Thursday, August 16, 2018

Update to The Consolation Prize

Hi ya'll! 

I hope you're having a good week. Enjoy this week's chapter—excited to hear your thoughts. 

And just so you know, this isn't the last chapter even though it kind of seems like it could be at the end. Didn't want anyone to be upset! 

Chapter 11

Table of Contents 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Update to Love Bites

I'm back with another terrifying chapter of Love Bites.....

Chapter 5

Table of Contents

And for those of you who are following Tom Blake's story in 1905, I've updated it in the TOC... but Part 2 is here:

Tom, Part 2

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Update to the Consolation Prize

Hi everyone! 

I think you'll really like this week's chapter—we get more Scottie and Will alone time.

And just a note, I’m traveling this week and had to post this using my phone—wasn’t able to do a final proof. I apologize if there seem to be more minor typos/kinks than usual.

Enjoy! Can’t wait to hear what ya’ll think.  

Chapter 10

Table of Contents 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Update to Love Bites

Thanks so much for your feedback last week!  I'm glad you're still reading and enjoying this story.  In this chapter, Brooke goes out on a date with Hunter.... but will it put her life in danger?  I got lazy and didn't make a TOC yet, but here is:

Chapter 4

Entire story

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Update to The Consolation Prize

Hi everyone! 

Excited to post this week's update. Got a ton of good feedback from last week's chapter, so I'm looking forward to hearing more. 

Enjoy! 

Chapter 9 

Table of Contents 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Update to Love Bites

Hi all!  I'm back with another chapter of Love Bites to conclude the cliffhanger in the last chapter.  This one is quite a bit longer than the others, and pretty devvy, in my humble opinion.  Also, we finally meet Hunter:

Chapter 3

Entire story

Also, some of you mentioned you'd like to see me write some historical fiction.  The book version of this story will go back and forth between Brooke's story and one that takes place in 1905.  I wasn't going to post the 1905 part because it wasn't vital to the other story.... they do eventually intersect, but not till near the end.  But I figured I'd try posting it and if it's something you guys enjoy, I can just post those parts in the TOC, so people who aren't reading that storyline aren't thrown off by it.  But if you don't care either way, I probably won't post because it's harder than not posting.  Obviously.

OK, now that I've babbled on about this for a whole paragraph, here it is:

Tom Blake, October of 1905

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Update to the Consolation Prize

Hi everyone! 

I think ya'll are going to like this chapter. We get some good Scottie and Will 1:1 time. 

I'm traveling this week so I had to schedule this post ahead of time, so I hope it goes off without a hitch. If not I promise to post as soon as I can! 

Excited to hear your thoughts! 

Chapter 8 

Table of Contents 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Update to Love Bites

So I am currently traveling and have scheduled this a week in advance, and whether the link below works depends on whether I'm able to get to a computer to hit publish.  Exciting!  I also don't know as I'm writing this if you guys liked or hated the first chapter.  I hope you liked it! 

I am working on something a little different currently, so if this just isn't everyone's taste, I might be able to swap to posting that earlier than planned, although life is very busy, so.... well, I hope you like this one!  Please let me know!  Your comments are immensely helpful!

Here is (or not):

Chapter 2

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Update to The Consolation Prize

Hi guys!

Excited to post this week's update after last week's cliffhanger. Your comments are so encouraging and really helpful. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my work. Can't wait to hear what you think of this week's chapter. 

Chapter 7 

Table of Contents 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Love Bites!

Hi all!  So I told you all that I'd be back this week with a new story, so.... here I am, back with a new story.  This is a bit of all things... sort of a thriller, sort of paranormal, but mostly a romance.  As you can see from the tags, it involves paraplegia and legbraces.  I know some of you were nervous about paranormal romance, but this isn't really a paranormal romance.  This is Annabelle Does Paranormal Romance.  Anyway, enough babbling.....

Again, I'm grateful for all comments!  It's a work in progress....


LOVE BITES

“Sydney is toxic and we’re dumping her.”

Gabby makes the declaration twenty minutes into our dinner together at the local bar.  She’s downed about half of her strawberry margarita, but I don’t know if this is an alcohol-fueled decision.  She’s been complaining about Sydney for months now, and the fact that she was a no-show to our meal tonight is apparently the last straw.

“I’m sure she has a good excuse,” I say, even though I’m actually sure of exactly the opposite.  Sydney never has a good excuse. Ever. Maybe somebody she liked better asked her to dinner.  Maybe she just plum forgot.  But she always says it like it’s an excellent excuse.  Of course I forgot!  How could you actually expect me to remember our plans together?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Update to the Consolation Prize

Hi everyone! 

Thanks for all of your great comments last week. I'm really loving hearing from ya'll. This week we get to see Scottie and Will meet again. Can't wait to hear your thoughts—enjoy! 

Chapter 6 

Table of Contents 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Will be back next week!

Thank you to everyone who purchased a copy of My Perfect Ex-Boyfriend!  I'm finishing up another project right now, but next week, I'll return with a new story called Love Bites.  Here's a little teaser blurb:

Is it possible my sweet, handsome, charming boyfriend could be a vampire?

I know, I know, vampires aren’t real, except in fiction and folklore, but hear me out. I’ve got some convincing evidence…

Let’s start with the obvious.  His name is Hunter.  HUNTER.  That’s a vampire name if you’ve ever heard one, right?  And his white, sharp teeth are clearly capable of piercing the thickest of skin.

Then there’s his pale complexion.  We’re talking get-this-guy-to-a-tanning-booth-ASAP pale.

And he has a weird tendency to compliment my “intoxicating scent,” especially when I get home from work. Did I mention I’m a phlebotomist?

Most concerning, I’m starting to suspect he killed and drank the blood of one of my closest friends.

My neighbor Jamie warned me to stay away from him or risk becoming his next victim. But Jamie may have his own ulterior motives. 

Anyway, I’m taking my chances.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Update to the Consolation Prize

Hi hi everyone—

Happy 4th! Hope ya'll enjoy this week's update—it's a bit more from Will's perspective this time. Look forward to hearing your thoughts! 



Monday, July 2, 2018

New book: My Perfect Ex-Boyfriend

Hi all!

Thank you to everyone who's read the chapters I've posted of my newest book, My Perfect Ex-Boyfriend.  I've been picking and choosing what parts to post, but now I am finally releasing the FULL version of the novel.  So if you buy it, read from the beginning to see what you missed!


Available to buy on Amazon or totally FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

I’ve met the greatest guy ever.

Noah Walsh is handsome as sin. He’s sweet and smart and successful and sexy—all the best adjectives beginning with “S.” My six-year-old daughter worships the ground he walks on ever since he fashioned her smiley face pancakes out of bananas and blueberries. Oh yeah, and he can cook.

The only problem?

I dumped this great guy a decade ago, right after I wrecked his life.

And boy, this man holds a grudge.

Available to buy on Amazon or totally FREE on Kindle Unlimited!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Love Bites, Chapter 2

I sleep like shit.  Not that it’s any surprise.

Jamie came upstairs with me and sat with me for a long time.  He even went back to his own apartment to get some hot chocolate to make for me.  He limped over to the kitchen, heated up some milk in the microwave, and brought me out a steaming mug of chocolate.  It even had little marshmallows in it.  I felt a bit childish drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows, yet it did make me feel a little bit better.  But when he looked like he was going to pass out on my sofa, I told him to go home. 

“Are you sure?” he asked me.  “I could sleep on the sofa if you don’t want to be alone.”

I desperately wanted him to sleep on the sofa, but I know he has back problems and I’ve got the most uncomfortable sofa there ever was.  (It’s from Ikea—‘nuff said.)  So I sent him home for his own good.  And then of course missed him desperately.

As I lay awake in bed last night, I kept replaying the last time I ever saw Sydney.  We met up for drinks after work, and I remember when Sydney breezed into the bar, she was the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen her.  She was glowing.  I thought she’d gotten engaged.

“This mystery guy must really be good in bed,” I said to her.

“Oh, he is,” she assured me, crossing her legs in a way that made at least two guys turn to stare at her.  “Among other things.”

“So when do we get to meet him?”

Sydney flashed me a coy smile.  In due time.

“Can you at least tell me his name so that I don’t have to keep calling him ‘mystery guy’?”

She shook her head.

I let out an angry huff.  “Can you at least tell me what letter his name starts with?”

She shook her head again.  “Come on, Brooke. Don’t pitch a dying duck.”

“C?” I guessed.  “Does it start with C?  B?  L?  Please just throw me a bone here!”

Sydney laughed.  “I promise you, you’ll meet him soon enough.”  She twirled a lock of blond hair around her finger. “It’s getting serious.”

“How serious could it be if you won’t even tell your friends the guy’s name?”

“Okay…” Sydney took an onion ring off the plate in front of us.  I’d have been jealous that she ate so much yet never seemed to gain a pound, but I’d seen Syd’s fridge at home and knew that she starved herself when she was alone.  “His name starts with H.”

H,” I repeated.  “So… is it Henry?  Harry?  Hank?”

Sydney just smiled at me and patted her hair, surreptitiously adjusting one of her bobby pins.  Syd was really into bobby pins.  I thought it was funny how this girl who was otherwise the height of fashion always had a ton of bobby pins stuck all over her gorgeous blond hair.  She was addicted to them.

“Is it Hayden?” I asked.  “Like the planetarium?  Syd, are you dating a planetarium?  You can tell me if you are.”

“You’ll find out soon enough,” is all she said.

Well, now I’ll never find out.  Because Sydney is dead.  And Hayden the Planetarium is probably the one who killed her.

I drag myself out of bed, pushing away that dizzy, nauseous feeling I always get when I haven’t slept enough.  I’m tempted to call in sick, but at the same time, I feel like work might be a good distraction.  The last thing I want to do is sit home all day, thinking about how it could have just as easily been me lying in a body bag right now.  I’ve certainly gone out with enough sketchy guys over the years. 

Maybe it’s time to rethink the dating scene.  Maybe it’s time to get more serious about settling down with a decent guy.

I manage to shove my body into some clothing and applied the necessary creams and concealer to hide the fact that I spent the whole night awake.  I’ve got my clogs on and I’m ready to leave my apartment when I hear three loud thumps on my door.

Yes, it’s eight in the morning.  Yes, it’s broad daylight outside.  But that doesn’t mean those thumps don’t scare the crap out of me.

The entire time I was at Gramercy Park, I couldn’t shake that feeling of being watched.  But then when I went home to try to escape that unpleasant sensation, something occurred to me:

If someone was watching me at the park, they now knew where I lived.

The whole thing put me in a panic.  I couldn’t even tell Jamie why I was so upset because he would have thought I was out of my mind.  Normal people don’t think they’re being followed.  There’s a word for people who suddenly decide they’re being followed and that word is not “perceptive.”

I tiptoe over to the door and let out a breath when I see that it’s only Mr. Teitelman behind the peephole.  I unlock the door and find my downstairs neighbor standing at my door, his eyebrows bunched together in a frown. Mr. Teitelman is in his seventies and one of those men who has more hair in his eyebrows than he has on top of his head, and has never worn anything but checkered shirts in all the time I’ve known him (well, occasionally bathrobes).  He moved in two years ago, after his wife of forty years died, and he’s really the sweetest guy ever.  Well, aside from when I so much as breathe too loudly in my apartment.

“Too loud!” Mr. Teitelman greets me.  “Why so much stomping around, Brooky?  You woke me up!  Your shoes are so loud!”

“But I only just put my shoes on like one minute ago,” I point out.

“Eh?” Mr. Teitelman says.

That’s the kicker.  Mr. Teitelman can’t hear worth a damn.  I always have to repeat everything I say a hundred times and yell at the top of my lungs so he can understand me.  But then I have to tiptoe around to keep the noise from bothering him.  It’s like he has some sort of hearing disorder where he can only hear stuff directly above him.

“I’M SORRY,” I say.  “I’LL BE MORE QUIET.”

“That’s my girl, Brooky.” Mr. Teitelman’s face creases into a smile. “By the way, my grandson is having his bar mitzvah this Saturday and I’m having a party over here in the afternoon when it’s over.  You’ll come?”

Um…” I’m trying to think of a nice way to tell my neighbor that I don’t want to spend my Saturday afternoon at a thirteen-year-old’s birthday party.

We’ll have catered food from Katz’s deli,” he says.  “It’s going to be the good stuff!”

Um,” I say again. 

Mr. Teitelman winks at me. “James said he’d stop by.”

I cringe.  Much like Gabby, Mr. Teitelman is convinced that Jamie and I are meant to be together.  We are literally unable to have a conversation about Jamie without him winking meaningfully at me.  Still, he’s right—if Jamie is coming, that makes the party more appealing.  The truth is, the thought of seeing Jamie there is enough to convince me to go.

Hmm.  Maybe we’re not as much in the Friends Zone as I had thought.

“Okay,” I agree.  “I guess I can come by for a bit.”

He cups his hand over his ear.  “Eh?  What’d you say, Brooky?”

“I’LL COME TO THE PARTY.”

Mr. Teitelman claps his hands together.  “Wonderful!  I’ll order extra chopped liver.”

Before I can tell my neighbor that I would never consider eating chopped liver in a million years, he’s heading down the hall, whistling a little tune to himself.  He’s really a very nice man—maybe I should get carpeting.

***


If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my years of working as a phlebotomist, it’s that men are the worst babies there are.  The bigger and burlier the man, the greater the chance he’ll be terrified of my itty bitty butterfly needle.  My current patient is proving this adage correct.  Mr. Ramirez is built like a pro-wrestler, with biceps the size of my waist, but he’s hemming and hawing about letting me draw his blood.

“What is this test for anyway?” he asks me.  Even though the test he’s getting was written clearly on the slip of paper he handed me when he came in, and also, I’ve already answered this question for him.  Twice.

“It’s a test of your cholesterol, Mr. Ramirez,” I tell him patiently.

“Yeah, but I’m saying why?” he presses me.  “Why do they gotta know my cholesterol?  What does it even mean?”

“I think that’s more of a question for your doctor,” I say, “but generally, high cholesterol can cause stroke and heart disease.  So I’d imagine that’s why your doctor wants to know if your cholesterol is high.”

Mr. Ramirez looks at the needle doubtfully.  “But do you gotta draw so much blood?”

“It’s not that much.”

“It’s a whole tube!” he points out.  “Can’t you just take a few drops from my finger?”

I’m trying to patiently explain to him that the lab can’t run a test with just “a few drops of blood” and that a test tube of blood really isn’t very much.  A test tube literally does not even fill an eighth of a shot glass, but this guy acts like I’ll be sucking up his life force.  Except before I can talk him into it, our receptionist Cathy pokes her head into the room.

“Brooke?” she says.  “There’s someone here to see you.”

“Okay, it’ll be a few minutes,” I say.

Cathy’s voice drops a few notches.  “He says he’s a detective.  Detective Richard Bateman—that’s what his badge said.”

I nearly drop the needle I’m holding.  I look at Mr. Ramirez, who looks relieved by the interruption.  “That sounds important,” he tells me.  “You should probably go talk to him.”

I sigh and put down the blue tourniquet I’d been trying to persuade Mr. Ramirez to let me wrap around his forearm.  I go out to the waiting area, my knees trembling under me.  I don’t know why I’m so scared.  It’s not like I killed Sydney.  I want her killer to be found more than anyone.

I recognize the detective without Cathy having to point him out to me, even though he’s not wearing a police uniform.  He just looks like a cop. He’s in his early forties, with black hair and penetrating dark eyes. He’s wearing a dark jacket and tie, and you can tell he’s the sort of man who looks most handsome in a suit.

The detective rises when he sees me appear in my scrubs and long white coat.  Ms. Nelson?” he asks.

I nod, squeezing my fists together.

“My name is Detective Bateman,” he says.  He holds out his hand to me, and I’m embarrassed by how clammy mine is. 

“I’m Brooke Nelson,” I say, then feel like a moron because he obviously knows my name.

“Is there somewhere here we can talk privately, Ms. Nelson?” he asks.

“Uh huh,” I manage.  I glance over at Cathy, who is looking at me curiously.  She’s such a freaking busybody—everyone in the lab will know about this before lunch.  You’ll never believe it—Brooke almost got arrested. I cringe just thinking about it.

I lead Detective Bateman to a room that doesn’t seem to be in use.  There are two plastic chairs in the room.  He sits gracefully in one of them and I sort of collapse into the other.  The detective keeps looking at me with those dark eyes and it’s making me wonder if I did something wrong. I bet he’s good at getting criminals to talk. I feel a sudden urge to confess to him that I jaywalked on the way to work this morning.  Twice.

Ms. Nelson,Bateman begins, “I’d like to talk to you about Sydney Lancaster.  Have you heard the unfortunate news?”

Unfortunate.  That’s one way of saying that my friend went and got her throat slashed.

“Yes,” I murmur.  “It’s… terrible.”

He raises his eyebrows at me.  “You and Ms. Lancaster were friends, weren’t you?”

Yes.

“Close friends?”

“Medium close,” I say lamely.  Whatever that means.  God, I’m answering questions like I’m twelve years old.

“How long have you known her?”

Um… maybe… two years, I think?”

He nods.  I expect him to write down what I’m saying, but he doesn’t.  He’s just listening.  “How did you meet?”

I scratch my head, trying to remember.  “I think… I met her at a party.  Some friends of ours had a party and Sydney and I were both there. We got to talking and after the party we went and got drinks together and… well, that was it.” Ugh, this is the most boring story ever.  “We just started hanging out after that.”

The detective looks at me thoughtfully.  “Was it just friendship?  Or was it more than that?”

Oh my God, does he think Syd and I were hooking up?

“Just friendship,” I answer quickly.

He nods.  I look down at his left hand and notice a lack of a wedding ring.  He’s a guy who’s good-looking, smart, and obviously has a good job—I wonder why he’s not taken.  Maybe he’s divorced.  Maybe the long hours of being a policeman got to his wife.  Maybe she wanted him to promise that he’d take a safer desk job, but he was like, Dammit, I need to be out on the streets!  You can’t chain me to a desk, woman!

Or maybe not.

“I understand that you were supposed to meet up with Ms. Lancaster last night,” he says, breaking into my fantasy about his marriage gone wrong. 

My pulse quickens.  “How did you…?”

“We saw a bunch of text messages from you on her phone,” he tells me.  Right, of course.  “It sounds like you and Ms…. Gabrielle Lewis were supposed to meet her for dinner last night?  But she didn’t show up.”

“Right,” I confirm. “Gabby and I… I mean, Ms. Lewis and I were waiting for her, but she didn’t show up.”

“Where did you think she was?”

I shrug.  “I guess… she was dating some new guy.  We thought she ditched us for him.”  An idea occurs to me.  “Did you talk to the guy she’s been dating?  Does he have an alibi?”

Bateman smiles thinly.  “Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to locate Ms. Lancaster’s alleged boyfriend.”

“Alleged boyfriend?”

He sighs.  “Much like you, all her friends insist that she was dating someone, but none of them knew anything about him.  Including his name.”

“You don’t even know his name?” I breathe.

He shakes his head.  “He was obviously being very careful not to be found.  Did Ms. Lancaster ever mention a name?”

No.” I bite my lip.  “Except… well, one time she let it slip that his name starts with H.”

The detective gives me a look like I just told him the most useless piece of information he’s ever heard.  “Okay.  Was that his first name or his last?”

“I assumed first name, but it could have been last, I guess,” I say lamely. 

He looks disappointed, and I can’t blame him.  As much as I want to tell him something that will lead him to the killer, I know everything I’ve told him has been completely unhelpful.

“One more question,” he says, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward slightly.  “Do you know a woman named Angela O’Malley?”

The name doesn’t sound familiar.  I shake my head no.

The detective smiles grimly.  “Okay, never mind. Shot in the dark.”

I don’t know what that means.  But I file the name Angela O’Malley away to Google when I have a chance.

Bateman stands up from his plastic chair, which creaks angrily at his shifting weight.  He holds out his hand for me to shake.  “Thank you for your assistance, Ms. Nelson.  That’s all for now.”

“Oh.” I wipe the sweat off my hand before I shake his this time.  “Do you… I mean, are there any leads?  Do you think you’ll catch the guy who did this?”

He hesitates.  We’re doing everything we can.”

That probably means no.  They probably have no clue who killed Sydney.

That means whoever did it is still out there somewhere, probably laughing their head off at how inept the police force is.  Maybe ready to strike again.

For a moment, I consider telling Detective Bateman about that feeling I got yesterday, like I was being watched.  But no, he’ll just think I’m nuts.  Even I think I’m nuts.  I don’t have to let the cute detective think so too.



***


I can’t sleep.

I started out in my bed at eleven-thirty.  At midnight, I moved to the couch and read for a while.  At a quarter to one, I went back to my bed.  And I’ve been there for over an hour now, doing my damnedest to turn off my brain.  I’ve literally counted sheep jumping over a little white fence in my brain. I did a relaxation exercise I found online.  I masturbated. 

But somehow, I’m still awake.

I lie on my side, staring at a crack in the paint of my wall.  I keep thinking about my interview with Detective Bateman.  About they can’t find Sydney’s boyfriend.  No trace of him anyway.  Yet he’s out there.  Somewhere.

And if he might not have just killed Sydney.  He might have killed that other girl too.  He might be looking around, trying to choose his next victim right now.

I get a prickling sensation in the back of my neck.  It’s the same feeling I’ve had multiple times now, ever since I found out about Syd—like I’m being watched.  But this is the first time I’ve ever felt it while in my own home.  Yet it’s the strongest I’ve ever felt it.  I feel nearly complete certainty there is someone behind me, watching me in my bed.

I roll over in bed.  The walk-in closet is right behind me.

The door to the closet is partially ajar. The lights are off inside.  There’s nothing in that closet except my clothes.

Except then I hear it.  A loud creak from within the closet that fills the entire room. 

I sit up in bed, clutching the blanket, my heart pounding in my chest so loud I can hear it.  Holy shit.  There’s someone in my closet. 

But no, how could there be?  How is that possible?

I slowly get out of bed, never taking my eyes off the closet door.  The door doesn’t budge.  There are no further noises from within.  The closet appears empty.

Maybe I just imagined the noise.  Or maybe it was the building settling.  Or maybe it was a rat.

Please, God, let it be a rat.

I stare at the closet door for a minute, willing myself to check inside.  I’m certain there can’t be anything in there.  How could there be?  I’ll just turn on the light, look inside, and then I’ll know I’m alone in here.  And then I can go back to sleep.  (Yeah, right.)

I take a step toward the closet, my heart beating so fast that it nearly hurts.  I might have a heart attack over this, I swear.  I hold my breath, trying not to think of how relieved I’ll feel when I open the door and see nothing but clothes and (way too many) shoes.  After all, that’s what’s likely to be in there.  How could there be a person hiding in there?

Yet.  I did hear a noise.

Screw it.  I can’t do this.

I back out of my bedroom, still keeping my eyes on the closet.  I find my iPhone, plugged into the outlet in the living room.  I reach for it, wondering who I should call.  I have Detective Bateman’s number in my purse, but I would feel ridiculous telling a policeman to come check out a boogeyman in my closet.  No, I can’t call Bateman.

Really, there’s only one person I can call.  Only one person who won’t be furious at me for waking them up at two in the morning over something this lame.

I select Jamie’s number from my list of favorites.  It rings several times and I’m already freaking out he’s not going to answer when I hear his sleepy voice on the other line, “’Lo?”

“Jamie?” I can hear the fear in my own voice.

“Hey, Brooke.” He instantly sounds more awake.  “What’s going on?  What happened?”

“I…”

I need you to make sure there isn’t someone hiding in my closet. 

Wow, that sounds really ridiculous.

“Brooke?”

“Can you come over?” I squeak.  “I’m sorry… I just… I’m feeling a little freaked out now over the whole Sydney thing and… I’m sorry…”

“Don’t apologize,” he says.  “I’ll be right up.”

I wait for him by my unlocked front door, one hand on the doorknob and one hand on my cell phone. I have the lights on in the living room, but between the blackness of the windows and the quiet in the room, I don’t feel comforted at all. Also, Jamie takes what seems like forever to get upstairs, although I realize that I pulled him out of bed, so he likely wasn’t dressed, and it’s not like he’s speedy at his best.  After a good five minutes, I hear a gentle knock on the door.

When I open the door and see Jamie standing there, the relief floods through me. He looks like a guy who just got pulled out of bed—his short brown hair is disheveled and his jeans and T-shirt are wrinkled.  He’s got his cane in his left hand and he’s leaning more heavily on it than usual, the tight muscles in his left biceps bulging as he stifles a yawn. Even his glasses are slightly askew on his nose. If I wasn’t so glad to see him, I would have felt horribly guilty for waking him up.

“Brooke?” His eyebrows scrunch together.  “What’s going on?”

I pull him inside, feeling comforted by the sensation of his strong forearm against my skin.  Having Jamie here makes my apartment non-scary again.  Now there are two of us versus whatever is in the closet.

“Listen,” I say, “if I tell you what’s going on, do you promise not to laugh at me?”

He scratches at his hair, which only makes it stand up more. “Uh, okay…”

“I think there’s something in my bedroom closet.”

Jamie frowns.  He glances at my bedroom door, then back at me.  “Like… a mouse?”

If I tell him the truth, he’ll really think I’m nuts.  I can’t tell him.

“Yes,” I lie.  “I think I saw a mouse.”

“Shit,” he says.  “Brooke, I’d be happy to take a look, but I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to do much to catch it at two in the morning.  Tomorrow we can go buy some traps and—”

“Can you just look?” I interrupt him.  “Like, look in my closet?  See if you see a mouse?”

He shrugs. “Sure, but it might be hidden.  It’s a big closet and there are lots of places for a little mouse to hide.”

Yes, but not an adult man.

“Please look,” I say.  “I can’t sleep without knowing if I’ve got a… a mouse.”

“Of course,” he says. 

Jamie heads toward my bedroom, and now that the lights are on, I realize the room looks like a hurricane hit.  I’ve got a lot of clothes in my closet, but it looks like a good twenty percent of those clothes are currently strewn about the floor.  He hesitates, looking between the ground and his cane, clearly reluctant to take a step.  “Uh, Brooke…”

“Sorry about that.”  I race around the room, yanking clothes from the floor to clear a path to the closet.  How freaking embarrassing.

I walk a couple of paces behind Jamie as he limps in the direction of my closet.  It occurs to me too late that I should probably have a weapon.  At the last second, I grab my hairbrush, which isn’t a very good weapon, but oh well.  Better than nothing.  Possibly.

I watch Jamie’s hand on the closet door.  My heart lurches in my chest and I’m certain something will leap out at us as soon as he pulls the door open.  I grip the hairbrush tighter, but that’s silly.  I mean, there couldn’t possibly be anything in my closet.

Could there?

To be continued....

Love Bites, Chapter 3

I watch Jamie’s hand on the closet door.  My heart lurches in my chest and I’m certain something will leap out at us as soon as he pulls the door open.  I grip the hairbrush tighter, anticipating…

Nothing.  There’s nothing in the closet.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  There are about ten-thousand tops and pants and dresses, of which I generally only cycle through at most twenty.  My closet has a ridiculous amount of clothing in it. But the point is, it does not have any people in it.  Not even one.

I don’t know why I’m surprised.  The thought of someone being in my closet was nothing short of insane.  Yet for a moment, it seemed like a certainty.

Jamie is staring down at the floor.  “I don’t see any mice.”

“Yeah.” I wave my hand.  “I may have just imagined it.”

“If you want,” he says, “I can go out and get you a trap tomorrow…”

“That’s okay,” I say quickly.  God, I’ve already bothered him enough. I don’t want him going out to buy traps for my imaginary rodent problem.  “Thanks for coming by, Jamie.  Really.”

He turns away from the closet and focuses his blue eyes on my face.  “It’s no problem.”

Now that I’m not terrified for my life, I’m able to focus on something else.  The fact that Jamie looks so damn sexy having just rolled out of bed.  His eyes flicker downward and I realize I’m wearing nothing but the oversized Papa Roach T-shirt I use as a nightgown.  Well, at least I’ve got on underwear and my legs have been recently shaved. 

“I couldn’t sleep,” I blurt out, my cheeks reddening.  “I guess that’s why I got scared.  I’m still… well, you know…”

“Yeah,” he says, his eyes quickly lifting from my bare legs.  “I know what you mean.  I wasn’t sleeping so great myself.”

I look at Jamie’s face.  Even though it’s the middle of the night and I have to work tomorrow, all I can think of is that I don’t want him to leave.  He makes me feel safe.

He makes me feel a lot of things.

“Um,” I say, “do you want to… I mean, I know you’ve probably got work tomorrow, but maybe… we could watch TV a little?”

He doesn’t even hesitate.  “Sure.”

Five minutes later, Jamie is channel-surfing on my couch while I fish around in the fridge for two beers.  I suspect beer isn’t the best thing to be drinking for insomnia when my alarm will be going off in less than five hours, but it does always make me sleepy. And after what I’ve been through tonight, I need a beer.

I hand Jamie a Corona and flop down next to him on the couch. I dug a pair of pajama shorts out of my dresser so I’d be decent, although I suspect he wouldn’t have minded if I hadn’t.  I look him over as he twists off the cap of the Corona and takes a swig.

“You can take your sneakers off,” I tell him.

Jamie glances down at his gray Nikes.  “Uh, it’s okay.”

During the three years I’ve gotten to know Jamie, I’ve become aware of the fact that he has braces on both his ankles because the cane alone is obviously not enough. He never, ever takes his shoes off when he comes over and I’m guessing that’s why.  But considering I’m in my pajamas, it feels odd that he has his shoes on.  It feels too… formal.  Like he’s on his way out.

“It’ll be cozier,” I say.

He looks at me, his brow furrowed as he considers it.  Finally, he says, “Okay.”

Resting his beer on the coffee table, he lifts the leg of his pants on the left to reveal a plastic brace that partially encircles his calf and is held together with Velcro.  The brace looks old, like he’s been using it way too long and ought to be replaced, but he’s been unable to make the time.  He undoes the Velcro, then pulls off his shoe and the brace together.  Without the brace, his ankle drops, his toes angled downward. 

He repeats the process on his other leg.  Midway through, he glances up at me, a worried expression on his face.  I want to assure him I don’t care, but I sense it’s better not to say anything at all.  I simply lift my shoulder in a half-shrug.

He puts his shoes with the braces sticking out to the side of the couch, where he put his cane.  And then he grabs his beer back off the table and takes a very long swig.

“Isn’t that better?” I say.

“Yeah,” he says.  “Just as long as there isn’t a fire and I have to get out of here fast.”

I think of the noises in my closet.  But there was no one there.  There’s no reason we’d need to make a quick escape.

“Can you walk without them?” I ask.

He hesitates.  “No.  Not really.”

“Well, I’ll keep the fire extinguisher handy then.”

He rolls his eyes and smiles.

“So what are we watching?” I ask.

Jamie grabs the remote and turns up the volume a notch.  “Infomercial.”

“An infomercial?  Really?  That’s the best you could find?  Isn’t there an old episode of Friends or Family Guy we can watch?”

“Infomercials are awesome,” he says.  “It’s the best part of being awake at two in the morning.”

I look at the TV, where a guy in a checkered shirt is demonstrating a fantastic new juicer.  He’s dropping a lemon into the machine, rind and all.  A studio audience member is on stage with him, reacting with amazement. 

“At least find an infomercial for a product for male pattern baldness,” I say.

“Male pattern baldness!” he bursts out. He touches his light brown hair, which I’m guessing is as thick as it’s ever been. “What are you saying to me, Brooke?”

I giggle. “Are you saying you don’t know about that huge bald spot on the back of your head?” 

His eyes widen, although I’m sure he knows I’m joking.  He grabs the remote control and tucks it under his thigh.  “Just for that, we’re watching this infomercial for the next hour.”

“Don’t think I won’t tackle you, Kramer.”

A smile plays on his lips.  “I’d like to see you try.”

Our eyes meet.  My heart is thumping in my chest the same way it was when I thought there was someone hiding in the closet, but for an entirely different reason.  Before I can overthink it, I pounce on him, reaching my hand between his thigh and the recesses of the couch to retrieve the remote.  He makes a halfhearted attempt to stop me—from the tight muscles I can see in his arms, he could clearly throw me off him quite easily but he lets me get at the remote.

“Aha!” I cry out, holding the remote up in triumph.  I’m still partially on top of him, my other hand supporting myself on his shoulder.  “Now we can watch something good.  And you can’t stop me!”

That unreadable smile is still on his lips. “We can watch anything you want, Brooke.”

From where I am crouched, my lips are roughly ten inches away from his.  Ten inches and we’ll be kissing.  Ten inches and the close friendship we’ve been building for three years will turn into something more.  Something better.

Or maybe wrecked forever.

God, I don’t know what to do.

I lean back against the couch again, widening the distance between our lips to about fifteen inches.  “I’ll tell you what,” I say.  “I’ll let you watch your infomercial on one condition.”

“What’s that?”

I grin at him. “You have to give me a foot massage.”

He looks at my manicured toes doubtfully.  I’m actually very meticulous about my foot care—I get regular pedicures and rub moisturizing lotion on them every night before bed. “I don’t know.  You walk around in those sweaty sneakers all day…”

I smack him in the arm. “I took a shower before bed last night, you jerk.”

“Okay.” He grins back at me. “Deal.”

Jamie ends up being incredibly good at foot massages.  We watch the juicer infomercial together, but between the beer and his fingers all over my feet and then going up to my calves, I start to feel incredibly relaxed.  I feel my eyes starting to drift closed.

“You’re really good at this,” I murmur.  “You’ve done this before?”

“I’ve been known to give a foot massage here and there.”

I put my beer down on the coffee table so it doesn’t spill as I sink down against the couch cushions.  “It’s really nice.”

“Glad you like it.”

I let Jamie keep rubbing my feet and legs as sleep tugs at my brain.  It feels so nice being here with him.  Why do I keep hesitating with him?  Yes, I don’t want to lose his friendship, but there’s clearly a chance for so much more. 

But before I can think about it more, I pass out.

***
 
I haven’t been to a funeral in years.  The last one I went to was my grandfather’s about five years ago.  He was close to ninety years old and a cranky old bastard, so nobody was either surprised or terribly sad to see him go.  I remember sitting next to my dad, who kept making comments about how he’d never have to field another call about his father’s bowels ever again.  I couldn’t tell if he was sad over it or not.

Jamie has agreed to drive me and Gabby to the funeral so we can avoid taking the alternate bus/subway route, or worse, hoofing it across town in the muggy July heat in our uncomfortable black outfits and heels.  I still have the black skirt and blouse that I wore to my grandfather’s funeral, so I dig it out.  The skirt has gotten embarrassingly snug, but it still fits as long as I don’t eat anything or breathe too aggressively.

Jamie is meeting me at my apartment.  We both slept the entire night on my couch together the other night, and woke up when the alarm went off on my phone.  Jamie had slept partially sitting up all night and he looked really wrecked, so we didn’t get much of a chance to talk.  He just went back to his own place so that I could shower and get to work.  Our only other interaction since then was texting about today.

He shows up at my apartment right on time as usual.  When I throw open the door for him, my breath catches in my throat.

“Oh,” I say.

He blinks at me.  “What?”

“You, uh…” I’ve never seen Jamie in a dark suit before.  Despite his blue eyes, light hair, and fair coloring, he doesn’t seem washed out by it.  He looks… well, really handsome.  In fact, I may even need to throw in another “really.”  He looks really, really handsome.  He always looks good, but today… sheesh.  “You look nice is all.”

“Shocker.” He clutches his chest in mock surprise while holding his cane with his other hand.  He rarely lets go of it when he’s standing.  “You don’t look so bad yourself, Nelson.”

It’s probably somehow wrong to be flirting just before we go to a friend’s funeral.  We might go to hell for this one.  But more and more, it’s feeling like there’s something between the two of us.

I wonder if he feels it too.  I hope it’s not just all in my head.

Fifteen minutes later, we’re shooting along the FDR Drive in Jamie’s Hybrid Civic.  I’m riding shotgun and Gabby’s in the back, but she’s sitting in the middle and leaning forward so that it almost seems like she’s right between us.  I’m not even sure if she has her seatbelt on, which I find annoying considering we just had a friend die on us.  I don’t want to lose Gabby too—I really might end up at Bellevue if that happened.

Although that seems unlikely considering Jamie drives like an old man.  Granted, he uses hand controls to operate his car because he told me once he doesn’t trust his legs to do what he needs them to do on the road, but I don’t know if he can blame his overabundance of caution on that.  Maybe it’s because he got hurt in a car accident, so he’s got some PTSD.  Either way, I’m worried Gabby is going to reach over and start trying to operate the gas controls herself.

“Jamie,” Gabby says, “can I ask you a question?”

Sure.

“Is there a bomb in the car that will explode if you accelerate a mile over the speed limit?”

He rolls his eyes.  “There’s nothing wrong with being cautious.”

“I could walk faster than this,” Gabby complains.  “I could literally walk faster than this car is going. Hell, you could walk faster than this, Jamie.”

Luckily, Jamie is generally very good-natured when he’s teased about his limp.

“How about this, Gabby?” he says.  “What if I pull over and you can get out and walk the rest of the way?  Maybe we can race.”

“Yeah, you don’t want that,” she retorts.  “Because then Brooke will get out with me.”

He glares at her in the rearview mirror. “No way.”

She pokes me in the arm.  “What do you say, Brooke?  You want to get out with me?”

“Would you two shut up?” I say.  I feel a headache starting in my left temple.  We’re going to Sydney’s funeral, okay?  Let Jamie drive, Gabby.”

Gabby drops back against her seat, suddenly quiet.  “You’re right,” she finally says.  “This really sucks.”

I wish I hadn’t said anything, because the three of us end up sitting in depressing silence for the rest of the trip to the church downtown.  Even though it felt wrong, it was better when we were joking around.  Now all we have to think about is the fact that Sydney Lancaster was murdered at twenty-eight years old.

The funeral is mobbed compared with my grandfather’s—I can see before we even get into the church that it’s going to be a full house based on the number of people climbing the stairs—it’ll be standing room only. There are all these young, trendy people who I’m sure are Syd’s friends from the magazine.  Sydney had so many friends.  She might have been a little bit toxic, but everyone loved her. 

I wonder how many people would show up at my funeral.

No, I shouldn’t think about that.

When we get to the foot of the stairs, I can see Jamie hesitating.  He always manages the stairs to get into our building, but there are more here.  A lot more. 

“There’s probably a back entrance,” I tell him.  Gabby is already bounding up the stairs, running to join some of her other friends.  But I’m not going to abandon Jamie.

“It’s okay,” he says quickly.  “There’s a railing.  I can manage.”

He seems able to do it, using the same slow careful process as he does on the stairs at our building, leading with his stronger right leg and dragging the left up along with him. But after the third step, it’s obvious that this is going to be an incredibly slow process.  He lifts his blue eyes to look at me and smiles apologetically, “Brooke, you go ahead.  Really.”

I bite my lip.  “It’s fine.  Take your time.”

He shakes his head. “No, you should go save us seats, okay?”

So I do it.  Only because I’m convinced he’s going to stand there arguing with me until I go.

The funeral ceremony isn’t scheduled to start for another fifteen minutes, so a lot of people are still standing and talking quietly when I get into the church.  I pick out several familiar faces, including one that I hadn’t expected to see again so soon.

Detective Bateman.

He’s lingering in the back of the room, looking very handsome and also important in his dark suit, his black eyes trained on the crowd.  I wonder if he’s here to seek out Sydney’s boyfriend.  If so, he’s probably wasting his time—why would the guy show up here?  Then again, I’ve read criminals do dumb things like that all the time.  Like they hang around the scene of a crime even when it’s obvious that could lead to being caught.  That’s why it’s better to leave crime-solving to real detectives.

The detective catches me looking at him and nods in my direction.  Before I can stop myself, I walk over to him.

Hello, Ms. Nelson,” he says.

For a moment, I’m caught off guard that he remembers my name.  After all, he must have interviewed dozens of people on the case so far.  I wonder if there was something particularly memorable about me.

No, probably not.  He’s probably just a smart guy with a photographic memory.

“Did you…” I squeeze my fists together.  “Did you find Sydney’s boyfriend?”

He hesitates for a moment, as if not quite sure how much he should say.  Finally, he shakes his head no.  “Do you have any new information about him?”

“No, I…” I chew on my lip. “Detective, do you think the guy who killed Angela O’Malley was the same guy who killed Sydney?”

After talking to the detective, I googled Angela O'Malley.  A thirty-year-old woman named Angela O’Malley was found murdered in a park about two months ago.  Her throat was slashed.

He doesn’t seem shocked by my question—he shouldn’t be, considering he’s the one who told me about Angela O’Malley.  He just shrugs.  “There are similarities.  We have to explore all possibilities.”

His dark eyes are impassive—I have no idea what he’s really thinking.  Two women in the span of two months with their throats slit in a park.  I don’t know if that’s a lot or not.  How many women get murdered in New York every day? 

“Brooke?”

It’s Jamie, having successfully climbed up the stairs.  I quickly excuse myself from the detective and walk over to Jamie, who looks really winded from the effort of getting up the stairs.  Even so, instead of looking for a place to sit down, he says, “Who was that?”

I hesitate, not wanting to worry him but also not wanting to lie.  “He’s the detective investigating Sydney’s death.”

Jamie’s blue eyes widen.  “Oh.”

“I was just… I was hoping that…”

I can’t complete the sentence.  He knows what I was hoping.  And I’m sure he knows that Sydney’s killer is still out there.  Somewhere.

Maybe in this room.

“So I don’t suppose you got us a place to sit…” Jamie looks around at the pews packed with guests.  Every single row is filled and a sizable number of people have apparently chosen to stand in the back.  Syd was really popular.  At my own funeral, I’ll probably be lucky if the first few rows are filled.  Of course, fat lot of good it does her now.

“Sorry, I got distracted,” I say.

“That’s okay.” He adjusts his grip on his cane, his knuckles whitening.  I know walking isn’t easy for Jamie, but I don’t think standing is all that easy for him either.  I’m worried about him making it through the services, but he’d never admit it might be a problem.  “I’ll be fine.”

Luckily, a middle-aged woman sitting near us comes over to us and smiles at Jamie.  There’s something condescending about her smile.  “Young man,” she says to him, “we could make room for you in our aisle if you’d like to sit.  Everyone can scooch down.”

“Oh, great.” Jamie’s cheeks color, but I know he wouldn’t say no to an offer like that right now.  “Thanks so much.”

The woman smiles at me now.  “I’m sure we can also squeeze in your girlfriend.”

Jamie and I glance at each other, both unsure if we should correct this woman’s assumption about our coupleness.  In the end, we keep our mouths shut and follow the woman to her aisle, where there’s just barely room for the two of us to squeeze in.

“I’m practically on your lap,” I note, as I feel his leg press against my skirt.  His thigh is warm against mine, and I can feel the muscles in his arm under his suit jacket.  

“That would probably be frowned upon,” he says.

I smile.  “It’s the sort of thing Sydney would do, actually.”

“So… should you sit on my lap in her honor?”

I elbow him, although I can’t get in a good jab because we’re squeezed in so close. 

I hear organ music playing and the murmur of the crowd quiets down.  The services are starting.  I take a deep breath, staring front and center.  The back doors open and the pallbearers come in, holding Sydney’s casket.

I recognize one of the men to be Sydney’s brother.  He looks like her—blond-haired and attractive and young.  I can see that he’s struggling to hold in tears as he walks with the casket to the front of the church.  It hits me that Sydney’s body is in that casket.  Her body.

She’s dead inside there.

They’ll bury her today.  Her beautiful face will start to rot in the earth.  The flesh will fall from her body.  The bobby pins will fall to the bottom of the casket as her hair disintegrates.  Everything wonderful about her will be gone, and all that will be left will be her bones and the outfit she was buried in today—the last thing she’ll ever wear.  Sydney, who cared about clothing as much as anyone I’d ever met—she worked for a fashion magazine, for God’s sake—would be wearing the same clothes forever.

I can’t shake the feeling it could have been me.

I’ve dated plenty of guys who were unsavory, only because I was physically attracted to them.  I had a guy I was dating nearly assault me behind a club—he would have done it if some other people hadn’t come along and interrupted us.  I’ve even gone out with guys I’ve been afraid to tell anyone about because I thought I’d get judged for dating such a loser.  I never worried about it much though.  I always thought it was just good fun.

I never realized how close I came to being the girl in the coffin.

Tears spring up in my eyes.  I’m crying for Sydney, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m crying for myself.  For what could have happened to me.  For what still might happen if I don’t turn things around.

Jamie notices the tears in my eyes and he drops his hand onto mine.  Jamie—the nicest guy I’ve met since I moved here.  I glance at Jamie’s face and realize I’ve been an idiot.  He’s not just nice—he’s sexy, he’s funny, and I know he’s a good man.  And God, he looks so freaking good in that suit. I’m not entirely sure how he feels about me, if he’d be open to something more than friendship.  But it’s time to find out.

I turn my hand so that it slides neatly into his.  I give his hand a squeeze and force a smile through my tears.  He smiles back.

Holding Jamie’s hand—it feels right.

I hope he’s thinking the same thing.

We sit that way while they lay Sydney’s casket down at the front of the church.  The minister stands up to talk about the deceased, although I know for a fact that Syd hadn’t been to church in a decade.  “It’s not that I don’t believe in God,” she’d say, “it’s just that why should I spend my entire Sunday morning hearing about how I’m going to go to hell?  Plus I’m usually too hungover to go.”  It’s ironic that the first time she’s been in church since high school is in a coffin.

“Sydney was beloved by everyone,” the minister is saying.  “You can only look at this crowd and know how many people she had in her life who cared about her…”

The minister continues to drone on, but I’ve stopped listening.  Because that prickling sensation in the back of my neck has returned.  Except this time it’s worse than ever before.  I feel absolute certainty that someone is behind me, breathing down my blouse.  I whirl around, prepared to give the stink-eye at whoever is behind me. 

It’s an eighty-year-old woman with bleary blue eyes and a pouf of white hair.

Okay, that old lady is definitely not the one who’s been watching me and following me.  But someone must be.  I’ve never felt this way before.  Unless… I mean, I guess it could be a reaction to Sydney’s death.  Maybe I’m so freaked out by her murder that I’ve become convinced someone is after me?

So either someone is watching me or I’m crazy.

***

By the time the services end, I’m ready to jump out of my seat.  Any buzz I’d gotten from the fact that Jamie and I have been holding hands is completely gone.  In fact, the first second it doesn’t seem outright rude, I pull my hand away from his. I’m clammy as hell and I don’t want him to notice.

Jamie has to grab my shoulder to keep me from being the rude lady who runs out of the church before the family of the departed exits.  At this point, I’m not even certain I care though.  My skin is crawling and I just want to get out of here.

There’s nobody watching me.  I’ve spent half the services staring at the back of the church.  I’m a hundred percent sure I’m not being watched, which means I’m having some sort of weird panic attack.  I’m losing it.

I have to get out of this church.  Like, five minutes ago.

Most of the time, I don’t mind that Jamie walks slower than most people, but right now, it’s driving me out of my mind.  He seems to recognize that I want to get out of here fast, but there’s not a lot he can do about it.

Then we get to the stairs.

Jamie grabs the railing with one hand, his other gripping his cane.  He puts his cane on the step below his feet, then carefully lowers his bad left foot, then the other on the step.  I want to rip my hair out—I’m one step away from an outright panic attack. 

Listen, Jamie,” I say.  “I… I’m not feeling so good and… I think I’m going to just go…”

His eyes widen.  “Go?  But… I drove you here…”

“I know,” I say.  “I think I’ll just… I’m going to walk around for a while and then I’ll take the subway home.”

Jamie looks down the flight of stairs with frustration on his face.  It’s not his fault he can’t go any faster.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve got to get away from this church.  I’ve got to escape this crawling sensation on the back of my neck. 

“If you’ll just give me five minutes…” he says as he starts on the next step.

I shake my head.  “I’m sorry, I just… I need to be alone right now.  Tell Gabby I’ll talk to her later.  And… I’ll text you later, okay?”

It’s obvious Jamie isn’t thrilled, but I can’t worry about that right now.  I’ve got to get out of here.  Now.

I spend the next half-hour walking around downtown Manhattan.  About ten minutes into my journey, I realize how stupid my decision was.  My shoes are not made for walking.  I feel blisters developing on the balls of my feet and my little toe hurts so much, I want to hack it off.  Also, it’s freaking hot.  I wore my hair down today and every strand of it is stuck to the back of my neck.  I could have been in Jamie’s air conditioned car right now and I turned it down—what the hell is wrong with me?

But at the same time, I feel better.  After walking for a while, the prickling sensation in the back of my neck goes away.  I don’t have that feeling someone is watching me anymore.  The cold sweats have disappeared and now it’s just good old fashioned sweat.  My panic has completely subsided.

When my feet literally feel like they’re going to burst into flames, I turn into a sports bar that seems to have air conditioning.  Most of the tables are occupied, so I go to sit at the bar.  I’m hungry, but more than that, I’m desperately thirsty.  The second the bartender appears, I ask for a big glass of ice water.  I down most of it in a single gulp, then press the glass against my forehead, sighing at how lovely and cold it is.

My phone buzzes with a text message.  I pull it out of my purse and see Gabby’s name on the screen: Where did you go???? 

I quickly type back: Just needed some fresh air.  Where are you?

She instantly replies: Alone in car with Jamie.  He’s freaking out that you ran off.  He might surpass speed limit.

I smile to myself.  Jamie’s always concerned about me.  I can’t wait to get home and see him.  Tell him I’m fine.  Just needed time alone to contemplate life.

Okay, Gabby writes.  Just please don’t get yourself murdered.  Thx.

The bartender lays down the plate containing the bacon cheeseburger I ordered with a side of steak fries.  I’m not going to get myself murdered, but I might give myself a coronary.  It’ll be worth it though.  This cheeseburger looks amazing.

“I love a girl who can eat a big plate of greasy food.”

I whirl around, now certain there’s someone behind me.  Unless I’m hearing things too.  Ugh, don’t want to think about that possibility.

Fortunately, I’m not hearing things.  There’s a man standing behind me, wearing a dark gray suit that looks more expensive than everything I own put together.  He has very dark eyes—so dark I can barely discern his pupils—and thick, black hair.  When he smiles at me, it emphasizes the slight cleft in his chin, his perfect white teeth, and also how generally incredibly handsome he is.  He’s possibly the most handsome man I’ve ever met in real life.  If someone were to make a movie about this guy’s life, he’d play himself—that’s how handsome he is.

Is this ridiculously gorgeous man actually hitting on me?

“Glad you appreciate it,” I say.

The guy slides onto the stool next to mine. “This seat taken?”

“Well,” I say, “you’re already sitting on it, so I’d think if it were taken, someone would be yelling at you right now.”

He laughs, a sexy laugh that makes me want him more, but also hate him because there’s something wrong with the universe for someone to be that attractive.  It’s not fair.

“What are you drinking?” he asks.  “I’d like to buy you another one.”

“It’s ice water,” I admit. 

“Ice water?”

What?  Am I supposed to be drinking alcohol at one in the afternoon? “I’m a cheap date.”

He smiles again and I fall just a little bit in love.  “Maybe I can buy you a Coke?”

“I’m not really a Coke kind of girl.”

“Pepsi then?”

“Make it a raspberry lemonade and you’ve got yourself a deal.”

The guy signals to the bartender, and to my surprise, they actually have raspberry lemonade.  It’s my lucky day. 

“So I think a three-dollar lemonade is worth getting to know your name,” he says.

“Possibly,” I say.  “Tell me yours and then I’ll decide.

Another flash of those perfect teeth.  I wonder if he ever needed braces.  I’m sure he never needed headgear like I did.  (Stupid traumatic childhood.)  “I’m Hunter.”

Hunter.  Well, there’s a name that starts with H that I didn’t even think of when Sydney was playing her little I-won’t-tell-you-my-boyfriend’s-name-except-for-the-first-letter game. If Gabby were here, she’d probably be insisting that Hunter was the guy who killed Sydney just because his name starts with H, but I’m sensible enough to realize what a ridiculous coincidence that would be that some guy I met at a random bar just happens to be Sydney’s killer.

“That seems more like an occupation,” I say.

He shakes his head.  “No, I’m actually an investment banker.  I was just at the end of a lunch meeting, in fact…” He nods at two smartly dressed men across the room who seem to be getting up now to leave.  “And then I saw this stunning redhead across the room and told the guys that I needed to try to talk to her.”

I glance around the bar.  “So the stunning redhead left and you got stuck with me?”

Hunter laughs.  “And it turns out she’s clever too.  Witty.  But she still won’t tell me her name.”

I pop a fry into my mouth and chew thoughtfully.  I can tell that Hunter isn’t going to give up so easily. And there’s no harm in telling him my name.  “I’m Brooke.”

“That seems more like a body of water,” he comments.

I finally laugh.  Touche.

“Brooke and Hunter,” he says thoughtfully.  “I don’t know… something about those names go together, don’t they?  Like kismet.”

“Kismet,” I repeat.  “I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone use that word before in real life.”

“Well, you’ve never met me before.”

“I definitely have not,” I agree.  “But now I have and it’s been great, so… thanks for the raspberry lemonade.”

Hunter gets a mock wounded expression on his face.  “Brooke, are you blowing me off?”

“Maybe.”

“But it’s kismet.”

I eat another French fry. “I don’t really believe in kismet.”

“Well, I do,” he says.  And he’s not joking around now—I can see his dark eyes are entirely serious.  “I saw you across the room, and I thought… well, I felt like I was meant to come over and talk to you.  Like I was meant to be in this sports bar at this moment just so that I could see you.”

“Now you’re being cheesy,” I say.  But the truth is, it’s working.  An unattractive guy couldn’t pull it off, but Hunter is rocking the “kismet” thing.  When a gorgeous guy comes over to you and says you’re fated to meet each other, it’s hard to say no. 

But of course, I’m going to turn him down.  Jamie and I were holding hands today, and more and more, I’ve been feeling like he could be The One.  I need to see where things go with him, not start hooking up with an (admittedly gorgeous) stranger in a sports bar.  I have no interest in Hunter—Jamie’s the only one I want.

“What are you doing tomorrow night?” he asks me.

I stare at him. “Tomorrow is Saturday.”

He grins at me. “Right, except I didn’t ask you what day of the week it was. I asked what you were doing tomorrow night.”

I, um…”

“Great,” he says.  “I’m taking you to dinner tomorrow.  I’ll pick you up at seven.”

My mouth falls open.  God, he’s smooth.  “What if I have a boyfriend?” I say, thinking of Jamie.

“I don’t think you do,” he says, “but honestly, I’m not too worried either way.  After all, this is kismet.  The universe planned it.”

The word “no” is on my lips.  I’m ready to tell him thanks but no thanks. But instead, I find myself reciting my address for Hunter, who plugs it into his Android.  I don’t know why I’m doing it.  As the words leave my mouth, a voice in my head screams out, “Brooke, what are you doing?” But I’m helpless to stop until I’ve given him both my address and my phone number.  And I gape unattractively at him as he kisses the back of my hand and tells me he’ll see me tomorrow night.

He bows at me after that and takes off.  As I watch him go, I’m seized by the most intense feeling of longing I’ve ever experienced.  The feelings I have for Jamie are a combination of sexual attraction and friendship, but this—this is something entirely different.  This is something deeply primal.  It’s like a voice in my head is chanting:

You want to go out with Hunter.  You want to be with Hunter.  You want to give yourself to Hunter.

So… I guess I have a date?

To be continued.....