Tag Archive | Excerpt

Ebook Romance Stories: The Easy Way Out, Excerpt

The Easy Way Out final 1-21-2014Excerpt from The Easy Way Out

From the second she had awakened late at her parents’ house, the day had been one long Excedrin headache for Charity. She felt like the ugly stepsister playing nursemaid to Cinderella. Charity, do this. Hurry up, Charity, we’re going to be late to the salon. Just let her do your hair, Charity. Stop complaining. Come on, we don’t have all day. You should’ve done that last night. And they were all in on it, too—even Hart who usually took her side in the confrontations with her family.

No, today was Harmony’s day, and basically that meant that Charity was only there to get yelled at, stepped over, and complained about. When Harmony and Aaron made their way over to the three-tiered cake looking as sugary sweet as the cake itself, Charity could take no more. Without bothering to tell anyone where she was going, she pushed out of the hall and headed in the first direction her feet carried her.

October meant the skies darkened much earlier so that although it was only 8:30, Atlanta was already dark save for the amber streetlights blanketing the parking lot. Where she was going didn’t matter much. She could walk to Jamaica, and as long as nothing went wrong, no one would notice she was gone.

The worst part was that if it was just this one day, she could’ve handled that, but Harmony had always been first in their hearts, and Charity was sure she always would be. Harmony was the child who could do no wrong. She caused no trouble in high school, and once she had graduated, she had left home, gone to school, got a job, and found a man—all without so much as lifting her little finger.

Charity had heard the phrase, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” so many times it should’ve been permanently engraved on her forehead by now. But no matter what she did, she could never be Harmony. No. Charity was the family screw-up. It was well-documented in all her school records.

Fights, cheating, lying, almost being expelled on two separate occasions, and finally dropping out when it all got too hard—that was Charity. To begin with she had tried to be like Harmony, then when it became clear that nothing she ever did would ever be good enough to justify her place in the family, she had given up even trying.

The October air was cool against her bare shoulders, but even as she looked down at her dress, a picture of Harmony in full wedding attire flashed through her mind and what she really wanted to do was rip the dress right off her body and throw it in the garbage.

“Argh!” In frustration she kicked a rock, sending it skittering across the parking lot. It was then that she saw the figure emerge from the shadows of the cars, and for one moment, fear said she should run. However, just before that message reached her feet, she realized who it was. Drew. And in a rush the annoyance with the whole lousy day returned. “What are you doing out here?”

He smiled at her sadly and slowly lifted the bottle in his hand into the light. “I’m not real big on champagne.”

Charity laughed the first real laugh she had all day. “You want some company?”

Drew shrugged and leaned back against the car before taking another drink. She walked up and leaned onto the car beside him.

“You want some?” He offered her the bottle, and she took it and tipped it up.

“Hmmm.” She closed her eyes as all the friction from the day slid away from her. “So, what are you doing out here?”

He shrugged. “I can only take being on my best behavior so long, and then I start to spontaneously-combust.”

“I hear you there. If I have to take one more picture, I might just break that guy’s camera.”

“Yeah, and this monkey-suit is about as comfortable as a grass sack.”

“Here.” She turned to him and loosened the bowtie at his neck. “No reason to be so formal out here.”

He smiled at her as she resumed her place against the car.

“Okay, so you know my story, what’s yours?” he asked off-handedly as he tipped the bottle up and took another drink.

Without asking, she reached for the bottle in his hand, tipped it up, and took a long swallow—enjoying how the liquid burned all the way down her throat and into her stomach.

“Perfection is highly overrated,” she finally said, dropping the bottle but not returning it to his hand. “Being reminded that I’m not tends to make me a little squirrelly.”

His forehead knotted. “Harmony?”

“My whole family.” She took another drink. “The fact that I’m the weak link isn’t lost on a single one of them.”

“The weak link?”

“Hey, Charity! You out here?” Hart called from the hall doors, and instantly she thrust the bottle back to Drew who quickly stowed it in his car. “Charity!”

“I’m coming!” she yelled back, waiting just long enough for Drew to find his way to her side.

“They’re throwing the bouquet.”

“Oh, great,” Charity said under her breath.

“Hang in there,” Drew said softly. “One more hour, and life will go on.”

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Ebook Romance Stories: To Protect & Serve, Excerpt

To Protect & Serve

Book 1

~The Courage Series ~

“I won’t let you fly away.” Jeff stepped over to Lisa, careful to keep the kite in the air as he reached down for her hand. One second of hesitation, and her slim, smooth hand latched onto his. She stood, and he didn’t miss the brush she did to the backside of her jeans. Gently he pulled her farther away from the tree, and out into the open field where he transferred control of the kite to her. “It’s not hard.”

However, the second she took control, her face set as if she was working on a micro-chemical component in a laboratory that might explode at any moment. His gaze chanced over her.

“Hey, this is supposed to be fun, remember?” he asked, but with only inches separating them, even he was having trouble remembering that.

“I’m not very good at fun,” she said, and he noticed how her whole body set to alert at the very word.

“Well, then we need to work on that.” Carefully he reached around her, and although the curve of her arm was only a breath from his, he managed to keep just that much distance between them. “Roll some out.” His hand helped hers without touching it.

“Aren’t you worried about highline wires?” she asked.

He laughed. “Look around you, do you see any highline wires?”

She brushed the hair out of her face from the breeze. “Well, no.”

“Here, let’s sit.” He folded himself onto the grass.

Her gaze jumped down to him nervously. “What?”

Reaching up, he took her hand, and his brain said that highline wires weren’t the only electricity conductors in the area. “It’s okay.” He pulled her down next to him. However, she sat like a rod, and the inches she put between them felt like miles. “Here. Man, you’re using way too much energy.” Gently he took her shoulders and pulled her back until her head was resting on the top of his thigh. “Now relax.”

“Relax,” she said as though she was having to tell herself how to do that.

“You don’t do this much, do you?”

“What? Fly kites?”

“Not work.” The middle of his chest filled as he looked down at her, the breeze blowing the loose strands of hair across her face. Softly he reached down, caught them, and wound them back around her ear.

“No,” she said, and her eyes turned liquid when her gaze caught his. After a moment, her gaze traveled back up to the kite. “No time.”

“There’s always time for the things that are really important.”

She squirmed. “Work is important.”

“So is this.”

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Welcome, Readers… Your Search for Great Books Has Ended!

With the advent of ebook readers, reading has become more fun than ever!

But with the avalanche of fiction novels hitting the market every single day, how do you decide what to read and what to pass on? How can you find great books that take your breath away?

It’s tough, we know, but here at Ebook Romance Stories, we want to help you find great Christian and inspirational fiction novels that you will want to read again and again and again.

In fact, here’s what one of our readers said,

“I fell in love with this story, so much so, that I read the novel again the next day. I hated to say goodbye to these characters.”

That’s what we think you should say about every book you choose to read too!

We’re not talking about just good books.  We’re talking great books!

The problem is, how do you find those kinds of great books–the kind you want to read again and again?  Searching through Amazon and Barnes & Noble can be tedious and time-consuming.  So we want to take the guesswork out of the equation and introduce you to a Christian author you are going to fall in love with…

Best Selling Christian Romance Author

Staci Stallings

However, instead of us telling you about the great books you can find on this site, we’ll let actual readers tell you what they think of these awesome fiction novels:

  • “I was just going to start this story when going to bed and finish reading the next day…I was hooked.”
  • “I started reading the first two chapters on the author’s site….and got hooked for a variety of different reasons.”
  • “I had problems getting anything else done while reading this book.”
  • “This book makes you realize how many things in life keep us from being where we should be.”
  • “Full of truths and illustrations of God’s grace…”
  • “The ending of this wonderful novel actually made me cry, in a good way. It was a beautiful ending to a most beautifully written love story.”

So if you’re looking for quality novels, you’ve definitely come to the right place.

Feel free to browse the fiction novels available.

Read The Stories

Peruse an Excerpt or two

Even read the first Chapter of every fiction novel on the site.

You can’t go wrong choosing a Staci Stallings book from Ebook Romance Stories!

There truly are great books galore all over this site, so enjoy!

Peace and blessings to you…

And have a fabulous time reading and being inspired!

Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt Princess

Princess final 1-14-2014Excerpt from Princess

Taking the concrete steps two at a time, Anthony Russell hurried to the front door of the Language Building, which he opened with barely a yank. He was late, and he knew it.

“God, please don’t let her leave. Please,” he begged as he all-but ran down the hall to the Conference Rooms. “She’s my last chance.” With no pretense, he yanked that door open and strode into the room.

“May I help you?” the secretary, sitting primly at the desk, asked.

“I’m here…” Anthony glanced around for anyone who looked like a tutor that he could introduce himself to before she left. “For tutoring.”

“Oh, yes. Mr. Russell, how nice to meet you,” the secretary said with a warm smile. “I watch all of your games.”

“That’s nice,” he said without really hearing her comment. Then he stopped himself. “I mean…uh…thank you…Do you…uh…know where I am supposed to go by any chance?”

“Oh, yes. The end of the hall. She’s been here awhile.”

“Thank you.” Anthony turned down the hallway. She’s been here awhile. She’s been here awhile. Great! Awhile? Awhile? What is that? Ten minutes? Fifteen? This was not the way he had wanted to start out.

At the end of the hall, he pushed the door open with one shove, and half-an-instant later heard the crash on the other side as the door hit a chair that was standing too close.

CRASH! The girl seated at the tiny table jumped up so fast, she knocked her own chair to the floor as well, and when it hit the floor, she jumped again.

“Oh, man,” Anthony said as embarrassment swept over him. He held a hand up to calm the all-out panic in her face. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I am so sorry.”

A fall of wavy brown hair followed her motion as she reached down to yank her chair from the floor.

“Here, let me get that for you,” Anthony said, mortified by his clumsiness. As he crossed the room in one stride, he slung his books onto the little table. But just as he reached for her chair, he heard the first book hit the floor on the table’s other side, and then from his vantage point looking under the table, he saw the papers from his notebook slide from the table to the floor with a slow-motion waterfall effect.

“Oh, no.” He righted her chair in one sweep and quickly knelt down under the table to retrieve his wayward belongings. He pulled the last paper off the floor and got his feet under him to stand, but he didn’t judge the table right and smacked his head on the edge of it.

“Ow!” he yelped, rubbing the skin at the top of his head. Putting a hand above him to judge the table, he stood slowly, making sure to leave plenty of room between his head and the table this time.

She’s going to think I’m a complete idiot. He stood to face her and braced himself for what he knew was coming. He couldn’t even look her in the eye.

“Hi,” he finally said, holding out his hand, his gaze glued to the floor, “I’m Anthony Russell.”

*~*~*

Heather stood in dumbfounded silence. She had never seen anything like this before—EVER!

“Hello,” she said, shaking out of the shock and trying very hard to sound professional. “I’m Heather Nolan. It’s nice to meet you.” She extended her hand to shake his.

“Ms. Nolan, it’s nice to meet you,” Anthony said as his hand smothered hers.

“Oh, please, call me Heather.” The words had to choke themselves past the derision in her throat. How could she be nice to this creep? After all, he was 20 minutes late, and then he almost scared her to death! But her parents had taught her well, and she was polite to a fault. This guy wasn’t going to make her change now.

“You can call me Anthony,” he said with a slow, shy smile that glimmered in his dark eyes.

Heather ran a hand down her skirt to either smooth it out or to get her palm dry again, she wasn’t quite sure which. “Well, Anthony, you make quite an entrance.”

Anthony ducked his head and squeezed his eyes closed. He glanced back at the door. “Would you mind if I try that again?”

“Again?” Heather asked in confusion.

“Yeah.”

“O…Okay. I guess so.”

“Great! Just a second.” He grabbed up his books, righted the other chair, and disappeared outside.

Heather was amused in spite of herself.

This time the door opened slowly—very slowly, and Anthony entered smoothly, books in hand, looking every bit the ultra-cool basketball star he obviously was.

“Hello.” He extended his hand. “I’m Anthony Russell.”

“Hello, Mr. Russell,” Heather said, taking his hand. “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Heather Nolan.”

“Nice to meet you, Ms. Nolan,” Anthony said formally. “And please call me Anthony.”

“Okay, Anthony. You can call me Heather.”

“Okay, Heather. I really appreciate you waiting for me. I’m sorry I’m so late.”

“It’s all right,” Heather said, wishing it wasn’t so easy to be polite to him. “Just don’t make a habit of it.”

“I won’t,” Anthony said with that same slow smile, and this one went all the way into and through the deep, near-black of his eyes. “I promise.”

“Good. Now, how can I help you?”


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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “If You Believed in Love”


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, “Reunion”


Reunion Cover Final 1-17-2014Excerpt from “Reunion”

Not once did Lexie release her friend, and by the time they got out to the tractor pulling the flatbed trailer loaded with hay and happy people, Camille knew that getting out of going along was out of the question. So, giving up on that idea, she dutifully climbed aboard and took her seat at the back of the trailer letting her feet dangle off the edge as Lexie left to make sure all was going well with Nick and the tractor.

“Everybody ready?” Nick called just as two shadowed figures appeared from the side gate. “Okay! Hang on! Here we go!”

“No! Hey! Wait! Hey!” the two figures yelled, racing to the trailer just as Nick put the tractor in gear and the whole trailer jerked forward. At the last possible second, the two figures jumped aboard and caught hold of the trailer edge right next to Camille.

Fearing that she would be knocked off either by them or by the jerking of the trailer, she grabbed onto the bale of hay behind her. It was in the next breath that she realized who was sitting right next to her, but the tractor was already going too fast to jump off and run.

“Oh, sorry,” Jaylon said, regaining his balance. He ran two sets of fingers through his dark brown hair to push it out of his eyes. “You okay?”

No words would come as she nodded even though her body still clung to the bale. He was so close, the smell of his cologne made her head spin dangerously.

“Who’s that?” Seth asked, bending down so he could get a look at Camille.

“Camille,” Jaylon whispered when he stopped long enough to see her. The name was obviously supposed to be an introduction, but it hardly made it from his mouth to her ears. He looked stunned speechless.

“Camille Wright,” she said as she forced her hand across Jaylon to Seth, but the second her arm brushed Jaylon’s chest, she regretted the gesture, and at the first possible opportunity she pulled it back and grabbed back onto the bale as they rolled over a rut in the road.

“Camille Wright?” Seth asked, obviously searching for the connection. “Hey, aren’t you…?”

“Umm, Camille,” Jaylon said as he cleared his throat. “You remember Seth Taylor.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said although her voice was drown out in the roar of the motor. “How are you doing?”

Seth laughed. “Well, I’d have been better without that 30 yard dash.”

“And those last two pieces of pie,” Jaylon said teasingly.

“That too,” Seth admitted.

Camille laughed, fighting not to notice how close Jaylon’s arm was to hers or how intense his blue eyes were as they gazed at her.

“So how’ve you been?” he asked, leaning casually closer to her.

In self-defense she slid closer to the bale although if he advanced any further, she might have to become hay herself to get any closer to it. “Fine. You?”

“Great,” he said, and then he clasped his hands in front of him as he leaned onto his thighs. How he didn’t fall off, she had no idea.

“Jaylon’s teaching now,” Seth supplied over the top of Jaylon’s bent back.

“Teaching?” She released the bale slightly as she leaned down to look at him. “What are you teaching?”

“Drama.” When he looked back at her, his eyes burned two irreparable holes in her soul. “And English.”

A smile spread through her heart and to her face as her spirit lost all track of the ground. “Drama, huh? I bet you’re great at that.”

He shrugged and looked back down. “I try.”

“Mr. Allen himself,” she said, falling easily into his presence although it made absolutely no sense.

Once again he smiled at her. “What can I say? Drama’s my life.”

“So, do you like it?” she asked genuinely interested in hearing the answer.

“I love it.” His smile lit her heart.

“Drama, huh? Well, I guess that means you just had your Spring Production then?”

“Third week in March. We pulled it out by the bare skin of our teeth.”

She laughed. “What was it about?”

“Some dumb farce,” he said as if it didn’t matter at all. “Two crooks who were totally incompetent. Good thing was we had the right cast for it.”

Her eyebrows knit in the center of her forehead. “That was nice.”

“That was the truth,” he said with a shake of his head. “Our lead, Michael, he was backstage memorizing lines five minutes before we went on.”

“Five minutes?” she asked with concern. “No way.”

“I swear.” He held up both hands just as the trailer hit another rut, and with absolutely no warning he tumbled right into her. Only her strangle hold on the bale saved them both from toppling right off the edge.

“Look out!” she yelled, grabbing onto him with one arm and clutching the bale with the other. People behind them started laughing, and it took more than a moment for him to sit up straight again. “You okay?”

“They’ve really got to watch those bumps,” he said, inching farther away from her. “Hey, McGee! Watch where you’re going!”

“Sorry!” Nick yelled from the tractor.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think he was trying to off me,” Jaylon said to Camille, but he was smart enough to hold onto the bale next to hers this time. “Now what were we talking about?”

“Incompetent students,” Camille said, wishing this didn’t feel so perfectly natural.

“Oh, yeah. There’s a good topic.” Jaylon laughed as he glanced over at her. For one instant their gazes locked and even the bumping of the trailer didn’t shake them out of it. Finally he shook his head and trained his gaze into the darkness beyond their feet. “I’m going to try to get on with a college for next year.”

“Ah, moving up in the world,” she said as the tractor rounded a corner and started back for home.

Jaylon shrugged as a strange look fell over his face. “I’m getting married in May.”

That bombshell exploded at her feet before she had a chance to take cover, and in a breath it sent her spirit crashing back to the ground. “Yeah, I heard something about that.”

Squeals of delight from their classmates fell between them, but neither could think of a single thing to say for several moments.

“You’re going to have to meet her,” Jaylon finally said, glancing over at Camille, but her heart wouldn’t let her return the look. It hurt too much to watch him tell her that.

“I’m sure she’s great,” Camille said as she looked away. However, it seemed that on this beautiful night, there was no running from him or from her feelings as her gaze chanced on the stars shining down on them. They looked far too familiar for the sanity of her heart.

“So, I guess you’re coming tomorrow night?” he asked softly.

She shrugged, trying to push the whole situation away from her. “I guess.”

“You don’t sound too thrilled about that.”

“About what?” Her smile was small and sad. “About being a wallflower all night? Oh, yeah. That’s what I’ve looked forward to all my life.”

“You looked like you were having fun earlier,” he said, and instantly her gaze snapped to him in confusion. “I mean…earlier…at the cookout…you didn’t look like a wallflower then.”

She shook her head and curled her bottom lip in annoyance. “It’s like being the only gerbil on the ark.”

“Huh?”

Her gaze found the darkness at her feet. “Everybody else has someone. I just…” The darkness slid past her feet. “I don’t know.”

A light wind whipped across her, sending a stray strand of hair into her face and finding every hole in the knit shirt she had on beneath her flannel one. Instantly she shivered and hugged the bale and her outer shirt closer.

“You cold?” he asked with concern.

“I’m fine,” she said with more force than was probably necessary for fear of what he might do to repair the situation. The tractor bumped back into the driveway, and she clutched the bale tighter. “Besides, we’re back anyway.”

“Yeah,” he said, breathing the word rather than speaking it. The trailer bounced through the yard and then rolled to a stop. “Looks like it.”

When they were sure it was safe, their classmates started vacating the trailer behind them amid shouts and laughter.

“That was fun,” Jaylon said to no one in particular as he slid off the trailer.

Gingerly Camille let go of the bale and slid closer to the edge, trying to figure out how she could dismount gracefully.

“Here, let me help.” In the next instant Jaylon inexplicably reached up and took hold of her just under her arms. Gently he lifted her, body and spirit, from the trailer and set her on the ground as every feeling she had managed to deny during the previous minutes gushed to the surface. The next moment lasted only a breath, but it felt like infinity had just engulfed her as her gaze fell into the depths of his.

“You good?” he finally asked.

“I’m great,” she said as a sincere smile wafted across her features.

“J.P., dude.” Seth clapped him on the shoulder. “We’d better get back, or the women might think we fell off the darn trailer.”

“Yeah,” Jaylon said with an off-handed nod in Seth’s direction, but he looked back at Camille. “I’ll be there in a second.”

“Okay, but you behave yourself.” Seth lifted an eyebrow and an index finger at his friend in warning.

“Oh, shut up. I’ll be there in a second,” Jaylon said, and Seth laughed out loud and walked away. Jaylon feathered his hair back and smiled down at her. He seemed to back away from her although he didn’t move. “So, I’ll see you later then?”

“Yeah,” she said as her heart panged forward. “I’ll be around.”

His eyes softened with the news. “Well, take care. Okay?”

“You too.”

He stood for one more breath, and then he took a reluctant step away from her, taking her heart and soul with him. Her eyes fell closed as the ripping of her spirit followed him down the driveway and through the side gate. When she opened her eyes again, she looked up at the stars shimmering above her perfectly replicating the shimmering tears on her lashes. “Why, God? Why?”


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