Tag Archive | romantic novels

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: 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

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

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Ebook Romance Stories: Review “Deep in the Heart”


Deep in the Heart Cover Final 1-18-2014Review by: 
Betty Anne Bantz

Maggie Montgomery drives her aging Chevette up the hill, hoping it will make it to the huge Texas mansion with its tall pillars before the engine dies of thirst. Neither

the car nor her outfit borrowed from the foster home fit the manicured estate. But she has to get this nanny job. The $2 in her pocket won’t take her to the next town, much less three hours back to Del Rio.

After being shown around the children’s wing by the children’s mother—the impeccably dressed Vivian Ayer, Maggie trips down the stairs and into the arms of the handyman, she assumes. When Vivian’s husband dismisses the worker, Maggie finds herself duly interviewed and surprisingly employed. And suddenly, she’s alone in the house for a week with a two-year-old girl, a four-year-old boy, a Spanish housekeeper, and a surly social secretary, plus that handsome handyman, when the Ayers decide to go on a cruise.

Keith Ayer finds the new nanny for his half-brother and -sister quite appealing. And overseeing things at the mansion in his father’s absence proves no hardship either. Even the obligatory phone calls to his fiance at law school can’t diminish his enjoyment of the young nanny and her sweet prayers over the children that he shows up for each night. But what Keith doesn’t know is how much he and the girl have in common. It’s a heartache he’s never fully understood.

This is more than a romance.  The author cuts straight to the heart of God–love.  God is love. Even through unexpected tragedies.  And we can overcome evil with good–by His love.

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

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Ebook Romance Stories: Review of “The Price of Silence”

Review of “The Price of Silence” by Debra Ullrick

Stupendous read! Absolutely fabulous! Will leave you wanting to read more by this amazing author!

Staci Stallings is an amazingly gifted writer. Her characters are fabulous and her writing is so poetic. I love all of her stories! I’ve read, The Price of Silence, three times now. It’s that good. Wait, did I say good? Make that great! There are places in this story that keep you on the edge of your seat, holding your breath, wondering what’s going to happen next, and places that have you crying–so get the Kleenex–and other places that have you saying, “Ah-h-h.” Because of the strong message in, The Price of Silence, I think it should be mandatory reading in every middle school and high school. Sometimes doing the right thing isn’t easy. And sometimes we stand alone when we do choose to do what’s right. Find out if protagonist Robyn Lockhart does what’s right in the face of danger, and if she stands alone. The Price of Silence, is an excellent read for all ages. I highly recommend it, and all of Staci’s books.

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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “The Price of Silence”

The Price of Silence Final cover 1-18-2014

Excerpt from “The Price of Silence”

“Oh, you’re here, great,” Kat said suddenly, piling her things on the desk next to Robyn.

“Yeah,” Robyn said, feeling like a barnacle on a boat.

Kat sat down at her desk. “I told you it wouldn’t be so bad today.”

“Where is everybody?”

“Mondays and Wednesdays are nuts,” Kat said. “The paper comes out on Tuesday and Thursday, so most of the time, the rest of the week is like this.”

“This is better,” Robyn said, glancing over her shoulder.

“I agree.” Kat stood. “Ready?”

“For what?” Robyn asked, stumbling to her feet.

“An interview with Findley.”

“Now?” Robyn asked as the panic caught up with her again.

“Yeah, my story for Tuesday is on campus crime and what they plan to do about it.”

“Campus crime?” Alarm bells rang in her head.

“We’ve always had cars broken into and stuff taken from lockers, but this year seems worse than usual,” Kat said as she led the way out of the newsroom.

“Why?”

“I don’t know really. It’s a guess, but word has it that when Reese Jones took over the Scorpions, their initiation process got a lot tougher.”

“The Scorpions?” Robyn asked more alarmed than before.

“James Madison’s version of the Mafia,” Kat said, nodding. “Our very own, home grown gang bangers.”

Gangs? Robyn had heard of them, of course, but she’d never thought she’d see one up close and personal.

“So, what’s Findley going to do about it?” Robyn asked, intrigued with the topic despite the fear lurking just behind her consciousness.

“That’s what we’re going to find out.”

*~*~*

In ten minutes they were sitting in Mr. Findley’ office, and somehow it looked different today. Less threatening. Robyn was sure it was because this time she had Kat by her side.

“The number of reported crimes around school has almost doubled in the last six months,” Kat said, sounding every bit the big city crime reporter. “What plans do you have to combat this problem?”

“Well, Miss Layton, we’ve already implemented the security patrol around school. Their presence has helped,” Mr. Findley, a gray-haired man of almost sixty, said as if that should answer all questions.

“How has that helped? Crime has gone up,” Kat said not letting him off the hook.

“Well, we feel their visible presence on campus helps to deter crime in certain higher crime areas.”

“What do they look like—the campus patrol, I mean?” Robyn asked much to the surprise of everyone in the room.

“They’re the guys in the blue jackets that walk the halls during and between classes,” Kat said dismissively as she focused on the next question in her notebook.

“Huh. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one,” Robyn said, speaking her thoughts as they crossed her mind. “I didn’t even know they existed, which seems kind of strange because I’ve been caught in the halls after the bell’s rung several times during the last three days. It seems like one of them would’ve asked what I was doing.”

“Well, we only have ten of them, and they can’t cover every hallway all the time,” Mr. Findley said, sliding toward the defensive.

“So, they only work if they happen to be where the trouble happens?” Robyn asked clearly unconvinced. “Sounds pretty ineffective to me.”

“Well, we had to start somewhere, Miss Lockhart.” Mr. Findley’s tone registered a trace of annoyance.

“Do you have security cameras?” Robyn asked totally into the interview now and forgetting that she was supposed to be only observing.

“We’re looking into that, but it’s only one of several options at this point.”

“What other things are you considering? Parking lot patrol? Metal detectors? Student Crime Stoppers?” Robyn asked.

Mr. Findley bristled under the barrage of questions. “Those are all options.”

“Does the state give you any money for all of this? I mean putting this stuff in place can’t be cheap,” Kat said, breaking into the conversation.

“No, it’s not cheap.” Mr. Findley sighed. “And no, for the most part the funds we get are not supposed to be used for these things—they’re mostly for new textbooks, computer equipment, facility improvement that sort of thing.”

“It seems to me that textbooks and computer equipment aren’t going to help a whole lot if the students don’t feel safe,” Kat said. “Shouldn’t their safety be a paramount consideration?”

“It is, I assure you. We’re doing everything we can to keep our students safe while they’re on our campus.”

“What about the Scorpions?” Robyn asked, jumping into the topic foremost in her mind. “How are you dealing with them?”

“The Scorpions.” Mr. Findley looked from Robyn to Kat and back again, and Robyn felt Kat straighten at her elbow. “Well, as with any other group that threatens the well-being of the students, they are being dealt with in the fairest way possible.”

“How?” Robyn asked again.

“How?” He scratched his nose. “Well, the best way to explain it is to say it’s on a case-by-case basis, I suppose. It’s not easy to link an entire group to a crime and make things stick. You can only convict the person who actually commits the crime.”

“Okay,” Robyn said slowly as she pieced together what he was really saying. “So, let’s say someone is being initiated into a gang, and they’re told to swipe a stereo. If that person is caught, then that person and not the gang is punished?”

Mr. Findley nodded. “That’s correct.”

Robyn had no pen and no paper, and she hoped Kat was taking good notes. “Well, what if a school-sponsored group were to require their potential members to commit a crime to get in, what would happen then?”

Mr. Findley sat in silence for a long moment. “Well, I suppose their right to operate on the campus would be revoked.”

“So, what you’re saying is if you’re legal, the whole group gets punished, but if you’re not, nothing happens to the group, only to the person unfortunate enough to get caught,” Robyn said.

“Doesn’t seem quite fair when you put it like that,” Mr. Findley said with a sigh, “but yes, I suppose that’s what I’m saying.”

“So, the only real way to get the Scorpions or any other gang off the campus is to catch and convict every one of its members,” Robyn said, zeroing in on the real story. “How many members are there in this gang?”

“It’s hard to say.” Mr. Findley rubbed his nose as if he was battling a monstrous headache.

“Some reports say up to a 100 or more,” Kat mumbled as she scribbled furiously in her notebook.

“So,” Robyn said, disliking the picture that all the pieces of this puzzle were making, “theoretically, they could commit 100 or more crimes, and if they are all caught by your group of ten guys in blue suits, and if they haven’t added any more members, and if they actually go to jail or something for every crime, then the halls will be safe for the other students?”

Mr. Findley sat like a stone statue.

“May we take that as a yes?” Kat asked, looking up, her pen poised for the answer.

“All I can say is we’re doing our best to prevent and reduce crime on campus,” Mr. Findley said, emphasizing each word. “We’re implementing policies and incorporating new rules to combat the problem.”

“And while you’re doing that, are we as students just sitting ducks?” Robyn asked pointedly.

“Or are there things we can do to help ourselves?” Kat asked quickly softening the question.

“Well, as a matter of fact, there are several things you can do—like making sure your cars and lockers are secure. Don’t leave valuables in them if at all possible. As far as in school, keep your eyes open and report any strange activity. If you’re here at night, use the buddy system to go to cars…”

“So, we’re not talking about just robbery then. Are we, Mr. Findley?” Kat asked, breaking into the list.

He sighed heavily. “No, Miss Layton. We’re not.”

A shiver ran up Robyn’s spine. Suddenly this wasn’t about playing reporters any more. This was serious. “Has someone been attacked?”

“Back in February, a girl was jumped out by the gym,” Kat said, not letting the look Mr. Findley gave her intimidate her into sweeping the story under the carpet. “Luckily a couple of people came along just as it happened. She was okay, but it not long after that, she transferred.”

“Unfortunately, we can’t be everywhere at once,” Mr. Findley said clearly on the defensive now. “Students have to use their heads and not get themselves into a position where they can easily be injured or harmed.”

“Like the hallways between classes,” Robyn laughed with a shake of her head.

“The hallways, Miss Lockhart?”

“Yeah, I got knocked down the other day, and I was almost trampled to death.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Mr. Findley said, more guardedly than the statement warranted.

“You know, come to think of it, how do I know whoever did that to me, didn’t do it on purpose?” Robyn asked, suddenly seeing the incident in a whole new light.

Mr. Findley tilted his head. “What do you mean?”

“Are you kidding?  Even a naïve girl from Iowa can see the potential for crime in that hallway. Three thousand students and what, ten security people?  One knockdown in a crowded, frenzied hallway?  Shoot, by the time you get your bearings back, your stuff could be halfway to Mexico.”

Kat nodded. “She’s got a point.”

“Yes, I believe she does,” Mr. Findley finally agreed as he opened a folder on his desk and studied something. “In fact, that’s a problem that has just started surfacing. I’ve had three complaints about incidents just like that cross my desk in the last week.”

“So, the halls aren’t as safe as we think they are then?” Kat asked, intrigued.

“Apparently we have a long way to go in securing the building.” Mr. Findley looked at them both. “I honestly wish there was some way to ensure that every student was safe every second of every day they’re here, but I can’t. Maybe the two of you can get the word out so the students can help us help them. It would be a start anyway.”

“It can’t hurt,” Robyn said suddenly seeing a myriad of things she had done wrong in the last week.

“Well, thanks for your time, Mr. Findley.”  Kat closed her notebook and shook his hand.

“Thank you, Miss Layton, and you too, Miss Lockhart.”  Mr. Findley stood and shook their hands. “I’m glad you decided to join the newspaper staff, but I’m thinking I’d better be more prepared for interviews after this.”

They all laughed, and then Kat and Robyn made their way out of the office. They were almost out of the building before either of them spoke again.

“I don’t care what you say,” Kat said. “You’re joining the staff.”

*~*~*

It seemed like only seconds before Robyn was back home sitting at her own kitchen table trying to concentrate on Trig. But Trig was the last thing on her mind. This story was big. Much bigger than anything she’d ever worked on at Lakota. It was downright frightening to think that at any moment in the hallway she could be the victim of a crime.

She reviewed the knockdown incident again, and it was clear that no one except Kat had even noticed or cared that she was in trouble. How easy would it have been for someone to grab her stuff and be gone?  Too easy, she thought with a shiver.

“I wonder what kids who’ve been going there all their lives think about this,” she said, tapping her pencil on her Trig homework lost in thought. “Do they see the threat? Or are they so used to being bounced around in the hallway, they don’t even think about it?”

One way or the other, she needed to find out. She pulled a clean sheet of paper out of her notebook and scribbled a few questions down. Tomorrow she would do a little unofficial polling of her own.

The Price of Silence Final cover 1-18-2014Buy “The Price of Silence”

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Ebook Romance Stories: Chapter 1, “A Work in Progress”


AWIP Cover New 1-10-2014A Work in Progress
The Faith Series, Book 1

by:  Staci Stallings

~*~*~

Sometimes faith is simply learning to see

What is right before your eyes.

 

~*~*~


 

Chapter 1

For the life of her, Rebecca Avery couldn’t understand it.  She had been with them twenty-four hours a day for all of five months, and still she had no clue how they did it.  Sitting in the student union building, tucked ever-so-carefully behind her new psychology book, she watched them—the beautiful people—milling about, talking, laughing, and just generally enjoying each other’s company.

To be sure she had been with them her whole life, first in her family, then in school, but never could she quite figure out the mystique that seemed to drape them in an aura that said, “Look at me.  I’m here.  Come, let’s have fun together.”

No, for as long as she could remember, she had been on the outside of that picture.  Always watching them, always studying them, but never quite learning how to be like them.

She pushed the strings of the dirt-colored blonde hair off her eyes and pushed up her thin, dark-rimmed glasses.  Her hair was up in a clip, but like everything else in her life, it had ways of slipping out of even the best holds.  In frustration, she looked down at her book.  Psychology class didn’t start until tomorrow night, but at least this way it looked like there was a reason she was alone.

Studying alone was cool—or at least acceptable.  Sitting alone staring at everyone else was not.  Absently she reached over to her cup; however, she misjudged the distance, and the cup tipped dangerously and then dropped back to the table at the last possible second.  In frustration she picked it up to take a drink, but she had already taken a long drink of air before she realized it was empty.  She looked down into the brown swirling trails at the bottom of the cup and frowned.  Figures.

With a sigh she dug into her pocket and pulled out enough crumpled dollars to buy another French vanilla hot chocolate—one more thing in her life that was less than glamorous.  No matter how many times she had tried it, she still hated coffee.  Even the smell of it turned her stomach, so she stuck to her hot chocolate and hoped no one noticed.  Leaving her book where it lay, she slid off the stool and strode to the counter.

“French vanilla hot chocolate, please.”  Her fingers counted out the dollars even as they smoothed them out and laid them on the counter.

In seconds a new cup was sitting in front of her.  She paid and reached for it as wisps of steam spiraled into the air. Carefully she picked it up, put it to her lips, and blew the steam away.  It was always too hot to drink for the first ten minutes, but greedily she inhaled the sweet odor anyway.  There was something about hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day that did wonders for her mood.

She let the cup drop from her mouth as she turned back for her table.  However, she’d only turned halfway around when she met up with what felt like the hard side of a rock coming the other direction.

The first splash of the liquid landed on her hand, and the shock from it burning its way through her skin tore through her. “Ahh!”  Without a thought she threw the cup away from her—right at the rock, and in the next breath the rock replicated her yell.

“Ahh!”  Reaching under his outer buttoned-down shirt that was opened all the way down, he pulled his now hot chocolate-covered white T-shirt away from his skin as he yelped in pain.  “H-h-ot!”

“Oh! Oh, no. Oh, my gosh. I’m sorry,” Rebecca said although the stinging pain in her own hand wouldn’t let her focus on him for more than a second. “I’m so sorry.”  Battling to forget her own pain, she grabbed as many napkins as she could from the counter and started mopping at his shirt, struggling to undo the last few seconds.  “I’m so, so sorry.  Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry.”

A look of annoyed exasperation crossed his face as he took the napkins from her and started wiping his own shirt.  “I think you said that already.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said in apology for apologizing too much, and when he looked at her, she knew she had better add something vaguely intelligent.  “I didn’t see you there.”

Her feet carried her backward although her gaze never moved from his face or his frame.  If she had seen him before she hit him, she would probably have dropped the hot chocolate on his feet in wide-eyed astonishment instead of hitting him in the chest with it.

Golden hair that dropped from the top of his head down just past his ears in the front and over his collar in the back, kind green eyes, even his frown was gorgeous.  Couched on top of a smoke blue shirt unbuttoned to reveal a white T-shirt that now sported a giant light-brown stain, he was the most incredible thing she’d ever seen.

Through its files, her brain scrambled, searching for something to say.  ‘Sorry’ came to mind, but that was the only real word she’d said so far.  Just as the fight to get her mind to think of something better reached the boil-over point, another guy walked up.  Spiked and blonde-tipped hair, a black muscle shirt, and a tan so deep he could very well have just stepped off a beach, he was the epitome of the beautiful people.

“What happened to you?” spike-haired guy asked, surveying his friend with a smirk.

“Chocolate smelling third degree burn,” smoke-shirted guy said, still wiping at the stain.

Muscle shirt guy shook his head. “You’ve really got to be more careful.”

Golden haired guy looked over at Rebecca in annoyance, which caused her heart to thump against her chest.  “Yeah, tell me about it.”

“I’m sorry,” she said as she held her own burned hand next to her chest protectively.

He wiped his shirt once more and then gave up.  “Don’t worry about it.”  Stepping over to the trashcan, he threw the napkins in and reached down to retrieve the cup from the floor.  “You want this?”

Rebecca’s head moved side-to-side with no help from her.

“I didn’t think so.”  He chunked it into the trashcan and looked down at his shirt in resignation.  Then he looked over at her, melting her with his gentle green eyes, which had softened considerably in the previous seconds.  “You okay?”

“F-fine.”  Her voice drifted out as she fell into his gaze.

“Good.”  He smiled, then looked at his friend.  “Well, I think I’ve had enough to drink for one day.  You ready?”

“Yeah.”

Her feet never moved as she watched them depart, and it wasn’t until he’d disappeared through the double glass paned doors across the room that the pain seared through her again.  Tears blinded out even the vacant door as she looked down at her hand.  Red, blistered, and throbbing with the heat, it threatened to take her knees right out from underneath her.

She wondered if the skin under his shirt hurt as badly as her hand did, but then the pain pushed even that thought out of her head.  “Man, Rebecca, if you could get anymore clumsy, I would really hate to see how.”

*~*~*

By the time Eric Barnett made it to the computer lab for work, he had resorted to buttoning up his top shirt.  Everybody noticed the stain, and everybody asked.  It was annoying, especially when it wasn’t even him that had caused the accident.  Okay, so most of the time it was him, but this time it wasn’t.  And he was getting more than a little aggravated by the implications of the questions.

He stomped through the door, wishing his whole miserable life would just go away and leave him alone.

“Eric, it’s nice to have you back,” Mr. Templeton said as Eric strode into the large room humming with the electronic world he had gotten so used to hearing in the last two and a half years.

It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t washing dishes either.  Best of all, it paid a few bills and managed to give him something to do besides studying, which was always a good thing.

He took the screen cleaner and a rag from the back of the office. “Looks like things are pretty slow today.”

Mr. Templeton’s dark hair bobbed up and down over the dusky gray shirt and tie.  “First of the semester, wait a week or two. It’ll pick up.”

“I think I’ll just enjoy today.”

“I think that’s wise.”

With two strides, Eric walked back into the computer room and sat down at the first computer.  Time to check the computers got scarcer and scarcer as the semester wore on, so it was nice to have some time to just get one-on-one with each of them and run them through their paces.

This semester he was even more thankful for the time he spent with the computers.  His new apartment wasn’t exactly home.  He hated living by himself, but with his younger brother’s recent marriage, not to mention the new living arrangement in his former apartment, he was on his own—like it or not.

Until Jeremy and Gwen had gotten together, everything had seemed perfectly wonderful with their little group.  In fact, he had felt like one of the central participants, but the pairing of his two best friends had effectively eliminated his feelings of fitting in.  They all had somebody.

Ryan had Desiree, and their newlywed status made them the odds-on solid couple of the group.  Ransom and Zoë, although on again-off again were now on again, and, by the looks of things, weren’t headed for off-again any time soon.  And then there was Jeremy and Gwen.

The thought of Gwen brought his heart up with a jerk.  Fighting to get his mind to think of something other than her long legs, slim body, and fabulous red hair, his hands worked faster over the keyboard. After another minute, he snapped that one off and moved over to the next one.  But getting her out of his mind for more than seconds at a time was completely useless.

How he had ever thought he had a shot with her was beyond him.  As completely unbelievable as it was, however, he had thought exactly that.  Right up until he walked in on her and Jeremy kissing.  It was an image he knew that would be with him forever.  His heart sank just thinking about it.

He wanted to scream at both of them, to tell them he hated them, and there were times he really did hate them.  However, getting mad would do nothing other than destroy all he had left—their friendship.  Only problem was that being around them, being around all of them was slowing killing him.  Never would he tell any of them that, but it was the truth just the same.

With a snap he turned that computer off and scooted to the next one.  Just don’t think, he told himself.  Just keep moving, don’t think, and then it won’t hurt.  But the truth was he could never move fast enough to outrun the ache, and he was beginning to think it would be a part of him forever.

*~*~*

Even cold, clear water hadn’t helped the throbbing in Rebecca’s hand.  Two small blisters had formed in the center of it, and she was glad for the moment she at least didn’t have any major papers due anytime soon.  Writing tomorrow in class was not something she was looking forward to; typing would probably be the end of her.

As she sat on her bed with a book open on her lap that she wasn’t really reading, the lock on the door clicked.  She looked over to watch her newest roommate, Holly Jacobs, slide into the room.  Bundled in a hat, coat, gloves, and a scarf, no one could’ve guessed how stunning she was, but the second she started unwrapping herself, Rebecca was again reminded.

“Man, it is like ten below out there!”  One layer came off and landed on the bed.  “They should’ve mentioned that in the little brochures they sent about how wonderful Boston Central is.”  Another layer came off.  “Sure the fall pictures are gorgeous, but winter?  I feel like I just stepped into a freezer somebody’s turned all the way down.”

The final layer fell away, and Holly ran her hazy pink-polished fingernails down her corn silk locks.  She went to the mirror and brushed her hair several times for good measure although fixed to its finest Rebecca’s hair had never come close to how Holly’s looked when it came out of that hat.

“How was your day?” Holly asked, glancing at Rebecca in the mirror.  It was then she saw the red, blistered hand that Rebecca still had pressed to her chest.  Instantly Holly spun around and slammed the brush to the sink, hair forgotten. “What did you do?” At Rebecca’s bed, she sat carefully as though moving her roommate’s body might cause her further pain.  Gently she took the hand in hers to examine it.

“I had a little mishap at the Student Union.  I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

“Did you put anything on it?”

“Water, but that hurt so bad, I decided against trying anything else.”

Holly’s eyes narrowed as she stared at the burn.  “Just a second.”

Rebecca’s gaze followed her roommate across the room and into her closet.  The burn really did hurt.  In fact, the second Holly left it had relocated back to her chest, but she had convinced herself there was nothing more to be done for it.  Holly emerged and strode to the bed carrying a small brown case.

“What’s that?”

“Emergency kit.  My mom’s a nurse.  She never lets me out of the house without it.”  Gently Holly took Rebecca’s hand and laid it on the bed.  “Tell me how you did this again.”

“Oh, it was stupid.  I had some hot…I mean coffee, and I kind of bumped into this guy.”  Just retelling it made her heart skip.  “It spilled on my hand.”

“Does it still burn?”

“It hurts.”

“No, burn.  Is it still hot?”

“Yeah.”  Rebecca had been trying not to think about that, but the second Holly mentioned it, her eyes stung as badly as the burn did.  She watched as Holly pulled out a small bottle of vanilla extract.  “Hey, we’re not making brownies here.”

Holly shook her head as she dabbed the extract on the burn.  “It kills the fire, so you’re not in so much pain while it heals.”

Remarkably she was right.  It took only seconds for the intense burning sensation to dissipate.  It was strange how a whole body could be tense from pain.  It wasn’t until the burning cooled that Rebecca realized her head was pounding.

Like a practiced nurse, Holly took out a small bottle of Vitamin E and smoothed some on the hand as Rebecca leaned back against the wall in exhausted relief.  In no time, Holly had the burn wrapped in gauze and back in Rebecca’s protective spot.

“Better?”

“Much.”

With a nod, Holly stood and started back for the closet.

“Hey, you got any aspirin in that bag?”

“Advil?”

“Anything.”

The bottle rattled as Holly handed it to her roommate.  “Here, I’ll get you some water.”

Seeing that even very small insignificant movements were going to be an effort, Rebecca finally managed to get the lid off with a hand and a half.  By the time she had it off, Holly was there with her water.

“Thanks.” Rebecca handed the bottle back.  She downed two pills and some water and then leaned back on the cool wall.  It felt so good.

“Have you eaten yet?” Holly asked as she put her winter outerwear away.

Slowly Rebecca shook her head, disturbing it as little as possible.

“Well, I’m not really hungry yet,” Holly said, “and we’ve still got an hour to be down there.  Why don’t you take a nap, and I’ll wake you so we can go together?”

A nap sounded very, very good at the moment.  Without protest, Rebecca slid down onto the pillows and drifted away on the smell of hot chocolate and the look of his gorgeous green eyes.

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Ebook Romance Stories: Behind the Story, “Deep in the Heart”

Image Rich, Reality Poor
Behind the Story:   Deep in the Heart
by:  Staci Stallings

It’s amazing to me how different life looks if you ever bother to look at more than the outside surface of things.  In our world today we’re all so busy, and we get so caught up in doing things and getting things and having things that we forget what’s really important.  What’s really important is not how something, or more to the point–someone, looks on the outside.  It’s what’s inside that counts.

One of the things that fascinates me about the story “Deep in the Heart” is the paradox of being image rich and reality poor–and vice versa, being image poor and reality rich. In the story, Keith is the son of a billionaire.  He literally has the world at his feet–a beautiful fiancée who is wealthy and well-connected and a father who owns half of Texas.  Okay, not half, but pretty close.  He is the definition of Image Rich.

Then there’s Maggie Montgomery.  Poor Maggie.  I’m telling you from the first time you meet her, you will feel a twinge of sympathy for her.  She literally has nothing in life–two dollars in her purse and a car that’s going to break down any second.  She is in every way image poor.  In fact, she’s not even wearing her own shoes, and the shoes she is wearing don’t fit.  She is to all the world the personification of Image Poor.

But look a little closer and you begin to see that everything is not as the image would have you believe.  For one thing, Keith’s life is a mess.  Oh, he talks a good game and looks good doing it–when he’s all citified that is.  However, when Maggie first meets him on the stairs of his father’s mansion, she doesn’t see that at all.  Why?  Because there he is image poor.

In his dusty jeans and ripped shirt, he doesn’t look like a billionaire’s son, and because he doesn’t look that way, she trusts him enough to be real–to let him see the real her–nerves and imperfections and all.  Had he looked image rich, she would never have trusted him because she wouldn’t have felt anywhere near his league.  And that’s part of the paradox.  We treat others by how we see them, never realizing there is always much more to the story.

Of course, for Keith he’s really not a fan of the image rich lifestyle.  He’s seen it up-close-and-personal and he wants no part of it.  Except he can’t keep his father and everyone else from dragging him down that dark hole of being who he isn’t and how he isn’t to keep up the image until he’s come to the point that maybe he should give up what he wants and just accept the image rich persona everyone wants to put on him.

For Maggie, she had no chance at image rich.  The truth is, she’s just struggling for survival.  However, because of that, she’s had to become Really (or Spiritually) Rich.  Oh, this doesn’t show on her clothes or her shoes or her hairstyle.  It shows only in her heart, and those wise enough to look below the image are the only ones lucky enough to see how truly rich she really is.  Of course, everyone in Keith’s circle is horrified because her image is all wrong, but Keith is slowly drawn not to the outside image but to what’s really there.  As this happens, he begins to question if it is possible for him to shed the image everyone wants him to be and go for what he really is.

However, shedding the image and reaching for Really Rich rather than Image Rich is not always as easy as it sounds, and Keith soon learns that becoming Really Spiritually Rich is much, much harder than it looks.  Can he break out of what the world says he should look like in order to become the man he really is meant to be?

 Read more about “Deep in the Heart”