An action adventure contemporary romance Love, Artifacts, and You by Sarah Ready
My latest action adventure contemporary romance book Love, Artifacts, and You launches October 26th! Check out the third sample from this upcoming romance. After being separated as teenagers, Emma was certain she would never see Andrew again…until now.
I squint at him and try to catalogue what I’m seeing.
Brown eyes so dark they almost look black.
A crooked nose broken too many times.
A raised white scar thin as a knife blade over his right eyebrow extending to his hairline.
He looks dangerous. Like a dangerous man. Like no one I’ve ever met.
I see all these parts, but I can’t put them together, because none of it makes sense.
He’s too tall, too wide, too hard, too intense, too…everything.
He’s Andrew, but not.
I don’t stop to think, I lift my hand and put it to the thick stubble covering his firm jaw. I run my fingers over the soft, prickly beginnings of a beard. He lets out a low growl. I feel it vibrate my fingers.
His eyes shift to my lips and he focuses on them like he’s Odysseus returned to Ithaca. Like he’s seeing his home, his love, for the first time in years.
“The sun,” he whispers. I don’t know what he means. I stroke his cheek at the ache in his voice.
He reaches down, his finger hovers over my lip and then he touches the freckle over my mouth. The one Andrew loved.
And that’s when the pieces snap together and my brain finally lets me understand what my soul knew before I even saw his face.
My heart slams against my ribs, aching to get out and go to him.
“Andrew?” I whisper, fear in my voice. Because what if it isn’t him? “You’re alive?”
His shoulders stiffen and his gaze flicks up to mine. The soft, yearning leaves his eyes and they shift to match the man with the long scar, the hard mouth and the crooked nose. But then, as quickly as they went hard, they soften again.
He lets out a silky laugh. “What do you think, Emma? Don’t I look alive?”
My upcoming action adventure romance book Love, Artifacts, and You launches Oct 26th, 2021. Do you want a sneak peek into the story? Check out this extract and pre-order your copy today!
Here is the extract:
“What’s the name of her soul mate?” asks Jessie.
Erma shrugs and tosses aside a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit.
“What does he look like then? What was he doing?” asks Jessie.
I lean forward. Do I believe her?
“She knows him,” says Erma. She looks up at me and there’s a hint of compassion in her eyes, like she knows more than she’s letting on.
A chill settles over me.
“Is he blond, blue-eyed?” I ask. My voice sounds distant.
She shakes her head no.
“He’s wealthy, as wealthy as a king. He owns skyscrapers, an island,” Erma says.
One of the older ladies whistles.
Not Andrew. The thought flashes through my mind. Andrew never wanted money or prestige. Although it couldn’t be Andrew. He’s gone. Dead and gone.
I pull my gaze back up from the floor and look at Miss Erma.
“He has power and status,” she says.
I don’t want him. Whoever he is, I don’t want him.
“He doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea,” I say. Plus, I don’t know anyone that fits this description. I shrug. “Sorry. I’ll still look for your treasure though if you like. I could research. Apply for a permit.”
In fact, it’d let me do what I love, outside of the tarnish of Castleton, Inc. and the cloud of the past. A way to move on.
“I’ll take him,” says Petunia. “I’d love an island.”
The lady next to her, she looks like her sister, smacks her on the back of her hand. “We’ll stay out of this one,” she says. “No interfering.”
“Good idea,” says Jessie.
I give Erma a smile. “Thanks for the welcome. I’m sure your predictions have come true in the past, but I don’t think it’s likely this time.”
“That’s what they all say,” mutters Wanda. She pushes up her horn-rimmed glasses.
Erma purses her lips and pats a completed chunk of puzzle into the barn. “Maybe so,” she says. “Oh, well. Gals, we need to finish this puzzle. I’m headed to my niece’s to see the baby in two hours.”
Jessie looks at Erma like she’s lost her mind.
“Oh, well? Ooo-kay,” Jessie says. She turns to me, confusion on her face. Then she shrugs. “Well, anyway. It’s lunchtime. Can I take you out for a welcome to Romeo lunch? I could invite some friends for you to meet. I’ll bring some books, tell you all about the Lost Treasure, then show you to town hall for your permit or whatever you said you need.”
I look back at the table. The ladies all seem engrossed in the puzzle. Me and my supposed soul mate are completely forgotten in favor of a barn puzzle.
“Well, alright,” I say to Jessie. “Thank you. That’s really nice of you.”
Jessie starts to walk toward the exit and I turn to follow. But a stray thought makes me stop and turn back to Erma.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “but did you happen to see what my um…soul mate, I guess…what he looks like?”
Erma looks up from the puzzle and gives me a wide smile.
“I did,” she says.
“Okay.” My throat goes dry.
Erma pauses, watches me.
“What does he look like?” I ask.
I nod. Okay. Tall.
“Thick, black hair,” she says.
My heart stops for a moment, then with a hard lurch starts up again.
I can feel the soft memory of thick black hair running through my fingers.
I swallow and try to clear the lump in my throat. “That’s it?” I ask.
She shakes her head no, then, “Eyes so dark, they’re almost black.”
The air rushes from my lungs, hard and painful.
A picture forms in my mind of a black-haired, brown-eyed boy. Now a man.
“He’s sun-browned,” she says.
I close my eyes, like doing so can block out the vision.
“Not possible,” I whisper.
Andrew’s dead. We had proof. He died. I would’ve torn the world apart if I believed otherwise.
Erma continues. “He has a crooked nose and a long scar over his eyebrow.”
“Ooh, a pirate,” says Petunia.
“Shush,” says the lady next to her.
I open my eyes and try to focus on Erma. The room spins around me. Andrew’s nose was straight, he didn’t have scars. But it’s been ten years, he might…he could…
“I…I…” I don’t know what I’m trying to say. “Is he in Romeo?” I finally ask.
“Start digging for the Lost Treasure and he will be,” Erma says.
I blink and the room stops spinning and comes into focus. All I have to do is start digging and Andrew, if it really is Andrew, will come back to me.
I know what I have to do.
Petunia laughs. “A treasure hunt and a soul mate. What could be better?”
My upcoming romcom, enemies-to-lovers, romance will be available September 14th, 2021! Here is extract #4 from my upcoming romance book, Romance By The Book.
Jessie is pulling all the stops to get Gavin to fall in love. After all he is her soul mate, right? Will is not going to let that happen. Jessie knows the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and who can’t resist a shared plate of spaghetti? Nothing could possibly go wrong!
Check out this extract and pre-orderyour copy of this upcoming romcom today.
“Oh. I just wondered how you like the spaghetti?” Jessie flutters her eyelashes at Gavin and I try not to scowl.
Gavin picks up his fork. “It’s delicious. It reminds me of the pasta I had at a little family restaurant in Capri.”
“Oh wow. I’ve never been. Sounds amazing.” Jessie picks up her fork and drags it through the long noodles. She waits until Gavin starts to roll spaghetti around his fork then she moves her fork trying to capture his moving noodles.
She might actually pull off this noodle kiss farce.
I watch the noodles on her fork go taught. She smiles in triumph. Gavin doesn’t know it, but their noodles are connected.
He starts to raise his fork to his mouth. Jessie raises hers in anticipation.
I grab my fork and quick as I can I slash it through their joined noodles. Jessie gasps. I take the noodles and shove them in my mouth.
Gavin laughs. “You really are hungry.”
I chew loudly. “Mhmm,” I say through my mouthful, “starved.”
Gavin goes for another bite and Jessie drags her fork through the plate and tries to capture the ends of his spaghetti.
“You were telling me about your adventures. I’d love to hear more,” she says.
Gavin lifts his fork to his mouth. I grin as a single noodle of his slips through Jessie’s fork.
“Jessie’s going to do a travel book article in her next library newsletter. She wants to use my experiences as a basis for it,” Gavin says to me.
I perk up. “This is a work dinner?” That’s interesting. Jessie hasn’t been honest with Gavin.
“Funny, right?” Gavin says. “I’ve never had a work dinner and even when you try not to, here you are, at another one.”
“Hilarious,” I agree.
Jessie won’t look me in the eyes.
The waiter comes by with another wine glass and the menu. I assure him I’m content sharing the family plate of spaghetti.
Gavin launches into a story of ballooning in South Africa. Jessie nods and smiles and tries her hardest to pretend I’m not here. I keep my eyes on her. It’s not hard. I could watch her for hours and never grow tired of it. Gavin is entering the exciting part of the story, the bit about the lion and the jeep, when Jessie finally breaks. She subtly turns my way.
She points at me, and then makes the “get out of here” gesture with her thumb.
“And then the lion jumped over the…” Gavin continues.
I raise my eyebrows and point to myself, feigning confusion.
Jessie nods and makes the “get out of here” gesture again.
I shake my head, look around, and pretend I don’t understand.
“And that’s how a jeep and a baobab tree foiled a lion and saved my life,” Gavin says triumphantly.
Jessie looks at him in confusion, while Gavin looks at her expectantly.
“Oh. Ah. Wow. That’s amazing. I never heard anything like that. The baobab. Wow.” She flushes bright red.
I hold back a smile. She wasn’t listening, not at all. I’d bet my bank account on it. She was too focused on me.
“Tell the story about Cambodia,” I say.
Gavin nods. “That’s a good one.”
He moves to take another bite of spaghetti, then stops with his fork hanging in the air. “It was six months ago. I was hang gliding over the jungle, there were some ruins I wanted to see.”
Jessie watches his fork move up and down. He finally goes to twist his fork in the noodles. Jessie follows.
“…the snakebite burned. I had minutes…” Gavin is wrapped up in the memory of meeting Lacey. He doesn’t notice that once again his and Jessie’s forks are attached by a ridiculously long noodle.
But I notice.
So does Jessie.
I reach forward with my fork, ready to cut the noodle.
But Gavin moves his fork up off the plate. Jessie’s eyes widen. She sees my fork coming, so she shoves the spaghetti in her mouth. She starts to suck in the long noodle. I watch it pull taught. Gavin is oblivious. His fork is six inches from his mouth.
Jessie’s eyes are wide. Her lips purse as she pulls on the connecting noodle.
The freaking noodle trick is going to work.
I don’t stop to think. I drop my fork and grab Gavin’s and I shove it in my mouth.
“Hey! What the heck, Will?” Gavin says.
I suck on the noodles. They pull taught and one long sauce covered noodle dangles between Jessie and me.
Triumph fills me.
The noodle between our mouths gets shorter as I suck, pulling us closer.
Pre-order my upcoming romcom romance book today and let me know what you think!
My upcoming romcom, enemies-to-lovers, romance will be available September 14th, 2021! Here is extract #3 from my upcoming romance book, Romance By The Book.
Jessie is convinced she is going to marry Gavin Williams. His twin brother Will is not going to let that happen. Is he a protective brother, or does he have other ideas in mind?
Check out this extract and pre-orderyour copy of this upcoming romcom today.
“I know. You don’t have to say it. I’m a fool. He’s getting married, he’s not interested, I’m not his type, blah, blah, blah. I know.” Her voice breaks again, and I want to reach out to her.
“But you know what?” she asks.
I shake my head. “What?”
“I disagree. I believe in love. I believe in fate. And even if I have to get drenched in coffee, or spaghetti, or…whatever…I’m going to keep trying. Because…” She pauses, then tilts her chin up and continues. “Because I have a lot of love to give. A lot. And I’ve been waiting my whole life to give it to that boy I fell in love with a long time ago. So…so there.”
I don’t say anything. I just stand there and take in the passion coloring her cheeks and the spark in her eyes. I want her so badly it hurts.
A water drop hits me in the forehead. Then another. Jessie looks around, and an expression of shock then guilt comes over her. The sparse drops turn to a light shower. Jessie closes her eyes and groans.
She shakes her head. I look around. It’s raining in a five-foot circumference around us. I look up. Petunia and Gladiola wave gleefully at me from a second-story window. Wanda holds a large sprinkler over us. A suspicion enters my mind.
“Is this a kiss in the rain?”
“No,” Jessie says. She opens her eyes and peeks at me. “Turn it off,” she shouts up at the ladies.
I take a step toward her. “Were you going to lure my brother here for a romantic kiss in the rain?”
“No. Of course not.” She takes a step back. “Turn it off, Wanda,” she shouts up.
“Can’t hear you, dear, I lost my hearing aid after class,” yells Wanda.
“She said turn it up,” Petunia says.
A slow grin spreads over my face. I take another step forward. Jessie takes a careful step back. Water runs down my face. I wipe it from my eyes. Strands of hair are starting to fall out of Jessie’s French twist. I reach forward and brush a lock off her cheek. Jessie takes another step back and bumps into the brick bakery wall.
The rate of the fake rain shower increases. Water pours down around us. Drops stream over Jessie’s face and onto her dress, washing away the spaghetti and sauce. I put my forearms to the brick wall on either side of her, closing her in. I bend down, until our mouths nearly touch.
“Did you think a kiss in the rain would make him fall in love?”
“No.” Her eyes turn dark and luminous. A drop of water trails down her cheek and settles on her lip. I groan. I’ve never ached to taste a drop of water so much.
“You want to know who would want you, Jessie?”
“Who?” she asks reluctantly.
I press her against the wall and send my lips to hers. She gasps and her mouth opens to me. I send my tongue in, I run it over her lips and drink the falling water and the taste of her.
I press my body over hers and shield her from the rain. I bury my hands in her hair and pull her closer. She makes a small sound in her throat and I lick it up. I take her lip in my mouth and tug, then I send my tongue across her lower lip. She’s heaven.
She was right. If I didn’t already love her, then this kiss in the rain would make me love her for forever and beyond.
Her hands settle hesitantly on my shoulders and I groan. I need more. I need more of her. It’s been too many years since I’ve touched her. It’s been too many years of wanting her and not having her.
I grab her hips and pick her up. Her dress rides up and she wraps her legs around me. I press her against the brick wall. She’s positioned in the perfect spot. I rub against her and she gasps. I jerk my hips and she gasps again. I catch the noise with my mouth. I run my fingers down her cheeks, rock my hips against her and catch another cry in my mouth.
“Jessie,” I say against her lips. I kiss the corner of her mouth. “I want you. I’ll always want you.”
She stops moving. Her hands tighten on my shoulders.
I pause. “What is—”
The sprinkle of rain water turns into an ice-cold flood as three 10-gallon buckets of water pour on my head.
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I fell in love when I was eight years old, and it was the best and the worst day of my life. My mom always said, in a town like Romeo, you’re guaranteed to find your true love, it’s not a matter of if, only of when. For me, the when happened early.
Some (okay, everyone) might say I live in a fantasy world, that no one can find their soul mate when they’re eight years old. But I did. And Miss Erma is about to confirm it.
That’s right. Romeo, New York’s number one star, Miss Erma, official soul mate psychic, finally saw my true love.
I always promised myself that if Miss Erma ever predicted my soul mate, I’d pursue him with a single-minded passion. I’d do anything for that kind of love. Romeo, the town where I grew up, inspires this kind of thinking. We have more happily matched couples and true love than any other town in the Western Hemisphere. Our small town has a Cupid festival, a Valentine’s Day parade, a Sweetheart’s Day baking contest, and a 30, 40, or 50 year wedding anniversary practically every week. If the cobblestone streets, the overflowing flower baskets, and the cute stone bridge over the river doesn’t convince you, then our charm will—Romeo, Official Town of Love USA, is the place where true love finds you.
Needless to say, I’ve been dreaming of this moment for practically my whole life.
“You’ve seen him?” I ask Miss Erma.
She gives me a smile that on anyone below twenty I’d call mischievous, but Miss Erma is over eighty, so I’ll call it conspiratorial. “I have,” she confirms. “I saw him this morning.”
My stomach does a flip and I clasp my hands together to keep from jumping up and down and shouting in glee. We’re in a library after all. Miss Erma is here for the class I teach, a seniors’ computer skills class. There’s no jumping around or shouting in libraries.
But still. This, this is the moment I’ve been waiting for.
Miss Erma told my friends Chloe and Veronica their soul mates in the last year, and I just knew my time would be coming soon. Well, if not knew, then hoped.
Miss Erma adjusts her silk shawl over her shoulders. It has pink cherry blossoms on ivory colored fabric. Then she leans back in her computer chair and beams at me.
“I’ve finished the internet search assignment. I looked up travel plans for New York City. Wanda and I are planning a trip,” says Erma.
What? This is the most important moment of my life and she wants to talk about the computer class assignment? I look around the library community room. It’s a big, bright room, with a long table filled with computers and comfy desk chairs. The walls are painted cream and the carpet is sage green. Everyone in the class is still at work, ignoring my conversation with Erma.
“Miss Erma, please. My soul mate. Who is he?” I ask, and then I hold my breath.
But a horrifying thought enters my mind. What if she says William?
Please not William. Please not William. Please not William.
Please don’t say William Williams IV.
“It’s that Williams boy.”
The breath I was holding shoots out in a loud exhale. I cough and hit my chest.
Wanda, Erma’s best friend, looks over from her computer. “Are you alright, dear?”
“Fine. Fine.” I wave at her. Everyone else in the class is absorbed in their internet search assignment. They haven’t noticed Erma and me talking. I cough again and clear my throat. My stomach feels like it’s on a roller coaster, it’s being tossed around and I can’t get off the ride. “The Williams boy?” I ask. Please be Gavin. Please be Gavin. Please be the boy I’ve wanted since I was eight years old, not his awful, horrible brother.
“That’s right,” says Erma.
She winks at me and then digs around in her purse. It’s on the floor next to her chair. When she comes up she’s holding a cookie tin. She opens it and holds it in front of me. “Have an oatmeal raisin cookie. I baked them this morning.”
I look down at the pile of cookies in the red tin. How can Erma offer cookies at a time like this? My stomach is still looping around my abdomen. Doesn’t she realize there are two Williams boys? One is perfect and wonderful and everything I’ve ever wanted and the other is…Will.
She waves the tin under my nose, and the scent of cinnamon and raisins wafts up to me.
“Um, alright. Thank you.” I take a cookie chock-full of raisins from the top of the pile, then I force myself to take a bite, chew and swallow. “Mmm. Really good. Thank you.”
I set the cookie down on the table, there’s no way I’ll be able to force myself to swallow another bite. Not until I know. Is my soul mate the man I’ve always believed it was, or his awful, horrible, rotten brother.
“Miss Erma? Which Williams boy? There are two of them.”
“Hmm. Are there?”
She puts the lid back on the cookie tin and pops it into her purse. When she comes back up, her black hair is messy. She pats it down and re-straightens her shawl. She’s fine boned and petite, and some people say she looks like a little bird. She definitely has the energy of a bird. And I’m beginning to see why Chloe always insists her great aunt is full of mischief.
“Yes. There’s Gavin and there’s William.”
My stomach rolls again and I press my hand against it. Please don’t say William, please don’t say William. She couldn’t, she wouldn’t.
“He just came back to town,” she says.
“Yes. Which one? Which one is my soul mate?”
Miss Erma studies me as if I’m missing the point. She gives me the same look that Chloe gives me when I can’t visualize one of her greeting card illustration ideas. I’d laugh if I weren’t so frustrated.
“Jessie. Dear. You already know who your soul mate is.” “I do?” I try to swallow down the dry cookie crumbs still sticking in my throat. “Does that mean…?”
Miss Erma nods. “Your soul mate is the Williams boy you’ve loved since you were a little girl.”
Not William Williams IV. Not Will.
Thank you, God. Thank you.
It’s Gavin. His twin.
“He’s my soul mate,” I say with wonder.
Erma’s eyes twinkle. “That’s right. You’ve known he was for years.”
I grab Erma’s hands in mine and then I start jumping up and down and squealing. I can’t help it. This is the best day of my life.
Miss Erma laughs and shakes her head. She’s probably used to this reaction. But me, this is my one and only time to learn the name of my soul mate, and it’s Gavin.
“What is it? What’s happened?” asks Wanda.
She hurries over. But I can’t answer, I’m too busy spinning in a circle. I feel like Maria in The Sound of Music. Any minute, I’m going to stop spinning and start singing to the mountains.
I’ve been transported to my own personal heaven. It’s finally happened. After five years, Gavin Williams is finally back in Romeo, and according to Erma, he’s mine.
Enemies-to-lovers romance Love Not at First Sight excerpt
I kick my legs, fighting to pull the woman to the surface. I have a hold of her beneath her arms. She’s a dead weight and I pray that she’s okay, that she didn’t get hurt in the fall. The icy water urges me to kick harder. There’s no light. I can’t tell up from down. I’m going on pure instinct, and a prayer, please God, let me be swimming toward air.
I kick harder. My heart pounds in my ears and my lungs ache. Maybe I chose the wrong direction. Up was down, or down was up and I’m swimming to the bottom of the water. I start to panic. Then, just when I’m about to turn around, reverse direction, we break the surface. I gasp, drag in a harsh breath then cough and sputter. I draw the woman’s head higher. Float on my back and hold her against my chest. She coughs and sputters.
Then, “Are you okay?” she asks. Her voice is ragged and soft.
Before I can answer, her head falls again to my chest and her body goes limp.
My blood goes cold.
“I’m okay. Are you alright?”
She doesn’t answer, she lies heavy and still against me. I kick my legs to keep us at the surface and feel for her pulse. I let out a sigh of relief, it’s strong and steady. At least there’s that. She shivers and I’m reminded of how cold the water is. Like an ice bath. We’re going to get hypothermia if I don’t get us out of it soon.
But I can’t see. There’s no light. I dropped my phone when I went to grab her. I saw her flashlight fly from her grasp. Then I remember my watch. It’s a waterproof divers watch, a twenty-thousand-dollar piece that my sister bought me last year for my birthday. She laughed because she said she’d spent my money to get it. I’ve worn it ever since. Thank the Lord. I press a button on the side and the display glows. It gives a dim light that barely illuminates the space around my hand. I hold up my arm and twist the watch in the air. The light catches on the white stone and reflects around the cavern. The water that was black in the pitch dark is turquoise and clear where the light hits. There. About twenty feet away I can just make out what looks like water hitting rock. I can’t be sure. The light is too dim. But I swim that way because right now it’s our best chance.
I’m breathing hard and shivering harder by the time I reach the rock wall.
“We made it,” I tell the woman. I lift her onto the rock first, roll her onto the surface and then I climb out after her. Water sluices onto the rock and runs around us. It’s cold. It’s too damn cold. I feel for the woman’s pulse. It’s still strong, but her skin is like ice and she’s shaking.
“You’ll be okay,” I say. I keep talking, because it’s so dark and quiet in here that any voice, even my own, is better than the silence. “I’ve never been so scared as when I saw you fall,” I tell her. I keep my voice low and soothing. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of here. Or even if there is a way out. My phone is gone, hers is likely in her pack which is still up on the stalagmite at the top of the crevice. To be sure I pat her pockets. Carefully. I don’t want her waking up thinking I’m some creep taking advantage. Nothing. They’re empty. Not that a phone could get reception down in the depths of a cave.
“We’ll get out of here,” I tell her. I put my hand on her arm. Dang, she’s cold. “I’ll get you out of here. I promise.”
I hear a scratching noise and then a rhythmic crunch, crunch, scratch. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. There’s something else here with us.
I hit the display of my watch and look around. Nothing. I can’t see anything. I hold it over the woman. I can barely make out the shape of her face.
She shivers again and I make a decision. I have to get her warm and I have to get her to help. I think the most urgent thing right now is getting warm.
Body heat. But first we need out of these soaking wet clothes.
I kick off my shoes and socks and then pull off my T-shirt. I wring the water out of them and set them out on the rock. Then, I strip down to my boxers and wring out my shorts. I’m too cold to feel awkward. I jump up and down and rub my hands over my clammy skin. Then I kneel down next to the woman.
I untie and pull off her hiking boots and socks. Then I work the soaking wet long-sleeved shirt over her head. I wring it out and put it next to her socks and boots. I feel around in the dark for the buttons to her pants. The skin of her stomach is cold and taut.
I find the button.
Suddenly, her hand lashes out and grabs my throat. She squeezes and I freeze.
“Take off my pants and I’ll kill you and leave your body in the dark.”
I look over at Chloe. She stares at the city, a deep longing on her face. I wonder if she’s making a wish. We’re only three hours from the last Matt. If I were a betting man, I’d say she’s about to find her soul mate. And I promised I’d get her to him, didn’t I?
Suddenly, I hate to leave Vegas. I hate to leave it and I hate to see it fade in the distance. What a turnaround from earlier today. But these next few hours are probably the last Chloe and I will have together. Ever.
Here we are, speeding down a highway in the back of a truck. The wind is so loud that conversation’s impossible. But what would I say? What could I say? Choose me?
The dust and the sand in the air stings my eyes and I rub them. Chloe turns to me. I wipe at my eyes and quirk a smile.
Thank you, she mouths.
You’re welcome, I say to the wind.
Then I hold out my hand. She looks down then back up and shakes her head no. The wish that I made, to spend the last of our time together holding her hand, vanishes. I let my hand fall. I lean my head against the truck window and stare at the darkening sky. It’s that time, when the darkness is here, but there still aren’t any stars in sight. The darkest, loneliest time of night. Then I lose a breath as Chloe moves closer, and closer still. Until her thigh presses against my thigh, and her arm presses against my arm, and her shoulder to mine. Everywhere she touches sparks and comes alive. I don’t move. I don’t even want to breathe. Because I don’t want to interrupt the feel of her body on mine. And then, she rests her head against my chest. I draw in a harsh breath. I breathe in the dry sand air that smells like thirst mixed with the perfume of her hair and her skin. My hand shakes as I move my arm and slowly wrap it around her shoulders. Then I pull her in to rest against me. It takes an eternity, but finally, she sinks into me and I hold her.
I hold her like this is both the first time and the last time.
Both heaven and hell.
She watches the city disappear and the stars appear. I watch her. The headlights stroking her skin. The wind brushing through her hair. The expressions drifting across her face as we move farther north.
All this trip, I’ve been thinking that soul mates aren’t real, and that they can’t possibly exist. In fact, I set out to prove it. But what if a soul mate is the one person who, when you’re with them, there’s no place you’d rather be? Because right now, it doesn’t matter that I don’t have a car, or money, or a phone, or that I’m in the back of a truck. None of that matters, because I’m with her. And I can’t see that ever changing. Fifty years down the road, there still will be no place I’d rather be.
I pull her closer and lean my head down on top of hers. This is it. The last of it. The end. With every mile we drive, I’m one step closer to losing her.
If there’s any wetness in my eyes, no one knows it but me and the wind.
And if there were a thousand miles more to go, not just one hundred, the ending would still be the same. I’d be here, ready to let her go, because I understand now. She needs her soul mate. And like she said…that’s not me.
I close my eyes and whisper into her hair, I love you.
That is one big yacht. Real big. The sucker has to be at least a hundred and fifty feet long. It’s a shining white, polished chrome, ginormous ode to penile one-upmanship. Matt Smith Number One is hosting a party for feline Sphynx enthusiasts. On his yacht.
It’d taken a little work to find this yacht. Number One lives in a gated community for the mega rich, movie stars, and East Coast elite. At least this is what the security guard told us when he denied our entrance to the community. Regular Joes…not allowed. Somehow Chloe managed to stupefy him with her smile and before we knew it the butler was answering the door of Matt Smith’s waterfront mansion. The butler was very sorry, but Matt was on his yacht at the harbor. Were we by any chance here for the Sphynx gathering?
Why yes…yes we were.
The butler kindly gave us directions and here we are, staring up at the most massive yacht I’ve ever seen.
“He’s my soul mate, I can feel it,” Chloe says. She stands at the end of the dock and stares at the massive yacht, her eyes all sparkly and excited.
“Doubtful. The only thing I can feel is a hundred-foot-long inferiority complex.”
She turns to me and beams, so I scowl at her.
“I don’t care what you say. I have to get on that boat to meet my Matt Smith.”
I step up next to her and look down at the gray, frothy water. It smells like fish, salt and seaweed, and there’s some slimy green plant floating on the top. Not exactly pleasant, but hey, we won’t be swimming in it. The yacht is moored a ways out, we’re going to need to talk to the dockmaster for a tender boat to drop us off.
Chloe vibrates with anticipation. When we pulled up to the mega mansion, her eyes went wide with shock. But now…I expect she’s going to start doing cartwheels down the dock.
She turns to me. Her cheeks are pink and her eyes are bright. “Remember in Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennet says she first realized she loved Darcy when she saw his huuuge estate?”
“No,” I say. I cross my arms and stare at the huuuge yacht.
“Yeah. That moment.” She grins at me and bats her eyelashes.
“Please, stop. Don’t be the BBC made-for-television version of yourself,” I say.
Her eyes widen and then she starts to laugh. “You watched it. You watched it! Nick O’Shea, Mr. ‘I don’t watch romance movies’, saw Pride and Prejudice. This is amazing.”
I glower as she does a little dance and fake boxes me.
“The more cynical they are, the harder they fall,” she says.
I lift an eyebrow, a skill she always envied. “Not at all. I’m only trying to warn you.”
“Sure. This guy clearly has a major inferiority complex. He’s making up for something.”
She laughs. “Yeah right. You’re just jealous of my soul mate’s big yacht.”
Every woman alive is given one man who is guaranteed to turn her life into a monument of suck. My one man is Nick O’Shea. Every time he shows up my life gets shaken upside down and spanked.
“Untie me now, Sparky, or so help me God,” Nick says.
I smile and ignore his god-awful nickname for me. This is the absolute best day of my life. I stand over him and soak in the feeling that all wrongs in the world are about to be righted.
“Why?” I ask.
“Un. Tie. Me.” He strains against the zip ties on his wrists. I’m not going to lie, I get a flash of pleasure deep inside at his struggle.
“Did you want some birthday cake? It’s chocolate, your favorite.” I wave a pink paper plate with a big slab of cake under his nose.
Nick growls at me. Growls.
My body reacts just like it did when I was fifteen and hopped up on hormones. Unconsciously I lean toward him. Enough of that. I pick up the plastic fork and shove a piece of cake in my mouth. The fudgy frosting’s thick, rich and, let’s be honest, delicious. “Mmmm. Good.”
“Sparky…” he says. His voice is low and full of warning.
“No. Nope. Not gonna,” I say.
He looks different than he did in high school. Ten years in the military made him harder. At eighteen, his jaw was softer, his cheeks fuller…his eyes had more warmth. Now, not so much. There’s a half-inch-long scar over his right eyebrow that wasn’t there before. His cheeks are sharper. His hair’s darker and he has stubble on his jaw. I’ve never seen him with a five o’clock shadow. I think about what it would feel like if I ran my fingers over it.
I glance into his eyes. They’re blacker than I remember. He’s looking at me like he wants to throttle me. Oh well. I move my gaze to his shoulders. They’re thick and muscular and he’s wearing a white T-shirt that stretches over him.
Unfortunately, karma didn’t catch up to Nick and make his outside match the cynical jerk within. Nope. If I were to draw what he really looks like there’d be horns, a forked tongue, and a tail.
I take another bite of cake. He watches and his furious eyes linger on my lips then move down my throat. I can feel the heat of his gaze like he’s stroking my neck. Then, his gaze slowly moves over my chest and down my body. I’m in a floral wrap dress with a low neckline. His eyes linger on my breasts, which are smashed up by my push-up bra and prominently displayed.
I have the urge to cover them. Instead, I hold my ground.
“Finished?” I ask.
“Untie me,” he says.
I sigh. “Or, how about…gee, Chloe, happy birthday? It’s been such a long time. So great to see you,” I say.
He scowls. Okay, I admit that was a stretch. I don’t think Nick has ever said that it’s great to see me…except, well, once.
He turns away and looks over the community room. It’s like a birthday fairy exploded and shot out hundreds of pastel balloons, streamers and confetti.
He turns back to me. “Birthdays are a scam,” he says. “Just another day for people to fail at meeting unrealistic expectations so they can continue to disappoint each other. Likewise, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Come on, Sparky.” He strains at the restraints.
I shake my head. “Hate to disappoint,” I say.
“No. Not at all.”
Nick sits in an antique wooden chair. His wrists are zip tied to the armrests and his ankles are tied to the spindle legs. What I can’t figure out is how he got himself into this situation. The chair’s in the middle of a pile of birthday gifts and he has a big red satin bow on his chest. Like he’s a gift.
You know how we mark time by the seasons? Spring, summer, winter, fall. The snow falls, the leaves turn, or the spring bulbs pop up. Well, here, in October it’s dragonfly season. Right now they are swirling through the air, twenty feet up, swooping and spinning in figure eights and circles. There are fifty of them, sometimes a hundred, in a literal dragonfly tornado. They come in groups, and when I crane my neck up I can see them against the bright blue, pink and orange sunset sky.
There are so many of them. Last Saturday when I ordered a local spinach salad, it had a dragonfly in it, and I thought, well of course.
There are other seasons here. In May, it snows.
Well, it doesn’t actually snow. We don’t have snow here.
It’s butterfly season. Every year, thousands of white butterflies fill the air for one week. There are so many of them flying by that it looks like it’s snowing butterflies. The air is filled with them.
In the 1700s Dutch explorers came through and described what they saw when they got off the boat. They said it was a cloud of white butterflies, more than the eye could see.
Three hundred years later, butterfly season still comes.
At our first sight of them my kiddo and I run outside, hold our arms wide and spin in circles. The butterflies fly around us like we’re in a snow globe. Because it’s snowing butterflies.
There are other seasons here that help mark the time. Flame tree season, land crab season, sea glass season. All equally magical.
When I write a story, I always ask myself what season it is in my book. What do the characters see in their world, what nature do they have, bugs, trees, flowers, how do they connect with their environment?
Yellow roses, white lilies, purple hyacinth, butterflies and green grass. I can almost smell the grass—fresh mowed springtime. The sun is shining through the window and little rainbows are glinting on the white marble countertops. I smile at the farmhouse sink. There’s a hand-painted wheelbarrow in a flower garden.
“Mind giving me a hand?”
I startle at the man’s voice. “I’m sorry. I was admiring the view.”
He chuckles and the sound reminds me of warm honey dripping over freshly baked buttery biscuits. My mouth starts to water.
I peek around the kitchen and realize he’s on his hands and knees. His head is buried in a cabinet and his backside is…goodness. My mouth stops watering and goes dry. His backside is gorgeous.
“Admire away,” he says. I choke a bit when I realize what view he must think I’m talking about. “But while you look, do you mind giving me a Phillips head?”
“Pardon me?” I say. What’s a Phillips head?
He cranes his neck around and stares at me from the darkness under the cabinet. Prickles form along my skin. I feel an electric pulse and I’m itchy and uncomfortable. I shift under his hidden gaze. Then I wonder, is Phillips head another term for head? Is he propositioning me? My face heats.
“A Phillips head. There’s a connection here that I need to screw.”
I gasp. “I’m sorry, I came here about the rental. Not…” I clear my throat. Not about screwing.
That’s all for today. I wonder how you all mark the seasons and what sort of nature you like to see in the books you read. Do you have a favorite book that captures a season perfectly?
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