Tag Archive | young adult

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.

AWIP Cover New 1-10-2014

 

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Ebook Romance Stories: “The Price of Silence,” Chapter 1 & 2

The Price of Silence Final cover 1-18-2014

The Price of Silence

by:  Staci Stallings

~*~

To all those who taught me that

Standing up for right is always

Worth it and that courage

Is choosing to do the right thing in the moment

—rather than a lack of fear.

Thank you.

~*~

Chapter 1

With every step she took across the hard, gray concrete, Robyn Lockhart wondered again why her mother insisted on being so unreasonable. Getting divorced was one thing, but moving half a continent away in the middle of junior year was downright cruel.

Robyn hugged her three new notebooks to her chest as she climbed the steps to James Madison High School. How could she expect to catch up with only three months of school left?  This was truly the most selfish thing her mother had ever done, and that was saying a lot. She yanked the door to the school open and was met by a gust of stale, dank air.

Ugh. She hated the place already. With reluctant steps she forced her feet to carry her down the dim hallway. “Right now Jill and Lisa are meeting at the lockers to talk about the weekend.”

In her mind Robyn could see them standing at the lockers, and she wondered what new stories Lisa had to tell today. She was always coming up with something to keep them laughing and shaking their heads at the same time. But now, thanks to her mother, Robyn was here 600 miles away from the wild stories, walking into a principal’s office, and wishing only that she could vanish into thin air.

“May I help you?” the prim receptionist asked from behind the counter.

“I need to see Mr. Findley.” Robyn willed her soft voice to stay steady. “He’s the principal.”

“I know who Mr. Findley is, Dear,” the lady said not altogether kindly, and Robyn clutched her books tighter. “May I ask what this visit is in reference to?”

“Oh, I’m Robyn Lockhart, I just transferred from Iowa.”

“One moment, Miss Lockhart,” the lady said and disappeared through a door at the back of the office.

Somehow Robyn felt as though she were outside of herself looking in as her gaze traced the lines across the back wall of the office. She was here, but she really wasn’t. It was someone else standing here, asking for the principal, she was 600 miles away living her real life.

“Right, Mr. Hudson, I totally believe you.” A very tall, very authoritative-looking man pushed a dark-headed vagrant by the collar into the office behind her, and Robyn spun, willing herself to disappear.

“I’m telling you, Mr. Tucker, I had nothing to do with it.” The vagrant twisted, trying to look up at Mr. Tucker, but it wasn’t working.

“Tell it to Findley.” Mr. Tucker deposited his prize into one of the waiting room chairs.

“Why, Mr. Tucker,” the receptionist said, resuming her position behind the counter, “I didn’t think we would see you until at least 10 o’clock.”

“What can I say, Mary Ann?” Mr. Tucker threw his hands up. “It’s spring.”

The receptionist breathed a tired sigh and nodded. Then she seemed to remember Robyn. “Mr. Tucker, I’d like you to meet our newest student. This is Miss Robyn Lockhart.” The words were far kinder than any Mary Ann had said up to that moment. “She’s going to be in your English class.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Robyn.” Mr. Tucker extended his hand, and she shook it quickly and just as quickly let it go. “It’ll be nice to have some new points of view in class, won’t it, Hudson?”

The dark-headed criminal in the chair by the wall just grunted, and Mary Ann shook her head in annoyance.

“I take it that Mr. Hudson is not here about his placement onto the honor society,” Mary Ann said, handing Mr. Tucker a form.

“In his dreams.” Mr. Tucker hurriedly filled out the form.

Mary Ann surveyed Robyn long and hard. “Miss Lockhart, why don’t you have a seat? Mr. Findley will be with you shortly.”

Robyn looked around, and suddenly the office seemed very, very small. With reluctance holding her back, she pushed her feet over to the remaining chairs and took the one with the most seats between her and the criminal. It really shouldn’t surprise her, she reasoned. It was, after all, what she had expected when she’d been told she’d be transferred to a school with five times more people in one class than had attended her entire previous school, and yet nothing had really prepared her for outright criminals to be attending classes with her.

Tentatively she peeked through her eyelashes at the criminal, but the moment her gaze met his face, her heart tripped over itself. He didn’t look like any criminal she had ever seen before—he was gorgeous. He had abandoned the slumped over look in favor of the leaning back looking at the ceiling look, and from her vantage point, he looked like he could be a model in a GQ magazine. The straight nose, the slightly long, black hair brushed back from his high cheekbones. He looked like a god—a god in a black leather jacket.

“Mr. Findley will see you now, Miss Lockhart,” Mary Ann said, breaking into Robyn’s racing thoughts.

“Oh, okay.”  Somehow she pushed her legs under her, took a deep breath, and forced herself to walk by the unmoving figure in the chair. ‘He’s trouble,’ her mind repeated as she measured her steps into the principal’s office. ‘He’s trouble. I’m telling you, don’t even go there.’

*~*~*

Five hours later Robyn yanked the schedule out of her pocket again and scanned it as the crush of bodies around her bounced her from side to side.  English, Mr. Tucker, Building B, Room 417.

English was good. Mr. Tucker was good. Mr. Hudson, however, worried her. Maybe Mr. Tucker was kidding with the crack about new points of view in class. Surely, she wouldn’t be in a class with troublemakers. She had, after all been at the top of her class at Lakota. But Lakota and James Madison were two very different places—that much was supremely obvious.

Making herself as small as she could, she squeezed her way up the stairs and found herself in a near empty hallway at the top the second the bell rang.

“Well, I’ve been late for every other class. Why spoil a perfect record?” she said to the emptiness around her.

With a tired sigh, she trudged down the hall and finally found 417. She put her hand on the doorknob and then stopped. What if he was on the other side of that door?  Her face went hot at the thought. What difference did it make? she scolded herself. It was obvious during their brief encounter that his scope of caring did not encompass many things and she was quite sure, that certainly included her.

“Miss Lockhart,” Mr. Tucker said suddenly opening the door for her. “Glad you found us.”

“Oh, hi,” she stammered, glancing up only briefly before she returned her gaze to the squares on the floor. “Sorry I’m late.”

“No problem, just don’t make a habit of it. Please, come on in and join us.”

He pushed the door open for her to enter, which she did on lead feet. She could feel every gaze in the room on her so she kept her own glued to the floor.

“Why don’t you take a seat over there?  We were just discussing ‘A Worn Path’ page 424.”  Mr. Tucker handed her a book, and Robyn took it, breathing only a small sigh of relief that at least she had already read the piece they would be discussing.

“Now, Kathryn, I believe you had the floor,” Mr. Tucker said, turning back to the class as Robyn buried her head into the pages of the well-used textbook.

“Well, I was surprised by how courageous Phoenix was—I mean even though she was old, she didn’t back down, even when the guy held a gun on her,” a young girl with the most beautiful, long, sand-colored hair Robyn had ever seen said. Kathryn was sitting directly across from Robyn in the front row, and it was obvious by her placement in the room, and the intent look on Mr. Tucker’s face, that she was no flake.

“And why, do you think she had that courage, Mr. Mayes?” Mr. Tucker’s focus shifted only slightly as he leaned against the desk and crossed his arms.

“I don’t know,” the young man with a nice face and curly black hair directly behind Kathryn said.

“Come on, Chad. This isn’t brain surgery,” Mr. Tucker said, goading.

“Well, it’s kind of trite.” Chad’s words came slowly as if he was apologizing for them. “But I think it means she did it for love.”

Mr. Tucker cocked his head to one side. “Why is that trite?”

“It’s a little over done, don’t you think?” Chad stretched his long legs into the aisle. “I’m in love, therefore, I will brave the lions and tigers and bears—oh my!”

“I see.”  Mr. Tucker nodded. “Miss Layton, do you have a rebuttal?”

“I think that to some extent Chad has a point,” Kathryn said thoughtfully, “but I still think that in the end, it’s true. We’ll do things that put our own lives in jeopardy to keep those we love safe.”

“Come on, Kat. It’s a cliché, and you know it,” Chad said in annoyed exasperation.

“That’s interesting,” Mr. Tucker said. “Now, correct me if I’m wrong, Mr. Mayes, but aren’t you and Miss Layton going together even as we speak?”

Chad’s face constricted like he’d eaten a rotten lemon. “Yeah, everybody knows that. So?”

“So, is there anything you wouldn’t do for her?” Mr. Tucker asked with just the hint of a smile.

Robyn suddenly felt sorry for Chad as she watched him squirm in his seat. He was stuck, and every student in the room knew it.

“What are you saying?  Would I die for her?  Lay down my life so she could live?”

“Something like that,” Mr. Tucker agreed.

“I don’t think any girl is worth that,” a smooth voice directly behind Chad said.

Robyn turned in her seat, and her heart stumbled for the second time that day. It was him. The vagrant. The god.

“Ah, Mr. Hudson, I thought you might have an opinion on the subject,” Mr. Tucker said with a smile and a nod. “Would you care to elaborate?”

Slung low in his chair, the vagrant never bothered to sit up. “Love isn’t worth risking your life for. I mean, okay, you risk your life, and she says she loves you, and then what, six months down the line you hate each other’s guts?”  He crossed his arms. “What’s the point?”

“The point is that you put someone else above yourself, Sean,” Kathryn said, visibly irritated.

“Other people only let you down,” Sean said with a dismissive shake of his head.

“Not all people are like that.”  Kathryn turned in her seat to take him on square. “What about Chad, here?  You two have been friends forever. Has he ever let you down?”

“That’s different.” The head shaking became more noticeable. “That’s about friends—not about love.”

“Oh, I beg to differ, Mr. Hudson,” Mr. Tucker said, breaking into the conversation. “I think that’s exactly what this piece is about. Let’s say for instance that Chad here needs your help with something, but it’s going to really put you out. You’re really going to have to go out of your way to do it. Would you put aside something you think is important to help a friend?”

“Probably,” Sean said with half a shrug, “but that’s different. That’s not love. That’s friendship.”

“Is there a difference?” Mr. Tucker asked.

Chad held up a weak hand. “Let me just say, I think there is a very big difference.”

Several students snickered, but Mr. Tucker never wavered. “Well, I think that love comes in a lot of different packages—sometimes in the form of a man-woman relationship, sometimes in the form of a parent-child relationship, or a grandparent-child relationship like in ‘A Worn Path, ’ and sometimes in the form of a relationship between friends. What do the rest of you think?”

Robyn tried not to be obvious as she watched Sean listen to the others expound on the truth of Mr. Tucker’s statement, but it was difficult not to attract attention because she sat in the front, and he sat in the back, an entire abyss between them. Nonetheless, even from that odd vantage point, she could see the edge around him. Yes, it was clear that Sean Hudson had weathered his share of storms, and they had made him very, very sour on life.

She wondered what he had done this morning to get into trouble. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out this morning wasn’t his first trip to the principal’s office, and her thoughts wandered back and forth from the conversation in the classroom to the desk behind Chad. He had an edge, a thin, razor-sharp edge that kept everyone else at a distance, and she knew she would never have a chance with him even if she was the last girl left on the planet.

The bell startled her from her daydream, and she stood awkwardly as the other students rushed past her out of the classroom.

“Miss Lockhart,” Mr. Tucker said. “It’s nice to have you in class. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” she said shyly and followed the herd into the hallway.

The crush of bodies was still unbelievable to her. She had never seen so many people in one place in her life. She pulled the schedule out of her pocket and scanned it. Only two more classes and she would be free again. Trigonometry, Mr. Rascoe, Building B, Room 251. One thing was for sure she would get her exercise doing this.

*~*~*

By the time Psychology was over at 3:30, Robyn was exhausted. It had been seven and a half hours of lugging an ever-growing number of books up and down stairs and hallways, to rest a few minutes in a classroom, only to find that she had to do it all over again.

Slowly, she let the overstuffed backpack slide to the floor as she pulled out her schedule. Locker number 2117, Floor 2, Building C. Whatever that meant. She leaned against the wall as the hallway emptied out around her. This school was like a labyrinth, and she had the sinking feeling that by the time she figured it all out, it would be time to graduate.

“Miss Lockhart, staying after school, are we?” Mr. Tucker asked, surveying her curiously as he walked up.

She looked up and smiled at the only friendly face she’d seen all day. “No. I thought now might be a good time to find my locker, but I don’t even know where to start.”

“Oh, well, let’s see.” He took the paper from her and scanned it. “Building C. That’s where the newspaper is. I was just headed over there. I can show you if you’d like.”

“That’d be great.” Robyn hefted the backpack onto her shoulder.

“So, how was your first day?” he asked as they started down the hallway.

“Okay,” she said and then sighed. “A little overwhelming.”

“I can imagine. Was your last school this big?”

Robyn laughed as they pushed out the door into the sunshine. “The whole school kindergarten through 12th grade only had 275 kids in it.”

“Oh, so this is like culture shock, huh?”

“You could say that.”

“So, what kind of things did you do at your old school?”

“The usual, band, student council, track, the newspaper, yearbook…”

“Wow, when did you find time for school?”

Robyn laughed. “I was in line to be either valedictorian or salutatorian.”

“I’m impressed,” he said, opening the door to Building C.

“Yeah, well, it’s no big deal.” She shrugged to emphasize the point, but the words burned her throat.

“So, you say you wrote for the newspaper?” he asked as they trekked down the dimly lit hallway.

“Yeah, for two years.”

“But you didn’t sign up for the newspaper staff here?”

“I wasn’t sure I could cut it here. I heard they print a paper twice a week. We were lucky to get one out a month.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what, if you ever want to come check us out, we’re on the third floor.” He pointed directly over their heads.

“We?” she asked, puzzled.

“Oh, yes.”  He held out his hands. “Meet the Chronicle’s advisor.”

“But I thought you taught English.”

“I do, but newspaper’s my first love. I had to teach English for two years to get my foot in the door here, and by the time I inherited the newspaper, I figured out I kind of like English, too. So, what can I say?  They made me a deal I couldn’t refuse.”

Robyn nodded.

“Well, this is where I get off.”  He turned onto the next flight of stairs and pointed down the hallway. “I think your locker should be right down there.”

Thanks,” she said gratefully, knowing it really would have been graduation time before she found this place.

“Oh, and if you ever want to come check out the paper, you’re more than welcome.” His smile was friendly and inviting.

“Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

With that, he turned and bounded up the stairs. Hefting her sliding backpack up again, Robyn turned down the hallway and smiled despite the looming gloom. Mr. Tucker really was nice. She was glad she’d had a chance to meet him outside of the classroom. It wasn’t that the other teachers were mean, but they were much more formal than Mr. Tucker. He seemed like he had the time to talk—not like she was wasting his time.

In the maze of gray doors, she finally located her locker. It was a tiny expanse, hardly big enough for six books, and she wondered what someone with an instrument case or a sports bag had to do to get their stuff in one. Suddenly she realized that with the proximity of her locker to her classes, she would be lucky to get here twice a day, much less before and after every class.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of James Madison,” she said as the depression settled over her once again. It was bound to catch up with her sooner or later.

*~*~*

By the time she got home, the depression had intensified until it was almost stifling. She wondered what Jill and Lisa were up to back home. They were probably at track practice. She wanted to be at track, too. Far, far away from this dingy, box-filled apartment, her mother insisted on calling a condo.

Okay, so it had an upstairs, and two bathrooms. It was awful, and it was depressing. She locked the two dead bolts behind her and slumped against the door surveying her new life. Her mother would be at work until well after seven. That meant the task of cleaning out the boxes would be hers.

On tired feet she went to the kitchen and looked through the sparse pantry. She’d have to ask her mother for money for groceries tonight. With little enthusiasm, she pulled three cans off the shelf and stacked them next to the stove. She had an hour before it was time to start cooking, so she turned her attention to the boxes.

It was a given that the “family” boxes needed unpacked first although Robyn wished she could start on the mess stacked in her own room. But knowing that wasn’t an option, she reluctantly ripped the tape off of one box marked, “bathroom supplies” and began the arduous task of making a home.

*~*~*

Aromatic smells wafted from the kitchen when the first noise came at the lock. Robyn jumped up from the table where her Trig book lay and bounded for the door.

“Hey, Mom!” she said, smiling.

“Hey, baby, smells good.” Her mother fumbled with the keys and the briefcase she held. Robyn watched her deposit her belongings on the coffee table. “Looks like you got some stuff put away.”

“A few things,” Robyn said, happy her mother had noticed.

“What’s for supper?”

“Tuna casserole.” She went to the stove and stirred the bubbling concoction. “By the way I need some money for groceries. We’re out of everything.”

Mrs. Lockhart sighed and sat heavily at the table. “How much do you need?”

“I don’t know. I guess $20. I think I can make that stretch until Friday.”

“Well, I hope so, or we’ll be eating water.”

Robyn sighed at the sight of her mother’s defeated frame sitting at the table. This couldn’t be easy on her either, Robyn thought with some amount of guilt. Somehow, she would just have to keep her own depression at bay so she could help her mom through this difficult time.

“So, how was work?” Robyn asked, trying to sound cheerful.

“It was work. I really thought this promotion was going to be great. You know?  But it’s just more work.” She fingered her daughter’s homework. “What’s this?”

“Trig.”

“Homework on the first day?  I’m impressed.” Her mother gazed at the formulas scrawled across the page.

‘It wasn’t everyone’s first day,’ Robyn’s head screamed, but she didn’t let those words find the air.

“Here’s a plate.” Robyn pushed the homework aside and set the table. “I have a lot of homework to get done tonight, so I was hoping we could eat now.”

“Oh, yeah, sure.” Her mother rearranged the plate and silverware in front of her as Robyn brought the pan from the stove. “It looks good. You know, I’d probably starve if it wasn’t for you.”

“No, you wouldn’t. You’d just have an enormous take-out bill,” Robyn laughed.

“Very true.” Mrs. Lockhart filled her plate. “So, you didn’t say. How was your first day?  Did you meet any new friends?”

“Friends? I had enough trouble trying to find my classes,” Robyn said, picturing the winding halls of James Madison.

“Well, there’s always tomorrow.”

*~*~*

After the dishes were done, Robyn escaped to her room under the pretense of a pile of homework. Actually, she didn’t have all that much, but she wanted to familiarize herself with the Trig book and study a little chemistry before tomorrow.

Her schedule wasn’t too bad, and if anything, she was ahead in most subjects, but she wanted to keep it that way. She had been at the top of her class for eleven years, and just because she changed schools, she didn’t want her grades to suffer because of it. But even as she rewrote the formulas into her notebook, her mind wandered again to the back row of the English room.

There was something about him. Him. Sean Hudson. Maybe it was his eyes, or maybe it was the I-don’t-care way he carried himself. There really wasn’t one thing that she could put her finger on, but it didn’t matter—just the thought of him was enough to send her heart racing.

Sean. Sean Hudson. She wondered what his middle name was. Sean Michael Hudson. Sean David Hudson. Sean Nicholas Hudson.

“Robyn!” her mother called from downstairs, jolting her back to reality. “The news is on!”

She looked down at her notebook and in one swipe ripped the page out. It was scrawled with hundreds of impressions of his name.

“He’s not your type,” she said, furiously crumpling the paper and sending it flying into the trashcan. “I’m coming, Mom!”

*~*~*

Supper and the news. They were the two times a day she could count on spending with her mother. She wasn’t sure when or why the news routine had started, but it had become a daily ritual that she had long ago made a point not to miss.

It wasn’t until after she was back upstairs in bed looking around the dark room with no sign of life on any of the walls that the depression assaulted her again.  It was always worse at night. During the day she could stay busy, but at night there was nowhere to hide from it.

The apartment was quiet around her. So different from the innumerable nights she had spent listening to the yelling on the other side of her wall. But even the quiet brought a foreboding with it. This wasn’t home—not really. This was a temporary stopover on a road leading nowhere, and as far as she could see there was no famous light at the end of her tunnel.

This was life, and it stunk.

Chapter 2

Robyn was proud of herself. She had made it to her locker twice during the day, and so far, she had only gotten lost once. The schedule was tucked safely in her backpack just in case, but she hadn’t used it even once.

Just as she reached 417, the bell rang, and she gave an apologetic nod to Mr. Tucker who smiled as she took her seat.

“I have to say that yesterday’s discussion inspired me,” Mr. Tucker began, and Robyn sat up straighter. She was determined now more than ever to make a good impression with this teacher no matter who might be sitting in the back row. “Mr. Mayes and Mr. Hudson made some very insightful observations yesterday about the role that love plays in literature; therefore, your assignment for the next 45 minutes is to construct a paper stating your opinion on that subject.”

A groan emanated from every student behind her.

“Let me make this clear. This is not a take-home assignment. You have 45 minutes, and your paper must be at least 450 words. And yes, Mr. Mayes, grammar and spelling will count.”

More groans.

“You have 45 minutes.”

Robyn pulled a fresh piece of paper out of her notebook and poised her pen, but then she stopped. What did she think?  Was the I’d-risk-it-all-for-you thing really overdone?  Or was it simply that the truth behind that statement was so real that authors in all time periods took it up?

She knew what she would’ve written even a couple of weeks before, but now she wasn’t sure. She thought about Jill and Lisa. They were good friends, but would she really be willing to lay it on the line for them?  She thought about her mother and father.             Where had love gotten them?  She was sure at some point they had loved each other. So, what had happened?

“People say that love is blind,” she wrote slowly, “but love is only blind because it has the ability to see past faults, past the rough edges of a person down to the core that is really there. Just because the phrase is over-used and has become a cliché does not diminish its truth, and so it is with the theme that loving someone can give one person the courage to risk their own life for the life of another…”

She reread the opening statement. For all the evidence against it, she knew in her heart it was the truth.

*~*~*

Fighting the clock, she had read and reread her paper three times, and yet Robyn was still finding small mistakes here and there. The bell sounded above her, and she sighed as she marked out a word and wrote a slightly better one in its place.

“Your assignment for tomorrow is on the board. Be sure to hand in your papers before you leave,” Mr. Tucker called over the noise of the departing students.

Robyn took one more look at her paper and decided it was as good as it was going to get. She pulled her backpack from under her desk and headed for Mr. Tucker’s desk.

“Given any more thought to joining the newspaper staff?” Mr. Tucker asked, taking her paper.

“I really don’t know if I’ll have time this semester.” She shrugged. “It’s tough catching up with everything.”

“Well, let me know.”

“Okay, I will,” she said. “See ya later, Mr. Tucker.”

“See ya.”

She exited the classroom and joined the mad rush of students flying down the hallway. The frenzy of the hallway was beginning to make perfect sense as she descended the stairs at the same pace as those around her. It was nearly impossible to make it to the next class on time without running and knocking a few fellow students over in the process.

Her foot hit the second floor and at precisely that moment, her body collided full-on with someone going in the opposite direction. In half a heartbeat she was on her knees in the middle of the melee with her books and papers fanned out around her.

“Oh, cripes!” She grabbed for her belongings through the myriad of passing legs and feet, rescuing a paper here and a book there.

“Are you all right?” One pair of legs stopped next to her.

“Yeah.” She dove in, dodging more feet intent on stomping on her English book. She retrieved it just in time.

“Jerks, they should learn to watch where they’re going. Here.” A hand appeared from above her. Robyn took it, pulled herself up, and came face-to-face with Kathryn, the sandy haired beauty from Mr. Tucker’s class. Kathryn stopped short. “Hey, I know you. You’re in my English class.”

“Yeah.” Robyn brushed her jeans off in embarrassment. “This place is nuts.”

“Tell me about it.” Kathryn smiled and surveyed Robyn head-to-toe. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine, but I’d better get to Trig, or I might not be for long.” Robyn swung her backpack up and jerked her mouse-color brown hair from under it.

“I hear you there.”  Kathryn waved slightly. “Be careful.”

“I will.” With a sigh, Robyn rejoined the mad rush.

Kathryn reminded her of Lisa from back home. She seemed really sweet and considerate, but she was much prettier than Lisa—or anyone else Robyn had ever known in person. The bell sounded, and the hall around her emptied. There had to be a secret to this. She shook her head in amazement. She was missing something, but the trick to navigating the halls and getting to class on time was still a mystery to her.

Mr. Rascoe stared at her over his reading glasses when Robyn entered. “It’s nice you could join us.”

She hugged her English book a little tighter to her chest. “Sorry, I had a little accident in the hall.”

“Well, in the future you should remember that being late for my class is a cardinal offense not to be repeated more than once.”

“I’ll try to remember that, Sir.” Slowly she sank into her seat in the front and sighed. Some terrific first impression she was making. First, she practically wiped out in front of Kathryn, and then she got the full brunt of Mr. Rascoe’s wrath for being six seconds late.

“Well, since you made a point of disrupting my class by being late, is it too much to ask that you work the first problem from last night’s assignment on the board for the class?” Mr. Rascoe asked with sarcasm dripping from the question.

Robyn swallowed hard and pulled her book from her backpack. “I…I can do that.”

“Well, let’s see it already.” Mr. Rascoe tapped his fingers on the desk in annoyance.

She got to her feet and forced them to take her to the front of the room. What she really wanted to do was to run away and never come back, but she knew she couldn’t do that.  So, with shaking fingers, she wrote the problem on the board and went through it slowly, explaining each step only to the board in front of her.

When she finished, she carefully replaced the chalk in the tray and turned around.

Mr. Rascoe appraised her work. “Well, I must say, Miss Lockhart, I am impressed. But try to be on time in the future.”

“I will.” Heat rose into her cheeks as she headed back for her desk.

She didn’t dare look around the room, that would be a deadly mistake, and she knew it. Concentrating on not falling on her face, she resumed her seat and spent the next 40 minutes forcing herself to not make any more embarrassing mistakes.

*~*~*

Somehow Robyn managed to make it through the rest of the afternoon with nary a mistake in sight. When she arrived home, three grocery bags and her backpack in hand, she threw the bags on the table and looked around at the still unpacked boxes. Two more days of this, and she should have most of them cleared out of the living room.

Fighting to keep the depression from finding her, she went into the kitchen to put the groceries away. If this was life, she might as well make the best of it.

*~*~*

“Isn’t the city wonderful?”

It was her mother’s grand entrance, and it never ceased to amaze Robyn how her mother could hate a place one minute and the next minute it was her Utopia.

“Yeah,” Robyn agreed half-heartedly as she watched her mother bounce across the apartment.

“So, what’s for supper, sweetheart?”

“Pizza pockets.” Robyn got up from her homework to check the oven.

“They smell fabulous.”

“You’re in a good mood.”

“I’ve got a date,” her mother said happily.

“You’ve got…a…date?” Robyn stopped, swallowing hard.

“With Matt Carson, one of the guys who works down the hall from me,” her mother said oblivious to the look of dismay on her daughter’s face.

“Matt Carson…?”

“Yeah, we’re going out Friday night. Isn’t it wonderful?”

“Yeah, wonderful.” Robyn reached for the dishes to set the table as her stomach did a backward somersault. Her mother bounced off to her room, and suddenly Robyn felt like the mother with the teenage daughter, who had a date Friday night.

Friday night?  How could her mother do this?  It wasn’t that she thought her mother would never date again, but she certainly hadn’t thought it would happen this soon. What would her father think? What would all her friends think? Then she realized that she had no friends to care one way or another about the situation.

“So, how was school?” her mother asked, breezing back into the kitchen.

“Fine,” Robyn demurred as she pulled the steaming bread-covered food from the oven.

“I’m so happy you’re doing so well.”

“Yeah, so am I.” Robyn stuffed every protest she had deep down inside her. This was no time to upset her mother’s mood, no matter how lousy she felt.

“I have a terrific idea.” Her mother dug into her food. “They’re having a Three Stooges marathon on Channel 27 tonight. What do you say we pop some popcorn and make it a girls’ night in?”

“I’ve got some Trig homework I need to finish,” Robyn said. She had no intention of wasting a whole night.

“Oh, come on, surely you can watch one with me. Just for a little while.”

Robyn shook her head imperceptibly. There was no point in arguing.

*~*~*

When she finally closed the door to her room after eleven o’clock, not one problem had been touched since her mother’s arrival four hours earlier. Robyn sighed in resignation as she clicked on the light over her desk. It was one of the few things she’d had time to find in her own boxes.

She thought again about the Mr. Rascoe fiasco. How did she always manage to get the unreasonable teachers? Somehow she made it through the classes, but in the beginning, it was pure torture. She pulled her calendar out of the top drawer and marked an X through the date. Only 43 more days of this. 43 days, and then a whole year, but she pushed that thought away. One day at a time.

Somehow, at some point, she thought willing the depression away from her, life had to get better.

The Price of Silence Final cover 1-18-2014

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Ebook Romance Stories: Review, “Princess”


Princess final 1-14-2014“From college politics to interracial dating, Staci gracefully brings Heather through while teaching us a little more about ourselves in the process.”

— Joyce Handzo, Dancing Word Reviewer

“Kissing frogs isn’t the best way to find Prince Charming . . . The idea of a Prince Charming may only be a fairy tale, but author Staci Stallings has shown that love is capable of elevating people out of a storybook fantasy, and into a reality that is even more fulfilling and meaningful.”

— Angie Dobson, Love Romances Reviewer

“Get ready to be raptured as you read author Staci Stallings masterpiece. Very few stories paint as clear and precise a picture as this one. You’ll have the privilege of meeting and being immersed in the lives of Heather, a study guru, and Anthony, a champion basketball player. The two of them could not be more opposite from one another. Or are they? “

— Debra Ullrick, Love Inspired Author

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Ebook Romance Stories: Princess, Chapter 1


Princess final 1-14-2014Princess

by: Staci Stallings

Chapter 1

Those ugly posters are everywhere. Heather Nolan pushed her rounded, black glasses back up the narrow bridge of her nose. She bent from her shoulders and sipped her drink for a moment. However, in a breath, her gaze traveled back up to the poster hanging over the ledge above her. Who really cared that the Jaguars were “Unstoppable” this year? In the whole general scheme of things, how important was it to be able to dribble a little ball down a court and put it through a hoop? It was just so unthinkable to her that anyone would put any effort into that endeavor at all—much less pay money for it.

With a jerk she twisted her fingers through the tangle of wavy, mouse-brown hair and flipped it from her shoulder onto her back. Money. That was the issue that she kept bumping up against. There was never enough of it, and yet the college just threw it away by the handful on sports. Where was the justice in that? It seemed like every other day they were cutting programs and scholarships for students like her who wanted the education, but when it came to sports, there was always more than enough money for whatever new program that came along. It made her sick just thinking about it.

“Heather. Hello. Earth to Heather,” Jennifer Flynn, the one person on the whole campus who bothered to talk to her on a semi-regular basis, said, waving her hand in front of Heather’s face.

Heather snapped back from the melancholy thoughts. “Oh. Hi. Sorry.” Only a moment to acknowledge Jennifer’s presence, and then she went back to her drink and the depressing thoughts.

“He’s really good looking, isn’t he?” Jennifer asked as she laid her books on a chair and pulled up another to sit on.

“Who?” Heather asked, not really caring about cute guys at the moment.

“Anthony Russell.”

“Who’s that?”

“Anthony Russell.” Jennifer hooked her thumb over her shoulder at the poster behind her. “The point guard for the Jaguars. I mean, he’s black and everything, but he’s still really—uh, easy on the eyes.”

Heather yanked the anger back to her as she went back to her drink. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Yeah right. You were staring at that poster so hard, I thought you might burn holes through it.”

“Oh, yeah, the Unstoppable Jaguars.” Heather pushed the other side of her thick wavy fall of hair over her shoulder and scowled. “How wonderful they are. The college gods. Oh-wow. They’re so cool. I don’t know why they don’t just bronze them and put them up in every classroom to remind us all why we are really here.”

Jennifer’s light-copper eyebrows reached for the ceiling. “Whoa. A little on the edgy side today, aren’t we? What’s got you so riled up?”

“It’s just been one of those days.” Heather sighed. “Tuition is due, dorm fees are due, I’ve still got two books to buy for classes, and my bank account reads a big fat zero.”

Concern drained onto Jennifer’s face. “But I thought you had that work-study thing lined up for this semester.”

“Yeah. So did I. Until I got this this morning.” Heather held up a cream-colored envelope and then dropped it back to the table next to her. “‘Dear Ms. Nolan, We regret to inform you that the work-study program you were signed up for has been cut due to insufficient funding.’ Insufficient funding my foot. They just need more money to pay their stars up there on that poster.”

There was a long pause, and Heather knew Jenn well enough to know her brain was spiraling to find any positive thing it could to say.

“So what are you going to do?” Jennifer finally asked.

“I don’t know.” Heather shook her head and exhaled slowly. “I’ve thought about it all day, and I just…I don’t know. All the decent jobs in town have been taken, and I’m not going to go back and ask Mom and Dad for more money now. They practically gave me the third degree the last time.” She shook her head again and punched back at the tears rising in her throat. “I don’t know. It just makes no sense to me why the real students in this university get the shaft while guys like Anthony Russell, who wouldn’t know a noun if it walked up and introduced itself, get to live like kings.”

“Yeah.” Jennifer corkscrewed her mouth. “I see what you mean, but who knows, maybe things will turn around. You never know.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, please, tell that to anyone up there that might happen to be listening. ‘Cause right now without some serious cash, I’ll be enrolling in Hanson Junior College before the end of the term.”

Jennifer nodded. “I’ll be sure to put in a request for you.”

“I’d appreciate that.” With no energy Heather picked up her backpack, swiped her hair out of the way, and righted the pack onto her shoulder as she stood. “Well, I’ve got to get to English. I might as well learn all I can before they kick me out. You know?”

“Well, good luck,” Jennifer said as Heather started for the door. “And hey, chin up!”

“Yeah, chin up,” Heather replied with all of the enthusiasm of a wet noodle. “See ya later, Jenn.”

“See ya.”

*~*~*

Not even the unseasonably warm weather outside could brighten Heather’s spirits as she kicked her booted feet past the flowing print skirt that hung nearly to her ankles. What was the point of even going to classes anymore? All those long hours studying, making the Dean’s list every semester and even the President’s list once just so she could go back and be a waitress in some dive back home? It wasn’t an exciting thought.

At the Language Building, she yanked the heavy door open and trudged inside. She glanced up as she entered the stairwell and once again saw the scowl of the Unstoppable Jaguars staring down at her. Fury rose in her gut until she could barely keep herself from ripping the poster down and tearing it into tiny red, white, blue, and black shreds. It wouldn’t help her situation, but it sure would feel good.

English classes had always been her favorite. The papers that everyone else groaned and moaned about seemed to her to be personal challenges from the professors, and she loved it. Now she wondered, taking her seat for Professor Mather’s Dramatic Plays class, how much longer that love affair would last. She had already had Mather for two other classes, and he seemed to like her work. In fact her perfect A record in his class seemed to not even be in question this semester—provided that she could scrounge up enough money to make it through this semester. She pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind even as she twisted the hair that hung nearly to the middle of her back into a knot at her neck and held it there with the hand that wasn’t preparing to take notes.

They were discussing “Hedda Gabler,” and when class started, for once that day Heather forgot about even the money situation. This was her arena. Here she could be the star, and it was exhilarating. The hour flew by, and before she knew it, she was stuffing books back in her backpack.

“Ms. Nolan?” Professor Mather said over the noise of the departing students.

The book in her hand stopped in mid-stuff. “Yes, sir?”

“Could I see you in my office for a moment?”

“Oh.” Heather quickly deposited the rest of her books in her backpack and swung it to her shoulder. “Sure.”

What in the world was this about? They had just taken a test, and she thought she had done well on it. Today, however, it wouldn’t surprise her to find out she had bombed it too. The questions flowed through her brain at ever-increasing speeds as she followed the short, balding professor down the hall to his tiny office. The room reminded her of her dorm room—books stacked everywhere trying desperately to seem organized in a space too cramped to organize anything.

“Ms. Nolan.” Professor Mather sat down in the cracked leather chair behind the desk and folded his hands on the stack of paper in the center of it.

“Yes, Sir?” she asked, standing awkwardly, unsure of whether to sit or stand.

Professor Mather waved her into the chair on the other side of his desk that wasn’t stacked with books. “Oh, please, have a seat.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Fighting the nerves, she sat on the edge of the chair and swung her backpack down next to her feet.

“I’m sure you’re wondering why I called you here, so I’ll get right to the point.” Professor Mather leaned across the desk. “Would you be interested in becoming a tutor?”

“A tutor, Sir?” Heather asked, stumbling across the words.

“Yes. I have a student in my Great Works of Literature class who’s really struggling, and quite frankly I don’t think he’s going to make it without some help.”

What registered on her face, she couldn’t be sure, but her heart registered only utter confusion.

“You were my first choice,” Professor Mather continued, “but of course if you are not interested, I could always find someone else.”

“Oh, no. I’m interested. I just…umm, I wasn’t prepared for this, that’s all.”

“Good. Now before we go any further, I need to tell you this is no ordinary student, and the English department would like to keep his being tutored as low-profile as possible.”

Confidential tutoring? What was he, the King of Oahu? “I understand,” she said, sounding less than sure.

“Good.” His countenance relaxed. “Of course, we’re prepared to pay you for your services. How does $200 a week sound?”

“Two hundred dollars?” Heather asked in undisguised shock. “Are you serious?”

“Very serious.”

“That sounds…umm.” Heather tried to regain her composure. “That sounds just fine, Sir.”

“Great, so we have a deal then?”

She willed a smile to her face. “Yeah, okay. We have a deal.”

“Well, I appreciate your willingness to help out a fellow student in need,” Professor Mather said. “I’ll just give Coach Winton a call right now.”

“Coach…Winton?” Heather’s head throbbed to life as Professor Mather picked up the phone and began dialing. “Umm, Sir, you never actually told me who it is that I’ll be tutoring.”

“Oh, yes. Sorry about that. His name is Anthony Russell. He’s the…”

“…point guard for the Unstoppable Jaguars,” Heather finished in a daze as the chair back caught her shoulders.

But Professor Mather was already speaking to someone on the other end of the line. Everything started moving in slow motion as the realization hit her like a left hook—she would be tutoring him. The snarling face, her nemesis from the posters. This couldn’t be happening. Suddenly she couldn’t breathe. He was the reason she was in this mess in the first place! She couldn’t help him. No, she wouldn’t help him!

“Okay,” Professor Mather said. “If Tuesday doesn’t work for her, I’ll have her give you a call. Great. See ya, Bill.” He hung up the phone. “It’s all set. Anthony will meet you in the lobby of the English Department Conference Rooms on Tuesday at four o’clock. Bill…uh…Coach Winton said if that isn’t convenient for you, you could call and set up another time. You can use the small conference room in the Department. I’ll reserve it for Tuesdays and Thursdays four ‘til six—if that’s all right with you, of course. Now, if you decide you need to schedule another time, just contact me. That will be no problem.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you taking the time to do this, Ms. Nolan.” Professor Mather stood. “You’ve saved me a good amount of sleep I’m sure.”

Somehow she stood, but she couldn’t really tell how.

He led her the two paces to the door. “Oh, and here is a copy of A Tale of Two Cities. That’s what we’re reading now. If you need anything else, feel free to ask. Thank you so much.”

And she was out in the hallway wondering where her voice and sanity had gone. She had meant to tell him no when he got off the phone. She could have said that Tuesdays wouldn’t work for her, lied that she had a class or something, but she just sat there like an idiot. Now what was she supposed to do?

Standing on the other side and looking at the bleach-tan door, she weighed her options. She could always knock on that door right now and tell him no. Yes, that’s what she should do. She forced her hand up to knock, but something stopped her.

Two hundred dollars a week. Her chest constricted around the amount. Two hundred dollars! This was the answer she had been hoping for, praying for—right here, so close she could almost touch it, and she was going to turn it down? For what? Because basketball was stupid? Because she should be the one getting special treatment not Anthony Russell, poster guy for the academically challenged?

No, she decided, letting her hand fall back to the soft material at her thigh, this was her chance to make it—her chance to control her own destiny. And Anthony Russell or no Anthony Russell, she wasn’t going to let it slip through her fingers. Besides, she reasoned as she straightened her shoulders, she didn’t really have to try all that hard to help him.

Four hours a week. She looked down at the well-worn novel in her hand. Resolutely she turned to leave the office. It’s only four hours a week. I can do this. Besides it’s for the best cause there is—me!

“Look out Unstoppable Jaguars,” she said to the empty hallway, “here comes Heather Nolan.”

Princess final 1-14-2014

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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt “A Light in the Darkness”


ALID Cover New 1-10-2014Excerpt from “A Light in the Darkness”

Going back was ridiculous.  Gabe had told himself that ten thousand times as he drove through the sheets coming down horizontally to the pickup.  A book was not worth this.  And yet, he hadn’t read in four days.  A new habit takes hold at seven days and is established by 21.  He knew that from every motivational book he’d ever read, and he’d read many of them.

The temptation to let it go just one more day clung to his spirit, but he wouldn’t give in to it.  Not now.  Not ever.  The vision of what he was meant to do in this life was too intense, too clear as was the opposite trail that led off into a life he had almost gotten by default.  Letting his life slide in that direction again was too sickening to think about.

At the carriage house, he killed the engine and then berated himself for that.  Stupid.  He would be right back.  But he’d already done it, so he left it off, reached for the door handle, and made a break for the huge, heavy wooden door beyond.  Unfamiliarity smacked him when his hand found the handle.  The door was open—not a lot, but it was.  There was no reason for that door to be open.  No one came out here anymore.

Shrugging the rain off his shoulders and the fear from his spirit, he ducked inside.  Dark as usual.  He reached over and pulled the little light, illuminating the stairs.  The single bulb blinked on, and he stood for a moment, looking, waiting, watching.  But nothing moved. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he started up the stairs.  Which book should he get? The one he was reading but was only marginally interested in or the new one he’d gotten from Marvin over the weekend? It was funny how even now at odd times he would receive a package from his former mentor and how those packages always had a way of turning his life at just the right moment.  It was a pattern Gabriel had learned to trust.

Then, seven steps up, he heard it, and his steps stopped instantly.  He turned to look back down the stairs.  Something wasn’t right.  It wasn’t a definite sound or even movement.  More a feeling.  His movements slid into slow motion.  Concern slipped into his spirit. “Is somebody here?”

The sound of his voice ricocheted off the rounded, stone walls around him.  His gaze darted side to side, back and forth, searching for the unseen.  The little light overhead swung, sending the shadows ducking and weaving through each other.  Foreboding slid through him. Something wasn’t right. Then he heard it, for real this time.  A small, soft intake of air.

His steps turned, and he headed back down the stairs, one at a time, slowly. Listening.  Senses taking in everything.  At the bottom, he let his hand stay on the railing one more moment.  He stopped again to listen.  It took a moment, but there it was again.  Soft, but definitely there.  “Who’s here?”

On the hard stone floor, he moved along the staircase toward the sound.  When he got to the arch of the stairs over his head, he stooped down and gazed into the shadows slicing the cobblestone under the stairs.  He squinted to see better.  Indistinct and shadowed, he saw it nonetheless.  A figure, huddling there, hiding, not moving.

Gabe’s mind raced with the possibilities.  A vagabond seeking shelter from the storm?  A criminal hiding out from the authorities?  Before he could get all the possibilities reasoned out, his eyes adjusted to the dim light.  What told him first what he was looking at—his head or his heart—he would never have been able to say for sure.  But in one giant sweep, he knew this was no vagabond.  It was a woman. Wet, crumpled, and terrified, with wide, terrified eyes looking right at him.

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Ebook Romance Stories: Review “Dreams by Starlight”


Dreams by Starlight Final 1-17-2014Review of “Dreams by Starlight”

If you pictured in your mind the stereotype wallflower, she would be named Camille Wright. Seventeen years old, a senior in high school and just about totally invisible to her classmates, she thinks. When her career counselor insists that Camille needs to expand her class schedule to include something less studious, in order to improve her chances for a good university entrance, she chooses drama as the lesser of two evils.

Meeting Nick McGee in drama class is the beginning of change in Camilles life. He pulls her into the warmth of his friendship without ever giving her a chance to think about backing out. Two minutes after that her best girlfriend Lexxie and Nick fall for each other, and at first sight. The object of Camilles interest, on the other hand, is Jaylon Quinn and she worships him from afar, knowing that he doesnt even notice she is anywhere near, even though they have drama class together. It takes an amazing experiment to have the two really begin to see the other, the self-consciousness, the hurt, the pain that teenagers might feel, on the verge of entering a new phase in their lives. They begin to realize and understand what the other is like; how similar they are inside, and appreciate what governs the others emotions.

The author has captured so vividly the feeling of what theatre work must be like and I was really fascinated by the descriptive environment used to make a play come to life. What techniques are used by an actor to give his or her role life, to make it real. As the characters grow into the roles theyve been assigned, the emotional growth in their private lives blossoms parallel and is so heart warming and vividly portrayed to the reader. An extra note: Ms. Stallings brings so to life Jaylons theatre group for children that I felt as if I was sitting there among them watching him perform. This novel is a beautifully written, truly wonderful story.

Overall rating:
Sensuality rating: Sweet

Reviewer: Glenda K. Bauerle


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Ebook Romance Stories: Excerpt from “Dreams by Starlight”


Dreams by Starlight Final 1-17-2014Excerpt from “Dreams by Starlight”

Although Camille had grown accustomed to the written assignments that Mrs. Allen came up with every other week, they had done nothing to make her feel better about being on stage. She stood stage left shifting from foot-to-foot as Mrs. Allen pushed the chalkboard away in anticipation of the current day’s torture session.

“Now, in the past week, I’ve noticed that when I ask for pairs, most of you tend to pair with the same person over and over again. I understand that, but I think it’s time to move out of your comfort zone a little and start learning about the other people in the class.”

Camille’s fear shield flew up. No, comfort is good. Please. Comfort is fine.

“Rather than try to pair people myself, I’ve cut up numbers in this hat. You are to take a number and then find the other person with that number, and for today the two of you will be partners.”

For one brief second Camille thought she might be sick on her shoes, and at the moment that looked like a really good idea. It would solve so many problems. Mrs. Allen approached her with the hat, and with a short sigh, Camille reached in and pulled out a number. It really didn’t matter what the number was. If it was anything other than Nick’s number, it meant trouble.

“What’d you get?” Nick asked, holding his number out for her inspection. 7.

She unfolded her own. 3.

“Rats,” Nick said. “Well, see ya.” And he walked off to find his match.

Camille looked around as the trepidation rose in her chest. She didn’t want to be number 3. She didn’t want to be number anything. She wanted to leave. Now.

“Are you number 3?” a voice asked behind her.

“Yeah.” Camille turned and found herself gazing into a face framed by wispy brown hair and sporting perfectly gorgeous cheekbones. Jaylon. Instantly her gaze dropped to her clothes as her hand flew to her glasses and then to her hair. “Umm, yeah. I am.”

He smiled at her although she saw only the beginning of that smile as her eyes wanted nothing more than to force her feet to run.

“Okay,” Mrs. Allen said when the class had paired off. “Your exercise today is eye-to-eye contact.”

Camille squeezed her eyes closed and fought to make herself disappear. She should’ve paid more attention at that magic show she’d seen when she was five.

“I want you to face each other and count to fifty very slowly—looking directly into your partner’s eyes the entire time.”

Camille’s gaze was fixed on his shoes, and for the life of her she couldn’t figure out how she was ever going to get it to move again.

“It’s okay.” Jaylon tilted his head as if he were talking to a frightened animal. “I don’t bite.”

For a brief second her gaze traveled up to his as she laughed, but immediately it dropped back down again. Trying not to think about what she was about to do, she swallowed once and then forced her gaze back up to his as she pushed her glasses up on her nose.

“Go,” Mrs. Allen said.

Camille bit her bottom lip as she stared into his eyes—unable to look away even though she wanted to. The blue eyes, the high cheekbones, the wisps of hair—all met in perfect unison.

“Eight, nine, ten,” Jaylon counted as his mouth moved in slow methodical motion.

She shifted her shoulders struggling to break the spell his gaze cast over her, but there was no breaking this spell.

“Fifteen, sixteen,” he said as she forced the air into her lungs.

Never in her life had she looked into anyone’s eyes for a full minute. Most of the time she did everything she could not to get caught in someone else’s sights. Just keep moving, keep your head down, and they won’t notice you’re there. That was her motto. For most of the last ten years, they were the words she had lived by. Until this moment.

“Twenty-seven, twenty-eight.”

It was then that her thoughts shifted from her own thoughts to those staring back at her from his eyes. She wasn’t sure what she had expected to find in his eyes exactly—arrogance, cruelty, superiority—but not one of that was hidden anywhere in the pools of blue. Staring back from the depths of his eyes was the same fear and uneasiness her own spirit felt.

“Forty-two, forty-three,” he said, and her ears caught on the softness of his voice.

It sounded like a breeze brushing past her, and she wondered how she had ever lived before hearing his voice in this way.

“Forty-nine, fifty,” he said, and their gazes held for one more moment.

“Good,” Mrs. Allen said, breaking the spell between them and jerking both gazes across the stage.

Camille ran a damp palm down the front of her jeans and readjusted her glasses.

“Now I want the partners to find a place in the auditorium. Not necessarily on stage. I’m going to give you five minutes. I want you to find a topic and discuss it, but I want you to do it looking into each other’s eyes as much as possible.”

Camille’s toe made an arc around her other foot. She still hadn’t recovered from the first exercise, and five minutes was far different than one.

“How about if we go over here?” Jaylon asked, pointing to the stairs as he reached out and touched her elbow.

His touch carried a jolt of electricity with it, and she had to force herself to shrug and walk to the stage steps nonchalantly. She sat on the third step from the bottom, but when he followed her down, her knee tensed so as not to touch his.

“You may begin,” Mrs. Allen said.

“Any suggestions?” he asked, tilting his head to the side to look at her.

“Umm, I don’t know. Classes?” she asked, feeling the pained look cross her face as her hand tugged at the heel of her shoe.

“Okay,” he said and paused a beat. “Umm, you have to look at me, remember?”

“Oh, y-yeah.” She stumbled over the words as she forced her gaze back to his.

Looking back at her was sincere interest. “So, what’s your favorite class?”

She smiled as her entire body instantly relaxed. “Math.”

“Math?” he asked in surprise.

“Yeah. Why? Is that so hard to believe?”

“Well, no. I guess not, but I hate math.” He ran his fingers through his hair to push it back out of his face. “I’m just surprised anybody likes it.”

“You hate it?” she asked, forgetting this was supposed to be hard. “But it’s so fascinating.”

“Fascinating? I can think of another word for it,” he said, wrinkling his nose.

“Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

“Torture.”

She laughed and shook her head. “No, now you’re talking about drama.”

“Huh?” he asked, and her gaze dropped from his to her shoestrings.

With a shove she forced her gaze back up although this time it didn’t lock on his. Instead it wandered around the stage and the auditorium at the other partners.

“How can you not like drama?” he asked in genuine confusion. “Drama is awesome.”

Her eyebrows raised as she looked back at him in open-eyed mortification. “Not when you’re me. It isn’t.”

His gaze immediately reflected concern. “Why not when you’re you?”

Mrs. Allen clapped her hands, which almost sent Camille tumbling backward off the steps.

“I’d like everyone to come back over to the seats again,” Mrs. Allen said.

Camille scrambled up from the steps and swiped at the dirt she was sure was on the back of her jeans. She turned and walked down past the front of the stage feeling him right behind her. Quickly she walked to her normal seat in the third row, and it wasn’t until she sat down and realized Jaylon had taken his usual spot on the other side of the auditorium that she began to breathe again.


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