
She laughed, still tracing the outline of the label with her fingers. “Six months we’ve been apart and suddenly, now, you need my help?”
“I wasn’t the one who left. And it’s not like I didn’t try to get in touch with you. I called. I texted. Every damn day until after three months of trying, I got your message. So don’t put this on all me, sweetheart. You could have at least had the decency to answer one of them. Told me to fuck off to my face. I think I deserved that.”
“You deserved?” Tears gathered in her eyes, a few slipping free before she sprang to her feet, blinking the rest away. “I think I deserved to have you show up!”
She looked away, visibly drawing in three shuddering breaths before facing him again. She shoved her hand into her pocket and tossed a twenty on the table. “Turns out I’m not thirsty, anymore.”
She spun, gasping when Rhett reached for her, circling her wrist and twisting her to face him.
He moved in close, torn between wanting to shake some sense into her and needing to hold her. Seeing her fighting back tears had hit him hard in the gut. She’d never been one to cry, and knowing his presence at pushed her that far…
He tried to gentle his grip, reminding himself to speak softly. “I didn’t come here to fight. I really just need you to listen. Please, Maddison. I think you know that I wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t upset you like this, if it wasn’t important. Life and death, important. Five minutes. That’s all I’m asking.”
She stared at where he held her arm, looking more lost than before. More tears pooled in her eyes, making the blue seem lighter than usual. Her other hand shook as she reached for him, brushing against his arm before using her fingers to loosen his grip enough to slip her hand free. She stayed poised like that for another few moments then pulled her hands back as she retreated a couple of steps. “I’m sorry. I can’t do this.”
Maddison turned, taking two hurried steps away before stopping. Her back stiffened then shook as she turned, looking directly into his eyes. “Do you want to know why I never returned any of your texts? Why I never answered the damn phone calls?” She took a single step back toward him, wincing when a few more tears slipped free. “Because I thought that if you really cared—if you were at all serious about getting me to change my mind. If you thought I was worth a minute of your fucking time, you’d pay me a visit…in person. Beg. Shout. Demand I take you back. Something to show me I’d been wrong. That I’d acted impulsively. That maybe, just maybe, we still had a chance.” She snorted, wiping at the next wash down her cheeks. “How poetic that it took a case to get you to knock on my door.”
She grimaced, wrapping her arms around her as if they were a shield then nodded at Tyler. “Thanks for the beers.” She glanced at Rhett over her shoulder once she’d turned, again. “Good luck with the case.”
Rhett watched her escape, colliding with a few patrons as she raced for the door, quickly vanishing into the night. He took a moment to process what she’d said then fisted his hands. If she thought this was over…
Tyler cupped his shoulder as he took a step forward, stopping Rhett from getting more than a foot toward the exit. “Rhett. Don’t.”
Rhett turned, glaring at his friend. “Don’t? Maddison’s the one who keeps running. And if she thinks this is close to being finished…”
“She’s hurt. And angry. And embarrassed. You know better than anyone, she’s not going to listen to anything you have to say. Not right now. Let her calm down. Gather back some of her dignity. She’s already pissed at you. Crying in front of you like that…fuck, she’s going to be seeing red for hours.”
“I don’t have time for her to calm down, Ty. I wish I did.”
Tyler raked his hand through his hair, glancing over at Carole, who looked more than a bit pale. “If you go after her, you’ll only make it worse.”
“Story of my life where she’s concerned.”
Tyler cursed behind him as Rhett made for the door. He turned right, heading for her Jeep. Maddison was bent over beside the driver’s side, looking as if she was trying not to puke. The sight made him stumble a step, kicking up a boot full of dust. He must have grunted because she snapped her head up, staring at him with panic-stricken eyes.
She straightened, yanking open the door then sliding in behind the wheel. The engine growled as she turned it over, nearly taking off before he had a chance to grab ahold of her arm through the open window.
He leaned in. “I need to talk to you.”
Her chin quivered. “I already told you. I’m not interested.”
“I know you’re upset. I get that, but… Damn it Maddison, this is important.”
She took a deep breath then looked at him. “I thought our marriage was important, but apparently, I was wrong.”
Guilt punched him in the gut, but he did his best not to show it. “You can yell all you want. I’ll take it. Just, please…don’t walk away without hearing me out.”
She pursed her lips, obviously trying not to cry, again. “I’m sorry, I…”
She looked away, hands white-knuckled around the steering wheel.
He sighed, shoving his hand in his pocket until he felt the thumb drive beneath his fingers. He held it out to her. “If you won’t talk to me, then at least have a look. If after reading through all this, you still think it’s not worth your time—that the lives at stake aren’t worth you having to work with me—I’ll leave. No arguments. No trying to convince you otherwise. Just please look at the file.”
Her shoulders hunched, and for a moment, he thought she’d simply rev the engine and take off, until her head bowed forward, a hushed sob barely reaching him. She closed her eyes, holding out one hand. He placed the small unit in her palm, wishing she’d look at him.
Maddison closed her fist around the drive, finally glancing sideways at him. “I won’t make any promises.”
Rhett nodded, releasing his hold then backing up. “I’ll be in Bart’s office tomorrow morning—ten o’clock. If you want to discuss anything on there, you know where to find me.”
She stared down at her closed hand then popped the clutch and took off, leaving him in a cloud of choking dust. He watched the taillights slowly fade into the distance until they eventually winked out. Another shot of guilt soured his stomach, the soft sound of her anguished sob replaying in his mind. He’d never seen her that upset. Had assumed she’d been happy since leaving him. Thinking that it might have hurt her as much as it had gutted him had never crossed his mind. Not when she’d refused to answer his calls.
If you thought I was worth a minute of your fucking time, you’d pay me a visit…in person.
Had she really been waiting for him to knock on her door? After everything that had happened, he’d just assumed… He cursed under his breath, heading back to the bar. He’d obviously assumed wrong, and that one final mistake might be the one reason he failed the most important mission he’d ever stumbled across. And the reason he’d lost the only woman he’d ever love.
If you hung around and made it to the end, you can go check out the other two ladies jumping in today. And thanks for going the distance.