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Ebook Romance Stories: Thoughts on the Characters in “Cowboy”

by:  Staci Stallings

Having lived with the characters in Cowboy for about 13 years now, it fascinates me how much they still teach me and others who read the book and want to talk about it with me.

Ashton Raines is the hero, and I think he kind of epitomizes where we all *think* we want to be–on top, successful, adored by many, hated by none.  He’s got the world at his feet.  As the reigning King of Country Music, Ashton appears to have everything he’s ever wanted and most of what everybody else dreams of having.

But the thing is it becomes obvious very quickly that Ashton is anything but happy.  In fact, there’s a large part of him that really hates his life and what he’s become.  Not because he’s become someone bad, but somewhere along the way on the road to super stardom, he lost himself.

Whether we’re a superstar or not, I think many of us can relate to waking up one day, looking in the mirror and having no idea how we got here.  It’s like we pursue life and our dreams, and then one day we’re living this life we don’t even recognize.  Maybe we’ve got kids and a husband or we’re in a job we always thought we wanted, and we look around and it’s weird because we don’t even really recognize who we are anymore.

In the story, Ashton uses his fame to hide from his pain.  At least that was the idea.  His wife has died of cancer, and it nearly ripped him apart.  His plan to escape the pain is to pour himself into a whirlwind tour.  The problem is pain isn’t healed by escaping it, and the faster he runs, the more miserable he gets until one night, he simply can’t take it anymore.  After a concert, his manager comes up with a brilliant idea to help Ashton forget, and it snaps Ashton’s will to keep up the charade of the tour.  He gets in a rented car and drives, not knowing or caring if he’ll ever come back.

Beth McCasland is the sweetest spirit you would ever want to meet.  She’s seen her share of heartache when her husband passed away in a terrible accident.  Now she’s left to raise her young daughter alone, and she shoulders that burden with grace and dignity.

The thing I like most about Beth is she is so simple.  She sees someone hurting, and she’s determined to help.  Maybe she can only offer a meal and an ear to listen, but she is willing to do that.  The thing that breaks my heart about Beth is I think true of a lot of us who care.  When we go all-in to help someone, keeping a “safe distance” for our heart’s sake doesn’t always work.  And it’s so hard to really care and not get emotionally involved, especially if that person is someone we genuinely connect with on a deep level.

How do you care and let go, and care and let go, and care and let go?  It’s like getting your heart smashed over and over again, but what’s the other option?  Not caring?

I think the depth of her love is really a reflection of how God is with us.  He’s always standing there with open arms, willing to take us in and comfort us and be there for us, and somehow, He loves us enough to let us go again with no real guarantee that we’ll come back.  It’s such an incredibly vulnerable place to be.  For me, that was one of the hardest things about watching Beth go through the things that happen in the story, watching her suffer because of her great love.

I’ve had people describe Cowboy as Cinderella in reverse, which is rather interesting to me because in one sense, Ashton is the Prince on the white… okay, tour bus.  But many readers have said they really felt Beth is the one to rescue him from the pit, which is also true.  I don’t know. Maybe sometimes in a relationship we’re equal parts the one saving and the one being saved.  I certainly think that’s true of this story.

The truth is I love these two characters.  They’re like old friends now, and I love this story.  Every time I read it, it makes me want to fall in love all over again!

Read more about the Top-Rated (#9) Amazon Religious Fiction book, Cowboy!

Ebook Romance Stories: Character Insights, Cowboy

Fictional Interview with Ashton & Beth Raines from “Cowboy” and Kalin & Danae Lane from “Lucky”

News From Nashville & Beyond

(Transcribed from a television interview with “The Music Plays… World Tour” featuring opening solo artist Kalin Lane and headliner Ashton Raines, both accompanied by their wives, Beth Raines and Danae Lane.)

NFNB:  First of all, welcome to you all.  Thanks for sitting down with us.

Ashton:  Thank you for having us.

NFNB:  Let’s start with what it’s like to be on a world tour.  What cities?  What are the crowds like?

Kalin:  Well, for me it’s been an absolute dream come true.  I mean, getting invited to be here with Ashton who, let’s face it is the King of Country music right now.  Standing on that stage every night, hearing the fans singing my songs, cheering, in all these different countries…. it’s truly amazing.

Ashton:  I have to agree.  I stand down there as Kalin’s playing, and there’s just this incredible energy that sweeps through the whole place, no matter if we’re playing for 20,000 or 60,000.  To hear those fans, to get to connect with them.  It’s what I came here to do, it’s why I started singing in the first place, and to get to do it night after night has been such a blessing.

NFNB:  How’s it been working together?  The two of you play country music, but it’s really not quite the same kind of country.

Ashton (laughing): Yeah. I could never pull off the hair!  (Reaches over and ruffles Kalin’s famously stringy blond mane then shrugs.)  But it works, you know?  I play the more traditional stuff, Kalin rocks the house, it works.Lucky New

Kalin:  I have to agree. I think it has really come together because we’re not two performers who happen to get on the same stage every night.  We really understand each other and respect each other for what life has thrown at us and the hard knocks it’s taken us to be able to play from the heart so to speak.  So it doesn’t matter that he plays the acoustic and piano, and I’ve got more electric and keyboards to my style of music because I think deep down we both really see that we’re doing what we love to do, making the kind of music we love to make.  When you do that, somehow the synthesis of what comes out of it just works even if on the outside it doesn’t look like it should.

NFNB:  You mentioned what life has thrown at you.  Would you call the road to get here bumpy or smooth?

(Ashton looks to Beth who smiles back, and Kalin grins at Danae who brushes her brown locks from her forehead and shakes her head with a soft laugh.)

All:  Bumpy.

(Laughter)

Ashton:  Definitely bumpy.  (Beth nods, her eyes filled with respect and love as she looks at her husband, and the two of them share a moment.  When he turns back to the camera, Ashton seems to drift into another world.)  After my first wife died of cancer, there was a long stretch in there that honestly I didn’t even want to be here.  I mean here as in making music here, but even here as in on the planet.  Then one night I wound up in this little diner in the middle of nowhere (He looks over to Beth.)  And an angel from Heaven pulled me back and gave me a reason to keep on living.  (As if no one else is watching, he leans over and kisses her.)  Thank you, babe (he whispers so the camera barely catches the words. Then he turns back.)  To be real honest, I’m not even sure I’d be here without her.

NFNB:  So Beth, what was it like?  I mean, he is Ashton Raines.  It’s like every girl’s dream to have the king of music walk in and sweep you off your feet.  That must have been surreal.

(They glance at each other.)

Beth:  Well, to be honest with you, I didn’t even know who he was that night.

NFNB:  You didn’t?

Beth:  No, really I didn’t. It’s a long story, but let’s just say I fell in love with a man, not a music star.

NFNB:  Okay.  Well… (Turning to the other couple.) Kalin, you also said bumpy.  Now we know a little about your career’s early fits and starts what with having to go back to your home country the first time around.  What was that like?

Kalin:  Rough.  Really, really rough.  To be honest with you, that first time I let the fame and the money and the adulation of all the people around me go straight to my head.  I fell in with a lifestyle I thought was great at first, but it caught up with me real fast.  When I lost everything–the dream, my meal ticket in Nashville and almost my life–I thought it was all over, you know?  Back then, there was no way I could have seen the amazing grace God was waiting to give me and the joy and the mercy and the grace He gives me every day now.  Getting to be here now, like this, with the Raines family, and my beautiful wife. (He turns to Danae and smiles.  She smiles back.)  I’m telling you it’s more than a dream come true.  In fact, it’s the reason I sing “Lucky” every night out there on stage.

That line about, “And it’s not fate, it’s not luck, it’s a gift from God above, that I found you, you found me, and we found love”?  Those aren’t just nice, pretty words. I really believe that, you know?  Because if it was not for God and the love of this wonderful, strong woman sitting next to me, I can almost guarantee I would not be sitting here today.  It’s more grace and love than I’ve ever deserved or imagined, I’ll tell you that.

NFNB:  Well, it’s almost time to wrap this up.  Closing thoughts, anyone?

Ashton:  The tour’s been amazing.  The fans, the cities, the experiences.  All out amazing.

Kalin:  Come out and see the show!

NFNB:  That’s it for now from News from Nashville & Beyond.  Now back to you in the studio.

Read more about Ashton and Beth’s story in “Cowboy” Book 1 of The Harmony Series by Staci Stallings.

Kalin and Danae are featured in “Lucky” — Book 2 of the Harmony Series.


Ebook Romance Stories: Cowboy, Chapter 1

#9 Top-Rated Religious Fiction @ Amazon

Cowboy New 2-2014

Cowboy

The Harmony Series, Book 1

by:  Staci Stallings

~*~*~*~

To all those who think that love has let them down…

Please never stop believing in love’s power to heal all things.

In God’s eyes, the light of hope shines eternal

where love is concerned… and so it is for you.

 ~*~*~*~

Chapter 1

“You’re never going to believe who’s coming to Denver!” Lynn Isley squealed as she streaked into the empty restaurant from the kitchen doors.

Standing at the cash register counting change, Beth McCasland barely even looked up. “Who?”

Lynn dropped her voice conspiratorially although there wasn’t a single soul in the place to overhear her anyway. “Ashton Raines!”

“65.82.” Beth dumped the pennies back in the register and frowned. “Ashton Raines?  Isn’t he that country singer?”

That country singer?” Lynn asked in disbelief as she tied her blue-and-white Harry’s All-Night Diner apron around her waist. “Are you kidding me? Ashton Raines is the country singer. He not only won Male Vocalist of the Year three years in a row, he won Entertainer of the Year last year and Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and… Beth!”

Somewhere just past one of the ‘of the Years’ Beth had tuned Lynn out.

“What?” She looked up from the drawer innocently, and when she saw the look on Lynn’s face, she repeated, “What?”

“Where’d you go?”

“The drawer’s ten cents off.” Beth looked back at it in consternation. “What do you think we should do?”

Lynn shook her head. “Who cares?”

“I do.” A moment of thought and Beth pulled a dime out of her own pocket and dropped it into the register.

In disbelief, Lynn surveyed her friend, her dark eyes flashing. “What’d you do that for?”

Beth shrugged and slammed the drawer. “It’s either that or hear Harry yell for two hours.”

“But…” Lynn began just as the bell on the front door sounded.

“Customers,” Beth said, indicating the door and signaling that the conversation was over with one word. She tucked a wayward blonde wavy-curl behind her ear, grabbed three menus, and started toward the door without bothering to wait for Lynn to so much as exhale.

*~*~*

“Ashton, what in the world are you doing up there?” Barry Braxton yelled to the stonewashed jean-clad figure leaning perilously over the edge of the top row of bleachers.

“These bleachers have to be up by seven,” Ashton yelled back over the din of workers surrounding him without so much as looking down at his manager.

“They will be,” Barry called, “but if you fall, we won’t be needing them anyway.”

Irritation at being treated like a three-year-old crawled through Ashton’s chest as he twisted the wrench on the bolt he was working on with three more quick jerks. “I’m not going to fall, Barry.”

“Well, why don’t you come on down anyway?” Barry set his hands on the rolls of excess weight just beneath his off-brown, button up shirt. “Really. There’s no reason for you to be up there. I’m sure the crew can get it.”

“Look around you, Bare.” Ashton waved the wrench angrily. “We go on in three hours. Does it look like they’re going to be ready?”

Barry shook his balding head in disgust. He really couldn’t argue with that as much as he obviously wanted to. With the concert set to start in three hours, Ashton knew his manager would’ve preferred him to be in his dressing room getting ready rather than tightening bolts on the bleachers for their latest venue. However, here he was twisting bolt after bolt tighter and tighter, wrenching his anger and frustration into them as if that would somehow make everything better.

After a full thirty seconds Barry stalked off leaving his golden egg hanging off the edge of a set of bleachers that looked like it might fall any second. Ashton didn’t so much as watch him leave. Barry, of all people, knew Ashton’s stubborn streak ran a mile deep and just as wide. And the fact that he had acquired a death wish in the last year didn’t help matters.

Trying not to think lest the memories swarm him again, he bent his head and body into the work. If he could just keep working, keep moving, keep going, somehow he would find a way past the hurt. If he didn’t, Humpty Dumpty would look easy to put back together by comparison.

*~*~*

“So, do you want to go?” Lynn asked as she walked up to the counter where Beth stood during a slight lull in the afternoon lunch chaos.

“Go where?” Beth asked, tallying up three tickets at the same time.

Lynn leaned on the counter. Her freckled arms created a triangle with her waist. “The concert.”

Wishing Lynn would leave her alone so she could concentrate, Beth bit the pink lipstick of her bottom lip. “What concert?”

“Hello, Beth…? Is anybody in there?” Lynn waved her hand in the air.

The bells on the front door jingled. Without bothering to uphold her end of the conversation, Beth stepped around the counter. “I’ll be right back.” She heard Lynn growl in frustration, but there were other things in the world far more important than concerts and having fun. On top of that priority list was eeking out a living. She met the two customers at the door. “Good afternoon. Would you like a booth or a table?”

*~*~*

Ashton heard the familiar music the second it poured down from the enormous speakers three levels above him. The roar of the crowd that followed the music never ceased to amaze him. On the outside he looked ready—calm, cool, professional, but inside he was a disaster waiting to happen. This was the hardest part of every show. Right now she would’ve been with him, holding his hand right to the stage steps, telling him good luck, and kissing him. What he wouldn’t have given for one more kiss.

He could feel her even now, and every part of him wanted nothing more than to walk away from it all—walk away and never come back. Without her, everything had become too hard, too draining, too overwhelming. Just as the pain threatened to take him over the edge, he heard it—the four notes—his cue, and in with one giant shove, he stuffed all the hurt back down and stepped up the stairs and onto the stage as the entire arena exploded in lights, music, and screaming around him. In fact, it was so loud that not one person in the entire arena heard his heart snap right down the middle.

*~*~*

“You going home?” Lynn asked as Beth grabbed her coat from the rack.

She slid her arms into the warmth of the wool, knowing how the early April chill in Colorado could seep into a person despite all their best efforts. “Yeah, Tori should be here any time now, and I’ve got to stop at my parents’ to get Kenzie.”

“How’s she doing?” Lynn asked with genuine concern.

“Oh, growing like a weed.” Beth laughed softly and pushed the blonde curl that never quite made it into the clip at the back of her head from the edge of her face. No matter how many clips she used, she could never quite get her hair to stay up through a full eight-hour shift. “I can’t believe she’ll be starting kindergarten in the fall.”

“No kidding.” Lynn’s concern sank on the sigh that went through Beth. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Beth ducked so her friend couldn’t see the real answer. “It just hard sometimes.” Buttoning the coat was a good excuse not to look up.

“I know, but I’m sure Kevin would be proud of how well she’s done.”

Beth smiled through the ache, which stabbed viciously into her heart. She grabbed her things from the counter. “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay, you take care—and drive careful.”

“I will.”

Lynn watched her friend go. It had to be hard to go home every night with a child and all alone at the same time. Worse, the only places Beth ever went were her parents’ house, the diner, and home. The only time she ever went out was when Lynn forced her to, and it had been far too long since their last outing.

The radio behind her crackled. “KGRC, is proud to welcome Ashton Raines to The Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado on June 12th…”

The concert. Somehow she would find a way to talk her friend into going. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

*~*~*

“Hey, great show, Ashton,” Barry said, slapping him on the back the second he descended into backstage after the second encore.

Ashton forced a smile onto his face. “Thanks.”

“We’ve got some people backstage,” Barry continued as though Ashton hadn’t heard all this a million times before.

“There he is!” someone from down the hall yelled, and in a breath he was crushed by a sea of fans.

Overwhelming numbness took over as he accepted the pieces of paper being shoved in his face. Over and over he signed a name that no longer seemed to even belong to him. It was everywhere. On T-shirts, CD jackets, programs, in lights above the entrance to every auditorium door he walked through.

As he signed the name yet another time, it occurred to him that somehow he had lost everything—not even his own name was his anymore. He wasn’t Ashton Raines, and yet if he wasn’t Ashton Raines, who was he, and when he had ceased to exist as a real person?

“That’s enough!” Barry held his hands up, forcing his way through the crowd to make a path for Ashton to follow. “We appreciate you all coming out! Thank you! Thank you!”

Somehow Ashton followed his manager, somehow his feet worked, somehow… and yet if he had to explain just how, he would never have been able to.

*~*~*

Beth lay on Kenzie’s bed, the book in one hand, Kenzie resting on the other arm. “‘Open the door,’ the prince commanded, and the guards obeyed. When the door opened, there stood Katrina in her dress of rags. ‘Hello,’ said the prince kindly. ‘Hello,’ Katrina said. ‘May I have this dance?’ the prince asked, holding out his hand to her. She took it, and they danced the whole night away. The end.”

Beth closed the book and then looked down and smiled. Kenzie. The soft little face. The rosy cheeks. The most beautiful child in the world. Her last precious gift from Kevin. At times it seemed she was almost past the pain, and then at other times, like tonight, the thought of going to a bed devoid of his spirit threatened to fling her into a pit of despair.

Five years. Five long years, and still she missed him, and at that moment, watching their daughter sleep, the soft baby blonde curls fanned out on the pink pillow, she knew she would miss him forever.

*~*~*

“We’ve got some new material in,” Barry said as Ashton put his feet up on the coffee table, leaned his head back against the couch, and closed his eyes. “Meredith thinks one of them is a keeper.”

“Hmm.”

“Anyway, I thought maybe tomorrow on the way to Atlanta we could give it a once over—just to see what you think,” Barry continued, going over his checklist. “The concert in Tucson sold out yesterday in under two hours. They’re thinking about adding a second show. What do you think?”

“Fine,” Ashton said without ever opening his eyes.

The to-do list went silent. “Ken called. He’s wondering how you’re doing.”

Ashton was really tired of answering this already age-old question.

“How are you doing?” Barry asked pointedly. “Really?”

Slowly Ashton exhaled—knowing full well that the truth and what Barry wanted to hear were two totally different things. “You know me, Bare.” He opened his eyes to a reality he now hated.

“Yes, I do, and I’m not the only one who’s worried about you.”

Ashton smiled at that. Barry was worried all right—for himself mostly.

“I’m fine.” With no small amount of effort, Ashton pulled himself off the couch. “Just a little tired.”

Barry followed him up off the couch without taking his gaze off him.

“What time are we pulling out in the morning?” Ashton asked, stretching slowly, the starched shirt he still wore from the concert stuck in weird angles to the dried sweat on his back.

“Ten.”

“Then I’d better get my beauty rest.” Ashton yawned. “I’d hate to be sick for Atlanta.”

“Yeah,” Barry said unenthusiastically. “I’ll be here to get you around nine-thirty?”

“I’ll be ready.” Ashton followed Barry to the door. “And I promise we’ll go over the new stuff tomorrow.”

“That’s great.”

He held the door open for his manager. “Well, good night, Bare.”

“Night,” Barry said, but the closing door cut off the word.

Ashton exhaled and let his eyelids fall shut. It was true he was tired, but this tired had nothing to do with his work on stage. This tired was something he had never experienced in his life until now. It had nothing to do with sleep and everything to do with the hole he found every time he looked into his heart. He shook his head to clear it of the disturbing thoughts and went to take a shower.

Cowboy New 2-2014

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The Story: Coming Undone

Coming Undone Final 1-15-2014#1 Religious Fiction, #1 Religion & Inspirational Amazon!

Coming Undone

by:  Staci Stallings

Ben Warren had life all figured out. At 35, he’s successful in his work and free as a bird everywhere else.  He has no desire to be tied down like some of his friends, and he sees no reason to change that.  Then the unthinkable happens and causes him to rethink everything about everything.

Kathryn Walker can’t figure out what she’s doing wrong in the dating department.  The rest of her life makes sense.  She’s compassionate, strong, honest, hard-working and still alone.  She wonders if she is doomed to spend forever single.  Little does she know that fate is taking a major turn in her life.  In fact, she doesn’t even see it happening until it has.  Can she ever get past the fact that Mr. Right didn’t show up in the way she thought he would?

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The Story: Cowboy

Cowboy New 2-2014

Top-Rated Amazon Religious Fiction #9!

Cowboy

The Harmony Series, Book 1

by:  Staci Stallings

Life has done its best to knock Beth McCasland to the ground, and the truth is: it’s done a pretty good job of keeping her there. Stuck in a minimum-wage job with a young daughter counting on her, Beth does her best to stay standing under the weight of it all because she knows God is on her side. Then one night she gets the chance to be an angel to another of life’s weary travelers. For once hope has never looked so real.

“Cowboy is a grace-filled story about the power of giving everything to God and how a simple act of compassion can change lives forever. Emotional, soothing, and heart-wrenching, Cowboy is infused with the message that no matter who we are and no matter what life has thrown at us, we never have to walk alone. Staci Stallings has intertwined the loss and grief of two characters into a sweet love story. Full of truths and illustrations of God’s grace, Cowboy will capture a reader’s heart. Stallings has peppered in song lyrics that strike a beautiful chord.” — Eileen Key, ACRW Member

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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “Cowboy”

Ebook Romance Stories presents an Excerpt from “Cowboy” by Staci Stallings…
Cowboy New 2-2014Fatigue hit Ashton hard as he pulled up next to the small establishment winking an OPEN sign. For the first ten seconds after he killed the engine, he considered simply calling Meredith and asking her to come get him. But as he sat and the quiet came around him, the thought that he didn’t want to have to deal with her—or anyone else ran through him. For a few more minutes, he just wanted to be alone, and this looked like as good a place to do that as any. He glanced out the window to the light shining from the plate glass door out into the darkness. Warm. Somehow it looked so warm, and he felt so very cold.

It took everything he had to get the car door open. His head hurt, his eyes hurt, his body hurt. Everything hurt. Maybe he should call Meredith, he thought as he stepped out and right into the middle of an ice-cold rainwater puddle. With a jerk he yanked his foot out, but the muddy water seeped through the holes in his shoe just the same. Trying not to feel the chill oozing through the fabric of his sock, he pulled himself out of the car, making sure to miss the puddle the second time. Once standing, he started slowly across the puddle-strewn lot for the door. However, the wind whipped the icy droplets of rain seemingly right through him. When they found his all-but unprotected body and his neck, all thoughts other than getting inside vanished. In a dead run, he crossed the lot and stumbled inside.

“Nice night,” the waitress at the counter said.

Ashton brushed the cold ice water drops off his shirt and shivered. “I’d hate to see a bad one.” He stomped his feet on the ground, sending mud and water scattering in little fans on the mat and across the hard tile floor.

She grabbed a menu. “One?”

It took a moment to process the question as he brushed at his cap and neck. “Oh, uh, yeah,” he said, glancing up. “One.”

“Right this way.”

Without question he followed her across the diner to a corner booth. He reached up and repositioned the cap on his head, cupping the bill of it in one hand.

She stopped at the back booth cornered by a wall and a window. “This okay?”

“Fine.” He slid into the seat.

With a smile he barely saw, she laid the menu on the table. “I’ll bring you some water.”

“All right.” When she stepped away, he squeezed his eyes closed to shut out the fatigue flooding over him and shivered again. “Tell you what…”

She stopped short and turned back.

He forced his eyes open as he ran his hands down his now-wet jeans. “Just bring me some coffee.”

This smile at least made it to her face. “Coffee it is.”

He looked down at the menu under his fingertips. Although it had been several hours since he’d eaten anything, eating right now just didn’t seem appealing. He tilted his head to one side and then the other, trying to work out the kinks that were going nowhere.

“Here you go.” With a small clink, she set the coffee cup in front of him and filled it.

Gratefully, he glanced up. “Thanks.” But before his gaze managed to get to hers, the pain slashed through him again and pulled his gaze down lest she see.

For one second and then two she stood there. “I’ll take your order when you’re ready. Let me know.”

“Oh, okay.” His hands found the warmth of the cup. It felt wonderful. He didn’t really know how, but he knew she had walked away. Slowly he lifted the cup and took a sip. It was the most wonderful thing he’d ever tasted in his life.

Beth watched him from her perch at the counter. Something about him gripped the middle of her soul. Maybe it was the slump of his shoulders as he bent over the cup, or maybe it was the ache on his face. Whatever it was, her gut told her that he was in trouble. Big trouble.

Sitting in this diner so far away from everything he had come to know was like sitting outside his body and looking in, and for the most part, Ashton didn’t like anything he saw. It wasn’t the clothes—it was the shell of the man inside them. Being here felt so familiar. He’d been in many all-night diners driving back from gigs in far away towns.

He let his mind drift back to those days when playing for a couple hundred people was a good night, when making enough money to get the band to the next stop was a major accomplishment. Slowly his mind traced back through the band. Greg, James, Evan. All friends he’d somehow lost track of during his climb to the top. All friends he’d sat with in places just like this one, dreaming of living the life he now found himself in. But dreaming about this life now seemed totally absurd. It was more like a nightmare.

“Refill?” she asked, materializing in the front of the table.

He looked up into her smiling face and pushed the cup over to her. “Sure.”

She refilled it without ever losing the smile. “You ready to order?”

“Oh umm… I’m not really hungry.” He reached down and raked one hand down the side of his jeans. Then he glanced up into her smiling blue eyes, and all motion stopped.

“That’s okay,” she said softly. “Enjoy your coffee.”

“T-thanks,” he said, and she retreated back to her seat at the counter.

In a way it was odd, he thought as he dragged his attention back to the coffee cup, sitting here in what could at least pass as being in public—and not being mobbed or even asked for an autograph. Anymore he couldn’t go anywhere without constant chaos surrounding him.  Everyone wanted autographs. Everyone.

He remembered the first autograph he’d ever signed. It was at one of the broken down bars he’d played so long ago he no longer remembered its name. The young girl had sat in the front row clapping and cheering after every song. After the second set, she’d come up and asked him for his autograph. It had been the first of many. His mind drifted back to that minute as the present ceded control to the past.

“My autograph?” he’d asked in disbelief never seriously thinking anyone would want his name on a piece of paper. “What for?”

Her soft, satiny face framed a smile that melted his heart. “That way when you become a big star, I can say I knew you when.”

In the present he smiled at that. He hadn’t thought of that conversation in a very long time.

“Oh, well, okay,” he had said as professionally as he knew how at the time. “Who should I make this to?”

“Just make it to Sharon.”

His heart filled with the memory, and before he could stop them, the tears in his heart were on his lashes. He swallowed and knotted his forehead to keep them from falling. She was so beautiful. He could see her standing there in the dim bar light. Right from the start she’d been his biggest fan—never wavering in her belief in him or his music. She had been with him every step of the way, and now she was gone, and he would never hear her voice or smell her perfume or see her smile or feel her touch again. Like a tidal wave the pain washed over him.

“’Nother refill?” the voice standing above him asked, and he looked at her before he thought better of it.

Beth saw the tears and the crushed, pain-filled look instantly.

“Are you sure I can’t get you anything?” she asked as concern for this tattered stranger traced through her. “Maybe there’s someone I can call, or…”

But he just shook his head and tried to smile. “No.” He looked back down at his empty coffee cup. “I’m all right.”

With pursed lips, she refilled his cup and set it down in front of him. “I’ll be right back.”

And she disappeared again. Ashton squeezed his eyes closed to stop the tears, but there were too many, and they had been held back for too long. Slowly, his head bent over the steaming cup in front of him, and he gave up. How could he ever have known that night as he’d looked at Sharon the first time how quickly it would all end? How could he ever have seen how much the top resembles the bottom when you have no one to share it with?

It was true, he had people around him 24 hours a day, and yet he had never been so lonely in his life. Suddenly the rain-soaked accident scene began to look rather good compared with going back and facing the emptiness his life had become. Barry and his checklists, Meredith and her constant demands. They said they cared, but they really didn’t. They would be gone in a flash if anything ever happened to him.

He’d had only one true friend in his life, and now she was gone.

“Here,” the waitress said, suddenly standing at the edge of his table again. When he looked up, confusion overtook everything else. With a twist of the plate in her hand, she set it down in front of him. “I know you said you weren’t hungry, but I think it would be good if you just had something to eat.”

His gaze fell to it. “But…”

“It’s okay,” she said with a smile. “Don’t worry about it. This one’s on me.”

“But…” he began again looking through the blur of tears at her and then to the scrambled eggs, sausage and toast now lying before him.

“No, buts. Now, eat.” She pointed to the food. “I’ll get you some more coffee.”

In utter disbelief and confusion, he watched her walk back to the counter.

Beth couldn’t explain it exactly, but she wanted to do something for this poor, lost soul who had stumbled in from the rain looking for a warm cup of coffee and a place to cry. She’d been there. Running, climbing the invisible railing between life and death, wanting only for the pain to end. It was no place to be. She smiled when she got back to the table. “Here you go.”

He looked at her as if she might disappear if he blinked. “You really don’t have to do this, you know.”

Her gentle laugh jumped from her heart. “It’s okay. You look like you need a good meal… and maybe somebody to talk to?”

He ducked his head as she picked up his cup and refilled it.

“So, there’s your meal,” she continued never losing the softness in her voice, “and if you need somebody to listen, I’m here.”

Carefully she set the cup on the table and looked at him, waiting for some sign that he wanted to come back over the railing, but he didn’t move. Then in a breath he looked up from the table and right into her eyes. The deep brown of his eyes held only pools of pure anguish.

Ashton knew the second their gazes met that he should look away or she would know everything, but for some reason he couldn’t. His brain scrambled trying to remember the last time anyone had looked at him like that. Offering only and not expecting anything in return.

“Well,” she said softly, “I just thought I’d offer.”

“Oh.” His senses crashed back to him. “I’m… I’m sorry. Where’re my manners? Please, have a seat.”

She hesitated.

“Please,” he repeated, indicating the other side of the booth.

After only a second more, she slid gracefully into the other side and set the coffee pot down between them. “All right.”

He watched her intently, knowing in his heart she must be some kind of apparition that was going to disappear if he took his gaze off of her again.

She smiled at him and pointed to the plate he had forgotten. “Your eggs are getting cold.”

He looked down to where she was pointing and laughed. “Oh, yeah.” He glanced back across the table to make sure she was still there and then picked up his fork and stabbed it into the one mound of eggs. The first three forkfuls were in his mouth before he had a chance to think again. He was starving, and he hadn’t even realized it.

“So, you work the graveyard shift?” he asked between bites as she sat on her side folding and unfolding the edge of a napkin between her finger and her thumb.

“No, I’m mostly a day girl,” she said off-handedly, “but Harry needed help tonight, so I came in.”

“That’s nice of you.” He stabbed another forkful of eggs. “With the rain and all, I mean.”

She shrugged. “Yeah, well we’ve had a couple of waitresses out this week with this and that, so I fill in when I can.”

He nodded as he took a bite of sausage. As he chewed, the air began to return to his lungs.

“So, what brings you out on a night like this?” she asked, treading on each word carefully.

The memory of his flight from the arena played back in his mind, and Ashton forced himself to swallow the sausage. He took a long drink of coffee to wash it down. “I was just out driving.” Appetite gone, he stared at the plate in front of him. “I just kinda ended up here.”

She nodded, and the wave of a curl at her temple swayed. “I’ve been there before. Sometimes the best thing to do is get away—to clear your head so you can think straight again.”

“Yeah,” he said, staring at the eggs without really seeing them.

“You’re not from around here. Are you?” she asked, surveying him for mere moments at a time.

“No.” He didn’t look up. “I’m originally from Montana, but right now…” He stabbed into the eggs just to have something to do. “Well, I’m pretty much here and there these days.”

The napkin edge crinkled under her fingers. “You been driving long?”

“Too long,” he said, thinking of the hours upon hours he’d spent on that road. City after city until he wasn’t even sure which city he was in anymore.

“Must be hard being out there all alone.”

He nodded and forced himself to swallow another bite of eggs as she watched. “Yeah. Sometimes it feels like the road’s the only home I have anymore,” he said as much to himself as to her.

“It can get that way.” Her gaze never moved from him. He felt it although his gaze was on the plate in front of him. “When my husband died, all I wanted to do was run.”

When he looked up, he found himself staring at the part in her hair. For a moment she let that statement settle, then she looked across the diner and then back at him. The sadness in her gaze washed over him.

She smiled obviously forcing the words out. “And I did for awhile—run, I mean. I ran—just packed up and took off. I wasn’t really thinking, you know? All I knew was I had to get away from the pain.” Her gaze drifted over to the counter as her face scrunched on the memories. “But the road can be a weird place when you’re running from something. The harder I tried to run, the more the pain followed me. It followed me all the way to Miami.” She raked in air, then forced it down her throat and held his gaze. “That’s where I found myself sitting in a hotel room thinking I’d just be better off if I ended it all right there.”

At that moment he knew she was an angel, and he couldn’t have torn his gaze from her face if the sky had fallen at his feet.

However, the admission sent her gaze skittering. “I kept telling myself it was the only way, that I just couldn’t run anymore. I was tired of running, and I was tired of hurting. In fact, you know… I was just plain tired.” The story seemed to lose steam in the memories.

He nodded as he gazed across the table. Tired. It was a feeling he had come to know very well in the past few months.

She reached up and scratched the back of her neck just under the fall of loose curls that started at her head and cascaded down the sides of her face. “I was sitting there getting ready to end it all, and….” Her monologue drifted into silence, and the fight it was taking to get the words out was clear.

He shook his head searching her countenance trying desperately to figure out where this was going.

Then, with the smallest of laughs her gaze found his again. “A maid came in.”

“A maid?” he asked as his eyebrows knitted in confusion.

“Yeah.” She laughed, louder this time. “She was there to change the sheets or something, but I’ll tell you what, she took one look at me and forgot all about those sheets. She didn’t know me. We’d never even met before, but I know for a fact she saved my life that day. She showed me that running doesn’t help, and neither will killing yourself.”

“Yeah?” he asked sarcastically as he repositioned himself in the booth. “Then what does?”

Her eyes turned to soft orbs of gentleness. “Letting other people help you through it.”

The burden of fatigue and heartbreak he’d been carrying for months pulled his gaze to the table just as the bells at the door jingled. Although he never looked up, he heard her slide from the booth.

“Finish your breakfast.” She pointed to his plate. “If you need someone to listen, all you have to do is ask.”

And with that she left his booth to go help the other customers.

Let others help, he thought sarcastically. Yeah, right.

He couldn’t trust anyone with this pain.  He couldn’t let them in. Besides, they didn’t want to listen—not really. They wanted him to say everything was fine and keep going as though nothing in the world had happened. They wanted him to be Ashton Raines, superstar, and as far as what happened to the real Ashton Raines, they couldn’t care less.

Loneliness descended on him again, and his whole body slumped toward the table with the weight of it. It was becoming more and more difficult to keep himself upright. All he wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep forever.

If he could just think of one friend. One real person he could call, one real person he could talk to.

“If you need someone to listen, I’m here,” he heard her words again in the depths of his soul, and he looked up to see if she was actually standing there. But she was across the restaurant helping someone else.

“I can’t tell her.” He shook his head and clutched the top of his cap, rolling it down around his face at the absurdity of the very thought. “I don’t even know her.”

Then his gaze lit on the all-but empty plate in front of him. She had given him a meal and asked for nothing in return. She had shared a piece of her heart with him and expected nothing. It was by far the greatest act of kindness he’d experienced in a long time. He looked down at the empty coffee cup, closed his eyes, and raised it off the table. “Miss, could I get a refill?”

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Ebook Romance Stories: Chapter 1 & 2, “Coming Undone”

Ebook Romance Stories presents Chapter 1 & 2 of “Coming Undone,” a #1 BestSelling Amazon Religious Fiction and Religion & Inspirational book…

Chapter 1

“Don’t give me that, bro. Come on. We want details. Lots of details.”

At the stainless steel refrigerator in the kitchen, Ben Warren grabbed the handle as he smiled. “Oh, no.  I don’t kiss and tell.”  He reached in, snagged three cold ones, and headed back for the large round table currently taking up a good portion of his living room.  Setting the other two beers on the table, he sat down and twisted the cap off his before taking a long drink.

Friday night and the living was good.

“Since when?” one of the guys called.

“Yeah, come on, Ben,” Kelly Zandavol, Ben’s best friend since high school said as he nailed Ben with an I-don’t-believe-that-for-a-minute look.  “You can’t leave us hanging like that.  What’s she like?”

“No. Uh-huh.” Ben shook his head even as he took another drink. “You ain’t getting any more.”

“Dude,” Logan Murphy said, surveying his cards although there was only sparse attention to the actual game, “you know that you’re our in with the ladies. Now you’re gonna freeze us out just when it’s getting good?  What’s up with that?”  He rearranged the cards in his hand though presumably that didn’t help.  God Himself couldn’t help Logan with cards or with the ladies as he called them.  “If I can’t live through you, I’m doomed.”

“Not to mention the shape Kelly’ll be in,” Todd Rundell added.  “You know what that marriage thing can do to a guy.”

“Hey. Hey.” Kelly lifted his chin.  “Speak for yourself there.  Me and my lady are doing just fine.”

“Uh-huh.” Todd put down his beer, picked up his cards, and shuffled them back and forth in his hand.  “That’s why you’re over here at nearly midnight on a Friday night.”

“That’s better than you turkeys,” Kelly retorted. “At least I’ve got a woman to go home to.”

Logan laid three cards on the table.  “Three.”  He waited for Kelly to deal him three new ones.  “The man does have a point. Yes. Yes, he does.”

Ben took one more drink of the beer before setting it down and getting down to the business of raking more of his friends’ money to his side of the table. “Well, I’ll take beer and cards over having some chick looking over my shoulder all the time an-y-day.  Two.”  He waited and accepted the two cards Kelly gave him.  He fought not to let the disappointment in the hand show, but it didn’t work very well.  “Dang, Kelly.  I think you need to go back home to that lady of yours.  This dealing thing is not your forte.”

“Ha. Ha. Funny-man.  You in or out?” Kelly nodded to the table, indicating the betting had begun.

A long breath that Ben exhaled very slowly.  Finally he pushed his cards together. “I’m out.  No sense playing trash like that.”  He stood to go back into the kitchen, figuring if no one was leaving, they might as well get some sustenance.  Pushing the unbuttoned and rolled sleeves of his blue pin-striped work shirt up to his elbows, he reached into the cabinet and pulled out a bag of chips and another of pretzels.  With two rips he had them open.  He didn’t bother with the dish.  The guys didn’t care about that kind of stuff anyway.

“Ah, dude!  Aces? You’re kidding me!” Logan exclaimed as Ben headed back.

“Hey, you play, you pay,” Kelly said, raking all the money in the middle to his side of the table.  “So, are you at least gonna tell us her name?”

Ben put the bags in the center of the table.  He pulled a chip out and sat down, crunching loudly.  Truly, truly, he wished they would stop the questioning.  If they didn’t, he might have to resort to making things up.

Unfortunately, Kelly had known him too long.  He stopped gathering the cards and looked right at Ben who was crunching and drinking but not really looking up.  “You don’t know it, do you?”

“Know what?” Ben asked as if he had no clue what Kelly was talking about. Then he shrugged and grabbed another chip.  “Of course I do.  It was…”  For one second too long, his brain went on vacation.  “Cheris.  Her name was Cheris.”  He bit into the chip and smiled widely.  “See. I told you I knew it.”

“Uh-huh.” Kelly’s look told Ben he wasn’t at all sure if he believed that or not.

Truthfully, Ben wasn’t completely sure whether to believe himself or not. That whole night after the company party was a little fuzzy.  In fact, there were very few nights when he ended up in his bed or someone else’s that weren’t more than a little fuzzy.  Of course, the guys didn’t need to know that part, and they were on a need to know basis, if that.

The phone in the kitchen rang precluding anymore discussion of the subject.

“Speak of the devil,” Logan said as Ben’s gaze jumped at the sound.

Puzzled by who might be calling at midnight, other than Cheris—if that was her name—he got to his feet.  Then again, he didn’t think she had his phone number although she might.  Those details weren’t exactly clear. The thoughts swirled in his brain as he headed for the still ringing phone.

“Hi, honey,” Logan said sweetly.  “Oh, sure, you can come on over. I’ll just chase the guys out…”

Ben wanted to deck him, but he was already to the phone.  The guys all cracked up at the kissy noises Logan was making.  For grown men who were all 30-something, they certainly could be childish sometimes.  “Hello.”

“Uh. Mr… Mr. Warren?”

In the background he could hear the too familiar sounds of a medical facility.  Worry dropped on him as he spun and ducked next to the cabinet. “Yes, this is Ben Warren.”

“Uh, Mr. Warren, I’m sorry to bother you so late, but this is St. Anthony’s Hospital. Your father has just been admitted.  You are listed as his next of kin…”

The rest of the words evaporated in a swirl of alarm and concern.  “What? Is he okay?” He put his finger in his ear to block everything else out. “What happened?”

“I’m not really authorized to discuss it, but the doctors think it would be a good idea for you to get here as quickly as possible.”

Ben ran his hand through and over his thick, dark hair.  “Uh. Yeah.  Yeah. Okay.  I’ll be there as soon as possible.”

Somehow he ended the phone call, but it too was lost in the spinning of the world around him.  He closed his eyes and fought to breathe, hoping to make it stop.  However, when he opened his eyes, it was still tilting and shifting around him.  Decisions.  He had to make some decisions.  First, he needed to get to the hospital to see what was going on.  Pushing away from the cabinet, he stumbled through the myriad of possibilities as he headed through the living room.

Three surprised and very concerned faces gazed up at him.

“Something wrong?” Kelly asked.

“Uh. Yeah. I guess. I don’t know.  It’s my dad.”  None of the words seemed to even correlate with reality.  “I don’t know. Something happened.”

At the little closet, he pulled out the first jacket his hand found, and he yanked it on.  “You guys just lock up when you’re done.”

“You want me to go with you?” Kelly asked, standing.  His dark face was ash-washed with concern.

“No.”  Ben tried to shake the looks on his friends’ faces from his consciousness. “No. Of course not. I’m… I’m sure it’s nothing.”  Do they call you from the hospital at midnight if it’s nothing? He couldn’t answer that question, and he didn’t even want to try.  “I’ll just…” The words were jamming together in his brain in no distinct pattern. “Um… Just let yourselves out when you’re finished.  And be sure to lock up.”

Remembering he would have to drive, he patted his pockets and then looked around. “Keys?  Where are my keys?”

“By the front door where they always are?” Kelly asked, clearly tipping toward legitimate concern for his friend.

“Oh, yeah. Right.” Ben nodded, having no idea why.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go?”

“Yeah.  Yeah. I’m sure.  I’ll let you know.”  Taking the keys from the little hook, Ben wrenched the doorknob and for one second, considered reconsidering his friend’s offer.  He didn’t want to face whatever this was alone.  Then he took his ego by the collar and gave it a good shake.  He was Ben Warren, and Ben Warren didn’t back down from any challenge.  With that thought, he yanked the door open and headed to the hospital.

***

The final credits rolled up and off the screen as Kathryn Walker swiped at the tears streaming down her cheeks.  The only good thing was that she was alone, no one here to witness this pitiful display of sap and desperation.  She could hear Misty or Casey or her mother.  Ugh.  Her mother.  That was enough to dry all the tears with one single sniff.

Her mother would count this as verifiable proof that being unmarried was the single worst disposition a woman could have on this earth.  Especially a woman of 32 and three-quarter years.  As Kathryn stood, she sniffed again and walked over to the DVD player to replace that disc in its proper case.  It was strange how somewhere north of 28, she had started counting the months to and from her birthday like a ten-year-old.

“I’m still six months from being 30.”  “I’m only 30 and two months…”  It was pathetic really—as if there would be something magical about the four months before she was 30 and six months, or 31 and six months, or 35, or whatever.  At one time she had vehemently sworn to herself that by such-and-such an age, she would’ve found Mr. Right.  But when such-and-such became six months ago and then a year ago, and then five years ago, she had given up that game and morphed into the newest incarnation of singlehood—the defiant, “I kind of like it this way.  No, really, I do.  It’s easier…”

She wasn’t sure if anyone believed her.  She didn’t even believe her.  Especially on nights like tonight.  The movie that was supposed to cheer her up had hardly done that.  Instead, it had brought her face-to-face in vibrant color with the fact that everyone else found that perfectly perfect person for them through these neat, cute little coincidences that just, for whatever reason, never seemed to happen for her or to her.  She couldn’t quite tell which it was.  She wondered for the millionth time if they knew some secret that she didn’t.  However, she was pretty sure it was all just one big, stinking luck of the draw thing. And she was about as unlucky in that department as anyone had ever been.

As she flipped off the light and gingerly made her way through her dark apartment toward her bedroom, she went through the inventory of herself once more.  Weight—not bad, could be better, but not bad.  Looks—above average but definitely not model territory.  Financial standing—quite good actually.  Good job—check.  Moral with values—check.  Although honestly, she wasn’t sure if that one counted for her or against her.

Certainly she could have bedded many in the past if she had been into that existence, which she most definitely was not.  No.  Even snagging a guy wasn’t worth giving up her self-worth.  Besides, she knew quite a few who had done just that only to find divorce papers on the other side of the marriage certificate.

With a sigh, she climbed between the pressed cotton sheets and sighed.  Nope, the hard truth was all the good guys were long gone.  The only ones left had track records that read like rap sheets not to mention baggage from their several failed marriages and a couple of kids thrown in for good measure.  Still, as she did every night, she closed her eyes, snuggled into the covers and thought about him.  She had no real picture of him although she had seen him in her dreams on a couple of occasions—never his face, just vague pieces.

She snuggled deeper thinking about those pieces.  Like his hands.  She’d always liked his hands, with nice long fingers and a presence she couldn’t quite put into words.  And his dark hair.  That one always made her heart snag.  She would know that hair when she saw it.  Of that, she was sure.  She had seen it so many times in her dreams. Slowly sleep began to take over her senses, and as she drifted off, she let out a long sigh.  “God, please be with him wherever he is.  Keep him safe and guide him.  And please let him know that I already love him. Amen.”

***

The disorienting transition from the darkened parking lot and street lights into the blinding white light of St. Anthony’s emergency room cut right through Ben’s skull with the precision of a sharp scalpel.  He blinked it back, hoping he wouldn’t trip over something he couldn’t see because he never even slowed down all the way to the counter.  The nurse on the other side looked both bored and half-asleep.

“Excuse me, I need to know…” he started.

“Please get in line,” she said with no feeling to her voice at all.

“What?” He glanced around in confusion.  “There is no line.”

“All patients must get in line behind that sign.”  She pointed to the ceiling without so much as looking at it.

Ben looked around and up at the sign.  For privacy, please remain behind this line until you are called forward. The same was written again in Spanish and then in some language he neither spoke nor could decode.

“Please step behind the line and wait to be called.”

Man, he wanted to argue. More than he’d ever wanted to do anything in his life, he wanted to argue, but he sensed from Ms. No-Nonsense that doing so would only prolong this nightmare.  Tilting his head at that understanding, he nodded.  “Okay.”  He pushed back from the counter and took the four steps to the front of the non-existent line.  After a moment, he put his hands out to his side to indicate that he had fully complied with the request.

The nurse took her own sweet time as she finished up whatever she was doing.  Then, looking like she was bored to tears, she looked up.  “Next.”

Finally. Ben rushed forward.

“Name?” she asked.

“Um, it’s for my father.”

“Name?”

Frustration growled through him.  “Mine or his?”

She checked him with a condescending scowl.  “Are you the patient or is he?”

“He is.  They said they brought him in…”  Composure slipped away from him as he looked at his watch.  “Like an hour ago or something like that.”

“Okay.  His name?”  She put her fingers on the keyboard.

“Ron… uh, Ronald Warren.”

“Ronald F. Warren?”

“Yes.”

She nodded but didn’t continue.  As panic set into his heart, he arched forward, straining to see what was on that screen.  With a deepening scowl, she looked at him and turned the screen from his line of vision as he backed off.

“Sorry.”

You should be went through her eyes.  “Mr. Warren has been taken to the 8th Floor, Neurology.”

“Neurology?” Ben repeated the word, trying to understand the horrors it hid in its depths.

“Yes.”  The nurse glanced behind him.  “Next.”

It was a fight to keep his balance on an even keel as he turned from the desk and hurried to the elevators at the far end of the room.  This part he knew.  This part he had memorized.  The riding the elevator part—up to see doctors, down to see administrators—working to incorporate his company’s newest line of life-saving drugs into the hospital’s current regimen of patient care.

At the elevator, he hit the button and stepped back, putting his hand on the beltline of his jeans.  He arched first his gaze and then his neck to watch the numbers above the elevator slowly slide downward.  Part of him wanted them to speed up.  Part of him wanted them to stop altogether.  If they just stopped, then he wouldn’t have to deal with whatever came next.  He tried to think about what that might be—what neurology meant, what he should do if this was truly serious.

He let out a quick I’m-being-stupid breath and fought to tamp down the clutch of fear around his chest.  His father was fine.  Of course, he was fine.  He was, after all, only 66.  That was hardly old.  With the back of his hand, Ben scratched the side of his face as indiscriminant nerves attacked him.

The elevator dinged, yanking his attention upward.  He stepped back as those on the elevator disembarked, and then raking in a breath, he got on and hit the round number 8 button.  So many things.  So many memories and thoughts of the past and future criss-crossed in his brain as the little box slid upward.  Should he call his mother?  She would probably want to know.  Especially if it was serious.

What about Jason?  Surely his mother knew where his brother was.  She should make that call.  Ben certainly didn’t want to—even if he knew the number, which he didn’t.  Truth be known, he didn’t want to do any of this.  If he could somehow just skipped over the next hours or days or whatever this turned out to be, he would with no questions.  He didn’t do serious or responsibility very well.  How had the universe not gotten that memo?  Or maybe it had, and this would in fact turn out to be nothing.  False alarm.  Nothing to worry about.

The bell dinged, and he forced all the other thoughts and worries down into himself.  First, he would find out how bad it was.  Then he would figure out how best to proceed.

***

It wasn’t like there was a barking dog or even traffic noises this high up, so there was really no excuse for not being able to sleep.  However, Kathryn had endured more than one night like this, and she knew there was no forcing sleep.  In frustration, she flipped the covers off her legs and swung herself to the edge of the bed.

“Ugh.” Why did life have to be so impossible?  She stood carefully and got her balance before turning her steps for the kitchen.

Over the sink, she turned on the little light and squinted into it.  Two blinks and her eyes began to accept the invasion of the light.  On auto-pilot and with a yawn, she went first to one cabinet, then to the other, gathering what she needed for chamomile tea.  It was her first line of defense on nights such as these.  If this didn’t work, she’d be back for hot chocolate in an hour.  Then melatonin if all else failed.

She filled the little cup with hot water from the tap.  It would give the tea that funny after-taste she hated, but it was quicker than going the kettle route, and since she’d read that stupid email about not heating water in the microwave, she’d been too much of a coward to try that again.  Instead, she took her mostly lukewarm water to the counter and put in the teabag.

In no time the clear water had turned to a dull brownish-yellow.  With one half teaspoon of sugar, she lifted it to her lips.  “Ugh.”  Terrible as she figured it would be.  Not caring, she lifted it again, switch off the light, and headed back for her bedroom.

***

“Mr. Warren, your father has suffered a massive stroke.” The doctor in the white coat that Ben had never met before gave the news softly but with noted firmness.

The little consultation room seemed to close in on Ben as he shifted in the chair. He swallowed that feeling down. “Okay.”

“As next of kin, where we go from here is pretty much up to you and the good Lord,” the doctor continued obviously assuming Ben had some connection to the Creator that he really didn’t.

Ben narrowed his focus, trying to find the answers the doctor seemed to think he had.  “I… Okay.  Um.  What are our options?”

“Well, we’ve stabilized him as much as we can.  At this point, we could try surgery although with his heart history and his present condition, I can’t guarantee anything.”

Ben absorbed the news with another swallow, a nod, and a small shift backward.  “Heart.  Yeah… Okay.  So…”

“We have an MRI scheduled for the morning to determine the exact extent of the damage.  Once we get those results, we will probably know more about how to proceed.”

“Okay. Good.”  It was incomprehensible that he should know what to say.  “Um, can I see him?”

“He’s in ICU right now.  They’re getting him settled.  You can have a seat in the waiting area.  ICU visits don’t really start until 8 a.m., but for you, I’ll make an exception.  Your father and I played many rounds of golf together.  I know he would want you to have this time if…”  The words stopped.  “Well, he would want you to have this time.”

Although Ben tried to wrap his mind around all of this and think it through, the truth was he was lost, like being in a forest with no trail and only brambles and briars for as far as the eye could see.  How or why he had gotten dropped here, he had no idea.  Where he was supposed to go from here was even vaguer. “Um, do you… do you think I should call my mother and… well, should I let everyone know?”

The pause was almost imperceptible, and then the doctor nodded.  “I think that would be wise.”

Chapter 2

The night in the hospital waiting room, propped up next to the wall was the longest of Ben’s life.  He didn’t really sleep, only nodded off once or twice.  He’d tried to call his mother.  She wasn’t home, but the help would leave a message.  His mind had gone around and around the question of calling Jason, but he’d finally decided against it mostly because he didn’t know his number or even the exact name of the town he lived.

They’d only let him back to see his father once sometime around three in the morning.  The best thing Ben could say about the visit was it was mercifully brief owing to the hospital rules about ICU visits.  Those five minutes had been spent with his hands in his pockets, back practically pressed to the wall by the door.  He didn’t want to go closer.  He didn’t want to see.

Beeps from the monitors were the only indication that the man lying in the bed wasn’t already gone.  Gone.  It was such a strange word—especially in association with his father.  There was a time, before the divorce when his father had been gone a lot.  Actually, his father was there, just not in a traditional sense.  As head of the regional neurology department for the hospitals in the area, his father was a very busy man.  He was charged with saving lives, and the fact that other things paled in comparison was just reality.

And then the divorce came, and everything changed…

Ben let the breath go from his lungs as he thought about his mother and his parents’ marriage.  The time when she had been present was so far gone that he hardly remembered them being together.  At least that’s what he told himself.  It was easier that way.  Easier to forget his mother leaving him to watch Jason in the car while she went into that house on Macasy Street.  Yes, he wished he could forget that.  And he wished he could forget the fights and the tears and the ripping of his heart as he watched her car turn the corner out of sight that last day after being in court.

At the time he hadn’t had all the pieces, and in truth he still didn’t.  But in adulthood, he’d filled in many of them so that the story at least made some sense now.  His father’s absence was the excuse she used to find comfort in the arms of another man—Macasy Street.  That had always been his name to Ben.  Honestly, he’d only seen glimpses of the man, but they still brought up an irrational anger so dark that it threatened to swallow him whole.

Even now when he let the hard clamped mask over his heart slip, he felt that fury clutch his throat, choking the life from him.  No.  It was better not to remember.  The problem was with so much time, remembering was harder to keep at bay than usual. He shifted in his seat next to the wall.  The room was again coming to life, slowly, a few bodies at a time, they drifted in.  He looked over at the clock and mentally had to search for how long from 7:34 it would be until 8 o’clock.  Taking a breath, he closed his eyes to push it all away.  He didn’t want to be here.

The bleep of his phone brought him forward, and he yanked it from his pocket.  With one touch he had it to his ear.  “Warren.”

“Hey, bro.  I’m sorry.  Did I wake you?”

Ben laughed at the thought and scratched his head.  “Hey, Kell.  How’s it going?”

“I’m fine.  How’s it going with you?”

It was strange how hard it had become just to breathe.  He looked around, tilted his neck to stretch it first one way and then the other.  “I’ve been better.”

“How’s your dad?”

His head fell forward on the weight of the situation.  He couldn’t find the words.  They just were not there.  “I… Um… It’s not good, Kell.  It’s not.”

Kelly didn’t say a thing for a moment as he absorbed the news.  “I’m sorry to hear that.  What happened?”

“Well, I’m not real clear on the details, but at like 11 last night his maid found him in the kitchen.  He had a stroke.”

“A TIA.  Right?”

“No.  This one was massive.  Almost like an aneurism from what I can figure based on what they’re not telling me.  He’s in ICU.”  Defiantly, though he couldn’t clearly determine who the enemy was, Ben sat back and put his head on the wall. “I just… I wasn’t ready for this, you know?  I mean, I just talked to him the other day, and he sounded fine.  We were going to go golfing next weekend…”

“Do you want me to come down there?”

Ben deflated.  “No.  There’s not really anything you can do.”

The pause stretched between them.

“Are you going to call your mom?”

“I tried.  Last night.  She’s out.  I don’t even know what that means.  Out.  With Mom, that could mean in the Caribbean, in Hawaii, or on the moon.”

“The moon?”

“You know what I mean.”

Ding. The speaker cracked on.  “It’s 8 a.m.  Visiting for ICU.”

Looking up at the speaker, Ben wanted to punch it to get it to shut up.  “Listen, Kell.  I’ve got to go.  Visiting hours.”  What he really wanted to do was act like he’d never heard the announcement.  What difference would it make?  His father couldn’t hear him anyway.  Besides, he was not equal to this task.  No possible way.

“Call me.  Okay? Whatever.  You don’t have to do this alone.”

“Yeah.”  But he didn’t believe a word of it.  He was alone.  More alone than he had ever been.

***

“Don’t start.” Kathryn stirred her oolong tea as her steamed rice sat heaped on her plate Saturday afternoon.

“I’m just sayin’,” her sister, Casey said.  Casey, younger by three years and moved two-hours out to the suburbs so these little get togethers had gotten few and far between, sat like a pixy on the edge of her chair flicking things back and forth on her plate.

Anger plowed over Kathryn. “No.  No just sayin’.  I don’t want to hear it. Okay?”

“Kate, if I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t suggest it, but I see how miserable you are.”

“Oh, and you’re not?  I don’t see you doing cartwheels, Mrs. Married for eight years with two kids.”

“Well, but it’s different for me.  Brett makes me crazy.  You know that.  He always has.”  Casey laid her hand across the table until it rested on Kathryn’s wrist.  “But I love him, and he loves me.  I just want that for you, Kate.  Is that so wrong?”

“No.”  Kathryn picked up her fork and rearranged the white grains as she yanked a long piece of blonde hair over her ear.  “It’s just… It’s not the same for me.  You fell in love in college.  College wasn’t exactly a picnic in that department for me.”

“So, you were a late bloomer.  So what?”

“Cas, I’m 32.  Thirty.  Two.”

“Almost thirty-three, but who’s counting?  Come on, Kate.  You’re smart, and you’re so kind and helpful and…”

“Doomed to be single forever.”

“No.  Not true.  You just have to get out there.  You spend entirely too much time at work and in that apartment of yours.”

“I like my apartment.”

“And I’m sure it likes you back.  Come on, Kate.  Face it.  If the only places you ever go are work and home, how are you ever going to meet someone?”

“I go other places.”  Kathryn hated the defensiveness in her voice.

“Like where?”

“Church.”  Okay.  It was lame.  But it really wasn’t.  She’d been in the singles group until she got too old.  Of course, she could join the re-single group, but that had no appeal.

“Are there any prospects at church?”

Her heart skipped just a little at the thought.  She smiled before she could stop it. “Well, there is this one guy.  He came in a couple weeks ago.  He sat a couple benches ahead of me.”

“A ring?”

“Not that I could tell.”

“Alone?”

“Yes.”  It was like pushing the words off a cliff.  She didn’t want to think them, to go down that road because she’d been disappointed after getting her hopes up so many times, she had this feeling memorized.

“No ring.  Coming to church alone.  Good. Good.” Casey considered those for a moment as she ate her noodles slowly.  “Age?”

“I don’t know.  A little younger?  A little older.  That’s kind of hard to tell anymore.”  Kathryn let her fork go and sipped her tea.

“So, in the right age-range roughly, new to church.  I think you should introduce yourself.”

Horror painted her face red hot as she shook her ponytail back and forth.  “I’m not introducing myself.  Are you crazy?”  She ducked at the thought that anyone in the restaurant had overheard the conversation.  “He’ll think I’m insane.”

“So you’d rather some other insane chick gets him first?”

“Casey!”

Her sister frowned. “What?  You do your level best to melt into the woodwork, Kate, and then you wonder why no one notices you.”

“I can’t…. I couldn’t…. I’m not like you.”  She went back to her rice though she had lost her appetite completely.

“And you have thanked God for that on regular occasions.”

“That’s not true,” Kathryn said although she knew it was a lie.

“Yes it is, but thanks for trying.”  Casey spun her fork in her noodles three times.  “Look.  All I’m saying is it wouldn’t hurt to go out once in awhile.  You know, get yourself out there.”

A thought traced through Kathryn’s head, and she bit her tongue to keep it from coming out.  No.  Don’t say it. Don’t tell her.  You know what she’ll say. Don’t say it.  Don’t say it! “Well, Misty said…”  Kathryn ducked, hating herself for saying it the instant it was out.

“Yes?  Continue.”  Casey circled her fork in the air, her gaze suddenly excited and full of anticipation.

Kathryn shrugged, smiled, and then laughed as she ducked over her rice.  “Well, she’s got this cousin or something.”

This time Casey laid her fork all the way down.  “And…?”

“I don’t know.  She said he’s back in town, and he’s single…”

“Hello!  What are you waiting for—an engraved invitation?”

“I don’t know.”  Kathryn scrunched her nose in embarrassed apprehension.  “A blind date?  Isn’t that kind of… I don’t know… desperate?”

“Well, I guess that would depend on what you wear and if you sit on his lap and ask him to marry you before you get in the car.”

Annoyance flooded over Kathryn.  “You’re terrible.  I would never do something like that.”

The laughing taunt left Casey’s face.  “Look, all I’m saying, big sister, is that Mr. Right is obviously not going to just fall into your lap.  You’ve got to stop waiting around and be a little more proactive in the search.  Who knows, Mr. Cousin Guy might be him, or maybe he knows him, or maybe when you’re at the restaurant, him will come around the corner, and you’ll just know.  It’s not like it’s an exact science, you know.”

Kathryn picked up her tea and sipped it carefully although it was by now only tepid.  “Yeah, tell me about it.”

***

Sleep sounded heavenly.  After being at the hospital for 18 hours straight, Ben boarded the elevator that made him sway as it started downward.  He ran his hand over the back of his head wishing any of this made sense.  He still hadn’t gotten in touch with his mother, and his father’s condition, though stabilized, did not look any better.  In fact, the MRI was inconclusive because of some swelling on the brain.

The doctor told him that was normal, but nothing was normal now.  Nothing.  On the ground floor, he followed the others out, thinking how long of a walk the parking lot seemed.  He had run marathons that were shorter.

“Ben?”

Instinctively he turned at the sound of his name as Travis Steele, one of the younger doctors in oncology, stepped up to him.  He put out his hand, and Ben shook it.

“I was sorry to hear about your dad,” Travis said.  “He’s one of the good guys. How’s he doing?”

Ben stepped back into his cocoon of personal space.  “Not great.  They’re waiting for the swelling to go down so they can figure out what to do.”  Was it just him or did the whole world seem like some strange, psychedelic dream all of a sudden?  Who was this saying these things?  It couldn’t be him.  He didn’t even understand them himself and yet somehow he sounded like he understood it all perfectly.

“Oh. Sorry to hear about that.” Travis looked to the side.  “Listen, I was just about to go get some coffee if you’d like to join me.”

Not really.  But he heard himself say, “Okay.  Sure.”

In fact once they sat down, Ben found it was nice to have someone to talk with that understood at least a minimum of his situation.  That was comforting.

“I wish I knew,” Ben said as they discussed what happened if things went south with his dad’s condition.  “It’s just me here.  My mom lives in Oakland, and my little brother… Well, I’m not even real sure where he lives.  I don’t know if they’d come for the funeral or not.”  Once again the sheer weirdness of the whole situation descended on him.  He thought about Dr. Steele, a young man—probably younger than even himself, and for the first time, Ben thought about the other side of saving lives.  “How do you do it?”

“Do what?” Travis took a small drink of the coffee.

“How do you come here every day when you know some of your patients aren’t going to make it?  Doesn’t that make you crazy?”

“It can.  At first it was much worse, and even now, sometimes it’s rough, but you learn to do what you can, care as much as you can, and then let go.  Sometimes what you do works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  The final call’s not up to me.  God makes that one.  But sometimes it’s easier than others to agree He made the right one.”

God.  There was a topic Ben did not want to discuss.  He wondered then if every doctor who practiced at St. Anthony’s had to swear by some oath of faith or something.  He’d never really thought about it before.  However, before he could ask, Dr. Steele looked at his watch.

“Well, I’d better get back.  I’m on call tonight.”

“Oh, well.”  Ben scrambled to his feet, his spirit lagging a good six inches behind every move he made.  “Thanks.”

Dr. Steele extended his hand.  “I hope you get a miracle.  I’ll be praying for one.”

“Th-thanks.”

***

Macaroni for one.  Kathryn pushed it around her plate and then around again as she sat at her counter, a single glass of water the only other thing on it.  Bored, she turned and grabbed the day old newspaper from the coffee table, propped it up and leaned forward on the stool.  It wasn’t interesting.  Politics and foreign affairs—neither of which were more than distractions for her.  She read the first few paragraphs of three stories before giving up and pitching it back onto the coffee table.  She would never see what others found so fascinating.

After taking her plate to the sink, washing it off, and putting it in the dishwasher, she trekked into the living room.  Curling onto the couch, she grabbed the remote, aimed it at the television and started flipping through the channels.  One led to the next and then to the next.  How could there be that many channels and nothing to watch?  Putting her head back onto the cushions, she continued through the channels, hoping she had missed something.  She hadn’t.

Finally she clicked the thing off and let the darkness envelope her. Her spirit plummeted into it and through it.  Maybe Casey was right.  Maybe she should tell Misty she’d go out with what’s his name.  She bounced her toe up and down trying to decide. It couldn’t be any worse than sitting alone in her apartment for hours on end. Could it?

Try as she might, she couldn’t find one thing that wasn’t completely depressing about her current existence.  The plain truth was, she was tired of being alone.  “God, why are You making me wait?” she asked the ceiling.  “I don’t understand this.  I really don’t.  Look.  If he’s not coming, would You please just tell me so I can quit thinking about it?”

Silence.

Utter, total, complete, maddening silence.

Even the soft ringing of her ears was louder than God’s answer.

“Great.”  She sprang to her feet.  “That’s just great, God.  Thanks for that.  Really. I’ll be sure to put an extra five in the collection plate tomorrow.”  Stomping to her room although she had to be careful what with her sock feet on the hardwood floors, Kathryn let the anger and frustration boil over.  She didn’t need a man.  She’d survived this long without one.  Besides a man meant she’d have to deal with kids.  The others at work were always complaining about how expensive day care was, not to mention braces and dance lessons.

As she brushed her teeth, she reasoned at least she didn’t have to waste money on things like that.  No.  She had a whole apartment all to herself.  If she left her underwear on the floor, nobody was there to complain.  If she let the dishes stack up, that was okay too. No one cared.

And yet, as she went into her bedroom and sat down on the bed, sadness took over.  She laid her clasped hands in her lap and closed her eyes.  “God, really I don’t understand this.  I don’t.”  Slowly she slid from the bed to the floor.  Kneeling there, she laid her head on her hands.  “God, please.  If being married is not what You want for me, then please, please take this desire away.  I can’t take living like this all the time, feeling like something should be happening when it isn’t.  Please.  Somehow, just give me peace. I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”

But she knew she really had no choice in the matter.  If God didn’t send her soulmate, there was really not much she could do other than to continue to wait and pray.  Her heart filled with thoughts of the “him” she didn’t even know, and the familiar words came once again.  “God, please be with him tonight, keep him safe, and guide him in the ways You want him to go.  Dear Lord, please put Your hand on his life, guide him, protect him, and give him peace.  Amen.”

***

The brakes under Ben squealed the car to a halt as the white car flashed by him through the intersection.  “Hello!  What does red light mean to you?  Jerk!”

Collecting his scattering nerves, Ben smashed his foot on the pedal and took off through his light which was still green.  “Stupid, idiot drivers.  Get a clue or get off the road!”

He knew in some deep place in himself that he was out of control and on the edge of completely losing it, but he didn’t want to think about that.  The street lights flashed over the top of the Mustang, drifting across the shiny paint like ghosts from another existence.  Putting his elbow up on the armrest, he let his head down onto his hand as he stopped at the next red light.  At this rate it was going to be midnight or better before he got home.

Home.  That would seem odd in a way it never had before.  That’s where he was, where he had been before his world had turned upside down.  Pushing that and everything else back down, he drove through the crowded Saturday night streets, hardly realizing that had this been a normal Saturday night, he would surely have been cruising these same streets looking for some action.  Right now all he wanted to find was a pillow and a bed.

It was another 30 minutes before he pulled up to his apartment.  Another five before he closed the apartment door behind him and leaned up against it.  Home.

He didn’t bother to turn the lights on.  What was the point?  Instead he pitched his keys to the little hallway table and wrenched his jacket off.  Tired had never felt like this.  Even hangovers were better.  At least with them, he had a vague memory of fun and partying to remind him of why he felt so bad.  This just felt bad through and through.

Going into the kitchen, he considered a beer but decided against it.  Instead he got some water from the tap, which he hated but downed the whole thing without tasting any of it.  He felt at the moment like he might never again slake his thirst or be fully rested.  He was so tired.  So incredibly tired.  Two steps back to the door and he saw the blinking message light on his answering machine sitting on his counter.  Like a robot, he punched the button and leaned his head against the door post to keep himself from sliding to the ground.

Beep.  “Ben.  Dude.  I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.”  Kelly.

Ben wondered what time that one had been left, but somehow he had missed that part of the message.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll try your cell.”

Beep.  “Ben. Hi.  This is Charissa… from the party.”

His eyes rolled upward before letting them fall all the way closed. Not now.

“Listen, I got your number from Cameron.  I hope you don’t mind.  I really had a good time the other night.  I’d like to see you again.  Call me.  K?”

She left her number in a sultry tone just before the machine went beep.  And then it went dark.  Without bothering to even think of responding to either, Ben picked himself up off the wall and headed for the shower.  He wanted to get off this nightmare of a ride.  He wondered if someone could let him off.  It would be nice.

The hot water from the shower sent humidity into the air, and although Ben wanted to get in under it, he found himself at his sink, knowing he should be doing something but not at all sure what that something was.  Then he looked into the mirror.  His eyes were sunken and sad.  He didn’t remember ever seeing them like that before.  How could he ever get through this?  This wasn’t the life he wanted.  He didn’t do responsibility well.  Never had. Careless and reckless were much more his style.

Too tired to dwell on that, he headed for the shower and was already under the current before he remembered he was going to shave.  Oh, well.  Granted, two full days of stubble were becoming far more than a mere five-o’clock shadow by this point.  If he kept this up, even he wouldn’t recognize himself.  The shower was accomplished only by marshalling all of the energy he had left.  Still, each movement was made in ultra-slow, by sheer-force-only motion.  It seemed slow was the only gear accessible to him anymore.

When he cut the water, he grabbed the nearest towel, put it around him, and went back out to the bedroom.  Sure, he normally did things like brush and dry his hair, brush his teeth, dress for bed.  But little things like that were lost in the thick haze of exhaustion.  He wasn’t even sure he was in the bed before he was asleep.

***

Sunday mornings always dawned with glorious sunrises followed by soft white and pale yellow light streaming in her bedroom window.  Kathryn loved Sundays. She awoke bathed in that heavenly light as she did every Sunday. Sundays were always special because she got to sleep in a bit later and so the sun had a little more chance to break over the horizon and make it into her room.  Breathing life in, she smiled.  Maybe today was the day.  Maybe today she would meet the guy two rows up at church.  Before she was even out of bed, she started plotting.  If he was there before she was, maybe she could just innocently sit next to him.

That wouldn’t be too forward, would it?  It might be, she finally decided.  Maybe she could sit behind him.  Then when they did the sign of peace, he would turn and shake her hand.  A fantasy played out featuring the two of them, their eyes meeting, their hearts beating as one.  She let those thoughts run their course because they were so much better than reality ever was.

Dragging in an excited breath, she arched her shoulders over the possibilities.  Maybe today was the day.


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Ebook Romance Stories: Review of “Cowboy”


Cowboy New 2-2014Cowboy by Staci Stallings

Reviewed By:  Michelle Sutton

Wow! Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a single mom, working your tail off to make ends meet,and then in walks Garth Brooks into your dumpy little restaurant on a slow, rainy night? He’s dressed casually and he asks you for a simple cup of coffee…but he needs a whole lot more. He’s down in the dumps and feels like nothing will make him want to keep on living.

Since you’re not a fan of country music and your job as a waitress and parenting your five-year-old is your entire life, you don’t recognize him. Okay, well maybe not someone as famous as Garth, but hey, I don’t know what most of the country superstars look like so it’s possible. 🙂

Anyway, you don’t recognize him and the guy is so depressed he throws caution to the wind and shares his heart with you, but he gives you his real name because he’s sick of the superstar treatment. You connect on a deep level. One that’s from the heart because you’re not star-struck by him…Remember, you don’t realize he’s famous. Then he asks for your phone number so you can keep in touch and as a sister in Christ you give it to him because you really do want to minister to the guy. You feel his pain. You’ve experienced the same loss when your spouse died.

Well he starts calling you and you strike up a pretty profound friendship based on mutual respect and the human need to be valued for who you really are, not what people see you as on the outside (a famous singer or waitress.) Your friendship deepens and he sees his need for God, but resists like most people do at first. Are you with me yet? Okay, the waitress is Charlize Theron and the singer is Garth Brooks.

I can SO see this as a movie it gives me the goose bumps. Staci’s novel Cowboy had me SO captivated that I read it every chance I got. I cared so much about the characters that I hated for the story to end. The pacing was excellent, and Staci does something neat that you don’t see often in books. She sometimes changes points of view on a frequent basis, but the breaks are obvious when the view changes, so it’s not head hopping. I found that technique highly effective in her story. It literally swept me away.

As far as romance themes go, it was one of the strongest I’ve read. My heart ached and I longed for them to be together, to make it work. And the singer’s relationship with the waitresses’ daughter will bring tears to your eyes. It did mine. This was the most fabulous Cinderella type story I’ve ever read and it was totally unique. Nothing stereotypical or cliche whatsoever.

Did I mention this story was fabulous? You’re probably thinking I like everything. NOT so. In fact, I read a lot of books you never see my post because I can’t rave about them. This story I was obsessed with. Truly. And the honesty in their relationship when it came to physical attraction and temptation was refreshingly real. They were both married before and lost their spouses. Of COURSE they would be tempted. The author showed this with tact, but real emotion and I felt like I was right there with them. The author’s ability to make you care about the characters is right up there with Lori Wick (in my mind anyway.) So, that said…if you don’t read Cowboy you are truly missing out on one of the most gripping contemporary romances I’ve read in the past three years.

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Ebook Romance Stories

by:  Staci Stallings

Romance stories have been around since long before Romeo and Juliet, even before Penelope and Odysseus.  Why?  Because romance is in the heart of a woman and every man who loves a woman.

We love romantic stories about heroic men and the women they love.  We enjoy reading about love stories that have happily ever after at the end.  It’s not a weakness, it’s a strength.

For if at the end of time three things will last, and these are faith, hope, and love, do you not also remember that the “greatest of these is love”?

Love is what we’re all seeking, what we all desire.  We want to love and to be loved, and in the pages of romance novels, we get to experience that in some small breath.

But what of Christian romance novels, which Ebook Romance Stories focuses on?  What sets them apart from the others?

What sets Christian romance stories apart from the other romance novels is their ability to not just show the love of a man for a woman, but in their further ability to portray God’s love for us all.

God’s love is there for us no matter what–single or married, tough times and good.  When death strikes or trouble comes, when we’re on top of the mountain or down in the valley, God’s love is right there with us.  It is unconditional and it never fails. And when we mesh the love of a man for a woman with the love God gives each of them, we come away with an unbreakable bond that truly does spell happily ever after, not just in this life but in the next.

So journey with us through these romance stories.  Some are available as free online books.  Some are available as Amazon Kindle books and/or BN Nook Books.  Still others are in-print.  Some are best selling, others are looking for that right person to review them so they can become bestselling. You can also find the first chapter of several books to read as well as excerpts and links to Amazon and BN to get the ebooks!

We hope you enjoy the site–Ebook Romance Stories as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together.  Feel free to share your “find” of this site with others.  Most of all, we hope you learn to fall in love all over again with “Christian romance at its Best!” that is found on every page of this site!

Happy Reading!

The Ebook Romance Stories Staff