Archive | February 2012

Ebook Romance Stories: “Deep in the Heart” Chapter 1

Deep in the Heart Cover Final 1-18-2014

 

#1 Amazon Best Seller:  Religious Fiction Romance, Religion & Inspirational Romance, Literature & Fiction Romance!

Deep in the Heart

by:  Staci Stallings

Chapter 1

“Please, baby, please, just get me through these gates and up to that front door,” Maggie Montgomery pleaded with her ’77 Chevette even as her gaze took in the enormous circle drive that led its winding way up a hill to the cream mansion with the stately pillars beyond. “Oh, Lord, what am I doing here? This has got to be the craziest thing I’ve ever gotten myself into.”

Trying not to think about how her beat-up navy blue two-door looked on the grounds that were perfectly manicured right down to the yellow and red rosebushes, Maggie steered the car around the concrete that was edged with white stones the size of her dresser back in her dorm room. At the apex of the circle, she put the car in park and heaved a sigh that might well be her last.

With a push she resettled her glasses on her nose, grabbed her two-page resume and shouldered the door open. “Just breathe,” she told herself as she stood on legs wobbly from the three-hour car drive. Pine Hill, Texas and the Ayer Mansion seemed a million miles from Gold Dust Drive in Del Rio. It was still Texas, but the similarities stopped there.

Of course, she was in her best dress, a floral print that was a size too big. That was better than the heels, which were at least two sizes too big. They were the best Mrs. Malinowski could do on ten minutes notice. The grace of God alone had gotten Maggie this far, and truth be told, she wasn’t at all sure how much longer His patience with her would hold out.

“Listen, Holy Spirit, I know I’m probably over my quota by now, but please… Please, let me get this. I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t.” The remaining two dollars in her purse crossed her mind, pulling her spirit down. Defiantly she squared her shoulders and pulled herself to her full five feet, seven inches.

Every step was pushed on by a prayer. The six wide steps up to the front door nearly did her in, but finally, after 17 years of struggling just to survive, she was here—one knock away from something more than a minute-by-minute existence.

She reached up and rang the doorbell. The wait was worse than the walk. Nervousness raked her hand up her purse strap. Seconds slid by, but nothing happened. What now? Should she ring it again? She looked back at her car and fought the fear and desperation rising in her.

Just before she bolted from the whole idea outright, the door clicked and then opened. On the other side stood a small, Hispanic woman dressed head-to-toe in white.

“Hello,” Maggie said, corralling her purse strap even as she held out her other hand. “I’m here about the nanny position.”

*~*~*

“Doesn’t anyone know how to follow a simple order anymore?” the bellowing, jowl-ridden, over-paunched, balding man at the desk fumed, shaking his head even as he continued to make notes. “I built a whole company, put in oil wells across this state—Midland, West Texas, South Texas—even three in the Gulf, and now my own son can’t get one simple solitary task carried out without messing it up.”

“Dad, it’s not that big of a deal. Q-Main and Transistor will be ready for the track in two weeks. We just need a little more time with Dragnet. He’s not where he needs to be yet.” Keith Ayers fought the urge to shift in his chair. Laid back and nonchalant was by far his best bet with his father. That much he had learned so long ago, he couldn’t clearly remember when it had happened.

One-on-one, head-to-head confrontation had never gotten them anywhere. He clasped his dirt-stained hands in front of him and set his stubble-strewn jaw. His dad was tough, but horses weren’t his specialty. They were Keith’s.

Racing a thoroughbred, especially one with as much promise as Dragnet before it was ready was the best way he knew to ruin one permanently. No amount of blustering changed the fact that Dragnet simply wasn’t ready. “I talked to Ike this morning. He’s thinking we can bring Dragnet up for a real race sometime in July.”

His father exhaled hard, clearly not pleased with the assessment. “I paid $250,000 for that animal, and I don’t like watching my investments sit around eating me out of house and home.”

The fact that house and home weren’t exactly in jeopardy crossed Keith’s mind, but he wisely chose not to say that. “Would you prefer to sink a $250,000 investment by racing him too soon? Trust me on this one, Dad, a little patience now could hold out big rewards later.”

His father scowled, his expression sinking into his jowls. “I didn’t build a billion dollar empire on patience.” Then he nodded. “You’ve got two months.”

May?  That was too soon, but it was all Keith would get, and he knew it. “I’ll tell Ike.” He started to stand and felt his father stand as well. Never. Never a good sign. “Uh, I know my way out.”

“Yes, but you also know your way back in. That’s what concerns me.” The laugh that accompanied the statement tried to pass it off as a joke, but it felt more like a knife to Keith.

His father followed him right to the door and out. “So, have you heard from Dallas? How’s she doing at Yale? Law school going okay?”

In the hallway Keith replaced his beat up, loose straw cowboy hat back over the blue bandana stretched across his head. “Good,” Keith answered with the obligatory nod. “She should be back for Spring Break. Graduation’s in May. Hayden & Elliott after she passes the bar.”

“To infinity and beyond. I like that,” his father said with the first smile Keith had seen from him all afternoon. At the staircase that wound to the upper floors, his father stopped, looked up it, and smiled. “Well. Well.”

Keith’s gaze followed his father’s up the carpeted-just-so steps, and although he first noticed his stepmother next to the railing, he stopped dead when he saw the young lady descending between her and the wall.

“Of course you will get time off occasionally,” his stepmother, Vivian, said. Her suit dress was perfectly pressed all the way up to the ruffled collar that ringed her neck like a flower. That was Vivian, always impeccable lest anyone see she wasn’t perfect. “However, I need you to realize that this is basically a 24 hour, seven day a week job.”

“Oh, yes, Ma’am. That’s not a problem,” the young lady with the mesmerizing head of chestnut brown hair which was falling out of the clip she had in the back of her head said. She pulled the strap of her purse up onto her shoulder. She was coming down, trying to keep her gaze on Vivian out of respect and attention, but she clearly could’ve used the banister Vivian was using as her own. The descent was anything but graceful, more halting and awkward. In fact, she was having so much trouble keeping up with everything that it was two steps from the bottom before the young lady with the dark glasses and cascading tresses even noticed there were others watching her descent. Her glance from Vivian to the two men standing at the bottom threw her attention from the concentration she was obviously exerting to get down the stairs for one moment too long.

As Keith watched, one step from the bottom, disaster struck. He saw it as it happened, but it was like it was in slow motion. She stepped down with her left foot, but her shoe planted awkwardly in the plush carpet. Her ankle turned, and like a puppet falling to the stage, her body pitched forward with a jerk.

“Ahh!” Her scream lasted all of two seconds—the exact amount of time it took for him to realize what was happening and reach out to snag her downward motion, which would’ve pitched her unceremoniously to the hardwood floor of the entryway had he not stepped between her and certain humiliation.

“Oh, watch…!” It was all he got out before she thwacked into him. “Ugh!” The impact of her body on his didn’t so much as move him although it was significant enough to jar her glasses askew. It was only the clasp of his hands on her arms that kept her from bouncing off of him and ending her descent on the floor next to him anyway. When her unscheduled tumble came to a complete stop, she was sprawled across him from his shoulder to his arms, which supported her without effort. In fact it felt more like holding a weightless butterfly than anything.

“Oh! Oh my gosh! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Mortified, she yanked herself upright away from him although she looked as unhinged from the encounter as he felt. His insides were dancing with amusement and fascination as he watched her disentangle herself from him and wobble on the uncooperative shoe once more.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She was standing, readjusting her dress, her glasses, herself. “I don’t know why I’m so clumsy today. I…”

“Are you all right?” Keith asked, gazing at her as if he’d just fallen under an angel’s spell. His hands stayed out to catch her again if need be.

“Yeah… Yes. I’m fine.” Perturbed with herself, the young lady shook her head quickly and resumed her attempt to look like she belonged there, which she didn’t. At all. And somehow, he kind of liked that.

He smiled at her, but she was clearly doing her best not to look at him. “You sure?” But she had resumed her concentration on Vivian.

“Conrad,” Vivian said with no small amount of a frown at the ineptitude of her current interviewee, “this is the young lady I told you about. Maggie Montgomery. She’s come about the nanny position.”

“Oh, yes,” Keith’s father said. He extended his hand to her, which she shook even as she continued to fight to get herself under control. “It’s nice to meet you Ms. Montgomery.”

“I have explained to Maggie,” Vivian continued, “that she is on a six month probation period. Anything not up to our standards during that time will be cause for immediate termination.”

Maggie’s gaze fell to the stairs, but she pulled her head up and looked right at Mr. Ayer with a forced smile.

“And that’s acceptable to you?” his father asked.

“Yes, sir. It is.” She looked like a proud filly with her chin up and her hazel eyes flashing determination.

“I suppose you will need two weeks to let your current employer know you are leaving,” Vivian said with a sigh, and Keith couldn’t help but notice the dramatics. She should’ve been an actress.

“Oh,” Maggie said, and he heard the note of concern. “No, Ma’am. I can start as soon as you need me to.” She pulled her fingers up through her purse strap. “I can start now… if that works for you.”

“Wonderful,” Mr. Ayer said. “That’s what I like. Someone who can make decisions.”

“You don’t mind starting today?” Vivian couldn’t hide the pitch of excitement.

Maggie turned to her. “Right now is fine if that’s what you need.”

She was intriguing, mesmerizing, captivating. And yet just why that was, Keith couldn’t accurately tell. She was nothing like the girls he’d been out with. They with their debutant good looks and impeccable manners. No, this one, this Maggie Montgomery, looked more like a nervous, high-strung pony. Proud and strong, and determined not to be broken by anyone.

“Well, then,” Vivian said smartly. “Let’s go meet the children.”

“Good luck, Ms. Montgomery,” his father said, extending his hand to help her down the last step. “It’s nice to have you.”

All the air had gone right out of the room as Keith’s gaze followed her down the hallway and out of sight in the direction of the children’s wing of the estate.

“What’re you still doing here?” his father asked, surveying him. “I thought you had horses to train.”

“I’m on it.” With that, he exited the main house and descended the front steps. There in the driveway sat a car that Keith couldn’t even be sure still ran. It looked like it would be a better fit for a junkyard than in front of his parents’ house. As he started past it, the thought occurred to him that it belonged to her. Her. Maggie Montgomery.

“Well, it will be an interesting two weeks anyway.” With a knowing smile, he strode on. He shook his head at his own joke. They never lasted more than two weeks. Never.

In fact, he wouldn’t have lasted more than two weeks but for the simple fact that they couldn’t get rid of him. He was a member of the family—whether they liked it or not.

*~*~*

“This is Peter,” Mrs. Ayer said, indicating the small boy with the blond hair, sitting at the table coloring slowly. “And this is Isabella.” She picked the little girl with the bright blond curls up into her arms.

“Hello, little one.” Maggie reached a hand out to the soft little face. “You are a sweetie-pie.”

Mrs. Ayer slid the little girl back to the ground and planted her hands on her hips. “Dinner is promptly at 6 p.m. They are to be dressed and ready no later than 5:30. Inez will be able to fill you in on the rest of their schedules.”

Maggie nodded, taking in the information with the sense that even perfection wouldn’t be good enough.

“If you’d like some time to get settled, I can get Inez to watch the children for a few more minutes.”

“Oh, no. I think I’m fine.” Then she remembered. “But I do need to move my car. It’s still out front.”

Mrs. Ayer sighed with disapproval. “Very well. You may park it over at the guesthouse. It’s just through the back, down the lane, and off to the right.”

“It’ll only take me a few minutes,” Maggie said, trying to assure her new employer that she was competent enough to handle all of this.

“You may as well bring your suitcases in as well. Your room will be at the top of these stairs, right next to the children’s rooms.”

“I’m sure I can find it.”

“Inez!” Mrs. Ayer called out the door.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Maggie couldn’t clearly tell how the maid had been able to answer so quickly. It was as if she had materialized there from thin air.

“Please watch the children while Ms. Montgomery gets her things settled.”

Inez bowed slightly. “Very good, Ma’am.”

Once more Mrs. Ayer surveyed Maggie, and the fact that she didn’t believe this would ever work traced through Maggie’s consciousness. “If you need anything else, let Inez know.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“And now you’d better get that car moved before Jeffrey has a cardiac.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Something told her she would be saying that a lot now. Pleading with her heels to cooperate long enough to get her back to the car and then back here, Maggie hurried out. The early afternoon Texas sun beat down on the outside surroundings. After having been in the comfort of the mansion’s air conditioning, the combination of humidity and heat hit Maggie like two fists.

She got in the car and took her first real breath. “Oh, thank You, Jesus.” Except for the unceremonious stumble into the hired hand, the interview had gone as well as she could’ve hoped for. “Ugh. How clumsy can you be, Maggie? That was a good one.” Forcing herself not to think about it, she pumped the accelerator and twisted the key to get the little car started. Then she carefully backed up so she could go down the back drive as Mrs. Ayer had instructed.

With a frustrated swipe, Maggie pushed the trail of loose strands of hair from her face and then blew them back up when they didn’t stay. Carefully she drove around the house, which was enormous no matter which angle it was seen from. Her heart pounded in her ears as the car slipped into the grove of hulking trees. Trees seemed to be everywhere. Somehow she had expected them to dissipate beyond the mansion, but if anything, they got more massive and thicker the farther she drove.

“Did she say right or left?” Intensely Maggie scanned the areas on either side of the driveway that had narrowed to a trail. “This is great. I get lost on my first day.”

Then just ahead, off to the right, through the knot of trees, she caught sight of the place. When she got closer, Maggie sucked in a gasp of air. If this was the guesthouse, they certainly treated their guests very, very well. Sporting orange-tan brick with blue-gray accents, the house had a bevy of inlets and cutouts. There were enormous windows, and wraparound accents at the corners, and an inlet door that looked like it alone cost the half the national debt. “Wow.”

Wide-eyed in awe but trying to keep her mind on her present mission, Maggie surveyed the small hill of a lawn, the flowerbeds, and every inlet for some clue as to where she was supposed to park. She turned her gaze up the trail. Surely there was a garage somewhere. “Oh, Jesus. Help.” The trail dovetailed with a small perpendicular drive just beyond the house, and carefully she turned there, hoping maybe this was right. In fact, there was a garage, but the moment she pulled up to it, she had second thoughts. What if someone needed in or out of that garage? If she was parked in the way, that would be a problem.

Twisting her mouth as she tried to find an answer to this dilemma, her heart jumped into her throat when her gaze caught movement in her driver’s side mirror. Fear jerked her head around just in time for her to see the hired hand with the blue bandana sticking out from under the ratty cowboy hat come striding up the side of her car. For a moment she felt better, but it was only for a moment because the reality of being out here alone with no knowledge of the terrain if trouble struck with a guy who felt like the Rock of Gibraltar did nothing to calm her nerves.

She swallowed hard. Very cautiously she reached up and locked her door, praying the others were already locked.

“Hey,” he said when he got to her window. His easy smile spread across his face as she rolled down her window just far enough not to be rude. “Fancy meeting you here.”

It was impossible not to notice his biceps, which looked like massive tree trunks streaming down from the ripped-off sleeves of his denim shirt. In a fight, she would lose without him even trying.

“Hi.” Panic smashed into her, and her lungs constricted around it. “Umm… Mrs. Ayer said I could park here, but I’m not sure where she meant.” Anxiety had never meant what it did at that moment.

“Oh, she did. Did she? Well, that figures.” He laughed, which threw her incomprehension devices into full-throttle. “Na. It’s okay. Swing around back here. We can put it in the barn.”

Maggie nodded although no real signals were getting to her brain. She rolled up the window and backed onto the driveway so she could follow him down the increasingly narrow trail. From behind, he was all denim, save for the bent, straw cowboy hat and those arms. “Oh, dear God, I don’t know about this. Please tell me if I should be doing this.” But as far as she could tell, God was not giving her any other options.

At the end of the drive, mercifully, the trees broke their hold on the surroundings, and she drove out into a clearing and down a gravel road over to the building he had called a barn, but like everything else here, ‘barn’ didn’t quite do it justice. He swung the two doors open and stepped back so she could drive in.

Crossing from outside to in, the darkness enveloped her eyes so that it took her longer than it would’ve seemed necessary to make it safely into the building. Once inside, she shoved the car into park and then had to corral her fear to gather enough courage to open the door. “Oh, God, be with me. I’m asking here.” Busying herself, lest he see just how scared she was, Maggie got out, went to the back, and unlocked the trunk. With a heave she pulled her lone suitcase out, praying it wouldn’t fall apart at her feet.

“Oh, here. Let me get that for you.” He reached out for it even as he stood at the door that stood open.

“No. I can get it.” She tried to swing it out of his reach, but with a soft smile and a wink he took it anyway.

“It’s half a mile back to the house,” he said. “In this heat you’ll be French fried by the time you carry this thing all the way back.”

Her heart was beating so loudly, her brain didn’t have a chance to put up a logical argument, so she nodded, ducked her head, and stepped past him. The bright sunshine beyond the door attacked her eyes, and she squinted as he closed the barn door behind them. Everything in her wanted to take that suitcase back and run, but barring humiliating herself against his strength again, she saw no way to do that. The gravel at her feet was playing havoc with her heels, and she fought to keep her balance and stay up with his strides as they started up the incline to the guesthouse.

He wasn’t tall exactly. Maybe a couple inches taller than her but no more than that. But the solidity of everything about him swept the air from her lungs just the same.

“So, you work here?” she asked, willing her voice to stay steady even as her shoes threatened to pitch her into the sharp white rocks at her feet just as they had pitched her into him at the mansion. The thought made her ears burn.

“Yeah. As little as possible.” There was that smile again, and if she hadn’t been so nervous, it might have had a chance to do serious work on her insides. “I run the stable operation up the way.”

“Stable?” Her brain was having trouble processing anything.

“Horses.”

“Oh.”

They made it back up to the trees, and uneasiness pushed into her consciousness again. She looked around, and the trees seemed thicker now, closing in on her, blocking all escape routes.

“I hear you’re gonna be on the pay roll too,” he said.

“Oh, yeah. Yeah, I am.”

“Well, you must be downright impressive. Most of the time they won’t let anyone within shooting distance of this place that doesn’t have security clearance from the Pentagon.”

They had made it to the main road and headed back to the mansion. Crossing in front of it now, the guesthouse was even more impressive going by slowly—if that was possible. Maggie fought not to gawk at it, but it wasn’t easy. “I passed my background check, and I had a personal reference from the Dean of Early Childhood Development at A&M Kingsville.” She sounded like she was defending herself, and she hated that.

“Impressive.” And he actually sounded impressed. “So, you’re from Kingsville then?”

“Del Rio.” Her heel picked that moment to twist out from under her. “Ugh.” Thankfully, she caught her own balance this time, but it was a close save. “These stupid shoes.”

Skeptically he surveyed her feet. “They don’t make walking look all that easy or that safe.”

“Tell me about it.” She continued walking although he had slowed down in deference to her struggle.

Shaking his head, he pressed his lips together in earnest concern. “Why don’t you take them off? You’re gonna kill yourself on that last quarter up the hill.”

“Oh, yeah. Like I’m going to walk into the Ayer mansion barefoot. That should make a really great first impression.” Sarcasm dripped from her spirit. Who would even make such a dumb suggestion?

He glanced behind them. “Well, nobody comes down this road but me. They ain’t gonna see you anyway, and besides, I’ll warn you before we get too close.”

Maggie still wasn’t so sure, but her ankles were starting to protest rather loudly. “Okay, fine.” She reached down for one shoe but had to scoot her other foot around to keep her balance. She reached out for something solid and met his arm coming the other way.

Smooth skin under her palm ripped sanity away from her. How in the world had she gotten here? Sweat beaded out of her back, and she was quite sure it had nothing to do with the humidity. Quickly she removed first one shoe and then the other. When they were off and she was once again on solid footing, she had to admit it was a good idea, even if her breathing was no longer working properly.

“You got it?” he asked, eyeing her seriously.

“Yeah.” She forced a knot of a smile on her face and started walking. The pavement would’ve been burning hot had it not been shaded by the millions of leaves above them. Just then a breeze swept through the branches and right over them. “Ah.” The sigh of relief was automatic.

“So, you’re an early childhood education major?” he asked as they made their way back up the road. It didn’t take long to understand what he meant about that last quarter of a hill. If it was any steeper than this part, she was in trouble.

“Yeah. I graduated in December. This is the first permanent thing I found.”

“Well, we’re glad to have you. I’m sure Pete and Izzy will keep you on your toes.”

The question of how familiar he seemed in referring to the children traced through her, but before she could voice that thought, he looked at her, and that scattered her thoughts like the pieces of a shattering window.

“So, are you up for the 24-hour thing? Most people hear that and go running for the exits.”

She shrugged, and it took a solid breath to beat the sadness in her chest down. “I like the idea of having a roof over my head. It’s worth a little work to have that.”

He nodded, head down, concentrating on walking. When she looked over at him, she fought not to notice how rugged and tanned his face was. In fact, with that face and that body, he looked like he belonged nowhere else other than out in nature, taming some wild beast. His whiskers were more than a five o’clock shadow. They were a dark emphasis to the sheer masculinity of the rest of him. With a glance he caught her looking at him and smiled. Lines of amusement appeared on either side of his face. “What?”

“Oh. Nothing.” She ripped her gaze away from him. “I just hope I don’t do anything to mess this up.”

When he looked at her again, the smile that was already beginning to get to her was a soft and encouraging. “I think you’ll be just fine.”


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Ebook Romance Stories: A Brother’s Struggle, from “If You Believed in Love”


IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014A Brother’s Struggle, A Sister’s Hope

An Interview with Janet Elliott, Jonathon Danforth’s Twin Sister

So you want to know more about my brother, Jonathon Danforth, huh? (Janet sits back and thinks moment then sits forward.)  Okay.  I’ll tell you about him.

For one thing he’s a lot smarter than he gives himself credit for.  He always has been.  He could get into and out of more trouble when he was younger than any kid I knew.  And he was always into something.  Not bad things necessarily–like drugs or something–just stuff.

Like the time he was running that gambling ring in the third grade.  He aced more kids out of dimes and quarters than most kids could ever dream of doing.  Of course, Mom made him give them all back when she found out about it.  But that was just Jon, you know?  He was always looking for the angle, making deals, and trying to one-up somebody.

Okay, so it got him in some fights in school.  He spent most of junior year in the principal’s office.  In fact, they very nearly kicked him out of school more than once.  Not that he was a bad kid exactly.  He just couldn’t sit still, couldn’t just be.  He always had to be pushing the envelope, always testing the water, always trying to see how far he could go before someone pulled him back.

I think that’s why the last year has bothered me so much.  Yes, I know all about people grieving and needing time.  But Jon like checked out of life, you know?  I mean, he wouldn’t even leave that stupid apartment for Christmas last year.  “Nah, Janet,” he said when I called him and begged him to come over. “I think I’ll just stay here. I’m not really in the mood for tinsel and stockings.”

He had me worried sick if you really want to know the truth.  I mean, okay, I’m not his mom, but I am his big sister, and I know that living on pizza and beer in a dark pigsty of an apartment is just not healthy.

That’s why I talked him into taking that class–the one over at the community college.  Of course, English was never really Jon’s style, but it was either that or Chemistry, and I didn’t want to hear he’d blown the whole place up.

(She laughs and then sits back again, lost in thought.)

I just worry about him so much.  (Pulling forward, her eyes are filled with tears that never fall.)  It killed him… what happened.  It did.  It was like one minute he was one guy–my baby brother, into everything, wheeling and dealing with the world, and the next second he was this guy I didn’t even recognize anymore. It scared me, you know. It really did. (One tear slips from her eye and slides down as she wipes it away and sniffs.)  We’re all we’ve got in the world now. With Mom and Dad gone, it’s just us.

I didn’t want to lose him too. (Her smile is tight and sad.)  Plus, he really is a great guy when you get to know him.  He has such a big heart for people and for things he really cares about.  I guess I just hope he finds something to care about again, you know.  (She lets her gaze fall to the table.)  I just want him to be happy… or at least not completely miserable.

(With a laugh, she jerks her hair back and smiles.)  Sorry.  I guess I get a little carried away when I talk about him.  I mean, he’s my baby brother, right? (She tries to smile again, this one is in apology.) I hope I haven’t bored you to tears with all of this. (She shrugs slightly.)  I just want what’s best for him, you know? And I hope and pray he can find whatever that is, whatever the next chapter of his life is. (She nods.)  Yeah, that’s what I want the most… for Jon to be happy.


IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014Buy “If You Believed in Love”

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Ebook Romance Stories: Character Insights, “If You Believed in Love”


IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014A Person Who Has Influenced My Life

by:  Letty Rahman

This semester I have had the pleasure of taking a course by a fabulous teacher, Professor Elizabeth Forester (Ms. Forester to everyone who knows her).  Now, Ms. Forester is not your typical teacher.  For one, she is tough.  I don’t mean tough like she’ll beat you up.  I mean she doesn’t let you ever take the easy way out.  I’m quite certain she has never seen a Scantron in her life. She probably doesn’t even know what they are. No, Ms. Forester’s tests are all-essay, and you’d better know your stuff when you walk in because it isn’t going to be fill-in-the-blank kind of questions.

On top of that, test time isn’t the only time you’d better be prepared in Ms. Forester’s class.  Every time you walk in those doors, she is going to push you and tease you and pull every nugget of information and understanding out of you.  You would be surprised how often students say things they didn’t even know they knew in that class.

Strangely, I have noticed several types of students in Ms. Forester’s classroom.  There is one type I feel the most sorry for. They took one look at her syllabus and dropped the class.  Oh, yes, in the classroom she fully lives up to her reputation as a slave-driver. At first that scared me too, but I had to have the class so I didn’t have a choice to leave.  I’m so glad now that I didn’t.  I think it was Divine Providence or something that kept me there.

Why?  Because I’ve learned so much–yes, about poems and Jane Austen, but more than that, I’ve learned about life.  I’ve learned that the things we learn in different classes like chemistry and history and even math can fill in and fill out who we become as people.  They are not ultimately about this piece of knowledge and that piece of understanding.  They are about the whole that we become by learning them.

Take, for example, the poems and books we are reading in Ms. Forester’s class.  I won’t lie to you. The Browning poems were a challenge, but Ms. Forester didn’t just stand up there and talk about iambic pentameter and rhyme.  She taught us how to understand the meaning of the words.  Like the one line about Shakespeare and how he was brave enough to put his thoughts and his understandings on paper.  How the person writing the poem thought Shakespeare was crazy for letting people into his world that far, but how, in fact, it was because he let them in that his name has been immortalized throughout the centuries.

Then there’s the whole Jane Austen thing, which I personally thought was… well, whack, to begin with. I mean who cares about these people who think women can and should be bought and sold like cattle? However, as we’ve read and understood and learned, I realized it’s not about that.  It’s not about the fairness of that society.  It’s about people who are trying to be themselves and learn and grow in spite of those rules and rigidity or maybe in defiance of them.

It’s so interesting to me because I sit here trying to explain what Ms. Forester has given to me as a teacher to a student, and it’s all right there in my mind like I can touch it and grab onto it and give it to you. But when I start to write it down, it’s like I can’t capture it.  Maybe it can’t be captured in words.  I don’t know.

What I do know is that Ms. Forester has changed my life.  She has shown me a world I didn’t even know existed, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels like that.  In Ms. Forester’s class you are not a number.  You are not a lump of flesh who happens to be sitting in a desk.  You are a person.  A real, live person with a history and a story of your own.  In fact, I’ve learned to even look at people differently, to read who they are and where they are with life through this class.

I wish I could explain that, but maybe you just have to sit in her classroom and absorb who she is and what she can show you to ever really understand.  I just wish every student was lucky enough to take her class and to stay long enough to realize that they have something worth sharing as well.

IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014

 

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Ebook Romance Stories: Review of “If You Believed in Love”


IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014If You Believed in Love

By:  Staci Stallings

Reviewed by:  Zoya Smalling

I so want to be in Elizabeth’s class. I learned so much and felt I was a student in the class as they discovered new ways of looking at life. If only I could find a teacher like her, I would certainly audit the class. The mark of a good book is one impacts your perspective. Ms. Stallings, If You Believed In Love, is a good book.

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IYB FINAL COVER 1-1-2014Excerpt from “If You Believed in Love”

On Tuesday the weather had turned decidedly bleak.  The snow, such that it wasn’t, had come and gone, leaving in its wake swirls of nothing and temperatures that chilled right through everything.  Jonathon pulled his coat closer and quickened his steps up to the door of Bennett Hall.  There were no students congregating today, but once again, he was late.  He hated that about himself.  He really did.

But just getting out of that apartment, especially on a day like today, was a major accomplishment.  At the door to the lecture hall, he took a breath, opened the door quietly, and slipped inside.

“Shall I sonnet-sing you about myself?” she read, steeping each word in meaning. “Do I live in a house you would like to see?”

Before he’d even gotten into the desk, Jonathon was once again taken in by her beauty, by her words, by the etherealness of her being.

“Is it scant of gear, has it store pelf?/‘Unlock my heart with a sonnet-key’?”  Her gaze came up off the book and landed right on him.  The look lasted but a fragment of a moment, and yet he felt it all the way through him as if a bomb had gone off in his heart.  Then it was gone, crossing to the other students. “Would someone like to tell me what this poem is about?”

Sliding down into the seat, Jonathon opened his book to House and fought to breathe.  How could one look do that to him?

“Mr…?” she said in that way she had of asking student’s names without asking them.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t catch your name.”

He glanced up and was instantly woven fast by her gaze.  Swallowing, he gulped down the breath, glancing behind him only to find the solid wooden wall. “Oh.”  He cleared his throat and sat up straighter, neither of which helped.  “Danforth.  Jonathon Danforth.”

A soft smile went through her eyes.  “Well, Mr. Danforth, would you like to tell us what you think this poem is about?”

“Oh. Huh.” Words clogged at the top of his throat all at once, and he coughed to get them unstuck.  “Uh.  I think that the…” Each word came in haltingly unspaced steps as if drunk and on the verge of passing out.  “I think the poem, House,” he added for her benefit so she didn’t think he was a complete loser, “is about how frightening it is to let someone else in.”

That piqued her interest, pulling it up in her eyes, so he continued, gaining confidence with each word.

“At the beginning, Browning is saying, like, ‘So you think you want to come into my house?  You’re asking me to unlock my heart to you and let you come in and see?  I’ll tell you what happens when you do stupid things like that.  People come.  The neighbors and just whoever, and they take a look in your house, in your heart, and they say, ‘Oh, well, I figured he was always much less a person than he seemed on the outside.  I mean look, he smoked, and he didn’t even sleep with his wife anymore.  Yep, could’ve pegged him for a loser.’”

This time it was her, not him that seemed caught in the web.  With one glance at her, he pushed the words from his heart.

“And then at the end, he basically says, it’s not worth it to let the world see who you really are.  Maybe Shakespeare could and did, but he was a fool.”

*~*~*

The words, his words, were spoken with so much eloquence and understanding that Elizabeth had to reach out to even grab back onto life.  “Very nice, Mr. Danforth.” She shook her head without shaking it and flipped her attention away from the man hovering in the back desk all dressed in black to one of her other students closer down front.  “Do you agree with him, Mr. Hansen?”

“With Browning or the old dude?” the student asked.

Elizabeth glanced back up at Mr. Danforth with apology.  “With Mr. Browning.  Do you think it is not smart to let people in?”

“Oh, yeah.  Sure.  I mean people will diss you if you let ‘em.  Even if they don’t really know anything about you.”

“People judge you,” Susana said.  “That’s just the way it is.”

Elizabeth walked slowly across the room.  “And so it’s smart to keep yourself hidden, to not give anyone the key?”

“Either that or you get trampled to death.”

“Uh-huh.”  She opened her book.  “But what about this last line?  ‘With this same key/Shakespeare unlocked his heart,’ once more!’/Did Shakespeare? If so, the less Shakespeare he!”

“What about it?” someone asked.

“What’s he saying?”

“That Shakespeare was an idiot for putting his feelings into words for everyone to read them and see who he really was.”

“Right,” she said and tilted her head inquisitively.  “But is that true?  Was Shakespeare an idiot for writing down his feelings for everyone to read?  And by extension was Robert Browning an idiot for doing the same?”

A moment of pause.

“Well,” Letty from down front said, “kind of, I guess so.  I mean we’ve seen how in love with his wife he was, but we’ve also read some really dark stuff—like Porphyria’s Lover and My Last Duchess.  I mean those aren’t fantasies or thoughts or whatever that I’d let everybody know I had.”

“Do you think less of him because of them?”

*~*~*

Jonathon’s whole attention was captured by her—not just because of her outer beauty but also because she didn’t go for the easy answers.  She didn’t stand at the board and tell them about pentameter and alliteration.  She dug into the poems and brought out more insights and depth than he had even seen reading them once, sometimes twice, and even on occasion three or four times.

“No, not really,” one of the boys said.  “I mean, sometimes I think he’s whack, but sometimes I really get what he’s saying because it’s something I feel—even if I’d use better words to describe it.”

Ms. Forester smiled almost to the point of laughing.  When she grew serious, however, it was a slow process into its depths.  She turned, and her gaze swept the class. “Have you ever heard of Shakespeare?”

The confusion that crossed the room went through Jonathon as well.

“Do you know some of the things he wrote?”

“Um, like plays and stuff,” someone offered.

“Plays like what?” she asked, turning slowly at the far end of the room.

Romeo & Juliet, Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth.”

As if really thinking this through with them, she nodded.  “But this was a man who lived in the sixteenth century.  This was a man, one man, a simple playwright.  Why have his words lasted not just minutes, not just years, but centuries?”

And then Jonathon saw it as well.  His gaze snapped back to his book.  Was the point really there, or was she making it up?  He read and re-read those last couple of lines.

“Is Browning saying it’s stupid to be like Shakespeare, or is he really saying the only way for your work to live on into the eternities past even your death is to open your heart and let the world in, to let them see who you really are?”

Not a sound.  Not a breath in the whole room.

Without looking at her book, she gazed at them. “Rather I prize the doubt/Low kinds exist without,/Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.”  Her pause held every breath in the room.  “Was Shakespeare a finished and finite clod untroubled by a spark?”

“No,” someone breathed.  “He was brave enough to live.”

“How do we know that, Ms. Moore?”

“Because we still have his words, we know he lived.”

Ms. Forester nodded thoughtfully.  “Because he was brave enough, or crazy enough, to open his heart and let the world see.”

If anyone had so much as breathed, it would’ve knocked Jonathon completely over.  He could hardly get to the depth of her eyes much less her words.

“Turn to Appearances, page 31.”  Without more than a second’s time, she continued without reading her book. “And so you found that poor room dull,/Dark, hardly to your taste, my dear?/Its features seemed unbeautiful;/But this I know—‘twas there, not here,/You plighted troth to me, the word/Which—ask that poor room how it heard.

“And this rich room obtains your praise/Unqualified—so bright, so fair,/So all whereat perfection stays?/Aye, but remember—here, not there,/The other word was spoken!—Ask/This rich room how you dropped the mask!

“Browning uses the metaphor of a house again in this one, a structure of some kind with different rooms.  And what’s the story with this house?”

“The guy likes one room but not the other.”

Quiet depth filled her eyes.  “Why?”  She turned, and her gaze caught a raised hand. “Mr. Hansen?”

“Because in one room he was trying to be something he wasn’t, and in the other, he dropped the mask.”

“And the first room, where he was wearing the mask was…?”

“Unbeautiful,” Susana said.  “Dull and dark.”

Ms. Forester seemed lost in the thought.  “And the second room? What was it like?”

“Unqualified,” someone down front said, “so bright, so fair.”

“He’s saying the same thing in both poems, is he not?” She turned on the toe of her boot and gazed at the whole of her students.  “Be who you are.  Drop the mask. Be brave enough to show the world, and far from losing yourself and being criticized like a finite clod, you may be immortalized like Shakespeare, or at the very least, the room you’re standing in might just seem a little brighter than the one where you were before.”  Her attention jumped up to the clock. “Oh, look at the time.  Be sure to read the last selections for Thursday’s class.  See you then.”

It was like snapping awake from a dream and not being at all able to shake it.  Jonathon stood as the others did as well.  His mind spun trying to think of something, some reason that could keep him here with her for one more minute.  He checked his things, gathering them slowly, watching her down front the whole time.  One of the other students stepped up to her, and she bent to listen.  What could he ask her?  What question would be good enough to go to the front?

But his mind was not cooperating at all.  Finally with a sigh, he gave up the search, and with only one more look, he headed out.

Outside it was still cold.  Frigid really.  However, instead of turning to his apartment, he picked up the collar of his coat and headed for the library.  He was glad he’d spent the extra time there on Tuesday.  That helped him be ready for today.  However, as his mind traced through his answer, he couldn’t help but feel like an idiot.  She was going to think he was completely lame.  There wasn’t one truly deep, brilliant insight in any of it.  And sadly, he’d thought he knew what that poem was about.

Determination to dig a little deeper seeped into him.  It wasn’t like it was a formal requirement.  She didn’t say, “Do it or else.”  Nor was it a challenge as in “You have to do it like me to be worthy of my time.” Instead it was more, “Do it because…”  Because it will teach you something important about life and about yourself.  He was intrigued by that, more than he could say.  And he couldn’t wait to get into these new poems and see what they had to teach him.


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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “Lucky”

Lucky New 2-2014

Excerpt from “Lucky”…

The waitress came then and took their orders. When she was gone, Danae pulled the little truck stop brochure from between the salt and the peppershakers. It was something for her fingers to do, and somewhere for her gaze to go. Neither of them said a word for the length of time it took her to read most of the front and back. Seeing no way to further that stall tactic, she put it back. “Huh.” Her gaze chanced across at him, and her heart thudded forward. “So…”

He looked at her, and those gray-blue eyes looked both tired and nervous. “So…”

It became clear that having come this far, he didn’t want to push her into anything—even conversation.

“You’re from Nashville then,” she finally said.

When he nodded, his hair slid down around his face. It was then that she realized how thin he really was. His hair made his already thin features look almost razor-like. Even his hands looked all fingers. “For about six months now.” His accent danced across her heart.

“Really? You’ve only been there a few months, and you’re already in the business? That’s impressive.”

He pulled himself forward and examined his long, thin hands.

“I’m sorry,” she said, seeing she had made him uncomfortable. “I just… I mean they said…”

“No,” he said with the slightest of smiles, “it’s okay. I’m just… I’m trying to get things to work out. It gets kind of tough sometimes.”

“So, you’re not from here then?” she asked, hating how stupid that question sounded.

Skepticism jumped to his face. “Have you ever heard a native Tennessean talk like this?”

She laughed. “Okay, dumb question number one. Sorry.”

His gaze couldn’t hold hers. “No, it’s okay. I’m from Canada. I just made it back—”

“Back?”

“Well…” Every word he spoke seemed to take monumental amounts of effort. He laid an arm over the booth back, clearly trying to look calm and collected although that wasn’t at all what she saw in his eyes. “I was here about five years ago.”

“You were here? What happened? Why’d you go back?”

The waitress picked that moment to bring their drinks, and when she was gone, Kalin downed his soda as if he was a man dehydrated in the desert. Danae waited until he set the red plastic cup back down and then pursued the conversation.

“Why’d you leave?”

He looked at her like he would’ve gladly been anywhere other than there at that moment. “My visa ran out. I didn’t have a choice.”

“Oh.” She contemplated that information, not totally sure what to do with it. “Where you in the business back then, when you were here before?”

He pushed the material on his legs down nervously. “Yeah.” He took a long breath. “Let’s just say things didn’t work out quite the way I thought they would.”

“But you’re back now… older and wiser.”

“Older, yes,” he said, and for the first time he cracked a tiny smile. “But wiser? I wouldn’t go quite that far.”

“Leaving something to aspire to, huh?”

His smile widened. “Yeah. Something like that.” Then he looked at her quizzically. “How about you? What do you do in the great city of Knoxville, Tennessee?”

It would’ve been easier to talk about him. Her smile faded as life descended on her shoulders. “I’m in school… college.” Her gaze bounced from the table up to his face. “University of Tennessee.”

“Wow. That’s cool. So, you’re like what then? A freshman? Sophomore?”

She leveled a horrified look at him. “How young do you think I am?”

“I’m sorry. I just thought…”

“No.” She reined in the offended tone. “I’m a senior.” She took a long breath to stabilize the thought of her looming future. “After I get through this semester, all I lack is student teaching in the fall.”

“Oh, so you’re going to be a teacher.” He sounded happy about that—just like everyone did.

“I guess so.” She picked up her knife and spun it end-to-end.

The awkwardness left his demeanor as he looked at her, and he leaned forward and laid his forearms on the edges of the table. “You don’t sound too thrilled about that.”

She tried to look at him, but her gaze barely touched his face before it fell back to the table. She shrugged. “It’s just one of those things I guess.”

“What things?” he asked as though he genuinely cared.

“Oh, you know,” she said, staving off the admission. “Gotta do something with your life.”

“So I take it teaching wasn’t your first choice.”

She laughed softly. “More like 73rd. Right after being shot from a cannon at the circus.”

“That good, huh?”

When she looked across the table, it took all of a second to decide that it didn’t matter if she was honest with him or not. After tonight, she would never see him again anyway. “Mom says it’ll be a good fall-back-on job. Plus, it’s not something if you quit to have a family, you can’t get back into. They always need teachers.”

The waitress brought their food, but Danae had lost a good amount of her appetite. On the other side of the table, Kalin cut into his chicken fried steak with a vengeance.

“Well, if teaching is 73rd, what’s 52nd?” he asked.

She laughed as she cut into her pancakes. “I don’t know, NASA?”

“Controller or astronaut?”

“Controller,” she said definitively. “Can you see me in a Space Shuttle?”

He smiled as he picked a forkful of mashed potatoes up. “Hey, you rode a motorcycle didn’t you?”

“True,” she said, pointing the tip of her knife at him.

“Okay, so what’s 22nd on the list?”

For a moment she scrunched her face, thinking. “I don’t know. Rock star?”

Interest descended on him. “Really?”

“Yeah, but seeing as how I don’t play anything and I can’t sing to save my life—I’m thinking that’s not going to get me very far.”

He laughed and sawed more meat off. “Okay, what’s eighth on this list of yours?”

“Eighth? Hmm…” She cut a chunk off her pancakes, took the bite, and chewed thoughtfully. She took a drink to wash that down. “How about a big city crime reporter?”

His eyebrows shot for the ceiling. “Crime? That sounds a little dangerous, don’t you think?”

“Ugh. I think it sounds exciting. You know, Perry Mason without the law books, figuring out whodunit and why. Sounds pretty cool to me.”

Kalin, however, didn’t look entirely convinced. “Well, you don’t look like the criminal stalking kind to me, so what’s number two?”

Her eating slowed as she realized that all but one slice of her pancakes was gone. She shrugged. “I’d always kind of thought about nursing.”

“Nursing? Really?” He stopped eating to gaze across at her, and her pulse jumped into her throat with the intense interest in his eyes. “So, why didn’t you do that?”

Again she shrugged as if it meant nothing to her. “Long hours, late nights away from your family. It just didn’t seem very practical.” With all the energy of a dead leaf, she cut the last two bites of her pancakes in half. However, they didn’t even look appetizing anymore. Suddenly she was very tired, to the point of wanting to fall asleep right there. She laid her fork and knife down and sat back.

“So,” he finally said after he took a drink of the soda the waitress had come to refill at some point, “that brings us to number one. You, Danae Scott, can now be anything you want to be… the world is your oyster. What is your number one?”


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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt “Coming Undone”

Coming Undone Final 1-15-2014

Excerpt from #1 Religious Fiction Novel, “Coming Undone”

Ragged.  That was a good word to describe Dr. Warren’s “family.”  It wasn’t a family.  Just one guy, and Kathryn wished she had thought to ask a few more questions.  As they walked down the hall, Dr. Vitter in front, her in the middle, and the guy behind her, she sank into prayer because that was all she could think to do.  God had better show up for this one because she was definitely out of her league.  He looked just barely this side of death himself.

In the office, Dr. Vitter motioned toward the little couch on the far wall, and Kathryn accepted his invitation.  When she was seated, she watched Mr. Warren sit on the other side, gaze down, looking like he might fall off the earth if someone didn’t hold onto him.  She smiled softly, hoping her compassion was evident and not condescending.  It was then that she realized Dr. Vitter was not planning to stay.

“Take as long as you need,” he said, and with that, he turned and hustled out, closing the door behind him.

Oh, help, God! her heart screamed into the abyss where she was now staring.  She looked over at the guy who looked positively ripped to pieces.  Where to start and how?  Words failed her. “I’m sorry.  I didn’t catch your first name.”

When he looked up, his blue-green eyes were filled with a pleading for her to do something, anything someone hadn’t already thought of.  “Uh, Ben.  Ben Warren.”

She nodded, wishing she could do or say something to take away the immense pain in his distraught eyes.  “Mr. Warren…”

“Please, call me Ben,” he said with the saddest of smiles.

“Ben,” she said softly, “I’m sorry about what’s happened.”  The words stopped because compassion choked the rest from her chest.  She had learned not to force herself to keep talking in such situations.  Time was a stabilizer that rushing simply couldn’t match.  “Dr. Vitter said you’re considering hospice care for your father.”

Ben’s dark eyebrows arched in slight sarcasm.  “I guess.”  He exhaled and put his elbows on his knees and his hands to his mouth.  “I don’t really know what I’m doing to be honest with you.  All of this… stuff is totally new to me.  I don’t know what’s best.  I don’t even know what’s worst at this point.”

She watched him, her emotional radar searching for any and all signals that would guide her words.  “I take it you will be the one to make the decision.”

“Yeah.” He laughed a hollow laugh.  “Lucky me, huh?”

Kathryn didn’t push it.  He was working this out in his head and his heart, and she had to let him in his way, in his time.

When he looked at her, there were a myriad of questions in his eyes.  “Um, can I ask you some things?  I mean, they didn’t really tell me much about your… program.”

“Certainly.  Ask whatever you want.”

*~*~*

Ben swallowed hard and let his gaze fall to the floor at his feet.  It was brown.  That registered. He was glad something did.  Words were becoming harder and harder to come by and harder to say without breaking down completely. “Um, well, I take it from what Dr. Vitter said that once Dad is transferred… there, that’s pretty much it.  Right? I mean he won’t get any care after that.”

“If you mean do we put him in a dark room and wait for the end, no that’s not what we do.” Her voice was soft and very kind. “We feel we’re a place that can provide the needed transition time for your father and for the family.  Hospitals are wonderful for those who are going to survive, but they are not great places to die.”

Die.  Man, he hated that word, but he nodded anyway even though his gaze was still firmly on the floor.

“The staff and machines and keeping the family at bay are just not conducive to giving everyone the time they need to say good-bye,” Ms. Walker continued. “We don’t make you say good-bye on a schedule.  The schedule is whatever you set.  You come when you want, stay as long as you like, leave when you’re ready. It’s totally up to you.”

Something akin to hope brushed his heart, and he picked up his gaze.  “No five minute visits every two hours starting at eight and ending at eight?”

She smiled clearly getting the reference.  “No, you do what works for you.  We have round the clock staff who specialize in end-of-life issues.  We can help you through not just your father’s transition, but we can point you to services that can smooth life out as you go forward as well.”

His shoulders relaxed as he let out a slow, choppy breath.  As he looked at her, the need to tell someone how overwhelmed he was overtook him.  He looked down quickly trying to squelch it.  However, even after several long seconds, he couldn’t.  “I’m… Uh, I’ve never dealt with anything like this before.  I feel like I’m in the dark with no idea which way to even go.”

“You’re not alone. Most people feel like that,” she said like the touch of an angel’s wings.  “Believe me, no one feels equal to this one.  What you have to understand is that you’re not being judged.  You get through it in the best way you can. You just have to learn to be really gentle with yourself.  That helps.”

He laughed that hollow laugh again.

She joined him.  “Well, it’s pretty much a learned skill.  We’re all so programmed to think we have to know what to do and what to say that when we don’t, we feel like utter failures.  I know.  I’ve been there.”  Her eyes were soft as was her smile.  “But this is not some kind of competition.  It’s not a pass or fail test.  It’s doing your best and giving yourself the space to do it the way that makes the most sense for you.”

“So you think I should sign the papers.”

“That’s not my decision.  I haven’t seen the medical reports.  What I want you to know is that our facility is not some draconian echo chamber.  We really do care, and we want to help when you’re ready.”

A moment more and Ben nodded.  At least he’d stopped looking only at the floor.  That was something.  And he was calm—at least on the outside.  She had seen families screaming and yelling at one another in these situations.  This was definitely better although she could tell he was struggling mightily to get through this minute to the next.

He stood from the little sofa and offered her his hand.  “Ms. Walker, thank you very much.”

She shook his hand.  “You’re welcome.  And for the record, it’s Kathryn.”

“Kathryn.”  There was almost a smile there.  “That was my grandmother’s name.”

“Really?” She tilted her head in surprise.  “Most people call me Kate, but I really prefer Kathryn.  I don’t know why.  It sounds more old-style Hollywood or something.”  With a saucy smile, she tossed her blonde locks over her shoulder as if she was anywhere near as glamorous as those ladies.  “Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?”

This laugh made it all the way up to his eyes.  They were nice eyes, kind of a hazy bluish-green. “That she can.  That she can.”

After a moment the laughter fell away from her.  “But really, if you need anything, here’s my card.” She slipped it from her pocket and handed it to him. “Just call anytime.  Of course, I’m not the only one on staff, so if I’m not there, Clyde or Yvonne will be able to help also.”

He took the card and looked at it for a long, long moment.  When he looked up again, there was genuine gratefulness in his eyes.  “Thank you.”

Her only wish was that she could do more.  “You’re welcome.”

After she left, Ben went down to the cafeteria, got some coffee, and found a little corner to disappear into.  It was only three in the afternoon, but it felt like midnight-thirty.  He took a sip of the coffee and set the cup on the table.  Reaching in his pocket, he pulled out her card.  Kathryn Walker, St. Anthony’s Hospice, Social Worker.

Who signed up for a job like that?  He would run for the hills.  Slowly he turned the card over and over in his fingers.  What to do?  She didn’t make it sound as horrible as he had envisioned, and yet a good salesman could sell anything.  True, she didn’t seem like a pushy salesperson.  But it was her job to make her facility seem as user-friendly as possible.  He thought it through again and took another drink.

It wouldn’t hurt to check the place out.  At least then he could give Dr. Vitter a logical reason why he wasn’t going to take that option.  Downing the last of the coffee, he grabbed his cell phone out of his pocket.  With a hard blink, he forced himself to dial the number correctly.  As it rang, he realized she probably wasn’t even back yet.

“St. Anthony’s Hospice, this is Kathryn.”

His heart snagged on the softness of her voice.  He spun the phone’s speaker down to his mouth. “Uh, yeah.  Kathryn? This is Ben Warren.  I just talked to you?”

“Oh, yes.  Ben.  Did you need something else?”

“Um, well, yeah. Kind of. Um, I was wondering if maybe I could come over and see the… facility.”  There were certain words he just couldn’t utter.

“Oh, well, sure.  Of course.  Do you want to come now?”

Now?  Now was a little soon.  His spirit recoiled at the thought.  He’d long before given up the nursing home route on his sales trek through the city.  There were just some things he did not want to subject himself to.  “Uh, well, I don’t want to bother you.  I’ve already taken up so much of your time…”

“Oh, it’s not a problem.  Tell you what, I’ll meet you by the elevators on the neurology floor.  Will that work?”

“Uh. Yeah. Sure.”

“I’ll be there in five.”

“Okay.”

And she was gone.  Only then did reality occur to him. What was he thinking?  He wasn’t anywhere near the elevators on the neurology floor.  He jumped up, nearly knocking the chair to the ground.  Two doctors from the table near him glanced his direction.  He quickly resettled the chair, ditched the cup, and headed out.


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Ebook Romance Stories: Thoughts on “Coming Undone”


Coming Undone Final 1-15-2014by:  Staci Stallings

When I was growing up, death was a part of life.  I didn’t realize it then, but I learned a lot in that little town from my parents and those around me.  Mostly what I learned is that death is important, especially for those left living.

Maybe that seems contradictory, but I’ve been to enough funerals to know that although they say you go to “pay your respects to the one who died,” you really go to embrace those closest to the one who has died because they need you now more than ever.

Death is a tough thing.  It just is.  In the ensuing years since my growing up period, I have experienced death in many ways.  I have lost my brother and my brother-in-law.  I have lost a father-in-law, one really great friend, and all of my grandparents. I have also witnessed the death of “once-removeds” such as three uncles, multiple friends of friends as well as multiple animals my children have lost.  And one thing I have learned:  Death never gets easier.

Yes, there are some deaths that are easier than others.  For example, my grandmother was 89 years old when she passed away.  She had lived a good and blessed life.  She had left a legacy of children and grandchildren.  Hers was a life well-lived.  And still, it was hard.  The shock of her being gone, the decisions that had to be made, the total upheaval of life during the funeral week–they all take their toll.

Then there are those that are simply heart-wrenching.  The son who dies suddenly in a car accident, the suicide of a young father, the victim of cancer who dies at 20-years-old–these shatter our sense not just of life but of fairness and right.  We are angry–sometimes with nowhere to go with that anger. We are in sorrow, we are in shock.  And yet, all those decisions, all that upheaval of schedules and life must be dealt with as well.  It can be extremely difficult.

In many ways death forces us to grow up, to reckon just for a moment with the fact that this life is not all there is, or to question if it is.  Death brings life into focus in a way I’m not sure that anything else does. It robs us of sleep and normalcy.  It steals our thoughts and our comfort.  It kidnaps our sanity so that it feels like the heartache will go on forever and how can anything ever feel normal again?

For me, going through this process with people around me growing up taught me how difficult it is–for everyone.  However, so many people in our world today don’t get that training.  They don’t go to funerals of loved ones because Uncle Sal lived 2,000 miles away and they really never knew him all that well anyway.  Death kind of becomes a “once removed” thing in our lives.  Yes, we know it exists, but we assume it’s going to stay WAY OVER THERE away from us forever.

But that is not reality, and when the reality of the death of someone very close to us comes, we find ourselves completely unprepared.

That’s what happens with Ben Warren in “Coming Undone.”  He thinks he has life altogether. He’s got the great apartment and the great job.  All the girls are crazy about him.  He’s living life for himself, and that’s perfectly wonderful with him until…

When Ben’s world is shatter by news he never saw coming, he is forced to face life in a way he’s never had to before, and that reality rips his world apart and then reassembles it in a way he could never have envisioned.

I’ve had people tell me that they “still sniffle” when they think about this book.  That’s okay.  Death will do that to you.  My hope is that in reading “Coming Undone” those who have lost close loved ones will see that their struggles were not odd or stupid, that those who say “get over it” have no real understanding of how deeply death can cut.  And maybe, just maybe they can find some peace in God’s healing mercy as Ben does.

I once heard someone say, “Life goes on, but death does too.”  I simply want to give people a depth of understanding about death and how hard it is so that maybe they can learn compassion for others who have lost someone or for themselves when death shows up for someone they love.

It’s not meant to be morbid.  It’s meant to be real.  “Coming Undone” because broken was never in his plans…

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Ebook Romance Stories: Behind the Story, “Coming Undone”

Coming Undone Final 1-15-2014by:  Staci Stallings

Coming Undone was a “lightning strike.”  Some books are a slow slog through molasses; others seem to have a speed of their own–instantaneous.  Coming Undone was one of those.  I can tell you that the two actors who showed up at my doorstep demanding to be put in a book were Patrick Dempsey and Kathryn Heigl–and oddly enough that was before they were paired on Grey’s Anatomy.  I must have a sixth sense or something!

However, the thing I remember most about this particular book was that the end had me twisted into knots.  We were doing great until one pivotal moment that I can’t tell you about (you have to read it for yourself!), and then… Well, I wasn’t at all sure what happened next.  I mean, once the reason for being thrown together is over, what next?

Worse, they both seemed determined to go on with their lives (I hate it when characters have a mind of their own!  Didn’t someone clue them in that I’M the author, so they are supposed to do what I say? HAHA! Yeah, right!).  So, here they are, both going on with their lives denying what was so patently obvious to everyone else, and I was struggling.

Even worse than that, Ben decided to go back to his old ways–you know, drinking and the fast life he had been so enamored with in the first place.  There are times as an author/counselor to these people, I just want to take them and shake them!  “Hello!  Life changing experiences just happened to you.  What are you thinking trying to go back to who you were?”  It really is funny how often and strenuously I have to have these conversations with these people I was supposed to be controlling.

In the middle of all of this, I was serving on a church team of women, and I really was struggling to make all the pieces of this thing fit.  That’s funny now, but at the time, I really didn’t see how I could get it all tied up in a neat little bow that made sense and left the reader with peace about the story.  And neither of my characters was cooperating.

During the team formation, one of the things we had to do was get a prayer partner each week.  Then you tell your partner one thing you would like them to pray for.  That week I got this sweet little lady with flaming red hair.  She was as fun as her hair suggests.  All I could think of to ask for was help with the ending of this book.  I told her about how I was having so much trouble with it and how I’d really like to get it finished so I could move on to something else.

Honestly, she probably thought I was weird, but I’m pretty used to people thinking that by now.  So I headed into the week, figuring by the end of it I’d be no closer to finished than I was when I started.  Then, lo and behold, from out of nowhere the end hit me.  I started writing, and literally in one day it was finished–like 45 pages!  And it was perfect!

So I emailed my prayer partner to thank her.  When she emailed back, she said, “Oh, I didn’t do anything. I just said a few prayers.”  That still kind of makes me sad when I think about it.  How often do we shush up our prayer life, put it in a box, and think it can’t really make much of a difference?  Not being the shy-type about such things, I took her aside at the next meeting, gave her a big hug, and thanked her again–profusely for her prayers.  I told that her prayers were what helped me finish that book and to never again question if they made a real difference.  So never underestimate the power of your prayer or people praying you through tight scenes and frustrating sequences.  It sure came through for me in a big way on Coming Undone.

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Ebook Romance Stories: “Coming Undone” Review


Coming Undone Final 1-15-2014Reviewed by:  Writing in Purple

If you’ve ever searched for love, been afraid to love, or lost someone you love, you will love Coming Undone.

This is the story of Ben, living his life free of the responsibilities and problems that come with commitment, haunted by a past that causes him to fear giving his heart to another. But life throws him an unexpected curve, and he finds himself beginning to unravel. Uncertain why he feels drawn to her, he seeks the guidance of the attractive hospice social worker who seems to possess the quiet strength and perseverance he desperately needs but does not know how to find.

This is the story of Kathryn, the young woman with all aspects of her life neatly in place. She has a job she loves, a nice apartment, great friends and a deep faith in the God she serves. And yet, the greatest longing of her heart goes unsatisfied, a man to love and cherish her the way she sees him in her dreams. She wonders sometimes if God has given her this yearning as a lesson in patience or does He have a greater plan about to be unveiled?

When Ben meets Kathryn amidst the storms raging in their individual lives, each feels inexplicably drawn to the other, even against their better judgment. Pushing their doubts aside to pursue a friendship both exhilarating and frightening in ways they never expected, will they find only disappointment or does God have something else in mind?

Staci’s gift of writing both points of view, allowing us to see inside the heart and soul of both Kathryn and Ben as they yearn for what will fill their aching hearts and search for the happiness that eludes them is remarkable. The depth of feeling, intensity of emotion and gripping drama will pull you into the hearts and souls of her characters in a way that keeps you turning the pages of Coming Undone long after bedtime.

Have a box of tissue nearby and let Staci melt your heart, strengthen your faith and inspire your imagination as you experience Coming Undone. It is truly an expression of emotion that will remain in your heart long after the final page is read.

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