Chapter One (unedited) of Smart, Sexy and Secretive

Smart, Sexy and Secretive will be out in August! Here’s the unedited version of Chapter One that I shared with my newsletter subscribers last week!

Couple romancing together

Emily

My dad doesn’t want me to go back to New York. He’s wholeheartedly opposed to it. But New York is where my heart is. It’s where Logan is.

I met Logan in the fall. He took care of me when I needed a place to stay and he let me take care of him when his brother got sick with cancer. Matt needed an expensive treatment, and the only way to get the money was for me to suck it up and take one for the team. So, I did. I went back to California, leaving the only man I’ve ever loved in New York, and returned to my estranged family – the one I’d run away from. Matt went into treatment, paid for by my father. And Logan went on with his life.

I have wanted to communicate with him so many times. But communication is hard between us. Logan is deaf, and he communicates by writing. I have dyslexia, and reading is hard for me. So letters and phone calls are not possible for us. The Reed family is poor and they don’t even have a computer. I considered buying them one and shipping it to them so we could talk using sign language on Skype, but they are both poor and proud, which is a killer combination. They don’t take handouts.

It’s been almost three months since the last time I saw Logan. It has been just as long since I’ve talked to him. I want to look into his eyes. I need to see him. Soon.

The pilot announces that we’ll be arriving in New York over the intercom. Mom and Dad look over at me. Mom is smiling. Dad is not. Dad’s bodyguard sets his newspaper to the side and buckles his seat belt. My dad has money. Lots and lots of money. My mom spends money. Lots and lots of money. I am so glad my mom married my dad, because no other man on the face of the earth could ever afford her.

Dad owns Madison Avenue. Not the street—the upscale clothing and accessory line. It’s a popular line of really expensive items that started out in California, and has now spread nationwide. My parents have more money than God.

“Are you excited, Emily?” my mother asks as the wheels touch down. I take a deep breath. I can already breathe easier just knowing I’m in the same city as him.

I look directly into her eyes, since she knows how much I love Logan and she’s in favor of us being together, and say, “More than you know.”

“I don’t know why you feel the need to go to college, Emily,” my father barks. “You could have just gotten married and lived a life of ease and privilege.”

Last year, my dad tried to marry me off to the son of one of his business partners. But it didn’t work out. That’s why I left California with nothing and took a bus all the way to New York. I didn’t take a dime of my father’s money, and I supported myself by busking in the subways with my guitar for change. My dad doesn’t know everything about my life away from him. Like how I lived in shelters when money was tight. And how I went for days without food sometimes. He chooses to think I lived an upscale life when I was here. But I didn’t. It was hard. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Because it’s what brought me to Logan.

God, I want to see him so badly. I want my parents to go away, but they want to see me settled into my new apartment. It’s around the corner from the college I’ll be attending, Julliard. I’ve always wanted to study music and now I can. That was my mother’s doing.

My mother smacks my father on the arm. It’s a breezy wave, but it gets his attention. “We’ve already discussed this, darling. She doesn’t want to get married. Least of all to the young Mr. Fields.

I snort. I wouldn’t marry that ass if he were the last man on earth.

“Fields is a fine young man,” my father says. What’s bad is that he believes that. Trip is an opportunistic asshole who wants to climb the financial ladder and he wants to use me as the top rung. He’ll never get over this rung, I can say that much.

“Mmm hmm,” I hum noncommittally.

“Fields is an ass, darling,” my mother says. She gets her purse and we disembark the plane. The limo is waiting for us outside, and we all slide inside while someone I will never see unloads the luggage.

“He blows his nose constantly, Dad,” I say. And he doesn’t shower after he plays basketball.

My dad’s lips twitch. “That boy has a lot of potential. Great vision. He would make a fine husband.”

What he means is that we could combine the two families like a business deal, increasing the net worth of both. I have no interest in being richer. In fact, the happiest time in my life was when I lived with Logan and his brothers. He has four – two older and two younger. They live alone since their mom died and their dad left. They don’t have much, but they love one another like crazy. My parents love me, but it’s not the same thing. Not by a long shot.

“You should partner with him, Dad. Because I never will,” I grouse. I can’t count the number of times in the past few months I have had this conversation.

My dad heaves a sigh. He is a master at business, but he knows very little about relationships.

“Do you plan to see that boy while you’re here, Emily?” my dad asks.

Only every chance I get, if he’ll have me. “I doubt he’ll want to see me. I left him without a single word and haven’t talked to him since then.” He’s probably angry at me. So angry that he has moved on. My heart lurches at the very thought of it.

My dad refused to let me contact Logan after I came home. I knew that I was giving Logan up when my dad paid for his brother’s treatment, but I didn’t assume it would be permanent. I look down at the tattoo on my inner forearm. My father hates it. I love it. It is a key and Logan’s name is printed down the shaft of the key. Logan unlocked my world. He accepted and loved me just as I am. I just hope he still does.

It takes forever to get to my apartment. I have to listen to my dad talk about how fit Trip would be as a husband the whole ride. My mom makes a face at me. She makes me laugh. We have a new understanding since I spilled my guts to her after coming home. I think she gets it and she’s on my side. But that doesn’t make things any better with my father.

“If that boy is smart, he’ll stay far, far away from you,” my father nearly snarls. He’s adamantly opposed to me being with someone so poor. Logan is rich in all the ways I wish I was. He’s rich in family, steeped in love and compassion, and he loves what he does for a living. Logan’s an amazing artist and he works at his family’s tattoo parlor putting his fabulous art on people’s skin. The last time I talked to him, he wanted to go back to college. He got a scholarship, but he had to get a deferment when his brother Matt got sick. They took out a lot of loans to pay for Matt’s first treatment, but then Matt couldn’t work anymore so Logan quit school and took over for him.

“If that boy has any sense at all,” Mom says, “he’s just waiting for you to come back to New York.”

I hope that’s the case. But that’s asking for an awful lot.

Mom pats Dad on the knee. “How is his brother doing, darling? I know you get reports.”
I scoot to the edge of the seat. Please tell me he’s ok. Please.

“Fine.”

That’s all he says. Just that one word. I flop back against the seat back.

“Elaborate, please,” my mom says, smiling at my dad.

“The treatment is working. But he’s not out of the woods. He has scans every month and then they’ll start spreading them out as time goes on.”

My heart clenches in my chest. Matt is better. My sacrifice wasn’t for nothing. Tears prick at the backs of my lashes and Mom reaches over to squeeze my knee. “That’s good, darling,” she says to Dad. “I’m so glad you were able to help him.”

“I did it so she would come back home,” he says. He glares at me. “Our deal was that she would come home, not go to Julliard.”

Mom pats his knee again. “She did come home, darling. And now she’s going to Julliard.”

“I just hope he stays away from her,” Dad grumbles, more to himself than to me. We all know who he is. He’s Logan. And he had better not stay away from me. Not for a day. Not for a minute. Not for an hour.

We arrive at my apartment, and my dad scowls. “This is the best you could find?” He glowers at my mother.
“It’s perfect,” I say. It’s pretty, with a small garden out front. I’m on the tenth level, and that’s all right with me.
There’s a doorman and he smiles at me, bowing to all of us as we walk into the building.

“Ah, Mr. Madison,” he says. He knows who my dad is. He doesn’t hold out a hand, though he does take mine when I extend it. I am not better than this man. I want him to know it. “Miss Madison,” he says, grinning at me. “Henry is my name.”

“Mr. Henry,” I say, squeezing his hand in my grip.

“Just Henry will do.” He looks over at my father’s scornful face.

“Don’t make friends with the help, Emily,” my dad warns.

Henry’s face falls.

I wink at Henry. “I wouldn’t dare try to make friends with Henry,” I say. “He’s way too good for the likes of us.”

Dad’s brows draw together. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Kindness trumps money, Dad,” I say. I learned that the hard way. And even though I can’t read well, I feel so much smarter than my dad right now. I bump knuckles with Henry and he smiles at me.

He holds up a finger and goes to a locked box beside his desk. He retrieves a key. “I’ll be sure your luggage is delivered, Miss Madison.”

“Thank you, Henry.” I wink at him as my family walks to the elevator. He smiles back at me like I just gave him a million dollars.

My parents are quiet on the ride up. My dad taps his thumb on the railing, and Mom just stands quietly. “I don’t know why you felt the need to come here. I can settle myself in.”

“I’m not sending you off to a strange city all by yourself.” He glares. He knows I was all alone in this city last year. “That was your choice,” he says quietly. “Not mine.”

I step up on my tippy toes and kiss his cheek. He looks down his nose at me, which makes me grin. “I’m glad you’re here.” I just hope they don’t stay long. I want to go and see Logan. It’s Friday night, and he’s probably at the club working. He’s a bouncer there.

My dad walks around my new apartment, appraising it with a critical eye. It was rented furnished, and it’s actually really cute. It has one bedroom, and a security system that NASA couldn’t beat.

I wanted to be in the dorm, but Dad felt like it was a bad idea. I kind of agree with him. At least I’m close by.

My mom winks at me and says, “Darling, I think we should get to the hotel, soon.”

He lifts a brow. “Already?”

“Yes.” She doesn’t say more than that. Just yes.

Dad heaves a sigh. Then he kisses my forehead, wrapping my head up in the crook of his hefty forearm. “We’ll see you first thing tomorrow.”

I nod. “I’ll be here.”

“Are you sure you don’t need anything?” He worries. Excessively.

I need Logan. That’s all I need. I shake my head.

My mom whispers in my ear. “Use protection, dear.”

A grin tugs at my lips. “Yes, Mom.”

The door closes behind them. I need a shower. And I need to go and find Logan. I need him like I need air.

Logan

A hand lands on my back, the fingers light and teasing, as someone draws a figure eight with her fingertips. I look back over my shoulder and flinch inwardly when I see Trish. I take her hand in mine and pluck it from my back, then set it to the side as gently as I can.

“Oh, Logan,” she says, her lips tipped upward with laughter. I’m really glad I can’t hear, because if her laugh is anything like her, her laughter is as grating as that smile. It’s one of those smiles without any real happiness behind it. Her hand lands on my chest, her fingers pressing insistently against me. “How long are you going to pine for that one girl? There are so many other fish in the sea.”

I can talk. But sometimes I choose not to, and people accept it from me because I’m deaf. I tap the face of my watch and look at her, arching my brows. She’s due to be back on stage in two minutes.

She heaves a sigh and tromps off in that direction.

If I had been forced to answer her question, I would have said forever and always. Emily is supposed to be back in New York any day now, as spring courses are starting at Julliard. I just started my own classes at NYU, and she shouldn’t be far behind. That is, if she’s coming. I haven’t talked to her since the day she left, and that was months ago.

I have, however, seen her in the tabloids. She’s been to lunches, clubs and social events with her ex-boyfriend, Trip Fields. The media outlets never cease talking about the way they fell apart and then came back together. But when I see them in the papers, she doesn’t look happy, not like she was when she lived with me. I like to think it’s all a ruse.

Emily sold herself back to her father in exchange for Matt’s life. He’s my brother, and he means the world to me. Matt’s alive because of her sacrifice. I’m glad she did it, but I miss her like crazy.

I haven’t looked at another girl since she left. Not one. She’s all I think about. When girls like Trish touch me and say let’s go with their eyes, I can’t imagine anything that might make me want to go. Or whatever made me want to go in the past. All I can think about is Emily.

I look toward the door where Ford, one of the other bouncers, is barring the entrance. Bone is in the doorway and Ford knows that if he comes within five feet of me, I’ll try to kill him with my bare hands. My younger brother, Pete, is going to get himself in trouble with Bone. I caught them together talking in the street a few days ago. I don’t like it. Bone is an accident waiting to happen, and I told him last week to stay the fuck away from my family. Pete doesn’t seem to understand what kind of trouble Bone could get him into.

I take a step toward the doorway, but my brother Matt is suddenly in front of me, getting between me and Bone. It’s not worth it, he signs.

Would be to me, I reply. I’ve been trying to catch that bastard alone ever since the last time I saw him with Pete. Pete suddenly has a phone and he suddenly has money in his pocket. The boy has a job, but he’s not making enough money to pay for those things. And he puts every dime he legitimately takes into the family kitty to pay the bills. I’m afraid Bone is going to get Pete in trouble.

He’s scum. My hands fly wildly as I talk, drawing the attention of several people around us.

I know, Matt replies. We’ll take care of it. But we don’t need to do it here. He looks me in the eye. You know he’s strapped.

One more reason to keep him out of here.

Matt shakes his head. Not tonight.

Damn it. Ford moves to the side and admits him when the owner of the club walks over to force the issue. He glares at Ford. Ford’s a good friend. And he knows how I feel about Bone. All things considered, I don’t want to put Ford into Bone’s line of fire, either. I’m glad he let him through just for that reason.

Bone smiles at me, looking directly into my eyes as mine follow him across the room. Then he slides into a booth and breaks eye contact.

A fight breaks out at the front of the bar. I clap my hands together to get Matt’s attention. He’s not working tonight. He’s not strong enough for bouncing yet, but he’s here as a wingman of sorts.

I see it, he signs. The big one is drunk.

The big ones always fall the hardest.

And they’re a bitch to pick up off the floor.

Matt laughs. I’m so fucking glad he’s getting back to normal.

I’ll take the little one, if you’ll take the big one. He cracks his knuckles and grins at me.

You’re such a pussy, I sign. And you can’t even claim chemo did it to you because you were a pussy before you got sick. I grin at him.

He shrugs his shoulders and smiles unabashedly back at me. It makes me so happy to see him like this. I watched him deteriorate last fall to the point where we though he wouldn’t pull through. He still might not. But we have hope.

At least I can get some pussy if I try. He looks down at the crotch of my jeans. Your dick, however, is going to rot off from lack of use.

I can’t help it if I’m a one woman man.

He claps a hand on my shoulder and squeezes. When do you think she’ll be back? I need to thank her.

She wouldn’t want any thanks. I shrug my shoulders. I wish I knew.

Matt points toward the fight, which is about to escalate into a full out brawl. The little guy is dumb enough to shove the big guy. The big guy falls into a woman behind him, and then her boyfriend starts swinging.

Now, Matt says.

Now. I fucking love this part of the job. It takes four of us. Matt and I, Ford and another bouncer all jump into the fray and then we have it under control. But the big one is on the floor with his eyes closed. He has a smile on his face and he’s murmuring something but I can’t read his lips.

I think he’s singing? Matt says, his brows arching in question. Girl you make my speakers go boom boom?

I laugh. People look over as noise bursts from my throat. But I don’t care. Laughter feels good. Emily taught me that. Help me get him up.

Matt takes one arm while I take the other and we hoist him onto his wobbly legs. His girlfriend, who is pretty unsturdy herself, says, “We need a cab.”

Matt and I haul him out to the cabstand and throw him into a taxi. The girlfriend gets in behind him. I feel bad for the cab driver who will have to throw his big ass out on the sidewalk.

I dust my hands off. At least it’s done.

Snow is falling on us and I brush my hand across my hair. Suddenly, Matt tenses beside me. What? I ask.

He smiles, claps me on the shoulder and says take the rest of the night off. Then he points beyond me.

I turn around and freeze. My lungs refuse to do their job, and I stand there, not breathing, not moving, trying not to feel anything. But there she is. Emily is standing on the sidewalk looking at me. She shifts from foot to foot, looking nervous as hell. Snow is falling on her hair and she’s not wearing a coat. Surely she can afford a coat. Her family is worth billions.

Her dark blond hair, so unlike the black hair with the blue stripe she had when I met her, falls down to the middle of her back, and she has it tucked behind her ear. She’s not wearing clothes from around here. She’s full-on Madison Avenue right now.

But the best thing about it is… she’s mine.

Matt says something to her. But she doesn’t speak to him. She doesn’t break eye contact with me, and I feel like there’s an invisible tether between the two of us.

I look at Matt to tell him I’m going wherever she is. He grins. I guess we won’t have to worry about your dick dying from lack of use after all.

I’ll see you later.

I doubt it, he says. But he’s still grinning that goofy smile. I want to go and hug her, but I guess you get first dibs.

And last dibs. And all the dibs in between.

He waves to her and signs the word later.

She nods, throws him a kiss with the tips of her fingers and then she starts toward me. Her boots leave footprints in the snow, and I force myself to stay still. I tuck my hands in my jean pockets to keep from grabbing her.

Hi, she signs.

I can’t stand it any longer. I reach for her so quickly that she startles, but she’s reaching for me, too. I haul her against me, needing to feel her heart beating against mine.

Her breath brushes my ear and I am almost overcome with emotion. I tuck my face into her neck and breathe in the scent that is uniquely her. She wraps her arms around my waist, and her hands slide into my back pockets. We stand there in the snow like that until I feel dampness on my shirt. I tilt her face up to mine so I can look at her.

“I’m so glad you’re home.” I use my voice because I don’t want to take my hands off of her.

“Me, too,” she says. And a lone tear tracks down her cheek. I wipe it away with the pad of my thumb.

“You’re back?” I ask.

She nods, turning her head to kiss my palm.

“For how long?”

“Always.” She smiles. God, she can undo me with that smile.

“Promise?” My heart is pounding in my chest.

She nods and draws a cross over her chest. “I swear it.”

“What about your father?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t want to talk about my father right now.”

“I’ll never survive it if you leave me again.” I swallow past the lump in my throat.

“Can you come home with me?” she asks.

If I take her home right now, we won’t get to talk at all, because I’ll be all over her. “Let’s go and get some pie,” I say instead.

Her face falls. “You’re mad at me.”

“I love you like crazy, girl. How could I be mad at you?” I drink her in, from the crook of her lips to the way the way that her eyes look almost back in the darkness of the night.

She squeezes my hands. “Is Matt all right?”

I nod. “Thanks to you, yes.”

She exhales, and it’s like a balloon has been emptied inside her. “What do we do now?” she asks.

“Pie,” we both say at the same time. I take her hand in mine and lead her to the diner where we had our first meal together. Pie is safe. Pie is good. Pie will buy me enough time to be sure she still loves me as much as I love her.

Finding that freakin’ key

For those of you who know me, you know that I have a houseful of boys. Well, two really. Three if you count their dad. I say houseful because they literally fill up my house, just the two of them. My oldest is 18 and will be off to college this fall and my youngest is 9.

My oldest devoured books like they’re water when he was younger. He would stand and wait for the bus with a book open in his hands. He read in the hallways and at lunch. He had a frequent flyer card at the library. He loved books. So, I was thoroughly dismayed when I realized that my nine year old hated to read.

Yes. There’s my big old confession. My nine year old hated to read.

I was devastated when I realized it.

Absolutely devastated.

I’m a writer, for heaven’s sake. I’m also a reader. I devour no less than five and sometimes more than ten books a week. I admit it. I’m hooked on books. My husband is a reader. He and I lay in bed at night and read by the light of the iPads. Granted, his usually hits him in the face long before mine does. But he loves books.

So, where-oh-where did I go wrong? Why did my nine year old hate reading so much? And what could I do about it? It’s not natural not to read. It’s just not. Right?

We tried everything. We read with him. We got him special books. Had outings about books. We exhausted every opportunity. He had no interest.

Now, keep in mind that my youngest had some processing problems when he was younger. He didn’t hear for first two years of his life, and it was really tough on him when he was smaller. When he was two and a half, he had surgery on his ears and went home hearing that day. But at that point, he had no spoken language. He frustrated easily. Tasks that were easy for others were hard for him. He had a lot of catching up to do. And he did it. He’s officially on the same level as other kids now, and he’s doing great.

But there was that one last hurdle. He didn’t like to read.

I had just about given up hope and accepted that he wasn’t going to be a reader. But then I saw an ad for a cheap, used Kindle Fire. It was $50 and although I already had one, I thought it might be nice to have a spare in case mine breaks (or I wear it out). I bought it and took it home.

“Can I use it?” he asked.

My heart leaped. Absolutely leaped. I asked my dear friends on Facebook which series might be good for a nine year old and I got tons of wonderful recommendations. The first book – I sat and read that one with him. I did the voices and oohed and ah-ed over the pictures. And he enjoyed it. But he was listening rather than reading. (Remember the processing problem?)

When we finished, I tentatively asked, “Do you want to try another one?”

He shrugged. I deflated like a big old balloon. But I bought another book. At bedtime, I passed him the Kindle and made the offer that he could sit up and read if he wanted. He shrugged again and took it with him. An hour later, under the cover of darkness, he was still reading. I sneaked out of his room, because he didn’t even hear me come in, and pumped my fist in the air, absolutely giddy about the fact that my kid was reading.

The next day, he wanted to talk about it. And boy did he talk. He recounted the whole story. At bedtime, he asked me if he could have another book. He has been reading chapter books ever since. He’s devouring them like they’re water. He’s cutting into my book budget and I DON’T CARE. He’s reading.

Apparently, he really, really likes the Kindle medium. He does not like paper books. He may never like to hold a paper book in his hand, smell the glue or dog ear pages. But he loves reading on his Kindle. Yes, he took over the new Kindle. And I don’t care. I’d buy him a brand new one tomorrow if anything happened to his.

My kid is a reader. He’s exploring new worlds and taking journeys I never thought he would be able to enjoy. And it’s all because of a $50 Kindle Fire I just happened to pick up for cheap.

A book is a book, right? I assumed that he didn’t like books in general. That they were hard for him. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. So, I am sharing my suggestion in case any of you are bumping your heads against the wall with regard to your kids and the ways they learn. Sometimes it’s not about the book, the level of intelligence, or even the desire to read. Sometimes it’s about the platform in which the book is presented. And with all the new ways there are to read, are you making sure your kids can choose their own medium?

Books unlock doors to new worlds. But sometimes you have to find the key as well.

stephenreading