Inside the Book:
a modern tale of Bill Clinton’s political career told in the format of
Meet the Author
Sam Griffith is a retired Justice on the Texas Twelfth Court of Appeals, a position to which he was elected three times, twice unopposed. As a high school senior, he worked after school each day full time in a manufacturing factory, then worked his way through college and graduate school, and through law school. Before being elected an appellate justice in 2000, he was a trial court judge and trial lawyer. He earned two legal specialization certifications from the Texas State Bar Association’s Board of Legal Specialization, an achievement of less than three percent of Texas lawyers.
Inside the Book:
The airplane crash woke Steven Rowan. To be entirely accurate, it wasn’t a crash.
It was the insane screaming of four of the world’s largest jet engines being pushed twenty percent past their factory- recommended maximum thrust only thirty feet over his head.
In addition, awake wasn’t really the correct term for his state of consciousness at that point.
Steve was standing stark naked in the center of the room, jerking back and forth in the classic fight-or-flight reflex–his mind frantically spinning between possibilities, developing and rejecting dozens of possible threats every second, and running throughas many options for escape. A small part of his mind was simultaneously working on the less-important questions of who he was, where he was, and what he’d done to himself the night before.
The pulsating howl of the jet began to diminish, but the screaming only grew louder and more intense. Suddenly, Steve fell to his knees, slamming clenched fists into his temples over and over, and screaming at the top of his lungs.
Tears flew from his eyes as he crawled forward and began to pound his head against the glass door to the balcony. A small rational part of his mind wondered that he could be driven to such desperation that he would fill his mind with self-inflicted pain in the vain hope that it would expel the shocking sound, the sheer terror, and the infinite grief.
He felt a sharp spark of agony as the glass cracked.
Suddenly, as blood began to stream down his face, the terrible pain diminished. The confusion and terror, the immense waves of emotions, all of that continued to pour through him, but the anguish had ceased. The massive assault of sound began to break down into hundreds of what he could only think of as voices.
Men and women were screaming, a mother was kissing the top of a tiny head and whispering soothing sounds, a man on a cell phone was frantically dialing and redialing–desperate to leave a message. In contrast, two men were running through a checklist with professional calm, but curses tickled at their throats, fighting to get out.
In the center, he heard a steady sound. A quiet chanting– young voices tinged with success and anticipation.
The glass door exploded.
It was going to be a lousy morning, his head hurt even worse than usual, and his head usually hurt like someone dying from alcoholpoisoning.
Steve opened his eyes at the sound of someone singing about hiding in Honduras and needing “lawyers, guns, and money.”
OK, that was Warren Zevon, so it was probably his phone ringing. On Mondays, he set it to Afroman’s Because I Got High just to irritate any senior editorial staff he might run into, but this song pretty well summed up his mood every other day.
He waited patiently until the late Mr. Zevon finished singing about how “the shit has hit the fan” and then listened for the Asian gong that would indicate a phone message.
Instead, Max Weinberg’s driving drumbeat pounded out the syncopated SOS that began Bruce Springsteen’s We Take Care of Our Own. Since every journalist knew (but would never report) that this song raised the dead whenever the Boss played within a mile of a graveyard, Steve figured someone was truly serious about talking to him.
In addition, he was curious because he’d deleted it from his phone over a month ago, exhausted by its contrast between the American ideal of “help your neighbor” and the reality of greed and selfishness that was currently sweeping the nation.
There was a series of clicks and several of those odd changes in the quality of silence that indicate a call is being bounced from machine to machine or area code to area code. Of course, these were also the sounds that you heard when a telemarketer’s robot war dialer realized it had a fish on the line and switched in the human voice to make the sale.
“Is this a freaking robot?” he said, sharply.
There was a short pause without any clicks. For some reason, Steve thought the caller was thinking.
“Mr. Rowan?” It was a man–the deep and authoritative voice of someone used to giving commands.
“Who the hell wants to know?” Steve hated people with that kind of voice.
“Mr. Stephen Rowan of 14500 Windermere Drive, Apartment D2?” The voice had changed, just slightly. It wasn’t quite as abrasive and superior. Steve thought he could have a conversation with this guy.
“Yes.” Steve’s state of awareness was beginning to recover sufficiently so that it wasn’t taking all of his concentration to talk on the phone. Unfortunately, that allowed him to begin to look around the room. If he hadn’t just received his ten-year chip from Narcotics Anonymous, he would have instantly identified this as a drug dream—and not a pleasant one.
The smashed sliding door. Glass shards covering the carpet. The dozens of framed photographs he’d hung to remind himself of the good times when he’d worked in cool places were gone. They were in a heap of wood, glass, and photo paper on the other side of his bed. Only one remained. A picture of a Lebanese militiaman with an AK-47 wearing a T-shirt decorated with a picture of an AK-47 and the words “Lebanon War.” He reached over and straightened it.
“Mr. Rowan.” The voice on the phone had changed again. Now it sounded like a person cowering with fear. Hell, this guy was afraid to speak to him. “Umm. Are you busy at the moment?”
Steve looked around the wreckage of his apartment. His cheek tickled and he touched it with a finger. He stared at the blood on his fingertip. “Busy? No, not really.”
“Would you be so kind as to consider possibly doing me a favor?”
Now the voice had gone all the way to obsequious.
“Not until you tell me who the hell you are and what the hell you want.” Steve licked his finger, tasting the blood as if it might tell him something about what had just happened. “And stop sucking up.”
“‘Sucking up’?” There was another series of clicks and silences, and the caller continued in its previous, more confident tone. “Mr. Rowan. Let me ask you a question. Could you use a job?”
Steve reached into his back pocket to check his wallet for his current financial position. Suddenly, he felt a hand stroke his butt. He jumped. When he looked down, he realized it was his own hand because he was still naked. Then, a sudden stab of pain proved that the silvery dust all over him was tiny bits of glass from his broken door and he’d just shoved a shard into his ass. He pulled his hand away sharply and held it out in front of him–carefully examining both sides.
“Oh. Sorry, I was distracted for a second. What…Oh, yeah. I have plenty of money.”
“From your increasingly occasional work as a freelance reporter?”
Steve didn’t say anything. The caller continued. “How’s that working out for you?”
Steve surveyed his ruined stereo and television and stopped as he saw his metal-cased laptop. It was rolled into a cylinder. He wonderedwhat in hell could do that to an expensive computer. Or at least one that had been expensive when he’d bought it.
“Don’t worry about the laptop. I think you’ll find your telephone will be sufficient.”
Steve’s eyes widened and he slowly pulled the cell phone away from his ear and regarded it carefully–again, front and back. When he turned back to the main screen, a cartoon of a hand making a “thumbs up” sign had replaced his usual home screen picture of the Lebanese militiaman.
Steve just stood there and looked at the hand. He knew it was a cartoon because it only had three fingers and a thumb. Somehow, the artist had made it look happy and confident. That worried Steve.
He heard a faint squawking from the phone. He held the phone with only two fingers and raised it gingerly until it was an inch from his ear.
“Mr. Rowan? Can you hear me?”
Steve cleared his throat and answered carefully. “Yes.” “Good, we can continue.”
“Not until you tell me how you knew about my computer, we can’t.”
“Your computer? Oh, you mean that you were looking at it?” “Yes. How did you know that I was looking at it?”
The voice sounded more confident, almost comradely. “That’s easy. Look straight out your window. See the apartment building with the exterior stairs?”
“They all have exterior stairs.”
“Well, the one with stairs and exceptionally ugly pink paint.” “Got it.”
“OK. Look at the left edge of the building and then run your eye straight up.”
Steve saw the gleaming black cube of a building on the other side of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. There were dozens of round white satellite dishes on the roof.
“OK, I see the building across the highway. The NSA or Fort Meade or whatever.”
“Just keep watching.”
Slowly, almost ceremonially, all the dishes on the roof turned, swiveled, swung, or tipped so that they were all pointed straight at him. Without thinking, Steve’s left hand moved to cover his crotch.
He made a noise, but it wasn’t a word. Something between a cough and the beginning of a scream, but definitely not a word. On the top of the black building, all the dishes nodded up and down in what he could only describe as a friendly fashion, and then moved back to their original positions.
Steve cleared his throat again. “I guess you just made that happen.”
“That was better than anything I ever saw in college, even on mushrooms, but it still doesn’t tell me who you are.”
“But it does answer the question of how you could see me.” “Yes.”\\
“And demonstrates a certain amount of power over things.” “Things and quite a few people as well.”
“I would have to say that that remains to be proven, but I can agree that you’ve gone a long way in that direction.”
“Why don’t we leave the rest of your questions for a later time and let me ask you one?”\
Steve’s eyes wandered from the roof of the building across the highway. “What am I looking for?” he wondered.
Then he remembered.
“Give me just one more question first.” Steve walked out on the balcony and scanned the horizon as far as he could. “Where is thesmoke?”
“Smoke. From the crash of the plane that just flew over me.”
“Mr. Rowan. Can I suggest you step back inside? Good. You were frightening several of your neighbors. No, there is no smoke and, as a matter of fact, no airplane. Since there is no airplane, there wasn’t a crash and, ergo, no smoke. That’s one of the things I’d like to hire you to investigate.”
Steve thought for a second. “I don’t like it when people say ergo. But we can deal with that later. Right now, I’d like to know why–no wait, let’s begin with how I would investigate the nonexistent crash of an airplane that wasn’t there.”
“You’re getting a bit redundant.”
“You’ll have to live with it. It’s a side effect of the unease I’m feeling due to the stress of this uncommon and aberrant situation.” Steve’s voice rose to a shout. “Stop fucking around and tell me what the hell is going on!”
“Well.” The voice on the phone paused as if choosing the next words carefully. “The jetliner did crash. At the same time, it did notcrash.”
“OK, I’m relieved that you made that clear. Now that I understand, I’m hanging up.”
“Mr. Rowan! Wait! Just one more minute.”
Steve didn’t say anything, but he didn’t punch the END symbol, either. He really wasn’t sure why.
“There has been a Change.”
Steve blinked and looked at the phone. He put it back to his ear. “Did you just capitalize the word change?”
“Hmm? Oh, yes, I suppose I did. This particular change is a pretty big deal and certainly deserves to be capitalized.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. What do you want me to do about this capitalized concept?”
“Would you work for me? Investigate this Change?”
Steve’s answer was quick and automatic. “I’m an experienced freelancer. I don’t work for just anyone.”
“Really? Not even if it was for the Good of the Nation?”
“Stop talking in capitals and, if you mean working for the government, the answer isn’t ‘no.’ The answer is ‘Hell, No.’”
“I believe those last two words were capitalized.” Steve’s head felt like it was about to explode.
“Would it make you feel better if I hired you on a temporary freelance basis?”
Once again, the answer was swift and automatic. “What are you paying?”
“Well, I think I have unlimited funds…”
“Then you’re full of crap. I’m hanging up now.”
The phone began to vibrate in his hand and the voice became agitated. “Mr. Rowan. Don’t do that! It has to be you. No one else observed the airplane!”
Steve’s eyes closed and whatever it was that had woken him up came back with the feeling of a knockout punch. His face twisted up in anguish at the memory of all the people…their terror…their helpless panic. He groaned.
“Mr. Rowan! Are you all right?”
“Not one of my better mornings.”
“I am actually glad to hear that.”
Because I’d hate to think of what it might take to cause a worse morning. What’s your daily rate?”
“Five hundred dollars. Double over ten hours.” Steve always held out hope even though he hadn’t made over $350 a day for the pastdecade.
“You’ve got it.”
Steve opened his eyes. “Plus expenses?” “Expenses and the use of a car and driver.”
“A car?” Steve walked over and looked out to the space in the parking lot where he’d parked his light-blue Prius. He thought it was still there, but it was difficult to tell because an enormous jet engine was smoking sullenly on top of the entire row of parked cars.
He could make out some twisted pieces of light-blue plastic in his usual parking space.
“I guess I will need a car.”
“Good. Then we are in business, right?” “I guess so.”
“Good. I’ve got some things to do right now, but I’d appreciate it if you could begin immediately.”
Steve slowly turned around and looked at his apartment. His clothes looked as though a knife-wielding fashion critic had attacked them. He touched his laptop and it rolled away, revealing fluttering bits of paper that he deduced must be his stack of notebooks. One of his shoes was lying by his right foot. He picked it up and slowly poured broken glass out onto the floor. “I’m going to need to be paid up front, I think.”
“Not a problem. Just answer the door.”
There was the synthetic clicking sound that cell phones made to indicate the end of a call.
There was a firm knock on his door.
Meet the Author
A year after a family tragedy, Grace Mori embarks on the journey of a lifetime…
Two thousand, six hundred miles of blistering heat, wilderness, and soul searching—that’s what Grace signed up for when she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s not a voyage for beginners, but with no husband and her family still recovering from her bother’s death, Grace is more alone than ever.
This trail meant something to her brother, and she’ll hike it in his memory, but she can’t do it alone. So with her brother’s gear and a small group, Grace takes the most important first steps of her life.
Grace finds something more than peace and magic on the trail…
When her first day of hiking ends in heat stroke, Grace is rescued by a handsome, red-haired hiker who calls himself Lone Star. Grace has an immediate connection with him, and their brief encounter leaves her fearing her soul mate has slipped through her fingers. Although he vows to keep in touch, Grace doubts she’ll ever see him again.
When fears become reality, the only people Grace can rely on may be killers…
Grace is surprised to find notes left at supply posts along the trail. Lone Star’s eloquent letters keep Grace going, clinging to the hope she’ll find him—and happiness—at the end of her journey. But as the trail becomes more perilous, menace grows within the group. And when Lone Star’s letters mysteriously stop coming, Grace fears the worst.
As tensions flare and a killer emerges, Grace must battle to survive…and reunite with the man she’s sure is her future.
For More Information
Early morning sun scorched the grimy car hood and forced its way through the window to burn Grace’s bare arms. She fidgeted as she watched the arid plane of sagebrush and light brown dust roll past. The landscape differed completely from the grassy hills, eucalyptus trees, and fog around her native San Francisco. Occasional yucca plants shouldered their way between low scraggly bushes with more branches than leaves. Small boulders peppered the area, looking like enormous grey cottage cheese curds among rolling, sere hills.
This countryside puts the wild in wilderness.
The car bounced past dry pastures and scruffy woods.
Maybe I should have spent more time reading those trail guides?
A glimpse of the Mexican border made her sit up straight.
Who cares? I’m here.
Grace bounced in her seat with excitement.
This is it.
Grace and her friend Celine were the only people at the five square wooden posts that marked the southern terminus of the 2,665-mile Pacific Crest Trail, a route leading from Mexico to Canada. A few yards away, wind forced its way through the steel border fence like the sound of screeching tires. Celine snapped a few pictures as Grace removed the spiral hiker register from its protective metal box. On the first empty page she wrote: Kenji, you’re with me.
She signed with more bravado than she actually felt.
Grace spurted back to the car. “I want to get going.” But her backpack, resting in the backseat, was in less of a hurry. She coaxed it onto her shoulders with much grunting and straining and stood, slightly bent, for one final snapshot.
“I’ve never lifted anything this heavy. What was I thinking? It’s not a trip to Macy’s where I can throw all the heavy stuff into the trunk.”
“You were thinking you might need some supplies.” Celine surveyed her. “Because you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere. For months.”
“Thanks for the reminder.” Grace straightened with effort. “I’ve been waiting almost a year for this. They say your pack gets lighter as you get used to it. So where’s the trail?”
Celine shrugged. Grace searched the monotonous sand and brush.
“I’ve got the map on my cell.”
But the phone wouldn’t turn on. Grace depressed the controls repeatedly. The screen remained as black as its case.
Come on. My paper maps are buried in my pack.
She took a mental inventory of what lay above them: a one-person tent, a sleeping bag and mat, a wide-brimmed sun hat, extra socks, the head of a toothbrush, all-weather matches, a travel-size deodorant stick, her mother’s homemade rice cakes, and Kenji’s apartment key fastened with a twist tie to the zipper of a first aid kit. The idea of spreading everything out at the base of the monument made her ill.
She pushed more buttons.
Don’t die now.
The screen flickered. She fiddled more and the contrast increased.
“Typical me.” Her hands shook a little as she pinched the trail map to zoom in on her location. “I turned down the brightness last night to save energy. For a second there, I thought I was going to faint. That would’ve made a good Facebook post. Grace Mori’s one second thru-hike of the PCT.”
Celine grinned and poked Grace’s arm. “It’s good to get all the mistakes out of the way at the beginning. Now try to make it through the rest of the day without any more.”
Grace stepped into the sparse brush.
“I already miss you as much as I miss your brother,” Celine called after her. But the wind whipped away her words.
On the trail, Grace’s pent up excitement gave wings to her hiking shoes. They floated across baked earth that meandered through scrub and around boulders. She raced securely down descents and sailed up ascents.
This is so easy.
She covered the next two miles in under an hour. Her initial destination was Lake Morena County Park, eighteen miles away. But her thoughts were of the Canadian border.
Twenty miles a day, for the next four months, before the northern mountains become impassable with snow. In this heat, that idea feels like a mirage.
She looked at her watch.
Nine thirty. Ten more hours of daylight. So I’ll get to Lake Morena with time to spare.
At first, the white circle rising in a cloudless blue seemed a happy part of the scenery. But bit by bit, the sun blazed an ever fiercer hole in the sky. Her short black hair melted into her head and burned her fingers when she touched it.
I should never have given up lightening my hair. Apparently blondes do have more fun, even in the desert.
Her legs pistoned in long strides that searched for cover. But nothing afforded shade.
A tree. A bush. A houseplant, for goodness sake. I’ll take anything.
The trail eventually crossed a highway and meandered through a grove of cottonwood trees. There, Grace slung off her pack, dropped beside it, and dug through her gear.
She squashed a cream-colored hat onto her sweaty brow. Her parched lips drained a water bottle. A rough trunk supported her back.
My shoulders ache. My feet hurt. And this pack weighs a ton. Why did I throw in everything I thought might come in handy? Pre-moistened body wipes? Am I really going to need those out here?
The previous night, she and Celine had discussed her strategy. “I read somewhere a person hiking in direct sun needs at least a gallon of water for every ten miles.” Grace laid out her water containers on the hotel bed. “But one gallon weighs eight pounds. I’ve got a two-gallon collapsible water container and two one-liter bottles. Do you think I should fill them all? That’s close to twenty extra pounds.”
“I think you should follow the rules.”
“That’s a lot of extra weight.” Grace hefted a container from the hotel sink. “Maybe I’ll fill two bottles and leave my larger container partially empty. I’ll drink a lot before I start. And Hauser Creek is on the trail. I can get more water there.”
Celine pursed her lips contemplatively and tossed an empty bottle to Grace. “What if there’s no water in the creek?”
“Then they wouldn’t call it a creek.” Grace chucked the bottle back at her. “It’ll be fine. Like I said, I’ll hydrate like crazy before we set out.”
In the morning, after a brief rest under cottonwoods, Grace continued her hike. She chased lazy clouds in search of shade. They vaporized before she reached them.
Why did I wear pants?
She longed for the hiking skirt in her pack. Then the trail narrowed, and waist-high chaparral brush clung and tore as she battled through. Rough, aggressive limbs and thick, unforgiving leaves pulled at her hiking poles. Grace held them above her head, unable to see her feet. After five minutes of struggle, she reached the other side. Her face dripped with sweat. She looked down.
I love you, pants.
Grace drained her second water bottle as she climbed. At the top of the hill, she paused. Perspiration dripped into her eyes and mouth, but she was too hot to care. In the distance, the border wall and Mexican mountains were still clearly visible. She thought of fishing out her phone for a picture.
Too much effort.
The path leveled out. Her pace slowed. The heat irritated her.
I should have had my hat on from the beginning. Why didn’t I start hiking earlier in the day? Where the heck is Hauser Creek? I need more water.
She wiped a hot tear from her cheek.
What a mess. But there’s no point in crying. Come on Grace.
Grace was the kind of person who prided herself on being someone people could count on. When her mother’s first attempt at baked Alaska set the kitchen window curtains aflame, teenage Grace doused the inferno in chocolate syrup, then helped her mother take down the gooey mess.
“People in Alaska originally lived in igloos. They probably didn’t have window curtains.” She wiped the counter with a Lysol-soaked dishrag. “Some desserts don’t translate well across climate zones.”
As an adult, Grace volunteered her services as a psychologist for the Friday overnight shift at the Berkeley women’s crisis hotline. There, she comforted agonized rape victims, beaten girlfriends, and conflicted housewives with a sympathetic ear, sensible advice, and a list of referrals she’d personally vetted.
“You’re ready to move out? Don’t forget to take his Rolex. He owes you big time.”
And when tragedy struck her family a year ago, it was Grace who negotiated with the funeral home and the florist. Phoned relatives in San Diego, New Brunswick, and Tokyo. Late at night, in bed alone, she lay exhausted but sleepless.
“How am I going to get through this by myself?”
That blistering day on the trail, she began to lose faith. The merciless, prodding sun became her enemy. It evaporated her enthusiasm, diminished her stamina, and gnawed at her judgment. Her feet dragged along the sandy path without any of their initial eagerness. She refilled her water bottles from the large container in her pack and ignored the voice that told her she would soon run out of fluids.
After another mile, the trail merged with a Jeep road. In the distance, Grace saw a disappearing cloud of dust.
That was a car. I could have asked them for a ride. Maybe they had air conditioning. Some extra water. Maybe they were on their way back to San Diego and would have taken me to a hotel. I could have started the trail again in a few days, when it’s cooler.
She checked the phone’s GPS. Four miles to Hauser Creek.
I’ll make it if I ration my water.
By the time the trail dove into Hauser Canyon’s shaded grove of oaks and sycamores, Grace hated the sun more than she’d ever hated anything. She squinted at the wooded valley. But the only hint that a creek had ever flowed across the parched land was a strip of slightly darker sand meandering through a pile of rocks. Grace’s knees wobbled.
Even in the shade, sweat poured down her face.
It’s past noon. I should eat.
She felt nauseous. Her head pulsed like molten lava in a live volcano crater.
I need to rest.
Her shoulders shrugged out of the pack straps and she sank to the ground. Before thinking better of it, she drank the rest of her water. A small Japanese folding fan, the parting gift from her sister, offered some relief. The hot desert air drew out the fan’s sandalwood scent. The breeze evaporated her perspiration.
She kicked off her shoes and socks, then changed into her skirt. But after thirty minutes of inertia, sweat still dripped from her chin. Sitting made her dizzy, so she lay down. The violent sun tortured her through the leaves, shafts branding her face and body like flames.
I need more water. Have to keep going. A road’s not far ahead. If I lie down in the middle, somebody will find me.
But the idea of crawling out of the partial shade into the glaring sun was too much.
Bees droned near her head.
What’s that? Airplane? Maybe they can see me down here. Call in a rescue.
Her mind drifted up, into the sparse tree branches. It hung there briefly. Then ascended into the smoldering, cloudless sky.
Later, another idea broke through her confusion.
I’m going to die. On my first day on the trail. Kind of a waste. All this equipment. All that money. Geez, I could have spent it on those cell phone-operated blinds for the living room instead. There was that coupon in the Saturday clipper magazine…
Her tongue ran along dry lips.
Hmm. I’m licking a lizard. I wonder if he’ll lick back.
Then Grace thought of nothing.
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When Evan and Katie said “I do”, they expected to navigate life together side-by-side. But when a car accident and a tawdry affair disrupt life as they know it, Evan and Katie are forced to venture on alternate paths, alone. In the darkest depths of an unforgiving coma, Evan fights to survive the treacherous jungle of his mind. He embarks on a spiritual journey to understand the meaning of life and the beauty of death…forcing him to face his deepest fear. Meanwhile, Katie ventures through her own guilt. On a strenuous moral journey, she juggles the consequences of infidelity and the strain of caring for her unresponsive husband. But are their paths truly separate? Or are they simply on parallel journeys that are destined to converge?
For More Information
As Evan coasted along Highway 50, the hills rolled alongside him. Fall oak brush set the canvas on a cold, winter afternoon. The old wooden-post fence along the road looked as though a strong breeze might blow it over. The overgrown grass reached the bottom wire of the fence and was a hybrid mix of greens and yellows. Not much else was alive in the patches of open grass among the crowded trees. In an hour there would be dew frozen to the grass, and the cold westerly wind would chill everything to a frozen standstill.
Evan cruised at a steady sixty-five miles per hour as he jammed out to Bob Seger’s “Still the Same.” It was his song in college and no matter how many times he listened to it, he never tired of it. Evan’s thumbs thumped on the steering wheel to the rhythm of the song as his head bobbed back and forth. He sang along in falsetto, which would have warranted many jeers from those unfortunate enough to be within earshot. His clunky car was a bit older than most, but it was his, bought and paid for, and he made good time in it. It cut through the winter air as the sun was starting to set. Long, dark shadows nearly covered the car, but a few streaks of light managed to break through the sky, reflecting the now-red sun.
Forty miles away a doe was bedded down in the deep scrub oak, getting ready to make her rounds in an all-night grazing-fest. She licked her front legs and cleaned her nose with her tongue. She took her time, as though there were no natural predators of which to be concerned. In this neck of the woods, the only thing she had to fear was man. Man and his gun and his automobiles. She rose slowly, stretched her back legs long, and shook her ears rather violently. If only humans could sleep so well and wake so gracefully. As she breathed out and perked up her big ears to locate danger, her hot exhale mixed with the cold air outside, producing a visible sign of her presence. The setting sun was dropping at a brisk pace, causing its rays to lose their power.
Evan had graduated from college and landed an entry-level position at a marketing firm. Within a few years his outgoing personality moved him higher up the food chain. Everything appeared to be great in his life except for one thing…he was unhappy. He didn’t seem to fit into the normal molds that most people did. He dared to be different. He had the feeling, deep inside him, that he was meant for greater things; he was meant to have an impact. Without knowing his purpose, he felt lost. The thing that motivated him the most was his search for that elusive answer. That, and his deepest, darkest fear. Evan blocked out those thoughts and recalled pondering life’s questions about where he belonged and what his destiny was when he met Katie. The woman who would be the love of his life.
Evan could picture that meeting like it was yesterday. He was staring at her from across the coffee shop. Katie had the most beautiful face, with big, round, brown eyes and fair skin. Her dirty-blonde hair had been lightened by the summer sun. She was bubbly, enchanting, and when she smiled at him, he knew. She bravely made the trek between the tables to ask him out. She was bold that day, and he was glad she was. Evan might not have made the moves on his own.
Evan was handsome. He was about six feet tall with marble-like blue eyes and light brown hair. He had a slender, but athletic figure. He looked like the all-American boy. He exuded confidence and always appeared in-command, but on the inside, he was shaking.
Theirs was a typical marriage that began with a nice beach wedding in Florida. Both families got along well enough, and Evan and Katie looked like the happy couple in the picture that comes with the frame. Meadows with white flowers, smiles as wide as the sky, and hands locked together as if welded. Not a blade of grass or hair out of place.
Shortly after graduating and getting married, Katie began her career as a government welfare officer for a program that provided less-fortunate families with housing and food. This may have been the main reason that they didn’t have any kids yet. It nearly broke her heart every time she saw those poor children with runny noses and stains all over their clothes. They looked at her and made her feel guilty for all that she had. She would look them in the eye briefly, and then drop her head, knowing it was a staring contest she could never win. The children’s eyes were hard and unwavering. Those cold little eyes struck something deep within her, and drove Katie to help others because she wanted to help herself. She wanted to fix other people’s problems because she wanted to fix her own.
Like all married couples, they’d changed in many ways those first few years. While Evan had maintained his all-American boy-next-door appearance, he’d begun to notice those early tell-tale signs he wasn’t a college kid anymore. Katie claimed to be ten pounds heavier than she wanted to be, but he could never tell. In a world where every eye judges like they’re God, Katie never seemed to feel like she measured up. Lack of self-confidence was her downfall. Evan never cared about any of her perceived shortcomings. He thought she was beautiful, as did most everyone else. He told her constantly that she was perfect and all that he ever wanted, but it never quite filled her need for attention from others. This was the reason that while Evan drove down the road, happy-go-lucky and high on life, Katie was in the corner of a dimly-lit bar having a drink and flirting with Dylan.
The sun was nearly setting while the deer moved east. Evan was headed due north. A car zoomed past Evan, the first one he’d seen in a while. He’d moved on from reminiscing and was in the middle of a daydream, hoping that one day he and Katie could have children. They were financially stable and the timing was right, but they never seemed to be able to get it done. Still, when he was alone in times like this, he often thought of what it would be like to throw a baseball with his son or take his daughter to ballet class, making it to every game and every recital without fail. Katie worked hard and often long hours, but Evan was the one practicing for the days of family suppers and game night.
While Evan drifted deeper into la-la land, the deer was fifty yards from the road to his left. She quickly lifted her head from grazing; something caught her attention. She sensed danger and her fight-or-flight response kicked in as she trotted off with graceful legs carrying her quickly. She jumped the old wooden fence with ease. A vibrating phone made a distinct rattling sound in Evan’s cupholder. He looked down to see a text from Katie. Dinner with the program directors tonight. Be home around 10. Love you. Just as Evan looked up, the deer was in the middle of the road, not more than twenty-five feet in front of him.
It seemed like everything happened in slow-motion. Evan slammed his head into the back of the headrest, his hands in a white-knuckle death-grip on the steering wheel. The deer stood frozen in the middle of the road. Evan’s immediate response was to turn the steering wheel hard to the right. As the car tires led the car to the right, obeying Evan’s command, the driver’s side mirror ever-so-gently brushed against the hair on the ear of the frozen female deer. The car whizzed by her and off into the ditch. She twitched her right ear as if only a fly had landed on it and gave the same look of disapproval that an old lady gives a kid who flies past her on his bike.
Evan was ejected from the car but managed to escape from it rolling on him. He was propped up against a pile of oak brush. His labored breathing resonated in the cold air around him. Blood from a cut on his eyebrow trickled down his face, running into his mouth. The twisting of metal and flinging of dirt was enough to scare the deer off. A squeak from a wobbly hubcap rubbing against a branch kept on and on as if the friction that should slow it down was miles away. The left headlight shined as bright as ever, illuminating the dust settling in the beam like sediments in a vintage wine. That same beam shone right on Evan, his warm breath clearly visible in the cold, dark night. It all happened so perfectly. It was surely meant to be, as if fate wouldn’t have it any other way.
Katie flagged down the waiter for another round of appletinis. She turned off her phone to eliminate any disruption in the evening’s events. She surveyed the room diligently, nodding in satisfaction. The bar was classy. Oak panels stained deep red layered the floor with matching rafters up above. It was the kind of place that lawyers and corporate business-types frequented. Tonight it was bustling with the usual crowd. Waiters played the dodging game, weaving in and out of groups perfectly without ever spilling a drop. As the waiter brought the drinks to the table, Katie shifted her weight and repositioned her legs. Whether or not she was aware of it, she moved ever-so-subtlety closer to Dylan. Katie had never cheated on Evan before, though she had come close a few times. Flirting and sending the wrong message to guys happened all the time with her. It made guys take chances that crossed the line with remarks and gestures most would consider inappropriate for a married woman. Katie desperately craved attention. The attention of any male in the room. Tonight she had Dylan’s.
Dylan was a smooth-talking man. His overall appearance reminded her of Evan, but with lighter hair and green eyes. The greenest of green. The initial conversation was mostly about work and where they saw themselves in their careers a few years down the road. Dylan was self-assured in a way Katie could only hope to be, and he had an air of sensuality about him that easily drew female attention. He knew exactly what he was doing, maintaining a casual demeanor. Dylan was no slouch, though. He knew Katie was married and didn’t care one bit. With the alcohol doing its thing, the talk got a bit more flirtatious, and the blood traveled from inside Katie’s body to the surface of her skin, where her cheeks flushed like the bloom of a spring rose.
“I need to visit the ladies’ room,” Katie said, taking the long way around the booth and crossing over Dylan. This was the closest they had ever been. He could smell her shampoo and for some reason, it turned him on more than any fine perfume could. It reminded him of something clean. Something pure. Something wholesome. All of which he fully intended to use to suit his own sinister designs.
“I’ll be waiting,” Dylan responded with a wicked grin. As Katie wiggled around Dylan’s lap and onto her own two feet, she straightened out her little black dress and checked her hair with her hand. Thank God you remembered to dress a little sassy on casual Friday. She was looking good tonight. Dylan knew it, the waiter knew it, and the group of stockbrokers she strutted by knew it. One even gave Dylan a once-over to see what was so special about him. Tonight, Katie could have any man in the world. She had swagger, she had confidence, and most importantly, she knew it. This powerful combination made Katie dangerous, but it was always short-lived because it always originated from the alcohol.
She pushed the double doors into the women’s restroom and made the ninety-degree right turn. She stood in front of the giant mirror, examining the woman looking back at her. Thoughts raced through her head as she decided if tonight would be the night she would cheat on Evan. He wouldn’t be home until late and long business dinners were not unusual for Katie. She could easily get away with it.
You can do this. You’re a beautiful woman with a gorgeous man who wants to show you some fun. There aren’t any kids to consider, and Evan will never know. You deserve this. She reapplied her shiny fruit-flavored lip balm, did a quick check of the left side, then the right side. You look good. Katie snatched her purse off the granite bathroom sink and made like she owned the place, her high heels clicking on the expensive marble tile as she left the restroom.
Dylan slouched slightly in his seat as he wondered what was taking so long. He saw Katie around the corner from the bathrooms and popped up tall, putting his arm on the back of the booth in an effort to appear smooth again. Dylan’s eyes were observing attentively, waiting to see what her next move was going to be. She sat down opposite him in the round booth and grabbed her appletini, swallowed the last of it in one big gulp, and whispered, “Let’s get out of here.” Dylan knew the small talk was over and his time had arrived, but he still had to reassure himself that this was actually going to happen. He couldn’t believe his luck. Dylan loved women. All shapes and sizes too. He had put more work into Katie than most, but only because she was married and seemed to need a little coaxing.
“Can I get you two another round?” the waiter asked.
“No, we’ll just take the check, thanks,” Dylan replied with a weak, underlying accent.
As Katie contemplated what was about to happen, the alcohol was taking over. Ever-so-slowly turning the shy and timid Katie into a glowing, confident, bona-fide woman. Dylan paid the tab and helped Katie put on his leather jacket. They eagerly stood up together in anticipation of the evening’s inevitable events. Dylan left the booth first and reached his hand out to help Katie down the small step. She graciously grabbed it. Contact.
“Shall we?” Dylan asked.
“Yes,” Katie responded quietly. It was such a simple answer for such a complicated situation. Dylan forcefully made his way through the crowd, nearly dragging Katie behind him. As they approached the exit, Dylan wrapped his arm around Katie. It was frosty out. The homeless man outside of the bar was shivering. Sucks to be out here in the cold. They walked past the man and up to the edge of the sidewalk to the well-timed arrival of a cab. Being the smooth man he was, Dylan opened the door and let Katie in first. He loosened his tie while looking around the street, in the same way a lion surveys for scavengers right before he consumes his prey. All clear.
“Downtown Grand, my good sir,” Dylan said as he ducked his head into the cab and closed the door.
Evan appeared lifeless, like a doll propped up in a chair. His skull was cracked right above his left eye and on the back of his head. Outside, it was twenty degrees and dropping fast. The blades of grass were frozen stiff, and the small breeze made it feel even colder. His body temperature began to cool down as he went into shock. The tires on his smashed-up vehicle had finally stopped spinning. Evan’s untucked Banana Republic shirt was littered with blood and dirt along with a few randomly-placed rips. In a cruel twist of fate, Evan’s phone laid face-up a few feet away from him, Katie’s text message still on the screen for all to see.
Brian Donagan was headed out of town and decided that the best route would be Highway 50. He was on his way to pick up his kids from his ex-wife. They swapped custody of them every other week per the agreement in the divorce. He never took this road but, as chance would have it, he decided to this night. Brian spotted a light pointed away from the road a few hundred yards up. It looked like somebody possibly poaching a deer. He slowed down to get a better view, and as soon he got close enough, he froze in realization of what it was. Brian grabbed his phone and immediately called 9-1-1, giving his location to the operator. Brian exited his vehicle only to recognize how cold it was outside. Like a scolded child, he ran back to grab his jacket.
“Anybody there?!” Brian shouted. He saw Evan right away, but hit his knees to check under the car for any other injured people. “Hello?!” Brian shouted. Nothing. He ran over to Evan, who was showcased by the perfectly-placed headlight. Brian noticed the swelling on Evan’s face. Evan looked like a boxer on the wrong end of a tough bout. Despite what he saw, Brian was somewhat calm. Moving rapidly, he took his coat off and gently placed it over Evan. He hesitantly checked for a pulse. “Oh God, please be okay…. Hello, sir? Fuck! Please be okay, man. Please be okay.” Brian felt a pulse. It was shallow, but it was there. He noticed the faint tufts of steam coming out of Evan’s nose, which made him feel stupid for looking for a pulse in the first place. “You’re going to be okay, man. The ambulance is on its way,” Brian whispered. The somewhat-calm from earlier had quickly come and gone.
Brian looked down for clues as to who this man was and Evan’s left hand caught his attention. He noticed Evan was wearing a wedding band on his left ring finger. It was gold with a big dent where it was struck hard by something, most likely in the accident. It was still on Evan’s finger, but noticeably damaged, along with Evan’s arm. Brian could see the bone sticking out of the blue and white striped shirt. He placed his hand on his own head and almost cried. “Oh shit. Please let this man live, Lord. Please.” Brian also noticed the cell phone on the ground with a cracked screen. He picked it up and stuffed the phone into the front right pocket of Evan’s shirt. By this time nearly thirty minutes had passed, and Brian was becoming more and more of a wreck. Trying to waste some time with something productive, he phoned his ex-wife to let her know what had happened and that he would be there as soon as he could. He knelt down next to Evan and wondered who this man was. Where was he going? What caused him to roll his car like this? All of these questions raced through Brian’s thoughts as he realized just how fragile life really was. He had never seen a dead person, and he certainly didn’t want to tonight. He continually looked for the breath escaping Evan’s mouth. Brian was scared and completely helpless. Finally hearing the faint sound of the ambulance in the distance growing louder, Brian’s head dropped in relief. He was in charge and felt responsible for whatever happened here until someone capable of providing treatment arrived. That may have been far from the truth, but he wouldn’t be convinced otherwise.
The ambulance was traveling in excess of eighty-five miles per hour, but every second Brian waited felt like an eternity. The big vehicle finally made it, pulling to a screeching stop, and Brian let out a sigh of relief. His hot breath turned to steam in the air and left his face cold.
“That’ll be thirty-seven fifty,” the cab driver said. Dylan extended his arm to pay the man with a fifty-dollar bill and told him to keep the change. He was on fire tonight and waiting for change was not on the docket. Katie was wrapped tightly in Dylan’s leather jacket as they walked into the entrance of the Downtown Grand. It was a tall, elegant building that rose above the street with windows taking in all the views that downtown had to offer. It had all the trimmings of an affair waiting to happen. They walked to the entrance and the bellhop swung the big door open with ease.
“Welcome to the Downtown Grand,” he said as he bowed with the grace of a Broadway star. They hardly noticed him as they blew right by, approaching the front desk smiling and playing.
“Stop,” Katie said with a devious smile as Dylan grabbed her ass. He took his hands off Katie and laid them on the desk. The name tag on the young clerk’s lapel read Natasha.
“Good evening. Welcome to the Downtown Grand. How may I help you?”
“Well…Natasha, we are weary travelers in need of shelter tonight,” Dylan said sarcastically.
“I think I can help you with that, how many nights?”
“Just one please,” Dylan said.
The keyboard clicks echoed in the large hotel entrance. As Natasha processed the request, Dylan’s eyes were locked onto his target. He grabbed Katie’s hand and kissed it. He just-so-happened to kiss her wedding ring. He never noticed, but Katie did, making her sick inside. She could have thrown up right there in the lobby but managed to hold it back. Her inner monologue gave her the confidence to shake it off without showing how she truly felt.
“Would you like smoking or non-smoking?” Natasha asked.
“Non-smoking please,” Dylan replied.
The keyboard noise continued on as Katie took in all the details of the spacious hotel lobby. This building. This is where it’s going to happen. Marble pillars in the entryway with a red carpet that led right up to the registration area. Can you think of somewhere better?
“I’ll need a driver’s license and a credit card to secure the room, which will be charged at checkout.”
Without a word, Dylan handed over his driver’s license and Platinum American Express card. As Natasha typed in Dylan’s information and ran the credit card, she stared at the screen, ignoring the public display that was happening between Dylan and Katie.
“There you go,” Natasha looked up and said with a smile. “Room 911. Elevators are right around that corner there. Can I help you with anything else?”
“As a matter of fact, you can,” Katie chimed in. “Send a bottle of your most expensive red to the room and put it on the bill,” Katie said with a smile.
“Sure thing, Mrs. Starks, and enjoy your stay,” Natasha said.
“I’m sure we will,” Dylan said.
Just like that, Katie Glover…AKA Mrs. Starks, was sacrificing five years of marriage for a smooth-talking man with a square jaw and broad shoulders. She knew the consequences, but she had already made up her mind. It would be almost too embarrassing to back out at this point. She eyed him as they left the elevator while walking arm-in-arm to the room. The key card slid in, and as Dylan removed it from the lock, the door made a clicking sound in conjunction with the little green light. Green for go. She blew out a deep breath in fear and anticipation.
Dylan, being the gentleman he was, held the door open as Katie walked in. He followed in behind her. Slowly turning around, he gently pushed the door closed. As the view into the hallway narrowed, the fantastic smile he was wearing widened.
Evan was still unconscious as Brian stood back in bewilderment. He had watched medical shows on TV, but in real life, the paramedics were speaking gibberish. He took in the moment and caught a few words here and there while they loaded Evan onto the stretcher. “Internal bleeding,” “subdural hematoma,” and “intracranial pressure” were among the fancy words that were being voiced. A paramedic stepped out of the ambulance and began getting the stretcher board ready. The female paramedic holding up an IV bag walked by Brian and glanced over at him. “You did well, sir.”
“Thanks,” Brian mumbled. He wanted to be proud of his efforts, but he knew he did nothing special. It was all happening too fast for him. The paramedics seemed to move effortlessly and didn’t seem to care about Evan. Brian assured himself that they did care, but that they had a job to do. Plus, they do it every day and had probably seen much worse, so it had to be routine.
By this time, a state police officer had shown up. The officer walked up slowly and started talking to the EMTs. The EMT that had thanked Brian earlier was pointing to him. The officer looked over, shook his head, and headed his way. For some reason Brian felt like he might be in trouble.
“I’m Officer Collins of the State Police Department. I need to get a quick statement from you, sir,” the officer said.
“Of course,” Brian replied.
Brian told the officer that he drove by and saw Evan’s car on its back and called 9-1-1. There wasn’t much else to tell. As Brian was talking to the officer, his gaze diverted to watch the team load Evan into the ambulance. The driver of the ambulance helped to get the stretcher in and then closed the door behind them. She jogged briskly around the ambulance, got in, and hit the sirens. They wasted no time in speeding off with their cargo.
Two EMTs and Evan together in the ambulance was definitely a crowd. The female EMT, Julie, was on the phone with the hospital nurse, reporting all of the information they had on Evan and their estimated time of arrival, about twenty minutes.
Evan did not look well. He had dark, black circles around both of his eyes, and his face was swollen to the point of being unrecognizable. His neck was stabilized in a brace, while his body rocked back and forth from the vibrations of the ambulance flying down the two lane road. Although his body moved from the external forces, his mind lay perfectly still.
The siren wailed on as the ambulance made its way into the city. They were headed to St. Mary’s Hospital downtown. Julie hung up the phone while her partner was taking vitals and recording them on a chart. They made a left turn onto Washington Boulevard to enter the ambulance access of the emergency room. As Julie and the other paramedic unloaded Evan, Father Elders ran out through the ER doors and into the cold air to meet the team. While they all rushed into the hospital, Father Elders jogged beside the stretcher and grabbed Evan’s hand and squeezed it. He had been around long enough to know that despite a person being unconscious, they can still feel love. After all, Father Elders wasn’t in the body business…he was in the soul business.
Katie walked meticulously around the room as if an inspection would ensure this place was good enough to cheat on her husband. She walked up to the window and started to close the big, heavy curtains. Maybe it was a subconscious effort to hide her intentions from the rest of the world. Dylan walked up behind her, put his hand on the small of her back, and began slowly rubbing her through her little black dress. Shivers went up her spine. While the caressing felt good, she couldn’t help but notice how the city below looked like a high-definition version of Pac-Man—the little cars with their lights moving around the maze. In all that was about to happen, Katie found space to wonder who they were and where they were all headed.
“Everything okay?” Dylan asked. Katie hesitated. This fantasy of other men was about to get real. Way beyond masturbating in bubble baths where she indulged her wildest fantasies with various men.
“Perfect,” she whispered, not moving her eyes from the window. “They look like ants down there, following some ordained path.”
Dylan grunted a half snicker. “Maybe they are ants. Have you ever seen how ants will take an injured or dead ant back to the nest and eat him?”
“Gross!” Katie laughed.
“It’s true. We are no different than them. All just animals.” As they enjoyed an awkward laugh, there was a knock on the door.
“Room Service!” the voice shouted.
Dylan reluctantly took his hand off Katie’s back so he could answer the door. It had taken him months to get his hand permission to be there and annoyed him slightly that he had to answer the door. He was greeted by a young man with the bottle of Ten Thousand Roses Merlot, two glasses, and a wine opener. Dylan set them on the counter next to the door and reached into his wallet, handing the young man a crisp five-dollar bill for his services. Dylan closed the door while grabbing all of the party favors at the same time. He wasn’t going to give Katie the chance to change her mind. As she stared outside, deep in thought, Dylan poured two full glasses of wine. He handed one to Katie and resumed his place next to her with the other glass in his hand. Katie looked beautiful holding the deep purple wine in the crystal glass, with the city lights glowing in the background.
“To the night, and whatever she may bring,” said Dylan as he held his glass up.
“To the night,” Katie echoed.
She raised her glass and tapped it delicately into his. A high-pitched clink resonated through the room with both of them taking bigger-than-usual swigs. They stood silently, enjoying the beautiful view of downtown once more, when from the left side of the window, an ambulance came into view. They watched its bright flashing lights weaving in and out of traffic as it made its way to St. Mary’s, finally coming to a stop. Dylan and Katie could see the paramedics racing feverishly around on the ground below.
“Look at the poor sap in that ambulance down there. Probably some old lady who fell down and broke her hip.”
Katie punched him in the arm jokingly. “You are so mean!” The ice was broken.
“Well, whoever it is probably didn’t expect to be headed to St. Mary’s tonight.” Dylan turned Katie’s face toward him and gave her a seductive grin. “But let’s not let it spoil our evening.”
Katie finished her wine quickly so it would do its work and numb her up. She sat the glass on the table, closed the curtain, and turned to Dylan. He grabbed her forcefully, just the way she liked it. Pulling her in for the kill. Their lips met and butterflies exploded throughout Katie’s body. Bliss. Dylan quickly undid the buttons on his dress shirt, starting from the top, then proceeded to remove the spaghetti straps holding up Katie’s little black dress. Once that was done, the dress slid off without effort. Just like that, beautiful Katie was standing there in her black lace bra with matching panties. She unbuttoned Dylan’s jeans and like a slow Texas two-step, he led her over to the bed, his tongue never leaving her mouth. Dylan was aggressive, but that was okay; that was his style, and she wanted it like that.
So many thoughts bounced around in her brain. So many thoughts, but none were of Evan or what he might be doing. For all she knew, he was pulling in a big pot at the poker game and taking a shot of whiskey to celebrate.
That notion couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Father Elders continued to hold Evan’s hand until they reached the emergency room. Once inside, he stepped aside to let the doctors do their jobs. A nurse began cutting Evan’s clothes off, placing them into a clear, plastic collection bag. Father Elders rummaged through Evan’s pockets and collected his wallet, cell phone and watch, then headed back to the nurse’s station.
“Here’s his insurance card. Please try to find a next of kin and phone number,” the priest directed.
“Right away, Father,” she responded.
Father Elders walked around the nurse’s desk and grabbed a small, plastic bin. He placed the phone along with Evan’s wallet and watch in the bin. He stuck a piece of white tape on and labeled it with a Sharpie, “Evan Glover,” and put it in one of the lockers in the storage shelf behind the nurse’s station. Meanwhile, the nurse typed away on the computer and grabbed a pen and a piece of scrap paper from the cluttered desk. She had found Evan in the insurance system with information on his next of kin. Writing the details down on a piece of paper, she handed it to Father Elders who took it and made the trip back to the emergency room to check on Evan’s status.
The ER was filled with chaos. People talking over each other and beeps filled the room. Evan was surrounded by moving bodies who were prepping him for emergency surgery. Father Elders left the room, making his way down the hall and across the lower floor to his tiny corner office. The old wooden door was labeled St. Mary’s Chaplain. It was painted a dark shade of green that might have been there since the first days of the hospital. He opened the door, turned on the light, and sat down at his desk. He let out a sigh, hesitating for a minute. This was by far the worst part of his job. In fact, his whole career consisted of things like this, but it never got easier for him.
Father Tyrell Elders grew up in an inner-city black neighborhood. He and his friend, Eli, were playing hopscotch one hot summer day on the sidewalk. Two local rival gangs had clashed two weeks’ prior, meaning the Black Rangers were out for revenge. That morning they rounded the street corner in their low-riding older model Chevy Malibu, causing kids and adults alike to flee. Everyone knew what was coming. Tyrell grabbed Eli by the hand and started running as gunfire rang out. A few seconds later Tyrell was suddenly yanked back. He turned around to tell Eli to hurry up. That’s when he saw Eli had caught a stray bullet in the neck. Tyrell fell to his knees, staying with Eli as the blood left his body, pouring out onto the sidewalk into a massive puddle that continued to grow for a full minute. Even at eight years old, no one had to tell Tyrell that Eli was dead. The memory of watching his best friend bleed out was one he would never forget. The haunting vision of that day was what ultimately prompted him to join the ministry. He mostly kept to himself after that, save for attending Our Lady of Sorrow Catholic Church every Sunday with his grandmother. He found comfort in the Lord, and it was the only way the eight-year-old Tyrell could make sense of what he had witnessed.
Father Elders slumped back in his chair and dialed Katie’s number, putting the phone to his ear. He immediately heard the voicemail message, “You’ve reached Katie. Please leave me a message and I will return your call as soon as possible. Have a great day.”
“My name is Father Tyrell Elders,” he began. “I’m a priest at St. Mary’s Hospital. I’m afraid Evan Glover was in a car accident and is currently in our care. Please come to the hospital as soon as you can.” He placed the phone back in its cradle wondering how many times he had to make that phone call. Father Elders bowed his head and started praying aloud.
“Dear Heavenly Father, I pray to you tonight for your child, Evan. Father, we cannot expect to know Your will, but please look upon Evan and his family with eyes of mercy. All-powerful and ever-living God, we trust You with our souls. We are prepared to face any trial on Earth that You deem us capable of enduring, taking solace in knowing that everlasting life with You awaits. In Your name we pray, Amen.”
Father Elders stood up and headed back to the nurse’s station to see if any additional information on Evan had emerged. He stared intently at the trauma team that was rolling Evan down the hallway toward the operating room. It was crucial that they relieve some of the pressure caused by swelling on Evan’s brain and address any other life-threatening issues immediately.
“A message has been left for his emergency contact. I’ll keep trying to get a hold of her,” Father Elders calmly told the nurse.
Katie was letting out dulcet moans, while Dylan grunted and quickened his pace, nearing orgasm. They had been at it for several minutes, shifting positions often until they found the one that gave them both the most pleasure. With Dylan now on top, Katie grabbed Dylan’s hips and pulled them closer in toward her as they both reached climax. The dance was over. Dylan slid off of Katie in intense relaxation, sweat dripping down both of their bodies. A deep exhale from Katie indicated her complete satisfaction. Boxes were checked off both of their lists. Dylan had bagged another hot woman. The fact that she was married was meaningless. And Katie had finally been fully satisfied by another man.
The guilt immediately took hold and swept over her in a frenzy. Katie nearly panicked with the comprehension of what she had just done. She wrestled with the internal chaos as she glanced over at Dylan. Dylan reached over to cuddle with her, but she wasn’t having it. Pushing him aside, she rose from the bed with a purpose.
“This is never happening again,” Katie said. She put a little extra emphasis on the word “never”.
“So you say…. I’m a charming man,” Dylan responded with a smirk.
“So you say,” Katie said playing along half-heartedly. She was ready to leave. This deceit was already taking its toll on her. She looked at the clock on the nightstand that read 11:30.
“Shit. I have to get home, Dylan. Evan is probably worried sick about me,” Katie said.
“I understand. You going to clean up?”
“No, I’ll just shower when I get home.”
“I’m going to stay here and watch some HBO. It’s already paid for, so, why not?” Dylan replied.
Katie held the sheet tight to her chest as she walked into the bathroom with her clothes in hand. Even though she just slept with Dylan, getting dressed in front of him just seemed wrong. She felt as dirty as the streaked and spotted up mirror in the bathroom. A normally flawless reflecting object littered with specks of imperfection. She closed the bathroom door and sat on the toilet to pee. She looked over to her right to see her face in the filthy mirror. Her hair was a mess and her cheeks were flush. What the fuck did you do? She rose up off of the toilet, flushed it, and began putting herself back together.
“What a crazy night, huh?” Katie asked as she left the bathroom.
“Yeah. Sometimes things just happen, you know?” Dylan said.
“Yeah. It was fun, but now it’s over. Good night, Dylan.” Katie put her hands on Dylan’s chest and leaned in one last time for a kiss. Dylan tried to pull her back in for another round, but she quickly dodged his efforts and walked toward the door.
“Goodnight, beautiful. Mwah!” Dylan smiled flirtatiously while making kissing sounds.
Katie shut the hotel room door behind her and began walking down the long, lonely hallway. Purse hanging over her shoulder, keeping a brisk pace to the elevator. She pushed the button and stared up at the lit floor indicator. 2…3…4…. Sighing at its slow progress. 5…6…7…8…. It finally reached her floor with a ding. The doors opened and Katie stepped into the empty elevator, pushing the first floor button. They slid shut, making a quiet hiss in the process. Katie immediately started to cry aloud in the elevator. She let out a few deep sobs, stopping occasionally to wipe her eyes, trying to regain her composure. The elevator came to a stop on the ground floor and the door opened, revealing another young couple waiting to board. They were smiling and laughing until they realized the woman inside the elevator was intensely distraught. Katie rushed past them, exited the hotel, and hailed a cab to the bar where she had left her car. Anger for what she had done took her over with a rage.
“Right here is fine,” she said to the cab driver. He pulled over next to a parking garage and put the car in park. Katie was so focused on what had happened that she forgot about her phone. She reached into her purse to retrieve some money when it finally dawned on her that it had been off this whole time. Evan is probably freaking out about where you are. Turn the phone on! Instead, she could say it was dead and use that as an excuse for not calling back. “Keep the change,” Katie said.
“Have a nice night, lady,” the cab driver replied.
Katie found her car keys, tucked her belongings under her arm, and walked into the parking structure. She made her way to her parking space, pushing the unlock button on the key fob. It gave her a closer look at her key ring that had a big letter “K” encrusted with fake pink diamonds. Evan had bought it for her on a business trip. It was the first time they had been apart since getting married and Evan had wanted her to know that he was always thinking about her. It felt twistedly ironic that it now made her think of him.
Katie opened the car door, tossing her purse into the front seat and turned the key in one continuous motion. The engine turned over despite the cold, and Katie shivered while she waited impatiently for the car to warm up. She rubbed her arms vigorously to help warm up, but it wasn’t working very well. Katie grabbed the steering wheel with both hands, reaching her right fingers toward the shifter when she broke down again. What had she just done? This stupid fantasy had gone too far. Was she going to tell Evan? Would she be able to live with what she did? She sobbed out loud while glancing in the mirror, grabbing a tissue to wipe the black mascara that was running down her cheeks.
Once she regained composure, Katie began the drive home with her poker face in full effect. Would he know by the look on her face? Evan was a smart guy and that gave her cause for worry. Katie made the twenty-five-minute drive to their house, making the time now half past midnight. She would have to explain to Evan how dinner turned into drinks, and that it was beneficial for her career to socialize at any opportunity and blah blah blah. Katie pulled into the driveway, quickly noticing that no lights were on in the house. That’s weird. He didn’t leave any lights on for me. Katie pressed the button on her garage door opener and the headlights illuminated an empty garage. Slightly worried, she pulled into the garage, jumped out of the car, and hurried inside.
Katie fumbled for the kitchen light switch in the dark house. It quickly became apparent that Evan had not been home yet. Suddenly remembering her phone, she frantically dug through her purse until she found it. She paced the kitchen floor while the phone went through its startup routine. Once complete, Katie saw a message from an unknown number. With the message playing in her ear, her face went from a soft, pink glow to pale like a ghost. Was she pale from the contents of the message or the events of the night. Perhaps it was both.
Holding the phone in her right hand, Katie pressed her left hand on her forehead and leaned on the fridge, slowly sliding to the floor. The mascara streaks that were once removed returned with a vengeance. She dropped the phone on the floor and talked to herself out loud. “What the fuck? What the fuck did I do?” Katie sobbed. She reclaimed her phone, grabbed her purse, and hastily made for the hospital that stood not even two blocks away from where she had sex with another man.
Katie drove past the Downtown Grand when a wave of guilt washed over her again, creating the need to suddenly vomit. Slamming on the brakes, she turned the car onto the side of the road and opened the car door, leaning her head out, quickly depositing roughly sixty-two dollars’ worth of fine wine into the gutter. After she wiped her mouth and shut the car door, her gaze shot upward to see a room on the ninth floor of the posh hotel lit up. Was it worth it? Dylan was probably up there bragging to himself about his new conquest. Maybe he was already planning his next one. Either way, she sped off in anguish.
Katie’s car pulled into the closest parking space she could find near the main building of the hospital. She ran as fast as she could in high heels to the emergency room. When Katie arrived at the entrance, there was a slight pause before the sensor opened the door. During that brief moment, Katie saw her reflection in the glass. She looked as atrocious as she did in the mirror of the hotel bathroom. The monster stared right back as the door whooshed open. She straightened her attire and resolved to put the whole thing behind her. She had to, at least for now. Now more than ever, Katie had to focus on Evan, the man she loved. She didn’t love Dylan, she loved Evan. What happened with Dylan was just an act of lust, not love. We are animals, just like Dylan said, right?
“Evan Glover! Is he okay?! What happened?!” Katie was frantic, slamming her purse into the counter as she ran up to it. It wasn’t an unusual scene for the ER, but the ER clerk was thankful that it a relatively quiet Friday night.
“Try to relax, ma’am. Are you his wife?” the ER clerk inquired. Katie nodded. “Let me see where he is.”
The clerk typed away as Katie squeezed her purse tightly into her chest, dreading hearing the worst. “He’s in surgery right now. That’s all the information I have at this time. A doctor will be out to update the family when surgery is complete. We have a nice, comfortable waiting area right around the corner.” Katie didn’t care about how nice the waiting room was and the look permeated outward. The clerk paused and looked into her eyes sympathetically. “I’m very sorry, Mrs. Glover. The doctors at St. Mary’s are the best. I’m sure they will do everything in their power to help your husband.”
Katie barely heard the encouraging words. Considering all of the night’s commotion, she had forgotten to call Evan’s parents. They lived about eight hours away in a small, rural town. Still crying, she wandered over to the couches to call them. The room was painted in sorrow. Magazines strewn about, old rickety chairs with holes in the seats, and a soda machine whose lights were flickering. Katie finally settled into a chair. It was difficult to see her contact list through the tears in her eyes, but Katie finally found the name and hit Send.
“Katie? Is everything alright?” Laura asked groggily.
“Laura. Listen, Evan has been in a car accident. I don’t really know what’s going on. He’s in surgery right now…that’s all I know.”
She could hear Laura shuffling around in the bed trying to wake up Jim. “Jim, wake up! Evan was in a car accident. He’s in the hospital. Get up! Katie, what happened?!” Laura asked.
“I don’t know. I was out at dinner, I got home and there was a call from the hospital saying that Evan was in an accident. I just got here, so I don’t really know anything yet.”
“Oh my God. Oh my God,” Laura sobbed and hyperventilated. Katie could hear the shifting of the phone. Jim had taken it from her to finish the conversation as Laura became more frantic.
“Katie, this is Jim. What is going on?”
“I don’t know! I’m at the hospital now. I Just know that he was in a car accident. He is in surgery right now.”
“Okay. Okay. Everything is going to be all right. Just stay there with him. We are going to pack some stuff and get on the road. We will be there in the morning. We love you.”
“I love you guys. Please hurry! And drive safe!” Katie said as she hung up the phone and went silent. She was at a loss for words with nothing to say to anyone. She buried her head deep into her lap. So many thoughts and emotions were running through her mind. Katie wanted to blame the affair for what happened to Evan but couldn’t quite commit to the connection. She wondered how long poor Evan suffered and how it all happened. Would things have gone differently if Katie hadn’t turned off her phone? What was the last thing she said to him? It was a lie.
Katie stared down at the cold, cheap tile between her knees when she suddenly became aware of the wet spot in her underwear…the remnants of a man she didn’t love. She cried harder. Katie thought of the last time she was with Evan. It was just the night before that they had made love in the shower.
Katie had gotten home early and had dinner waiting for Evan. He had stopped at the grocery store to pick up chives so Katie could complete her recipe. He’d decided to get her roses, for no reason at all. There was nothing special about that day, but both Evan and Katie had been in a good mood. They enjoyed a few glasses of wine together before getting ready for bed when Evan jumped in the shower. He leaned his head back into the stream of water, closing his eyes, when he was unexpectedly surprised by Katie slipping in, wrapping her arms around him. The shower was in full steam mode by that point as the two began to kiss. Katie was and had always been the aggressor, the shower was no different. It wasn’t long before the kissing led to more. She raised her left leg and pulled Evan closer and into herself.
Katie snapped back to reality only to realize where she was. It dawned on her that she’d had sex with two men in two days, but prior to yesterday, she had only had sex with two men in her entire life. She moved over a few spaces to lay down on the uncomfortable hospital couch, crying herself to sleep. That hot shower was millions of miles from where she was now…maybe even farther.
It was four in the morning when a doctor finally walked in to find Katie balled up on the couch, asleep. He gently tapped her on the shoulder. “Mrs. Glover?” the man asked.
“Yes,” she responded sleepily. Katie looked up with big, kitten eyes waiting to hear the fate of her husband.
“Mrs. Glover, I’m Dr. Setter. I’m the chief neurosurgeon here at St Mary’s. Your husband sustained significant injuries in the car accident. In order to relieve the pressure caused by the swelling on his brain, we removed a piece of his skull above the right eye and a piece from the parietal bone,” he gestured toward the back of his head. “Evan also sustained a compound fracture to his right arm, four fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, and damage to his left kidney. He also broke his number-four lumbar. At this point, we don’t have reason to believe he is paralyzed, but it’s too soon to be sure. He will most likely require additional surgeries as the swelling subsides. Right now Evan is recovering in the ICU, but he is in a coma, ma’am. He is going to have to fight to come out of this one. I’m very sorry.” Katie couldn’t decide if this was good news or bad news. He was alive at least.
“Oh my God. Can I see him?” Katie cried as she jumped up from the couch.
“You can, as soon as he is stabilized. It won’t be long, I promise, Mrs. Glover.”
Dr. Setter disappeared from where he had emerged. The silence in the waiting room became just as apparent as when she had first arrived. Katie decided that taking a quick trip home to shower and clean up would be best for everyone, especially her. She wiped her eyes and dug through her purse to find her keys. Katie knew she looked terrible and that fixing herself up to feel fresh might just be enough to handle the stress that was sure to continue. She received a call from Jim as she was heading out the door.
“Hi, Katie. We are a few hours out still, but we are making good time. The roads are pretty clear. Are there any updates on Evan?” Katie relayed all the information she had just received from Dr. Setter.
“Okay. Well, we will be there soon. Take care of our son. We love you,” Jim said. I think I already helped your son out by sleeping with another man.
It was a quarter till six in the morning. Freshly showered and dressed in some jeans with a plain sweatshirt, Katie returned to the hospital, speeding most of the way there and back. As she walked through the double doors, that familiar smell of hospitals hit her. Disinfectant and cleanliness. It’s next to godliness, right? She felt the need to throw up again, but managed to refrain this time.
Katie approached the help desk near the hospital’s entrance and greeted the clerk. “Hi, again. What room is Evan Glover in?”
“Good morning. Let me get that info for you, just one second.” Katie nervously picked at her fingernails while the clerk looked up the information. “He’s in room three-zero-eight, sweetie. Right that way to the elevators.”
The hospital seemed to have woken up since being there last. There were people buzzing around, all headed somewhere. Katie’s heels clicked in cadence as she made her way to the elevator. She couldn’t shake the thought of how trips to the elevator could forever alter the course of her fate. There was a man already waiting at the bank of elevators when she got there. All of the lights for the up-arrow were lit. One set of doors opened with a “ding,” and inside was a man in a wheelchair with a young girl standing behind him. With a little effort, the girl got the wheelchair moving, clearing the elevator. Katie was nervous as she stepped on. She had no idea what to expect when she saw him. She was thinking this might be the last time she saw Evan alive. He might already be dead, for all she knew.
“What floor?” the man asked with a pleasant smile.
“Three, please,” Katie replied. They both stared intently at the LCD floor indicators until the doors opened on Katie’s floor. She exited the elevator and walked into the ICU section of the hospital. It was booming with hurried people carrying charts, phones ringing, and pages over the intercom system. Katie was looking for Evan’s room. It wasn’t that easy because some of them seemed to be in some order and others were not. She made the turn past the nurse’s station when a young woman in scrubs asked if she was lost.
“I’m looking for room three-o-eight,” Katie said.
“Mr. Glover?” the lady confirmed.
“Yes. Can I see my husband now?” Katie asked.
“Yes, but you are the only one allowed to be in there. His room is just around the corner on the left.”
“Thank you,” Katie said with a polite smile. She rubbed her eyes and wiped her nose with a tissue as she neared Evan’s room. She was a mess, and she didn’t know how she was supposed to feel. Everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours had her brain on an emotional rollercoaster. She prepared herself for what she was about to see. Picturing her darling Evan looking like she last saw him, hair slicked back from the water in the shower, the crooked smile on his face that melted into intense ecstasy as they made love. She knew it wouldn’t be like that, but she had no clue what she was about to see. She took a deep breath and exhaled as she turned the doorknob, creeping into the room.
The room was dim and there was a steady beeping from the machine measuring Evan’s pulse. The entire top of his head was wrapped in bandages with his face completely covered in black and blue, indicating that he had danced with the devil. Tubes coming out of his nose, mouth, and side of his chest completed the picture. She wasn’t even sure it was him. Katie couldn’t even cry. She put her hand over her mouth and tried to let the necessary sobs escape, but only silence came.
Staring at Evan, the reality of it all finally hit Katie, and the tears once again streamed down her face. She walked slowly over to Evan’s side, putting her hand on his. What do you say to someone in this condition?
“Evan, Baby. I’m so sorry,” Katie sobbed. She stroked his hand. There was barely any room to feel his skin with the IV and tubes running everywhere. She looked at his hand, immediately noticing the missing ring and the tan line where it used to be. It resonated strong in Katie’s heart. The symbol of their eternal love was broken. “Baby, I’m here for you. You are going to be okay. I promise.” The only words she could think of.
Katie remained at Evan’s side for twenty minutes when someone opened the door. She turned her head to see who it was as a team of doctors entered the room. They were all carrying charts, and none of them had pleasant looks on their face. One of them stepped forward and approached Katie with his arm extended outward.
“Mrs. Glover, I’m Dr. Oakum. Evan will be under my team’s care. We need to evaluate him to determine our path forward. I have to ask you to leave the room momentarily, and I will speak with you afterward.”
“Okay. I’ll go wait outside,” Katie responded as she stood to leave. She walked out of the room and headed over to the breakroom for a cup of coffee. She looked at her watch. It was getting close to seven in the morning. Katie called her boss and let him know the situation. Mike assured her that she had the full support of the office and to take as much time as she needed. Katie knew that the news would soon spread to all of their circles and that she’d be overwhelmed with the attention. She thrived on attention, just not that kind of attention.
Katie sipped her coffee, staring out of the third-floor window of St. Mary’s Hospital. Her mind once again went back to the night before. What was she thinking? This all seemed liked her fault. She thought of what Dylan had said about being ants and how it could have some truth to it. Katie cared about Evan, his parents cared about him, and the doctors, in some fashion, cared about him, but there were billions of people on the Earth that would never know Evan Glover and his contribution to life. He was just another ant on the trail. The nest would move and grow with or without him, just as the outside world would continue on without him. She suddenly felt sorry for him, not because of the state he was in, but because of that fact. The world would move on without him. She leaned her head against the hospital window while the raindrops outside collected and flowed down the pane without resistance. Just like the tears that were streaming down her face.
After what seemed like an eternity, Dr. Oakum and his team finally started trickling out of the room. He stepped out from the pack, approaching Katie with a serious look on his face. This can’t be good.
“Mrs. Glover. Evan is stable right now, but we need to take him upstairs to run some more tests. We are going to check his neural activity and run an MRI to see the full extent of the damage. Again, he is stable right now, but he isn’t breathing on his own. I want to be honest with you, ma’am. This could go either way. He may be in a coma, but I encourage you to talk to him. People believe that it helps, and if he can hear you, he’s going to need all the support you can give him. I’ll come back and update you when we have more information.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Katie replied.
Shortly thereafter, a nurse accompanied by one of the doctors, wheeled Evan and all of his equipment out of the room and down the hall. Again, Katie wondered if that would be the last time she would see him. She watched a pile of sheets wrapped in bandages disappear down the hall and out of sight. Except, that pile of sheets wrapped in bandages happened to be her whole life.
Hours passed while Katie took a few phone calls from friends asking if she needed anything. She was in a fog. She couldn’t be sure at this point if all of this was real or a dream, but she knew one thing. She had made a terrible mistake the night before, and she couldn’t let it go. The guilt will go away. Don’t worry. She tried to convince herself on the inside. It didn’t work.
Jim and Laura sprinted down the hall when they saw Katie. They looked just as terrible as she did. Jim had on an old baseball hat with some worn out jeans. Laura was wearing jeans and a sweater with a vest. Her once-brown but now graying hair went down to the tops of her shoulders. She had flyaways sticking out all over. Jim and Laura were an active, healthy couple, but today, they looked every bit their age. They all embraced in a small group and shed some more tears. Katie explained all she knew to them. Now it was a waiting game.
Evan’s room was filled with machine noise. Pumps moving air, monitors reading heart rates, and blood pressure machines hissing. He lay static in his room while outside, Dr. Oakum was updating the family. The damage to the back of Evan’s head would likely affect his ability to see, but fortunately, the spinal fracture they discovered didn’t appear to have severed any nerves. Evan’s neural activity showed that it was not that of a normal, healthy person. He was not responding to external stimuli and only time would tell what the outcome would be. Jim, Laura, and Katie took in the news with the helpless feeling that usually accompanies this type of thing.
“You can go in now,” Dr. Oakum concluded as Father Elders approached the family.
“Hi. I’m Father Elders. I’m very sorry you have to endure this trying time.” He extended his hand to Laura, Katie, and then Jim. His black suit was cleanly pressed, matching his dark skin.
“I’m Jim, and this is my wife, Laura. We are Evan’s parents,” Jim said.
“I’m Katie, I’m Evan’s wife.”
“I wish I was meeting you all under different circumstances, but may I ask you a question? Is Evan a man of faith?” Father asked.
“Yes, we are all devout Catholic,” Jim replied.
This was true except for Katie. Evan’s parents were displeased that Evan and Katie did not have a Catholic wedding, but never publicly made a fuss about it.
“That’s great. Please talk to Evan. I believe he can hear you, but if not, his soul can hear you and he needs our help. Our God is a good God. Believe in Him, and He shall give Evan everything he needs,” Father said.
“Thank you, Father,” Jim replied.
While all of that was taking place outside in the hall, inside Evan lay perfectly still…except for his eyes.
We’re happy to be hosting A. Star’s WISH FOR ME Book Blast today! Please leave a comment to let her know you stopped by!
Title: WISH FOR ME
Author: A. Star
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy Romance
When the snarky Glory St. Pierre discovers the gold mechanical vase in her deceased grandmother’s basement, she has no idea that she has uncovered a priceless treasure: a genie lamp. With a real genie inside. A very sexy genie with a not-so-sexy grudge against the entire human race.
Irving Amir hates being called a genie. He’s a Djinn, and he is none too happy to be in the service of Glory, who is as intolerable, and beautiful, as humans come. Now he owes her his gratitude for freeing him and three wishes. Damn his luck.
But an arrow through the shoulder alerts Irving to the fact that he is being hunted, and after a truce dinner with Glory ends with them both almost being killed, hating each other goes right out the window. As feelings change and love starts to develop, they must dig through the secrets and lies to find the truth…a truth neither of them will ever see coming.
WARNING: Not suitable for ages 18 and under. A significant source of bad language, sexy times, and dirty jokes. If you suffer from a lack of a sense of humor, take with plenty of wine. If the symptom persists, see a doctor.
For More Information
“Irving…” I breathed.
He brushed his lips over mine. “Yes?”
“What are you doing?”
He chuckled. “I’m sure you are quite aware of what I’m about to do.”
“But you’re injured,” I tried. “You should be resting.”
“The only thing I should be doing is this.” And he kissed me, slanting his mouth over mine and taking full advantage of the power he wielded over me.
I wish it had only been a kiss though, but it was so much more than that. I couldn’t define it. All I knew was that he made me want to spend all of my wishes on his lips, keeping them soft and perfect and available to me twenty-four hours a day. I fell into the kiss, allowing my arms to encircle Irving’s waist and my nails to claw his back.
Damn, his lips were soft. Like homemade whipped cream and strawberry drizzle. I whimpered as he deepened the kiss and his tongue slipped between my lips and tangoed with my own. My hands moved from his back to his head, and I tried to give back as good as I was getting. But I couldn’t get close enough. I wanted more of him. All of him. Damn, if he didn’t start taking my clothes off soon, I was going to implode and bathe the room with my desire.
But when he pulled away, I felt relieved, like I had just been saved from making a terrible mistake. How I could feel that way after a kiss like that blew me. I didn’t know where the feeling came from. I wasn’t the type of girl who ran from a man like Irving. A man with a sexy accent and eyes that could sear my soul. A man with a smile that put the world on pause. A man with a body that I could spend days riding like a roller coaster that never stopped. So why did I want to escape him all of a sudden? What the hell was wrong with me?
“Please don’t ever do that again,” I interrupted. I looked up into Irving’s violet eyes and hoped he could hear my plea.
He frowned. “Do what?”
“Kiss me, dumb ass.” I pushed at his chest, but he refused to budge. “Move.”
“You did not enjoy my kiss?” I almost laughed at how wounded he looked.
“It’s not that. I just don’t want you to do it again.”
“Because you did enjoy it?”
I glared. “No.”
A slow smile stretched across Irving’s lips. “You are the worst liar, Glory St. Pierre.”
“Get the fuck off me, Irving.”
About the Author
A. Star is a fan of dirty passion. She loves to read it, and she damn sure loves to write it. She is the author of the Mythos: Gods & Lovers series and the Djinn Order series. She is a night-owl and a coffee junkie, and the only sneaker she would be caught dead wearing are Converses.
For More Information
- Visit A. Star’s website.
- Connect with A. Star on Facebook and Twitter.
- Check A. Star out on Pinterest.
- Find out more about A. Star at Goodreads.
We’re happy to bring you the first chapter of Monique Domovitch’s SCORPIO’S KISS!
Scorpio’s Kiss is a spell-binding tale of love, ambition and greed that will keep the reader turning the pages until its surprise ending. Set in New York and Paris amid the glamorous and competitive worlds of art and real estate, Scorpio’s Kiss takes the reader from the late 1940s to the 1960s through the tumultuous lives of its heroes.
There is Alex Ivanov, the son of a Russian immigrant and part-time prostitute. He yearns to escape his sordid life and achieve fame and fortune. His dreams of becoming a world-class builder are met with countless obstacles, yet he perseveres in the hope of someday receiving the recognition he craves.
Half a world away, Brigitte Dartois is an abused teenager who runs into the arms of a benefactor with an agenda all his own. When she finds out that her boss has an ulterior motive, she flees again, determined to earn her living through her art. This career brings her fame, but also the unwanted attention of her early abuser.
Domovitch’s novel is a compelling tale, filled with finely etched characters and a superb understanding of the power of ambition. Scorpio’s Kiss promises to resonate with all who once had a dream.
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The days were getting shorter. The boy looked up in surprise at the sky, which had suddenly grown dark. He pulled his worn sweater tight against the October chill, blew warm breath into his cupped hands and hurried on. The newspaper bag strung across his shoulders was almost empty. He no longer had to put it down at every street corner to massage his sore back. He was almost home.
Alexander Ivanov lived at the end of the world. To the twelve-year-old, that was exactly what Brooklyn was; the end of the world. Maybe because the one time he had been to the city, what he called Manhattan, it had taken forever on the subway.
Alex hated living in Brooklyn, and never more so than when his mother talked about her youth in Leningrad with tears running down her face. She would revert to Russian, which he didn’t understand, but the passion in her eyes spoke more volubly of the beauty of her old country than words could convey.
Every day on his way back from school, weighed down by the load of newspapers, he passed the same dusty old stores, their signs barely legible from the peeling paint; the same ratty tenement buildings in which people suffocated in the summer and shivered in the winter; the same old women in their ritual wigs and shapeless dresses, vacant and blank expressions of hopelessness etched on their faces. Hopeless, that was how he sometimes felt; and then he would remember Manhattan and feel better. If there was one thing Alex wished for, it was to live in Manhattan. He yearned for Manhattan the way his mother pined for her old country.
Alex walked along Main Street, where pickles marinated in barrels, salamis swung from hooks, and sausages dried in their cotton bags. He was oblivious to the sights and smells around him. One by one, he took the papers from his bag, and with a quick, experienced motion, he threw them. His aim was almost perfect.
Tomorrow was collection day. He would stop at each house along his route and wait while his clients went to get their money. After making change, he would thank each one of them politely even though most never bothered to leave him a tip. His work would take him more than twice as long as on normal delivery days. Still, he looked forward to it. Collection day was when he could go home, count out his profits and decide how much of the money he could save. This week, if all went well, he might reach the fifty-dollar mark in his bank account. Fifty dollars! It was a fortune.
He reached into his bag, pulled out the last newspaper and aimed it with unerring precision at the Kodesky’s front porch. At that moment the door swung open and old man Kodesky stepped out. The paper flew through the air like a projectile and landed with a thud in the startled man’s well-padded stomach.
“Hey, you no-good little piece of shit!” He waved his fist. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Alex did not hear a word. He was a million miles away, dreaming of the day he would escape the hell of living at the end of the world.
Even now, two years later, he could still remember every detail of his trip to Manhattan. After a long subway ride, he’d emerged in the city surrounded by skyscrapers so tall, he could only see the top by looking up high and leaning back. People on the street rushed about in the lightly falling snow, pushing and jostling each other, their arms full of brightly wrapped packages. It was one week before Christmas and there was a dizzying feeling of joy in the air. Alex had been almost drunk from the excitement. This must be what Leningrad was like.
Deep in his dreams of unlimited delights, he walked home. Three blocks later, Alex climbed the stairs to the dingy one-bedroom apartment where he and his mother lived.
Before he was born, his mother had tried to make the apartment look warm and inviting. She hung pretty paper on the walls and crisp curtains over the windows. The furniture was inexpensive but attractive and functional. Whatever nesting instinct had once inspired Marlena Ivanov’s efforts had long disappeared. For the past twelve years she had done nothing more to improve her home. Indeed, she had not done even the most basic of repairs. Over time, the wallpaper had become worn and faded. The curtains lost their freshness and the once attractive furniture became old and shabby. The sour stench of poverty clung to the apartment like old dirt.
Alex closed the door behind him and dropped his canvas bag on the floor. He sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. From the kitchen came the smell of boiled cabbage.
“Is dat you Alexander? Vere ver you? Is nearly six o’clock and dinner is been ready for hour,” his mother’s heavily accented voice called out from the bathroom. “I getting ready to go out. You vill ave to eat alone.”
Through the thin door came the sound of the toilet flushing. A moment later Marlena appeared wearing a tight pink sweater set and a black satin skirt. Her dark hair was freshly coifed, the marks of the bobby pins still imprinted between each wave. Her mouth was painted crimson in the shape Joan Crawford had made popular a decade earlier. From ten feet away the smell of vodka on her breath was overpowering.
“Will you be coming home by yourself?” asked the boy suspiciously.
“Vat you vant me to do?” She picked up her purse abruptly and threw in her lipstick. “You vant to eat. I not do dis for me. A boy need food to grow big, strong. Someday you understand.” A moment later, she was gone.
Marlena Ivanov was a bitter woman. She made no secret of the fact that raising a boy by herself was a heavy cross to carry, one she deeply resented. Alex sometimes thought his mother hated him almost as much as she did his father. He had never seen his father. He knew, only because his mother repeatedly told him, that Pavel Ivanov had been a gambler and a womanizer. Whatever wages the man had earned, he just as quickly spent on those two vices. The day Alex was born was the day Pavel Ivanov decided that married life was not for him. He disappeared, leaving his seventeen-year-old wife to deal with the struggles of working and raising a son by herself.
After a dinner of cabbage soup, Alex turned off the lights and climbed under his blankets. In the dark, he could clearly see his mother’s empty bed a few feet from his own. He turned his back to it and curled up.
Hours later, the muffled sound of laughter woke him up. The bedroom door swung open and the light turned on.
“Turn dat off. You vake up boy,” his mother ordered in a shrill whisper. The light flicked off. “Das better. I like dark.” She laughed. “Now, come to Marlena.” Clothes rustled. From his cot, in the corner of the room, Alex guessed every gesture, every movement. Old springs creaked. The sounds were loud, magnified by the stillness of the night.
Alex covered his ears. By trying hard, maybe he could keep the noises from reaching him. It was too late. The guilty stirring in his loins had already begun. His mind swirled in a mix of emotions too strong for him to understand. Maybe if he thought of something else. Someday I’ll drive in from the city in a brand new Cadillac. I’ll show them all…
The next morning, Marlena kissed the man goodbye and turned triumphantly to Alex. “See dis?” She pulled out a ten-dollar bill from between her breasts. “Dis can buy food for whole week.”
Alex looked away, embarrassed and ashamed, and returned to the picture he was drawing on the back of his spelling book.
* * *
By the time he became a teenager, Alex Ivanov believed his ambitions were just dreams. He still felt a raging desire to be rich. Except for the endless stream of buildings he drew, which everyone agreed were beautiful, he had no special talent. Other than the goal of saving up a lot of money, he had no real plan.
Alex kept delivering newspapers and watched his savings grow. At this rate, I’ll never have enough money to move out of here.
He decided to look for other opportunities. Soon, he found what he was looking for. He sold his paper route to a younger boy for two dollars, the amount of a normal month’s profit, dipped into his bank account for another five dollars and invested in a second-hand bicycle with a large wicker delivery basket. The next day he began to work for Yonah Schimmel’s Knishery.
From then on, every day after school he raced down to Schimmel’s and loaded up his basket with bags of sweet-smelling homemade knishes, jars of savory borscht, and fine yogurts with a crust of cream on top and packaged in drinking glasses. With a speed never before seen from any of Schimmel’s boys he raced through his deliveries. Yonah came up to him one day. “What are you trying to do, boy? Get yourself killed? Slow down,” he told Alex. “No sense in going so fast. Slow but safe, that’s the way to go.”
Alex nodded politely, but just as soon as Yonah turned away, he jumped on his bike and sped off.
Alex was tall and well-built for his age. The years of delivering newspapers had helped develop his once lanky frame into a strong, muscular body. His shirts, which were often a size too small, hugged him in a way that exaggerated the ripples on his chest. His hair was black and his eyes ice blue in a face that could only be described as sensual. The sight of the young and virile teenager, slightly flushed from carrying Schimmel’s parcels, did strange things to his female clients.
Often, when Alex rang a doorbell, the woman who answered appeared even more flushed than the delivery boy. Alex smiled and greeted each client politely by name—“Good afternoon Mrs. Zawisny”—and he would walk away with a fresh knish, and more often than not, with a generous tip. Within one month, he had made enough money to cover the expense of the bicycle, plus what he would have normally saved with his paper route. Alex was beginning to feel like a rich man.
The way women reacted was a constant source of amusement for Alex. Since he’d started shaving the year before, he knew the effect he had on the opposite sex. Still, he had no interest in any of them, except maybe in Miss Mateus, his homeroom teacher.
Rita Mateus was a big-busted brunette in her mid-thirties, with smoldering brown eyes that made Alex blush when she looked at him. Sometimes he caught himself dreaming about what he would like to do to her, given the opportunity. Never in a million years did he believe the opportunity would come, and that when it did, it would prove to be his ticket out of Brooklyn.
For months, and to his great pleasure, every time he asked Miss Mateus a question, she would leave her desk, come up to him, and as she bent over his books she would rest her ample breasts on his forearm. One day, as he prepared to leave class after school, she asked him to stay.
For the next hour, Miss Mateus went over his homework book, studying drawings one after another, while her breasts brushed against his back, his arms and even his cheek. “You’re a talented boy. I love this drawing of—what is it?—the Empire State Building? What do you want to be? An architect?” The fourteen-year-old boy blushed and stammered a response, praying the whole while that she would not notice the erection in his pants. Miss Mateus—or Rita as she asked him to call her—noticed. Then she did the most shocking thing. She put her hand right on top of the swelling in his crotch. She looked at him with limpid eyes and said in a melting voice, “Why, Alexander Ivanov, you’re not a boy anymore. You’re a grown man.”
The next day after school, Rita invited him to her apartment. Alex raced through his deliveries faster than he ever had and arrived at her doorstep in record time. She invited him in and poured him a glass of Chianti. “What sign are you?”
He looked at her, confused. “Sign?”
“What’s your birthday?”
“November fifteenth,” he replied, still perplexed.
“November, hmm? That makes you a Scorpio.” She leaned forward and traced a lazy finger along his upper lip. “Scorpio men are intensely passionate and ambitious. But beware a Scorpio’s sting.” She smiled, and his heart skipped a beat. “But, you won’t sting me, will you?” Before he could think of an answer, she rose and picked up a deck of cards from the table. “Do you play cards?” He shook his head. “Well, you’re going to learn.”
That night, Alex learned two things: strip poker and the grown-up game of sex.
Rita pulled off her bra and stood triumphantly before him—the loser thrilled to be vanquished. “You like my tits, Alex?”
“Oh! Yes!” he answered, not daring to move.
She came closer. “You heard me. Touch them.”
Small beads of moisture broke out on his upper lip. He hazarded a hand out to the soft flesh, and thought he might come there and then.
He took a nipple in his mouth and felt it harden. Rita moaned. It was too much. His erection, which had been dangerously close to bursting, exploded in his shorts.
“Hey, sweets, the idea is to keep a little for me.” Rita motioned him toward her bed. “Lucky you’re young. Let’s see how long it takes to get you going again.” She cupped his balls into her hands and took him in her mouth.
“Oh God, I love you,” he cried out. He had never felt anything so delicious in his life. It was so good it hurt. This time, he didn’t come until Rita begged him to.
After that, the routine never varied. Every day after school, Alex would hurry through his deliveries, spend a few hours with Rita, and then rush on home.
It was months before his mother noticed how late he was getting home in the evenings. When she asked him about it, Alex brushed it off easily. “I go to the library and do my homework.”
Marlena chose to believe him. “I no cook for you ven you late.”
She’s happy she doesn’t have to worry about fixing my supper, Alex told himself and swallowed the lump in his throat. Then he thought of Rita and his heart filled with joy. I love Rita and she loves me. That’s all that really matters.
* * *
Every night, as soon as Alex walked in the door, Rita pulled out the cards. It was her favorite foreplay. In the beginning Alex invariably found himself losing and in no time was playing completely naked, but the promised vision of Miss Mateus pulling off her bra was enough enticement to make him yearn to win.
After sex, Rita liked to talk. Surprisingly, she seemed to enjoy their conversations.
“I don’t know why that surprises you. You’re a bright boy. With a mind like yours, you can do anything you choose.”
I can do anything I choose. It was a staggering thought. Maybe he really could be an architect. It was a dream he’d never dared voice.
The next day, Alex went to the one place in Brooklyn he loved. At Highland Park, he climbed the hill to the old reservoir, where he looked straight out to the skyscrapers of Manhattan. He sat on the cold, damp grass and thought about what Rita had said. He didn’t want a job just for the sake of earning a living. What he wanted was a position with prestige. He wanted people to look up to him with admiration and respect. He wanted Rita to be proud of him.
His eyes wandered back to the skyscrapers across the distance. Skyscrapers like those he dreamed of building. From his position they looked like monuments. Monuments to the builder. His heart swelled. That was what he had always wanted to do—build big important buildings like those skyscrapers.
Rita laughed when he told her. “Be serious. Why don’t you want to be a plumber or an electrician? An architect! That would take years of studying. I know I told you that you’re smart, but not that smart. Besides, sweets, you don’t really expect me to wait for you to grow up, do you?”
The words were like a knife in Alex’s heart, but they only made him more determined. Rita meant everything to him. He would have to show her.
The relationship endured until his senior year, when he was ready for college. One day, when he rushed over after his deliveries, he found Rita in bed with another man. For a few minutes, he hid behind the door and listened in horror as Rita said to this stranger all the special secret things she had said to him. “That’s it baby, don’t stop. You’re the best, baby. The very best.” He heard Rita’s familiar moans rise until she screamed. Tears welled in his eyes.
He closed the door silently behind him and went home. All night he tossed and turned, shocked that he could feel so much pain. Never again, he vowed. No other woman is ever going to hurt me.
The next day after school, Alex went back to Rita’s as usual, and made love to her as though nothing had happened. Afterward he had a talk with her. “Rita, does anybody know about us?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she answered sharply as she straightened the seams of her stockings. She sat on the edge of the disheveled bed and watched him covertly.
“I guess you’d be in real trouble if anyone ever found out. Right?”
Rita adjusted the straps of her brassiere and paused in her dressing, long enough to light a Lucky Strike.
“You might lose your job,” he continued.
She took a long drag on her cigarette and exhaled slowly.
“You might even be prosecuted for—what is it—something about a minor?”
She exhaled, blowing the smoke in his direction. “What is it you want Alex?”
He told her.
At his next report card, Alex Ivanov was at the top of his class. He was accepted at NYU with a full scholarship; he had seven hundred of Rita’s dollars in his bank account; and the pain of finding her in bed with another man was just a distant memory.
The First Page is one of Beyond the Book’s newest features. Here we get a glimpse into an author’s work and what better place to begin than the first page? Authors share their first pages and answer a few questions about why they started their books off the way they did. Today we welcome Greg Messel, author of Cable Car Mystery.
About the Book:
Title: Cable Car Mystery
Author: Greg Messel
Publisher: Sunbreaks Publishing
On the hottest day of the year in San Francisco in 1959, Private Detectives Sam and Amelia Slater are contemplating fleeing the city for their Stinson Beach house. However, when Sam decides to take a cable car ride to run some errands on the lazy summer day, he’s suddenly thrust into the spotlight when he rescues a woman who fell onto the busy street. Sam pulls the mysterious red haired woman out of the path of an oncoming cable car in the nick of time. The entire incident is captured by a newspaper photographer who splashes Sam’s heroics all over the front page. Sam is troubled not only by his new status as a city hero, but by the rescued woman’s plea for help. She whispers to Sam that she didn’t fall from the cable car but was pushed. She is frightened and disappears into the crowd before Sam can get more details. A San Francisco newspaper launches a campaign to find the mystery woman and Sam hopes to cross paths with her again.
Meanwhile, Amelia is troubled by the sudden disappearance of her elderly neighbor. Two thuggish younger men who now occupy the house next door say he took a sudden trip. One night when she’s alone Amelia grabs a flashlight and finds some disturbing clues in her neighbor’s garage. What really happened to her neighbor? Amelia is determined to find out.
Award winning author Greg Messel spins a new tale of intrigue in Cable Car Mystery, the sixth book in the Sam Slater Mystery series set in at the 1950s in San Francisco.
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The First Page
It had been a beautiful early summer day in San Francisco but the evening fog
was rolling in, seemingly pulling a cozy blanket over the sparkling city as
28-year-old Debra Norton returned from her Friday night date with John D’Angelo,
a tall, handsome, dark-haired man she had met at work.
It was their first date. He was so unlike the men who had been part of her life
in recent years. He seemed kind and gentle. John seemed like just what she wanted
in a companion but she reminded herself it was too early to make such an assessment.
It could be the beginning of something good for Debra who, at the urging of her sister,
had fled Seattle to make a new start in San Francisco.
John was truly an artist and Debra’s job had been the most unusual experience of
her life. She began working at the wax museum on Fisherman’s Wharf at the beginning
of May, where she performed a variety of tasks. Debra had secretarial and clerical duties
but at times she was a ticket taker. Over the four weeks she had been at the museum,
she had learned enough about various exhibits that she directed patrons and answered
their questions. That part was really fun.
John, on the other hand, was the creative talent behind many of the museum’s
famous wax figures. He actually created the figures which attracted tourists who
visited Fisherman’s Wharf. She’d met John on the first day at her new job, but
initially their paths didn’t cross because he was always in the upstairs studio.
Nevertheless, recently, John had been finding excuses to leave his work studio and
chat up Debra. A few times she looked up and noticed him watching her.
Now on their first date, John had taken Debra out to dinner. He was very
attentive. There were nice little touches many women would probably take for
granted, such as pulling out her chair to seat her at the table and opening the car
door for her.
After the dinner, they went to the late show at the Embassy Theatre on Market
Street and saw “A Summer Place” with Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. It was just
the kind of romantic movie Debra loved but had never seen.
She shared a popcorn with her handsome co-worker. About halfway through the
movie, he took her hand. His hands were manly but soft. He held her hand as if it
were some delicate object of art which might break if treated carelessly.
They continued to hold hands until he gave her a good night kiss on the steps
by the front door stoop near the entrance of her San Francisco-style townhouse
apartment building. She seemed euphoric as she began to descend the steps to
her second floor apartment. Debra stopped halfway up the steps and turned to look
at the front door. She could see John standing outside the glass door watching her
ascend the steps. She smiled and waved before resuming her climb up the stairs.
She smiled to herself knowing John was watching her.
Debra’s lighthearted contentment was shattered when she slowly walked
towards the door of her apartment. Her sixth sense kicked in. Something just didn’t
look right. A little voice in her head told her to bolt and go retrieve John, but instead
she pushed ahead.
Welcome Greg. Can you tell us what your book is about?
Private detective Sam Slater is riding a cable car in San Francisco in 1959 when a beautiful red-haired woman suddenly plunges to the pavement. Sam jumps off the cable car and saves the woman from being hit by the oncoming traffic. By chance a reporter and photographer are at the scene and Sam’s heroics are splashed all over the front page. The woman whispers to Sam that she was pushed from the car and that someone was trying to kill her. She then bolts, disappearing into the crowd on a busy downtown street. Sam and the press launch a campaign to find the woman and Sam wonders why she left so suddenly.
The first page is perhaps one of the most important pages in the whole book. It’s what draws the reader into the story. Why did you choose to begin your book this way?
I wrote the story and then decided to start the book this way, so I reordered the chapters. A woman returns from a date and discovers there is someone in her apartment. The intruder has also removed all the light bulbs which means the woman must face him alone in the dark. I choose this incident in the story as a first page because it makes the reader want to find out why and if the woman will be escape.
In the course of writing your book, how many times would you say that first page changed and for what reasons?
If by changes you mean polishing the writing and adding layers of detail—I reworked it several times. I tried to think of additional ways this situation could be made more suspenseful and scary. Grabbing the reader on the first page or first chapter is really a necessity with modern readers. The old style of writing would spend several chapters setting the stage for the story. An example is in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender Is The Night.” It’s a classic book and a great author. However, “Tender Is The Night” spends most of the first three chapters giving an excruciating amount of details describing the hotel and beach where the story will occur. F. Scott Fitzgerald needs no writing tips from me but I was starting to wonder if anything was going to happen during the early chapters.
Was there ever a time after the book was published that you wished you had changed something on the first page?
No. I was pretty satisfied with how the story begins. I feel like I’ve learned the skill of pulling the reader into the story right away. In some of my earlier books I wish I had done a better job of starting with a suspenseful chapter. Once an effective first chapter grabs the reader then the background of the characters can be filled in. You need to make the readers care first.
What advice can you give to aspiring authors to stress how important the first page is?
A good editor taught me about adding “hooks” to your book. That applies not just to the first page or chapter but to the other chapters. This means ending the chapter with some suspense or uncertainty where the reader will be compelled to read the next chapter to see what happens. In my book “Cable Car Mystery,” the main female protagonist, Amelia, looks out of her upstairs window in the middle of the night and sees some suspicious goings on at her neighbor’s house. I end the chapter with her watching two strange men loading something wrapped in blankets into the trunk of their car. Hopefully, the reader will now want to read on and find out what is going to happen.
About the Author
Greg Messel has spent most of his adult life interested in writing, including a career in the newspaper business. He won a Wyoming Press Association Award as a columnist and has contributed articles to various magazines. Greg lives in Edmonds, Washington on Puget Sound with his wife Jean DeFond.
Greg has written nine novels. His latest is “Cable Car Mystery” which is the sixth in a series of mysteries set in 1959 San Francisco. “Shadows In The Fog,” ”Fog City Strangler,” “San Francisco Secrets,” “Deadly Plunge” are sequels to the first book in the series “Last of the Seals.” His other three novels are “Sunbreaks,” “Expiation” and “The Illusion of Certainty.”
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