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On Finding Your Way

Dear Reader,

            Writing is the love of my life.
            In high school, I was still figuring stuff out. One thing I did know, I loved writing. I loved what it did for me. The creative process made me happy. Especially writing about falling in love. There was always something about romance that made me swoon. I’m a romantic to the core.
            In college, I lost my way a little. First of all, medical school. What? But when you’re meant to do something in your life, the universe always finds a way to steer you back to the road you’re supposed to take. I shifted from Med to Literature. Lots of reading. Lots of writing. I grew as an individual during this time.
            After graduation, I went into teaching. I thought it was what I was meant to do. I had ideas. Lots of ideas. Then I woke up one morning with one question in my head, “Was this what I wanted to do ten years from now?” When the answer came back “No,” I immediately switched to a different job. Still teaching, but closer to writing, where I helped students improve their essays before handing them in. A part of me enjoyed what I was doing, but it still wasn’t what I was meant to be doing.
            The universe…God…the great unknown…whatever you’d like to call the force that rules us all works in mysterious ways. No matter what I was doing, I kept coming back to writing. I kept circling back to my stories.
            Like soul mates finding each other, I found my way back to writing. And I’ve never been happier. I wake up thinking what I would be writing that day and all is right in my world. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I get to do what I love for a living. That I get to share the stories of my characters with the world. With you.
            Everyone has a purpose. If you listen hard enough, or allow the universe to do its thing, you’ll find your way. None of our roads are ever straight. Sometimes we may need to take a detour, but eventually, we find our way.
            Are you currently in your detour or have you finally found your way?

Sincerely,

Kate


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Introducing Indigo Summers


Indigo Summers is my alter ego on Wattpad. 
This is where the darker stories go. 

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Cover Reveal


Sixteen-year-old genius Matty Ducayn is the son of The Hill’s commandant. As such, he’s expected to conform to a strict, unspoken code of conduct. Small acts of defiance over years—such as walking on the grass—have earned him a reputation for being unruly. When sarcastic test answers finally get Matty expelled from school, King Hadrian offers him a diploma if he can answer a deceptively simple question, and then dismisses the only answer.

To prove his worth to society, Matty wrestles with the king’s word games, the kingdom’s historical record, and laws that don’t make sense. He meets Iris Locke, a street smart gardener, along the way. After enchanting him at a glance, Iris helps his research, keeps him out of trouble, and finally breaks his heart.

Alone again, Matty finds himself on collision course with a deadly law, one he will have to break to answer the king’s question. Was Hadrian challenging him, or teaching him a lesson? Without Iris, it won’t matter, because Matty won’t stand down for anyone else.

January Black is the 2013 Readers' Favorite Silver Medal winner for YA-Coming of Age.


January Black will be available for pre-order on Amazon 11/28/2014.


About the Illustrator


Liliana Sanches started studying Visual Arts at the age of 16 and soon felt attracted to the Romantic artwork from the 19th century. The Pre-Raphaelites and Friedrich were her biggest inspirations at the time, and she felt compelled to explore this graphic language of desolated landscapes that were the reflection of the painter's emotions.

After graduating college, specializing Graphic Design, she created her own business under the name of "Princess of Shadows." Her style had now evolved and had technical knowledge to support it. Intricate concepts with a much better grasp of image composition and visual balance, and also used color and shape psychology to imprint her work on the viewer.

Along the years she has been working with musicians, authors and even other designers who have allowed her to express her creativity, develop visual communication skills and explore different graphic styles to better suit each project.

Nowadays, here personal work has been exploring the human psyche, imbuing it with a dark surreal feeling. Her biggest inspirations are J-Horror movies, dreams/ nightmares and mental health pathologies.


About the Author


Wendy S. Russo got her start writing in the sixth grade. That story involved a talisman with crystals that had to be found and assembled before bad things happened, and dialog that read like classroom roll call. Since then, she’s majored in journalism (for one semester), published poetry, taken a course on short novels, and watched most everything ever filmed by Quentin Tarantino. A Wyoming native transplanted in Baton Rouge, Wendy works for Louisiana State University as an IT analyst. She’s a wife, a mom, a Tiger, a Who Dat, and she falls asleep on her couch at 8:30 on weeknights.



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Disclaimer: I Like Boys

Chapter One


With tears streaming down his face, Preston Grant ran out of his house straight into the wooded area out back. He ignored his mother’s voice calling after him. Like a homing pigeon, he let his instincts guide him when his vision blurred. It led him through the tunnel of trees into a small clearing near a ridge that looked out onto a massive manmade lake, the setting sun at his back. Rubbing his forearm across his face, he glanced around and took a deep, shuddering breath. Good. Nathan hadn’t arrived at their hideout yet. He couldn’t show his best friend this face. Not when snot dripped down his nose and his cheeks burned hot. He let the tears flow freely, unashamed while alone.
            A rustling among the bushes surprised him into silence. He bit his lip to keep the whimpers in while he furiously wiped his nose against the sleeve of his sweater. He wished he’d brought his jacket. With winter coming, the air had a harsher bite to it.
            “Preston,” Nathan said. “You there?”
            He didn’t respond. Nathan would spot him soon enough. He merely stood there, concentrating on keeping the rest of his emotions from spilling over.
            “There you are.” The moment Preston turned around, his best friend stopped. “Why are your eyes red?”
            The question sent him over the edge. Sobs, actual sobs left him along with the words, “I can’t take it anymore! My father keeps—” He sniffed, unable to continue.
            “What did he ask you to do this time?” Nathan asked simply.
            “Be nice to Alicia,” he whined back. “Alicia! She does nothing but beat me up. Sometimes I didn’t even do anything…”
            “Preston.”
            “This one time…” He wiped at leaking eyes furiously. “I was just passing by while she was playing with one of her dolls and…”
            “Preston, listen to me.”
            Still he kept talking—more like babbling—until Nathan came closer and kissed him on the mouth. It took Preston a second to realize what was happening before he stepped back in complete shock. His face grew several degrees hotter.
            “You kissed me!”
            Nathan shrugged as if it was no big deal. “Because you wouldn’t have listened to what I had to say otherwise.”
            “But you kissed me!”
            He sighed. “Look, Alicia is leaving. You don’t have to be nice to her if you don’t want to. Just avoid her by coming to me.”
            Preston opened his mouth to argue, but no words came out. What Nathan said actually made sense. Like a sudden drought had come, his tears dried up.
            “Now come on,” Nathan said. “It’s getting late. I’ll walk you home. If we run into Alicia I’ll pull her hair for being mean to you.”
            Still speechless from both the spontaneous kiss and his best friend’s advice, Preston walked side by side with him. Fallen leaves crunched beneath their feet. Every so often the backs of their hands brushed, sending a jolt of awareness up Preston’s arm. They remained quiet until a shiver ran down his back and he cupped his hands over his mouth and blew on them.
            “It’s getting really cold,” he said.
            Nathan unwrapped his scarf. “Come on.”
            Preston blinked. “What exactly do you want me to do?”
            “We’ll share the scarf.” Nathan stepped closer and began wrapping one end around Preston’s neck.
            Remembering the kiss, he froze. “That’s just silly. How are we going to walk without strangling ourselves?”
            “That’s why you’re going to hook your arm around my waist and I’ll do the same to yours. Like when we’re running a three-legged race.” Not waiting, he pulled Preston against his side and secured his arm around his waist.
            “But we’re both boys. People will see,” Preston said, yet he still snaked his arm behind Nathan so he could hold on to his other side. He was warm against him. And soft. Like his favorite pillow.
            “It’s getting dark and we’re alone. Don’t worry about it. Are you still cold?”
            Red-faced, Preston shook his head. “No.”

***

            Brooding into his soda, Preston had no idea why that particular memory from when they were eight chose this moment to invade his thoughts. The first time he’d fallen in love. Ten years later, what did he have to show for it? Attending a party he didn’t want to be at. After a grueling day of training, he’d rather be home, resting. He only said yes to Amber’s post-graduation party because both Nathan and his cousin, Caleb, were going. What Caleb saw in the vapid social-climber baffled him. They’d been dating since the beginning of senior year. He gagged. Of all the girls in their class, Amber was the worst of the lot. He wouldn’t date her for all the sex in the world. Well…if he was being completely honest with himself, there was only one person he wanted. His feelings were very clear, as far as he was concerned. Years’ worth of feelings. Whether the he felt the same? That was murky waters. But it didn’t matter. He’d keep at it even if he had to swim through mud to get him to see they were meant to be together.
            He scanned the crowd. In a dimly lit corner, Caleb was talking to a guy known at their school for supplying whatever recreation one might need. Preston stayed away from him. Even a rumor of possible drug use by associating with a dealer could get him into serious trouble. His swimming coach had a no tolerance policy. His eyebrow rose when Caleb reached into his pocket and handed the guy a folded bill who then palmed him something. Nathan’s cousin never struck him as a user. He shrugged. Not his business until Nathan made it his business.
            Speaking of…
He scanned the crowd again. He hadn’t seen Nathan for a while. Worry niggled at his nape. He reached up and squeezed the back of his neck. Throwing the red solo cup into the bin beside the drinks table, he set off in search of his best friend, who at last count was already three cups into the beer.
            The music pumped into the house via hidden speakers change from a techno mix to Fall Out Boy’s The Phoenix. The pulsing beats seemed to lift the house off its hinges. Someone had the volume turned up way too loud, yet nobody else seemed to mind. A whoop above the din told Preston what he needed to know. Nathan had found his way to the entertainment system and convinced whoever was manning it to change the music to whatever he wanted. Most likely his phone was now plugged into the player with his party mix on cue.
            Grinning, he stepped into the living room. All the furniture had been cleared to make way for a dance floor. And there in the middle of the writhing bodies bounced Nathan. Preston stuffed his hands into his pockets and leaned his shoulder against the doorframe. Their junior year, he’d finally mustered the courage to confess his feelings. Nathan brushed him off with the reason that he didn’t want to mess with their friendship. Preston kept his mouth shut and bided his time, enduring having to watch Nathan go from relationship to relationship. Each guy less worthy of the man he loved than the last. Still Preston remained patient.
From the looks of Nathan’s jerky movements, his best friend was way past three cups. He wished he had that kind of coordination outside the water. Maybe if he danced like that, even drunk dancing, his feelings would reach Nathan and he would finally admit to himself what they had was stronger than the bonds of friendship.
Preston loved watching him let loose. Nathan was usually off helping someone else—mostly Caleb. The cousins were tighter than skinny jeans on a girl. Despite the prick of jealousy, he reminded himself to be thankful that he was part of the Parker family inner circle.
            From the corner of his eye, he noticed Amber taking Caleb’s hand and leading him out of the house. Preston shook his head. They’d been warning him about her for weeks. Maybe tonight Caleb would finally see why he shouldn’t be with her anymore.
            When he returned his gaze to the dancing crowd, one of the juniors who scored an invite to the party moved toward Nathan. He came up from behind and put his hands on Nate’s hips. When drunk, Nathan cared little about what was happening. That was why Preston always took it upon himself to stay sober. He didn’t move from his position by the door. Nothing happened yet. They were just dancing. But the hands inside his pockets clenched into tight fists. This had got to stop. He was tired of seeing Nathan in the hands of someone else. If Preston didn’t make a move now, he feared he never would.
He rolled his head over his shoulders until vertebrae cracked along his neck when Nathan reached up and tangled his arms around junior boy’s shoulders. Their hips swiveled left then right to the rhythm of the music. Preston pushed off the doorframe and distributed his weight on both feet as Nathan ground his backside against the sleaze that shoved his hands inside Nate’s front pockets. Who the hell invited this guy to the party anyway? This was supposed to be for seniors only. Preston saw red when Nathan’s head rolled back against the guy’s shoulder and his lips parted. Junior prick bent his head down.
            Preston charged. He didn’t care who he bumped into when he entered the dance floor. He ignored the yelled protests until he reached the center. Breathing hard, he closed his hand around the douchebag’s collar from behind and yanked him off Nathan before their lips could touch.
            “Hey!” the junior protested.
            “Preston, what the hell?” Nathan glared.
            Not replying, Preston put himself between Nathan and the guy who was about to die. The junior was tall, but Preston was taller and broader. He took a step toward his prey, fists at his side. As if sensing the tension in the air, the once dancing crowd scattered into a loose circle around them. The music cut off. All someone had to do was shout fight and Preston would gladly throw the first punch. The junior didn’t back down.
            “We were just dancing,” he said defensively.
            Preston bared his teeth. “That wasn’t just dancing.” He moved to advance on the guy who dared to think he could kiss his best friend when a hand on his arm stopped him. He glanced down at a pale Nathan who could barely stand on his own feet anymore. With all the adrenaline of dancing gone, the alcohol took over. He turned his back on the junior and bent Nate over his shoulder. In one heave, he carried his best friend out of the house to the tune of stunned silence.
            “Pres, I think I’m going to be sick,” Nathan said weakly, followed by a hiccup.
            “Go ahead,” he replied, not minding the chance of puke down his back. “I’m not putting you down until we reach your car. Where are the keys?”
            “Back pocket.”
            At the red Roadster convertible, Preston set his cargo down. Nathan lost his balance the second his feet hit the ground. Without hesitating, he pulled Nathan forward until his best friend leaned against him heavily. With one arm around his waist, Preston used the other to fish around his back pocket for the car keys. He did his best to ignore the firmness of the ass his hand grazed against. Nathan was one of those people gifted with a great body—lean with clean lines. He didn’t have to slave away at the gym to achieve perfection.
Biting down on his lip to keep from getting distracted, Preston finally found the keys and opened the door to the passenger side. He eased a dozing Nathan onto the seat, but when he moved to stand, Nathan’s arms wrapped around his shoulders.
“Where are we going?” he asked in a voice slurred by the alcohol.
“I’m taking you home,” Preston whispered.
“Kiss me first.”
Heat crept up Preston’s neck. From where he bent over all he had to do was shift slightly and he’d give Nathan what he wanted. Hurt pricked at his chest knowing Nathan would never ask if he were sober. He flicked his gaze toward the house where a group of girls stumbled out of the front door, all of them giggling. He silently thanked them for distracting him from the temptation. Not here. Sighing, Preston reached up and untangled Nathan’s arms from his shoulders. Then he buckled him in and sprinted to the driver’s side.
Nathan slept throughout the drive. Preston chuckled when he parked the Roadster beside his green Jeep Wrangler in the Parker’s garage. Nate could never hold his liquor. He’d hate himself in the morning for sure. Preston unbuckled his conked out friend before getting out of the car. He rounded to Nathan’s side and opened the door. Sitting on his hunches, he eased Nathan out of the passenger seat. But instead of throwing him over his shoulder like he’d done at the party, Preston opted for another way. He hooked Nathan’s arm over his shoulders then eased his arm beneath Nate’s knees.
As if Nathan knew just what to do, he snuggled closer against Preston’s chest and rested his head on his shoulder. After making sure his best friend was secure, Preston used his knees to push up to his feet. He kicked the car’s door closed before climbing the steps to the door that led into the house via the kitchen. Thank God for the moonlight streaming into the house. He didn’t have to switch on lights in every room he entered on the way to the second floor staircase.      
He also sent a silent prayer of thanks that the door to Nathan’s room was left ajar. Reaching up, he flicked a switch. Nathan grumbled angrily when the lights turned on. Hurrying to the bed, Preston lay him down gently. Then he turned on the bedside lamp before switching off the main lights. Nathan sighed, falling back to sleep.
Rolling the kinks out of his shoulders, Preston shuffled back to the bed. The soft snores made him smile. Hands on his hips he assessed the situation. He couldn’t just leave Nathan like this. Sleeping in the previous day’s clothes annoyed him. So Preston began with his shoes then socks, letting them fall to the floor. When he reached Nathan’s belt buckle, he paused. His hands shook slightly. It wasn’t like this was the first time he was undressing Nathan. He’d seen him naked before. For a second, he allowed himself to entertain thoughts of becoming more intimate, but ravaging someone—especially a drunk someone—wasn’t his style. Taking a deep breath, he unfastened the belt and pants and pulled them off to join the shoes and socks on the floor. He didn’t bother with the shirt since Nathan hated sleeping shirtless.
Once he settled Nate under the covers, Preston sat at the edge of the bed beside him. The lamplight softened his features, making him look younger than he was. That afternoon years ago at their hideout returned to Preston’s mind. The decision had been made the second he carried Nathan out of that party. It was his turn.
Vowing he would do everything in his power to show Nathan a relationship beyond friendship was possible between them, he reached out and ran his fingers through his tousled dark hair. The strands were silky beneath his touch.
Murmuring, Nathan leaned into the caress like a cat craving for more. The pounding in his chest doubled when Nathan’s lips parted in sleep. Here, in his room, while they were alone, the words left Preston’s lips without him having to think twice about it, affirming what he had to do.
“I love you,” he said then bent down and stole a kiss.


Read the rest of Preston's and Nathan's story on Swoon Reads for FREE here

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NaNo First 1000

NaNoWriMo 2014 has officially begun and I've decided to work on my next M/M novel. This time it's a New Adult Contemporary Romance and I'm super excited to share Milo's and Kaz's story with you when it's done. While you wait, I'll leave you with a cover I created just for fun last night, the blurb, and the first 1000 words. Enjoy!


Twenty-three-year-old Milo McLaren hates Valentine’s Day for the simple reason that his girlfriend of three years dumped him on this day just as he was about to propose to her. A year later, he meets the mysterious Kazuhiko Takefumi, a handsome Japanese businessman with cool blue eyes who is the sponsor for a designer featured in the fashion magazine he works for. There is a magnetism about Kaz that is both attractive and intimidating.

When Milo finds out his ex is already engaged to someone else, he drowns his sorrow in a bottle of tequila that he shares with Kaz. This leads to them spending one hot night together, leaving Milo confused and a little more than terrified. This is his first time with a man, and he liked it. A lot. Maybe even a little too much. More than all the women he’d slept with in his life.


Denying his feelings, Milo convinces himself the night in Kaz’s bed is nothing more than a fling caused by poor judgment. But when their paths keep crossing, he is confronted by his attraction to the guarded Kaz. More and more Milo can no longer ignore the truth he has been repressing, that his feelings extend beyond just sex. Only it’s not that simple. Kaz has secrets that go beyond his talents between the sheets. Secrets both deadly and cruel that plunges Milo into a world he isn’t willing to be a part of.

First 1000 Words

Chapter One
Brioni



Milo McLaren hated Valentine’s Day. The morbid commercialization of love made him sick. It was the time of year when flowers, chocolates, and cheesy greeting cards became depression triggers for the currently unattached. Ah, good ol’ Singles Awareness Day. The only reason he wasn’t wallowing in a self-imposed pity party was because—
Ding.
The elevator doors to the Rebel offices opened. The reception area and glass-walled bullpen where the cubicles were located were bedecked in every conceivable Valentine’s Day paraphernalia. Love vomited all over the place. No surface of the most popular fashion magazine’s office space was spared. Cupids shooting love arrows hung from the ceiling. Hearts clung to the walls. And red roses everywhere. Each employee table seemed to have a vase of them sitting among the cluttered surface. The cloying scent stung his nostrils. Even the racks of clothing weren’t left alone as red ribbons were tied at each end. The urge to run in the opposite direction consumed him. But to miss work because of his personal issues was unforgivable. So instead he prayed.
Unfortunately, his prayer for a swift death was interrupted by a wave of confetti and the shouted words of “Happy Valentine’s—”
The greeting cut off at about the same time the toxic scowl Milo reserved for magazine layout day and uppity diva models manifested, contorting his usually handsome features into a demon mask only a handful of people were immune to. The two standing before him weren’t included in that group. They immediately paled and took several steps backwards as he excited the elevator.
“Who died?” Kasey, the top-knotted, hipster-glasses wearing receptionist asked, referring to his black on black vintage inspired Marc Jacobs suit.
“My dignity,” he said, sliding his scowl toward the Art Director’s assistant.
The always colorful Garret, whose hair was currently pink, cringed before he leapt forward and began dusting gold and red shiny squares off of Milo’s shoulders. “I’m so sorry,” he muttered repeatedly. “Please don’t fire me.”   
His confetti shower chilled Milo to the bone. He took a deep breath and enunciated each word he spoke. “Please don’t tell me you haven’t been throwing confetti at each person who comes out of this elevator?” He narrowed his gaze at the naughty culprits who thought they were being cute. The idea that their boss walked out to this in her couture was enough to have him draw blood.
Kasey shook her head so hard Milo was afraid her top-knot would fly off. “Only you. Promise!” She waved her hands in front of herself for emphasis.
He swatted Garret’s fretting hands away. “And why did you two think I needed glitter rain this morning?”
Clasping his hands together, Garret said, “You’ve been gloomy. Valentine’s Day should be a happy occasion.”
A long and protracted sigh left Milo’s lungs once the realization hit that his two friends were just looking out for him. He willed the annoyance away as he ran his fingers through his thick chestnut waves, dislodging several more foil squares.
“Clean this up before Cassandra gets here.” He pointed at the mess.
“She’s already here,” Kasey said as Garret scampered away to, Milo assumed, fetch a broom.
“What?” His heart leapt into his throat while he checked his watch. “She doesn’t usually get it at this hour.”
“She’s been here since six.”
And it was already eight. A different kind of annoyance ignited in his chest. He always got here before the boss. Always.
“Did she tell you why?” he asked, not bothering to mask the rising panic in his tone. Rebel had no set working hours. Everyone’s schedule varied. Depending on the task assigned, from editors down to assistants, staff came in when they needed and left when they were done. Days could start as early as six, sometimes earlier, and could end as late as midnight. There were special circumstances, such as a double issue layout, where no one went home at all for two to three days straight. The longest anyone ever stayed in the office was a week, and that was because a virus got into the network and ate up everything needed for the coming issue. Milo blocked out most of that incident and still experienced facial tics when remembering it.
“She’s been on a conference call…”
The second the words conference and call were uttered, Milo didn’t bother listening to the rest of Kasey’s sentence. He hurried to his desk located outside Cassandra’s frosted glass office. The door was closed. The dark silhouette inside indicated her presence. Shit.
Dumping his bag onto the floor, he didn’t bother removing his coat and scarf as he bent over his computer and cued up today’s schedule. He cursed under his breath and inhaled sharply, his lips disappearing into a tight line. At the top of the list was the conference call. He’d been so distracted this past week that he’d completely forgotten about the prep. Paris Fashion Week in March was one of Cassandra’s biggest events of the year.
Instant disappointment at himself dropped his shoulders. He bowed his head and massaged the back of his neck, gathering his courage to enter the lion’s den. His hatred for this day of hearts got him into this mess, and like the confetti Kasey and Garret were cleaning up, he must sweep his way out. He clicked print and straightened as the printer spat out the schedule. He pulled off his scarf and shrugged off his coat, composing the appropriate apology for being late. Much groveling may be involved. Maybe even some self-flagellation.       
Milo swallowed and tugged on the lapels of his suit jacket before he grabbed the schedule and rounded his desk to stand in front of the door to hell, as many of the interns called it. Many an onion-skinned person had run out of this office in tears over the years. Even Milo had shed a drop or two when Cassandra was feeling particularly vicious. An angry editor-in-chief meant a tense staff. Lives...

Happy writing, everyone!

Write Without Fear!
  

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Warning! You Might Fall In Love With Me

Chapter One



Three…Two…One.
Caleb Parker barely held in a grimace. Across the table from him Amber burst into tears. He hated how good he’d gotten at predicting when the emotional shit would hit the fan. From the chin quiver to the reddening of the nose to the welling of the eyes, he’d memorized all the signs. What grated most was the skill came from years of experience. He could teach a Master’s class in Jerkology. In his defense, he thought he’d made the rules clear when he first approached her about this arrangement. She agreed without complaint to each one he’d listed. He specifically chose her because he thought she understood his situation.
The original plan was to break up with her a week before he left for Yale. Unfortunately for him and his carefully-crafted post-summer break up speech, she had other plans. Yesterday, at her graduation after party, she invited him out to the dock behind her house and broke the most important rule of all under the moonlight. If he were less messed up, he would have been happy to have someone like Amber in his life. Beautiful. Well-bred. A girl his father would approve of. Instead he kissed her on the cheek, made some excuse about running an errand, left the party, and then sent her a text asking to meet him at the Country Club for lunch. 
He pushed the starched white napkin on his side toward her. She ignored it and opened the small purse she had with her, pulling out a lace square smaller than what would be considered a proper handkerchief. Did the tiny thing even absorb moisture? Still, she dabbed at the corners of her eyes and sniffed. He suspected crocodile tears from the way her actions seemed so rehearsed. Each sniff and silent sob orchestrated to tug at his heart, or whatever was left inside his chest.
Tapping the table with his index finger, he admitted to himself asking her out to lunch to break up with her might not have been the best idea. He definitely shouldn’t have started the speech right after ordering a blue cheese burger and truffle fries for him and a Caesar salad with croutons, anchovies, and dressing on the side for her. But he had to nip this in the bud before Amber dug her grave even deeper than she’d already done last night. In his mind, Caleb was doing her a favor.
Heads swiveled their way from curious on-lookers. Since it was the weekend the dining room was packed. Another strike against him. Caleb shut his eyes to keep from rolling them when the women began whispering to each other. Before sundown, news would reach his father. He could see the headlines in big bold letters: Famous lawyer’s son breaks up with important client’s daughter. 
“Amber,” he said, his eyebrows coming together. She gasped as if he’d lobed a grenade at her. He sighed and schooled his features to a more charming mask. “Look, I’m sorry.”
“But…but…you and me…” Her shoulders hitched up with every word she attempted to say. Hiccups prevented her from continuing. Thank God for small miracles. This situation was painful enough without her having to justify why they were perfect for each other.
No longer interested in Amber’s hysterics, Caleb waved one of the wait staff over. A girl about his age shuffled toward him. He paused. Something about her was familiar, yet he couldn’t quite place her. Surely he wouldn’t forget eyes like hers—brown with specks of gold. They reminded him of fireworks on the Fourth of July. Yet he saw no light behind those remarkable irises. It was like she looked past him. Her hair fell in a messy braid over her shoulder as if she hadn’t bothered running a comb through the strands before weaving them together. Her skin—almost sickly pale—stood out despite the blandness of the Country Club’s uniform of tan slacks and button-down in a color his cousin Nathan called sherbet—whatever the hell that was. To Caleb the shirt was the color of puke. His eyes landed on the most scuffed white Docs he’d ever seen. One of the laces had come undone. Surely her choice of footwear wasn’t part of the uniform.
He didn’t bother hiding his grimace when an ear-piercing keen accompanied Amber’s hiccups. “Can you bring us two glasses of water?” He glanced at her name tag. “Diana.”
Diana Alexander, or Didi as they called her, forced a smile on her face when the stretching of the muscles around her lips was the farthest thing she wanted to do. She nodded at the trust fund brat who’d reduced the poor girl sitting across from him to a mess of tears and turned on her heel to do as she’d been asked. She should really care more, but she couldn’t bring herself to. If she wanted to make it through this day, she had to pull it together.
At the bar, she took a deep breath that didn’t quite make it to her lungs. Exhaling anyway, she concentrated on her task. With practiced movements, she pulled a circular tray from the stack and placed two glasses on the center. Then she reached for the pitcher with cucumber and lemon slices floating with ice in the rich people water and poured. Once the glasses were three quarters of the way full, she balanced the tray in her open palm and returned to the table.
In the background a middle-aged man asked for extra parmesan cheese. She ignored him, side-stepping the hand he reached out for her ass. She reminded herself to chill. Just attend to one table at a time. She’d woken up to a mood downswing. Normally she could cope, but her alarm hadn’t gone off because the power was cut in the middle of the night. This triggered the downhill slide. Her super mom had probably forgotten to pay the bill…again. No power meant no hot water, so no shower. To make matters worse, she had to make do with yesterday’s uniform because she’d been too exhausted to run the wash. And to top everything off, no matter how hard she looked she couldn’t find her white sneakers, forcing her to wear boots that had seen better days. She saw the way trust fund boy raked his gaze over her. Not that Didi was insulted. She’d experienced worse looks, especially from the socialites who frequented the Club with their new noses, fake boobs, and expensive everything.      
Another patron calling her name surprised Didi out of her head. She stepped on the shoelace she kept forgetting to tie, sending the tray lifting out of her hand. She managed to catch the tray by taking a step forward and placing her free hand on the edge. Sadly, the two glasses had already spilled their contents on the blubbering girl with trust fund boy. The girl screamed and pushed away from the table so fast the back of her chair caught Didi on the hip. This activated a sequence of events that killed her inside. The glasses fell and shattered. The once crying girl yelled for the manager and spat obscenities no lady should ever know.
Humiliated and close to tears, Didi dropped to the ground and began gathering shards of glass and placing them on the tray. Chairs scrapping against the floor told her patrons at the tables closest to them were all getting up and most likely sneering at her as they often did during a commotion. Blubbering girl wouldn’t stop screaming hateful words, adding to Didi’s fast rising stress levels. Doing her best to close off as much of the noise as she could, she concentrated on picking up what was left of her dignity scattered among the glass and lemon slices. She wasn’t going to cry. Damn it. She totally wasn’t.
When she reached for the largest piece, a hand beat her to it. She looked up into the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen. They were so clear she could almost see her reflection in them. She gasped when the tips of her fingers grazed the back of his hand.
“You don’t have to do that,” she said quickly, hating how shaky her voice had become. The corners of her eyes stung.
“You shouldn’t be doing it either,” he replied. “You can cut yourself.”
“But it’s my job,” she insisted, reaching for a clump of cucumbers.
“To cut yourself?”
She pinned him with a withering glare. She’d had just about enough. Her day had to stop getting worse or she’d explode. Or spiral into a deep, dark pit of despair. Either was bound to happen. She felt it like an itch under her skin.
The corners of his gorgeous eyes crinkled. “To be honest, what just happened did me a huge favor.” He glanced up at the still chattering girl looming over them. “It’s just a little water, Amber. Calm down.”
Didi would have laughed if she could find it in herself to. He just said the two worst words any guy could say to a clearly distressed female. Something about him being a jerk was yelled. She looked over her shoulder and witnessed pink pumps striding away. She would have breathed a sigh of relief if the stocky form of her manager wasn’t lumbering toward them.
“Mr. Parker, I’m so sorry,” her manager said.
Trust fund brat stood up. Didi followed him with her eyes because how could she not? Paying attention, she could make out the best details about him. Besides those eyes, his dark tousled hair was combed to one side. When he smiled at her manager and shook his hand, a hint of a dimple appeared. She was pretty sure the combination of navy sports jacket over a simple T-shirt, jeans, and loafers cost more than what she made at the Club for an entire year. Add sparkles and he’d cut a dazzling figure. Hell, it was like he’d stepped out of a Ralph Lauren catalogue.
“Don’t worry about it, Tony,” he said to her manager after pulling his hand away. “Put everything on my tab.”
It rubbed Didi the wrong way how he used his money to smooth everything over. Sure, she couldn’t afford paying for the glasses and the food that had already been ordered, but she didn’t need someone like Mr. Parker coming to her rescue. Oh why did he have to sit in her section today of all days?
Impulsively, she pushed to her feet and said, “That won’t be necessary.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled again. “Really. I’m happy to pay. What’s two glasses and lunch? You can even keep the burger and salad.” He leaned in, giving her a good whiff of his cool cologne, and whispered, “You saved me. I owe you.”
Like a dam breaking, words spewed out of Didi’s mouth. “You think your money solves everything, don’t you? I tripped because I was wearing the wrong shoes. I spilled the water on Ashley—”
“Amber,” he corrected.
“Whatever.” She huffed. “I’m done! All you women are so fake you make me gag. You order a salad and ask for everything on the side. You might as well munch on rabbit food.” She gestured at everyone in the dining room, not caring about the stunned silence she was responsible for. “Just because you’re rich you think you can get away with anything. If one of you perverts grabs my ass one more time, I will stab you with a fork. You treat us like we’re your slaves and don’t even tip properly. Well, you can all shove your cash where the sun don’t shine.” Didi yanked off her name tag, threw it at trust fund brat, and stomped off in the direction of the staff locker room.    
Caleb caught the tag after it bounced off his chest and ran his thumb over the name engraved across the smooth surface. He only half listened to the manager’s apology. Diana actually spoke the words he’d wanted to say. She had the attention of everyone in the room and it was a glorious sight indeed. He thought the group of housewives in the corner with their salads would spontaneously combust. And the men. Oh, God, thank you for letting him see their red faces. They harrumphed into their mid-day drinks. She made him forget his problems for a minute. And that was saying something.

***

Unwilling to face what his father had in store, Caleb drove around Dodge Cove for a few hours until he parked the limited edition Mustang his grandmother had given him for his sixteenth birthday a few yards away from the edge of Coward’s Cliff. Still in mint condition, it had been his grandfather’s car. Given to him by the great Carroll Shelby himself. He’d miss the car when he left DC, but it was a small price to pay for his freedom. Taking it with him would just be greedy.
He stepped out and made his way to the front bumper. Half-sitting on the hood, he watched the sun set in the distance. The orange light turned the water to gold confetti and painted the sky a pink Nathan would be proud of. Despite the beautiful sight, he got stuck in his head. He ran through all the things his father would say when he walked through the doors of their too big, too empty house. Words like disappointment and worthless were at the top of the list. Then there were the threats of cutting him off completely. The last one always made his blood run cold. He hated how dependent he was on his father. Access to his trust fund wouldn’t be granted until he graduated college. He could try making it on his own, but what the hell would he do? He had no workable skills to speak of. He didn’t even want the law degree he was accepted into Yale for. Caleb laughed at his directionless life. Pathetic? Yeah, that pretty much summed up his sad situation.
He sent a silent thanks to Diana—wherever she may be—for the entertainment and inadvertently saving him from having to face Amber after her tears had dried. She’d lick her wounds and move on to someone else. There were far richer eligible bachelors for her to latch on to in Dodge Cove. He fished out the joint he’d scored at the party last night and a lighter from his back pocket. If he was going to face his father, he’d at least do it baked. Squeezing one end between his lips, he lit the other and inhaled. Holding his breath for a beat, he allowed the magic to work before exhaling in one long, satisfied puff. The smoke curled up. He sagged heavier against the hood of his car.
After taking a second hit, a hand snatched away the only thing giving him courage to go home. Caleb straightened as fast as he could under the mellow circumstances. The protest died in his throat. Pitching the joint between her thumb and index finger, Diana brought it to her lips and sucked in a lungful. Maybe it was the weed working or the shock of her sudden appearance, but Caleb couldn’t take his eyes off her mouth. The soft whoosh of her exhalation mesmerized him. The way her lips formed an O? Check his pulse, he might have just died.
“Hey,” she said in a breathy voice then took another hit. She still wore the Country Club uniform and those ugly boots.
“Hey,” he said back, unable to think of anything better until, “Quit hogging my high.” Not the best line either. He blamed it on the brain dulling substance he’d been inhaling and subsequently sharing with this intriguing girl who put most of DC’s elite in their places a few hours ago. And on their turf no less.
With a huff for a laugh, she handed him back the joint. The idea of returning it to his lips when she’d just placed it on hers made him suddenly very aware of her. The curve of her bottom lip. The upward tilt of her eyes. The long column of her neck. Her citrusy sweet scent. The possible softness of her cheek beneath his palm.
“Whoa!” He inhaled, eyes wide. “This is some strong shit.”
She settled beside him against the hood. His car’s front dipped slightly. Their shoulders touched. “I’ve had stronger.”
“Oh yeah?” came out with an exhale of smoke.
“Yeah.” She reached for the joint and he willingly gave it to her just so he could watch her bring the end to her mouth again.
He thought of something to say and came up with, “Diana.”
Her name. Just her name. It sounded so good to his ears for some reason. Yup, his brain wasn’t working properly anymore. He reached into his pocket again when she turned her head to face him, the joint still on her lips, and he handed her the name tag. She took it.
“They call me Didi,” she said, running her thumb over her name like he had done back at the Country Club dining room.
“Who are ‘they’?” He took the joint back, the knuckle of his index finger grazing the corner of her mouth.
She shrugged one shoulder—the one with the braid—then looked out onto the confetti water. “Can you see the future?”
“No. Can you?” He played along, not willing to overthink the sudden bizarre turn in their conversation. He was content to float in her company without actually leaving the ground.
“No matter how hard I look, I just can’t see it.”
Before he could ask what she’d meant or anything else about her, the girl they all called Didi pushed off his car’s hood, walked up to the cliff’s edge, and jumped.


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