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Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld

Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld

Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld

Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld
Available at:
Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble

Description:  

Want to know what it feels like to be a rock star?

Reid Taylor started out with nothing and became part of one of the biggest bands in the world. Now he wants to tell you about the hard struggle every step of the way, fame, the craziness of being on the road, the groupies, and how he found real love that meant more to him than all the groupies in the world. And he wants to tell you about the conflict he had with one of the members of his own band, that threatened everything the band ever hoped to achieve.

Chapter One:

The thing is, I never really liked our drummer. I never liked the guy. Our singer I could tolerate, even though he thought he was beyond human. I’d seen him on the way up, when nothing like that was ever in his head. Mostly what he thought then was how afraid he was that he was blowing it and he’d run out of money and become a street person, sleeping in doorways. He had an unnatural fear of that, as though some fortune teller had put it into him. It was like it haunted him, a vision of his own future. Then when we really hit it, something else ridiculous happened – he felt like he had won against some supernatural power, like he’d overcome his own destiny and become more than normal. It was just irritating, but I still liked the guy.

Our lead guitarist – what you see looking at us is not what you see if you’re inside looking out.  Barry O. – the Fireman, if you know his nickname – to you guys he looked like he had it all under control, but I knew that every second he was just waiting for it all to fall apart. He was just convinced that this was going to last for, maybe, another ten seconds. This went on for years.

I played the bass.  I guess it was only natural that I’d be the down-to-earth guy, since that’s what I did for our sound. My bass was just like the anchor that kept the kite from flying off into the sky and getting lost. I guess I tried to do that for our band too. And you know how that turned out.

But why get ahead of things? Everybody always wants to know how it all got started and what happened, and to hear about all the craziness and everything. So now that it’s all over and I’ve got time, I’m like, why not?

HOW IT ALL GOT STARTED

Actually it was kind of spooky.  I’ll never forget the day because my girl friend just broke up with me that same morning. She just finally got fed up with me for being the way I am. She was excitable. She didn’t mind that I wasn’t excitable, but it was the way I wasn’t that finally she couldn’t take any more. I’m just sort of a, get up every day, get the job done, don’t get distracted by stuff, just keep moving forward kind of guy. I sort of feel like a tank on a battlefield. I just keep going. Stuff can be blowing up around me, so what, I don’t care, I’m still going ahead. Meanwhile she felt like I was a snail, just going along too slow, getting nowhere. Like I said, she was excitable. She started getting crazy about it, hysterical. Which didn’t even faze me because I’m like what I said, and that drove her even crazier, and so it was just that same morning that she just said she was breaking up. Which was kind of like, I mean, even to a tank, a bomb goes off right underneath of you and you’re going to feel it. So I was trashed and in no mood to go anywhere, much less to an audition.

I’d heard about this audition Barry was having out in some old barn or shack or something. I wasn’t going to go in the first place and now I definitely wasn’t planning on going. I’d met him once or twice and my impression was that he was a little frayed around the edges.  A little flighty. Maybe not serious enough.  Tanks don’t wait for guys like him,  we run guys like him over.  So the hell with it, was basically my approach to the subject.

I was in no mood to see anybody, and then my phone started to blow up. All these calls were coming in. I tried to remember, did we always get this many calls on a weekend? Did my girlfriend used to just answer the phone? It seemed like way more than usual. All these people asking me to go here or there or come out and have a drink or let’s go to this party or hear this band or whatever. Some of them already knew about the breakup and wanted to cheer me up, and some had no idea. Finally I had to go out just to get away from the phone calls. So it was getting late already and I just took off for the bar to play pool and have some beers.

So now I’m out and my cell phone starts blowing up and I just don’t answer it. I’m not in the mood, as you can easily imagine. I’m playing pool, having a beer, trying to not think about anything. The misery is sitting on me like a wrestler that’s got another wrestler pinned. I can’t do anything about it and I know I can’t do anything about it, so I’m trying to not think about it.

And then this guy walks right up to me out of nowhere and says, “Hey man, can you give me a lift to Barry’s audition?” I don’t even recognize this guy. I’m so stunned that I actually forget to blow him off.  I actually let myself get into a conversation with him.

“Dude, I’m not going to Barry’s audition.”

“Aren’t you Reid Taylor?”

“Do I know you?”

“I’m Travis. I saw you sit in with Sammy Marshall at Harry’s a month ago.”

“Yeah, well, I’m just hanging out here tonight.”

“Everybody says you’re going.”

“Everybody? Who?”

The guy looked around vaguely. “I don’t know. People.”

“People? Who? Who said that? What was the name of the person who said that?”

“It wasn’t one person. It was at least two people.”

“Who?”

“That guy over there.”

He looks over at somebody and at that exact split second, before I can see who it is, the guy he’s looking at turns and walks out of the place.

“’Scuse me one second. I want to say hi,” I said, and went to see who it was.

So I head out of the bar and the guy is walking away towards his pickup, and I said, “Dude.” He stopped, looked around, I’d never seen him before, and I already don’t like him.  I’d never seen the guy before, and I swear to God I already don’t like the guy.

“Yeah, what’s up Reid?”

“You know me?”

“No, some guys in there said you were going over to Barry’s.  You want a lift?”

At this point I actually said, screw it, I might as well go. I mean, why not at this point? It was either go or hear about it all night evidently. It was turning out to be the path of least resistance. The easiest way to not have to think about going was to head over there.  I could already see that if I didn’t I’d spend all day tomorrow answering people who wanted to know why I didn’t go.

“Yeah, sure, why not,” I said. I got my axe out of my trunk and got into his pickup and we took off.

The guy said his name was Clay Hicks.

So now I’m headed off on a mission to be in this band, when in fact I could care less. I felt like one of those embedded reporters who travel with the army.

The plus side was, I needed a laugh, and heading off to this thing without caring at all what anybody there was going to say about me was funny. They were going to be judging everybody and I was going to be not even beginning to care. I was way beyond caring already tonight about anything any of these guys were going to say to me.

And I had to admit it was a welcome distraction from this misery I couldn’t shake.

After a while Clay started driving too fast.  Way past the speed limit. He’s taking curves at roller-coaster speeds. I’m looking at this guy, I’ve never seen him before, and I’m wondering, is he testing me? Is he waiting to see how I’m going to act? Or is he just trying to rattle me so I can’t audition? I watch the road. He’s not skidding much, he’s not driving outside the lane or anything. He seems to be able to handle the car at this speed. So I don’t say anything.

We’re driving way outside of town and the streetlights are getting farther and farther apart, and finally we pull up in this parking lot outside of some kind of big old run-down looking building. I grab my axe and get out of there because there’s no way I’m talking to this guy since I’d only tell him that no matter how proud he is of whatever he thinks he was doing, he’s just like one of those comets heading down through the night sky, that burns bright while it’s burning itself up. Let’s put it this way — chances are that when he crashes his car, I won’t be in it.

The front of the building looks dusty. The door doesn’t feel solid when I open it. Inside it’s dark. There are tables all around – it’s some kind of closed restaurant. There’s people milling around on the far side of the room, and that’s where the lights are on. There’s a stage set up over there. I see Barry, long-haired, rattled-looking but cheerful, proud that this is his thing, he’s running it, everybody’s there to win his approval. People drive all the way here, they get here, and they’re into it, man, you can feel it. It’s electric. People want to be chosen.

I consider just hanging out back here in the dark and watching, but that’s too ridiculous. Besides, I need more distraction or I’m going to get swallowed whole by this wretchedness that feels like it’s eating me alive.  So I head over to the edge of where everybody is and see a singer I know named Shawn.

“Hey, how you doin’?”

“Reid, all right man, how are you?”

“Pretty good.”

“I heard you and Sharon broke up.”

“Yeah.”

“You okay with it?”

I like Shawn, but why do people always have to ask the wrong question? He’s saying it like he’s my friend and being all sympathetic, but what if the answer is what it really is, namely that I’m anything but okay with it? He’s gonna make me talk about that? Expose myself like a fish flopping around on a boat deck waiting to be iced? Is that like a friend to do that, to bring that up, to try to make me say it? I don’t even give him the benefit of the doubt.  I bet that somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows exactly what he’s doing. When you’re suffering, it almost takes a saint to be your friend.

There’s nothing I feel like answering. I’m not a good enough actor to say I’m fine and have anybody believe me. Or maybe I could, I’m not going to protect myself by lying, by hiding, by pretending to be something I’m not.

“No. I’m not okay with it. It sucks.”

“I’m sorry, dude.”

To me that looks like the fakest sympathy ever.  So what. I don’t care. I don’t say anything back. I move on.

Barry spots me and comes over.

“Hey Reid! Good to see ya’. Thanks for coming over.”

“Glad to be here, man.”

“I didn’t know how to reach you, so I just told people to let you know about it.”

“Okay, cool. It worked.”

“Excellent.” He moves on to talk to somebody. It’s like I said, the guy’s a little flaky. He didn’t know how to reach me, so he just told people. But it worked, I gotta give him that.

“Hey, how’s it goin’?” A drummer I know has spotted me, a good guy, named Leon.

“Okay, man. How’re you?”

“I heard about Sharon, dude.”

“Yeah.”

“That sucks, man.” He says it like he’s talking about a coat that doesn’t fit. He’s not making that big a deal out of it. You can see he’s not acting like it’s the end of the world. Leon’s an okay guy.

“I appreciate that.”

“For sure. You think it’s really over?”

“Oh yeah.”

“You were with her, what, a couple of years?”

“Almost.”

“Well, if it’s not right, it’s not right, huh?”

“Yeah, man. Thanks.”

“For sure.”

Barry gets up on stage – the action’s starting, and Leon goes to find out when he’s up. These encounters are taking too much effort, so I go sit down on the outer edge of the group, in the shadows but not like I’m trying to avoid people. Barry’s warming up, playing some old blues.

Sitting down, there’s not enough distraction. I’m trying not to think about Sharon, but it’s too big to avoid. It’s like a yacht bearing down on a rowboat. You want to enjoy the beautiful day, but you see that yacht bearing down on you to cut you in half.

Then I realize I already got cut in half, when Sharon left. This misery is too big, I can’t fight it, I’m just going to have to go through it. I get ready for it, I look for how to like the grief, how to want it, how to make something good with it. Feeling it means something, it means finding out what you’ve lost, like a store owner taking inventory after a flood. It’s super painful but you have to do it so you can keep the store going.

For a minute I didn’t even notice what was going on. Then I started to hear the new stuff Barry was playing. He wasn’t playing blues anymore. This must be his own stuff. It’s pretty much just straight chord progressions, but these aren’t the same old tired boring patterns I’ve heard a million times. I’ve never heard these progressions before, and the chords he’s got sound great together.

I know what this means if it’s not a fluke, but I figure that’s gotta be all it is.  There’s no way he’s got a lot of this stuff. But then he hits us with another one, and another one. This is the DNA of songs that haven’t been written yet. This is what I’ve been looking for. Sharon thought I wasn’t getting anywhere – she didn’t see that I was looking, waiting, for what it’s starting to look like just showed up here in this busted-up closed restaurant.

I want to stand up and charge the stage. It’s such an overwhelming mix of feelings – this wretchedness on top of this exaltation and excitement. I get the sense a person can hold an infinity of feeling. It starts to make me feel physically bigger than myself.  It’s making me giddy. It’s making me dizzy.

I move really quietly over to some friend of Barry’s with a note pad and get my name on the list. Then I sit back and watch what goes on, carried along on these sensations like a loose rowboat – or a piece of a loose rowboat that got cut in half — on top of huge ocean swells.

Bass players, drummers, singers come and go. Leon tries out and does great. The bass players are just playing right on top of the same notes Barry’s got, just a few octaves lower. It’s driving me crazy. I can’t stand it. I can’t wait to go up. Finally they call me. I walk up, plug in. Barry hits it. Leon’s on the drums.

This tremendous sense of power hit me.  I was so full of passion over breaking up with my girl and now it was going into the notes I was playing and the counterpoint I was finding. It was like the whole day was fated to put me on fire for this. I blew that room away so hard that even my competitors just looked at each other and they all saw each other felt, I was the guy.

When you live a certain way, certain days come along and change the rest of your life.  And when that happens it just kind of naturally shows you were right all along – waiting, believing, praying, hoping for that to happen. And that is quite an experience. The surprise that you were right about that stuff, that you were right you could do these things, that you could find what you needed in the world that was missing in yourself, and put that all together, and make the things happen that you thought you could, and where other people wonder how you got there and how you did it – it puts awe into you.  Of course, that night, it was still just my belief, my hope, my faith, that that was what had happened. Nothing was proven yet.

Leon did not get chosen. It hurt his feelings, and I felt like my friend had been dropped into a deep deep well and I didn’t know how to get him out. And who did get picked – Clay Hicks. Clay had outperformed Leon on the night, no question. But how could I tell Barry that I had a bad feeling about Clay based on one crazy car ride? Barry didn’t know Clay, didn’t know Leon – none of us knew each other yet.

 Conquest, by Vik Rubenfeld
Available at:
AmazonSmashwordsBarnes & Noble

Waiting On Hope, by T.M. Souders

Waiting On Hope, by T.M. Souders

Waiting On Hope, by T.M. Souders

Waiting On Hope, by T.M. Souders
Available at:
Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble

Description:   Ten years ago, Lexie Dodson fled her home in rural Ohio, leaving behind a heartbroken brother and abandoning a devastated fiancé. While chasing her desire of a fast-paced life in the city, and the obscurity of urban life, she is shaken to her very core by an act of violence that leaves her betrayed, broken, and pregnant—and with nowhere to go but home.

Seeking refuge and facing gut-wrenching decisions, she is confronted not only with the past she left behind, but also with a love that never died—a love waiting for something to stoke the flames.

Told from the perspective of four characters, Waiting on Hope will stay with you well after the last page has been turned.

CHAPTER ONE

She stepped to the ledge of the balcony, welcoming death—and the mercy it offered.

Three more steps and she would be free. One. Two.

The sudden bang on the door made Lexie jump. She stood, her toes curling over the cool, rough, concrete, only inches from the edge of descent.

Gripping the chair next to her, she tried to concentrate. She raised her arms straight out from her sides like an airplane. The morning air, cool on her skin, wrapped around her in a soft caress. She visualized the jump, the slap of wind on her face and in her hair. She didn’t flinch from the thought of the agony of impact, which may come before the blessed numbness. After all, she was no stranger to pain.

Opening her eyes, she glanced down at her feet. Without a railing, the unguarded slab of stone made for easy access to the waiting street below. She straightened her toes, no longer supported by the balcony.

The banging on the door persisted, making it hard for her to think. She tried to ignore the interruption, but the caller’s persistence made blocking out the sound impossible. Behind the pounding she heard a voice—one she recognized.

“Lexie, open up. Let me in. What the hell are you doing out there? You’re going to get yourself killed. Lex?” Sienna continued to call through the door.

Lexie glanced from the inside of her apartment back to the street below. Traffic loomed, along with the occasional pedestrian. She cursed Sienna for interfering. Why did she show up now?

All she needed was one more step, but the insistent banging outside her door thumped in the background of her mind, jarring the still thoughts of death from where they perched. She would have to wait. With Sienna right outside, plunging off the balcony was not an option. Enough agony would be caused to those she left behind, without any of them having to witness her demise. When the time came, however, she would leap at the chance to end the world in which only a fog of pain enveloped her.

She stepped off the balcony, into her apartment. Despite the sound of Sienna’s voice, she peered through the peep hole, confirming her visitor’s identity. She unlocked the chain bolt and three dead bolts she installed after “the incident” two months ago—the effort on her part, a fruitless one. She knew all-too-well you couldn’t lock the devil out. He seldom arrived undisguised.

Sienna didn’t wait for Lexie to open the door. The second the dead bolt snapped, she threw the door open, rocking Lexie on her feet where she stood. She took inventory, looking around Lexie’s apartment, her gaze hovering over the barrage of locks. Raising one golden brow, she narrowed her eyes at Lexie, who remained silent.

“What’s going on Lex? You’re not returning any of my calls. And what’s with the horror movie locks?” Sienna asked. Her forehead wrinkled into a dozen lines.

Lexie shrugged. She hadn’t told Sienna what happened yet, and even when she did, she couldn’t tell her the whole truth. The facts for her would be too devastating. Then again, she probably deserved more credit than Lexie gave her…

Nevertheless, letting Sienna in on the events of the last two months was the right thing to do. After all, Lexie’s affinity for lying was weak, and besides, Sienna had an ability to see straight through a person, to cut through the crap.

Sienna stood, arms crossed in front of her chest, her platinum hair pulled back from her face, waiting for a response, for some enlightenment to explain Lexie’s recent behavior.

“Um. They’re just a precaution,” Lexie said.

“Precaution? Lex, you’re scaring me. I’ve been calling you for two months, without so much as a reply. You’ve skipped out on all our Friday girls’ nights. You stood me up at the photography convention on Sunday, the one you begged me to attend with you. And this morning, I called Pittsburgh Magazine, only to find out that you haven’t been at work in over a month, that you’re taking some time off for personal reasons.”

Sienna continued to talk, following Lexie from the foyer to the couch in her living room.

Lexie tried to make herself comfortable, but found it impossible—a notion explicably apparent in her life as of late. She fidgeted on the white sofa, which seemed to signal to her a glaring beacon of purity—suddenly out of place in the room.

Lexie sighed, fanning her hands out in front of her, trying to find the words. “I’m just…I’m going through something right now.”

After a moment’s silence, Sienna said, “And you can’t tell me? Since when do we keep secrets from each other?”

The pain in Sienna’s rich chocolate eyes was palpable, a confirmation of sorts of why her own pain, her own shame, should be kept to herself. How did she find the words? Part of her wanted to say it. She envisioned opening her mouth and letting them flow, forming her lips around the vowels, I was raped. The thought alone, stung like venom on the tip of her tongue.

“I…I….” Lexie tilted her head back. She gazed at the ceiling, the tiny vein-like cracks in the otherwise smooth plaster. Why couldn’t she say it? She willed the words from her mind, but still they would not come.

She looked back at Sienna, the hurt in her eyes latched onto the lacerations of her soul, bringing with them a new burden. Not only did she carry her own shame, but also guilt for the anguish imposed on Sienna by her silence.

Lexie said the only thing she could, a poor substitution for the truth. “Listen, I’m going through something right now that I can’t talk about. I just can’t…” Her voice cracked slightly. She managed to suppress a sob before continuing. “I need a little time. Please.”

“Do you promise me you’re going to be okay? You’re scaring the hell out of me, girl. I mean, blowing me off is one thing, but your job? You haven’t taken so much as a sick day in the ten years since I met you.”

“I swear.”

She couldn’t bring herself to mutter the words, I promise. Promises were for a groom on his wedding day, vowing to be faithful in good times and bad. For mothers who tucked their kids into bed at night, assuring them safety was inexplicably theirs—that no monsters hid beneath the covers. Well, she knew all about monsters—not only did they exist, but they were all around us. She knew all about promises too. By definition, they were impossible to keep. Because among the assurance belies a certainty, which carries with it the measure of impossibility, because a promise is a guarantee. What was the saying her mother always used to say? In life, there are no guarantees.

Sienna sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know what else to do but give you time to sort this thing out, since you won’t talk to me. I’m telling you though,” she said, jabbing a finger at Lexie. “If you don’t snap out of this soon, or tell me what’s going on, I’ll hog tie you, drag you to my place, and hold you hostage until you squeal.”

Lexie . Several things about her statement hit a little too close to home. For her friend’s benefit, however, she tried to smile.

“Finally, something other than a frown. By the way, if this has to do with a man you’ve been secretly seeing behind my back, you owe me ten Pilates classes.”

Lexie groaned. Pilates was the bane of her existence. Every time she turned around, Sienna dragged her to a class. They remained the best incentive, the highest stake, something to chain her with, like an anvil around her leg.

Lexie shook her head. “It’s nothing like that. You know if I were seeing someone, you would be the first I’d tell. Enough about me though,” she said, trying to direct her focus elsewhere. “Since I haven’t seen you in a while, fill me in. What’s new?”

Even asking Sienna about her life was a risk because the question brought with it the good chance she may mention her husband, Brent. Lexie recognized, however, no other way of getting her to leave so soon without her actions seeming suspect.

“I missed you these last two months.” Sienna looked down at her hands; a small tremor ran through her voice. “A few weeks ago, my period was late. My enthusiasm couldn’t be contained. I thought for sure I had finally done it, you know? After three years of trying, I was pregnant. I waited to take a test though. Deep down, I was afraid that I would test negative. I wanted to hold onto the hope that my time had come.”

This is how they always talked with each other. They shared everything, and in the past couple years, Sienna had agonized over her fertility issues. She and Brent had been trying for three years to conceive, to no avail. Doctors said she had an inhospitable womb—whatever that meant. Despite this diagnosis, however, Sienna continued trying. She kept waiting for a miracle.

Normally, Lexie would bend her head towards hers, wrap an arm around Sienna’s shoulders, and whisper words of consolation, reassurance, and encouragement even—but a thick fog surrounded her mind like an impenetrable membrane. She had nothing to give.

The mention of Brent’s name created a physical response. Terror and panic rose inside of her like an awakened beast. She tried to choke her emotions down, but the effort only resulted in a sweeping chill over her entire body.

Sienna continued talking, unaware of the change in Lexie’s demeanor. “I’m done crying over my inability to have a baby. Being a mother is all I ever wanted, but I need to finally accept that I may never be a mother. I’m torturing myself. Brent keeps telling me to let it go, but how do you let go of something so important, so primal? My clock is ticking…”

Brent. His name swirled around Lexie like toxic gas. She closed her eyes and trembled, as she struggled to draw oxygen into her lungs. He shouted at her, his voice calculated, anger and menace flowing from his wine stained lips. Shut the fuck up or I’ll kill you. You’ve wanted this all along. I’m only giving you what you need, what you deserve. 

Her breath hitched, and her hands clenched by her side. She was vaguely aware of Sienna’s voice in the background. She grasped for balance, for some way to clear her mind, but the effort was akin to catching dandelion snow. Every time she reached out, grasping at the fuzzy parachutes, the air in the atmosphere around her changed, and they eluded her.

Suddenly, a sharp clatter sliced through her thoughts. She opened her eyes. Able to take a clear breath, she stared straight ahead, trying to orient herself to the sound.

Sienna stood in front of her. She held her open purse, the size of a carpetbag, and after taking one last look inside, chucked it onto the floor next to Lexie.

“I’m done. You can have all of them. No more trying. No more sorrow over failing at something that was near impossible for me in the first place,” Sienna said.

Lexie’s gaze moved to the large oak coffee table, the one her father made for her as a going away present when she left home. On it laid the source of the noise. What looked like half of Wal-Mart’s pregnancy test inventory lay scattered across the silky table top.

“What’s this?” Lexie asked, still disoriented.

Sienna narrowed her eyes at Lexie, concern rimming the brown of her irises. “I just told you. They’re all of the pregnancy tests I had stashed.” She sat down next to Lexie on the sofa. Then lightly brushed the mahogany hair from the side of Lexie’s face.

“Every time I went shopping, if the store had a baby department, or carried pregnancy tests, I was drawn to them like a magnet. I’d torture myself over the tiny blue and pink clothes, the scent of powder and lavender. Then I would go buy a couple more tests to continue the cycle of torture. I’ve been hopeless, Lex.”

She looked Lexie in the eyes. “I’ve been waiting for something that’s never going to happen, killing myself over my obsession with having a baby, and week after week, you were there for me. You were there to lift me up, to dry my tears. You’ve been the best friend in the world. And that’s why I’m going to be here for you now. Well, that and I love you. You say you can’t talk about what’s going on now. I’ll accept that because I have no choice, but sooner or later, you need to tell me what’s going on, and I’ll be there for you. I’ll help you through whatever’s haunting you, just like you helped me.”

After locking the door behind Sienna, Lexie returned to the living room, where she loomed above the coffee table, staring at the pregnancy tests. She held her arms tightly against her sides, angling her body slightly away from them, as if they were a bed of coiled snakes.

Her skin pricked and the hairs on her arms stood up. Something about the tests bothered her. Or maybe in the deep-seated recesses of her mind, it was intuition. The scattered boxes beckoned her.

On a hunch, she picked one up with a trembling hand and stared at it. She couldn’t remember the last time she had her period. Then again, much of the past two and a half months were a blur, a fog of pain and fear.

Before she could think, she sprinted to the bathroom. Ripping the test out of the box, she took the lid off, and then dropped her pants. She squatted over the toilet, peeing on the plastic stick, dribbling a small amount of urine on her hands in her haste. She put the cap on, then placed the test on the back of the toilet.

She picked the box up off the floor, her hands quaking. She read the directions—probably something she should have done before taking the test. Her frantic gaze glanced at the clock, noting the time. She had to wait three minutes. Two pink lines symbolized a positive result—pregnancy. A single blue line meant she was not pregnant.

She tossed the empty container in the trash, gripping the sides of the pedestal sink, and stared at herself in the mirror. She looked like hell. Her once lustrous mahogany hair, the envy of all her female friends and co-workers, hung limp and lifeless below her shoulders, instead of in its usual thick waves. Her skin was pale, and purple crescents shadowed her eyes.

She stared at herself, her mind racing with a singular thought: It’s not possible; however, beneath her inner monologue, hibernated another thought, one which collided with the superstition that Sienna was meant to come over today, to bring those tests with her and leave them, because it was possible.

Lexie glanced, once again, at the clock, and although only two minutes had passed, she went to the toilet and retrieved the test. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting the oxygen fill her lungs, her bloodstream, calming her. She tilted her head down, ready to see the results. When she opened them, several seconds passed before her vision sharpened, and she was able to comprehend what she saw. Two pink lines. Positive. The test was positive.

Over the next four hours, she was crazed. She drank countless glasses of water, juice, and coffee, anything she could get her hands on. Test after test, (pink plusses, pink lines, yes’s, and the last test, a little blue smiley face) came back positive.

The blue face, the smile, mocked her. She gripped the stick in both hands, letting out a gut-wrenching scream, as she snapped it in half, and then flung the broken debris across the room. She felt like she was going mad, and maybe she was.

She ripped the shower curtain aside. Her hands tore at her clothing, until no part of her was covered. She stepped inside the shower stall and turned the water on full blast, the temperature as hot as it would go, scalding her skin, turning her pale flesh into a soft shade of scarlet.

She took the bar of soap and washcloth, scrubbing herself raw, until her skin burned and puckered with goose bumps as the water turned cold. The problem remained that no matter how long or hard she scrubbed, she didn’t feel clean. She couldn’t erase the memories, the rough rope that bound her wrists, cutting into her flesh, his hard fist smashing into her face, or his body, heavy on hers, violating her.

She sunk to her knees and cried, the water pooling around her legs before draining—the water that would never again be clean.

She cried for the woman that died the night of her rape, the woman she felt for certain, she wanted to get back, but couldn’t.

Waiting On Hope, by T.M. Souders
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Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott

Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott

Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott

Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott
Available at:
Amazon,  Smashwords, Barnes & Noble

Description:  Regina Baker has loved Sam Hyatt since the third grade, but as a poor preacher’s daughter with a landscaping business that barely pays the bills, Reggie feels like a mangy mutt compared to Sam’s current girlfriend, who has a pedigree a mile long.

As the heir to a sizable fortune, Sam has a responsibility to marry well. His wife needs to be well bred, well educated, and well heeled. He was raised to live up to his responsibilities, even if it means sacrificing his happiness.

Their matchmaking friends, Cara and Gray, arrange for Sam and Reggie to join them on a two week cruise, where Sam will have a chance to see what he’s been missing without the society trappings he’s normally surrounded with, and Reggie will have two weeks to win Sam’s heart.

Excerpt:

Regina Baker was going to strangle Sam Hyatt.

She swiped the back of her hand across her sweaty face, leaving a streak of dirt on her cheek. He’d promised to be home by the time she finished today, and here it was after six p.m. and no Sam. It looked like she wouldn’t get paid today like he’d promised. And darn it, she needed that check.

Someone like Sam didn’t understand the concept of living paycheck to paycheck. He’d never experienced an overdrawn checking account, the frustration of overdue bills. All he had to do was snap his fingers and money appeared like magic.

Reggie gathered up her tools–shovels, rakes, hammers, stakes, water hoses–and loaded her pickup. She took her time, stalling, hoping Sam would show up before she finished. But no, she was ready to leave and still no Sam. He wasn’t answering his cell phone, either. She’d left him three messages already. Which meant she would have to face the intimidating George and ask if Sam had left a check for her.

Reggie smoothed her unruly hair into a semblance of a pony tail, scrubbed her face with the corner of her shirt, and dusted her hands on her blue jeans. Not that it would do a bit of good. Sam’s butler would still look at her like she was a cockroach trying to find a way into the pristine Hyatt mansion.

Reggie took a deep breath and rang the bell.

The butler opened the door and looked down at her. He didn’t say a word, just waited for her to state her business.

“Hi, George.” Reggie straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin with an air of false bravado. “Did Sam leave a check for me?”

George shook his head. “Not that he mentioned, Miss.”

Darn. “Well, do you know where I might find him?”

“I’m not at liberty to divulge Mr. Hyatt’s schedule.”

“Come on, George. You can drop the act with me. You know darned good and well Sam and I have been friends since he was still in short pants. I need the check for this job or they’re going to repossess my truck.”

Did the corner of his mouth just twitch? She’d never thought George might actually have a sense of humor.

“Well, you didn’t hear this from me, Miss Baker. But you might try to catch him at the club.”

He started to close the door, but Reggie stuck her foot inside. “Wait! Which one?”

His eyebrows arched. “Why, the Manor Country Club, of course.”

Reggie stared at the elaborately carved door. Of course. Like it was the only club in existence. Sheesh.

She drove across town, fighting the horrific rush hour traffic, afraid Sam would be gone by the time she arrived. Her gas tank was dangerously close to empty, she had no cash on her, and her bank account was as empty as her tank. If Sam wasn’t there, she was sunk.

The reality of what she was about to do sank in as she pulled into the drive behind a stream of new Mercedes, BMWs, Corvettes and Hummers. Her ten year old truck let everyone know she didn’t belong there.

Maybe she should have looked for a servant’s entrance.

The cars ahead of her pulled to the front and valets hurried to help the passengers out. No way could she afford valet parking. She waited in line until the driveway was clear ahead of her and drove right past the valets without making eye contact.

She just might kill Sam after all.

She found a parking place at the far end of the lot and pulled in, locking the truck behind her before heading to the main building. Like someone would break into her old truck with all these luxury cars around. She chuckled at the foolishness of her actions. She stuck out like a gardener at a dress ball, which from the look of the people going in the door was exactly what she was.

She looked down at her dirty jeans, sweat-stained tee shirt, and mud-caked boots. No way they were going to let her inside these hallowed walls. How was she supposed to find Sam if she couldn’t get inside?

The valets moved so fast she couldn’t catch one to ask them what she should do, either. She waited until they were all occupied and snuck around the side of the building. She had no idea what she was doing or where she was going, but if anyone stopped her, she’d tell them she was there to bid on some work on the golf course. At least she was dressed appropriately for that.

She’d only walked a couple of hundred feet when she saw Sam at a table on a terrace, gazing deeply into the eyes of a platinum blonde. The woman’s manicure alone probably cost more than Reggie made in a day. She looked at her own ragged, dirty nails and sighed. No wonder Sam never looked at her like that. Compared to the pedigreed blonde, Reggie was a mangy mutt.

What was she doing here? She couldn’t approach Sam like this. It would embarrass him and he’d never speak to her again. She turned to go, then heard him call her name. When she looked back, everyone on the terrace was staring at her. Sam stood and the blonde put her hand on his arm and shook her head. He shook her hand off and vaulted the terrace wall, making his way to where Reggie stood.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” Sam put his hand on her back and urged her back toward the parking lot.

“Don’t you ever answer your damned phone?” Reggie picked up her pace, walking away from him, in a hurry to get away from all those people still watching them.

“I turned the phone off. Beebe gets a little annoyed when my phone rings during dinner.”

They rounded the corner of the building and Reggie stopped, turning to face him. “I’m sorry. I know how embarrassing this must be for you. But believe me, it’s a hundred times worse for me.”

Sam looked down at her. “I know you wouldn’t have come here dressed like that without a good reason. Has something happened? Is someone hurt?”

Reggie shook her head. “Only my pride. I waited for you at your house, but you never showed up. I hate to ask, but I really need that check.”

Sam smacked his forehead with one head. “I totally forgot. I’m so sorry. How much do I owe you?” He pulled his billfold from his back pocket.

“Three thousand,” she told him. “But if you don’t have that much with you…”

Sam slid a handful of hundreds from his wallet and counted out twenty-five hundred. He handed the bills to Reggie. “That’s all I have in cash, but if you want to walk to my car with me, I can write you a check for the rest.”

The humiliation finally became too much for Reggie. She shook her head and backed away. “No, it can wait. This will hold me until Monday. I’m sorry. Thank you.” She was babbling like a fool. She had to get out of there before she started to cry. “Thanks, Sam.” She turned and ran to her truck. Her hands shook so badly she could barely get the key in the lock.

She finally got the door open and climbed inside. She looked back to where she’d left Sam. He still stood in the same spot, watching her. She started the truck, shoved the gear shift into reverse, and backed out of the parking space. Then she peeled out of the parking lot.

***

“God, Cara, I have never been so embarrassed in my life.” Reggie leaned against the bar in Caramia Kensington’s kitchen, picking grapes out of a bowl on the counter and popping them into her mouth. She was starving, but instead of stopping for food, she’d driven straight to her best friend’s apartment for sympathy. “There I was, looking like something the cat dragged in, and Sam was with this perfectly-groomed blonde in red silk and stilettos. If he needed proof that I would never fit into his lifestyle, he got it in spades today.”

“Aw sweetie, I’m so sorry.” Cara stopped stirring the spaghetti sauce on the stove and rounded the bar to give Reggie a hug. “I don’t know how Sam can be so blind. You’re the perfect woman for him. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

“Yeah, well I don’t think there’s any chance now. I thought, maybe, after that night at the diner that he was at least a little bit attracted, but I guess that was just wishful thinking.”

“Maybe he’s just seen you as a friend for so long that he’s stopped seeing you as a woman.” Cara returned to the stove. “I think we need to come up with a plan, some way for the two of you to spend some quality time together that doesn’t involve you planting trees in his yard.”

Reggie laughed. “Yeah, well, good luck with that. Sam spends every waking minute either at the office or with one of his blonde bimbos. We’d have to kidnap him to get him to take any time off.”

“Maybe we can figure out something. Like what Sam did for us. All Gray and I needed was some time together, to remember what we once had.”

“But Sam and I’ve never really had anything going. It’s all been one sided. Even if he knew I was in love with him, I don’t think it would make a difference. ” They’d been friends since the third grade and he hadn’t realized it yet. Reggie had known for years that Sam was the only man for her, but his parents had drilled into his head that his social standing in the community meant he had to marry well to uphold the family name. And to them, marrying well meant a woman with an impeccable ancestry who could manage a foundation as well as she could host a fundraiser for two thousand people or a dinner for two hundred. She had to look the part and come with a trust fund that matched his.

A poor preacher’s daughter didn’t stand a chance.

 Perfectly Satisfied, by Tori Scott
Available at:
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New Beginnings, by Johanna Nield

New Beginnings, by Johanna Nield

New Beginnings, by Johanna Nield

New Beginnings, by Johanna Nield
Available at:
Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble 

Description:

Natasha Arden loves music, food, sex, clothes (not necessarily in that order) and her boss. Will she find heartache or happiness?

Working for a children’s charity which provides short-term accommodation for troubled teenagers, Tasha loves her job. Settling back into single life, and looking forward to the future, she’s foot-loose and fancy-free with no problems … except for the huge crush she has on her boss. Unable to tell anyone because he’s married, Tasha pours her heart out in the only way she can – in her blog.

Tragedy heralds a series of new beginnings … and some unexpected endings.

This is Tasha’s story – a tale of love, loss, life and lots more – but don’t be misled by the opening chapter. Natasha may write in a chatty, light-hearted way, but her story is not a romantic comedy: she faces moral dilemmas, heartache, and difficult choices. You may laugh with her at times, but you’ll also cry with and for her as she tries to make the best of what life throws her way.

Excerpt:

Friday 4 January

New Year, new blog!

I’m not sure who I’m writing this for, but Hayley said on Facebook that everyone’s doing it so I thought I’d give it a go. Plus, given how things ended with Gavin, and seeing as I’ve actually made NY resolutions this year, it might be a good idea to give myself somewhere to record my feelings and then I can look back later and see how I’m doing.

For the time being, I’m keeping this blog private. I need somewhere to put down my thoughts and feelings without anyone reading them, or trying to offer advice or anything like that. I need to just get things out of my head, and hopefully seeing my thoughts in black and white in front of me might make it easier to work out what I’m doing and where I’m going. I need to get on with my life, and hopefully this blog will help me work out some plans for the future. I’ve already got a few –

New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Lose weight – at least 1 stone

2. Pay bills on time – no more arrears!

3. Stop biting nails

4. Finish NVQ

5. Save for trip to New York

6. Remember birthdays – buy birthday book

7. Join the gym

Nothing earth-shattering there, but it’s a start!

I’ve finally written my letter to Gavin’s mum and told her the truth about what happened, rather than Gavin’s edited version of it. I only posted it on Monday so with the usual seasonal back-log and the Bank Holiday she probably hasn’t got it yet, but I feel so much better about it all now – writing it all down was very cathartic. I think I can even forgive him now, too, which is new. Hopefully this means that I’m moving on.

I still fancy Jamie like mad. I know he’s married and it’s obvious he adores his wife and their little girl, but a girl can look, can’t she? I wish I didn’t find him so attractive – I get all flustered when he’s around, and I know it’s never going to go anywhere, so it’s a complete waste of time – but he’s just so bloody gorgeous. He came in wearing a new red jumper yesterday and I couldn’t take my eyes off him – had to take myself off to the laundry room to clear my head. Lisa said he’d had it for Xmas, and she said he had a lovely new aftershave on too but I didn’t let myself get close enough to get a whiff …. might have lost control if I had.

Christmas and New Year seem to have flown by in a flash, even with the two weeks I had off. Coming back to work yesterday I felt like I hadn’t been away! The Xmas party was good, but I was gutted that J wasn’t there. I know he doesn’t do those things, but I’d hoped he might have had a change of heart. He said yesterday that his little girl had been poorly on New Year’s Eve so I don’t suppose he got to do much then either, even at home. Darren snatched a kiss under the mistletoe; nice kisser, nice looker, but he’s not J. [sigh] <- I wish this thing had the little smiley faces and things that you get with MSN!

Work is going fine. The kids we’ve got at the moment are a rowdy bunch but they’re no trouble really and we’re all working really well together now that Maxine has left. We’ve all come to realise what a negative affect she’d had on us as a team, and Jamie made a point of telling us to not keep worries to ourselves again like we’d been doing. He’s so good – so much better than Barry was as a manager – and so lovely with it. The only downside is that Vinnie now thinks he should be Deputy Manager and he’s a bit grumpy that that’s not happened, but I’m sure J and the Area Director (AD for short) will be doing something about that. Not sure I want V as DM, to be honest – he’s too bossy as it is – but hey ho it’s not for me to decide.

With it being Friday I worked the late shift today, so no drinks night for me tonight. I’m not that bothered, if I’m honest – I’m sure if I cut down on booze it will help with the weight loss plan, and it’s mostly talk about work stuff that’s already been talked about during the day, and I’m usually just sitting there wishing that Jamie would join us. The fact that he’s a devoted family man does nothing to detract me from lusting over him. I am a bad, bad woman.

I’m off to bed now. I bought a new duvet and cover at lunch time, and it’s all soft and snuggly. I will NOT think about snuggling under there with J ……

Wednesday 16 January

I’ve been resisting the urge to write about Jamie every day. Every time I’ve sat down to write something new here, the only thing that’s come to mind has been some thought or ‘news’ of him, and I really need to not go there. But … I’ve been booked on a training course on 31st January …. and J will be going too! He’s offered to drive, and Lisa, Ben and I will go with him. I’ll have to make B or L sit in the front. It’s a full day training course (9 – 4.30) so including the drive there and back I’ll get nearly nine hours with him. Will I be able to concentrate?????

Gavin’s mum rang me on Sunday. She was lovely, and she said she’d suspected that G had been glossing over things. Bastard. We talked for ages, not just about him, and she said I sounded so much happier now. Bless her.

Hayley says I should be nice to Darren and go out with him. She doesn’t know about my feelings for J. No-one does (although I think Lisa might suspect).

Sunday 27 January

The Burns Night do at the Pig and Whistle on Friday was brilliant. We’d tried to persuade J to come, him being Scottish and all, but he declined. I was going to say ‘declined graciously’ because he did, as always, but how bloody besotted does that make me sound? I’m rolling my eyes at myself. We had a great time, though, and I’ve even discovered a liking for haggis!

I can’t remember how it came up, but Ben said that J’s family still live in Scotland, and his dad’s got Alzheimer’s. It made me think of Mum, and I got a bit tearful, and Ben was so sweet and apologetic, bless him. Why are all the nice ones unavailable?

Tuesday 29 January

Lucy rang from the airport while I was at work this morning, reminding me that all her hotel and excursion details are on that email she sent me last week. She sounded so excited, and I just wish I was going with her. Roll on August and the trip to New York 🙂 We got a bit tearful when she was saying goodbye though – four weeks is a long time for her to be away on her own and even if she is older than me I still worry about her travelling alone. I made her promise to ring me every time she changes hotel.

Saturday 2 February

OMG! Training day on Thursday was fantastic! The training was actually quite interesting and I learned a lot, but more importantly I got to talk with J outside of our normal work environment and it was lovely. Not just me, obviously – we were quite a big group and at lunch-time we all ate together – but there were a couple of times when it was just me and him talking and I didn’t get all flustered like I normally do, so that’s progress.

This is what I’ve learned about the very delicious J.A.MacD:

– He grew up near Glasgow and went to Glasgow Uni. That’s where he met his wife.

– He was a Social Worker before he came to work for our charity, and he started with us as a project co-ordinator and has worked his way up to manager. He’s been with us for 3 years.

– He was promoted to manager at our project last May, so he’d only been there for three months before I started. I thought it was longer.

– He likes music and dancing and cycling and low-budget films and reading. (This made me swoon.)

– His favourite meal is chicken arrabiatta which he can make from scratch (another swoon).

– His middle name is Alasdair (swanky!) and he’s 36 (37 in April but I don’t know the date)

– He smelt bloody lovely – Obsession for Men

New Beginnings, by Johanna Nield
Available at:
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