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Ebook Romance Stories: For Real, Review

For Real

~ The Courage Series ~

Book 3

“There I was just enjoying the heck out of this story when those dreaded words came up. “Epilogue.” What? NO! It can’t be over yet.

Staci Stalling has done it again. She’s taken a handful of characters that we can easily associate with and shown us some of their flaws and hidden insecurities. She does a masterful job of describing how people tend to lie and/or manipulate the truth so others will be impressed. And then they have to cover the lies with other lies and pretty soon it gets easier and easier to tell more lies. They play a lot of games in life trying to impress, gain attention or make others jealous.

“As he went, person by person through those in his life, he saw their desperate attempts to hide the hurt and fear with… what? Everything. Clothes. Shoes. Money. Cars. Education. Position. Status. And down the other spectrum drugs, alcohol, anger, violence, selfishness. As he thought about it, he realized that it was the same disease just with different symptoms.”

In this story we have Blaine who is a really nice guy, but insecure about who and what he is because his father pulled a fast one on the family 10 years earlier. Yes, for 10 years he’s had these issues. We briefly met Blaine in book 2 of the Courage Series, “White Knight”, when he worked with Eve. Wanting to impress Eve he borrows a top of the line sports car from his buddy to go on a group date with Eve and everyone thinks he’s a spoiled rich guy. What a stretch from the truth. He’s really an incredibly nice guy who is trying to get an education, hold down a job, take care of his little brother and mother, and do it all while keeping everyone from seeing who he really is and what his life really looks like. Blaine met Melody on that group date and when she got sick he drove her home, which involved her losing her lunch all over his borrowed car. Not the ideal situation for starting a relationship.

Now in For Real they meet up a few months later and things progress to the point where they can have a relationship. But he’s already established the lie of being a rich guy and they have to learn how to be REAL with each other, thus, the title of this novel.

“It was a long moment before she continued. “For what it’s worth, I think the nice guy fits you much better, but I think you’re scared to be him.”
“Why would I be scared of that?”
“I don’t know. Why would you?”
Pain tore through him so deep it felt like it ripped the middle of him apart. “Because being a jerk is so much easier.””

Ms. Stallings does a fine job of describing life of college coeds and bringing back all the memories of my own college days. Too many nights of staying up late studying, working, trying to balance it all out with a bit of a social life. I enjoyed watching the resolving of conflict between old relationships and bringing them to the point of being able to have meaningful relationships as friends who went on to play a major role in each others lives. As Melody figured out her own life and that things aren’t always as they seem, she is able to see that other people also hide behind their insecurities but when you can get past them, your perceived enemies can actually become your best friends.

The story was full of emotion and conflict and I was cheering them on to figure out that they weren’t the only ones with misconceived notions.There were a LOT of issues brought up in this book but they were handled in such a way that it didn’t overwhelm the senses. They just sort of followed a natural chain of events. This issue leads to the next which leads to the next which… As a reader we can see what the characters can’t, that it’s just in their head, so it’s kind of comical and keeps the story light enough to enjoy.

“What he wouldn’t give to be able to just be as honest with her as she was with him.”

This line from For Real, by Staci Stallings sums it up in a nutshell for me.”

— by:  June, Amazon Reviewer

For Real

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Ebook Romance Stories: For Real, Excerpt

For Real

~ The Courage Series ~

Book 3

Blaine sensed movement toward the door, and he ducked into the bathroom just as the door down the hall swung open. Flattening against the bathroom wall, he left the door open enough to be able to hear. A.J. plowed down the hallway with Eve right behind him. They stopped on the other side of the bathroom threshold.

“A.J., come on.  Tonight was supposed to be special.” She stopped him by grabbing his elbow and swinging him around. “Lisa and Jeff knocked themselves out to make this nice for us.  Please, please, don’t ruin it.”

The pleading in Eve’s voice was so desperate, it wafted over Blaine’s heart as well.

“Please.”  She moved toward A.J., and Blaine let his gaze fall to the darkness.  It was such a private moment between the two of them, how could he not?  “I know you think the world of Melody, and I love you for that.  I know you want to protect her, but please don’t cause a scene tonight.  Tomorrow you can call her and let her know how you feel about Bobby.”

“What? Am I supposed to just let him have a wide open shot at her tonight?”

Eve backed up from the intensity of his voice. “Maybe… Maybe, we could… I don’t know.  Do something so she doesn’t go home with Bobby, but with someone else.”

“Like who?  Except for Dante who’s like 12 years older than her…”

“Maybe Blaine.  He’s here too.”

A huge whoosh of air went into Blaine’s lungs and clung there.

“Blaine?  Spoiled little rich jerk Blaine?  Oh, yeah.  Like that’s an improvement.”

Eve softened.  She really was trying.  “Come on, A.J.  Blaine’s a nice guy. You should give him a chance.”

It was like forever passed before either of them spoke again. There wasn’t a fiber of Blaine that had moved, and his muscles had begun to atrophy.  Yet how could he move?  Not only would they know he had heard everything, A.J.’s already dim view of him would surely be set in concrete from then on.

“Fine,” A.J. spat.  “Fine. I won’t say anything tonight.  I’ll call her tomorrow.”

The breath Eve breathed coupled with the soft kiss she put on A.J.’s cheek about did Blaine in.  A.J. Knight didn’t deserve her.  He wondered at that moment if any man did.  With that they moved on down the hall.  Long after they were gone, quietly, slowly Blaine closed the door and counted to 70 before he turned on the light.

When he did, the first thing he saw was his reflection in the mirror over the double sinks.  He wanted A.J. not to be right.  He would’ve fought it with his fists had he had the chance.  But looking into his own eyes, what did he really see?  A guy who was living a flagrant lie and flaunting a life he could only dream of living.  With a shake of his head, he dropped his gaze and gave up trying to figure it out.  There was no answer.  Not a good one anyway.  So it was better to forget it, and move on.

For Real

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Ebook Romance Stories: White Knight, Excerpt

White Knight

Book 2

~ The Courage Series ~

“Oh, and if you find popcorn over by the couch,” A.J. said as Eve retrieved her small jacket from the closet and slipped into it, “That was Eve’s fault.”

“Ah,” she said as if she had been wounded. “That wasn’t very nice.” She took a swing and caught his shoulder with her fist. He shrugged away from the punch even as he laughed.

“Well, I didn’t want her to blame me!”

Ashley and Gabe laughed.

“Well, come back and we’ll make some more popcorn just for you,” Gabe said as he laid a hand on Ashley’s shoulder.

“Just tell me when,” A.J. said. “I never pass up free food.”

Eve leveled an exasperated gaze at Ashley. “He’s such a guy.”

“You act like that’s a bad thing,” A.J. said, looking at her with a smile in his eyes that rounded down into his apple-curved cheekbones.

One look at Ashley and she and Eve said, “It is!”

Good-byes flew in all directions as the last four partygoers stepped out into the cold night. At last the door closed behind them, and the light of the streetlamps guided their journey down the sidewalk.

“Drive careful, you two,” A.J. said, waving to Jeff and Lisa when they got to the end of the sidewalk and he and Eve started to turn the other direction.

“You too,” Jeff said, and then he stopped. When he looked at Eve, all playfulness was gone. “Do you want us to follow you home?”

Eve’s face scrunched in annoyance. “I’m a big girl, Jeff. I think I can get home by myself.”

“Are you sure? Because it’s really no trouble.”

Eve smiled softly. “It’s an hour out of your way. Just get your wife home and into a bathtub. I’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” Jeff said uncertainly after a long moment. He stared at them, sizing up the situation and her. “Do you want to call us when you get there?”

“I’ll be fine,” Eve said in exasperation. “It’s not like I haven’t driven by myself before.”

“Well, which direction are you headed?” A.J. asked, breaking into the conversation.

“South,” Eve said shortly.

“I’m headed South. I’m going as far as Elgin. I can follow you that far if you want.”

Eve looked at Jeff for his blessing. “Happy now?”

Jeff took a moment to assess A.J. and another to decide. “Yeah, I guess that’ll work.”

“Good,” Eve said, crossing her arms over herself, “because it’s freezing out here. See you, Lis.”

“Call me,” Lisa said as Eve turned and started for the cars, but ten steps down the sidewalk she realized that A.J. wasn’t with her. In annoyance she turned just in time to see him shake Jeff’s hand and nod. On her heel she turned and stomped to her car. She wasn’t a baby. She had managed to make it through 29 whole years without Jeff’s constant protective gaze following her every move. How she had ever managed, she was sure he couldn’t quite tell.

Just then she heard the tennis shoes on the concrete behind her, and in the next heartbeat A.J. jogged up beside her.

“I’ve got ten cents that says you drive better than he does,” A.J. said.

“Ten cents? Boy, you have a lot of confidence in me.”

“Okay, make it 20, but that’s my final offer.”

She glanced at him skeptically.

“Hey,” he said, his tone serious, “I have to eat this week you know.”

Eve shook her head and laughed, and as mad as she was at the whole situation, for some reason she just couldn’t be mad with him at her side. “Okay, twenty cents it is.” Without question he followed her across the street and to her car, and then it was time to say good-bye. Gratefulness poured through her as she glanced at him. “I had fun tonight.”

He shrugged. “It was a party. You were supposed to have fun.”

“Well, it was extra fun.”

That apple rounded across the top of his cheek. “I thought so too.”

For a moment she stood, not really wanting to leave.

“Take care driving home,” he said and backed away from her. At the door to the little brown Honda Civic across the street he stopped. “And don’t lose me either.”

“Try to keep up.”

 White Knight
~ The Courage Series~
Book 2

“Expect the unexpected…”

“Through a series of entertaining twists and turns and a lot of suspense, two very unlikely people find in each other a reason to laugh and love and live.”

–Amazon Reviewer, Myrna Brorman

The hardest part is losing the person someone else loves… 

Buy your copy today for:

Kindle Ebook: http://ow.ly/ckyuq

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Ebook Romance Stories: White Knight, Chapter 1

White Knight

Book 2

~ The Courage Series ~

Chapter 1

“This place makes the best potato skins in the world,” Dante Ramirez said from his position next to Eve Knox in the over-crowded booth. Six were stuffed into room for five, but Eve wasn’t complaining. It had been months since she’d laughed this much, and laughing felt good for a change.

“Well, for as long as they made us wait, they’d better be,” Gabe Teague said in annoyance from the other side of Eve. His deep bass shook the air around him. “I just want you to know, if Ashley kills me, I’m sending you the bill.”

“And it’ll be stamped NSF just like all the rest of the bills I pay,” Dante said.

“NSF? I thought you had some secret trust fund,” Jeff Taylor said from beside his wife Lisa.

“Yeah, it’s so secret I don’t even know about it,” Dante said with a shake of his head, and the gel-slicked, black hair caught the light like a reflector.

“Darn,” Gabe said. “You mean we can’t off you for your millions?”

“Millions of bills or millions of creditors?”

Jeff looked at Gabe skeptically. “Maybe offing him wasn’t such a good idea.”

“Uh, you think?” Gabe asked.

“You forget, he’s a fireman,” Lisa said, punching her husband in the ribs. “He makes what you make.”

Jeff shook his head. “Ugh. Definitely not worth it.”

“Definitely,” Gabe said and then looked around the restaurant. “So is anybody going to take our order or is that going to take another two hours?”

“Friday night,” Dante said. “It’s always like this. Oh, I’m sorry. I forget you’re out of commission.”

“Married,” Gabe said. “They call it married.”

Even as she laughed, Eve’s gaze fell to the table. She remembered married.

“So, A.J.,” Lisa said, addressing one of the two non-conversational occupants at the table, “were you less nervous this year?”

A.J., the one person at the table that Eve hadn’t been around at every excuse Jeff and Lisa could come up with—Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, every major holiday and three or four non-major ones they had managed to include her in as well. If she hadn’t been so tired of looking at her apartment walls, she might have come up with a few more excuses to get out of their well-meaning excursions. However, the reality was she hated that apartment and all the memories that went with it.

“At least I didn’t throw up this year.” A.J. ducked so that the light bounced off his light brown hair streaked with soft blond tones. Soft. It was a good word to describe A.J. Knight. Features, light brown eyes, manner, tone—they all fell right into the soft category.

“That’s a definite improvement,” Jeff said, laughing. “We almost had to call the other paramedics to come stitch up that gash you got when you fainted off the stage last year.”

“He did not,” Eve said with instant concern.

“No.” A.J. glanced at her defensively, but instantly his gaze dropped back to the table. “I just missed a step.”

“Yeah. Ca-thung. Ca-thung. Ca-thung,” Jeff said, spinning his hands over and over themselves teasingly.

“You’re one to talk.” Lisa punched Jeff again as she came to A.J.’s defense. “Who was it that needed a paper bag this morning before he went on?”

Jeff shrugged. “For my lunch.”

“Yeah, those ham sandwiches can just take your breath right away.”

Eve laughed at them. Jeff and Lisa. Such a sweet couple, now looking forward to their first child. It wasn’t hard to see how much Jeff worshiped Lisa, nor was it difficult to see the love in Lisa’s eyes when she looked at her husband. As she put her head down, Eve remembered feeling that look in her own heart. That time seemed so long ago as to have been another lifetime.

“So, Eve,” Dante, the one guy she always seemed to get paired up with at every social function she was trapped into attending, said as he laid an arm the color of brown sugar over the booth behind her, “how’d Lisa con you into this speaking thing anyway?”

With a smile Eve looked across the table at the woman who had become her best friend over the last year. “She asked.”

Lisa smiled back. Together. Two women in a sea of men, and because of the other, they were holding their own.

“No arm twisting or hair pulling?” Dante asked far too into the whole cat fight scenario for her.

“Nope. None of that.”

“Darn,” Dante said. “I would’ve paid to see that.”

“Hey,” Jeff said, leveling an index finger and a warning gaze at Dante. “That’s my wife you’re talking about there.”

“Oh, sorry. I’m just saying she’s hot.”

“That’s not any better,” Jeff said darkly.

Lisa patted his leg. “It’s okay. I’m five months pregnant, and I feel like a blimp already. If the man wants to say I’m hot, don’t complain.”

Jeff’s gaze went to his wife’s face and frame, and it was clear he had no complaints.

“Is somebody going to take our order or not?” Gabe asked in frustration.

“I think they forgot about us,” A.J. said quietly.

“Well, get somebody’s attention, Jeff,” Gabe commanded.

“Me? Why me?”

“Because you’re on the end, and because this was your idea, and because as your commanding officer, I told you to,” Gabe said.

“Oh,” Jeff said, nodding. “Well, since you put it that way.” He looked around, put a hand in the air, and snagged the first waitress’s attention who happened by. “Umm, could we get some menus over here?”

Amazing, Eve thought as she watched the scene. When she had met him two years before, she would never have believed that Jeff could get so many words in a row out, in public nonetheless. However, it was abundantly clear that he had grown—in confidence and in stature since the night Dustin had first brought home his newest friend from the academy. Part of it was the job. Leading others in to fight fires had to inspire a certain amount of poise and confidence, but it was more than that. He had a woman by his side now who believed in him, who trusted him implicitly, who looked to him for guidance, and it showed in every movement he made.

In seconds the waitress was back with the menus. Each took one, and Gabe looked at his watch. “Order something that doesn’t take long to cook.”

“Like what? Kid’s grilled cheese?” Dante asked.

“You should’ve invited Ashley,” Lisa said.

“Yeah,” Jeff said. “Why didn’t you?”

“She had to work. Besides she’s heard me speak, and she wasn’t impressed.”

“I, Gabe, take you, Ashley,” Dante said serious and teasing all at the same time. “I can see why.”

Eve socked Dante’s arm. “Hey, that wasn’t funny.”

In surprise Dante looked over to Jeff who was trying not to laugh. “It was too. Wasn’t it, Taylor?”

“Like I’m stupid enough to get in the middle of that one,” Jeff said as he buried his gaze into the menu.

The waitress walked up at that moment to take their order, and when she was gone, Dante turned back to Eve. “You know that Van Gogh Exhibit is coming to the Museum of Fine Arts the first of November. Didn’t you say you wanted to go to that?”

“Is it that time already?” She sighed. “I was hoping I’d be through the spring buying by then.”

“Well, I’m free,” Dante said, hinting in his tone, “if you wanted me to get us some tickets, I could.”

He was being nice. Dante had been nothing but nice since the first time Jeff and Lisa had dragged them out on what no one dared to call a double date. Still every time Eve thought about going out with him, her heart jerked in the other direction. Slowly she shook her head. “I’m not sure I can get off.”

“It’s a Saturday,” he said as though the others weren’t sitting there listening to them. “Even firefighters don’t work all the time, you know.” He tapped her on the shoulder playfully, trying to get her to look up. However, her heart just couldn’t look at him.

Wishing it wouldn’t, Eve’s gaze traveled down the table and caught Lisa’s. The pity in Lisa’s eyes told her too much. Her friends felt sorry for her. They wanted her to find someone. What they didn’t know was that there would never be another someone in her life. She’d had a someone once. Now he was gone, and she had no desire to find another one.

“A museum exhibit?” Gabe asked incredulously. “Ugh. Ashley roped me into one of those once. Can you say, ‘Torture City’?”

Across from Eve, A.J. laughed although none of the other occupants seemed to think it was all that funny. She ducked to keep the laugh in her own chest from finding her own throat.

“I just thought it might be fun,” Dante said softly, and suddenly he didn’t look nearly so confident or so sure of the offer.

Knowing there was really no good reason to turn him down, Eve smiled over at him although to be honest, she didn’t see him at all. “It sounds like fun.”

~*~
On the other side of the table, A.J. felt the annoyed gazes of his hosts find his face, and his eyes widened as if to say, “What did I say?” Neither Jeff nor Lisa looked happy with him. He hadn’t been around them all that much, but Eve didn’t seem like someone who would be hanging out in museums all day—the mall looked more her style. But as much as she didn’t, Dante seemed even less the type. Strong, take charge, get it done so you can go have fun—that was Dante. Someone more likely to make fun of people who went to museums than someone lining up for tickets.

However, it was perfectly clear from where A.J. sat that getting in the way of Dante and Eve invited a fate worse than death. He understood that, of course. He had been there at the graveyard the day she had buried her husband. He had sat in the church and listened to Jeff’s heartfelt words about the friend he had lost, but more than that, he had been there that awful night when her husband had taken that final ambulance ride.

Yes, she had lost more than he would probably ever have, so he was smart enough to back off even when Gabe continued.

“Doesn’t make any sense to me,” Gabe said. “You meet someone, you go out with them, you try to make yourself be someone else the whole time, then you get married and boom. Who are you again?”

“I’m sure Ashley was thrilled when she figured out who you were,” Jeff said, and A.J. could tell he was trying to steer the conversation in a different direction.

“Ashley?” Gabe asked incredulously. “What about me? The first time I saw her with that awful green mask thing on, I thought I’d pass out.”

“She was trying to be beautiful for you,” Lisa said.

Gabe scrunched up his face. “She didn’t have to try that hard.”

The waitress arrived with their drinks and a dish of potato skins. A plate at a time Lisa passed them around the table. “I am starving.”

“Here,” Jeff said, dishing one potato skin onto a plate for her.

“Hey!” Dante said. “Who ordered these?”

“If you’re pregnant, you argue.” Jeff leveled the fork in Dante’s direction. “If not, get out of the way.” He put some sauce on the plate and handed it to Lisa. “There you go.”

“Thanks,” she said, ducking in embarrassment.

A.J. watched as the others dished up their own appetizers. Jeff was always taking care of Lisa, always making sure she was all right before he worried about himself. That was how love should be, A.J. thought. Not that he’d ever been around that many people who had found it. No, finding that kind of love took a heap of luck, and to this point he hadn’t had much in that department.

“So, A.J.,” Gabe said, skewering him with a glance. “Who are you taking to museums these days?”

Slowly A.J. shrugged, and the potato skin on his fork nearly slid right off into his lap. “No museums for me.” Then he looked across and caught the displeasure in Lisa’s gaze. “Not that there’s anything wrong with museums of course. I just…” He was drowning, fighting for the surface. “Well, there’s Melody, but she’s more of just a friend really.”

“A friend? Oh, boy. You’ve got to watch those friends,” Gabe said with a serious shake of his head. “That’s what I told everybody about Ash for a year.”

“Until she knocked you over the head with a frying pan?” Jeff asked.

“Something like that. I swear, I think you ladies have something figured out that you should really clue us guys in about,” Gabe said.

“We try to be subtle,” Lisa said. “Not our fault it takes a brick.”

“I’m telling you,” Gabe said, leaning over to A.J. although his volume was loud enough for the whole table to hear. “Watch out for those friends. They’re trouble waiting to happen.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

~*~
By eight o’clock the gathering was breaking up. Jeff said he had to get Lisa home. Gabe slipped out as soon as the checks arrived, saying Ashley might never let him out of her sight again. A.J. had offered to walk Gabe to his car although Eve thought that if trouble happened, Gabe looked far more likely to be the defender than A.J. did. And so, when everyone else was gone, she and Dante were left to walk to the parking lot together.

Subtle, she thought. So terribly, terribly subtle. As they pushed out into the cool October, Houston city night, her hand brushed Dante’s, and in the next breath his hand slipped around hers. Not once in all the time they had spent together had he taken her hand, and the instant hers was in his, Eve wanted to run the other direction.

“If you don’t want to do the museum thing, that’s cool,” Dante said. “It was just an idea.”

Backing out, getting away from him, running as fast as her heart was racing all sounded like very good ideas, and yet what was she running from? The fact that he wasn’t Dustin. He wasn’t. He never would be, and neither would anyone else. Her heart fell even further at the thought. “Are you sure you want to go? I kind of thought the clubs would be more of your style.”

“Can’t a guy broaden his horizons once in awhile?”

“No crime there. I just don’t want you to be bored.”

Dante turned intense deep brown eyes on her. “If you’re there, I could never be bored.”

Her chest hurt. She hated the look in his eyes—that don’t-kill-me-by-turning-me-down look. For as long as she could remember, she had been a sucker for that look. True, the guys had always turned out to be nice enough, but they always had earth-shattering soul mates in mind. It never quite made it that far for Eve. “If you’re sure you won’t be bored…”

“I’m sure,” he said as they got to her car. “I’ll call you the Friday before… just to make sure.”

“Okay.”

“And I can pick you up if you want.”

“Oh, that’s okay. There’s never any telling what I’ll be doing. It’ll probably be better if we just meet there.”

“Okay, but you do want to go, right?”

She nodded. “I’ll be there.” Trying not to be obvious, she let go of his hand and climbed in her car even as fear that he might in fact kiss her flooded through her consciousness. “See you then.”

“Yeah.”

As she pulled out of the parking lot, the act she had been corralling around her since she had met Lisa early that morning as they headed for the second annual Cordell Youth Conference dropped away. Everything was so hard. Every moment was about holding it together, watching, noticing, making sure that no one saw beneath the mask. That was how life was now that Dustin was gone. It was called getting on with life. They all wanted to help, but the truth was no one ever could. It was like being dead without being in a grave.

Twenty-nine and living a hollow, empty, shell of a life. If it didn’t hurt so bad, she might have laughed at the irony. For it was she who had told so many people that life was not to be taken for granted, that the point was to live every single moment as if you might never have another. Yet that was exactly what she now wanted—to never have another. The moments lining up, staring her in the face collapsed her spirit. Crying didn’t help. She had come to that conclusion long ago.

Pushing the thoughts back, she hit the radio button. Not even the music helped much. There were just too many thoughts, and Eve thought at that moment that there would be forever.

*~*
“Melody came by,” A.J.’s mom said when he walked into the little kitchen around nine. “She was looking for you.”

“Oh?” He grabbed a couple Oreos out of the cabinet.

“She said something about playing a game she got.”

He poured a glass of milk. “Was she going home?”

“She didn’t say.”

“I’ll call her.”

His mother nodded and left the room. Picking up the phone he dialed the number without really looking at the keypad. He’d had it memorized since he was twelve. Melody Todd, tomboy extraordinaire.  They had been friends so long, he’d forgotten when they weren’t. “Mel? Hey, it’s A.J.”

“Well, it’s about time. Where’ve you been? I was going to show you the new Rodent’s Revenge Game I got, but now Kendra’s coming over and we’re going out.”

“Oh, that’s cool.” He bit into the cookie. “Have fun.”

“You could come with us,” Melody said.

“I’ve got work tomorrow.”

“Likely excuse. You just don’t want me to set you up with Kendra.”

“Like I said I’ve got to work tomorrow.”

“Okay, okay, I know. Shadonna was a mistake. I admit that.”

“A mistake?” A.J. asked in shock. “She read me my star charts before we got in the car, Mel.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“Yeah, and then you turned around and set me up with Monica. How’s she doing anyway? Has she found herself yet?”

“Not unless herself was hiding in the Australian outback,” Melody said hesitantly.

“Australia? Huh, well, she’ll be right at home with all those kangaroos. Oh, and let’s not forget about Teresa. Shall we?”

“What? You don’t like table dancers?”

“Not when they’re my date.” He shook his head at the mere memory of that night. “Let’s get real, here, shall we, Mel. You haven’t exactly had a stellar track record with this matchmaking thing.”

“Oh, come on, A.J. Kendra’s different.”

“Already this is not good.”

“No, I don’t mean different, different. I just mean… well, different.”

“You’re trying too hard, Mel.” He ate the last bite of cookie and chased it with the milk.

“Well, you’re not trying hard enough. It’s one night, A.J. Just one. Come on. It’ll be fun.”

“Nope. I’m thinking thirty minutes in the garage, and then I’m going to give up and hit the sack.”

Melody sighed. “So you’re really not going then?”

“No, I’m really not going.”

“Fine. See if I ever try to set you up again.”

“Finally,” he said, breathing an audible sigh of relief.

Her side went silent for a moment. “How about tomorrow night? This game will explode your head.”

“Head explosions? Cool. Here or there?”

“Better make it there. Mom’s on a no-popcorn-in-the-living-room kick again.”

“No problem. I’ll see you then. Oh, and Mel. Have fun tonight.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. And hey, don’t ruin your hearing. Okay?”

He laughed and signed off. Melody, the next door neighbor who actually lived five houses down had been his best friend forever. Well, since sixth grade anyway, but that was as close to forever as he got. With a push he stood from the cabinet and stepped into the living room. “I’m going to the garage.”

Off-handedly his mother waved. Funny even at 25, ever since moving back home a year and a half before, he had felt the need to keep his mother informed about his whereabouts. She didn’t ask anymore, but he always told her just in case. When he opened the garage door, one hand went in front of him and snapped the dim light on. Over the concrete he walked until in the opposite corner, he stepped up to the royal blue plastic tarp. Carefully he pulled it up and wrapped it around his arm so that the blue pearl trap set underneath came into view.

From the wall he pulled the headphones on, hit the power button, and sat down on the little stool. With one drumstick he hit the play button and twirled the stick around his fingers twice as the other picked up the first beats of the song. In seconds he was immersed in the music—so deep, air seemed hardly necessary. He didn’t sing much, but the words and the beat drifted over him like soft rain on a cool summer day. His hands traveled effortlessly to a beat he had committed to memory years before. When he hit the break, every part of his body hit a drum and stopped. Hit again and stopped. Five consecutive hits, and he was flying on the music again. It was the one place that always felt like home to him, and he knew it always would.

*~*
“Good news,” Lisa said ten minutes into their phone conversation the next Tuesday evening as Eve put the finishing touches on a dish of microwaved ravioli. She licked her finger off and picked up the plate to take it to the table.

“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

“Gabe and Ash are having a party.”

“Cool.” Eve turned the plate a quarter turn as she sat by herself at the table. “I’m sure Gabe’s thrilled.”

“Oh, no. Him and Jeff already have it all figured out. Pool. All night in the basement.”

“Nice, and what are you and Ash going to do? Sit around and stare at the walls?”

“Keep the chips and dip going I guess. No, they’re having like people from her work and his work come. He said you’re welcome to come too if you want.”

Eve corralled her long, black hair in her fingers, flipped it over one shoulder, and picked up her fork. “Me? I’m not from his work.”

“Well, it’s not just people from work. Besides I think Dante’s going to be there,” Lisa said.

“And this pertains to me how?”

“Come on, Eve. I know he likes you, and I think if you’d just let yourself, you could like him too.”

“He’s okay, but I’m not really interested in anything serious right now.”

“I’m not saying you are, but it doesn’t hurt to go out with some friends once in awhile either. Sitting there all by yourself all the time isn’t getting you anywhere.”

“You know, you sound just like…” A knife went through her heart, and she sighed. “When’s the party?”

“Friday at eight.”

*~*
“You can bring a date if you want,” Jeff said as A.J. sat in the dark living room, watching the little mouse careen one way and then the other over the crazy multi-colored screen.

“Why are you inviting people to Gabe’s party?” A.J. asked, leaning into the turn that Melody threatened to take too wide.

“He just mentioned you, and since he didn’t have your number… But if you’re busy, that’s cool.”

As the mouse burst through the final door, A.J. laughed when Melody threw the controller to the floor and collapsed over it. “It sounds cool, but I can bring a friend?”

“Yeah.”

“What time?”

WHITE KNIGHT

~ Expect the Unexpected ~

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Ebook Romance Stories: A Work in Progress, Review

AWIP Cover New 1-10-2014

A Work in Progress

Book 1

~ The Faith Series ~

Have you ever read a book that you can read over and over again? A work in progress is one such book. Staci Stallings weaved an amazing story with every single word that was written. There are real lessons within these pages that make you aspire to become a better human being.

If you just want a great book to relax with, this book would do just that. If however you are also looking to be highly inspired, deeply touched, and moved to the core, A Work in Progress is one out the three books in this series that would do that. A Work in Progress shows that beauty is not just what we see on the outside. Sometimes what we think is real beauty, to some is not beauty at all, because as Staci shows, real beauty is not how you look on the outside, but it is what you have in your heart.

Eric made a statement in this book, while talking to his friend. He said, “Why should I settle for chopped beef when I can have Filet Mignon?”
What he didn’t know is that what he perceived to be chopped beef (Rebecca) was really the Filet Mignon, that he actually longed for.

This is an amazing read!!!!!!!!!!!

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Excerpt

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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “Deep in the Heart”


Deep in the Heart Cover Final 1-18-2014Excerpt from “Deep in the Heart”

It was stupid. Keith knew it, but the quieter the house got, the more he wanted to check, just one time. They were already in bed, probably asleep, and yet, he wanted to make sure of that. Finally, unable to talk himself out of it, he quietly exited his room on the far opposite side of the mansion. He shook his head as he crossed past the master suite. How very far it seemed from the kids’ rooms.

Not for the first time ever, he wondered why they bothered to have Pete and Izzy in the first place. Little trophies. That’s all they had ever really been. It was just like Ike said. Kids were meant to live with their parents, not be put on display to make the parents look good. Shaking his head to clear it of the disturbing thoughts, Keith made his way to the three doors at the far end of the hall.

He noticed without really looking that the light was on under her door. She was probably reading or getting ready for bed. He’d have to be extra quiet. On his way to Isabella’s door, however, he noticed the white door on the opposite side cracked open. That was strange. Curious, he stepped over to it and peeked inside. The scene beyond knocked sanity and air from him simultaneously.

There, on her knees, next to Peter’s bed knelt Maggie. He couldn’t see her face, but her back was arched. She was huddled in the protectiveness of her shoulders. Next to her, Peter lay, eyes closed, but turned toward her.

“And help Mommy and Daddy come home safely. Thank You for today, God. Give us good sleep tonight, and let us have a great day tomorrow. Amen.”

Unbidden tears sprang into Keith’s heart as he watched.

“Amen.” Peter’s eyes opened, and he smiled at Maggie. Just then he glanced up, and Keith knew he was busted. He sniffed self-consciously.

In the next heartbeat Maggie whirled around, fear and determination met in her face right up until she figured out who he was standing there. She stumbled to her feet. “Keith. I didn’t hear you there.”

The A-lined white cotton shirt set off her curves as did the oversized tan pants. They were very loose and too short to be called pants. He was having trouble getting a full thought through his head. “I… I’m sorry. I was just checking everything before I turned in.”

“Oh.” Her hand slid to the back of her shirt, which she pulled down. Then she brought her hand back around her middle and scratched the inside of her other forearm. “Everything locked down tight?”

“Seems to be.”

“Oh. Good.”

If he hadn’t been thrown so hard off-track, he might have noticed how much trouble she was having to not fidget right off the planet. She wrapped her arms in front of her and scratched behind her ear. “We were…” Her gaze fell to Peter. “… just…”

Compassion for her came over him. “No, hey. No need to explain. I talk to Him sometimes too.”

“Oh.” She seemed rooted to the spot. “Well… I guess I should be getting to bed.” Her smile became gentle as she glanced back at Peter. “You, mister, have a good night. Okay? I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Okay.”

The quiet peace of the scene traced over Keith as he watched her tuck the covers in around Pete. She was going to make a marvelous mother someday.

“Good night, sweet prince.” She kissed the tips of two of her fingers and pressed them onto Peter’s forehead. “Now go to sleep.” Gently she drifted her fingers over his face and down the sides of his nose. With a sigh, he settled down and soft peace came over his little face.

Maggie turned back to the door and walked all the way to it and through it without stopping. Keith let her pass and then closed the door and stood watching her in the hallway.

“That was nice.”

She had made it to her door obviously not planning to stop and talk to him. Her gaze was down when she turned to him. “Peter has a tough time getting to sleep. It seems to help.”

Tenderness touched his heart. “So, you do that every night… pray with him?”

It took her a long moment before she nodded. “It always helps me, so I figured it couldn’t hurt with him.”

True admiration for her tilted his head to the side. “They’re lucky to have you.”

She tried to meet his gaze but couldn’t hold it. “I wish I could do more. They’re great kids.”

If he could’ve thought of something to say that would’ve kept her there, he would’ve said it. However, for some reason his brain wasn’t cooperating with his mouth.

“Well, ‘night.” She turned, opened her door, and stepped inside.

“Yeah, ‘night.”

And then she was gone. Keith closed his eyes and shook his head. Why she had this effect on him, he couldn’t clearly tell. This was completely crazy. He was, after all, engaged to be married. Engaged. That meant you weren’t up at all hours of the night, standing in darkened hallways with some woman in her pajamas. He needed to call Dallas if for no other reason than to douse the guilt slashing its way through him.

*~*~*

Okay, there are certain things in this life a girl just shouldn’t have to deal with. Changing flat tires for instance. Radiators overheating, yes. A busted pipe. Programming the remote control. But being blindsided like that wasn’t fair at all. When the door closed between them, Maggie forced herself to breathe in a deep inhale. It did nothing at all to stop the swimming of her thoughts or the racing of her heart, but at that point anything was worth a try.

Showing up in the kitchen at breakfast for no reason was one thing. Showing up when she was in her oldest pajamas with the rip on one side was quite another. Her hand went up to her hair, and she raked her fingers through it extra hard. There was no telling how she looked, but how he looked?  Wow, was he easy on the eyes. Not to even mention how heart-stoppingly handsome he was minus the hat and the bandana. Dark hair, cropped extra short, and that face, and that smile. Ugh. It just wasn’t fair.

She rolled her eyes so she was looking up at the ceiling in desperation. “God, listen to me. I do not need to fall for this guy. I don’t need him to keep showing up like this. Please. Please. I’m asking You…”

Deep in the Heart Cover Final 1-18-2014

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