Tag Archive | young adult

Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “A Work in Progress”


AWIP Cover New 1-10-2014Excerpt from “A Work in Progress”

By Tuesday night Rebecca’s hand was mended—her heart, however, was a different story.  She hadn’t seen him since Saturday night, and although she had managed to convince herself it was to be expected, she hadn’t managed to convince herself it was okay.

So, the wings on her feet crashed her into her Psychology chair fifteen minutes early on the off-chance that they would be early and she would have the undeniable privilege of hearing his voice again.  The angels, she knew, wouldn’t sound as sweet.

The pen in her hand doodled across the page.  Eric and Rebecca.  Rebecca and Eric.  Hearts and flowers.  It was all she could see when she thought of him.  When that page was full, she turned the page and had just started the scribbling intently when she heard the voice that echoed continually in her head coming from the door, down the aisle, right to the seats behind her.

“No, man, I didn’t blow you off,” Eric said as he approached her desk.  “I had a lot of stuff to get done.”

“Like what?  More studying?” spike-haired guy asked as she felt Eric take the seat behind hers.

“Is that so hard to believe?”

“From you?  Yeah.”  Spike-haired guy laughed in a way that made Rebecca want to turn around and knock his head off his shoulders.  How dare he make fun of Eric.

“I needed to meet with Diane,” Eric said defensively.  “She was going to help me with sign language.”

“At ten o’clock on a Saturday night?” spike-haired guy asked.

“It was the only time she could meet.”

Rebecca’s eyes narrowed in confusion.  Saturday night?

“Well, the party was just getting started.  You could’ve invited her over.”

“We studied at the Student Union it was quieter there.”

Saturday night he was playing pool—alone, Rebecca’s head said as she listened.

“Sign language?” spike-headed guy asked as if that was akin to cleaning cesspools.

“Yeah.”

“Well, what time did she go home?”

Clinging to every word, Rebecca pressed back against the chair, waiting to hear the answer.

“About 11:15.  The place was a madhouse.”

“I thought you said it was quieter.”

“Oh, yeah.  Well…”

Rebecca heard the stumble.

“It was, but then a ton of people showed up, so we decided to pack it in for the night.”

“Uh-huh,” spike-haired guy said.  “And where did you go after that?”

“She went home, and I went home.” Eric’s story paused.  “I know.  Wonderful night, but she’s not my type anyway.  She’s all interested in her studies.  Glasses, books, notebooks—you know the type.  Not the kind of girl I’m looking for.”

Unconsciously Rebecca pushed her glasses up as her heart dropped.

“Yeah,” spike-haired guy said.  “Seems like I remember that.”

Mr. Templeton walked in down front, but Rebecca’s attention never wavered from the seat behind her. Eric was obviously lying.  Yes, he was at the Student Union, but there was no girl. Was there? Fighting with her brain to recall every last detail of the non-encounter, Rebecca examined the clock in her mind.  Although she couldn’t clearly remember the time they had left, it was 11:25 when she and Holly got back to their room.

How far was it from the Student Union to her dorm?  Five minutes?  Ten?  But even so, his line about studying the rest of the time was totally bogus.  And although she knew she should be paying attention to the lecture down front, one thought kept working its way into her brain.  Why was he lying?


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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.

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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “A Little Piece of Heaven”

ALPH Cover New 1-10-2014Excerpt from “A Little Piece of Heaven”

“Good grief! What is in this thing anyway?” Emily asked as she struggled to drag the box full of stereo equipment from the old apartment to the new with Jeremy pushing it from behind.

“$10,000 worth of stereo equipment.” He grunted with the effort. “State of the art. Surround sound. The best money can buy.”

On the other side she dug into the task. “Ugh. The best or the heaviest?”

He laughed although it was all he could do to keep the box moving. “You should’ve been here to get it up the elevator.”  His mind slipped back to the day he had bought it with Gwen. It was supposed to be for their apartment when they got married. It never made it that far. The memory made him push harder.

As the box slid awkwardly toward her, Emily guided and pulled as best she could. “No, thanks. Down the hall is enough for me.”  Just then the box jammed on a snag in the carpet, and she lost her grip, sending her flying backward. She landed with a thud on the carpet just as he jammed his ribcage into the box with a thwack.

“Oh,” she moaned with a little cough to get her lungs working again.

“Ow!” He rubbed his ribcage, hoping there was no permanent damage. “You okay?”

“Sure.” She pushed the pain down as she stood, readjusted her shirt, and retook her position. “Sorry.”  With both hands, she took hold of the little handle and yanked upward. It didn’t move so much as a centimeter. Again she yanked, however, the box was six times bigger than she was, and clearly she wasn’t going to get it unsnagged alone.

Jeremy had to fight the laugh because for all of her effort, yanking it upward, the box never so much as moved. “Here.” He lifted his foot and stepped around the box to take hold of it as she backed up to watch. One yank and it came free from the rug. Without letting it down, he nodded at the other side. “Go push it.”

“Right.” She lifted her foot over the edge and skirted the wall around the box to get to the other side.

“Okay, push!”

*~*~*

On command Emily did as she was told, and they were moving again.  Her feet tried to grip the carpet, but they kept slipping out from under her. Step by sliding step they shoved the box forward. Her arms and legs were screaming for mercy at the near-impossible task of staying upright. “Ugh. You should’ve told me to wear my hiking boots.”

He glanced over the box at her. “You got hiking boots?”

“Yeah, back in Colorado!” She shoved. “They sure would come in handy right about now.”

Finally, mercifully, they made it to the door of the new apartment.

“Okay, careful through the door,” Jeremy said, angling and edging the huge box through the frame.

“Oh, man! Tell me we’re almost there.”  At the threshold she resorted to turning around and pushing it with her back.

“Over here by the wall,” he said, guiding it the final ten feet. “And. We’re. There.”

The moment he stopped, she gave up and slid all the way down the box to the floor. “Hallelujah! Oh, man. I should have asked for hazard pay.”

“What’re you doing sitting around?” Rebecca asked as she breezed in the door with a box the size two pairs of shoes would fit into. She walked over to the counter in the kitchen and set it down with a clank.

“You’re kidding, right?” Emily was exhausted. She put her hand to her head to get it to stop swimming from the over-exertion. The thought of the fifteen other boxes of stuff not to mention some of the furniture still sitting back in the other apartment threatened to dissolve the last of her will. “You told me this wasn’t going to be hard.”

Rebecca shrugged. “It’s moving. It’s always hard.” With that she breezed back out.

“Come on.” Jeremy reached down for her hand and pulled her to her feet. “I promise, I’ll give you the light one this time.”

“Oh that you would be so kind.” Emily reached down and pulled her purple jersey shirt over her jeans where it had come up.  The high ponytail on her head swung in time with her feet as she followed him down the hall. “How in the world can two bachelors have so much stuff?  I thought bachelors like ate off of paper plates and slept on the couch.”

Jeremy glanced at her with a look of horror at the very suggestion. “I’m a bachelor. I’m not poor.”

“Oh,” she said, taking the statement to mean poor was like being a leper. Instinctively her arms twisted around her. “Well, I for one wish you were a little poorer.”

The gaze he trained on her held complete derision, but she smiled at him teasingly. “Not so much stuff to move that way.”

“Ah.” He lifted his chin in understanding although he still didn’t look very happy.

Sensing she’d just sent the train flying off the track, Emily followed him into the old apartment and planted her hands on her hips.  “Okay, gang. What’s next?” The sooner they got this done, the sooner she could get back to normal.


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Ebook Romance Stories: Behind the Story “A Work in Progress”

AWIP Cover New 1-10-2014A Story Seven Years in the Making

by:  Staci Stallings

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have named the book “A Work in Progress.”  Maybe that was my first clue of how long this particular book would take to write.

The planting of the seed happened over a message board about 10 years ago.  Remember message boards?  You posted something, then other people responded, and you had a nice little conversation about a certain topic.  Well, I started posting about this show that I really liked on TV at the time. Another young lady was posting as well, and we got into this big (but good-natured) argument about which guy on the show was our favorite.

She liked one of the guys that I would never in a million years have ever thought about dating. In the midst of this conversation, I wrote two different books featuring the guy I liked from the show.  Then she emailed one day (after the message boards had shut down and we had remained friends despite our different tastes in guys) and said she thought I should write one about the guy she liked.

That sparked a long conversation with myself about why anyone would like this guy.  Strangely, the more I asked the question, the more I realized how much he had to offer the right girl.  I realized there were things about him that no one probably knew because although part of him was the comedy guy often claiming the center of attention, there was a lot about the other sides of who he really was that got looked over and even sometimes trampled upon.

So I started this story “A Work in Progress” about Rebecca Avery, a college student who would never be one of the popular kids.  She watches them, envies them, and hates them.  Then one day she literally runs into Eric Barnett in one of the all-time classic scenes I have ever been given the honor of writing.  In fact, one of my problems over the seven years it took to write this one was that each time I pulled it up, I thought I just had to start reading it from the beginning to know where I was again.

I read that first scene countless times and it never got old.  Each time I read through it, I would think, “Wow, this is really, really good.  Why haven’t I finished this yet?”  Then I would get to the last page I had written and start writing more.  Five pages, ten, sometimes even 20 or 30.  But time and again, I got stopped either by life or by being like that dog on “Up” going, “Squirrel!” before chasing off in another direction after another great story idea.

The pieces of this one came VERY slowly, but I’m so glad they did.  Here’s why.  When I started this book, I was one person.  By the time  I finished it, I had literally become someone very different.  I started it wanting to be this successful, bestselling author.  I read every book on marketing and did my level best to become the success I thought God required me to be.  (“Performance Christians, please raise your hands!”  I would’ve had to raise both of mine.)

However, somewhere between 31-years-old and 38-years-old, God–the real God–finally got a hold of my life and showed me that it wasn’t about my performance.  It wasn’t about anything I had ever done or could ever do.  My worth was set by Him.  Period.  As a child of the God of the Universe, I was already a success.  I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody.  I could be me and not apology or rationalize or justify that to anyone.  And, oh, the freedom and relief that flowed from finally understanding that!

Strangely enough, that’s exactly what Rebecca learns in the book.  She finally realizes that life is less about gaining friends to be popular and more about letting people into your soft spots.  Yes, sometimes that hurts.  Sometimes it hurts really, really badly.  But that’s the only way to really live.  It’s the only way to truly be friends.  Otherwise, you’re just acquaintances who just happen to know one another’s phone number, address, and favorite food.

As for Eric, I finally did learn to have almost as much admiration for him as my friend did.  She was right–he is a very cool guy when you give him a chance.

Oh, and you’ll be glad to know that the second and third books in The Faith Series didn’t take nearly so long to write as this one.  In fact, they were finished within nine months of “A Work in Progress” being finished.  It was like seven years of learning all came pouring out of me.  Lessons about how to be a friend and how to let yourself be open enough to let others in.  Lessons about not judging others for their denomination and looking instead at their hearts.  Lessons about being true to yourself and standing in the gap for one another.

Those seven years turned out to be worth every second they took to get here.  The truth is, I’m still “A Work in Progress” as I think we all are.  The more we remember that and stop trying to be perfect–and stop require each other to be perfect–the more wonderful life gets because it’s only then that we actually learn to live rather than breaking our necks trying to impress everyone else who are breaking their own necks trying to impress us!


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Ebook Romance Stories: Character Interview “The Price of Silence”

The following is a feature story in the James Madison High School Chronicle on the recent controversial suspension of one of the student body’s newest members and Chronicle reporter, Robyn Lockhart.  It is not intended to influence the investigation into the incidents surrounding Miss Lockhart one way or the other.  It is only to give the students the chance to see the different sides of the story and decide for themselves.

Robyn Lockhart

Hero or Villain?

If given the chance, don’t call James Madison senior Robyn Lockhart brave.

Upon hearing that word, she will tell you, repeatedly, that moving from her former small town in Iowa to the big city took all of her courage before she ever even made it to James Madison.

“The truth is I didn’t want to come here,” Lockhart said in an interview from her home pending the investigation into the incidents leading to her suspension.  “When my parents split up, it was my mom who wanted to move here.  I was just part of the baggage she happened to bring along.”

However, it wasn’t long after her arrival in these halls that Lockhart began to make her mark through her stories in the Chronicle.

“Robyn Lockhart?” Principal Findley said.  “Yes. Yes. Of course I know her, but I’d rather not discuss the circumstances surrounding her status at the present time.  We will just wait to find out what the investigation uncovers.  Beyond that I have no comment.”

Others, however, were more willing to come to Lockhart’s defense.

“Let me tell you something,” Mr. Tucker, Chronicle advisor, said.  “Robyn Lockhart is nothing but an asset to this school.  She put herself on the line to get the administration to pay attention to the problems we’re having–not just once but several times.

“In fact, I’ve not met a more compassionate, concerned student in all my time here.  Robyn will stand up for what she believes in even if her very best friends are questioning how smart she is to do that.  Take Sean Hudson for example.  The other day in class the two of them got into this heated exchange over a poem that would have left a presidential candidate winded.

“If you ask me, James Madison needs more Robyn Lockharts rather than suspending the one we’ve got.”

Nevertheless, when this Chronicle reporter caught up with Chad Mayes, a James Madison senior and one of Lockhart’s reported friends, a different side of the story emerged.

“I’m not one to point fingers and think bad of people,” Mayes said.  “But when you see the evidence I saw in that hallway after that fight, well, what’s a guy to think, you know?  What is it they say, ‘Who are you going to believe–me or your lying eyes?’  Yeah. Evidence like I saw doesn’t lie no matter how much you might want it to.”

However, the longer one follows this story, the more angles one finds.  For instance, Kathryn Layton, a reporter with the Chronicle and reportedly one of Lockhart’s best friends, provided a very different take than Mayes who is her boyfriend.

“Robyn is no thief.  I can tell you that,” Kat, a James Madison senior, said.  “I don’t know how it happened, but I was there when it all went down at the school that night.  I’ll tell you this, Robyn did not do what they are accusing her of doing.  She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s all.  I know Robyn Lockhart.  I trust Robyn Lockhart.  She is my friend.  You cannot tell me any of this was her fault.”

So, who is the real Robyn Lockhart?  Is she a thief or a hero who fights for justice and right?

“Don’t even go there with that whole villain story line,” Sean Hudson, Lockhart’s other good friend (obviously despite the flare-up in Mr. Tucker’s class), said.  “Robyn is a good person.  In fact, she is the best person I know.  She went into that school building the day after the break-in.  Why?  Because the students of James Madison deserve better than their getting right now that’s why.  She went in there, knowing she might get into trouble and knowing she was walking into a minefield.  But she went in.  For me and for you.  For all of us because she was trying to get to the bottom of all the junk that’s been happening around here.

“And if you’re wondering, the answer is yes.  I am talking about the break-in, but I’m talking about so much more than that.  I’m talking about the incident at the gym last February and the countless stolen items and instances of bullying that nobody wants to talk about.  Robyn may be just another student in the hallways, but she is a student who cares more about this school than most of us who have been here for years.  So put that in your little paper and give Robyn a break for a change already.  She doesn’t deserve all the nasty things people have been saying about her.”

So who is Robyn Lockhart?  Innocent small town girl?  Or dangerous thief and fomenter of trouble at James Madison?  We will leave that up to you and the investigators to decide.

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Ebook Romance Stories: Chapter 1, “A Little Piece of Heaven”

ALPH Cover New 1-10-2014A Little Piece of Heaven

The Faith Series, Book 2

by:  Staci Stallings

Chapter 1

“Aren’t they the cutest couple ever?” Emily Vasquez swooned as she and Holly Jacobs climbed the stately staircase on the way up to their dorm rooms. The lilt in her voice made her sound even younger than she was, but at the moment she was so happy for her friend, she didn’t care.

“Yeah, Rebecca seems really happy,” Holly agreed although her voice didn’t rise to the level of excitement Emily’s held. “I’m glad for her. She deserves it.”

With her hand on the banister, Emily climbed alongside Holly. “Tell me about it. I hope this semester evens out for her a little. She really had a rough one last semester.” Climbing and not thinking because of the late hour and the fatigue that was pulling her eyelids down, Emily stepped up three steps before she realized Holly hadn’t said anything in reply. When she glanced over at the young woman with the now-shortened but still platinum blonde hair, one look told her why. Head down and not looking up, Holly climbed, her shoulders sagging as if she was carrying something extremely heavy. Emily’s heart fell as why slammed into her. She of all people knew a major cause of Rebecca’s less-than-easy previous semester was in large part due to her roommate.

She retrained her gaze up the stairs as she tried to think of something to say that would take back the thoughtless comment, but short of turning back time, she could think of nothing. Finally, seeing no other option, she changed the subject. “I had fun tonight. I’m glad we went.”

Holly’s sad, tired gaze traveled over to her. “Yeah. Me, too.”

Just that look was enough to make Emily remember how desperate Rebecca’s roommate really was. “We’ll have to do it again sometime.” The brightness in her voice was forced, and she hated that. What she wanted to do was to stop and ask, to dig down into Holly to find out why she seemed so utterly devoid of enthusiasm, but she didn’t know Holly well enough to even ask the question.

Holly pulled herself up the last two steps. “Yeah. We’ll have to.”

At the third floor Holly turned for the next set of stairs, but Emily stopped. “I guess this is where I get off.”

“K.” Holly started up the next set of stairs.

Emily leaned over the above banister to be able to see Holly as she climbed to the next level. “Tell Rebecca I’ll see her for breakfast tomorrow.”

“K,” was all Holly said in reply. She didn’t even say good night just turned the corner of the stairs and climbed out of sight.

“That was good, Emily,” Emily berated herself as the suffering in Holly’s eyes transferred to her spirit. She wrapped her arms over themselves. “She really needed that kick in the teeth.”

On lead feet she walked to her room and unlocked it. The other side revealed an expanse of space dotted only with a bed and a nightstand angled from the corner one way and a desk angled in the opposite corner the other way. She kicked her bamboo flip flops off by the sink, glad she had thought to paint her toenails red before getting on the plane to come back to Boston. She would surely have missed that detail tonight with all the non-existent notice Rebecca had given them. Emily smiled at the thought of playing pool with Rebecca’s other friends. One face in particular drifted through her, and warmth spread over her thoughts. However, knowing those thoughts would take her nowhere she should go, she turned her attention to getting ready for bed.

It was nice to have a room to herself this year, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that without Dena, her roommate from the previous three semesters, this room was going to get very lonely very fast.

After removing her make-up and changing into her #7 black and gold sweatpants and T-shirt, she turned the light off, plunging the room into near-blackness. However, after a moment, there was enough silver-blue light from the opposite window to guide her to the bed where she clicked on the little blue reading light. In two days she would have to be using this time to study, but for tonight it was nice to have some time alone with her Bible.

She pulled the brown leather Bible her parents had given her for Confirmation out of its case on the nightstand and flipped it open. Taking a deep breath to push the rest of life away, she leaned back onto the wall and arched her gaze onto the words.

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’”

Emily laid her head back on the pale peach wall behind her. God always had a way of skewering her heart in case she hadn’t caught the message the first time. Guilt crashed through her. “I know, God. It was a stupid thing to say. I know Holly’s had a tough time. I just wish there was something Rebecca and I could do to help her. She seems so sad and so lonely. Even tonight with all of us there, it was like she didn’t want to have fun, like she didn’t want to get too close.” Her eyes closed on the hurt she found in her heart when she thought about Holly. “Please, Lord. Please. Help us to find a way to reach her. She needs You. I ask this in Your Name. Amen.”

After a moment her eyes came open, and she glanced down at the words again.

“…for man looks at outward appearances…”

Her heart tripped over the image of Rebecca’s friends. They were a tight-knit group, even Jeremy, the one with no clear partner, seemed woven in with them irreversibly. Protective was a good way to describe the others with him. They made sure to include him in every joke and in every conversation. Emily’s thoughts traveled through the evening, and she squinted unconsciously trying to see what was unseeable. There was something about him, something that didn’t quite add up.

He seemed so together. More than together. Perfect would’ve been a better word. The golden-brown tan, the moused, spiked, blonde-tipped hair fixed just right, even his dark brown sweater hanging to reveal just a hint of his white T-shirt underneath seemed to speak eloquently of his privileged status in life. Then there was the soft cinnamon color of the leather-suede jacket he took with him at the end of the night. It alone probably cost more than her tuition for the year.

Yet for all his perfection, there was a profound melancholy in his deep brown eyes. With a breath that barely reached her lungs, she put her head back again and closed her eyes. “Dear Lord, Jeremy needs You too. He’s hurting. I don’t know why or from what, but I can see it in his eyes, Lord. He’s suffering. Please ease his pain and give him some peace. Amen.”

When she opened her eyes, she glanced over at the clock. No wonder she was tired. It was almost one in the morning. Closing her Bible, she slid under the covers. She rolled to the side and laid it on its place on her nightstand. She clicked the light off, huddled under the covers, and put the rest of the night into God’s hands.

*~*~*

“Hey,” Eric Barnett said when he walked through the apartment door only to find his roommate, Jeremy Stratton, sitting in the dark at the kitchen island in his boxer shorts munching on Cheerios.

“Hey.” Jeremy scooped several round mounds into his mouth. He’d been sitting there so long, he’d almost forgotten Eric would be coming home tonight. “How was Rebecca?”

“Great.” Eric reached over and flipped on the living room light. Jeremy squinted although his gaze never left the cereal bowl. On his trek to the kitchen, Eric threw his light jacket to the couch. Jeremy’s couch to be exact. Courtesy of a round robin of apartment pairings, they now had two of everything. Two chairs, two coffee tables, and two couches.

Even as he tracked his roommate’s progress around the kitchen, Jeremy’s mind whispered softly how nice it was that his stuff was what would eventually stay.  The black leather of his couch and chair stood out in stark contrast to the wobbly, wooden coffee table that belonged to Eric. Once the old stuff was gone, it would make room for Jeremy’s matching coffee table which now sat by the door because there was simply no room for it anywhere else. Besides, in the overcrowded room, it was too likely that someone would kill their leg on one of the wrought iron corners of it.

With his head down over the bowl of cereal, Jeremy crunched a few more Cheerios as Eric went to the cabinet behind him and came back with the bag of Oreos.

“You get the girls home okay?” Jeremy asked, feeling the knot of jealousy in the middle of his spirit at the image of Eric standing on the steps of the Student Union taking not just one but three beautiful coeds back to the dorms while he, Jeremy, was left to go home in a dark, empty car.

“Safe and sound.” Eric sat down with his Oreos. “They invited us for Bible Study tomorrow night at Emily’s if you want to go.”

Jeremy recoiled physically and mentally. “Oh, I don’t think so. I’ve got stuff to get ready for Thursday.”

Eric shrugged. “Suit yourself, but it looked to me like you hit it off pretty well with Emily.”

Jeremy smiled at the memory of the young-looking, shy Hispanic girl who had accompanied Eric and Rebecca to playing pool at the Student U. “We had fun. She’s not much of a pool player though.”

“There are worse things to not be good at.”

He didn’t answer. For a moment the only sound in the room was someone running water somewhere else in the building.

“So have you heard from Gwen lately?” Eric asked although he never really looked at Jeremy.

A long sigh slid from his chest. “No. I probably won’t either. She took that job in New York, remember?”

With a half-shrug Eric tilted his head. “New York’s not that far from Boston.”

It might as well have been Jupiter for all the possibilities he had of hearing from Gwen. “Yeah, well…” He let the sentence trail into oblivion. The center of his heart wrapped around itself at the thought of Gwen and the way that relationship had ended. The last thing he wanted or needed tonight was to talk about her. Seeing no other option and knowing it would give Eric another topic to think about, Jeremy seized on the subject of Emily. “So is Emily going with anybody?”

He felt Eric’s surprise more than he saw it. “I don’t think so. Rebecca’s never said anything about it if she is. Why?”

Jeremy’s shoulders bounced up for the ceiling. “Something to do. I hate being odd-man out.” He stood and took his bowl to the sink where he washed it out and put it in the dishwasher.

“You’d really ask her out?” Eric asked, and Jeremy hated the skepticism in his friend’s voice.

“What? Is that so hard to believe?”

There was no immediate answer. Finally Eric shifted on his stool. “I’m just surprised, that’s all. She doesn’t seem like your type.”

Defensiveness and humiliation crashed together in Jeremy’s skull. “Never mind. Forget I asked.”

“Hey, I’m not saying you shouldn’t…”

Jeremy didn’t wait for the end of the comment. He stalked to the room he now called home, which was actually a closet the landlord had the guts to call a study. With his bed in a storage unit across town, he carefully knelt on the twin air mattress and pulled the single blanket over him. Thankfully they had obtained a two-bedroom apartment which unfortunately didn’t become available until the first of September. So for now, he was stuck in a closet wondering where the great life he had in May went.

He rolled to his back and laid his arm over his forehead. Gwen. She was never far from his thoughts. She probably had a great apartment by now. After all, she had been hired by one of the biggest international banks in the world. New York. It seemed a million miles away. Had things worked out between them, would he be there right now? Would he have transferred as they had talked about? So many plans—made and unmade that were now trampled in the dust of a road he would never travel.

In fact, she had even uninvited him from her graduation after the meltdown of their relationship. His mind skipped expertly over most of that week like a stone lilting across a pond. Touching down hurt too much, so he had learned to sail right over most of it. Every so often when he wasn’t paying close enough attention, his thoughts would settle on some memory, some moment of his time with her. More often than not, those memories sent scathing hot knives through him, so he did his best to keep going, not to think, not to feel. It was the only way to keep the life he was now living from spiraling into complete disaster.

Even in the darkness, he gripped control with both hands, willing the memories away from him. Her kiss. Her creamy skin. The way she looked the night he asked her to be his wife. Anguish laced with tongues of fire ripped through him.

Dragging in a sharp breath, he rolled to his side so his face was only inches from the blank wall. A breath at a time he slammed the door on the hurt until once again the hard clamp of control came over him. He closed his eyes and willed sleep to come. It didn’t. He squeezed his eyes tighter as his chest began to heave with the pent up emotion lodged there. “Stop it,” he hissed to the darkness around him. “Being a baby about it is not going to help. She’s gone. You’re here. Get over it already.”

But the hurt wasn’t going anywhere. Vehemently he flipped over the other way, jamming his shoulder into the hardwood floor beneath the air mattress when he came down. It yanked tears from the middle of him, but he crushed them back before they could fall. Two more semesters, he thought, anchoring his focus on what had to be done. Two more and he could move on, move away. To where or to what he couldn’t really tell.

It didn’t matter. Whatever it was, it would be glorious. High-style parties in his great loft in some far away city. He could picture them now. The men in their casual, yet elegant evening attire. The women in their beaded gowns hung just so to reveal and yet conceal. All drinking martinis on the rocks—not beer from the tap. He let his top shoulder drop backward onto the mattress, and his gaze slid into the darkness above him. Yes, it was going to be glorious. It had to be. It was the life he had been destined to live from the very moment of his birth.

*~*~*

It was to be her first attempt at hosting Bible Study on her own, and Emily was more nervous than she ever thought she would be. “Oh, good grief,” she said to the empty room at quarter to seven on Wednesday, “you’d think I was hosting the Olympics.”

She went over to the swath of gray carpet that seemed smaller in this room than it had in her old one.  There, it had stretched bed to bed.  Here, it barely covered half of the peach tiles at her feet. She put her hands on her hips as she looked at it, trying to figure out how to make it just a little bigger. With a sigh because she could do nothing to make it any better than it already was, she rearranged the pillows on her bed once more as a knock sounded on her door.

Going to the door, she did a quick tug on her gray T-shirt, and raked her fingers through the low, black ponytail slung over her right shoulder. At the door she said one more prayer for guidance. With that, she opened the door with a smile. “Becca!”

“Hey, girl. I brought reinforcements.” Rebecca glanced over her shoulder to where Eric stood as she accepted the hug from Emily.

“Cool. Cool. Come on in.”  Emily stepped back and let her friends pass by. Rebecca, small and thin, with her blonde hair in a twist that fanned out across the top of her head, looked every bit the part of the manic bookworm.  Eric, Rebecca’s boyfriend of just more than four months, looked big comparatively. Although he was taller than Rebecca by several inches, that didn’t mean he was all that tall compared to most guys.

The door hadn’t even closed when two more figures appeared at the threshold. Emily’s gaze snapped to the mousy brown-headed guy with the Celtics’ sweatshirt. “Sam!”

“I found Bethany wandering around lost,” Sam said, indicating the young blonde woman standing next to him.

“I did not get lost. I was just browsing.”

“Uh-huh, and that’s why you looked like this.” Sam scrunched his face into a scowl and let his gaze trip back and forth upward. “363 has got to be around here somewhere.”

Bethany smacked his arm. “Ha. Ha.”

“Come on in.” Emily laughed happily as she stepped back. “Make yourselves at home.”

They weren’t even in the door when two more showed up.  Emily had the distinct feeling of being Noah loading the ark. “Taylor and Kira.”  She hugged Kira as Taylor stood and watched.  “How are you?”

“Great. Taylor called me and said we were meeting tonight. I hope you don’t mind us just showing up.”

“Have I ever minded before?”

As the members of the Bible study group entered, the noise level increased until it sounded like she was hosting her own party.  Quietly, gently, she closed the door.

“Is Dena coming?” Rebecca asked as nerves flitted through Emily’s stomach. She wound her arms over her abdomen to get them to settle down.

“Not tonight. She started work today, and I think she’s beat.” Emily stepped through the pairs already seated on the floor. Except for Eric and Rebecca they had mixed and matched because in truth the others weren’t really couples. Sitting down next to her bed, Emily leaned up against the hard, steel frame. “Is this everybody?”

“I tried to get Holly to come,” Rebecca said, “but I think that’s going to take a miracle.”

Sitting beside her Eric shrugged. “So, we start praying for miracles.” He smiled. “Hey, you guys prayed me in here, and that certainly took a miracle.”

The others laughed.  Emily pulled herself forward and reached her hands out to Taylor on one side and Rebecca on the other. “Then shall we pray for some miracles?”

*~*~*

Two hours later the little group busted up to go their separate ways. Rebecca and Eric hung back to clean as the others left. When Emily finally closed the door with only the three of them there, she turned to her room and let out a long sigh.

Rebecca looked up at her in concern. “What?”

She took another breath. “I don’t think I’ve breathed for two hours.”

Eric swiped two pieces of paper off the carpet. “Come on, Em. You did great.”

She shivered. “Ugh. I was so nervous. I thought I was going to throw up.”

The gaze Rebecca leveled on her was one of skepticism. “Well, you sure didn’t show it.”

Emily pointed upward. “The Holy Spirit, I assure you. I would never have made it without Him.”

“Well, then you and the Holy Spirit make an awesome team,” Eric said with a smile that drifted through Emily’s nerves, settling them one by one.

Soft gratitude wound around her. “Thanks, Eric. I needed that.”

Rebecca stepped to her friend and put her arms over her shoulders. “You can’t, but He can. Remember?”

Emily smiled as her own words traipsed through her. “Why is that always so easy to remember when it’s somebody else and so hard to remember when it’s you?”

A grin stretched across Rebecca’s face. “Hey, why do you think He gave us each other—as decorations?”

Gratitude gripped Emily. “Well, I’m sure glad He gave me you.”

“Hey, right back at you, babe.”

*~*~*

Jeremy tamped together the last application for second semester scholarships.  Finished. Finally. And unless he decided to advance his education beyond the M.B.A. he was currently pursuing, these would be the last scholarship applications he would ever have to worry about completing.

The door snapped open, and Eric stepped in. With a swing of his arm, his backpack landed on the couch in a heap with his jacket.

“Impressive,” Jeremy said with no small amount of sarcasm. “Home before ten. I figured you and Rebecca would be all hot and heavy until at least midnight.”

Eric went to the refrigerator and pulled out the milk Jeremy had bought that afternoon. “Bible study.  It’s called Bible study.”

“Bible study. Yeah, right. Is that what they’re calling it now?”

“Ha. Ha.” Eric pulled up a seat at the bar. “You should try it some time, you know? You might be surprised.”

“Does the term, ‘when hell freezes over’ tell you anything?” Jeremy stood and swiped the box he’d been using as a file cabinet from the floor and set it on the bar stool.

“I’m telling you, you’re missing out.”

“Missing out?” Jeremy snorted. “Let me tell you something about religion. It’s for weak-minded people who need somebody else to feed them lies about how wonderful life can be if you follow their rules. Well, you know what? I’m not weak, and I don’t need anybody to tell me how to live my life. Thank you very much.”

Taking a drink, Eric shook his head. “Emily was there.”

Although that stopped Jeremy for one second, he didn’t let it show. “So? What difference does that make?”

Eric shrugged. “No difference. Just thought you’d like to know.”

Jeremy swung the box off the barstool. “I couldn’t care less which of Rebecca’s kooky, superstitious friends happened to show up.”  He turned on his heel. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get some sleep. I’ve got a nine-thirty class tomorrow that I don’t want to be late for.”

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