Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Reviews and a deal

Good morning!
I'm about to open word and work on a story. I'm not sure which one I'm going to work on. We will see what I'm in the mood for, editing or writing. However, I talked to the editor that has Beneath the Scars 2 and she has started. Yay! I hope you all are as excited as me because I can't wait to share more about Jack and Faye.

I'm going to share this deal now since the editing process has started. I'll give you all a chance to have time to read the first one. I will be sharing a form when I get the manuscript back. On this form I'm going to ask a couple of questions such as name. Email, and a link. This link will be the review for Beneath the Scars. For every person who does a review of the first will receive a free ebook copy of the second one!

When I say review it can be many ways. I mean you could post on Amazon, barnes and nobles, a blog, whatever way you choose!

If you go on smashwords right now you will even get Beneath the Scars on discount! Right now they are having their summer sale so Beneath the Scars is 50%. If you take advantage of this deal, post a review that means you get two stories of mine for $1.50. Can you argue with that? Nah, it's a beautiful summer day don't waste it arguing when you can be outside reading!
Have a good day!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Endings

Hello!
I'm currently curled up on the couch with my fuzzy blue blanket and my laptop on my lap. I have "Little Shop of Horrors" playing as I stare at word document that is labeled for End of the Line 3. I've had an idea for it for a while now. Back when I was writing the second one I was thinking dividing that story in two then working in this idea, but that didn't happen.

As I was working on the last installment of Beneath the scars 3 I did get a little emotional. I'd been working on that trilogy for a few years. I take longer than most it seems. I actually felt like I was bye to these characters. I dont know if that makes me sound crazy or not.

The more I thought about it I didn't feel that way about writing the last End of the Line. Do I miss working with Aaron and Lauren? Big time. How could I not? Have you not read Aaron? So I'm not making any promises, but as I'm editing a couple of works I miss the actual writing part. I'm editing like three different stories right now. I like editing, but I want to do a little creating as well.

Truth be told, I love my Beneath the Scars series. I really bonded with these the characters and drove straight into the pages. However, with two of the three in editing mode, and editing Family Ties 2 it was a lot of PTSD for me. It makes me feel a little off so I was happy to take a break and write my Christmas Lites short story. Getting a little out of the funk, but enjoying the writing. Actually I sent the second Beneath the Scars to an editor! Yay! Hopefully Jenn enjoys it.
Have a good night!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Men of Ottilie ~ Jack Corrente

Hello!
I really enjoyed this story. The first was so much fun to write it made writing a second in this series a little hard to write. It was a lot of pressure that I put on myself! I actually started a version, Jack was a cop and the leading female had a different name. She was visiting the town her family had a beach house in. It started to get depressing and honestly I wasn't into writing it. I figured if I was having trouble writing it, people wouldn't want to read it. I took some time off and a new idea came to me. I started to write then not long afterwards I got the story rolling. I enjoyed the characters, some of the lines I was eager to get to. Then again some lines I didn't notice until I was editing.

I love Jack. He was interesting to write. I went back reading the flashbacks and had to tweak a few things in Call for Help. I originally wanted to have most of the story told through phone calls/text messages and flashbacks. I love writing flashbacks. I have I think in this story it helps paint a full picture of Jack and Faye. I wasn't as set on an actor for Jack, so I'm open for suggestions and interested in who you picture for Jack! I like the actor Sam Claflin so I put him, because who doesn't? Look at that smile, so sincere.



Jack Corrente


Blondish
Blue Green Eyes
Was in the Marines
Mechanic
Helps everyone
Puts others first
Great Pool Player


There was a slight breeze, but it was the first night that I could go outside without a coat. The sky was ink black and decorated with pure white stars clear as a bell. I was sitting in the backyard with my feet up on another chair. My head was tilted up, my phone that was on my lap went off. I’d been waiting for hours to hear from Faye. We had discussed going out tonight, but I hadn’t heard from her. I knew better than to blow up her phone. All I did was text her before dinner about asking what she felt like doing.
Don’t feel like leaving.
y?
I had to ask, because the day before she went on about how she needed to get out and do something. That she was bored out of her mind. She needed to do something after the week she had at school.
Just don’t feel like seeing the outside world today.
What are you doing then?
Sitting in bed watching TV.
I raised an eyebrow.
You’re seriously just going to lay in bed tonight?
y not? Long week and mom is out.
I stood up and marched up the deck stairs.
Don’t be lame.
I opened the back door and through the kitchen when my phone went off again.
I just feel eh and don’t feel like doing much.
I grabbed my keys off the hook in the kitchen. Mom got tired of finding my keys all around the house.
“Mom, I’m going to Faye’s for a bit.”
She looked up from whatever she was working on at the kitchen table. The bright colors bounced off the walls creating a warm comfortable feeling.
“Okay, but don’t be out too late. We have church in the morning then we’re with the grandparents the rest of the day.”
I kissed her on the cheek and went out the front door. I practically jumped off the front porch and walked around my mom’s car to reach my truck. It was my mom’s and she gave it to me the day I passed my test. It was a used truck for her and the once vibrant color was now a heathered version of the color. However, working for Lennie helped me keep the truck running like I was the second owner instead of the third or fourth.
Starting the truck I made my way towards Faye’s house listening to the dings of my phone as she was talking until it went silent. She was probably not going to be in the best mood about the fact that I wasn’t responding. Apparently that was a one way street of acceptability. Finally I pulled up her rock driveway. I turned the car off so that silence was in the air and slipped my phone into my pocket as I slid out of the truck. I ran up the stairs and rang her doorbell. After a moment she answered her door. Her blond hair was tied up in a bun. She was wearing plaid pajama shorts and a baggy t-shirt, just further supporting her words of not wanting to do anything.
“I should’ve known that you were driving here since you weren’t responding.” Her voice was flat as she leaned against the door, her hand was still on the side of the door.
I grinned as she let me into the house.
“What else are friends for other than making them do things they don’t want to do.”
Her open hands waved around her shorts. “Once the pajama pants are on, I don’t leave the house. It’s a golden rule that I live my life by.”
I made my way to her room. “That’s fine I don’t have any intention of subjecting the outside world to you tonight.”
“I’m not sure if that is a jab at me or not.”
She crossed her arms as she stood in her doorframe. Her room was a mess, like always. Even though she had a desk her book bag and homework was scattered on her bed. Her soccer cleats and other clothes were littered across the floor. I tried to ignore the clothes as I was sure there was a bra hanging over the foot of her bed. My cheeks warmed as I pushed some of her old assignments away from her speakers and plugged up my phone. I had to focus. I’m pretty sure that she’d kill me if she thought I was looking at any of her underwear.
“What are you up to Jack?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Well, duh that’s why I asked.”
I turned around as music came through the speakers. A corner of her lips curled.
“Time to get out of that funk.” My voice was a little louder to be heard over my music.
I turned the music louder and went over to her. She bit her lips almost to stop the smile from forming. She was not going to give me the satisfaction. She just stood there. I grabbed both of her hands and started to move her side to side. Ethan was going to take away my man card for this.
“Stop fighting our house party.”
“It’s just the two of us.”
“Whoever said a party had to be more than two people?” I asked her still trying to get her to move.
“Every normal human being,” She finally laughed and started to jump up and down.
“Embrace the dorkiness of it all,” I called out.
She broke out laughing real hard. Faye’s face lit up and I could not help the grin on my face growing bigger. She was at ease. It was at that moment I knew that I wanted to make sure there was a smile on her face for the rest of my life.


“Did you get any sleep last night?”
I lifted my head to see Ethan glancing at me through the side of the open hood of the truck.
“Sorry I didn’t really sleep last night.”
“Nightmares again?”
I shook my head and went back to staring at the engine. “Something like that.”
Leaning further into the car I tried to get a better look at the problem. That and hoping that he would get the hint.
“It might be time for you to see some professional help,” Ethan lowered his voice as he came over to stand next to me.
“I don’t need any professional help that’s why I got Bailey,” I shot back and grunted as I tried to unscrew a bolt.
“Did you just say you got a dog instead of seeking out professional help?”
I glanced up at my friend. “Dogs are great listeners and are cheaper in the long run.”
“What were you having nightmares from then?” Ethan continued to ask and started to lean against the car that I was working on.
I narrowed my eyes. I was going to smack him with a tool if he didn’t move.
“Faye-”
“Why am I even hearing that name?” Ethan’s voice came out harsh.
Groaning I got out from under the hood of the car and stood up straight. I took my hat off, gripping it in my hands, then I re-slid it back on my head. The garage’s clatters and buzzes filled my ears, but I could still hear my heart racing in my chest. Her voice came to me once again. The high school Faye was fresh, crystal clear image with that smile still engrained in my mind despite what I wanted. My palms were sweaty already. I wiped them on my jeans pretending that it was because of the grease.
“Because she accidently called me last night,” I muttered and trudged over to my toolbox, making sure not to meet his eyes.
I turned my back and took some sips of my water. His eyes were boring a hole in the back of my head.
“She still has your number in her phone?”
I shrugged and turned around so that my back was against the cool metal of my toolbox. “Apparently. There’s some restaurant near her with the name Jack in the title and she was ordering dinner or she thought she was ordering dinner.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s one of the lamest things that I’ve ever heard of in my entire life.” Ethan’s voice was dry.
“Can we please for the love of God end this conversation? I feel like a middle school girl.”
“The two of you sound like it too,” Joey called over before sliding back under his oil change.
“Answer one thing first.”
I rolled my eyes as I turned to face him instead of Joey. “What?”
“How long was your conversation?”
I scrunched my face and shrugged. “A few minutes, not long.”
He nodded. “Good, I don’t need you running off again because of her.”
“I didn’t run off because of her.” I responded flatly.
“You two broke up, and she was on a plane to New York City two hours later, and then less than a week later you were seeing recruiters for the Marines.”
“That timeline isn’t accurate and you know it.” I grabbed a wrench and raised it. “This will be lodged somewhere if you don’t stop talking soon though.”
He held up both of his hands and took a step back.
“Okay I get it. I’ll drop it.”
“Good.”
I put the wrench back on the top of my toolbox and went back to the car that I was working on.
“You haven’t tried to contact her today have you?”
I just dropped my head and sighed instead of answering him.

Leading Ladies ~ Faye Harper

Hello!
You all got to meet Jack from Call for Help. He is awesome, and I could gush over my characters, some more than others, but we won't tell them that. Faye is a character that I changed her name like three or four times. I wanted a name that wasn't overly girly or used. Then leave it to Facebook to have those pop up for baby names for different countries. I clicked on it and got the name Faye. I'm pretty sure that is the poster child example of why the ads pop up. Faye is a character I kind of could relate to. In high school I was ready to get out of school, to not see my peers, and to get out of there. Now unlike Faye I didn't go to college outside of the state, but I did move away years later. I feel like we can all relate to Faye with the sense of ready to spread our wings, to be more than what others might think of us.

For her I could almost see Lily James, but that might partly be because I like her work. I could even see her having fun with Charlotte from Beneath the Scars, I think Lily James does have a range. Fay,e goes on exploration for herself all the while helping her friend plan her wedding


Faye Harper

Blond Hair (the highlights count)
Hazel eyes
Favorite Food is Pizza
Raised by her mom
Is not a very organized person.


Natalie was already on a bike with an empty one next to her when I got to the gym. Her brown hair with the auburn highlights was tied back in a tight ponytail and a headband ensuring that everything stayed in place as she stared at her phone. She was wearing a pink tank top with black and pink yoga pants to match her sneakers.
“Morning,” I greeted as I sat down next to her.
“Oh my God, the dress was so tight in the dream that it wouldn’t even go over my thighs.”
Some parts of her dress were skin tight so I could believe it especially her reception dress. Well her reception dress was so short. Her ceremony dress was a form fitting mermaid. I didn’t know how she breathed in it.
“You’ve had a fitting you know that’s not true.”
Her brown eyes glimpsed over at me before back to her phone.
“I can’t believe you talked me into eating Jack’s last night.”
I resisted a sigh and eye roll in front of her.
“We were going to be working for a couple more hours and I was starving. I know you were too. Plus you had a salad.”
“Do you know how much fat is in a Caesar salad?” her voice became high pitch.
“Probably less than that slice of cheesecake that I had,” I chuckled.
Her head turned sharply. “You had cheesecake?!”
“I’m joking.”
Not. Totally worth it.
“Okay, because not to sound like that bride, but you all bought your bridesmaid dresses and they need to fit. When I say fit I don’t mean you can see the lumps through the material. That’s not flattering.”
Before I could say another word our instructor walked in and started class. There was a part of me that wanted to challenge Natalie about our dresses. Not that I wanted to replace that dress, it cost an arm and a leg once I bought it and had the alterations done. The shoes she wanted nearly caused me to be short on my rent one month. That was the longest month of living off generic cereal and peanut butter sandwiches.


“Payton wants to go to the bar tonight with all of us girls. That was who I was texting before class.” Natalie called over the bathroom stall.
“The whole bridal party?” I asked as I stepped into the second part of the stall of the shower to dry off from my shower.
Natalie was in the shower stall next to me. I raised an eyebrow though and crossed my fingers.
“Of course! There isn’t much more time left before my wedding and we need as much bonding time as possible. The pictures will look more genuine if you all can get along before the pictures.”
“What was I thinking,” my voice drifted off.
“I swear that accent of yours comes out of nowhere at times.”
“There are enough accents in this city that it can wash mine out a little.”
For the most part my accent was watered down, but I could hear it from time to time. I pulled out my clothes and draped them over my bag.
“So since you decided to break up with Todd a week before I sent out the invitations do you know who your plus one will be?”
I sighed. “Considering I accidently dialed my ex last night, I’m not really searching real hard for a date for the wedding.”
“Wait which one?”
“Which bar?”
“Um probably the usual especially since Sarah knows one of the bartenders.”
Yeah ‘knows’. Mostly the guy she slept with during her dry spells.
I pulled my light purple peasant blouse on and slid my pants up my legs. I sucked in a little to button my pants and I silently cursed at my hips. If it wasn’t for them my pants would be fitting. Fixing my bag I went out in front of the mirror to start fixing my hair a little before putting on make-up that was stored in my gym bag. Thankfully I washed my hair the night before. Leaning over the counter I was putting on my eyeliner as Natalie came out. She was wearing a blue fitted dress that came down to her knees. Her matching heels clank against the tile. She glanced down at her ring that was extended in front of her.
“I can’t get enough of this ring.”
I laughed. “I think you have a lifetime to get used to it. He spoils you.”
She beamed. “He does and I love it.”
Natalie pulled out a small bag and started on her face. She was mostly touching up because I swear she was wearing makeup when I arrived to the class.
“I was working on the tables last night which is why I asked if you knew who your plus one was going to be.”
“You can count me as uno.”
A couple of women wrapped in towels passed us and Natalie waited for them to pass.
“Are you sure, you could bring-”
I laughed. “Yes?”
Who was she going to suggest that I bring?
“I liked Todd.”
I turned to face her. She was running her fingers through her hair.
“Seriously?”
“What? He made you show up on time to places. He has an adult job, which pays well. He has his own place.”
I shrugged. “On paper Todd was perfect, but in practice-”
“Bad kisser?”
I shook my head. “Not what I meant. On paper Todd did have everything checked off. It’s hard finding a guy our age that has an adult job, pays his own bills, doesn’t live with family, and in this city is straight or not trying to become an actor. Yet, I just never felt that spark.”
“So does that mean no to bringing him?”
I hung my head.
“No, I am not bringing Todd to your wedding. I’m pretty sure he is dating someone by now anyway.”
“You missed your chance.”
I looked up at the mirror and my heart swelled. How true were those words? However, Todd didn’t come to mind when she said that phrase.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Define a Hero Sample

Today isn't sample Sunday. Though I'm almost done with Beneath the Scars 3, the last one in the trilogy and I'm kind of excited about the story. Wattpad isn't working so I decided to share the sample on my blog first. It isn't completely spoilers for the second one because each Beneath the Scars is about a different guy in Riley Nolan's troop. So they are connected, but separate. I hope that you enjoy the first TWO chapters of Beneath the Scars 3, Define a Hero.



1
Lucas



Shades of reds, oranges, and yellows blinded me. I shot up in bed, my heavy breathing filled my bedroom. Darkness. I wasn’t near any explosions. My hands ran over my face and through my hair. Actual brown strands tangled in my fingers. Years of a closely shaven head I felt shaggy. Taking a deep breath, paused, and let it out slowly. I repeated that pattern until I was breathing regularly. Was I ever going to escape the nightmares?
Using my leg to kick off the sheets as I felt trapped suddenly. When the fabric was moved my heart sank. There it was, the sub where my one leg had once been. The true nightmare that was never going to end. Leaning forward my hand ran over the knob that had been my left leg. My fingers were shaking. The phantom nerves played tricks on me as I could almost feel the leg. My heart pounded against my chest once again. I yelled out as I grabbed my remote and threw it against the wall. I did what I was supposed to do, why did this happen to me?




2
Sonja



Placing my freshly made copies in the plastic drawers behind my desk. A small smile grew on my face. I had my plans done for the first two weeks, copies done for the first, week and all my students’ desks were labeled with polka dotted name tags. The teacher across the hall popped into my doorframe. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt with the schools logo on the top.
“Good morning.”
I turned to see Mrs. Vanyi, the teacher across the hall. Her big purse was over one shoulder a large cup of coffee in the other hand.
“Good morning,” I grinned and fixed my college t-shirt.
“So, the masses start tomorrow. Are you excited?”
“I am, but also nervous.”
She laughed. “That’s normal.”
“I’d hope so,” I yawned.
“Tired?”
“Yeah, I was working on the lessons last night.”
And texting my ex-boyfriend.
“Just don’t let the kids notice or they’ll pounce on you. Also try to remember we are all on a team, we share materials so don’t feel bad for using what we give you.”
I laughed. “I know.”
I fixed my headband and looked at the clock. Today was going to be a half work day then the rest of the day was ours. Tomorrow the students would be starting and the school year will begin.
“What do you have left to do?”
I spun slowly around my room then stopped at her.
“I feel like I’m forgetting something, but I think I’m ready.”
“Well, I’m working a few things paperwork wise in my room. If you need anything call out to me.”
“Will do.”
She waved at me and I wandered back to my desk. I turned my music on a little louder. I grabbed my marker and started to write my student names on each agenda book to place on their desks. Smiling I hummed to the music and my phone vibrated. I looked up then over to my phone. I chewed the inside of my cheek. I opened up the text message from Sawyer.

Hey Babe

I smiled.

Good morning. What you up to?

Just waking up still in bed

I glanced up at the clock, it was eleven thirty. I sipped some of my water.

How about you?

I totally told him last night that I was working. However, he didn’t have the best memory.

I’m at work but leaving in thirty minutes.

Great maybe we can hang after dinner tonight.

I smiled and I let out a sigh. I had to help cook dinner with my parents. He knew this.
That should be good, I can be ready around 7.

Great

I looked up at the clock. It was time to go. Grabbing my phone and water I draped my purse over my shoulder. Getting up I turned my lights off, taking one last glance at my room before leaving. As I headed down the hall I peeked into Vanyi’s room. She was picking up her purse.
“See you tomorrow!”
She grinned at me. “See you tomorrow! Try to get one last good night’s rest.”
I laughed and made my way down the hall. Other teachers were starting to file out. I signed out in the office and said my goodbyes to the women in the office. As I walked out I felt the warm sun on my face. I grabbed my sunglasses out of the side pocket of my purse. I smiled. I could live in this warm weather forever. I was half tempted to look at schools in another state just to have the better weather. I couldn’t bring myself to leave everyone though.
There sat the white car that got me through high school and college. I loved that car. My friends in high school had a couple road trips. A stain in the backseat from one of the times I babysat one of my cousins. When I got the car I said I would drive it into the ground, and I was eating my words. I figured once I was able to save enough money to get into a place of my own the next thing I would worry about was a new car. I just had to make sure my car lived that long.
Turning it on it took a couple turns to get it to chug on then rolled down my windows. I had a forty minute ride home. After college I was happy I got a job less than an hour away from home. Especially hearing my friends that had already graduated before me were talking about how hard it was to get a job. As I backed out I watched my coworkers stroll out of the school building in clusters. I backed up and pulled out of the parking lot. My fingers rolled and tapped the steering wheel as I drove. At the light a song from high school came on. I smiled and turned it up. The light turned green and I hit the gas.
I started to belt out the words real loud. At the next light I made eye contact with the driver next to me. He raised an eyebrow at me before slowly turned to face forward. My cheeks warmed and turned the music down a couple of notches. When the light turned green the guy sped ahead and I was happy a few feet away I was able to veer right and got onto the highway. As I sped up to merge into the light traffic. With one hand on the wheel I used the other to roll up my windows as the high speeds created the waves of sounds vibrating my eardrums.
I weaved in and out of traffic as I was ready to go home. To enjoy the last bit of freedom before the school year started. Not that I wasn’t excited for my first year of teaching. Only two exists to go and I shifted in the seat. I sped up a little faster and nearly squealed as I turned to get off the highway. Getting off the ramp the town that I had lived in my whole life surrounded me. One light and a few turns then I would be in the neighborhood that I grew up in. The rest of the way was done in a blur. A couple of kids were running through a sprinkler at the front of the neighborhood.
Waving I drove by them. One of the women down the street passed me as she was walking her Golden Retriever, but the dog was pulling and I wondered who was really walking who. My parents’ house was at the end of the cul-de-sac. Their house was in the middle at the circle almost welcoming everyone as my mom’s flowers popped against the brick front of their house. Parking off to the side of the driveway I turned it off. I grabbed my bag and got out. Walking up the driveway the bright sun poked through the tall trees. As I made my way up the sidewalk, passing my mom’s purple and blue hydreas bushes.
My key was already in my hand and I turned the lock to make my way in. the house was quiet. I kicked my shoes off and nudged them off to the side with my foot. Then I climbed the stairs, skipping a few as I went up. Once I was in my room my smile dimmed. There stood my laundry basket, clothes were piled nearly a foot above the room. I was wearing the last clean pair of panties. If it wasn’t my last pair there might be one left. I guess my last day of freedom was going to be done with adulating…yay laundry.
I sighed and turned to look at my dresser. I grabbed my hair tie. I twisted my dark brown hair until I had a bun on the top of my head. My once loose dark brown hair was now in a tower, a few strands poked out. With any luck my hair would be in nice loose curls for when I went to hang out with Sawyer tonight. Glancing in the mirror I thought I’d maybe touch up my make up too before I left, well once a time was actually in stone. I took my phone out of my bag before dropping the bag on the ground. My whole face scrunched, still nothing from him.
Tipping over my laundry bin I started to sort all the materials. There were three piles, whites, colors, and darks. I couldn’t afford to turn my whites pink. My luck would be meeting a parent after dying my whites pink, what parent would that would be professional? Shaking my head I picked up one of the piles and carried it down the stairs. Using my elbow I flipped open the washing machine then dumped the materials into the deep drum. Pouring in the detergent and fabric softener I knew that it was going to be a lame ending of my freedom.
Once the start button was pushed I went back up to my room to wait to switch the loads. When I was back in my room I plopped down on my bed and picked up my phone. I played around online for a bit then got bored. Finally I clicked on Kensi’s text message on my phone.

I’m bored, entertain me.

Grabbing the remote I turned on the TV and started flipping the channels hoping that something would be on during the day. Over the summer I watched my fair share of daytime TV. It was also kind of scary how easily trapped I got with the shows, mindless, but amusing. My phone went off and I saw Kensi’s name lighting up my screen.

Isn’t that my line?

I smiled and slouched against my headboard. I paused for a second and my fingertips started to tap on the screen keyboard.

How does it feel?

You don’t have my flair

I snickered. I didn’t and I wish I had.

Worth a shot. What are you up to?

Ready to pull out my hair, apartment shopping. Rent is crazy, I’m about to ask if they want some blood when we sign

I literally laughed out loud. The poor person showing her apartments.

You still want to rent then?

I’m starting to see why Reed suggested on buying a house…

I raised an eyebrow.

You want to buy a house now?

I didn’t say that and you’re not getting me to say that in writing

Smirking my stomach still dropped. Then I looked around my room. It had a couple posters of countries that I wanted to visit. There was Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Big Ben, Tagma hall, and castles in Scotland in addition to Germany. My sheets and curtains were still a lavender color that I picked when I was twelve. She was ready to move out with her boyfriend.

My luck would be he see that I texted you about a house and go buy one behind my back then hide a ring in there.

I chuckled when she responded to herself.

Would that be a bad thing?

That’s a lot all at once, I want to make sure we can travel together first without me shoving his corpse in a hotel garbage shoot

There’s something wrong with you if that’s where your mind goes

There’s a whole lot wrong with me, where do you want to start?

The washing machine dinged. Groaning I took my time getting up and rolled out of bed. Picking up the next pile I had to bend back down to grab a panty that had dropped. I could not wait to get my own place. Once in the laundry room I dropped the clothes in my arms onto the ground. Then I put the clothes into the dryer that were in the washing machine. After that I put the clothes into the washing machine. The rest of the afternoon I finished up the laundry then started dinner. My mom left out some easy chicken dish recipe that she had gotten from the neighbor and wanted to try.
I put everything together and had it in a pan in the oven when my dad came home first. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my laptop open. He had his computer bag draped over his shoulder. His glasses were perched on his nose. His once dark hair was starting to be sprinkled with salt. He turned around to face me as he came in through the garage.
“Hey, how was your day?” he asked as he placed his bag in the doorway of the kitchen.
He placed his hand on the wall as he kicked off his shoes into the living room.
“Good, I think I got everything ready for the first week.”
He nodded and walked over to the oven. He opened the door then closed it again. He wandered around the kitchen until he had a can of soda and sat at the table with me.
“It feels like not that long ago you were coming home from school and doing your homework at this very table. Now you’ll be the one assigning the homework.”
I smiled. “I know, it’s a little surreal. However, I can’t wait to meet the students that I’ll be working with for this year.”
He took a sip of his drink and put it down. The tier for dinner went off. He got up and pulled the pan out. That was when mom walked through the garage door. Her hair was tied back in a bun, a pencil was sticking out of the side of it.
“I have great timing,” she giggled.
She dumped her pile of papers onto the counter. The papers topped over and spread across the stone top. She pecked my dad on the cheek and went around him to grabbed four plates. I raised an eyebrow at her.
“Mom, we only need three.”
She looked down at the ceramic plates in her grasp. She shook her head.
“That’s right. A week later and I’m still grabbing a plate for your sister.”
“She’s only at school, she’s will come back.”
My mom put one plate back. Dad took the plates from her and dished out the food. I put my laptop on the counter and took a plate from them. The three of us sat at the table and started to eat.
“I hope that she is having a good dinner.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Audrey is at college, not in the slums.”
My mom huffed. I resisted from rolling my eyes.
“I just hope she’s eating a well-rounded meal.”
“She tried eating ice cream for dinner while she lived here, I can only imagine what she’s doing when you’re not around.”
My mom narrowed her eyes. “That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”
I took another bite of food.
“What’s your plan for tonight?” my dad questioned.
I shrugged. “Finish my laundry and take it from there. After all tomorrow is the first day of school.”
The rest of dinner was pretty quiet. Mom talked about her day at the office. Dad talked a little about the finance meeting he had after lunch. I finished and went upstairs to finish folding my laundry. Everything was folded and put away. The clock kept going on, but I didn’t get a text from Sawyer. I kept clicking my phone to see if I made a mistake and missed it. Finally it was time for bed. I sighed and crawled into bed. I guess he got caught up with something and couldn’t hangout after all. I pulled the sheets back and got comfortable. Tomorrow was going to be a brand new day.


My nerves were fully alert and my heart was pounding. I was pretty sure even though I put deodorant on when I left the house I needed to reapply. I took a deep breath. As I let it out slowly I shook my hands. My eyes scanned the room. I had everything done. I knew I was ready for these kids. The bell rang and I went to stand by my door. The hall was still empty. Then it started to fill up with elementary age students getting off the bus. Kids started to go into the other fourth grade classrooms. I felt like a kid again waiting to get picked for a team in gym.
Finally a little boy who was gripping the straps of his blue book bag walked up to me. He had dirty blond hair, olive skin, and dark eyes.
“Good morning,” I greeted him.
“If you say so.”
He went passed me and towards the room. His eyes went from desk to desk before he settled on one closer to the window. He unpacked his stuff, and put his bag into his cubie. More students started to file in. I shook each one hands. They all smiled at me. My eyes kept going back to the one on the other side of the room with his back turned to me.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Shhh limited time offer!

Why am I shushing you? You all should run not walk to your computer! If you use Amazon to read ebooks then you should know that Project US will FREE from May 20-24! You all are finding out before anymore else! I hope you all take advantage and enjoy!

Project US
Rachel is used to being in control of her emotions, never letting anyone get close to the real her. Nick is exactly the kind of guy Rachel has been trying to avoid getting involved with. Yet, when their school arranges a mysterious project that puts them together, they soon become trapped in a marriage that turns out to be real and legally binding, and they aren’t the only ones.

While their parents try to get four hundred students out of these marriages with legal help, the teenagers must live in a compound with their respective spouses for the duration of the project. Being trapped together leaves no room for denials. As Nick begins to fall for Rachel, she does everything in her power to avoid his charms and protect her heart. All she wants is to get out of the marriage, but does she truly want out, or is she only lying to herself?

https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B01376189A/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1526763876&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_FMwebp_QL65&keywords=ottilie+weber+us

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Excerpt of Serene by Diana Nixon

Good Morning!
I can't wait for summer. To sit outside and feel the sun on my skin all the while not feeling like it is short lived because I have to be doing something for work. The Shattered series is one of the series that I can't wait to get into with my free time. Meanwhile, the rest of you take a sneak peak and enjoy Diana Nixon's upcoming installment in her Shattered series.



SERENE
By Diana Nixon
Shattered Series, # 3
I used to think that my life was a picture of perfection. I had everything a twenty-five-year-old woman could wish for: a loving family, friends, a dream job and a fiancé who thought the world of me. 
Until the day I lost it all… Including my ability to see. 
The car accident took away not just my vision, but also a part of me that I was sure I would never be able to get back.
And then I met him… Stanley Burke. A kind of a man I thought didn’t exist anymore: understanding, loving, supportive and generally too good to be true.
Without effort, he breathed life into my frozen heart, making it beat faster than ever before. 
He became a light that my eyes would never see again. He made me feel things that were long lost and forgotten.
Only I couldn’t give him what he deserved.
Because in my pitch-dark world, there was no place for love… 
“I’ve never been so scared of losing someone in my entire life… Then again, I’ve never had anyone as important as you are to lose…”

PROLOGUE
2 years ago

“Emery Ryan, you are one hell of a sister. You know that, right?”
She laughed. “Love you too, Ivy. But this dress does make you look fat.”
“What on earth is wrong with you today?” I stared at my sister, not sure if her spitefulness was caused by the baby growing in her belly, or because of our grandma’s genes; the woman never missed her chance to show just how much of a pain in the neck she was, and Emery just had to be so much like her.

“Get pregnant and you will know the answer. Do you think it’s easy to be swollen, hungry day and night, cry over every stupid thing, feel like you want to have a nap right after you wake up, and, which is the worst of the worst, stay sober for nine freaking months?”
“Said a mother of two, expecting her third child.”
“I love my kids, but I swear, right after I see this sweet baby,” she caressed her belly gently, “I’m gonna throw a slumber party and drink all the Sambuca in the house. Speaking of which, I should probably text Mr. Ryan to stock the bar.” She took her phone and started typing a new text message to her husband, mumbling, “Only two more months to wait. I can do that, right?
I chuckled. “I still can’t believe Mike agreed to take your name. What the hell did you do to make him change his name?”
She puffed. “Me? Nothing. But he’s the best man in the world, right?”
I rolled my eyes and took off the dress that according to my sister, made me look too fat. Not that I agreed with her, but considering her state, arguing with her was a lost cause. Nothing that I was going to say was safe. Everything could and would be taken the wrong way. I had seen my sister pregnant, twice, and I knew exactly what it was like for everyone to be around her. She got easily offended by everything, and I mean everything, even if people were not talking to her directly. She just thought it was her duty to tell them off, and then start crying over her spilled juice or Cinderella losing her shoe in a cartoon.
“You would make the devil kiss the ground you walk,” I said. “But unlike Mike’s dad, who looked like his son just confessed he was a unicorn, I was not even a bit surprised when he said he was going to change his name.”
“Do you really believe I was going to say ‘yes’ to becoming Mrs. Dickmaster?”
“But his mother once did.”
“Poor woman. I can’t even begin to imagine what she must have felt when the priest asked her about the name she was going to take after the wedding.”
Giggling, I put on another dress and turned to Emery to hear what she thought about it.
- Jeez, Ivy, just put on jeans and a shirt and be done with it. You are going to a farm, not a prom.
- So what? I don’t want Kean’s parents to think I don’t respect them. Showing up in jeans to a pre-wedding dinner, even if it’s taking place on a farm, isn’t very classy.
- Whatever. Really. I’m giving you ten more minutes to decide about the outfit. And I, meantime, better go make myself a sandwich. The baby and I are starving. Do you have cheese in the fridge?
- Have no idea.
- Do you even know where the kitchen is?
- I do, but I don’t remember the last time I went there. You know how little time I spend at home.
I was working as a graphic designer for one of Washington PR companies. I always loved drawing and never let a pencil out of my hand. Whenever a new idea popped into my head, I put it on paper and gave it life. So, when the time to choose my future came, I didn’t hesitate even for a second. Graphics became my life.
I could spend days and nights in my office, working on a new project. Every small detail mattered: lines, colors, light, shades. So, if I didn’t like something, I would stay awake all night long and never once remember about food or rest until I’m satisfied with the result of my work. My coworkers called me a coffee maniac, because without coffee, I was like a walking zombie, grumpy and generally absent-minded. No one would be surprised to see me coming to work in my pj’s; they would immediately know that I was running out of coffee supply.
But today coffee was not what I was missing. I looked at the framed picture standing on my bedside table and smiled. Today I was going to see him…
Kean and I met about a year ago. He was looking for a PR company to help him promote his newly opened talent agency, and I was supposed to draw a few banners for him. Back then, I thought it was love at first sight. He asked me out and a couple of months later, I found a small velvet box with a beautiful ring in it, standing next to my laptop. We were supposed to get married in two days, and I felt like the happiest woman in the world, ready to start my new life, as Mrs. Kean Ross.
I looked at my reflection in the mirror and nodded approvingly. I decided on wearing light-blue pants and a creamy blouse with three-quarter sleeves. End of June in Washington this year was suffocating hot.
The farm where Kean’s parents lived was to the north of the city and even though he moved out of there right after high school graduation, he loved the place. His parents, Meggie and Sean didn’t argue when we decided to have the wedding ceremony in Washington, but as for the pre-wedding dinner location, it was one thing that couldn’t be changed. Meggie promised to cook her signature dishes and my mom said she would take care of the desserts. 
I hadn’t seen Kean for almost a week and missed him like hell. He was out to L.A. and I couldn’t wait to dive into his embrace again. The mere thought of it made my heart miss a beat.
“I’m ready to go,” I said, walking into the kitchen.
Emery was sitting on one of the barstools, with a giant sandwich in one hand and a spoon full of strawberry ice cream in her other hand. I was tempted to say something funny about her eating habits, but I wanted to live.
“What?” She asked with her mouth full of food. “The baby is just like his mother – never knows what he wants.”
“I see. Well, I hope both of you will be happy tonight. After all, family gatherings never happen without lots of food.”
She smiled and nodded. “You are right. It’s time to go.” She left her half-eaten sandwich on a plate and put the box of ice cream back into the fridge. Then she turned around and looked at me from head to toe. “Nice pants. Though I liked the first dress more.”
“But you said it made me look fat!”
“Did I? Never mind, you know how often I change my mind these days. Last night I woke up Mike in the middle of the night because I wanted a banana, and I wanted it now. He went to the store, and by the time he returned, I realized that I wanted a pineapple.”
“Poor Mike.”
“Poor me. The third pregnancy is killing me.”
“You were saying the same thing during the first and the second pregnancies too,” I said, following her out of the kitchen. “Don’t worry, Sis, no woman ever stayed pregnant forever.”
“Thank God.” She took a deep breath and sat on a chair in the hallway to put on her shoes. “I hope Kean’s flight will not be delayed, otherwise I’m gonna kill someone even before the dinner begins. You know how much I hate waiting. And waiting for you two to join in the ‘fun’ is hell on earth. Mom is going to lecture me on how to treat a newborn again, as if it’s the first time I’m gonna be a mother. And Meggie will no doubt start showing Kean’s childhood pictures. As if I haven’t heard yet how adorable her son was in his twos. I mean, what the hell happened to her adorable little boy?”
“He met my eldest sister.”
“Very funny, Ivy. We both know that Kean’s attitude has nothing to do with me.”
There was no love lost between my sister and my future husband. I didn’t get it, but every time they met something weird happened, as if someone pushed the ‘be a royal ass’ button and they started arguing over every small thing, even if their opinion about it was equal.
“Courage, Sis. The night is going to be awesome.”
She grimaced, took her car keys and kissed me on the cheek, saying, “Hope my navigator doesn’t break again, or I would get stuck in the middle of the road to only God knows where. What’s the name of the place again?” She took her phone to check on the map.
“It’s Blue Water Lake farm.”
“Right.” She found the needed map, studied it for a few silent moments, then nodded and said, “Ok, I’ll see you later, doll.”

As always, Dulles International Airport was overcrowded. People were coming and leaving, greeting and saying goodbye. The place looked like a noisy beehive, but it didn’t bother me. I loved airports, as well as traveling. The promise of new exotic places was always alluring. I loved flying, watching the change of the view beneath the plane, and the clouds surrounding it when it got really high in the sky. Somehow it made me feel like I was about to touch the heavens. Watching the planes taking off the ground and then leaving tracks in the sky, I always wondered about the people they were taking away from here and now. Who were they? What were they thinking? Did they have a fear of height?
But today, the only question I had in my head was, “How long exactly is it going to take Kean to show up?”
I waited patiently for him to go through a passport control and smiled from ear to ear when he waved at me, pushing through the crowd.
I moved forward, intending to meet him halfway, when suddenly I felt someone’s hand on my elbow.
“Sorry, Miss, you dropped this…”
My eyes looked at the stranger whose rich voice sounded like the most exciting music in the world. I had always harbored a soft spot for voices like his – that made you want to touch them, feel their softness on your skin, dive into their depth and stay there for at least a little while. I didn’t even look at what I must have dropped that made the man approach me, because I couldn’t take my eyes away from the deep hazel and honey stare that he graced me with. Somehow, it looked like a perfect addition to its owner’s voice, magnetic and intense. His eyes shone like a polished sunstone and hid a secret that I suddenly wanted revealed. It pulled me with its mystery that I somehow knew would open the door to a different world; the world I had never been to before.
The connection between us was barely a fraction of a second, but in that short period of time something inexplicable happened, as if we shared a very intimate bond the existence of which had been unknown until this very moment.
Then he broke the eye contact and cleared his throat, saying, “The hairclip. I thought it was yours.” The low rumble of his voice was like a lullaby that could take you to the universe where sound was power and make you do dangerous things. Where the hell did that thought come from, Ivy? I quickly lowered my eyes and only then did I look at the small thing that he was holding in one hand: a multicolored butterfly-shaped hairpin. It was a birthday gift from my grandma.
“It is mine. Thank you.”
The stranger smiled with the corners of his lips but didn’t rush with giving the lost thing back to me. He gave my hair a thoughtful look and said, “Liquid sunshine… Leave it like it is – long and loose.”
The way the words were said made my cheeks blush. It’s not like I was falling into the trap of his obvious attractiveness, but it was really hard to ignore it.
“Sweetheart, is everything all right?” Kean walked over to me and put one hand around my shoulders in a protective aka ‘she’s mine’ manner.
I swallowed hard. “Yes. I dropped my hairclip and this man found it.” Again, my eyes met those with a dazzling glow of brown with a seductive gold shade dancing around its edge. I wondered if those eyes got dim and dark when the man got angry or, well, excited...
“How very nice of him,” Kean snapped, breaking the intense silence.
The stranger must have heard something in my fiancé’s words that made his smile widen.
“Have a wonderful day, Miss,” he said, ignoring Kean’s presence. Giving me another thoughtful look, he turned around and started to walk away with a firm, confident tread. I breathed a sigh of relief. Somehow, his presence made my nerves go on high alert.
“Hey,” I turned to Kean and placed a soft kiss on his lips. “How was your flight?”
“Long and boring.”
I giggled, knowing how much he hated planes. “At least now that you are back, you can think about something more pleasant than long flights.”
His eyes were still focused on something behind me, or to be exact – on someone. I knew that look in his eyes. It was not the first time that I watched jealously boiling in them.
He took his time sending invisible daggers into the stranger’s back, then he finally looked at me, and said, “What were you saying?”
“Never mind. Our families are waiting for us on the farm. Shall we go?”
“Yeah, sure. Is your sister going to bless us with her priceless presence?”
“Of course. She wouldn’t have missed the dinner for the world.”
“I hope she leaves her attitude at home, at least for one dinner.”
“Only if you do the same.”
“Hardly possible. You know how much she loves driving me up the wall.”
“Ugh, why don’t you two give me a break? At least for one dinner?” We walked to the exit, Kean took my hand in his and I felt my body relaxed. “I love you guys, but sometimes you make me regret having a sister and a fiancé who hate each other to death.”
“Sorry, baby. I’ll try to avoid her as much as possible.”
I made a face. “There’s no need to avoid her. Just try to be more…patient with her. You know how sensitive she is now.”
“Fine. I’ll try my best.” He bent down and gave me a quick kiss. “Now tell me, are you ready to become Mrs. Ross?”
“I think I will need a little more time to get used to my new name.”
“I’m not taking yours, if this is what you are hinting at. My name it Kean, not Mike, remember?”
“I love your name, and I love you.”
He smiled with that familiar smile that always made me feel so helpless against him. “Love you too.”
We stopped at my car, I waited for Kean to put his suitcase in the trunk and then got into the passenger seat, letting him take the wheel.
He turned on the radio and we sped away from the airport, ready to face whatever our pre-wedding dinner was about to throw our way.
It had always been easy to be around Kean. I was sure he was my soulmate, always ready to support and appraise my new projects and never let me down. I had no doubt he would make a perfect husband for me. When with him, I always felt calm and secure.
I turned my head to the left and smiled at him, saying, “Can you believe the big moment is going to happen in two days?”
He smiled too. “I’ve been waiting for this moment to happen for months. I can’t wait to put a wedding band on your finder.”
“Sounds so very selfish, Mr. Ross.”
He took my hand in his and kissed the back of my palm, saying, “I want you to be mine forever.”
“Likewise.”
Our eyes stayed locked for no more than five seconds, but it was more than enough to miss the truck running straight at our car.
Distance was all that mattered.
Kean pushed the brake pedal and roughly turned to the right trying to avoid the crash, but the distance between the two cars was too short to finish the maneuver successfully.
The lights of the bright-red truck were blinding. I gasped and shut my eyes tight.
I prayed.
I barely had time to scream before the airbags pinned me to my seat. I felt like my lungs didn’t have enough room to take a breath.
Our car flipped over and then the hell started.
I don’t remember how much time passed before the car came to a complete stop. But when it happened, my bones and muscles felt like they had been locked in a tiny box.
Silence… It scared me even more than the pain I could so clearly feel all over my body. My consciousness was drifting in and out, which was not good. I tried to turn my head, probably trying to see if Kean was okay, but my neck hurt so bad, I felt tears running down my cheeks. The taste of blood and tears filled my mouth; the surroundings got too blurry to see anything.
I panicked.
I tried to move again, but it felt like my whole body was paralyzed. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see steam filling the inside of the car through the smashed windows. The smell of it was so intense, that I started coughing.
I tried to scream for help.
But no sound came out of my mouth.
Trapped in a steel prison, I was helpless. My vision kept switching from darkness to blinding light, as if everything happening around me wasn’t real; as if it was just a part of the game that I didn’t know how to play but kept hoping for victory.
But the victory turned out to be the biggest loss of my life…

CHAPTER ONE
Present Day
Stanley
I stared at the pool of water flooding my bathroom and cursed aloud. The shit was getting real...
Taking a phone out of my ankle-drenched pants, I called my secretary, who just happened to be my right hand, and asked her to send someone to my apartment and fix the damn pump. Dealing with my pissed-to-the-bone neighbors from downstairs was the last thing I needed right now.
I picked up a razor swimming by my feet and put it next to the washstand. I was running late for work, but I couldn’t let my apartment suffer the same misfortune as the Titanic.
The stream of water running from the broken pump just had to intensify. “Fucking great…”
I took one of the towels and tried to tuck it into a hole that looked like it was getting bigger with every passing second. The truth was I had no idea how to fix pumps, and even being a plastic surgeon and seeing blood and flesh on a daily basis, I freaked out every time something in my apartment broke. Not because I couldn't organize a fart in a baked bean factory, rather because I didn’t have time to fix it.
My new job in Washington, D.C. took most of my time. At times I felt like sending it all to hell and going back to Pittsburgh, where everything about my existence felt so much easier. Then I remembered about my dream to have a private plastic surgery clinic, put on glasses and gloves and smiled at the patient lying on the operating table, waiting for a surgical miracle to happen.
Just a few more days, I thought to myself. I needed to wait just a few more days to make my big dream come true.
About two years ago, an old friend of mine invited me to join in the team of surgeons in a hospital in Washington. I jumped at the opportunity, packed my bags, and left the city that had been my home for twenty-eight years.
To be honest, I still had trouble getting used to my new life. And the apartment I lived in wasn’t helping. Maybe it was just a stupid coincidence, but the place and misfortune were no doubt besties. The apartment was spacious and situated just a few blocks away from work, but luck clearly hated the place, and so did I. Every once in a while, another shit happened.
First, it was something small, like a hole burned in my shirt, ten minutes before leaving for work. I immediately remembered my sister’s words who once said that my wardrobe wouldn’t survive moving to Washington and away from Mom who always took care of everything and never once said that I was a big boy now and should have learnt how to use an iron. Instead, I made sure I had enough shirts for another lifetime or so.
Then it was an electric kettle breaking early in the morning and leaving me with no much-needed coffee. Needless to say, I forgot about the broken kettle right after I left the apartment, and the next ten mornings the story repeated. No amount of cursing would help me fix the damn thing. Finally, Emery, my secretary, realized that something was wrong with me. I barked in response to everything she was saying and never once cared to apologize. She bought two new kettles for me, because I couldn’t hold a scalpel in my hand and get shit done half asleep, or worse – pissed, or which was the worst of the worst – both half asleep and pissed.
Then, a few months later, when having a date with a sexy as hell brunette, my bed broke with a loud cracking sound just when I was about to come and, I swear, my tool had never experienced more shock. I was sure it would never work again, but thank God, my fears were not confirmed. I bought a new king-size bed and swore off bringing dates home.
But the real ‘fun’ started when my neighbors from downstairs decided to remodel their apartment. By day five I felt like jumping from the mere sound of a drill connecting with the wall. Earplugs didn’t help a damn thing. On the contrary – I didn’t hear my alarm clock going off and was like two hours late for work. That’s why I gave up fighting the noise and for another two weeks or so I woke up with the feeling that someone was trying to break into my apartment, because the fucking noise from downstairs was a real pain in the ass.
A new day didn’t promise any trouble, but knowing how much of a bitch my fate could be, anything was possible. And considering the amount of water on my bathroom floor, today was not my lucky day.
A loud knocking on the door interrupted my thoughts and I rushed to the hallway, hoping to see a locksmith standing behind the door. Then again, I remembered about my fate being a bitch…
“Mrs. Quin, what a pleasant surprise! What can I do for you?” I smiled as fucking politely as possible. But judging by my neighbor’s face, she didn’t give a shit about my good manners.
“Make sure you send me a check for my ruined bedroom walls.”
Apparently, the water leakage did a lot more harm than I expected.
“Do you even know how much time it took me to redecorate the room?
I snorted. “Oh, trust me, I can give you the exact number of hours you spent redecorating it. I counted every second of them.” I thought there was no point in trying to keep this conversation on a safe side anymore.
Her face turned red.
“I’ll send you a bill later today, Mr. Burke. Have a nice day.”
“You two, Mrs. Quin.” For a second, I thought to leave all the taps in the apartment open and let the water avenge the noisy hell I’d been living in for the past couple of weeks, but then my common sense stopped me. After all, I didn’t have another place to move to, not right now anyway, so I’d better pay the damn bill.
I shut the door behind my angry neighbor and signed. Too bad nice days felt like unwelcome guests at my life party.
I had to wait for almost thirty more minutes before the locksmith showed up and fixed the pump. I paid him for his work and asked for his phone number, just in case I have another water leakage in the place. Then I got dressed in a pair of jeans and a shirt and went to my about to be opened clinic.
The place was almost ready to see its first patient. Just a few more things needed to be done before next Monday’s grand opening party.
“Stanley, you really need to call your sister back,” Emery said, bringing me a cup of steaming coffee. The woman was a true gift from heaven. If she didn’t have a husband and three kids, I swear, I would marry her.
“I will. As soon as I’m done with my coffee.” I smiled and took the cup from the tray.
“You seem to be enjoying a short break before the big day.”
“I would have enjoyed it if bad luck gave me a break.”
“Speaking of bad luck… Mike’s parents are coming to visit us this weekend, so I will most likely need to stay at home to play a perfect wife game, God help me. Do you think you can handle finishing the last preparations before the opening day without me?”
“Sure,” I said as enthusiastically as possible.
“Right…” She gave me a doubtful look. “Anyway, I’ll keep in touch, so if anything urgent happens, call me, okay?”
I nodded in response. Emery and I both knew that without her, I was like a lost dog, sitting on the sidewalk and watching people passing by with my eyes full of unhidden misery. When in a surgery, I was a pro, but when it came to finding a pen in my own office, I was as hopeless as my attempts to learn how to use an iron.
Emery – on the contrary – knew everything about everything. Even the color of the flowers I sent my last date. Well, technically, she sent them, and I didn’t even bother to ask if those were roses or something else. Not that I didn’t care about the girl I truly enjoyed spending time with, but the patient on the operating table was going to bleed to death if I answered her call, so I asked Emery to send her flowers and a note with my apologies for ignoring her.
She waited patiently for me to finish my coffee, took the tray with the empty cup away and said, “Now, take a phone and call Crystal. She said if you don’t call her back within an hour, she will never call you her brother again.”
I smiled. It was so much like her.
I loved my little sister. I knew she would never waste her breath on blind threats and if she wanted to talk to me, I’d better find a moment to comply with her wish. No flowers would ever save my ass if I dared to ignore her.
For almost a year, she’d been happily married to one of my best friends, Liam. And I, in turn, couldn’t be happier for her. She deserved to be happy and considering Liam was the only man she ever wanted and needed in her life, I didn’t have a choice but to accept him as my brother-in-law. I dialed Crystal’s number and waited for her to pick up the phone.
“What’s up, man?” Liam said into the handset.
I looked at my phone, checking if the number I dialed was correct. “Where’s Crystal?” I asked worriedly. “Is she all right?” It didn’t matter how old she was, I never stopped worrying about her. Even the fact that she was a married woman now didn’t change how I felt about protecting her from all the evil in the world.
Liam chuckled. “Better than ever. Actually… We have some news for you.”
I heard Crystal saying something in the background.
“Good news I hope?”
“Wait, I’m switching to a speakerphone,” Liam said.
“We are having a baby!” My sister shouted.
“A what?”
“A baby, big brother, A BABY! An adorable little creature who, in most cases, makes a woman want to call you right after the labor is over, because she’s sure she would never be able to become slim again without surgical help.”
I knew how much she loved kids and how obsessed she was with the idea of having her own little troublemakers.
But…
“You knocked her up?” I asked, knowing that Liam could still hear me.
He laughed. “Crystal and I are married, remember? Isn’t it enough to get your permission to have a baby?”
“God, I think I need more time to get used to the idea of my little sister being married to someone I know so well.”
He laughed even harder. “I thought you were happy for us.”
“I am happy, guys. I’m just kidding.” No matter how much I knew about Liam’s past and his numerous love adventures, I knew he loved my sister too much to betray her trust.
“So I thought.”
“Do you know if it’s a girl or a boy?”
“Not yet,” Crystal said. “I’m having my first ultrasound in a week. Hope they tell me it’s a girl.”
“Hope they tell you it’s a boy,” Liam corrected. “I have no idea how to bring up girls.”
It was my turn to laugh. “Hope you get what you really deserve, man.”
“Hey, aren’t you supposed to play for my team?” He said, offended.
“Nope. In this particular case, I’m team Crystal.”
“Traitor.”
“Better tell me, are you guys coming to my clinic opening party? Oh, wait, is Crystal allowed to travel by plane?”
She spoke again, “I’m feeling great, and I would never miss watching your big dream come true. So, yes, we will be there on Monday. Elizabeth, Kameron and Jeff are coming too.” 
“Good. I’ve missed you all like hell.”
Liam spoke, “Just don’t tell me Washington is lacking pretty female patients dying to spend extra time with Dr. Stanley Burke.”
“No, but I’m missing my pack.”
“We miss you too, big brother,” Crystal said. “But on Monday night, we will rock your pitiful life, I promise you that.”
Smiling, I said, “Can’t wait.”
We talked for a few more minutes and then Emery said I needed to sign for another delivery, so I ended the call and got back to my duties.

Plastic Surgery Clinic of Stanley Burke had been my dream for as long as I could remember. I studied like crazy and worked my ass off to make it come true. And now, walking down the hall that led to my newly equipped surgery room, I couldn’t but admit that it was worth it.
Medicine was my life. I always knew who I wanted to be when growing up, and I never regretted my choice. It wasn’t just about making women’s tits bigger. It was more like creating a new piece of art. Each and every one of my patients mattered. I respected their decisions to change certain parts of their bodies, but never once did I agree to perform an operation simply because someone didn’t like the shape of their ears. I studied every case precisely, thinking about every small detail of the future operation and its result. I didn’t just want my patients to be happy with it, I wanted it to be perfect in every meaning of the word, look both good and as natural as possible.

The rest of the day was busy, but not eventful. Emery and I went through my schedule for the next week; there were a few operations that needed to be well planned. Then I met with the staff of my clinic and told them more about the opening day. There were about twenty people working for me now and I felt like a kindergartener, responsible for everything they were going to do while in the clinic. Some of them I knew from the hospital I worked in before opening my own clinic, others were complete strangers but with good recommendations. I hoped we would make a perfect team.
I was about to go home and order something delicious from my favorite Italian restaurant, when Emery showed up in my office.
“Do you have any plans for tonight?” She asked.
I shrugged. “Nothing interesting. Why?”
“I thought maybe I would give your stomach a break from ordered food and spoil you with something home-made. What do you say?”
“Uh, you know me so well. Do you really believe I can say ‘no’ to such a tempting invitation?”
She smiled. “I’ll call Mike and tell him to put one more plate on the table. The kids will be happy to see you.”
“Are they still angry at me for playing Santa for Christmas?”
Emery laughed. “Maybe just a little.”
“I should have thought twice before accepting your invitation.” The amount of work wouldn’t let me take even a few days off to visit my family in Pittsburgh, so I had to stay in Washington. Emery said there was no way I would spend Christmas Eve alone, so I ended up playing Santa at her place. At times I felt like I was her fourth child who couldn’t find a sock without her help. She was just a few years older than me, and technically couldn’t be my mom, but I appreciated her concern. Especially when it came to my food allowance.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You did a great job,” she said.
“Yeah, until Kelly pulled my fake beard and Paul and Jesse started crying, because my whole Santa thing was as fake as my beard.”
“Hope next time, you will do better.”
“Next time? God forbid. I swore off role games, remember?”
“No role games tonight, I promise.”
“Okay, then. I’m in.”
“Only one warning… My sister is staying with us for the weekend. And she’s… Well, never mind. I’m sure you two will get along well together.”
I didn’t know much about Emery’s sister. For some inexplicable reason, she didn’t like talking about her. Either because their relationship left much to be desired, or because there was something she wouldn’t tell me about her. The only thing that I knew about Ivy Ryan is that she loved drawing.
Emery and I arrived at her place around seven in the evening. She lived in a cottage in Petworth that reminded me of the neighborhood where my parents and I used to live before they moved to the lake house not far away from Pittsburgh, and me – to Washington. Crystal hated the idea of living alone in a big house, but Liam’s presence significantly improved her mood. Now both of them lived there.
“Hey, Doc,” Jesse – Emery’s eldest son said.
His mother gave him a disapproving look. “For you, he’s Mr. Burke.”
“Right, I forgot. Hey, Mr. Doc.”
I smiled and high-fived the kid. He was ten, but I swear, sometimes I felt like he could assist me during my operations, considering how many books he had read about different kinds of surgeries. His mother didn’t approve of his reading choices, thinking he was too young for medical books, but I told her to give him a break. When I was his age, I could spend hours sitting in a library, reading medical dictionaries and textbooks.
“Uncle Stan!” Kelly ran up to me and jumped into my open arms. Being a middle child, she thought no one ever paid any attention to what she was doing, because her parents were either too busy lecturing Jesse about his behavior – not that he ever listened to their lectures – or taking care of her little brother, Paul.
“Well, hello there, princess. How have you been doing?”
“I’ve made a lilac cake for you. Wanna see it?”
“Mmm, lilac cake? Sounds delicious.”
“I want a piece too,” Paul said. He was two and looked so much like his mother: with big blue eyes that contrasted with his dark-brown hair. Jesse and Kelly, on the contrary, took most of their features from their father. Their eyes were of a light shade of brown, combined with a bush of sandy hair.
“Give Stanley a break, kids,” Mike said, coming to greet me.
“It’s okay. I can handle them.”
Mike chuckled. “Good luck.”
Kelly spoke again, “I promised to give him a piece of my lilac cake.” I put her down, she took me by the hand and pulled me upstairs.
“Don’t eat too much lilac cake, Stan. Leave some space in your stomach for Emery’s lasagna,” Mike said. “I’ll go help her with the dinner.”
And so, Kelly got my full attention. Jesse and Paul stayed in the living room to watch a cartoon.
Kelly and I came to one of the bedrooms, and she told me to wait there while she ‘warms up’ the cake. I nodded and sat on a small couch near the window. She disappeared behind the door.
I looked around the room and saw a suitcase standing near the bed. I thought for a moment and realized that it must have been Ivy’s room where Kelly told me to wait for her.
I stood up and was about to leave the room, hoping its owner wouldn’t get angry for my unexpected ‘break in’, when the door to the bathroom opened and a girl in her late twenties walked into the bedroom. She walked to the mirror way too fast, and I didn’t get a chance to see her face. As if she didn’t notice my presence, she took a hairbrush and started combing her long dark-blond hair. Though I wasn’t sure about the color, her hair was still wet after the shower.
But it was her body that I couldn’t take my eyes off…
She was wearing a set of black lingerie that left so little for my imagination. I felt like all the air had been knocked out of my lungs. Around five feet and three inches, she wasn’t of Victoria’s Secret angels standards, but what I could see in front of me looked even better, with just enough curves in the right places to drive any sane man crazy. Drops of water glistened on her back and I suddenly wanted to come closer and swipe them with my palms, letting them rest on her ivory skin a little longer than needed. All the inappropriate thoughts started to flood my mind, taking me away from here and now, way too fast.
All of a sudden, she asked, “How old are you Dr. Burke?” She had a creamy voice that reminded me of a feather touching your skin with its softness. 
“Um… Thirty-one. Why?”
“Well, I’m sure a man your age has seen enough half-naked women not to stare at one of them as if it were the first time he saw nothing but lingerie to cover a woman’s body. And considering what you do for a living, lingerie rarely stands in your way to a good view.”
She was still with her back to me, and I didn’t see her face, but I knew that she was smiling at that moment. Too bad from where I was standing I couldn’t see her reflection in the mirror.
“How do you know my name?” I asked, still too stunned to think straight. My eyes took their time to run up her legs and then stopped at a perfectly shaped ass. I was not even a bit ashamed of staring at it so openly. After all, I was a plastic surgeon. I could always use my professional interest as an excuse.
“I didn’t need you to introduce yourself to know that it was you.” She put the hairbrush down and reached for the robe hanging on a nearby chair. She put it on and I immediately regretted the change of the view. “Your cologne,” she said, still facing the mirror. “I can feel its notes every time my sister comes back from work. Light and watery, with citrus accords and lime. I like the combination.”
“Are you a perfumer?”
“No. But I have a good sense of smell. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get changed for dinner.”
“Of course.” I gave her one more look and left the room, a bit disappointed to not see her face. But she was going to join us for dinner and I couldn’t wait for it to begin.


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SERENE
By Diana Nixon
Shattered Series, # 3
I used to think that my life was a picture of perfection. I had everything a twenty-five-year-old woman could wish for: a loving family, friends, a dream job and a fiancé who thought the world of me. 
Until the day I lost it all… Including my ability to see. 
The car accident took away not just my vision, but also a part of me that I was sure I would never be able to get back.
And then I met him… Stanley Burke. A kind of a man I thought didn’t exist anymore: understanding, loving, supportive and generally too good to be true.
Without effort, he breathed life into my frozen heart, making it beat faster than ever before. 
He became a light that my eyes would never see again. He made me feel things that were long lost and forgotten.
Only I couldn’t give him what he deserved.
Because in my pitch-dark world, there was no place for love… 
“I’ve never been so scared of losing someone in my entire life… Then again, I’ve never had anyone as important as you are to lose…”

PROLOGUE
2 years ago

“Emery Ryan, you are one hell of a sister. You know that, right?”
She laughed. “Love you too, Ivy. But this dress does make you look fat.”
“What on earth is wrong with you today?” I stared at my sister, not sure if her spitefulness was caused by the baby growing in her belly, or because of our grandma’s genes; the woman never missed her chance to show just how much of a pain in the neck she was, and Emery just had to be so much like her.
“Get pregnant and you will know the answer. Do you think it’s easy to be swollen, hungry day and night, cry over every stupid thing, feel like you want to have a nap right after you wake up, and, which is the worst of the worst, stay sober for nine freaking months?”
“Said a mother of two, expecting her third child.”
“I love my kids, but I swear, right after I see this sweet baby,” she caressed her belly gently, “I’m gonna throw a slumber party and drink all the Sambuca in the house. Speaking of which, I should probably text Mr. Ryan to stock the bar.” She took her phone and started typing a new text message to her husband, mumbling, “Only two more months to wait. I can do that, right?
I chuckled. “I still can’t believe Mike agreed to take your name. What the hell did you do to make him change his name?”
She puffed. “Me? Nothing. But he’s the best man in the world, right?”
I rolled my eyes and took off the dress that according to my sister, made me look too fat. Not that I agreed with her, but considering her state, arguing with her was a lost cause. Nothing that I was going to say was safe. Everything could and would be taken the wrong way. I had seen my sister pregnant, twice, and I knew exactly what it was like for everyone to be around her. She got easily offended by everything, and I mean everything, even if people were not talking to her directly. She just thought it was her duty to tell them off, and then start crying over her spilled juice or Cinderella losing her shoe in a cartoon.
“You would make the devil kiss the ground you walk,” I said. “But unlike Mike’s dad, who looked like his son just confessed he was a unicorn, I was not even a bit surprised when he said he was going to change his name.”
“Do you really believe I was going to say ‘yes’ to becoming Mrs. Dickmaster?”
“But his mother once did.”
“Poor woman. I can’t even begin to imagine what she must have felt when the priest asked her about the name she was going to take after the wedding.”
Giggling, I put on another dress and turned to Emery to hear what she thought about it.
- Jeez, Ivy, just put on jeans and a shirt and be done with it. You are going to a farm, not a prom.
- So what? I don’t want Kean’s parents to think I don’t respect them. Showing up in jeans to a pre-wedding dinner, even if it’s taking place on a farm, isn’t very classy.
- Whatever. Really. I’m giving you ten more minutes to decide about the outfit. And I, meantime, better go make myself a sandwich. The baby and I are starving. Do you have cheese in the fridge?
- Have no idea.
- Do you even know where the kitchen is?
- I do, but I don’t remember the last time I went there. You know how little time I spend at home.
I was working as a graphic designer for one of Washington PR companies. I always loved drawing and never let a pencil out of my hand. Whenever a new idea popped into my head, I put it on paper and gave it life. So, when the time to choose my future came, I didn’t hesitate even for a second. Graphics became my life.
I could spend days and nights in my office, working on a new project. Every small detail mattered: lines, colors, light, shades. So, if I didn’t like something, I would stay awake all night long and never once remember about food or rest until I’m satisfied with the result of my work. My coworkers called me a coffee maniac, because without coffee, I was like a walking zombie, grumpy and generally absent-minded. No one would be surprised to see me coming to work in my pj’s; they would immediately know that I was running out of coffee supply.
But today coffee was not what I was missing. I looked at the framed picture standing on my bedside table and smiled. Today I was going to see him…
Kean and I met about a year ago. He was looking for a PR company to help him promote his newly opened talent agency, and I was supposed to draw a few banners for him. Back then, I thought it was love at first sight. He asked me out and a couple of months later, I found a small velvet box with a beautiful ring in it, standing next to my laptop. We were supposed to get married in two days, and I felt like the happiest woman in the world, ready to start my new life, as Mrs. Kean Ross.
I looked at my reflection in the mirror and nodded approvingly. I decided on wearing light-blue pants and a creamy blouse with three-quarter sleeves. End of June in Washington this year was suffocating hot.
The farm where Kean’s parents lived was to the north of the city and even though he moved out of there right after high school graduation, he loved the place. His parents, Meggie and Sean didn’t argue when we decided to have the wedding ceremony in Washington, but as for the pre-wedding dinner location, it was one thing that couldn’t be changed. Meggie promised to cook her signature dishes and my mom said she would take care of the desserts. 
I hadn’t seen Kean for almost a week and missed him like hell. He was out to L.A. and I couldn’t wait to dive into his embrace again. The mere thought of it made my heart miss a beat.
“I’m ready to go,” I said, walking into the kitchen.
Emery was sitting on one of the barstools, with a giant sandwich in one hand and a spoon full of strawberry ice cream in her other hand. I was tempted to say something funny about her eating habits, but I wanted to live.
“What?” She asked with her mouth full of food. “The baby is just like his mother – never knows what he wants.”
“I see. Well, I hope both of you will be happy tonight. After all, family gatherings never happen without lots of food.”
She smiled and nodded. “You are right. It’s time to go.” She left her half-eaten sandwich on a plate and put the box of ice cream back into the fridge. Then she turned around and looked at me from head to toe. “Nice pants. Though I liked the first dress more.”
“But you said it made me look fat!”
“Did I? Never mind, you know how often I change my mind these days. Last night I woke up Mike in the middle of the night because I wanted a banana, and I wanted it now. He went to the store, and by the time he returned, I realized that I wanted a pineapple.”
“Poor Mike.”
“Poor me. The third pregnancy is killing me.”
“You were saying the same thing during the first and the second pregnancies too,” I said, following her out of the kitchen. “Don’t worry, Sis, no woman ever stayed pregnant forever.”
“Thank God.” She took a deep breath and sat on a chair in the hallway to put on her shoes. “I hope Kean’s flight will not be delayed, otherwise I’m gonna kill someone even before the dinner begins. You know how much I hate waiting. And waiting for you two to join in the ‘fun’ is hell on earth. Mom is going to lecture me on how to treat a newborn again, as if it’s the first time I’m gonna be a mother. And Meggie will no doubt start showing Kean’s childhood pictures. As if I haven’t heard yet how adorable her son was in his twos. I mean, what the hell happened to her adorable little boy?”
“He met my eldest sister.”
“Very funny, Ivy. We both know that Kean’s attitude has nothing to do with me.”
There was no love lost between my sister and my future husband. I didn’t get it, but every time they met something weird happened, as if someone pushed the ‘be a royal ass’ button and they started arguing over every small thing, even if their opinion about it was equal.
“Courage, Sis. The night is going to be awesome.”
She grimaced, took her car keys and kissed me on the cheek, saying, “Hope my navigator doesn’t break again, or I would get stuck in the middle of the road to only God knows where. What’s the name of the place again?” She took her phone to check on the map.
“It’s Blue Water Lake farm.”
“Right.” She found the needed map, studied it for a few silent moments, then nodded and said, “Ok, I’ll see you later, doll.”

As always, Dulles International Airport was overcrowded. People were coming and leaving, greeting and saying goodbye. The place looked like a noisy beehive, but it didn’t bother me. I loved airports, as well as traveling. The promise of new exotic places was always alluring. I loved flying, watching the change of the view beneath the plane, and the clouds surrounding it when it got really high in the sky. Somehow it made me feel like I was about to touch the heavens. Watching the planes taking off the ground and then leaving tracks in the sky, I always wondered about the people they were taking away from here and now. Who were they? What were they thinking? Did they have a fear of height?
But today, the only question I had in my head was, “How long exactly is it going to take Kean to show up?”
I waited patiently for him to go through a passport control and smiled from ear to ear when he waved at me, pushing through the crowd.
I moved forward, intending to meet him halfway, when suddenly I felt someone’s hand on my elbow.
“Sorry, Miss, you dropped this…”
My eyes looked at the stranger whose rich voice sounded like the most exciting music in the world. I had always harbored a soft spot for voices like his – that made you want to touch them, feel their softness on your skin, dive into their depth and stay there for at least a little while. I didn’t even look at what I must have dropped that made the man approach me, because I couldn’t take my eyes away from the deep hazel and honey stare that he graced me with. Somehow, it looked like a perfect addition to its owner’s voice, magnetic and intense. His eyes shone like a polished sunstone and hid a secret that I suddenly wanted revealed. It pulled me with its mystery that I somehow knew would open the door to a different world; the world I had never been to before.
The connection between us was barely a fraction of a second, but in that short period of time something inexplicable happened, as if we shared a very intimate bond the existence of which had been unknown until this very moment.
Then he broke the eye contact and cleared his throat, saying, “The hairclip. I thought it was yours.” The low rumble of his voice was like a lullaby that could take you to the universe where sound was power and make you do dangerous things. Where the hell did that thought come from, Ivy? I quickly lowered my eyes and only then did I look at the small thing that he was holding in one hand: a multicolored butterfly-shaped hairpin. It was a birthday gift from my grandma.
“It is mine. Thank you.”
The stranger smiled with the corners of his lips but didn’t rush with giving the lost thing back to me. He gave my hair a thoughtful look and said, “Liquid sunshine… Leave it like it is – long and loose.”
The way the words were said made my cheeks blush. It’s not like I was falling into the trap of his obvious attractiveness, but it was really hard to ignore it.
“Sweetheart, is everything all right?” Kean walked over to me and put one hand around my shoulders in a protective aka ‘she’s mine’ manner.
I swallowed hard. “Yes. I dropped my hairclip and this man found it.” Again, my eyes met those with a dazzling glow of brown with a seductive gold shade dancing around its edge. I wondered if those eyes got dim and dark when the man got angry or, well, excited...
“How very nice of him,” Kean snapped, breaking the intense silence.
The stranger must have heard something in my fiancé’s words that made his smile widen.
“Have a wonderful day, Miss,” he said, ignoring Kean’s presence. Giving me another thoughtful look, he turned around and started to walk away with a firm, confident tread. I breathed a sigh of relief. Somehow, his presence made my nerves go on high alert.
“Hey,” I turned to Kean and placed a soft kiss on his lips. “How was your flight?”
“Long and boring.”
I giggled, knowing how much he hated planes. “At least now that you are back, you can think about something more pleasant than long flights.”
His eyes were still focused on something behind me, or to be exact – on someone. I knew that look in his eyes. It was not the first time that I watched jealously boiling in them.
He took his time sending invisible daggers into the stranger’s back, then he finally looked at me, and said, “What were you saying?”
“Never mind. Our families are waiting for us on the farm. Shall we go?”
“Yeah, sure. Is your sister going to bless us with her priceless presence?”
“Of course. She wouldn’t have missed the dinner for the world.”
“I hope she leaves her attitude at home, at least for one dinner.”
“Only if you do the same.”
“Hardly possible. You know how much she loves driving me up the wall.”
“Ugh, why don’t you two give me a break? At least for one dinner?” We walked to the exit, Kean took my hand in his and I felt my body relaxed. “I love you guys, but sometimes you make me regret having a sister and a fiancé who hate each other to death.”
“Sorry, baby. I’ll try to avoid her as much as possible.”
I made a face. “There’s no need to avoid her. Just try to be more…patient with her. You know how sensitive she is now.”
“Fine. I’ll try my best.” He bent down and gave me a quick kiss. “Now tell me, are you ready to become Mrs. Ross?”
“I think I will need a little more time to get used to my new name.”
“I’m not taking yours, if this is what you are hinting at. My name it Kean, not Mike, remember?”
“I love your name, and I love you.”
He smiled with that familiar smile that always made me feel so helpless against him. “Love you too.”
We stopped at my car, I waited for Kean to put his suitcase in the trunk and then got into the passenger seat, letting him take the wheel.
He turned on the radio and we sped away from the airport, ready to face whatever our pre-wedding dinner was about to throw our way.
It had always been easy to be around Kean. I was sure he was my soulmate, always ready to support and appraise my new projects and never let me down. I had no doubt he would make a perfect husband for me. When with him, I always felt calm and secure.
I turned my head to the left and smiled at him, saying, “Can you believe the big moment is going to happen in two days?”
He smiled too. “I’ve been waiting for this moment to happen for months. I can’t wait to put a wedding band on your finder.”
“Sounds so very selfish, Mr. Ross.”
He took my hand in his and kissed the back of my palm, saying, “I want you to be mine forever.”
“Likewise.”
Our eyes stayed locked for no more than five seconds, but it was more than enough to miss the truck running straight at our car.
Distance was all that mattered.
Kean pushed the brake pedal and roughly turned to the right trying to avoid the crash, but the distance between the two cars was too short to finish the maneuver successfully.
The lights of the bright-red truck were blinding. I gasped and shut my eyes tight.
I prayed.
I barely had time to scream before the airbags pinned me to my seat. I felt like my lungs didn’t have enough room to take a breath.
Our car flipped over and then the hell started.
I don’t remember how much time passed before the car came to a complete stop. But when it happened, my bones and muscles felt like they had been locked in a tiny box.
Silence… It scared me even more than the pain I could so clearly feel all over my body. My consciousness was drifting in and out, which was not good. I tried to turn my head, probably trying to see if Kean was okay, but my neck hurt so bad, I felt tears running down my cheeks. The taste of blood and tears filled my mouth; the surroundings got too blurry to see anything.
I panicked.
I tried to move again, but it felt like my whole body was paralyzed. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see steam filling the inside of the car through the smashed windows. The smell of it was so intense, that I started coughing.
I tried to scream for help.
But no sound came out of my mouth.
Trapped in a steel prison, I was helpless. My vision kept switching from darkness to blinding light, as if everything happening around me wasn’t real; as if it was just a part of the game that I didn’t know how to play but kept hoping for victory.
But the victory turned out to be the biggest loss of my life…

CHAPTER ONE
Present Day
Stanley
I stared at the pool of water flooding my bathroom and cursed aloud. The shit was getting real...
Taking a phone out of my ankle-drenched pants, I called my secretary, who just happened to be my right hand, and asked her to send someone to my apartment and fix the damn pump. Dealing with my pissed-to-the-bone neighbors from downstairs was the last thing I needed right now.
I picked up a razor swimming by my feet and put it next to the washstand. I was running late for work, but I couldn’t let my apartment suffer the same misfortune as the Titanic.
The stream of water running from the broken pump just had to intensify. “Fucking great…”
I took one of the towels and tried to tuck it into a hole that looked like it was getting bigger with every passing second. The truth was I had no idea how to fix pumps, and even being a plastic surgeon and seeing blood and flesh on a daily basis, I freaked out every time something in my apartment broke. Not because I couldn't organize a fart in a baked bean factory, rather because I didn’t have time to fix it.
My new job in Washington, D.C. took most of my time. At times I felt like sending it all to hell and going back to Pittsburgh, where everything about my existence felt so much easier. Then I remembered about my dream to have a private plastic surgery clinic, put on glasses and gloves and smiled at the patient lying on the operating table, waiting for a surgical miracle to happen.
Just a few more days, I thought to myself. I needed to wait just a few more days to make my big dream come true.
About two years ago, an old friend of mine invited me to join in the team of surgeons in a hospital in Washington. I jumped at the opportunity, packed my bags, and left the city that had been my home for twenty-eight years.
To be honest, I still had trouble getting used to my new life. And the apartment I lived in wasn’t helping. Maybe it was just a stupid coincidence, but the place and misfortune were no doubt besties. The apartment was spacious and situated just a few blocks away from work, but luck clearly hated the place, and so did I. Every once in a while, another shit happened.
First, it was something small, like a hole burned in my shirt, ten minutes before leaving for work. I immediately remembered my sister’s words who once said that my wardrobe wouldn’t survive moving to Washington and away from Mom who always took care of everything and never once said that I was a big boy now and should have learnt how to use an iron. Instead, I made sure I had enough shirts for another lifetime or so.
Then it was an electric kettle breaking early in the morning and leaving me with no much-needed coffee. Needless to say, I forgot about the broken kettle right after I left the apartment, and the next ten mornings the story repeated. No amount of cursing would help me fix the damn thing. Finally, Emery, my secretary, realized that something was wrong with me. I barked in response to everything she was saying and never once cared to apologize. She bought two new kettles for me, because I couldn’t hold a scalpel in my hand and get shit done half asleep, or worse – pissed, or which was the worst of the worst – both half asleep and pissed.
Then, a few months later, when having a date with a sexy as hell brunette, my bed broke with a loud cracking sound just when I was about to come and, I swear, my tool had never experienced more shock. I was sure it would never work again, but thank God, my fears were not confirmed. I bought a new king-size bed and swore off bringing dates home.
But the real ‘fun’ started when my neighbors from downstairs decided to remodel their apartment. By day five I felt like jumping from the mere sound of a drill connecting with the wall. Earplugs didn’t help a damn thing. On the contrary – I didn’t hear my alarm clock going off and was like two hours late for work. That’s why I gave up fighting the noise and for another two weeks or so I woke up with the feeling that someone was trying to break into my apartment, because the fucking noise from downstairs was a real pain in the ass.
A new day didn’t promise any trouble, but knowing how much of a bitch my fate could be, anything was possible. And considering the amount of water on my bathroom floor, today was not my lucky day.
A loud knocking on the door interrupted my thoughts and I rushed to the hallway, hoping to see a locksmith standing behind the door. Then again, I remembered about my fate being a bitch…
“Mrs. Quin, what a pleasant surprise! What can I do for you?” I smiled as fucking politely as possible. But judging by my neighbor’s face, she didn’t give a shit about my good manners.
“Make sure you send me a check for my ruined bedroom walls.”
Apparently, the water leakage did a lot more harm than I expected.
“Do you even know how much time it took me to redecorate the room?
I snorted. “Oh, trust me, I can give you the exact number of hours you spent redecorating it. I counted every second of them.” I thought there was no point in trying to keep this conversation on a safe side anymore.
Her face turned red.
“I’ll send you a bill later today, Mr. Burke. Have a nice day.”
“You two, Mrs. Quin.” For a second, I thought to leave all the taps in the apartment open and let the water avenge the noisy hell I’d been living in for the past couple of weeks, but then my common sense stopped me. After all, I didn’t have another place to move to, not right now anyway, so I’d better pay the damn bill.
I shut the door behind my angry neighbor and signed. Too bad nice days felt like unwelcome guests at my life party.
I had to wait for almost thirty more minutes before the locksmith showed up and fixed the pump. I paid him for his work and asked for his phone number, just in case I have another water leakage in the place. Then I got dressed in a pair of jeans and a shirt and went to my about to be opened clinic.
The place was almost ready to see its first patient. Just a few more things needed to be done before next Monday’s grand opening party.
“Stanley, you really need to call your sister back,” Emery said, bringing me a cup of steaming coffee. The woman was a true gift from heaven. If she didn’t have a husband and three kids, I swear, I would marry her.
“I will. As soon as I’m done with my coffee.” I smiled and took the cup from the tray.
“You seem to be enjoying a short break before the big day.”
“I would have enjoyed it if bad luck gave me a break.”
“Speaking of bad luck… Mike’s parents are coming to visit us this weekend, so I will most likely need to stay at home to play a perfect wife game, God help me. Do you think you can handle finishing the last preparations before the opening day without me?”
“Sure,” I said as enthusiastically as possible.
“Right…” She gave me a doubtful look. “Anyway, I’ll keep in touch, so if anything urgent happens, call me, okay?”
I nodded in response. Emery and I both knew that without her, I was like a lost dog, sitting on the sidewalk and watching people passing by with my eyes full of unhidden misery. When in a surgery, I was a pro, but when it came to finding a pen in my own office, I was as hopeless as my attempts to learn how to use an iron.
Emery – on the contrary – knew everything about everything. Even the color of the flowers I sent my last date. Well, technically, she sent them, and I didn’t even bother to ask if those were roses or something else. Not that I didn’t care about the girl I truly enjoyed spending time with, but the patient on the operating table was going to bleed to death if I answered her call, so I asked Emery to send her flowers and a note with my apologies for ignoring her.
She waited patiently for me to finish my coffee, took the tray with the empty cup away and said, “Now, take a phone and call Crystal. She said if you don’t call her back within an hour, she will never call you her brother again.”
I smiled. It was so much like her.
I loved my little sister. I knew she would never waste her breath on blind threats and if she wanted to talk to me, I’d better find a moment to comply with her wish. No flowers would ever save my ass if I dared to ignore her.
For almost a year, she’d been happily married to one of my best friends, Liam. And I, in turn, couldn’t be happier for her. She deserved to be happy and considering Liam was the only man she ever wanted and needed in her life, I didn’t have a choice but to accept him as my brother-in-law. I dialed Crystal’s number and waited for her to pick up the phone.
“What’s up, man?” Liam said into the handset.
I looked at my phone, checking if the number I dialed was correct. “Where’s Crystal?” I asked worriedly. “Is she all right?” It didn’t matter how old she was, I never stopped worrying about her. Even the fact that she was a married woman now didn’t change how I felt about protecting her from all the evil in the world.
Liam chuckled. “Better than ever. Actually… We have some news for you.”
I heard Crystal saying something in the background.
“Good news I hope?”
“Wait, I’m switching to a speakerphone,” Liam said.
“We are having a baby!” My sister shouted.
“A what?”
“A baby, big brother, A BABY! An adorable little creature who, in most cases, makes a woman want to call you right after the labor is over, because she’s sure she would never be able to become slim again without surgical help.”
I knew how much she loved kids and how obsessed she was with the idea of having her own little troublemakers.
But…
“You knocked her up?” I asked, knowing that Liam could still hear me.
He laughed. “Crystal and I are married, remember? Isn’t it enough to get your permission to have a baby?”
“God, I think I need more time to get used to the idea of my little sister being married to someone I know so well.”
He laughed even harder. “I thought you were happy for us.”
“I am happy, guys. I’m just kidding.” No matter how much I knew about Liam’s past and his numerous love adventures, I knew he loved my sister too much to betray her trust.
“So I thought.”
“Do you know if it’s a girl or a boy?”
“Not yet,” Crystal said. “I’m having my first ultrasound in a week. Hope they tell me it’s a girl.”
“Hope they tell you it’s a boy,” Liam corrected. “I have no idea how to bring up girls.”
It was my turn to laugh. “Hope you get what you really deserve, man.”
“Hey, aren’t you supposed to play for my team?” He said, offended.
“Nope. In this particular case, I’m team Crystal.”
“Traitor.”
“Better tell me, are you guys coming to my clinic opening party? Oh, wait, is Crystal allowed to travel by plane?”
She spoke again, “I’m feeling great, and I would never miss watching your big dream come true. So, yes, we will be there on Monday. Elizabeth, Kameron and Jeff are coming too.” 
“Good. I’ve missed you all like hell.”
Liam spoke, “Just don’t tell me Washington is lacking pretty female patients dying to spend extra time with Dr. Stanley Burke.”
“No, but I’m missing my pack.”
“We miss you too, big brother,” Crystal said. “But on Monday night, we will rock your pitiful life, I promise you that.”
Smiling, I said, “Can’t wait.”
We talked for a few more minutes and then Emery said I needed to sign for another delivery, so I ended the call and got back to my duties.

Plastic Surgery Clinic of Stanley Burke had been my dream for as long as I could remember. I studied like crazy and worked my ass off to make it come true. And now, walking down the hall that led to my newly equipped surgery room, I couldn’t but admit that it was worth it.
Medicine was my life. I always knew who I wanted to be when growing up, and I never regretted my choice. It wasn’t just about making women’s tits bigger. It was more like creating a new piece of art. Each and every one of my patients mattered. I respected their decisions to change certain parts of their bodies, but never once did I agree to perform an operation simply because someone didn’t like the shape of their ears. I studied every case precisely, thinking about every small detail of the future operation and its result. I didn’t just want my patients to be happy with it, I wanted it to be perfect in every meaning of the word, look both good and as natural as possible.

The rest of the day was busy, but not eventful. Emery and I went through my schedule for the next week; there were a few operations that needed to be well planned. Then I met with the staff of my clinic and told them more about the opening day. There were about twenty people working for me now and I felt like a kindergartener, responsible for everything they were going to do while in the clinic. Some of them I knew from the hospital I worked in before opening my own clinic, others were complete strangers but with good recommendations. I hoped we would make a perfect team.
I was about to go home and order something delicious from my favorite Italian restaurant, when Emery showed up in my office.
“Do you have any plans for tonight?” She asked.
I shrugged. “Nothing interesting. Why?”
“I thought maybe I would give your stomach a break from ordered food and spoil you with something home-made. What do you say?”
“Uh, you know me so well. Do you really believe I can say ‘no’ to such a tempting invitation?”
She smiled. “I’ll call Mike and tell him to put one more plate on the table. The kids will be happy to see you.”
“Are they still angry at me for playing Santa for Christmas?”
Emery laughed. “Maybe just a little.”
“I should have thought twice before accepting your invitation.” The amount of work wouldn’t let me take even a few days off to visit my family in Pittsburgh, so I had to stay in Washington. Emery said there was no way I would spend Christmas Eve alone, so I ended up playing Santa at her place. At times I felt like I was her fourth child who couldn’t find a sock without her help. She was just a few years older than me, and technically couldn’t be my mom, but I appreciated her concern. Especially when it came to my food allowance.
“Don’t be ridiculous. You did a great job,” she said.
“Yeah, until Kelly pulled my fake beard and Paul and Jesse started crying, because my whole Santa thing was as fake as my beard.”
“Hope next time, you will do better.”
“Next time? God forbid. I swore off role games, remember?”
“No role games tonight, I promise.”
“Okay, then. I’m in.”
“Only one warning… My sister is staying with us for the weekend. And she’s… Well, never mind. I’m sure you two will get along well together.”
I didn’t know much about Emery’s sister. For some inexplicable reason, she didn’t like talking about her. Either because their relationship left much to be desired, or because there was something she wouldn’t tell me about her. The only thing that I knew about Ivy Ryan is that she loved drawing.
Emery and I arrived at her place around seven in the evening. She lived in a cottage in Petworth that reminded me of the neighborhood where my parents and I used to live before they moved to the lake house not far away from Pittsburgh, and me – to Washington. Crystal hated the idea of living alone in a big house, but Liam’s presence significantly improved her mood. Now both of them lived there.
“Hey, Doc,” Jesse – Emery’s eldest son said.
His mother gave him a disapproving look. “For you, he’s Mr. Burke.”
“Right, I forgot. Hey, Mr. Doc.”
I smiled and high-fived the kid. He was ten, but I swear, sometimes I felt like he could assist me during my operations, considering how many books he had read about different kinds of surgeries. His mother didn’t approve of his reading choices, thinking he was too young for medical books, but I told her to give him a break. When I was his age, I could spend hours sitting in a library, reading medical dictionaries and textbooks.
“Uncle Stan!” Kelly ran up to me and jumped into my open arms. Being a middle child, she thought no one ever paid any attention to what she was doing, because her parents were either too busy lecturing Jesse about his behavior – not that he ever listened to their lectures – or taking care of her little brother, Paul.
“Well, hello there, princess. How have you been doing?”
“I’ve made a lilac cake for you. Wanna see it?”
“Mmm, lilac cake? Sounds delicious.”
“I want a piece too,” Paul said. He was two and looked so much like his mother: with big blue eyes that contrasted with his dark-brown hair. Jesse and Kelly, on the contrary, took most of their features from their father. Their eyes were of a light shade of brown, combined with a bush of sandy hair.
“Give Stanley a break, kids,” Mike said, coming to greet me.
“It’s okay. I can handle them.”
Mike chuckled. “Good luck.”
Kelly spoke again, “I promised to give him a piece of my lilac cake.” I put her down, she took me by the hand and pulled me upstairs.
“Don’t eat too much lilac cake, Stan. Leave some space in your stomach for Emery’s lasagna,” Mike said. “I’ll go help her with the dinner.”
And so, Kelly got my full attention. Jesse and Paul stayed in the living room to watch a cartoon.
Kelly and I came to one of the bedrooms, and she told me to wait there while she ‘warms up’ the cake. I nodded and sat on a small couch near the window. She disappeared behind the door.
I looked around the room and saw a suitcase standing near the bed. I thought for a moment and realized that it must have been Ivy’s room where Kelly told me to wait for her.
I stood up and was about to leave the room, hoping its owner wouldn’t get angry for my unexpected ‘break in’, when the door to the bathroom opened and a girl in her late twenties walked into the bedroom. She walked to the mirror way too fast, and I didn’t get a chance to see her face. As if she didn’t notice my presence, she took a hairbrush and started combing her long dark-blond hair. Though I wasn’t sure about the color, her hair was still wet after the shower.
But it was her body that I couldn’t take my eyes off…
She was wearing a set of black lingerie that left so little for my imagination. I felt like all the air had been knocked out of my lungs. Around five feet and three inches, she wasn’t of Victoria’s Secret angels standards, but what I could see in front of me looked even better, with just enough curves in the right places to drive any sane man crazy. Drops of water glistened on her back and I suddenly wanted to come closer and swipe them with my palms, letting them rest on her ivory skin a little longer than needed. All the inappropriate thoughts started to flood my mind, taking me away from here and now, way too fast.
All of a sudden, she asked, “How old are you Dr. Burke?” She had a creamy voice that reminded me of a feather touching your skin with its softness. 
“Um… Thirty-one. Why?”
“Well, I’m sure a man your age has seen enough half-naked women not to stare at one of them as if it were the first time he saw nothing but lingerie to cover a woman’s body. And considering what you do for a living, lingerie rarely stands in your way to a good view.”
She was still with her back to me, and I didn’t see her face, but I knew that she was smiling at that moment. Too bad from where I was standing I couldn’t see her reflection in the mirror.
“How do you know my name?” I asked, still too stunned to think straight. My eyes took their time to run up her legs and then stopped at a perfectly shaped ass. I was not even a bit ashamed of staring at it so openly. After all, I was a plastic surgeon. I could always use my professional interest as an excuse.
“I didn’t need you to introduce yourself to know that it was you.” She put the hairbrush down and reached for the robe hanging on a nearby chair. She put it on and I immediately regretted the change of the view. “Your cologne,” she said, still facing the mirror. “I can feel its notes every time my sister comes back from work. Light and watery, with citrus accords and lime. I like the combination.”
“Are you a perfumer?”
“No. But I have a good sense of smell. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get changed for dinner.”
“Of course.” I gave her one more look and left the room, a bit disappointed to not see her face. But she was going to join us for dinner and I couldn’t wait for it to begin.





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