Serial Story: Don’t Look Away, Ch. 34 (Final)

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!


Don’t Look Away
Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1
Chapter 34 (Final)

The next morning Shelley woke to someone pounding on her front door. She groaned and just barely refrained from telling whoever it was to go away in rather colorful terms. She’d been up long past midnight shuttling her things in from the car and digging out necessities like blankets and the tea kettle, counting on the fact that she could set her own schedule now.

Or so she’d thought.

She sat up and shoved her feet into slippers, thankful she’d collapsed in her sweats and t-shirt so she didn’t have to try to find her robe. Whoever it was knocked again, and she stood up, yawned, and made her way to the front door, only stubbing her toe once on a box.

Pulling it open a crack, she peered out, squinting at the bright daylight. It took a few seconds to register the face peering back at her.

“Dillon?”

He smiled and held up both hands – a keyring with two keys on it in one, and a brown paper bag in the other. “I have gifts. Can I come in?”

Stepping back, she opened the door wide and wished like hell she’d taken a peek in the mirror. Or at least pulled her hair back. It was probably everywhere, and the thought of how she must look made her blush.

“Of course…please. I don’t have much furniture yet, but there’s a bench in the kitchen.”

She closed the door and followed as he zig-zagged through the boxes and piles until he found both the kitchen and the built-in breakfast nook. Sliding in on one side of the bench, he put the bag and keys on the table, then unzipped his jacket and pulled out two bottles of plain iced tea and set them out as well.

“Wow.” Shelley sat down on the bench opposite him. “Those are some big pockets to hold iced tea bottles. Thank you. I found the kettle last night, but haven’t unpacked the tea just yet.”

“I figured.” He opened the bag and pulled out two napkins, placing one in front of each of them, and then brought out two of the most delicious looking Danishes Shelley had ever seen. “Mom told me you stopped by yesterday, and said you’d bought this place. Said your car was full, but that you were alone. I thought I’d drop by and see if you needed help. And also give you these.” He pushed the keys toward her. “She told me what she said to you. I’m sorry. She shouldn’t have treated you like that, and I told her so. Those are for your new PO box. You can just leave the rent in the box, next time you go into town.”

“It’s okay – I understand.” Shelley took a bite of her Danish – possibly the best she’d ever tasted. “Dillon, I’m sorry–”

He shook his head, held up one hand while he finished his own bite. “No apologies necessary. Like I told Mom, you had a lot happen to you, and so did I, and you needed space to deal with that. It’s okay. I was angry at first, but I get it. I needed some space to work things out myself.”

“So you’re not mad?” Shelley didn’t know whether to believe him or not. He seemed fine, but it wasn’t a small thing she’d done. “I want to make things right between us. I…” She wasn’t sure how to say what she felt. “I mean, if you’re still–”

He reached across the table and took her hand. “I am. And I’m glad you are. But you didn’t have to move all the way out here – we could have figured something out if you wanted to stay in the city.” There was a teasing note in his voice, and she smiled, relieved on so many levels that she suddenly felt lighter than she had in weeks.

“I needed a change – a big one. I really didn’t like my old job, and I’m excited about freelancing and setting my own schedule. I was tired of all the people and bustle, and I’ve been wanting something quieter for awhile now. Tabitha moved back in with her mother for the time being, so she can finish her therapy, so she wasn’t coming back, and I figured this place would be as good as any to start a new life, so to speak.”

Dillon nodded, still holding her hand. “How is Tabitha? I take it she’s talking to you again?”

Shelley shrugged. “Sort of. She texts. Every week it gets a little longer, but she’s still cool. Maybe eventually we’ll be able to be friends again. She’s got a lot to deal with right now, and Jane still in her ear. But that seems to have less influence than it did at first, so there’s hope.”

“Good.” Dillon released her hand to pick up his danish, and Shelley missed his touch immediately. “Hope is good. You don’t deserve what Jane did to you. I hope Tabitha comes around eventually.” He finished off his danish and looked around, his gaze settling on a stack of boxes nearby. “So, what can I do to help?”

Shelley stood up and held a hand out to him, her heart pounding in her chest. “I can think of a few things,” she said as he took her hand and stood too. “But one thing first, if you don’t mind.”

He grinned as she moved closer and slid her hands up to circle his neck. Pulling her close, he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead, her nose, her lips.

“I don’t mind at all,” he murmured before he claimed her lips again.

The End


Thanks for reading along with the first draft of this story! I’ve got quite a few revisions I want to make, so it’ll be different by the time it comes out, but I’ve enjoyed the journey of discovering this story, and I’m glad you came along for the ride. 

Stay tuned…starting next week, I’ll be serializing one of my earlier novels. Anyone want to revisit the campy fun and romance of Fantasy Ranch? I hope you’ll join me! 

Serial Story: Don’t Look Away, Ch. 33

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!


Don’t Look Away
Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1
Chapter 33

One month later…

The town looked different, Shelley thought as she turned off the backroad into Rattlesnake Falls. Creeping down the main street, she passed the gas station – which looked open this time – and the general store, several houses with children playing in the yards and finally pulled up in front of the tiny post office. Turning off the engine she sat back in her seat for a minute and took it all in.

So much had happened since she’d last sat in this very building, having dinner with Dillon’s mom and anticipating a fun week away in the wilderness. It felt like something that happened in another lifetime…and she guessed in many ways, that was true.

Grabbing her purse off the passenger seat of her new, packed-to-the-gills car, she got out and put her keys in her pocket, not bothering to lock the door. Ignoring the nerves dancing in her stomach, she pulled the post office door open and went inside, ringing the bell on the counter.

“I’ll be right there!” Diane Riley’s familiar voice made Shelley smile, and she was still smiling when the older woman came into view, leaning heavily on her walker.

The expression on Mrs. Riley’s face wasn’t so welcoming.

“Well, well,” she said, stopping before she reached the counter. “If it isn’t the woman who broke my son’s heart right after he lost his best friend. You should be ashamed to show your face around here, missy. You can just turn around and walk back out that door.”

Shelley’s smile faded. “I’m sorry Mrs. Riley. I didn’t mean to hurt your son, or anyone else for that matter. After everything that happened, I just needed some time to sort things out and get my head on straight.”

“And you couldn’t even pick up the phone to tell him that? Selfish girl. You’re not the only one who got hurt that week. But he tried to reach out to you. You couldn’t even give him the courtesy of a quick call. So why are you here then? What do you want? Trying to ease your conscience?”

Shelley sighed. Somehow she hadn’t thought it would be this hard, but in hindsight, she should have known. She did want to talk to Dillon, to try to explain why she’d needed so much space, but she felt like she should talk directly to him about that, not his mother.

“I actually need a post office box. I bought a house just outside of town, and the main post office web site says there’s no delivery out that way, but that there are plenty of boxes available here. I’d like to rent one, please.”

Dianne shook her head. “Nope. Nothing available, sorry. You’ll have to get one over at Meadowlark. It’s about an hour’s drive south, depending on how far out your new place is.” She looked at the clock. “Don’t think you’re gonna make it today – they close in twenty minutes.”

“So every single one of these boxes is rented.” Shelley looked pointedly at what must have been a hundred boxes lining the hall of the old lobby. “The web site says there are twenty available.”

Dianne shrugged. “Not for the likes of you. Now if you don’t mind, I’m closin’ up myself pretty soon, so you can see yourself out.”

Shelley nodded slowly. “Okay.” She pulled one of her new business cards out of her purse and slid it across the counter. “Here’s my new address, in case you or Dillon would like to stop by sometime. Obviously I didn’t handle things as well as I could have, but I can’t change that now. I am sorry for hurting both of you though, whether you believe it or not. I’d like to be friends someday, if that’s possible. If not, then cordial neighbors will have to do.”

Determined not to cry in front of Mrs. Riley, Shelley turned and quickly made her exit, managing to hold off the tears until she was seated in her car. Even then, she swiped angrily at her cheeks and pulled away from the building, knowing the propensity of small town people to snoop and gossip. It was time to check out her new home, and start getting settled in. Now that she was freelancing, time was money, and she needed a place to work.

And maybe someday she could convince Mrs. Riley to rent her a PO box. Baby steps.


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 34 – the final chapter!

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Serial Story: Don’t Look Away, Ch. 32

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!


Don’t Look Away
Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1
Chapter 32

Dillon held her there on the sidewalk until she started to pull away. He reached up and gently wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“Ready to go upstairs?” At her nod, they went into the building and up to her apartment. She held out her keys, and he unlocked the door, ushering her inside.

“I’m sorry,” she said, kicking off her shoes and hanging up the scarf that she’d wrapped around her neck. “It’s just…everything feels like it’s changed, and I don’t know what to do about that. I’ve tried calling Tabby a million times, and she won’t pick up. Do I keep the apartment? Move? What do I do with her stuff? I just don’t know.”

He nodded, not really sure what to say, but wanting to ease her mind. “You might want to just give it some time. It’s only been a few days, and she’s been through a lot. We all have. It’s okay to just rest now. See how things look next week, or even the week after.”

“I know. It’s all just so overwhelming. And then the world just goes on like nothing happened. I was at work this afternoon, and no one knew what happened to me this past week, and I didn’t want to tell anyone because why would they care? But it was surreal, being there, and doing stuff and trying to talk to people like everything still makes sense. Because it doesn’t.” She hesitated for a moment, then walked past Dillon to the kitchen area. Filled the electric kettle and turned it on to boil. Got a mug out of the cupboard.
“Would you like some tea? Or you can have some of Tabby’s coffee, but I don’t have any idea how to work the coffee maker, so you’ll have to make it.”

Dillon smiled. “Tea is fine, as long as it’s strong and black.” He leaned against the counter, watching her get another mug and two teabags. “Can you take a few more days off? So you have a chance to ease back into things?”

Shelley shrugged. “Maybe. I have the time, but they said they need me. I don’t know though…it might help to just jump back in. Get back to some sort of normal routine. Do something besides sit here and think about everything.” She gave him a sidelong glance as she poured water over the teabags. “When are you going back to the ranch?”

He shrugged. “I should probably head up there tomorrow. We have a big group coming in from out of state, and with Mike gone…” he swallowed hard at the thought of his buddy not being there. Blinked several times.

“I’m sorry.” Shelley left the mugs and came to him, putting her arms around him. “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine, I mean…”

He hugged her tight, appreciating the sympathy but not wanting to add to her pain. “It’s okay. I’ll be okay, it’s just going to take some time.” He pulled back. Kissed her softly, and then took a full step back.

“I think I’m going to drive back and spend the night at Mom’s tonight, and then I’ll head out for the ranch tomorrow morning. Are you…will you be okay here, by yourself, I mean? I can come back in a few days, see how you’re doing…”

Shelley nodded, then shook her head, and then gave a half-hearted laugh. “I’ll be okay, Dillon – thanks. You don’t need to make a special trip, really. We can just get together the next time you’re in town, and talk then.”

There was something in her voice that worried Dillon – a non-committal tone he didn’t like. The evening was wearing on though, they were both tired, both heartbroken, both trying to figure out how to move on. Maybe this wasn’t the best time for the kind of talk they needed to have about their future together.

So he nodded. Smiled. Kissed her on the cheek, and then on the lips.

Felt like he was making a huge mistake as he walked out the door into the night.


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 33!

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Serial Story: Don’t Look Away, Ch. 31

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!


Don’t Look Away
Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1
Chapter 31

Twenty-four long hours later, Shelley walked into her apartment and bolted the door behind her. Tossing her keys on the table beside the door, she kicked off her shoes, went to the couch and collapsed into the soft cushions.

It all seemed so surreal now – like she’d laid down for a nap and dreamed the whole crazy week, and now she was just waking up and waiting for the nightmare to fade. She glanced around the living room, saw bits and pieces of Tabby’s life strewn about, and almost thought maybe she’d just walk through the door any second, plop down on the couch beside her and hand her a cup of that too-expensive coffee-shop tea she brought home when she’d gotten herself a tall latte.

They’d talk about Shelley’s crazy dream, about meeting some hot guy speed-dating and how Tabby ran off up a mountain with another guy and ended up with her leg cut off and how Aunt Jane disowned Shelley and that hot guy’s ex was really a stalker who he’d ended up shooting in the end…

And then they’d laugh, and Tabby would punch her arm and tell her that she’d just this morning set up a speed-dating event for a local bar next week, and would Shelley please, please come with her because it would be so much fun and maybe Shelley would meet that hot guy after all?

Groaning, Shelley laid down on the couch. Her ribs still hurt, but now that she was sitting and alone, everything else was starting to hurt too. As much as she might want to, she couldn’t deny that everything she remembered had actually happened, and now she was alone, her body beaten up and her spirit not in much better shape.

Nothing would ever be the same again, and she was tired. So tired.

She’d just about drifted off to sleep when her phone rang. Jerking upright and then wincing from the pain, Shelley grabbed her cell off the coffee table and answered.

“Shelley – thank God! I wasn’t sure when you were getting back, but we could sure use you around here, if you’re up to coming back a day early.”

She sighed. “I guess I could do that.” She looked at the clock, tick-tocking at her from across the room. Life goes on. “Give me an hour – I need to clean up first.”

Disconnecting, she rubbed her face with her hands and forced herself to her feet. The warmth of the shower felt good sluicing over her body, and she lingered longer than she should have, but what the hell. She’d get there when she got there, and they’d be grateful. She was still technically on vacation, after all.

She did her hair and makeup and got dressed, all the while feeling like something wasn’t right. It was all just so…shallow. So mundane.

So lifeless.

Her phone rang – the ride service she’d ordered was waiting. She’d have to call the insurance company too, see what she could do about a new car. Tomorrow.

Four hours later, she was back in front of her apartment building, staring at the front door as if it was her arch-nemesis. She didn’t want to go in. Didn’t want to be reminded of everything she’d lost.

The door opened and Dillon came down the stairs toward her, slowly.

“I was hoping you’d be back soon,” he said, his lips quirking up in a small smile. “I was worried when you weren’t here, actually. Are you okay?”

She stared at him for a moment, and then shook her head, the tears starting to fall.

“No. I’m sorry. I’m trying, but I’m really…not.”

He nodded, took another couple steps forward and pulled her into his arms. She laid her head on his shoulder and let the tears fall.


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 32!

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Serial Story: Don’t Look Away, Ch. 30

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Missed a few chapters? Email me to catch up. Thanks for reading, and enjoy!


Don’t Look Away
Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1
Chapter 30

It took every ounce of discipline Shelley had not to run to Dillon’s cabin after those shots. She forced herself to wait, pacing anxiously in front of the main building until the sheriff pulled up and parked his cruiser.

“Thank God,” she mumbled, rushing to meet him as he opened the door. “I just heard shots from the cabin – Dillon went up there to confront his ex about ten minutes ago! Maybe fifteen!”

The sheriff nodded, reaching back instinctively to lay a hand on his holster. “I’ll go check it out, but I need you to stay put, okay? Don’t go up there. It’s not safe. Just wait.”

“I…” She wanted to argue, but he was right. “I’ll stay here.” There was no time to argue. Dillon could be laying up there bleeding to death for all she knew. But one way or another, he needed help and the sheriff needed to get there now. “Do you know the way?”
He nodded and then he was gone, jogging up through the trees. Shelley paced for another two minutes before she finally gave in and followed.

Careful to stay back in the brush, Shelley approached the cabin cautiously. The Sheriff knelt beside the stalker’s body, his fingers wrapped around her wrist.

But where was Dillon? Staying hidden, Shelley peered all around the clearing, but didn’t see him. Was he hurt? Had he run off for some reason?

The cabin door opened, and she let out the breath she’d been holding as he stepped onto the front porch. He was wrapping a bandage around his forearm, but he was on his feet and not dead and she ran out from the cover of the trees, her only thought to get to him.

Then she stopped short and raised her hands when the sheriff whipped around, his gun aimed square at her chest.

“You have no idea how close you were to getting shot, young lady.” He shook his head and lowered the weapon. “I thought I told you to stay back at the main office.”

Shelley lowered her hands and shrugged. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted…” she glanced at the woman on the ground, and then at Dillon before focusing on the sheriff again. “I needed to know Dillon was okay.”

The man in question had come down from the porch and was headed her way. She went to meet him, looking pointedly at his poorly-wrapped arm. “What happened? Did she shoot you? Are you okay?”

He chuckled. “I’m okay. She grazed me a little – nothing too bad. But I could use a little help getting it wrapped up, if you don’t mind.”

“I can do that.” She reached for his arm, but he turned so it was just out of reach. Looking up, she saw mischief in his eyes, and raised an eyebrow of her own.

“First, this,” he said. Pulling her close with his uninjured arm, he bent to meet her lips with his and she leaned in gladly, holding him close, celebrating that he was alive.

The sheriff cleared his throat behind them, and she pulled back as far as Dillon would let her, her face warm and probably beet red. Dillon grinned at her before he looked at the sheriff.

“I’ve got an ambulance on the way to pick up the body. I’m not a forensics expert and they’ll have to do an autopsy, but I’m not sure how she died considering your shot hit her so high up on the shoulder. I don’t suppose anyone else at all saw this go down, that you know of?”

Dillon shook his head, his expression serious. “No, but I do have a security camera recording from the porch. I’m not sure of the angle, but that might have caught something usable.”

The sheriff nodded. “That would really help a lot. If you tell me where the files are stored, I’ll retrieve them. You’re going to want to call your lawyer. And you’ll both need to come in to the station so we can get a statement on record.”

Dillon nodded. “Anything you need, Sheriff. I really didn’t mean to kill her. I just didn’t want her killing me.”


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 31!

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Serial Story: Rattlesnake Falls, Book 1, Chapter 1

This serial story is posted one chapter per week on Fridays, in unedited (draft) form. It may contain adult situations that might not be suitable for children. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! 

No, I still haven’t decided on the title. One should come to me eventually. Just gotta keep writing! 


Rattlesnake Falls Book 1

Chapter 1

It’s not easy being right all the time.

Shelley Frank watched the fourth guy of the night walk away and for a second, pretended to wonder what would happen if she just played “normal” with the next one. But she already knew. Guys were so predictable. Which made them boring, which made this whole evening a complete waste of time.

Maybe not a complete waste, she thought as that annoying bell rang and the next speed-dater approached. He wasn’t particularly interesting at first glance, other than the fact that he didn’t actually seem interested at all. Well, that and the five-o-clock shadow that darkened his jawline with a perfect amount of shade. He sat down across from her with a bored look that probably matched her own.

He met Shelley’s gaze with two startlingly-green eyes and she was surprised at the confident dismissal reflecting back.

“I don’t mean any offense, but I’m only here ‘cause my buddy needed backup and you don’t look like you’re any more into this than I am. So if it’s okay with you, we’ll just skip the whole getting-to-know-you bit, and I’ll get a little work done before the next switch. Is that cool?”

Shelley nodded, but didn’t figure he even saw it considering his smartphone was already in hand and his thumbs were moving a mile a minute. The vibe he gave off was clearly a don’t-talk-to-me one, and Shelley pondered that for a minute.

Was it a ploy to catch her interest by appearing to be uninterested? Or was he really not into this whole thing — and if that was the case, why didn’t he just leave? Then again, she was still here too. The clock was ticking, and considering he was the only challenge she’d seen all night, she decided it was worth the risk.

“Let me guess,” she started as she had with all the others. He was wearing worn, comfy-looking jeans and a semi-wrinkled teal button-down shirt casually untucked with just a hint of curly chest-hair showing in the vee at the top. His black hair was a little long and naturally wavy, and a few errant strands kept falling across his eye.

With those looks and that always-on attitude, it was hard to draw conclusions without knowing more, but she’d give it a try.

“You’re an IT geek with a boner for the latest gaming system and a God complex. A programmer, maybe, which gives you a sense of purpose and at the same time, takes away your ability to connect with other humans on any meaningful level.” Okay, maybe not that last part, Shelley thought. But if it got his attention…

He didn’t even look up from the small screen and his fingers never stuttered. Shelley figured he hadn’t even been listening, so her assessment was just wasted breath. By the time the bell rang again, she’d decided to call it a night and move to the other side of the bar while her cousin finished running the event.

Her partner for that round got to his feet before she could, and finally looked at her, a sharp, appraising gaze that made her want to take a step back.

“Bored, smart woman who somehow got roped into attending this thing against your better judgement, and you’re trying to make the best of it, but you’d rather be at home curled up on a couch with a book and your beloved…leopard gecko or something. Maybe a glass of wine. But you definitely don’t want anyone here taking a liking to you, because that would make him ‘not boring’, and that might make you think you have a chance for half-a-second. Which you don’t, of course, because you always push people away before they have a chance to do the same to you.”

He paused for a minute, started to say something, and then appeared to change his mind. He reached into a back pocket and pulled out a card, dropping it on the table.

“Just for the record – your first assessment was a little off. Might want to brush up on those people-reading skills.”

Shelley watched him walk away and grabbed the card, moving away from the table to avoid yet another round. Holding his card under one of the dim bar lights, she peered closely at the tiny print.

“Dillon Riley — Outdoor Enthusiast/Tour Guide/Owner at Rattlesnake Falls Lodge and Resort.” There was a PO Box listed in Big Timber, and a cell phone number she assumed was his. She had never heard of Rattlesnake Falls, but there were a few different camps up that way and it was beautiful country for it.

Brow furrowed, she looked up and scanned the room, trying to spot Dillon again. Outdoor enthusiast? Really? He didn’t look even remotely outdoorsy with that pale skin and slender frame. Did he have enough muscle to lift a hiking pack?

She knew she was being both unfair and bitchy, but she couldn’t seem to stop, and that was as good a cue as any to leave.

Slipping the card into her purse, she searched the crowd again – this time finding her target, and pushed through the people to where her cousin was holding court from a bar stool.

“Hey Tabby – I’m gonna head out. Do you need a ride?” She only asked to be polite. Her cousin never needed a ride, and rarely came home on nights like this anyway. Shelley wasn’t sure why Tabitha felt the need to drag her along. Tabby insisted it was to keep her company until the party ‘really got hoppin’, which took all of about ten minutes in any bar her cousin had ever set an insanely-high-heeled foot in.

Tabby shook her head. “You chased everyone off again, didn’t you?”

Shelley just shrugged and smiled. “I’ll see you in the morning,” she yelled over the jukebox and elbowed the ribs of a guy with roaming hands on her right. “Take care!”

“In the morning- sure…maybe!”

Tabby turned back to her adoring fans and Shelley pushed her way back through the crowd, somehow managing to find the door. A gust of cool air hit her face as she pushed it open, and she immediately lost her balance as the lower-but-still-substantial heel Tabitha had insisted Shelley borrow caught on a crack in the concrete just right.

Helpless against both gravity and momentum, she reached for the railing she knew was attached to each side of the three-steps down to the parking lot. Her fingers hit the cold metal and slid off just before her shoulder slammed into something warm and solid. She grabbed on for dear life, hoping whatever or whoever it was would at least slow her fall as the momentum kept carrying her sideways.

And right into a thick, steel band of an arm that encircled the center of her back as if she’d been meant to roll right there the whole time. Strong fingers wrapped around her ribs, and she gasped when the world finally stopped spinning and she found herself staring into the same startling green eyes she’d seen at the table inside.


Thanks for reading! Check back next week for Chapter 2…

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Serial Story: MacKenzie Saves the World, Part 30 (Final)

This serial story is presented in draft (unedited) format. Each new installment will replace
the one before. If you get behind, email me and I’ll hook you up with the missing chapters!


MSTW_400

MacKenzie Saves the World
Part 30

The next morning MacKenzie stretched, trying to remember why her muscles were so sore, and how her bed had gotten so soft. Her hands and feet both hit barriers before she opened her eyes and recognized Josh’s living room.

And the man himself, fast asleep in his chair across from where she lay on his couch.

She smiled at how peaceful he looked. The past month had been so busy, but they’d made time for each other and she’d gotten to know him – not just what he liked and how he thought though they’d certainly spent plenty of time talking about…everything, but she knew his expressions, his habits, every line and crease on his face. And everything she knew about him just made him that much more dear to her. She couldn’t imagine life without this amazing, resilient man.

Careful to be quiet, she moved the blanket aside and stood, unable to resist just one more stretch up high overhead. When her heels finally touched down and she looked over at Josh, he was looking at her, something in his eyes that she couldn’t quite decipher.

“You’re beautiful,” he said, setting his own blanket aside. She rolled her eyes at him as he rose and came toward her.

“My hair’s a mess, this dress is trashed, and I’m sure my makeup’s all over my face. But thank you.”

He leaned down for a kiss and she met him half-way, surprised when he released her quickly.

“Everything okay?”

He nodded, reaching into his pocket. “Better than okay.” He pointed to the ottoman. “Can you sit down for a minute?”

Kenzie sat, her stomach flipping in anticipation. And when he knelt in front of her, she could barely focus for the pounding in her chest. He held out a small black box, still closed on the palm of one hand, and grasped her hand with the other.

“You know I love you, MacKenzie. And I can’t imagine my life without you. Will you marry me? Please?”

She couldn’t have held back a wide smile if she’d tried.

“Of course I’ll marry you. I love you so much.” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, throwing them both off balance. When they were both laughing on the floor, he rolled to his side and held up the box, a teasing glint in his eye.

“Do you want to see your ring now?” The way he said it, the look on his face made her curious.

“Absolutely.” She reached for the box, but he pulled it back out of reach. Laughing, he opened it where she couldn’t see it, and then slowly lowered it down to eye level.

Kenzie looked at the dark, almost black titanium band inlaid with two lighter bands top and bottom. A pink oval diamond was set deep in the center, the top flush with the band so it wouldn’t get caught on things. She stared for a long moment, not sure whether to laugh or cry as Josh took it out of the box and slid it on the ring finger of her left hand. she wiggled her finger, watching the light flash through the stone.

“I can’t believe it,” she breathed, unable to take her eyes off it. “You had Charade’s ring made. How did you do it?”

Josh reached for her hand, bringing it to his lips for a kiss.

“I had Kevin get me your sketches, and took them to a jeweler I know. One of his designers made it happen. You like it?”

MacKenzie shook her head. “No, I love it. You are amazing.” She pulled him down for a kiss, needing him close.

“Superhero amazing?” he murmured against her lips, rubbing his nose against hers. She giggled.

“My own personal superhero, without a doubt.”

The End

Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed MacKenzie’s story! The edited, final version will be out in print and ebook on November 14th.


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Serial Story: Under His Wing, Part 29

This story is presented weekly in draft
(unedited) form. Each installment is available for one week until the
next is posted. Miss one? Email me, and I’ll hook you up. Enjoy!


Dunning Manor, Book 1

Under His Wing
Part 29

Peter’s car was the only one in the lot when Katie parked on the street a couple buildings away. It would make saying what she had to say easier, but it was scary too, considering she needed to go in without Thomas so Peter would feel like he was in control of the situation.

She had to convince him to meet her at the site in the woods that they’d set up – the sooner, the better.

“Wait,” Thomas said when she reached for the car door. “I have something for you.” He pulled a large tiger-eye pendant out of a pocket, hanging from a thick dark silver chain.

“Wear this. It will protect you when I can’t.” He held the chain in both hands and she ducked her head so he could put it on. She felt the weight of the stone settle over her heart, and an almost electric buzz settled under her skin, like a force field of sorts.

“It tingles,” she said, rubbing the smooth stone between her fingers as she held it up for a closer look.

He nodded. “Druid magic. You have the instructions for him?”

“Right here.” She retrieved the piece of paper from her purse and waved it at him.

“Then go. Call out if you need me, and I’ll get to you as fast as I can. The amulet will protect you until then.”

She opened the car door, and then at the last minute turned back and grabbed the collar of Thomas’s shirt, pulling him in for a quick, hard kiss. Surprised as he was, he kissed her back, and she smiled as she pulled away.

“For luck,” she murmured, and then got out of the car and strode toward the garage, hoping she looked more confident than she felt.

The bell above the door rang loud as she let herself in, and she could see Peter bent under an open hood in the first bay of the work space. Her skin crawled as she approached him, and the amulet grew warmer against her heart, a reassuring sensation.

Peter stood, a grin spreading across his lips as he recognized her, and he wiped ineffectively at the grease on his hands with a red rag.

“Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in. Need a lube job, sweetheart? You know I’m happy to service you for free anytime.”

Katie fought back the gag reflex and tried to stay focused on the reason she’d come.

“Are you still interested in using me for your artwork?” She cocked her head to the side, doing her best to look curious rather than repulsed. Holding out the piece of paper, she watched the interest flare in his eyes as he took it from her.

“What’s this?” He opened it and scanned the contents, then met her gaze again. “Directions?”

She nodded. “I have something set up for us there. A gift, of sorts. Will you meet me later tonight?”

Peter frowned. “What about your new boy-toy? He doesn’t seem to like me much…”

Katie shrugged. “He’s out of the picture. This is just…us. Will you come?”

Peter chuckled. “Sure. But if you want to make art, darlin’, we don’t have to wait. In fact, let me show you something over here.” He moved away, deeper into the double bay of the garage, and she followed, keeping her distance from him. When he stopped next to one of the oil pumps, she stayed back several feet, knowing it was folly to trust him.

Holding the pump in one hand, he took a lighter out of his pocket with the other, and smiled, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Watch this.”

Squeezing the handle, he started dispensing oil onto the cement floor between them, and then he flicked the lighter to life, setting the oil stream on fire.

The burst was so hot it forced Katie backwards, and she teetered on the edge of the second work pit before catching her balance as Peter laughed. He swirled the oil-fed flames around in patterns, looking as comfortable as a gymnast with a ribbon as Katie slowly backed toward the exit.

“Leaving so soon, Katie-girl? But we’re only getting started!”

“Meet me tonight,” she called out above the roar of the flames. And then she pushed out the door and ran all the way back to the car.

Sweating from heat and nerves, she slid behind the wheel and peeled away from the curb, needing to put as much distance between that monster and herself as quickly as possible. She could feel Thomas staring.

“Is he coming tonight?” Thomas asked, the calm tone of his voice helping to calm her own nerves.


She nodded. “He’ll be there.”


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Serial Story: Under His Wing, Part 23

This story is presented weekly in draft
(unedited) form. Each installment is available for one week until the
next is posted. Miss one? Email me, and I’ll hook you up. Enjoy!


Dunning Manor, Book 1

Under His Wing
Part 23

“Bed?” Katie looked at his hand, and back at his face, her arms still holding her knees to her chest. “My bed is too small. We can’t share. And I don’t have a guest room. Can’t we just sleep out here, on the couch? The ottoman seems to work well enough…”

Thomas frowned. “Your bed is narrower than your sofa? Why?”

“That’s not what I meant.” Katie shook her head. “I just think we’ll be more comfortable out here, is all.”

Squatting down in front of her, Thomas took the hand he’d sought a few seconds earlier. “I’ll sleep on the floor, if that makes you happy, but you need to get good rest tonight, and that means you need to sleep in your own bed. Come now. Don’t argue.”

Too tired to put up any more of a fight, Katie let him help her up and then led him down the hall to her room. As soon as he saw the bed, he’d realize there was no way he’d fit. Flipping the light switch, she stepped back with a gasp, bumping into Thomas.

“I take it this wasn’t your doing?” he asked, gently pulling her back into the hall, and then stepping around her to move through the doorway.

“No,” she said, peering past him at the chaos of clothing, books and accessories, all strewn about like a tornado had touched down.

“I’m no neat nik, but I’m not anywhere near this bad. It must have been Peter. He knew where the key was. I can’t believe…” she stopped, not wanting to voice the fact that she’d slept with the man who wanted to sacrifice her for his art.

Thomas gathered up the pile of clothing and other sundry items off the bed and dumped them on the floor to the side. Then he reached up and began peeling off layers of clothing, as if Katie wasn’t even there.

But she was. And she stood transfixed as his back was bared to her, tribal-style designs swirling across the broad expanse with every movment he made. What a gorgeous, glorious creature he was, no matter what form he took. When he moved to push his pants off his hips, she stared, licking her lips at the thought of what might be revealed.
“It’s not fair,” he said, his voice low and soft. She jerked her head up at his words, noting the smirk as he watched her watching him over his shoulder.

She swallowed, her mouth dry. “What’s not fair?”

He broke eye contact to look forward again, letting his trousers slide down his legs. Her gaze immediately went to that perfectly molded, sculptured bottom, and the continuation of the tribal pattern started above.

Yum.

“You have too many clothes on, Katie Watson. Undress. Unless you require my aid for this as well?”

She was pretty sure her face was the color of a ripe tomato. It felt like one of those atomic fireballs she used to get out of the dime machines as a kid. Still, she considered taking him up on it. Surely this man would make her forget everything wrong in her world, even if only for a night.

But then what?

“Thanks, but no th–”

He turned around, hands on his hips and one leg out, looking entirely too comfortable with his buff, extremely well-endowed self. No woman in her right mind could say no to that, could she? What were the odds she’d get another chance to be with such a man?

Gargoyle, a little voice in her head whispered. She nearly giggled when she whispered back.

Exactly.

“On second thought…” She stepped closer, wanting to look away from his intense stare. Unable to look anywhere else. Raising her hands, she placed them on his chest, remembering how different he felt from other men. Cool and hot at the same time, like a rock at sunset that had been sitting in the sun.

He nodded once, and then his lips were on hers, his arms pulling her in, his scent making her brain go foggy. She gave herself up to the sensations.


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Serial Story: MacKenzie Saves the World, Episode 3L

This serial story is presented in draft (unedited) format. Each new installment will replace
the one before. If you get behind, email me and I’ll hook you up with the missing chapters!


“Fight Water with Fire” – Part 12

MacKenzie opened her eyes to an unfamiliar room and bright sunshine filtering through semi-transparent curtains. The mattress was soft – too soft to be hers, and she was underneath a thick, cozy bedspread that wrapped around her like a hug.

Breathing in deeply, she smiled. Josh’s unique, masculine scent enveloped her, reminding her of where she was, and why.

Not the way she’d planned to get into his bed, but now that she was here…

She raised her head at a sound near the foot of the bed. Josh came in the door, carrying two cups of something that smelled like coffee. She sat up, scooting back to lean against the wooden headboard.

“You’re awake,” he said, setting one cup down on the nightstand, and carefully handing her the other. “Careful, it’s hot.”

“Thank you.” She took a small sip, breathing in the life-giving aroma. “What time is it?”

Josh perched on the edge of the bed, facing her. “It’s nearly ten. Sleep well?”

She nodded, taking another, bigger sip. “My head doesn’t hurt so bad, so I must have. I’m sorry I feel asleep on you last night.”

He chuckled. “I’m not. It was a long day, and we were both worn out. I was happy enough to rest up too.”

Vaguely remembering a warm body in bed with her the night before, she cocked her head to the side. “Where did you sleep, exactly?”

He shrugged, reaching for his coffee and avoiding eye contact. “I didn’t want to leave you alone.”

She nodded, studying the machine embroidery on the duvet, all too aware of his heavy stare. “Um…thanks.”

He reached out and took her cup, putting it next to his back on the nightstand. Scooting up farther on the bed, until his right leg was pressed against hers, he leaned over her legs, propping himself there with one arm as he looked into her eyes.

“What were you going to tell me yesterday, Kenzie? Kevin said that’s why you hurt yourself – you were looking for me.”

She looked away. “I just…well, Kevin said I was over-thinking things, and he’s right.” She forced herself to look at Josh, needing him to know she was sincere. “I’m tired of fighting this too, Josh. I…want you. Us. Even if–”

Josh’s hand curled around her neck and pulled her forward to meet his lips, cutting off her next sentence. He tasted like fresh coffee with just a hint of mint in the background. As quickly as she’d melted into his touch, she pulled back, aghast.

“Oh God. Morning breath. I–” She saw a split second of a grin on his lips before he claimed hers again, leaning in farther as he shifted on the bed, moving to lay beside her, urging her down to the pillows. His hands were everywhere they could reach, but there was the frustrating matter of the duvet and sheets and clothing…

MacKenzie broke free, holding him off with a firm hand to his chest and a smile when he would have pulled her back.

“Your breath is fine. Don’t go.”

She laughed, slipping off the other side of the bed and holding one finger up.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said, reaching down to grasp the hem of her shirt. “But there’s way too much material between us, and it’s driving me crazy. So strip.”


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