Hey, everyone! I’m a little late with this, I know, but at long last, here is the excerpt from my Christmas novella The Heart Recalls. This book is now available in paperback and eBook and is receiving some great buzz. This month has been a hard one for my family and your lovely comments on my post about my sweet Sassy cat’s passing meant the world. To one and all, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. You can find The Heart Recalls, and all my other available titles, here. The eBooks all make excellent last moment Christmas gifts. 😉
The Heart Recalls:
12/24/2015 9:04 p.m. Masonfield, Vermont
Silent Night plays while the lights of the tree twinkle, switching from white to color and back again in the dark, as my wet cheek skids on the rough nap of the rug. “I’m sorry, baby. Denver, please stop!” His palm on the side of my head grinds me into the carpet.
“Lying—” the slosh of alcohol cuts off his words as he downs the last of the fresh bottle of vodka, followed by a ragged breath. It crashes to the ground beside my head. “—You cheeeted on me.”
“Baby, Keith is crazy. I never—”
His fingers slide to my throat and the pressure makes my ears ring. “You won’t sleep with me until you have a ring, but you’ll spread ‘em for him?” My neck aches and it feels like I’m breathing through a coffee stirrer. I try to speak but can only manage a squeak. He’s not going to stop this time. I claw at his arm, to draw blood, to cause pain, anything to draw him out of the stupor. See me!
He tangles his fingers into my hair, yanking me to my feet, and I gulp a deep breath. Clutching his wrist, I swing like a wind chime, my feet kicking at thin air. “Denver, let me go!”
“I love you, Adella!” From the corner of my vision I can see his tears pouring, a thick river of snot glistens on his upper lip. The vapor on his breath makes my eyes water.
My scalp is on fire, each hair a point of pain. “I love you too, baby, please, put me down.”
“I’m in pain!” he says. Swaying forward, he trips on the bottle and his grip loosens enough for me to wriggle free. He’s too drunk to stop himself from hitting the ground. The moment I’m on my feet, I run for the door.
No shoes or socks, my toes sink into the thick layer of fresh snow and I may as well be running on lit coals, but I keep going through the thicket of fir trees that occupy most of the Andrews’ family land. By the time I reach the highway, my lungs burn, but I keep running. Don’t look back.
12/15/2019 1:12 p.m. Cleery Creek Publishing House New York, New York
I scream and nearly throw my laptop.
Parker chuckles and leans against my cubicle’s entrance as he scratches the inky stubble on his chin. “You do know the boss still pays you if you take a lunch break, right?”
“Unless you want to take half of these book proposals, that’s not happening. The bonster—”
One eyebrow reaches for his hairline.
“—boss Monster, bonster—sent me another fifty ten minutes ago.”
His russet eyes twinkle. “Why does she hate you?”
I tilt my head and crack my neck, making him shudder. “She liked me until the last Christmas party,” I lower my voice, “when her piece of scum husband hit on me. Now I’m persona-non-grata, but she can’t fire me.”
“I remember.” One corner of his mouth curls. “But with your crimson hair cascading and those long legs on full display, to say nothing of the silver second skin dress that showed every perfect twenty-something curve, I can hardly blame the man. Especially when he’d had a few bourbons already.”
Crossing my arms, I lean back in my chair and fight my own smile. “I could have you fired with one call to HR, Mr. Flirt.”
In one fluid motion, he pulls the pen from behind his ear and flips it into the air, catching it once more. “Half this place assumes I’m into them, the other knows I’m the owner’s son. Go ahead and try.” He winks and produces a sandwich wrap from behind his back and lobs it at me before ducking back into his own cubicle across the way.
Tapping a few keys to wake my now sleepy laptop, I roll my eyes. Parker Mason, if you weren’t my best friend, I’d know what to do with you.
I fold the wrapper out of the way and shut the window with the-next-worst-American-romance. Taking a bite—Yuck, Swiss cheese— I pull up my email, idly scrolling the list until my attention snags on a familiar name.
“Maria Andrews…” Denver’s iridescent grin and chiseled biceps flash through my mind, my stomach lurching. I smooth my hair and bite my lip. With one trembling finger, I open the email and set aside my food.
I don’t presume to believe you’ll care, but I’m hoping for once in your life you’ll put yourself aside to help another human.—
I rub my forehead, her nasal voice echoes in my mind with each word. Looking beyond my computer, I half register the mass of words left in her message. Did she spend time and energy to reach out just to berate me? Possible, but not probable. Taking a slow breath, I keep reading.
—I should state you are the absolute last person I wanted to contact, but a mother will do anything for her children.
Denver is dying. The cancer started in his lungs and they removed the cells there only to find a month later the cancer migrated to his liver. They took out the diseased portion, and we thought it was done. That was six months ago and last month he woke up with a terrible headache. It had metastasized to his brain. It was a choice between a chance to live or a sure death, and Denver chose to fight. The doctors removed the tumor in his brain, but the man who went into the operating room and the one who came out are not the same person.
He has no memory of me, his father, sisters, or anyone who ever actually loved him. And yet, he remembers the woman who destroyed him. Not your name, but he asks for you. My sweet Denver never stops talking about the beautiful redhead that haunts his dreams. With every day that passes, he gives up a bit more. You’re the one thing in the world that makes sense to him. Do you have any idea how cruel that is? If you do, I beg you, put aside yourself and help me save my child. You don’t have to worry about putting out any money for this. We will pay for it all.
My hands fall away from the keyboard, a bead of sweat drips down the back of my neck. My mind a blur of tangled thoughts, of tenderness and terror, love and hate. Denver is dying? I scowl and shove my chair away from my desk. After everything he did to me, why do I care? I jerk my onyx wool coat off the hook on the ashen cubical divider and drape it over my arm. Grabbing the rest of my lunch, I wave it at Parker and head out. “If anyone wants me, tell them I’m at lunch.” If he notices my mood is off, he doesn’t chase me down to find out why.
I take the elevator and descend the five floors to the lobby of the building the publishing house operates out of and step into the biting wind. It whips around me, but I don’t put on my coat. People pass, lost in their own thoughts either looking at their phones or bracing against the bluster, I can’t tell which. I could step into traffic right now and only the taxi that hits me would notice—“Ugh!” Shaking my head, I tug on my coat and wrap it snuggly around me. “Quit it. That’s him, not you.” My therapist’s words echo in my mind. It had taken too much time, and even more cash, for me to have a chance to realize the damage his words, to say nothing of the smacks to the head, had done to me. “Denver is a man. No less flesh and blood and no more infallible than you are.” How is it the mere mention of him puts me here again? I take my sandwich wrap to a bench around the corner of the building to seek shelter from the elements and brush the snow off one of the stone slabs before planting myself on it. My gut twists even as I force down a bite of the wrap which I can’t taste at this point. Do I even have the right to— “No. Wherever that was going I’m not following. I’m in charge of my mind. Not him.” Closing my eyes, I smooth a sweaty palm over the rough fabric of my coat. “I have worth, I am capable, and everything is not always my fault. I’m not responsible for him or his actions. Those were choices he made. I did not cause him to mistrust me. I did not do what he accused me of.” Even through my mantra, his electric blue gaze stares at me in my mind’s eye, the way it always did when he apologized again for hitting me for the billionth time. Or the way it softened when he held me in the good days. “Leaving was the best thing I could have done for myself, or for him. If a situation is unhealthy for one party, it’s bad for both.” The dozens of unopened messages, texts, and unanswered calls from him when I found the courage to stay away ping-pong around my brain and my vision clouds. “What the heck is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be mad? It would be so much easier than this.”
“Easier than what?” I nearly rocket into the stratosphere at Parker’s voice, his head poking around the corner a few inches away. “Why are you talking to yourself?”
I cough and clear my throat. “Fighting old demons.” I grin, and pray he’ll think it’s a joke.
Based off the way he works his jaw, like he has a piece of saltwater taffy, he’s not buying it. Shoving his fists into his coat pockets, he comes and takes a seat beside me. “You left the email open on your computer.”
“And you read it?”
He bobs his head. “I’d make a flip comment about you wanting me to, but that’s too much, even for me.” Raising a brow, he bumps me with his shoulder. “You going home for Christmas? You said your parents refused to come out here this year, right?”
Chewing my thumb nail I shrug, and he gently tugs at my arm until my nail is out of my mouth. “I want to see them, but Masonfield is a tiny town cliché. If I step one toe into town, I’ll be right in the middle of all the drama. Denver is the reason I’ve not gone back.” Not that that’s pathetic…
“What about your parents? How many Christmases do they have left?”
I bite my bottom lip tilting my chin toward the sky. “Emotional blackmail.”
“If you see Denver’s family you will—in all probability—survive. If you miss your family’s last Christmas together…” He lets the idea hang there over my head like some ghost of Christmas future.
Oh, the joys of your parents having you later in life.
“You’re their only kid. Don’t let Denver the Menace take more from you than he already has. You do not owe him, and your life doesn’t belong to him.”
Puffing out my cheeks, I hold my breath.
“Aren’t you glad the one person you decided to mention him to, won’t baby you over this?”
You think it was just a bad relationship. “That would be a truck load of no.” I bump against his side. I hate it when he’s at least a tiny bit right. “You wouldn’t happen to have any plans for Christmas, would you?”
He grimaces at me, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I do. I’m going to Masonfield, Vermont with my best friend.”
As always, thank you for reading and Merry Christmas!