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Chapter Two of Proving Paul’s Promise – Unedited

If you missed chapter one, you can find it here.

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Paul

 

I can’t fucking believe she brought that man here. In my shop. Where I work. Hell, it’s where I live.

I lean against the counter and balance myself on my palms. My forehead rests against the upper cabinet, and I force myself to take a deep breath and count to ten. It was all I could do not to jerk him off of her and show him the door. With my foot up his ass.

One of my brothers left shit on the counter that should have been put away so I do it and slam the cabinet door. That feels a little better, but not much more. I can just imagine that douche in the front of the shop. He’s probably got his hand all the way up her shirt by now.

I slam another door.

The curtain rattles behind me and a breeze tickles the back of my neck as someone walks into the space. “Not now,” I grind out.

“Then when?” she tosses back.

Great. It would be her that came to get me. I knew it was her. No one else makes the hair on my arms stand up or gives me fucking chills. Not to mention that the perfume she wears gets to me before her voice does. It reaches across the room, creeps up my nose, and wraps itself around my heart. I lower my head and grit my teeth. “Go away, Friday,” I say.

“You have a client waiting,” she says, as though I don’t know.

“I’m aware.”

“Then what the fuck are you doing?” she asks.

Friday is the only one who talks to me like that in my shop. She calls me on my shit and she has since the day she first walked in here. She was eighteen years old and she had just started at NYU. She walked in looking like she was lost and I hired her on the spot when she told me what was wrong with the tattoo on the side of my neck. She told me how she would change it and that any good artist would have known that it was placed wrong. She pulled out a sheet of paper and drew a quick sketch of a new design.

“Want a job?” I’d said.

“Yeah,” she’d replied. “But only if you’ll fix that fucking tattoo so I don’t have to look at that monstrosity every fucking day.”

I’d grinned. Hell, the thought of it still makes me grin. Logan had fixed the tattoo that day and she’d started working for me. That was four years ago. Four fucking years of looking at her beautiful legs and red lips. Every. Single. Day. Four years of watching her and wanting her. Four years of lusting over Friday. Four years with her busting my chops.

“I’ll finish in a minute,” I say. I heave a sigh and drop heavily into a chair. Friday wears me the fuck out.

She puts her hands on her hips and glares at me. “Why?”

“Why what?” I force myself to look at her face instead of her rack. She has the most beautiful fucking rack I have ever seen, and I’ve been looking at it long enough to know.

“Why are you back here instead of out there working?”

Because I couldn’t watch you sucking face with that douche. “I told you I’m taking a break.” I give her a what-the-fuck look. If I let her think she’s gone mental, I can blame it all on her, right?

“But why?” she asks. She stomps that little foot of hers. But that immediately draws my attention to her feet, and then up her legs, and then… God. I swipe a hand down my face. “Why, Paul?”

“Who’s the douche?” I ask, instead of telling her how I’m feeling.

“What douche?” She still has her hands on her hips.

“The one who had his tongue down your throat.” I glare at her. But she doesn’t back down. She never does.

“His name is Garrett,” she mumbles. She is suddenly really interested in looking at the magnets on the fridge.

“Garrett is a fuckwad. Tell him to keep his dick in his pants the next time he comes in my shop.”

She blows out a breath and raises her finger to point at me, and I can tell she’s about to ream me a new one.

“Weren’t you fucking somebody else last week, Friday?” I blurt out. I want to take it back immediately, because it hangs there in the air between us like a bomb about to explode.

“What?” she asks, and her voice goes soft.

“Last week it was a different guy who took you to lunch.” I grumble to myself and get up, pretending to clean the counter.

She thinks it over. “You mean Cody?”

“How many are there?”

She blinks hard. What the fuck? Friday never cries. Ever. I take a step toward her and she steps back, putting her hand up like she’s going to push the air around me back. “How dare you?” she breathes. A tear falls over her lashes and she swipes it away, and then looks down at the back of her wet hand like she doesn’t know what the fuck a tear is.

“Friday,” I say. I step toward her again. I soften my voice because I have no idea what to do. I have never seen this Friday before. I have only seen the one who can eat my balls for lunch. Hell, she’ll feed my balls to me if I piss her off enough. And make me like it. Four years and I have never seen her shed a tear.

She turns around and runs into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. I lean my ear against the door and listen, but I can’t hear anything over the sound of the fan. I knock. She doesn’t answer.

“Damn it,” I swear. I lean my forehead against the door.

“Leave her alone,” I hear from behind me.

I turn around because Logan is talking. “I can’t,” I say to him. I knock again, but she doesn’t answer.

“Just leave her the fuck alone,” he says again. He’s pissed and I can tell. “You have a client.” He waves toward my customer like he’s Vanna Fucking White. “Work to do. So, you might want to get to it.”

I heave a sigh and look at my client. “Just a moment,” I say.

“Take your time,” he says with a grin. He’s loving the show, apparently.

I pull my keys from my pocket and fit the key in the lock. I hesitate long enough for Logan to notice.

“You shouldn’t,” he warns.

I know I shouldn’t, but I am.

I turn the key and let myself into the room. I find Friday washing her face.

“What the fuck, Paul!” she cries. She turns back to the mirror and dabs beneath her eyes. She looks at me in the mirror. “Get out.”

I close the door behind me and lean against it. “Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” she bites out. But another tear slides down her cheek. “Fucking hormones,” she says as she swipes it away.

All this because she has her period? I know better than to say that out loud. “Oh,” I say instead.

She turns to face me, hitching her hip against the sink. She crosses her arms beneath her breasts, which pushes them up and makes little pillows over the top of that low cut dress she’s wearing. My God. I look up at her face. She smirks at me. I like a smirking Friday a lot better than one who’s crying, because I don’t know what do with tears. Not from her.

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” I blurt out when she just glares at me.

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Fuck me, Friday,” I breathe. I swipe a hand down my face again and growl to myself.

She turns to face the mirror and starts to put on her lipstick. “I tried to do that and you didn’t want to,” she says. She purses her lips and kisses toward the mirror. The move shoots straight to my dick. “So, you — mister-I-am-jealous — don’t get to tell me who I can and can’t sleep with.” She looks directly into my eyes in the mirror. “So, I can sleep with Garrett. I can sleep with Cody.” She throws up her hands. “Hell, I can sleep with both of them at the same time, if I want.” She turns to face me. “And you don’t get any say-so about it.” She walks toward me. “You can’t say a word, because you didn’t want it.” She gestures toward the front of her body. “You said no to all this, so you get no say.”

“I didn’t say no,” I mumble.

“You kissed me and then you tried to take it back!” she yells.

Okay, I like Friday yelling. I like it so much more than Friday crying. “I didn’t try to take it back!” I slap my palm against the wall, but she just looks at my hand, smirks, and rolls her eyes. “I just… Never mind.”

“Just what?” she asks.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s over and done with.”

“Yep,” she says, letting her lips pop on the P. “Over. Done.” She dusts her hands together. “So you don’t get to go all Neanderthal when someone else kisses me.”

“I just…” I shake my head. “I had something I needed to take care of.”

“Don’t you mean somebody?” She smirks and shakes her head. “Was it Kelly you had to take care of? Heaven knows Kelly needs to come more than I do.”

Did she just say “come”? I shake the thoughts away. They’re not going to get me anywhere.

Friday tolerates my daughter’s mother. But I don’t think she’s ever really liked her. “It actually was Kelly I needed to take care of.” I say. I may as well lay all my shit bare. Friday cried, for God’s sake.

She lets out a heavy breath. “You kissed me and then you went and got some from Kelly?”

Her voice is soft. She’s… what is she? Is she hurt?

“No, I didn’t go and get some from Kelly. I went and broke things off with Kelly.” I take a step forward until I’m towering over her and she has to tip her head back to look into my face. “I had to go and tell her that I kissed you and that you rocked my fucking world.”

She freezes, so I take a chance and put my arm around her, pulling her against me. “What?” she breathes.

“I haven’t slept with Kelly since before I kissed you. I don’t want to sleep with Kelly. I have you on my fucking mind and I can’t get you out. So, I went and broke things off with Kelly. Completely.”

She blinks her brown eyes at me. Blink. Blink.

“Then I came back to see you, but you were pissed. You wouldn’t let me in. You said ‘no fucking way, you stupid son of a bitch.’ And you told me to go home. So, I went. Alone.”

Blink. Blink.

“Kelly and I weren’t dating. We were just friends with benefits. Or parents with benefits. Whatever. Now we’re just Hayley’s parents.”

Blink. Blink.

“I went and told her that we couldn’t do that anymore, and she understood.”

“You told her?” she whispers. “That you… what? What did you tell her?”

“I told her that I can’t stop thinking about you.” I brush her hair back from her forehead. I kissed Friday that one time when I walked her home and she invited me inside, and we both knew what she was offering, but I don’t think I’ve ever just held her in my arms. I like it. She lays her palms flat on my chest, like she needs to steady herself. “I have a thing for you,” I admit. I wince inwardly, because that sounds so lame.

“A thing?”

“A big thing.”

Her gaze drops.

“Not that thing.” Although now that she’s looking down at it, it’s ready to rise to attention. Fucking attention whore. I tip her chin up. “But,” I say.

“But what?”

“Then you showed up with that first douche. And then that second douche. And I had just changed my whole life for the possibility of you. But you had moved on. Quickly.” I drag my fingertips up and down her bare arms and chill bumps rise. She shivers. “So, yeah, I’m mad. Sorry.”

“You don’t sound sorry.”

“I’m not.”

She laughs, and the sound of it shoots straight to my heart.

“Am I too late?” I ask. I wait, with my heart in my throat.

She steps back from me. “Paul,” she says. Her voice cracks. “I’m so sorry.”

I don’t need to hear any more. I go out and start my machine up and get back to work. I hear her move around in the shop, and I glance up at her every once in a while, but she gets busy with clients, drawing tattoos, and she ignores me. She doesn’t look in my direction. Not even once. Not for the whole rest of the night. And when it’s closing time, Logan volunteers to walk her home. I let him.

 

 

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Chapter One – Unedited

Friday

 

I’ve heard that the best way to get over one man is to get under another. With that said, I doubt this is what the speaker had in mind. A hand squeezes tightly to mine. It was pretty stupid of me to allow them to be in the room with me for this part because I’m feeling terribly exposed, despite the fact that my lower half is draped with a sheet. There’s just something about having my legs up in stirrups and the top of a woman’s head visible between my thighs that makes this all awkward.

It should be beautiful, and really, it is. It’s just… odd.

I have Cody on my left and Garrett on my right. They lean toward one another and kiss over my head, and Garrett uses his free hand to wipe a tear from Cody’s cheek.

The doctor looks up from her perch between my thighs. “You doing okay up there?” she asks.

I squeeze my eyes shut tightly. “Fine,” I say.

Garrett leans down and kisses my temple, his lips lingering there. “Thank you for doing this,” he whispers vehemently, and emotion swells within me.

“Thanks for letting me do this,” I say back. I tip my face up and he presses a soft kiss to my lips. There’s no passion in this kiss whatsoever. There’s only emotion and gratitude and a type of affection like I’ve never known.

Cody squeezes my shoulder. These guys make the cutest couple. They have been together for about twelve years and, after three failed adoptions, they wanted more than anything to have a kid. They didn’t even ask me. I volunteered to be their surrogate. I’m healthy, I’m young, I’m in love with the type of love they have for one another, and I wanted to give them their own baby.

We used a donor egg and a mishmash of their sperm. The donor egg is so I could stay as far removed from the situation as possible. The mishmash is so they won’t know who the father is. They’ll both be fathers. All I know is that I don’t want to be a mom. But I’m willing to let the little guy cook in my uterus for nine months or so. Then I will gladly hand him over to these wonderful men and they will be able to raise their own child.

I wince as the doctor cranks the speculum down and pulls it from my vagina. She lifts my feet from the stirrups and rolls her chair back. “Friday,” she says. That’s my name. Friday. Like the day of the week. It’s not the name on my birth certificate, but it fits me better than that old relic of my former life ever did. “In about ten days, I want you to come in for a blood test.”

Cody rubs his hands together. He’s so excited that I get all teary again. That could be the hormones they used to get me on a cycle similar to that of the egg donor. But either way, I’m much more emotional than on a normal day. “Ten days until we find out if we’re going have a baby!” Cody squeals.

A grin tugs at my lips as Garrett helps me sit up. I feel a lot better with the gown covering all my girly bits, instead of having my hoo haa up in the air for everyone to see.

“I can go to work today, right?” I ask.

She nods her head. “The only thing you can’t do is have an orgasm.”

Heat creeps up my cheeks, so I slap my palms against them. “Oh, no!” I cry. “What am I going to do without my daily orgasms?”

Garrett holds up two fingers. “Twice on Sundays.”

“Don’t do any heavy lifting or any strenuous exercise. And no warm baths.” the doctor says. She looks at the tattoo on my knee with keen interest. It’s a spider web with a baby rattle in the middle of the web. “Interesting,” she says more to herself than to me. Hell, she already saw the one on my inner thigh.

I cover my knee with my hand and she jerks her gaze away. I have tattoos all over my body. I love them, and each one tells a story. I drew most of them, and they all mean something to me. I know people with tattoos have a lot of stigmas attached to them, but I just like art, and I like to wear art on my body. Judge me if you want to, because I don’t care.

“I have to get back to work,” Cody says, and he leans over to kiss Garrett on the lips. Then he kisses my temple and leaves, his smile big and bright.

Garrett hangs out with me while I change clothes behind the curtain. I can hear his feet hitting the side of the exam table he’s sitting on. He’s like a giddy little kid with his feet swinging back and forth. “Where do you have to go when you leave here?” he asks.

“Work,” I say as I pull my dress down over my head. I like vintage clothes and today is no different than any other day. I wonder how I’m going to be able to pull off the vintage look when my belly is big and round. I am not sure vintage-inspired clothes will be easy to find for pregnant women.

“Don’t you want to take the rest of the day off?” he asks. “We could go shopping. Buy some baby stuff.”

“Tempting,” I say. Honestly, it sounds like hell. “I’ll leave that to you and Cody, if you don’t mind.”

“Fine,” he tosses back harshly, like he’s annoyed, but I know he’s not. “Let me buy you lunch, then. And I’ll walk you back to Reed’s.”

Reed’s is the tattoo parlor where I work. The idea of him walking me there makes me surprisingly joyful. “Will you be sure to kiss me before you leave?” I ask. I grin as I put on my delicate shoes with the tall heels that I love so very much. They match the dress.

“Why?” he asks, instantly suspicious. He jerks the curtain back as I pull my hair from the neck of my dress. He grins. “Which of the Reeds are you hoping to make jealous?” He narrows his eyes at me.

I start to tick them off on my fingers. “Logan is married and has a baby on the way. Pete is with Reagan. Matt is married and knocked his wife up. With twins!”

“So that leaves Sam and Paul.” He appraises me shrewdly.

Kissing Sam would be like kissing my brother. Paul, on the other hand…

“Mm hmm,” Garrett hums. “It’s the big one, right?”

“He’s not that big,” I mutter to myself.

“Are you kidding?” he shrieks. “He’s fucking huge.” He grins. “I bet the rest of him is just as big.”

Sometimes having a gay man as a really good friend has its advantages. Because a straight man would never wonder how big Paul Reed’s dick is. “I wouldn’t know,” I murmur. His baby mama would, though, because he still sleeps with Kelly. That part makes my gut ache.

“Does he still walk you home at night when the shop closes?” Garrett asks.

I shrug. “One of them does.”

“Does he still try to kiss you?” Garrett sings. He’s like a damn woodland creature with his giddiness. I expect him to break out into song any second.

“That only happened once,” I say. It was the kiss that rocked my world, though. I pick up my purse and step out into the room.

“And?” He makes a rolling motion with his finger as he opens the door for me and we walk through the hallway. He checks us out, pays the bill, and we step out into the sunshine.

“And what?” I huff as I put on my sunglasses and pretend like I don’t know what he just asked.

“The man laid one on you and you still have to see him every day, Friday. How’s that going?” He takes my hand in his and threads his fingers through mine as we wait for the subway. The baby doctor’s office is on the good side of town. And Reed’s is not. It’s in the area that I love more than anything.

“Fine.”

He gapes at me, his mouth hanging open. “That’s all I get? Fine?” He points to my belly. “You might have my baby in your uterus, and that’s all you’re going to tell me?”

I cover his mouth with my hand. “You don’t get any say over any part of my body except for that baby that might or might not be growing in there.”

“Oh, that was cold,” he says. But I have quite effectively changed the subject.

He talks about nurseries and bottles and clothes and all those things I don’t even want to know about until we get to Reed’s. When we get there, he stops out in front of the shop, cups his hands around his eyes and looks through the glass into the room. “Yep,” he says with a grin. “It’s show time!” He takes my hand and opens the door. The grin falls off his face, and he replaces it with a look of aloofness. It’s uncanny how he can do that. He minored in theater many years ago, though, so I guess it makes sense. He’s a teacher now.

I drop my bag behind the desk at the front, which is where I usually work. I draw tattoos, and sometimes I do the actual tattoo part. I’m still learning how to do that. But drawing is my thing. This is where my skills lie, since I’m an art major at NYU. Or at least I was until I graduated two weeks ago. Now I’m just a possibly-knocked-up soon-to-be-homeless person. Oh, crap. I haven’t told Garrett and Cody about my living situation yet.

Paul looks up from where he’s doing a tattoo on a guy’s shoulder and he frowns. “Morning,” he says, looking from me to Garrett and back. Garrett swells up in size. Honey, no matter what you do, you will never look as big or as tough as Paul Reed, I can’t help but think.

“Morning,” I chirp back.

Logan is here, too, and he smiles at me and waves. Logan is deaf but can speak, and we all learned how to sign many years ago. I wave back.

Who’s that? he signs at me, and points to Garrett.

I put my hand on Garrett’s shoulder. “Garrett, this is Paul and the quiet one there is Logan.”

Logan stands up and shakes Garrett’s hand. Paul just grunts.

“Nice to meet you,” Garrett says. He turns to me and tips my face up. He leans down close to my ear and says, “I bet he’s fucking huge.” I laugh and try to turn my face away, but he just holds me there with his thumbs beneath my chin and his fingers splayed toward my ear. Then his lips touch mine.

He’s actually a really good kisser, and I kind of envy Cody a little bit, because if he goes after sex the same way he’s going after this fake kiss, Cody’s getting it pretty good…

The only thing about it – there’s not a single spark. Not even one. It’s just warm, wet lips sliding across mine, and the touch of a tongue really quickly. I pinch his side and he laughs against my lips and pulls back. He drags his nose up and down the side of mine. “Cody is going to love it when I tell him about this.” I stab him in the side with my index finger and he bends over, trying not to laugh.

“Remember what the doctor said,” he tells me, facing me and speaking quietly. “No orgasms. Not even ones offered by great big old studly looking tattoo artists that make you sweat.” He waves a hand in front of his face like a fan. “He makes me sweat a little bit, too.”

I hear a clatter behind us as Paul throws down his gun and stalks toward the back of the shop. He pulls the privacy curtain and goes behind it.

Logan looks up at me and grins, and just shakes his head.

Garrett kisses my forehead, lingering there for a second. “In ten days, you might be my baby mama,” he says, his body rocking against mine as he chuckles.

I punch his shoulder and point toward the door.

Next time he fake kisses me, I have to remember to tell him not to use tongue. I wipe the back of my hand across my mouth and watch him leave. He waves and blows me a kiss.

Logan throws up a hand to get my attention. You’re playing with fire, he warns. He jerks his thumb toward the curtain. He’s pissed. He must not want Paul to hear him or he would be talking instead of signing.

I wave a breezy hand at him. He’ll have to get over it.

He looks toward the curtain. You should go talk to him.

Why?

Because he still has a client out here and he had to leave because you were sucking face with the other guy.

Crap. Paul walked out with a client in his chair. With a half finished tat. He has no right to be angry.

Logan’s brow arches and he shakes his head.

Well, he doesn’t.

Quit being a baby, he signs. He jerks his thumb toward the curtain again. Go talk to him.

I heave a sigh and go to get Paul out of his snit.

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Chapter One

 

Skylar

 

Today would be a beautiful day if not for the casket and the three children with wet faces and red eyes sitting beside me on the front pew. The service hasn’t started yet, and people keep wandering up to look at my half sister, Kendra. Some of them whisper soft words to her and reach out to touch her cold hand. I touched it, too. That was the second and last time I would ever touch her. She’s the sister I never got to meet until the day she died.

I startle as the pew shakes. Seth, the oldest of Kendra’s children, jumps to his feet and cries, “Grandpa!”

Grandpa? What? He has a grandpa? I look up and see my very own father. He’s here? Huh? He wraps Seth up in his arms and squeezes him tightly. He sets him back and looks into his eyes. “How are you holding up?” he asks quietly.

Seth’s eyes travel toward the casket. “We’re okay,” he says. He swallows hard. I can hear it from where I’m sitting.

Dad takes Seth’s face in his hands and stares into his eyes. “Everything is going to be fine,” he says. “She’s in a better place.” He looks over Seth’s shoulder toward me. “And you have Skylar now,” he whispers. Seth nods.

A better place? When can I go to a better place? Anywhere would be better than this church where my dad is paying homage to his illegitimate daughter.

Dad walks over to me and kisses my cheek. “How are you, Sky?” he asks. He’s not nearly as friendly with me as he is with the grandchildren I never even knew he had until a few days ago.

“Fine,” I bite out.

Dad sits down and motions toward Kendra’s girls with a crook of his finger. The little one, who is three, scrambles into his lap, and the older one, who is five, leans into his side. He drops an arm around her and holds her close. He knows these kids. He knows them a lot better than he knows me. That chafes at me so badly that it makes me squirm in my seat.

Dad’s brows scrunch together in subtle warning. I stop moving.

I really need to learn that look now that I’m a mom.

Yes. I’m a mom. My dad came to me about a week ago and asked for my help. And bang—instant motherhood.

 

“Skylar,” Dad says quietly. “I need for you to do something for me.”

I look up from my manicotti and force a grin to my face. I should have known that he wanted something. He never would have invited me to lunch otherwise. “Did you get another speeding ticket?” I ask. I’m a brand-new attorney as of last month.

“No,” he says slowly. He won’t look me in the eye. “It’s about Kendra.”

I drop my fork, and it clatters loudly against my plate. I scramble to catch it and then brace myself with my palms on the table. “What about her?” I ask.

I know who Kendra is. She’s the daughter my dad had with his mistress. I found out a few years ago when my mother went on a drunken bender and unburdened her soul. And burdened mine.

Kendra is the daughter my father loved. Her mother was the woman he loved. It didn’t matter that my father was married to my mother. It didn’t matter that he had three kids with my mother. It didn’t matter that we were the perfect family with the house on the hill and a summer home at the Cape. Our family was only perfect until we found out he had another one. One he actually loved.

He had a whole other life with Kendra’s mother, right up until she died. They shared an apartment together, and they had a daughter. Dad went back and forth between our house and theirs for many years, but he was never really present when he was at ours. My mother was too resentful. So he stayed away more and more. With them.

Then, suddenly, one day he was back. His eyes were rimmed with red, and he retreated to his study with a bottle of Glenlivet. He didn’t come out for days. When he finally emerged, my mom walked around for a week singing, “Ding-dong, the witch is dead.” Kendra was already an adult at that point, and married.

But I had my father back after that day. I didn’t understand at all how it had come to be. I didn’t know at the time that he had another daughter. Another woman he had loved. Another life. But he did. And now he wanted to talk about her?

“Kendra is dying,” he says. His eyes fill with tears, but he won’t let them spill over. He blinks furiously, his face reddening.

“Oh,” I say. How am I supposed to respond to that? Ding-dong, the witch is dead… “What happened?”

“She has cancer. She found out when she was pregnant with her youngest daughter, Mellie.” He wipes his eyes with a cloth napkin and motions for a waiter to bring him a drink. “I got her into a really wonderful chemical trial, but she wanted to wait until Mellie was born.” He heaves a sigh. “If she hadn’t gotten pregnant, she might have made it. She could have gotten an abortion, but she refused. She waited too long. The cancer is going to win, and she doesn’t have anyone to take the children.”

I can’t breathe. My chest stills, and I feel like I’m going to pass out. Dad shoves a glass of water at me, and I raise it to my lips, sputter into the rim of it, take a sip, swallow, and inhale. I take a deep breath. And I wait. Because there’s more. There’s always more with my dad.

“She has three children. Seth is sixteen. Joey is five. And Mellie is three.” He covers my hand with his and squeezes it. “They don’t have anyone but me. And I can’t take them.” He sits back and rubs the bridge of his nose. “You know how your mother is,” he explains.

Yes, and I know how my mother was betrayed. Yes, I know how my mother found out about his mistress. Yes, I know how my mother hates the ground they all walk on. Sometimes I think she hates me, too. It’s hard to tell. I really don’t think she loves anyone or anything.

He looks me in the eye. “I need for you to help me. They’re your nieces and nephew, no matter what your mother has taught you.”

I am stunned. Absolutely stunned. “You love them,” I say quietly.

He nods. “I do.”

“You love her.” The words fall on the room like cracks of thunder.

“I do.”

I lean back against the chair. “Can I ask you something?”

He nods. It’s a quick jerk, but I see it.

“What did they give you that we couldn’t?” I ask. I don’t even cry. I just ask it. I always wanted to know.

“Your mother made it really hard for me to be a part of our family,” he says. “After she found out—” He raises his hand to stop me when I open my mouth to complain. “Wait,” he says. “Hear me out.”

I nod. I couldn’t talk if I wanted to.

“I loved you and your brother and sister. But I loved Kendra’s mother, too, and I should have divorced your mother and made a clean break.”

“Without us,” I say.

“No, I would have taken you with me if I could. But I couldn’t. Your mother would have ruined me financially, and I could get over that, but she would have gotten custody of you all. And I couldn’t just leave you with all that hatred, without at least trying to be a buffer.” I don’t remember him as a buffer. I know him as that man I never knew. He balls up his fist and squeezes tightly. “That’s why I never left completely. Your mother is more than a bit vindictive, as you know.” He scrubs a hand across his perfect white hair. “Sometimes I think she would have been okay with it if Kendra’s mother was white.”

What? Kendra’s mother’s not white? My father had an affair with a woman of a different race?

“If you do this for me, your mother is going to be very angry at you.”

No shit. She’ll hate me. But I think she already does anyway.

“I understand if you say no,” he says on a sigh. “But they don’t have anyone else.”

“Where is their father?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Fathers,” he says, enunciating the word. “Seth has a dad who sees him once or twice a year, and the girls’ dad has a new family and not enough time for them.”

“So, what do you want me to do?” I ask. I throw my napkin into my plate. My manicotti is churning in my stomach.

“I want you to go and get them.”

“Did you ask Tim? Or Lydia?” They’re my brother and sister and both are older than me.

He shakes his head. “They have families of their own.”

“And I don’t.” Shit, I don’t have anyone. No one but a boyfriend I almost never see. My mother is a nutcase and my father’s heart lies with another family.

“You’re single. You would be wonderful with them.” He lowers his voice and looks around the room. “You won’t look at them like they’re unwanted, biracial children. You’ll love them. I know you will.” He glares at me. “Will you at least meet them? Please? I know it would be a challenge. You’d have to learn a lot, but Seth is sixteen. He helps to take care of the little ones. Hell, in two years, he can take custody himself. That’s what he wants.”

Dad’s pleading with me.

“I’ve never asked for anything before,” he says.

He’s right. He’s never asked for a good night kiss. Or any of the things fathers want. Well, he probably asked for them from Kendra.

“I’ll go,” I say. They’re just children after all. And children need to be loved. I wasn’t, but I can make it better for Kendra’s kids, can’t I? There’s a tiny little piece of me that wants to make my father proud. To make him love me.

He deflates like a balloon. “Oh, thank God,” he says. He lays a hand on his chest. Then he gets up, lifts me by my elbows, and pulls me to him. I can’t remember ever getting a hug from my father before, and I don’t know what to do with it. He holds me like that, breathing into the hair on the top of my head for a moment. Then he sets me back. His eyes are wet with unshed tears. “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you so much.”

I nod. I can’t do anything more. I feel like somebody took my insides and shoved them up my throat.

 

I’m jerked from my memories when someone sits down on my left. I look up and instantly recognize Matthew Reed. He was a friend of Kendra’s from the cancer center. I went to visit, right before Kendra died, and to get the kids. Matt was waiting with her. He stayed with Seth so they could be there when she took her last breath. I took the little ones home; I didn’t think they needed to remember their mom that way.

His blue eyes gaze into mine, and he sticks out a hand to shake. He doesn’t say anything. I look up at him. He’s wearing a blue turtleneck covered up by a black button-down shirt with a pair of really nice trousers. He tugs at the top of the turtleneck, and I get a tiny peek of his tattoos.

“You clean up nicely,” I say. I smile at him because I don’t know what else to do.

“Thanks,” he says quietly. His blond hair is held back with a leather band at the nape of his neck, but a piece falls forward, and he tucks it behind his ear. He has a row of piercings up the shell of his ear, and I count them in my head. I have a suddenly insatiable desire to see his hair hang loose around his face.

He looks down at my black skirt and my white shirt. “So do you.”

I think I was wearing something similar the last time I saw him, but I smile anyway. He squeezes my hand and pulls his fingers from my grasp. I probably shouldn’t have held his hand so long. I’m an idiot. He leans across me and reaches for my dad’s hand. “Mr. Morgan,” he says with a nod. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Dad nods his thanks and grips Matt’s hand tightly, and then swipes a finger under his nose. He goes back to talking to the girls, and they’re snuggling closer and closer to him as he murmurs softly to them.

Matt reaches past my dad and bumps knuckles with Seth. Seth smiles at him, but then the preacher walks to the front of the church, they close the casket—thank God—and the sermon begins.

Matt takes my hand in his again, and I feel tears sting my eyes. I blink up at him, and he smiles softly at me. He squeezes my hand gently and listens to the pastor. But he doesn’t let me go.

 

 

Matt

 

“She looks lonely,” Emily says as she elbows me in the side. She’s my brother Logan’s wife and she holds a little piece of my heart. But sometimes I want to elbow her back when she pokes me with her scrawny limbs. “You should go check on her,” she whispers vehemently. She raises her elbow again, and I grab it before she can jab me.

“Fine,” I bite out. I get up, stepping on my four brothers’ feet as I scoot past them. Of course, I’m in the center of the aisle and have to go by all of them. Reagan, Pete’s girl, reaches out and squeezes my hand as I walk by her. I love Reagan, and Emily, too. But Emily is a little more outspoken. Reagan is famous for her tender touches, and Emily is the opposite.

I adjust my suit coat and tug at the turtleneck I borrowed from Logan. He gets free clothes from Emily’s parents, who own Madison Avenue, the upscale clothing company. I feel like a monkey dressed up in a coat and a top hat. Like the ones that dance at carnivals. Dance, monkey, dance.

I drop into the open seat beside Skylar, Kendra’s half sister, and I reach out to shake hands with her. She holds on a second too long, and I don’t mind it. She looks tired. Her dad is sitting beside her, but there may as well be an ocean between them. It’s only a few inches, but even I can feel the divide.

I shake his hand and bump knuckles with Seth. Seth and I were both with his mom when she died. We shared the most difficult moment of his life, and it’s something I will never, ever forget.

I watched Kendra take her last breath and all I could think was how lucky I was that it wasn’t me dying there in that bed. It could have so easily been me. Kendra and I were in the same chemical trial, but I got better and my cancer went into remission. Hers didn’t.

She died.

I’m alive.

I look down at Skylar. She looks nothing like Kendra. Kendra was biracial, so she had skin the color of sweet coffee, and she wore her hair natural but short. Skylar is light skinned, blond, and blue eyed. She has rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses pushed up on top of her head, holding her hair back from her face. It hangs halfway down her back in soft waves.

The preacher starts to speak at the front of the church, and Skylar closes her eyes. She squeezes her hands together in her lap, and I can’t tell what’s going on in her head. I wish I knew.

I reach out and take her hand in mine without even thinking about it. I tuck our twined fingers down on the seat between us, and I give her a gentle squeeze. She looks up at me and blinks slowly, her blue eyes startled. But then they soften and she blinks at me again, and this time she really looks at me. She squeezes my hand back, and I don’t let her go. I hold it until both our palms start to sweat.

I get so wrapped up in the feel of her hand in mine and the soft drone of the preacher, that it startles me when a cough jerks me out of my trance. I look up and see a tall man looking down his nose at me. He nudges my knee. “I think you’re in my spot,” he says.

I look at Skylar, and she is just as shocked as I am. She pulls her hand from mine and wipes it on her skirt. I scoot over, and he settles down beside her. He drops an arm around her shoulders, and she leans over to press her lips to his. It’s a quick kiss, one that makes me wonder how often he does it and if it’s always quite that chaste.

Great, now I’m thinking about how it feels to kiss her. Shit. Where did that come from?

Finally, they roll the casket from the church, and we all follow to the graveside. I am a pallbearer and so are my brothers. My brothers are really good for things like that. I volunteered them when Mr. Morgan called to ask me to do it.

I take the carnation off my lapel, lay it on top of the casket, and go to stand with my brothers behind the crowd.

Emily threads her arm through mine. “Who is the guy?” she asks, nodding toward the man who’s standing with Skylar.

I shrug. “I have no idea.”

“Does she have a boyfriend?” Reagan asks.

My brothers are silent. I wish Logan and Pete would tell their girls to shut it for a few minutes and quit being so nosy. I tap Emily on the tip of her nose, and she scrunches up her face. “Stop being so curious,” I tell her.

I wrap my arm around Reagan and pull her to me. I like it when she goes all soft against me, because when she’s not soft, she’s ready to take my head off with a karate chop. I have been on the wrong end of a startled Reagan before, and I don’t particularly want to go there again.

“You okay?” she asks quietly.

I heave a sigh. “I guess.” I shake my head. “I still can’t believe she’s gone,” I say.

Reagan kisses my cheek and then stops to wipe her thumb across the lipstick she must have left on my skin. She smiles. “I’m glad you got better,” she says quietly.

I squeeze her. “Me, too.”

But shit. I feel guilty. Kendra left behind three children.

I see Skylar walking toward us, and Emily and Reagan step back. The heels of the three-inch-high shoes Skylar’s wearing sink into the earth, and she totters a little because of it. I reach out to help steady her with a hand on her elbow. She stops in front of me.

“Thank you for being there with her,” Skylar says quietly.

“She was my friend,” I explain. I don’t know what else to say.

She looks into my eyes. “Was she in a lot of pain?” she asks. She shakes her head. “I tried to talk to Seth about it, but he pretty much pretends I don’t exist.”

I shove my hands in my pockets. “What do you mean? He’s not giving you a hard time, is he?”

She shakes her head again. “No. He’s perfect. He takes his sisters to day care in the morning and picks them up after school. He feeds them, and he bathes them. He won’t let me do anything. I think I’m just a placeholder.” She blows out a heavy breath.

I scratch my head. I don’t know how to tell her what I want to say.

“What?” she asks, her delicate brow arching.

“Kendra asked him to make it easy for you,” I admit. “When she was dying, she told him some things about how to be a good man. Always open car doors. Carry a handkerchief on dates, because you never know when she’ll cry. Never let her pay for dinner.” I take a deep breath. “And she told him to make it easy for you.”

Her mouth opens like she wants to say something but nothing comes out. She’s speechless. She closes it tightly, pressing her lips together. “What else did she tell him?”

“Just normal stuff about dying,” I tell her. It was soul-wrenching to watch. I’d finally had to leave the room so I wouldn’t upset them both with my sobbing. I missed some things as a result.

“I don’t know what to do with kids,” she says.

“They don’t really need much,” I say. “Just for you to love them.”

“I’m trying,” she says.

I want to lay my hand on the back of her hair and smooth down the length of it. I bet it feels like silk.

“I, um, should have introduced you to my boyfriend,” she says. “Do you want to meet him?”

I shake my head. I see him talking with Mr. Morgan. Skylar’s dad doesn’t look like he’s impressed.

“When you, um, took my hand…” she says. “I should have told you.”

“Why?” I look down at her. She comes up to my shoulder, even in her heels.

“I, um, didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

This time it’s me raising my brows at her. “Why did you think I took your hand?”

Her face colors. “I’m not sure,” she says.

I wrap my hand around her wrist and give her a soft squeeze. “I took your hand because you were trembling,” I say. “That’s all.” She’s trembling now, too, but I let her go.

“Oh,” she breathes.

She has her phone clutched in her free hand so I take it from her and add myself to her address book. “Do me a favor?” I say.

She looks up at me and then back down at the phone.

“Call me if you need anything. Anything at all. I promised their mom.”

“Okay,” she replies. “Thanks for everything.” Her blue eyes meet mine, and I have never seen anyone look quite so lost. But then her eyes narrow as her gaze shoots past me. “Shit,” she suddenly spits out.

“What?” I ask, looking over my shoulder toward the sedan that just pulled up.

“My mother is here,” she says. She squares her shoulders, and I suddenly see a spark that wasn’t there a moment ago. “Can you watch the children for a minute?” she asks.

“Why?”

“Just because,” she says. She grits her teeth and looks up at me. “Promise me. No matter what, don’t let her anywhere near the children.”

What the fuck? I look back at the sedan. The door opens, and an older and much harsher version of Skylar gets out.

“Okay…” I say slowly. Skylar nods her head, steels her spine, and walks toward her mother.

The rigidity of her posture makes me think of my own mother’s the time that Johnny Rickles stuck a “Kick me” note on my back and then watched all the other kids laugh. My mother went ballistic when she saw it. It’s a look that says danger will have to go through her before it gets to the children, and I think I just met Seth, Mellie, and Joey’s mom for the very first time. Her name is Skylar Morgan, and she’s tiny and gorgeous and awesome.

Uncategorized

(Unedited) Chapter one of Maybe Matt’s Miracle

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Skylar

 

Today would be a beautiful day if not for the casket at the front of the church and the three children with wet faces and red eyes sitting beside me on the front pew.  The service hasn’t started yet, and people keep wandering to the front of the church to look down at my half-sister, Kendra. Some of them whisper soft words to her and reach out to touch her cold hand. I touched it too. That was the second and last time I would ever touch her. She’s the sister I never got to meet until the day she died. 

I startle as the pew shakes. Seth, the oldest of Kendra’s children, jumps to his feet and cries, “Grandpa!”

Grandpa? What? He has a grandpa? I look up and see my very own father.  He’s here?  What? He wraps Seth up in his arms and squeezes him tightly. He sets him back and looks into his eyes. “How are you holding up?” he asks quietly.

Seth’s eyes travel toward the casket. “We’re okay,” he says. He swallows hard. I can hear it from where I’m sitting.

Dad takes Seth’s face in his hands and stares into his eyes. “Everything is going to be fine,” he says. “She’s in a better place.” He looks over Seth’s shoulder toward me. “And you have Skylar now,” he whispers. Seth nods.

A better place? When can I go to a better place?  Anywhere would be better than this church where my dad is paying homage to his illegitimate daughter.

Dad walks over to me and kisses my cheek. “How are you, Sky?” he asks. He’s not nearly as friendly with me as he is with the grandchildren I never even knew he had until a few days ago.

“Fine,” I bite out.

Dad sits down and motions toward Kendra’s girls with a crook of his finger.  The little one, who is three, scrambles into his lap, and the older one, who is five, leans into his side. He drops an arm around her and holds her close. He knows these kids. He knows them a lot better than he knows me.  That chafes at me so badly that it makes me squirm in my seat.

Dad’s brows scrunch together in subtle warning.  I stop moving.

I really need to learn that look now that I’m a mom. 

Yes. I’m a mom.  My dad came to me about a week ago and asked for my help. And there it was – instant motherhood.

 

I should have known that my father wanted something. Or he never would have invited me to lunch.

“Skylar,” Dad says quietly. “I need you to do something for me.”

I look up from my manicotti and force a grin to my face. “Did you get another speeding ticket?” I ask. I’m a brand new attorney as of last month.

“No,” he says slowly. He won’t look into my eyes. “It’s about Kendra.”

I drop my fork and it clatters loudly to the table. I scramble to catch it, and then brace myself with my palms on the table. “What about her?” I ask.

I know who Kendra is.  She’s the daughter my dad had with his mistress.  I found out a few years ago when my mother went on a drunken bender and unburdened her soul. And burdened mine. 

Kendra is the daughter my father loved. Her mother was the woman he loved.  It didn’t matter that my father was married to my mother. It didn’t matter that he had three kids with my mother.  It didn’t matter that we were the perfect family with the house on the hill and a summer home at the Cape. Our family was perfect until we found out he had another one. One he actually loved.

He had a whole other life with Kendra’s mother.  Right up until the time she died.  They shared an apartment together and they had a daughter. Dad went back and forth between our house and theirs.  But he was never really present when he was at ours.  My mother was too resentful. So he stayed away more and more. With them.

Then suddenly one day he was back. His eyes were rimmed with red and he retreated to his study with a bottle of Glenlivit.  He didn’t come out for days.  When he finally did, my mom walked around for a week singing, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.” Kendra was already an adult at that point, and married.

But I had my father back after that day. I didn’t understand at all how it had come to be.  I didn’t know until much later that he had another daughter. Another woman he had once loved. Another life.  But he did. And now he wanted to talk about her?

“Kendra is dying,” he says. His eyes fill with tears, but he won’t let them spill over. He blinks furiously, his face reddening.

“Oh,” I say. What am I supposed to say to that?  Ding, dong, the witch is dead… “What happened?”

“She has cancer. She found out when she was pregnant with her youngest daughter, Mellie.” He wipes his eyes with a cloth napkin and motions for a waiter to bring him a drink. “I got her into a really wonderful chemical trial. But she wanted to wait until Mellie was born.” He heaves a sigh. “If she hadn’t gotten pregnant, she might have made it.  She could have gotten an abortion, but she refused. She waited too long. The cancer is going to win, and she doesn’t have anyone to take the children.”

I can’t breathe. My chest stills and I feel like I’m going to pass out. Dad shoves a glass of water at me, and I raise it to my lips, sputter into the rim of it, take a sip, swallow, and inhale. I take in a deep breath. And I wait. Because there’s more. There’s always more with my dad.

“She has three children.  Seth is sixteen.  Joey is five. And Mellie is three.” He covers my hand with his and squeezes it. “They don’t have anyone but me. And I can’t take them.” He sits back and rubs the bridge of his nose. “You know how your mother is,” he explains.

Yes, and I know how my mother was betrayed. Yes, I know how my mother found out about his mistress. Yes, I know how my mother hates the ground they all walk on.  Sometimes I think she hates me too. It’s hard to tell. I really don’t think she loves anyone or anything.

He looks me in the eye. “I need for you to help me. They’re your nieces and nephew, no matter what your mother has taught you.”

I am stunned. Absolutely stunned. “You love them,” I say quietly.

He nods. “I do.”

“You love her.” The words fall on the room like cracks of thunder.

“I do.”

I lean back against the chair. “Can I ask you something?”

He nods. It’s a quick jerk, but I see it.

“What did they give you that we couldn’t?” I ask.  I don’t even cry. I just ask it. I always wanted to know.

“Your mother made it really hard for me to be a part of our family,” he says. “After she found out.” He raises his hand to stop me when I open my mouth to complain. “Wait,” he says. “Hear me out.”

I nod. I couldn’t talk if I wanted to.

“I loved you and your brother and sister. But I loved Kendra’s mother too, and I should have divorced your mother and made a clean break.”

“Without us,” I say.

“No, I would have taken you with me if I could. But I couldn’t. Your mother would have ruined me politically, but I could get over that. She would have gotten custody of you all. And I couldn’t just leave you with all that hatred, without at least trying to be a buffer.”  I don’t remember him as a buffer. I know him as that man I never knew. He balls up his fist and squeezes tightly.  “That’s why I never left completely. Your mother is more than a bit vindictive, as you know.” He scrubs a hand across his perfect white hair. “Sometimes I think she would have been okay with it if Kendra’s mother was white.”

What? Kendra’s mother’s not white? My father had an affair with a woman of a different race?

“If you do this for me, your mother is going to be very angry at you.”

No shit. She’ll hate me. But I think she already does anyway.

“I understand if you say no,” he says on a sigh. “But they don’t have anyone else.”

“Where is their father?” I ask.

He shrugs. “Fathers,” he says, enunciating the word.  “Seth has a dad who probably never knew about him, the girls’ dad has a new family and not enough time for them.”

“So, what do you want me to do?” I ask. I throw my napkin into my plate. My manicotti is churning in my stomach.

“I want you to go and get them.”

“Did you ask Tim? Or Lydia?” They’re my brother and sister and both are older than me.

He shakes his head. “They have families of their own.”

“And I don’t.” Shit, I don’t have anyone. No one but a boyfriend I almost never see. My mother is a nutcase and my father’s heart lies with another family.

“You’re single. You would be wonderful with them.” He lowers his voice and looks around the room. “You won’t look at them like they’re unwanted, bi-racial children. You’ll love them. I know you will.” He glares at me. “Will you at least go and meet them? Please? I know it would be a challenge. You’d have to learn a lot but Seth is almost sixteen. He helps to take care of the little ones. Hell, in two years, he can take custody himself. That’s what he wants.”

Dad’s pleading with me.

“I’ve never asked for anything before,” he says.

He’s right. He’s never asked for a good night kiss. Or any of the things fathers want. Well, he probably asked for them from Kendra.

“I’ll go,” I say. They’re just children after all. And children need to be loved. I wasn’t, but I can make it better for Kendra’s kids. Can’t I?  There’s a tiny little piece of me that wants to make my father proud. To make him love me.

He deflates like a balloon. “Oh, thank God,” he says. He lays a hand on his chest. Then he gets up, lifts me by my elbows and pulls me into him. I can’t remember ever getting a hug from my father before, and I don’t know what to do with it. He holds me like that, breathing into the hair on the top of my head for a moment. Then he sets me back. His eyes are wet with unshed tears.  “Thank you,” he says. “Thank you so much.”

I nod. I can’t do anything more.  I feel like somebody took my insides and shoved them into my throat. 

 

I’m jerked from my memories when someone sits down on my left.  I look up and instantly recognize Matthew Reed. He was a friend of Kendra’s from the cancer center.  I went to visit right before Kendra died to get the kids, and he was waiting with her. He stayed with Seth so they could be there when she took her last breath.  I took the little ones home, because I didn’t think they needed to remember their mom that way.

His blue eyes gaze into mine, and he sticks out a hand to shake. He doesn’t say anything. I look up at him. He’s wearing a blue turtleneck and a black button down shirt, with a pair of really nice trousers. He tugs at the neck of the turtleneck and I see a tiny peek at his tattoos.  “You clean up nicely,” I say. I smile at him, because I don’t know what else to say.

“Thanks,” he says quietly. His blond hair is held back with a leather band at the nape of his neck, but a piece falls forward and he tucks it behind his ear. He has a row of piercings up the shell of his ear, and I count them in my head. I have a suddenly insatiable desire to see his hair hang loose around his face.  He looks down at my black skirt and my white shirt. “So do you.”

I think I was wearing something similar the last time I saw him. But I smile anyway. He squeezes my hand and pulls his fingers from my grasp. I probably shouldn’t have held his hand so long. I’m an idiot. He leans across me and reaches for my dad’s hand. “Mr. Morgan,” he says with a nod. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Dad nods in thanks and grips Matt’s hand tightly. Dad’s eyes are rimmed in red and he swipes a finger under his nose. He goes back to talking to the girls, and they’re getting closer and closer to him as he murmurs softly to them.

Matt reaches past my dad and bumps knuckles with Seth. Seth smiles at him, but then the preacher walks to the front of the church, they close the casket, thank God, and the sermon begins.

Matt takes my hand in his again and I feel tears sting my eyes. I blink up at him and he smiles softly at me. He squeezes my hand gently and listens to the pastor. But he doesn’t let me go. 

 

 

Matt

 

“She looks lonely,” Emily says as she elbows me in the side. She’s my brother Logan’s fiancé and she holds a little piece of my heart. But sometimes I want to elbow her back when she pokes me with her scrawny limbs.  “You should go check on her,” she whispers vehemently. She raises her elbow again and I grab it before she can jab me.

“Fine,” I bite out. I get up, stepping on my four brothers’ feet as I scoot past them. Of course, I’m in the center of the aisle and I have to go by all of them. Reagan, Pete’s girl, reaches out and squeezes my hand as I walk by her. I love Reagan, and Emily, too. But Emily is a little more outspoken. Reagan is famous for her tender touches, and Emily is the opposite.

I adjust my suit coat and tug at the turtleneck I borrowed from Logan. He gets free clothes from Emily’s parents, who own Madison Avenue, the upscale clothing company. I feel like a monkey dressed up in a coat and a top hat. One of those that dances at carnivals.  Dance, monkey, dance.

I drop into the open seat beside Skylar, Kendra’s half sister, and I reach out to shake hands with her.  She holds on a second too long, and I don’t mind it. She looks tired. Her dad is sitting beside her, but there might as well be an ocean between them.  It’s only a few inches, but even I can feel the divide.

I shake his hand and bump knuckles with Seth. Seth and I were together with his mom when she died. We shared the most difficult moment of his life, and it’s a time I will never, ever forget.

I watched Kendra take her last breath and all I could think was how lucky I was that it wasn’t me dying there in that bed. I could have so easily been me. Kendra and I were in the same chemical trial, but I got better and my cancer went into remission, and hers didn’t.

She died.

I’m alive.

I look down at Skylar. She looks nothing like Kendra.  Kendra was biracial, so she had skin the color of sweet coffee, and she wore her hair natural, but short. Skylar is light skinned, blonde and blue eyed. She has rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses pushed up on top of her head, holding her hair back from her face. It hangs half way down her back in soft waves.

The preacher starts to speak at the front of the church, and Skylar closes her eyes. She squeezes her hands together in her lap, and I can’t tell what’s going on in her head. I wish I knew.

Without even thinking about it, I reach out and take her hand in mine. I tuck our twined fingers down on the seat between us, and I give her a gentle squeeze. She looks up at me and blinks slowly, her blue eyes startled. But then they soften and she blinks at me, and really looks at me. She squeezes my hand back and I don’t let her go. I hold it until our palms start to sweat together.

I get so wrapped up in the feel of her hand in mine and the soft drone of the preacher, that it startles me when a cough jerks me out of my trance. I look up and see a tall man looking down his nose at me. He nudges my knee. “I think you’re in my spot,” he says.

I look at Skylar, and she is just as shocked as I am. She pulls her hand from mine and wipes it on her skirt. I scoot over and he settles down beside her. He drops an arm around her shoulders and she leans over to press her lips to his. It’s a quick kiss, not a kiss like I would give her, because if I kissed her, I would never, ever want to come up for air.

Shit. Where did that come from?

Finally, they roll the casket from the church and we all follow to the graveside. I am a pall bearer and so are my brothers.  My brothers are really good for things like that.  I volunteered them when Mr. Morgan called to ask me to do it.

I take the carnation off my lapel and lay it on top of the casket, and go to stand with my brothers behind the crowd.

Emily threads her arm through mine. “Who is the guy?” she asks, nodding toward the man who’s standing with Skylar.

I shrug. “I have no idea.”

“Does she have a boyfriend?” Reagan asks.

My brothers are silent. I wish Logan and Pete would tell their girls to shut it for a few minutes and to quit being so nosy. I tap Emily on the tip of her nose and she scrunches up her face. “Stop being so curious,” I tell her.

I wrap my arm around Reagan and pull her into me. I like it when she goes all soft against me, because when she’s not soft, she’s ready to take my head off with a karate chop. I have been on the wrong end of a startled Reagan before and I don’t particularly want to go there again. “You okay?” she asks quietly.

I heave a sigh. “I guess.” I shake my head. “I still can’t believe she’s gone,” I say.

Reagan kisses my cheek and then stops to wipe her thumb across the lipstick she must have left on my cheek. She smiles. “I’m glad you got better,” she says quietly.

I squeeze her. “Me too.”

But shit. I feel guilty. Kendra left behind three children.

I see Skylar walking toward us, and Emily and Reagan step back. The heels of the three-inch high shoes Skylar’s wearing sink into the earth and she totters a little because of it. I reach out to help steady her with a hand on her elbow. She stops in front of me. “Thank you for being there with her,” Skylar says quietly.

“She was my friend,” I explain.  I don’t know what else to say.

She looks into my eyes. “Was she in a lot of pain?” she asks. She shakes her head. “I tried to talk to Seth about it, but he pretty much pretends that I don’t exist.”

I shove my hands in my pockets. “What do you mean? He’s not giving you a hard time, is he?”

She shakes her head again. “No. He’s perfect. He takes his sisters to daycare in the morning and picks them up after school. He feeds them and he bathes them. He won’t let me do anything. I think I’m just a placeholder.” She blows out a heavy breath.

I scratch my head. I don’t know how to tell her what I want to say.

“What?” she asks, her delicate brow arching.

“Kendra asked him to make it easy for you,” I admit. “When she was dying, she told him some things about how to be a good man. Always open car doors. Carry  a handkerchief on dates, because you never know when she’ll cry. Never let her pay for dinner.” I take a deep breath. “And she told him to make it easy for you.”

She’s speechless. Her mouth opens like she wants to say something, but nothing comes out. She closes it tightly, biting her lips together. “What else did she tell him?”

“Just normal stuff about dying,” I tell her. It was soul-wrenching to watch. And I’d finally had to leave the room so I wouldn’t upset them both with my sobbing, so I missed some things. 

“I don’t know what to do with kids,” she says.

“They don’t really need much,” I say. “Just for you to love them.”

“I’m trying,” she says.

I want to lay my hand on the back of her hair and draw it down the length of it. I bet it feels like silk.

“I, um, should have introduced you to my boyfriend,” she says. “Do you want to meet him?”

I shake my head. I see him talking with Mr. Morgan. Skylar’s dad doesn’t look like he’s impressed.

“When you, um, took my hand…” she says. “I should have told you.”

“Why?” I look down at her. She comes up to my shoulder, even in her heels.

“I, um, didn’t want you to get the wrong idea.”

This time it’s me raising my brows at her. “Why did you think I took your hand?”

Her face colors. “I’m not sure,” she says.

I wrap my hand around her wrist and give her a soft squeeze. “I took your hand because you were trembling,” I say. “That’s all.”

“Oh,” she breathes.

She has her phone clutched in her free hand so I take it from her and add myself to her phone book. “Do me a favor?” I say.

She looks up at me and then back down at the phone.

“Call me if you need anything. Anything at all. I promised their mom.”

“Okay,” she replies. “Thanks for everything.” Her blue eyes meet mine and I have never seen anyone look quite so lost. But then her eyes narrow as her gaze shoots past me. “Shit,” she suddenly spits out.

“What?” I ask, looking over my shoulder toward the sedan that just parked.

“My mother is here,” she says. She squares her shoulders and I suddenly see a spark that wasn’t there a moment ago. “Can you watch the children for a minute?” she asks.

“Why?”

“Just because,” she says. She grits her teeth. She looks up at me. “Promise me. No matter what, don’t let her anywhere near the children.”

Is she going to tackle her mother? What the fuck? I look back at the sedan. The door opens and an older version of Skylar gets out. “Okay…” I say slowly. Skylar nods her head, steels her spine, and walks toward where her mother is getting out of her car.

The rigidity of her posture makes me think of my own mother’s the time that Johnny Rickles stuck a kick-me note on my back and then watched all the other kids laugh. My mother went ballistic when she saw it.  It’s a look that says danger will have to go through her before it gets to the children, and I think I just met Seth, Mellie and Joey’s mom for the very first time. Her name is Skylar Morgan, and she’s tiny and gorgeous and awesome.

Uncategorized

Finally Finding Faith

It’s officially live!

FFF

“You’ll find Faith in the clock shop,” Peter Reed says.

“Faith? I don’t believe in faith or God or predestination or any of that bullshit anymore. I believe in what I can see.”

Daniel has a list of things he wants to do before the clock strikes twelve on December 31st.

1. Get a tattoo
2. Ride a horse-drawn carriage in the snow
3. See a Broadway play
4. Buy hot chestnuts from a street vendor
5. Eat a one-pound burger at Rocko’s
6. Drink hot chocolate on a bench in the park
7. Fix my watch

Daniel’s watch stopped working when he lost all his men, his leg, and his hope in Afghanistan. A chance encounter at Reed’s Tattoo Parlor leads him to Faith, a redhead with the prettiest green eyes he’s ever seen.

Daniel intends to meet his deadline before the clock strikes midnight, and Faith sets out to help him. But she is goodness and light, and he’s not ready to let her warmth shine on him.

Faith takes care of her aging grandmother and knows how precious life is. But can she help Daniel realize it before it’s too late? She has less than twenty-four hours.

Tick tock. Tick tock.

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Chapter One

 

Daniel

Bells over the door jingle as I step into the tattoo shop. The big red flashing sign said Reeds’, and they appear to be open. I brush snow from my hair and blow warm breath into my cupped hands. It’s fucking freezing outside.  It’s officially midnight, which makes it December thirty-first in New York City. Of course, it’s cold.  One day until New Year’s Day, and I have twenty-four hours to cram in a lifetime of memories. Because by the stroke midnight, the last second of 2013, I have to be done with my list.  I pull the piece of paper from my pocket and scan down it really quickly.

  1. Get a tattoo
  2. Ride a horse-drawn carriage in the snow
  3. See a Broadway play
  4. Buy hot chestnuts from a street vendor
  5. Eat a one-pound burger at Rocko’s
  6. Drink hot chocolate on a bench in the park
  7. Fix my watch

I look around the shop.  There’s a bunch of interesting art on the wall, and a little pixie of a woman approaches me. She’s dressed in a retro style, and her hair is all curled up and pinned like she’s a sixties model.  Her nametag says Friday. It fits her. “What can I do for you?” she asks, and she blows out a slow breath. She looks tired and I immediately wonder what happened to her to put that look in her eye. But I don’t dare ask.

“Did you leave Wednesday and Thursday at home?” I blurt out.

Her right eyebrow arches and she looks down her nose at me. I immediately wish I could take it back. But then she starts to laugh. And it’s not a little laugh. It’s a great big belly laugh. She shakes a finger at me and motions for me to follow her. She sits across from me at a table and says, “I assume you’re here for a tattoo?”

I look around the shop. “Actually, I thought this was a brothel. Am I in the wrong place?” I move to get up, but my stupid prosthetic leg won’t let me play around the way I want to. It clanks against the table and I grimace.

“You okay?” she says quietly.   Her eyes don’t drop to my leg. She looks me in the face. Most people at least glance at my leg before they jerk their eyes back up to meet mine.

“Fine,” I bite out.

“Well, we can’t help you out if you were looking for a brothel,” she says. She looks toward the men who are doing tats. They’re all big and blond and a little bit intimidating. And they don’t seem to like my brand of humor as much as she does. She drops her voice to a whisper. “The last time I tried sell my body in here, the boys didn’t like it.” She laughs. The men scowl even more, and I wonder if I should leave.

I glance down at my watch. I don’t know why I still look at it. It hasn’t worked since the blast in Afghanistan that took all my friends, my leg, and my sanity. I still wear it like I expect it to start up any second now. But that’s not going to happen. My life is over. Or at least it will be at midnight tomorrow tonight. I glance at the clock on the wall. Twenty-three hours and fifty-two minutes from now, I’ll get to finish what fate started. I’ll get to right the wrong.

Friday waves a hand in my face and jerks me from my thoughts. “Hello-o,” she sings.

“Sorry,” I murmur. I heave in a sigh. It’s so easy to get sucked into the memories. The screaming. The hurting. The chaos. I look into her beautiful face. “I’d like to get a tattoo,” I say. “A clock, maybe. One stuck on midnight. With fireworks shooting off around it.” Fireworks. Bombs. It’s all the same thing.

She nods. “We can do that.” She starts to draw on a piece of paper. After a few minutes, she turns it to face me. It’s pretty fucking perfect, actually. “Like this?” she asks.

I nod. I can barely speak. By the time on the watch, I’ll be gone. “It’s perfect,” I croak out. I look down at my watch. It’s what I do when I’m nervous. I don’t expect to see the time change.

Friday calls over her shoulder and one of the men responds. He’s cleaning his table, and he motions me forward. She shows him the drawing and he nods, chewing his pierced lip thoughtfully. “I can do it,” he says. “This is the last one, though, for tonight.” He grins at me. “I have a hot woman waiting in my bed at home.”

“Gee,” Friday chirps. “So do I.” She grins at me.

One of the men, the biggest one, shoves her playfully in the shoulder. “You’re every man’s fantasy, Friday,” he says as he sticks out his hand toward me. “Paul,” he says. He talks to Friday again. “Cut it out, or the man’s going to get all excited, thinking he has a chance in hell of joining you.” He narrows his eyes and leans toward me. “Not going to happen,” he says quietly. “I’ve tried for years.” He motions for me to sit down. “Where do you want it?” Paul asks while the one whose nametag says Pete washes his hands.

I lift the edge of my sleeve. My upper arm is one of the few places on my body that’s not scarred up from the burns. “Here?” I say.

“You might want to take that off so it won’t be in the way,” Pete says. He motions to my shirt.

I was afraid of that, but this is my last day on earth. Who cares what my chest looks like? I reach behind me and pull my shirt over my head the way men do, and I hear Friday gasp as she sees my naked chest. It looks a lot worse than it actually is.

“Sorry,” Friday murmurs when Paul shoots her a glance. She sits down across from me, and her eyes finally land on the thin length of titanium that comes from my shoe.  “What happened?” she asks quietly.

Pete transfers the design onto my arm and starts to ink the tattoo into my skin. It doesn’t hurt nearly enough. I heave in a sigh. “There was an explosion,” I say.

“Was it awful?” she breathes. She lays her chin in her hand and props her elbow on a table.

I nod. “It was pretty terrible. Every one of my men died.” I lift my pant leg. “I lost my leg and was burned pretty badly. But I lived.”

“The universe must have better things in store for you,” she says.

Paul snorts. “Friday, please,” he warns.

I should have died with them. “I doubt it,” I say. “I ship out in twenty-four hours,” I inform her. That’s a lie. Well, sort of. But not really. “I’m going to join my team.”

Friday brightens. “Well, that’s something to look forward to.”

Yeah. It’s all I’ve looked forward to for a long, long time.

I want to change the subject, so I think about the list in my pocket. “Do you guys know where I can find a clock shop in town? Someone who can fix a watch?”

The men look at one another and one of them says, “Henry’s?”

“Do you know if they’re open tomorrow?” I ask.  “Well, today, I guess.”  I have to have the watch fixed by tomorrow night. Midnight. It’s on my list.

“Call him, Paul,” Pete says. He pulls his phone from his pocket and tosses it to Paul.  Paul juggles it playfully until Pete makes a noise and then he stops.

“Isn’t it awfully late to call tonight?” I ask. I look from one of them to the other.

“Henry’s wife had a stroke two years ago. They keep odd hours while he takes care of her. He might still be up. If not, Paul will leave a message.” He shrugs. “Worth a shot.”

Paul nods, and I see him smile as someone answers. Paul tells him I have a broken watch. He puts his hand over the mouthpiece and looks at me. “Can you go by there when we’re done here?” he asks. “He’s still up.”

I nod. “Love to.”

Paul talks to him for a minute and hangs up the phone.

“How is she?” Pete asks.

Paul shakes his head. “She’s not doing well, and she’s ready to give up. I think sometimes she just hangs in there for Henry.”  He blows out a breath. “I’ll write down the directions for you. It’s right around the corner from here. In the basement of a building.”

He hands me the directions when Pete finishes the tattoo. I look down at my new ink and smile. It’s beautiful. I can cross that one off my list. “You’ll find Faith there,” he says. “In the clock shop.”

“Faith?” I ask. I almost snort. I don’t believe in faith. Not anymore.

“Faith is Henry’s granddaughter. She helps to take care of his wife and works in the clock shop when he’s not there.” He holds up a hand to show she’s about as tall as his shoulder. “Short little redhead. Really fucking adorable. In an I-want-to-bang-the-librarian sort of way.”

“Faith is a girl?” I ask. It’s not some mythical state of being?

Paul nods slowly.

“Oh, okay,” I breathe. I’d rather talk to a girl than talk about faith or hope or God or any of those things I don’t have anymore. I pay my bill and walk toward the front of the store. But as I’m leaving, Friday tugs on my sleeve. I look down and she stands up on tiptoe and kisses my cheek.

“Best of luck to you,” she says quietly.

“Thanks,” I croak. I suddenly have a lump in my throat and I don’t know why.

Pete shrugs into his coat. “I’ll walk with you to Henry’s. You don’t want to be alone in this neighborhood at this time of the night.” He looks over at Paul, who I assume is his brother. They look very similar, but the big one is broad enough to fill a doorway. He doesn’t smile quite as readily as Pete does. “You going to walk Friday home?” Pete asks Paul.

Paul grumbles playfully and wraps Friday up in his beefy arms. “If I have to,” he says. He scrubs a hand across Friday’s hair. She slaps at his wrists until he pulls her back in for a hug. She settles against him and exhales. He looks down his nose at her, like he’s confused.  She breathes him in, a smile softening her face. He sets her back from him. “You ready?” he asks.

She nods her head and her cheeks color.  “Don’t walk me home hoping I’m going to invite you in,” she chirps playfully.

“One day, Friday, I’m not going to give you a choice about inviting me in.”

She freezes and her breaths fall a little quicker.

Pete bumps my shoulder as he walks by me. “You ready?” he asks. I nod, and stick my hands in my pockets. “See you tomorrow,” he calls over his shoulder.

“Big plans for New Year’s Eve?” I ask as we step out onto the sidewalk. The snow is falling even heavier, and I pull my hood up over my head. I stumble a little in the snow, and Pete slows down. He doesn’t mention my leg. He just adjusts his walk. “Thanks,” I mutter.

“For what?” he asks. He looks into my face.

“Nothing,” I say. Maybe I’m just imagining that he’s adjusting for me. I worry so much about my disability that I think everyone else does too.

“I’m taking my girl to watch the fireworks tomorrow,” he says.

“Tonight,” I correct. I look down at my broken watch.

“Oh, yeah,” he says. He smiles. “Tonight.” He blows out a steamy breath. Suddenly, he stops and turns, and goes down in to a stairway. “You coming?” he asks, when I stand there looking at him like an idiot. “We’re here,” he explains.

I walk slowly down the stairs. Stairs are hard for me, and if he wasn’t here, I would just hop on one foot down them. That’s much easier than taking them slowly, one at a time. But it’s much less graceful.

We walk through the door and step into a basement full of clocks.  There are grandfather clocks and cuckoo clocks and desk clocks. A train rumbles by on a track above my head, and I smile at the noise it makes.

“Kind of awesome, isn’t it?” Pete asks.

It really is, in a ten-year-old most-awesome-thing-ever sort of way.

There’s a long table at the back of the room and an older gentleman is sitting at it, and he has gears and parts spread around him. He’s wearing magnified glasses and has a bright light shining on his workspace. He doesn’t look up, so Pete calls his name. “Henry,” he says loudly.

The man looks over the rims of his glasses at us. “Pete,” he says. He sets his tools to the side and wipes the grease from his hands. “What a nice surprise.” Pete reaches to shake hands with him, but the old man pulls Pete to him and hugs him instead.

“It’s good to see you, Henry,” Pete says. “How’s Nan?”

Henry shakes his head and gets a far-away look in his eye. “She’s still hanging in there,” he says.

Pete squeezes Henry’s shoulder.

“Well, at least she’s home,” Henry says. He looks at me and points to Pete. “This young man and his brothers came and moved our furniture so I could bring my Nan home.”

Pete looks down at his feet and doesn’t say anything.

Henry extends his hand. “I’m Henry,” he says. “Who might you be?”

“Daniel,” I say. “I’m sorry to bother you so late at night, but Pete said you might be able to help with my watch.” I take it from wrist and hold it out to him.

He pulls his glasses down and looks closely at it, flipping it over. “This is old,” he says. “Can’t say I’ve ever worked on one of these.”

It belonged to my grandfather. “Do you think you can fix it?” I ask. He takes it to a nearby table and pops the back off, appraising the gears inside like he knows what he’s look at.

“Maybe,” he grumbles.

Suddenly, there’s a thump from upstairs and the old man startles. He lays my watch down and goes to the stairs. “Do you need some help?” Pete asks.

“Granddad!” a female voice calls from the top of the stairs.

The old man goes up the stairs, and Pete follows him. They both disappear. I shove my hands in my pockets and walk around, looking at all the old clocks. The man must just repair them. He doesn’t have a showroom or a place to display them. The train rumbles by on the track by my head, and I feel a grin tip the corners of my lips.

The door at the top of the stairs opens and light feet skip down them. I see puffy bedroom slippers and striped pajama bottoms, and I’m suddenly staring into the greenest, most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.

Faith

I stumble on the bottom step and he reaches out to catch me. He’s a little unsteady on his feet and he hops, but he’s solid and strong. I have a feeling he’d fall before he let me do so, and that’s an odd feeling to have.

“So sorry,” I mutter. I tug my sweater close to my body, wrapping it around myself. I should have gotten dressed instead of coming down in my jammies, but I just don’t have enough energy to do more. I’m working constantly, and when I’m not working, Granddad’s at work and I’m taking care of Nan. I feel like I haven’t slept in days. I probably haven’t. I nearly got the life scared out of me when Nan tried to get out of bed and fell just now. I shouldn’t have fallen asleep. I should have stayed awake to watch her. I knew Granddad was downstairs. He needs a break sometimes, too. He still works during the day as a doorman at an apartment complex. And he fixes clocks in his spare time. And he loves my Nan.

Theirs is a love like nothing I’ve ever seen. Not even my own marriage could compare. When Nan was at the nursing facility, he went there and slept in a chair beside her bed every night, because he said he couldn’t sleep without her, so what good was it for him to sleep at home?  I came to stay with them when they brought her home. I don’t know if I’m a help or a hindrance.  But I feel better being here, until I do something stupid like fall asleep.

The man coughs into his fist. I must have been wandering. Granddad says I do that a lot. It’s one of the reasons why I’m good at fixing clocks. It’s slow, methodical work and it takes my mind off the rest of the world.

“Didn’t mean to fall into you,” I say. Heat creeps up my cheeks.

He’s handsome. Startlingly so. He has brown hair and deep, chocolate brown eyes. His face is shadowed by beard stubble, and he doesn’t smile. Why doesn’t he smile?

He reaches down to adjust his pant leg and I see the length of metal that comes out of his shoe. I look up to his face and he’s watching me carefully. Is that why he doesn’t smile? I stick out my hand, for lack of anything better to do. “I’m Faith,” I say. He takes my hand in his and gives it a gentle squeeze, his eyes meeting mine, and I might even see a little spark in his dark gaze. But it burns out as quickly as it arrived.

“Daniel,” he says. “Everything all right upstairs?” He looks toward the closed doorway.

“Nan tried to get up and fell.” I shake my head. Nan’s head is still solid, but her body won’t cooperate and she just doesn’t fully grasp her limitations yet. “Pete’s upstairs charming her back into bed.” I laugh. That man has a way with people.

“The Reeds,” he says. “They seem pretty nice.”

I roll my eyes. “All five of them in one room can be a little overwhelming.” I had a crush on Pete for a little while, but then he met Reagan, and they are so freaking perfect for one another that I quickly discarded that notion.

“There are five of them?” he asks. He scratches his head. “I think I only met two.”

I start to count on my fingers. “Paul, Matt, Logan, Sam and Pete, in order of age. Sam and Pete are twins, although Sam swears he’s eight minutes older.”

I walk over to where Granddad started on Daniel’s watch. “Is this yours?” I ask, as I pick up my glasses and sit down on the stool. I bend Granddad’s light toward the watch. I look into it, and, although I’ve never worked on one of these, I might be able to fix it.

“It was my grandfather’s.”

I look up at him. “What happened to it?”

He looks everywhere but at me. “There was an explosion. In Afghanistan.”

“Was that where you were injured?” I ask, but my mind is already on the inner workings of the clock.

“Yeah,” he says and he blows out a breath.

“So your watch hasn’t worked since the blast?” I ask. I’m trying to figure out what could be the matter. Because the gears turn when I manually work them.

“Nothing has worked for me since the blast,” he says. His voice is suddenly heavy and I look up.

“What do you mean?”

“The clock,” he goes on to clarify, but I’m pretty sure he just meant life. “It hasn’t worked since.”

“Mm hmm,” I hum. I start to remove the gears and pieces and lay them on the table in front of me.

“Are you sure you should be doing that?” he asks. He walks close to me and pulls up a stool. He’s fidgety, and he makes me a little nervous now that he’s close to me. But Granddad and Pete are right upstairs.

I look up at him. “You do want it fixed, right?” I ask.

He nods. “More than anything.” He heaves a sigh. “I feel like time stood still that day, and it never started back up.”

I nod. But I can’t look at him. He’s telling me more than he wants to, and I’m afraid he’ll stop if he realizes how closely I’m listening. “Did you lose any friends?” I keep working on the watch, removing the parts piece by piece.

“I lost all my men.” His voice gets thick and he coughs to clear his throat. “Everyone. I lost everyone and everything.”

“Where’s your family?” I ask.

I feel the warm breeze of his heavy exhale. “All gone.”

I finally look up. “I’m sorry.”

He nods. He gets up and starts to wander around the shop. An hour later, I’ve put his watch back together and I wind it up. It should work. But it just doesn’t. And I don’t know why. I heave a sigh.

“What’s wrong?” he asks from directly behind me. I feel the heat of his breath on the back of my neck, and the hair on my arms stands up.

“Nothing,” I say and I start to take it apart again. I look over my shoulder at him. “Are you in a hurry?”

He shrugs and settles down beside me. He picks up a pen and starts to spin it on the tabletop. I look over at him. “Sorry,” he says sheepishly, and he stops the pen from spinning with a slap of his hand. “So, you live here?” he asks. “In New York? All the time?”

I nod. And I keep disassembling his watch.  Watches are made on a series of gears, even watches this old. I make sure each one works as I put it back in place. There are no snags. No broken gears. No missing parts. Nothing was jarred loose in the blast. “Yep,” I say quickly.

“Have you always lived here?” he asks.

“No,” I grunt. “I moved here when my grandmother got sick. Before that, I was in Florida.”

“Do you like it here?” he asks.

I shrug. “One place is as good as another.”

“Why aren’t you married?” he asks.

I look up. “What makes you think I’m not?”

He grins, but it doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “Because any man in his right mind wouldn’t let you out of his sight.”

I jerk my head up. He gets up and starts to wander around again, like he didn’t just say something profound. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I mumble.

He cups his hand around his ear and leans toward me. He grins. “What was that?” he asks.

“Never mind.” My gaze drops to his lips. He licks his full upper lip, and I have to force myself to look away.

“Something wrong?” he asks. His eyes drop to my mouth and he walks closer to me. Is he thinking about kissing me?

I look down at the watch. I shrug out of my sweater, because it’s suddenly hot in here. “No,” I say.

I look at the parts of his watch, which are scattered all over my table. The door to the upstairs opens and Pete walks down.  Half way, he slows down, and looks from me to Daniel and back. “What did I miss?” He grins.

“Shut up,” I grumble.

“Oh,” he breathes. He nods his head and punches my shoulder as he walks by me. I growl at him and he laughs.

“How’s Nan?” I ask. “Still upset?”

“Only that you were worked up over it,” he says. He ruffles my hair with his big bear paw.  “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” he says quietly. “Could have happened to anyone.”

I nod, biting my lower lip to keep from sobbing.  Nan has gone downhill so fast. She keeps having these mini-strokes that make her weaker and weaker. There’s not much else we can do for her, except wait and make sure she’s comfortable.

“She was talking about some old clock,” Pete says. He picks up a bag of chips I was eating earlier and helps himself.

I smile. Granddad bought her a funny little clock made in Germany when they first got married. But they sold it when times were lean, about thirty years ago.  Granddad has been scouring the internet to find another one. “He’ll never find another clock like that, not one that he can afford. They make crappy knock offs, but he doesn’t want crap. He wants the real thing for her. Or nothing.”

“What kind of clock?” Daniel asks.

“It was a German clock, made with a Black Forest design, and when the hour chimed, dancers came out of the clock and slid back and forth along the front.” I shrug my shoulders. “That’s all I remember about it.”

“Is it rare?” Pete asks.

I nod. “And too expensive for Granddad to buy another.” I would buy one today, if I could find one and had enough money. “Nan used to make up love stories about what the people did when they went into the house.” I lift my brows at the men. “Apparently, there was a lot of kissing that went on inside that Black Forest house.”

Nan and Granddad have always had this crazy kind of passion and I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever have that again. Maybe I’m waiting for a love like theirs. I don’t know. I don’t need to elaborate, because Pete’s already grinning.

“Henry was a horn dog,” he sings playfully.

I shake my head, but I secretly don’t want to scold him. “She started to mention it again a few weeks ago. I know he wants to give her one, but it’s just not going to happen.”

Pete’s phone chirps from his pocket and he grins and types something really quickly. He looks up. “Reagan’s going to lock me out if I don’t get home soon.”

I laugh. “You better hurry.”

“She loves me,” he says. And he gets this happy look in his eye. Pete’s settled and happy, and I couldn’t be happier for him. He looks at me. “How much are we talking about with this clock?” he asks.

“Like more than a car,” I say.  “Even for a broken one.”

He grimaces.

“Yeah, I know. I thought about buying one too.”

Daniel sticks out his hand. “Thanks for the help finding the shop,” he says to Pete.

“Hey, do you want to come over tomorrow night? You could go to the fireworks with us.”

Daniel shakes his head. “I have somewhere to be at midnight,” he says. “But thank you.”

Pete claps him on the shoulder, and then he hugs me way too tightly and leaves. I can hear him whistling as he goes up the sidewalk.

I snap the back onto Daniel’s watch and look up at him. “It still doesn’t work.”

His mouth flattens into a straight line. “I hoped someone could fix it before it’s too late.”

“Too late for what?” I ask.

“For me,” he says.

“It’s never too late for you, silly,” I tell him.

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For my readers – A free short story!

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*** This is a short story. It’s not a full book. It’s only 7000 words, plus samples of the Reed Brothers series. ***

Sean has been in love with Lacey for as long as he can remember, but she has pushed him firmly into the friend zone and plans to keep him there. Or so he thinks.

Lacey did put Sean in the friend zone, but now she’s ready for more. Only he won’t make a move.

Lacey enters a contest in which a kiss from her will be the prize. Can Sean win the contest? Can he win the girl?

Available for free at Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/391939

Nook:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/just-jelly-beans-and-jealousy-tammy-falkner/1118002569?ean=2940045545020

Kobo:  http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/just-jelly-beans-and-jealousy

Coming soon to other retailers!

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Black Friday Sale!

Happy Black Friday!  All these books are 99 cents each!  Our holiday gift to you — from http://www.reddoorreads.com

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Sullivan by Linda Winstead Jones    Amazon   Barnes and Noble

The Spinster’s Seduction by Ella Stark  Amazon     Barnes and Noble

Tall, Tatted and Tempting by Tammy Falkner  Amazon    Barnes and Noble

Seven Minutes in Devon by Catherine Gayle    Amazon     Barnes and Noble

Heroes Returned Trilogy by Ava Stone (3 books!)  Amazon    Barnes and Noble

Scots, Spies and Salacious Lies by Jane Charles  Amazon   Barnes and Noble

Fulfillment by Laurel Bennett  Amazon   Barnes and Noble

Reese by Lori Handeland  Amazon  Barnes and Noble

Kick Start by Caren Crane  Amazon  Barnes and Noble

The Matchbaker by Jerrica Knight-Catania  Amazon  Barnes and Noble

Still of the Night by Dee Davis  Amazon  Barnes and Noble

The Trouble with Goodbye by Sarra Cannon  Amazon  Barnes and Noble

Angel Unleashed by Andris Bear  Amazon   Barnes and Noble

To Burn by Claudia Dain   Amazon   Barnes and Noble

Tainted by  Julie Kenner    Amazon  Barnes and Noble

Just Desserts by Marquita Valentine  Amazon  Barnes and Noble

Encounter with Mr. Bad Luck by Michelle Marcos   Amazon  Barnes and Noble

Taste for Trouble by Susan Sey  Amazon