Cover reveal and pre-order!

A Stranger Like Me is on pre-order and will release June 1st! Order here!

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The idea for this story has been around for a couple of decades… My mom and I were both attending college back in 1998, and she kept seeing a girl that looked just like me. She’d see me, but when she got closer, she’d realize it wasn’t me.

Since then, I’ve been told by other people that they saw my lookalike in Ireland or Scotland, or they met were sure I had to be related to so-and-so.

And that’s what triggered the idea of what would happen if you ran into your twin sister one day? It’s always sounded like a fun story, and this novel developed into so much more. Angie is dark and complex, and spends her time with a quirky, giant dog named Galaxy–who is her own fun part of the story. Vivi is perky and enjoying her summer as she runs a women’s boutique with her mother.

Oh, you may have noticed a new author name — Kristen Chaney is for my mystery novels, so I also rebranded A Stranger in my Bed under this name.

Here’s more about the book:

A Stranger Like Me Cover

A Stranger Like Me 

It wasn’t who Angie expected to see leaning out from behind a bookshelf.

It was…someone who looked exactly like her.

A pair of questioning blue eyes stared back at her, out of the same heart-shaped face that Angie saw in the mirror every day. No makeup like her. Same light brown, wavy hair, except a little longer and parted in the middle instead of the side. Same height. Same everything.

They blinked at each other for what felt like a full minute before the other woman finally spoke.

“Is Natasha in trouble?”

The words surprised Angie. She’d actually forgotten why she was there—while staring at a copy of herself—but the question jolted her back into work mode. She needed something else to focus on, something to do to get around this crazy thing.

“No…” She took a small step toward her. “But her family is worried about her. Can I have a minute of your time?”

* * *

Private investigator Angie Duval lives in her RV with her over-sized, furry best friend and partner, Galaxy. She found Galaxy abandoned as a puppy out in the Eastern Oregon desert. She’s in Eugene now to locate a missing teen when she runs into herself–or, a mirror image of herself.

Her newly discovered twin sister is named Vivi Leavitt, a school counselor who co-owns a women’s boutique and bookstore with her mother.

Vivi is a perky bookworm, so basically Angie’s identical twin and complete opposite. Or so she thinks at first.

For most twins separated at birth, it’s awesome to find the other one. But these two both know they weren’t adopted. It doesn’t make sense, except that they were lied to. Angie’s mom passed away a year ago, leaving only questions.

Angie has a teen to find, who is apparently hanging with a man who calls himself Demon, so she can’t drop everything and dig into her birth situation. In fact, she’s worked hard to forget her childhood and wants to walk away from this too…except she can’t. So suddenly she has two cases, and one’s a little too personal.

Angie and Vivi don’t like what they find when they start investigating their parents, and the case with Candice gets complicated too.

The twins want to know why they were separated and lied to…but at the same time, they don’t. However, it’s starting to look like whatever happened is bigger than just them.

* * *

Order your Kindle Copy here! Releasing June 1 in Kindle Unlimited.






This book is writing itself!

Happy 2019! I realized it’s about time to post an update, lol. What have you been up to? I’ve been immersed in art and freelance writing, although I haven’t worked on a novel until recently. Several ideas have been simmering on the back burner, but I held off, waiting for a spark, what I call those have-to-write ideas that grip me and make me write them. Those, incidentally, are also the novels readers really love.

So, I waited. And almost a year passed, and I kept telling myself, I’m an author. An good idea will come. A great idea will come. Because in the past, I would get great ideas all the time.

I’m so glad I waited instead of trying to grind out a novel that I wasn’t obsessed about writing. Now I’m 20,000 words into a first draft, and the words are flowing like I’m retelling a story I know by heart. But at the same time, I’m discovering it as I go.

I’m calling it A Stranger Like Me.

The story centers around Angie Duval, a private investigator of sorts, who comes to Eugene to locate a missing teen, 16 year old Candace. (She’s a pro but she also helps people that no one else wants to help.) She’s following a lead when she runs into herself–or, a mirror image of herself. Her newly discovered twin is named Vivi Leavitt, a school counselor who co-owns a women’s boutique slash bookstore with her mother.

Angie’s a loner who lives in her RV. Her family is Galaxy, a dog she found abandoned as a puppy out in the Eastern Oregon desert. Vivi is a perky bookworm, so basically Angie’s identical twin and complete opposite. Or so she thinks at first.

For most twins separated at birth, it’s awesome to find the other one. But these two both know they weren’t adopted. It doesn’t make sense, except that they were lied to. Angie’s mom passed away a year ago, leaving only questions.

Angie has a teen to find, who is apparently hanging with a man who calls himself Demon, so she can’t drop everything and dig into her birth situation. In fact, she’s worked hard to forget her childhood and wants to walk away from this too…except she can’t. So suddenly she has two cases, and one’s a little too personal.

Angie and Vivi don’t like what they find when they start investigating their parents, and the case with Candace gets complicated too.

The twins want to know why they were separated and lied to…but at the same time, they don’t. However, it’s starting to look like whatever happened is bigger than just them.

*So that’s the story so far. I can’t wait to share the rest of the story with you!

99 Cent Romances for the Holidays!

beverage blur candy candy cane
Merry Christmas! 

Warm greetings and holiday wishes for this Christmas!

The outside of my house is lit up and twinkly…now to add the Christmas tree, hopefully soon!

We don’t have to wait for holiday specials…

My married romance Point Hope is on a holiday special this month for 99 cents, plus you get a $3 credit toward a future ebook purchase. (It’s an Amazon promotion with some restrictions, see the book page for details.)

You can get my other romances at 99 cents too, including:

A Cowboy for Christmas

More Than Memories

Embers of Hope

Check out my Amazon Page to see all of my specials!



candle celebration christmas christmas decoration
May your season by cheery and bright! 

Birds and bees oh my

20180616_152045.jpgI got a bit buried this year, finishing my novel and working on some big yard projects. And, you know, all that life stuff that keeps happening!

Birds and bees… it’s actually bees and chickens in my backyard, but that didn’t sound as catchy. And technically there’s also cute little birds that flutter through the garden. Dragonflies that zoom through the yard. And a very healthy population of ladybugs.

We had lots of ladybugs, attracted by some aphids in our plum tree, and then we decided to buy some for the garden. Thanks to these little hungry bugs, there’s hardly any aphids left.

The good bugs all seem to get along fine. There’s a few paper wasps that hover around, visiting or chewing on the wooden fence. People say wasps are mean but these seem social. One had a tiny hive inside the handle of my shovel. I used the shovel all day before finding it. The hive maker had hovered around without ever stinging or bugging me.

These are my honey bees, “bearding” on the outside of the hive to cool off on a warm, humid day. You can see a few in the air too.


Honey bees are fascinating. They have guards, foragers, nurses, and “undertakers” who clean out the hive. There’s boy bees called drones that lounge around until it’s time to fly out and look for the mating track, where they hope to spot a virgin queen bee. They have huge eyes to assist them, and no stinger because they needed room for, emm, other equipment. That means you can pick them up. I’m not sure what they think about that!

You can actually let just about any honey bee crawl around on your hand and they’ll be friendly. They hang out with me in the garden, sometimes sitting on a plant or crawling around on the ground.

If you find a honey or bumble bee sitting around like it’s tired, it just might be. They work hard! You can give them sugar water in a teaspoon for some extra energy so they can make it back to their hive. They fly up to three miles and spend the day collecting pollen.

We built landscaping boxes and a tiny pond, which has a trickling waterfall. (The photo is before I got the pond clean and full, and the waterfall going.) When it got hot the other day, the bees were landing on it to drink. I made tiny little ponds in the garden for them, but they really liked the water dripping down the rocks.


Oh, here’s my funny chickens. Flower Pot is yellow and the boss lady.


Raptor is the speckled yellow/reddish one. Penguin is black, and in the back you can see Houdini the escape artist. I still don’t know how she gets through the fence from the chicken yard to the patio area. The picture has a glare because I took it through my window by my writing desk. They like to come say hi during the day.

Here’s Flower Pot eyeing a plum. If you’re wondering about her name, my boyfriend’s son Jensen was 6 when he named her, and used his grandma’s suggestion to use a flower name. You gotta love kids!


If you’re wondering if my urban farming is inspiring any story ideas…it is!

I was working on an idea about a woman running a small farm, but I knew it needed more than that. Or she needed more than that, like a big secret she’s desperate to hide and a big present day problem. The plot is in my head, so I plan to start jotting down notes on my camping trip. It’ll be fun when there’s more to the story and I can share!

I did get in some painting this year. This one is 2 by 4 feet, oil on board, and ended up decorating the wall above our coat rack.


The big one was inspired by a smaller one I did on canvas.


I practiced more ocean waves…and have a painting in mind for another board, so hopefully I get to do that one this summer.

In other news, my youngest son Caleb graduated 8th grade! My three kids are all bigger than me, although my 18 year old daughter only has 1/2 an inch to brag about.


My sons are both 5’8″ even though they’re two years apart. I could’a had twins and saved myself a pregnancy!  (Ben, behind them, is 6’3″ and 14 too. His legs are pretty much as tall as all of me…)


I’m excited for this summer. It feels like I’ve done a lot of summer things already…in my backyard! But I’m so happy with how well the garden is doing so far, along with the raspberries, grapes, and plums. There’s so much to learn, and then more to learn, about gardening, landscaping, chickens, and bees, and I love that!

One final photo… Here’s a shot of one of the little bumble bees that liked the flowers out front in May. There were little and big orange-bottom bees that visited the Rhoadies.


Happy adventuring, and reading too of course!




Freebies to celebrate my new release!

I wanted to celebrate summer and my new novel, Say Yes, with a few freebies–these are free across Smashwords, Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.

If you haven’t read Say Yes yet, you can check it out on my home page or my blog, where you can also read about new audiobooks and adult coloring books.

The first ebook freebie below, Embers of Hope, is an emotional women’s fiction and love story, much like Say Yes.

The Cowboy Kiss is a fun and flirty novella–those are always fun for summer reading!

And the last one, The Enemy’s Son, is a novel that began a long time ago. I wrote the very first version way back in high school and called it Wilderness Love. (Wasn’t I cute?)  It evolved through many editions as I learned to write.

Yes, I know they say not to publish your first novel. It wasn’t, actually. Before that, I wrote one about a group of kids stranded on a tropical island (The Island Tribe, lol) and then another about a young girl and her brother who were kidnapped by pirates. The pirate story went through countless editions as well. Sometimes Sara and her brother escaped…and as I got a little older she fell in love with the pirate captain and saved him.

Those were fun times, writing for the love of writing. I still strive to do that, because if I don’t love my characters and story lines, readers won’t either.

Happy reading, and please share!  🙂


EMBERS OF HOPE – Book 1,  Second Gift Series     

A single mom trying to start over, even as her friends desperately need her help.

Savanna dreaded telling her family and friends about her failed marriage so much that she hid it while living in another state. But she can’t stay away when her best friend Cassie loses her husband, who dies on duty as a firefighter. Savanna quickly returns home to help, longing to find herself again and make a home for her daughter. She meets Mike’s best friend, Jason, the man who talked him into staying with the department just before the fatal fire. He’s also the man who once saved Savanna’s life. Though hurting herself, something deep inside her won’t let her walk away. Jason needs her but she’s off limits on so many levels. She’s falling for this handsome firefighter but he confuses her to no end, and she could lose her best friend over him.

Kindle       Smashwords            Barnes & Noble              iBooks


The Cowboy Kiss  – a novella

The Cowboy Kiss by Kristen James

She’s a cutting-edge travel blogger—he’s a fishing guide with strong ties to their small hometown.

She thought they were arch enemies—he always thought they’d end up together.

Autumn grew up in her parents’ fishing resort in backwoods Oregon, listening to wild travel stories from around the world. Now she’s broken free and living her dream as a travel blogger, that is until her mom talks her into coming home and writing a blog about the Rugged Resort. Autumn’s very surprised to find Cory still there. He was the thorn in her side growing up, and now he’s buddy-buddy with her parents. She plans to write her blog and hit the road, but Cory has other ideas.

(For other retailers, just use the links below for my page on each site.)


The Enemy’s Son   (Updated cover!)

The Enemys Son - eBook Cover - Kristen James - 3Cora discovers her father is in trouble… and the only person who can help her is the enemy’s son, Nick Holloway.

Her father couldn’t have stolen a million dollars, so how is he going to replace it? In one week?

Nick is ordered to take Cora out into the wilderness to a remote cabin to keep her father in line. He claims he wants to help Cora and says he’s deceiving the Hollways to keep her safe…but what if he’s playing both sides? He could be using her attraction to him against her. Cora can’t allow herself to trust Nick, no matter how sexy he is.

Nick isn’t the only one offering to help. Alexander Pierce could scare the devil but he can also track down anyone in a day. He warns Cora that if she wants to find her father alive, he’s the way. Is it possible both Nick and Alexander have secret feelings for her? With her dad’s life on the line, she might have to play her own little game.

Soon she’s running from her feelings for Nick, running from creepy Alexander and the rest of the Holloways, and trying to find her father somewhere in the city of Eugene. To make matters worse, everyone thinks she has access to the missing money.

The clock is ticking…


Check out my books on:                  

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Say Yes paperback is out & Kindle is releasing May 31!!

Happy almost summer!

I’ve been super busy in my garden and yard, and playing with chickens and bees. The chickens are a year old and entertaining. I brought the bees home yesterday so it’s been an adventure! I drove across town with a hive of buzzing bees and carried them into the backyard. The hive (box) was sealed for the trip, and then I had to open the door for them. So far the bees are sweeties and have been exploring the yard.

I’ll have to start blogging about chickens, bees, and adventures in the garden!

I’ve also been getting Say Yes ready for publication.

The paperback is out now, if you like reading a physical copy, and the Kindle ebook will be out on May 31.

The Smashwords edition releases June 7, along with other retailers, because I couldn’t move that release date up.

I’m so excited to share this story with you.

Lily and Breandan are at odds, but they’re married and love each other. It makes things complicated. Life is actually complicated with issues at work and with her best friend.

It’s a story about personal growth, friendship, and marriage. So it’s a mix of romance and women’s fiction. I so hope you enjoy it!

You can read more on my home page and of course on Amazon here.


SAY YES First Chapter Preview

SAY YES, a story of love, life, friendship, and bouncing back

Chapter One 

Seven years ago when we were dating, I once joked to Breandan that one of my life goals was to have a garage and actually park in it. Everyone fills it with junk and parks outside!

After we got married and bought our loudly purple, contemporary Victorian-style house five years ago, he emptied all the boxes from the garage within a week and moved my car inside. Back then, he called me the Lady of the Castle. A little castle, but it did look like my own tiny castle, and I loved it.

For several years, I always smiled when I went into the garage and got into my car, thinking how much my husband loved me. Today as we got into his Jeep together, I didn’t. It’d been hard to find anything to smile about the last year, and I was thinking about dinner with our friends, who had invited us over for dinner on a Monday night out of the blue.

We had both just gotten home, freshened up, and then jumped in his Jeep to head across Eugene. I had pulled on a pale green lacy T-shirt dress, which I liked because it seemed fancy and casual at the same time. With a shiver, I realized the dress probably wasn’t warm enough for a March evening in Oregon but it was a bit late to change.

Breandan noticed my shiver and turned on my seat warmer as we left our neighborhood, a cluster of houses on a small hill, nestled under tall evergreens. His freshly applied Vince Camuto cologne tickled my nose, a light sophisticated scent. It made me think of the year after we met, our last year of college. He wore a green long sleeve shirt that I liked on him.

“How did it go with that house?” I asked, meaning the house he was thinking about buying. He owned a small real estate company and invested in properties. He had gone to Florence on the coast today to look at a two story home that he wanted to buy in order to rent out as a vacation house. “You were super excited about it yesterday.”

“Well…” He blew out his breath as he made a turn. He use to tell funny stories about his nerdy-hipster business partner Jerry talking with the coffee pot in his hand and accidentally smashing it against a corner. A few years ago, he would have launched into something like that, letting his Irish accent out in full force.

Breandan McKee was the most charming, handsome, fun man I had ever met…and fell in love with and married. The man melted hearts with a look. With his thick, loosely wavy hair and distinctive nose, he looked like Patrick Dempsey from  in Gray’s Anatomy (but with lighter hair) who played Derek Shepherd, or Dr. Dreamy. That really fit Breandan, so much so that for a long time I thought the actor was Irish too.

We used to joke about it. He moved his hand on the steering wheel and my gaze caught on his wedding band. That made it hurt all the worse now. He didn’t know, of course. I was the one who changed.

“It needs a lot of work, too much to make it worth my while,” he said with a disappointed shrug. When he looked over, his light blue eyes weren’t sparkling.

“Darn. That sucks.”

“Yeah, it goes that way sometimes. I saw a few others but they weren’t priced right. It’ll happen eventually.” With each sentence, his voice lifted. Breandan was one to bounce back from things quickly.

He loved what he did for a living, working with his quirky friend Jerry, who had been his next door neighbor in high school. They sold houses the traditional way as real estate agents, flipped houses, and invested in properties too. We had one duplex that we kept and rented out, and Breandan had ideas about buying vacation and rental houses on the coast. Then we’d have them available to us too.

I wanted a smile, to see his face crinkle.

Breandan wasn’t talkative today. Maybe he was working on a new real estate  deal and running numbers. That usually took up his attention.

We passed  a family on the sidewalk, the mom and dad herding the two children toward the crosswalk button. The little girl wore a yellow raincoat, and her even smaller brother toddled along in an oversized winter coat. The dad had a baby carrier strapped to his front with a baby that was too little to see.

“That family’s so cute,” I murmured, sneaking a look his way to see if he noticed them, and if he smiled. We had agreed we didn’t want our own children, way back when we first got serious. He couldn’t have children, actually. I pushed past that thought as I looked back at the family.

Breandan looked their way and gave a light chuckle. The mom was catching the boy as he started for the road with a tiny finger pointed straight ahead at something very intriguing.

“And very busy, by the looks of it.” Breandan turned right onto Ether Street and asked, “Did you get that new client?” He glanced at the dash between us and pushed the button to turn on my seat warmer, something he usually did when I got in his vehicle.

Warmth tingled through me but it was short lived. Did he know which client? It was a pretty safe question given I take on new marketing clients often. This client would be big—Gary Fulton was a local author that had hit some sudden success. If we brought him on and took his sales to the next level, I’d have real numbers to show other authors. It could be a huge market for me.

I owned a growing marketing company, something that used to make me excited to get up in the morning. That excitement had withered in the last year, something I hadn’t fully acknowledged until recently. At first, I wrote it off to mourning my mom, but things still weren’t getting better.

He followed the question up with a glance, longer than usual. It’s hard not to stare at those crystal blue eyes of his, even after all our time together, and even when they don’t look all that excited about me.

“Fulton sounds excited to work with me, but he wanted the night to think about it. He might be afraid of all this sudden success,” I explained, and went on about how the client’s books were selling way better than he thought they would. I knew I could take him to the next level, if I could get him on board.

I couldn’t tell if Breandan was listening so I stopped talking. He looked over again, an eyebrow raised. Suddenly I lacked the motivation to tell him more, and just then the song on the radio ended and the DJ announced an accident on the Beltline expressway.

Breandan listened since we were headed that way, but he drove past the onramp to take another route. We drove down the highway for three miles with a voice murmuring from the radio.

As we neared Cici and Derek’s house, Breandan turned the radio down and asked, “Have you talked to Cici lately? Seems like you don’t talk to her all that much anymore.”

I sighed, ashamed to answer, “No, not too recently.” Cici and I were roommates in college and best friends ever since. In my mind, we still were, but I needed to update that label. We had drifted apart over the last year as she and Derek started talking more and more about starting a family. It hurt to think about it.

I tried to recall the last time I’d spoken to either of them but couldn’t. Breandan has a remarkable memory for dates and information. We were coming up on their house. It sat on the corner in a newer neighborhood of salmon, off white, and tan colored houses. Their peach house had a white porch railing with blooming rhododendron bushes nestled around it, making it look like a perfect Thomas Kincaid painting.

Our modern but Victorian style home had been painted a very loud and bold purple when we bought it. I toned it down to lavender with white accents. When we were house hunting, we’d been looking for something unique, and I fell in love with the house on sight.

We parked in their driveway since their vehicles were both inside the garage.

“Why do you ask?” I got out and waited on my side.

He hesitated while glancing toward the door. Then he shrugged.

“Just curious,” he said over the top of the car.  Did he think Derek and Cici had a reason for inviting us over?

Now, not only did I feel guilty for letting my friendship with Cici slide, I also felt like I didn’t know what was going on with her. I followed his lead and walked to the house, my mind reaching back to last spring to when my mother died. I’d come to call it “the before” since that’s when things changed for me.

This wasn’t related. Sometimes I over-think things, like some little comment Breandan made, or I project my life onto others and end up at weird conclusions. I was starting to think I’m not the most mentally healthy person.

We weren’t to the front door yet when it swung open.

“Hey there!” Derek flashed a wide smile, his teeth looking extra white against his tan skin. Working in the woods gave him an advantage there. It also made his thick, blond hair curly and windswept. He wore a brown shirt that looked soft to the touch with tan cargo pants, which he seemed to live in. I suspected he had twenty pairs.

“Derek!” I stepped into his open arms for a quick hug. He smelled like soap from the shower layered over a woodsy aroma which I didn’t mind. Then he patted Breandan on the back as we stepped into the entryway, a quaint space with a padded bench, hooks for coats, and a large shelf. Derek had built it for Cici because she didn’t like the front door opening into the living room.

We hung our coats and followed him into the living room, which looked different from what I remembered. It was a spacious and tidy space, painted in a soothing cream, and decorated with vases of silk flowers in soft colors except for the contrasting purple blooms. The starker color accented the room, bringing it together. Two large windows with mauve drapes gave the room a soft glow, but I couldn’t remember if the drapes had been lighter before or not.

Then I realized, they had replaced the two darker green couches with a sofa, loveseat and recliner, all in a faded, soft green nestled around a low wooden coffee table. It had bowed legs, making me think of a table from Beauty and the Beast, like it might start walking.

A hallway to the right led off towards the bedrooms and office, and ahead of us the dining area sat next to the kitchen in an open layout.

Freshly baked bread scented the air, which made me think of a trick Breandan used for showing houses. When he had open house days, he’d bake store-bought cookie dough to make the house feel like a home.

“The steaks are on the grill already,” Derek said. “You guys hungry?”

Before we could answer, Cici came down the hallway. “Breandan! Lily Ann!” She hugged us both. “I’m so glad you could come over. It’s been too long.”

“I know! We were just talking about you guys and wondering how you’re doing,” I said, noting how they were both extra beamy today. Apparently they were doing well. They shared a glowy-eyed look, and I started to turn toward Breandan but we both looked away from each other. He turned his attention to a rustic and misty farmhouse painting on the wall—I was sure it was Cici’s work but one that I hadn’t seen yet.

We’re not close like that anymore. This wasn’t a new realization but it was the first time I had let myself fully face it, and I knew Breandan was turning that fact over in his mind too.   

“Hon, you better go check those!” Cici said suddenly, breaking what could have built up into an awkward moment. Derek immediately headed out the back slider with Breandan on his heels.

“Did you curl your hair? It looks really good like that.” She tilting her head to admire it.

I ran a hand down my dark brown hair. “I got layers actually, and it’s doing it on its own.”

“Lucky! And you have such thick hair to start with.”

I did have that going for me. It’d had gotten long too, even with getting the layers cut in a week ago. It was nice having my hair looked more styled without having to actually style it. I wasn’t what you’d call a girly-girl who spent a lot of time on makeup, and Breandan had always seemed to like my more natural look anyway.

“You know everyone loves your shiny hair,” I told her as we walked into the kitchen. She’d always disliked her cornsilk hair, saying it was flat. But it was so super soft and shiny, and looked really cute in the bob she always wore. Mine was coarse and loved to get flyaways.

She touched her hair with a shy smile. Cici doesn’t know how adorable she can be.

“It smells delicious in here,” I said,  breathing in the warm, toasty bread aroma. It almost made me hungry.

“I’ve been sniffing the bread while it bakes, and now I’m starving! I can’t believe how much I’ve been eating lately.” She took down a glass from the wine rack and poured the Barbera red wine for me. “You still like this one?”

“Of course. Thanks.”

We’d discovered it together on a tour of several local vineyards about three years before—that had been a fun day.

“I’m just going to throw the salad together and then I think dinner is ready.” She looked like she wanted to say more, but Derek and Breandan were already coming back in, a platter of steaks in Derek’s hands.

“Lily,” Breandan said, tilting his head back toward the door, “that red velvet rose bush is in bloom.”

“This early?” Last time we were here, Cici told me about it and I’d been wanting to see the roses for myself. I took my wine with me and walked out back. It was gorgeous. Half a dozen almost-black-red roses were in full bloom with several more in bud. I couldn’t help myself from rubbing a few of the soft petals.

Before going back in, I gulped half my glass of wine. I couldn’t pinpoint why tonight was hard, but I felt heavy, like I just wanted to go home. It was so strange. I used to love going out and seeing friends, staying up with a glass of wine and talking while the moon came up. This felt like a chore. I even felt sad about feeling sad over it, and the sadness seemed to chase itself like a dog after its tail.

With a sigh, I watched a flock of tiny black birds bounce through the budding branches of a medium sized pear, silhouetted by the baby blue sky that was starting to darken.

I couldn’t stay out in the yard, however, and went back inside to find the table set and everyone sitting down.

“Maybe we should plant some roses,” Breandan said to me. I nodded, smiling, while thinking that roses were a lot of work with pruning, deadheading, fertilizing… But he was trying to be sweet because he knows I love the feel of their soft petals.

While we ate, Cici asked me how Modern Marketing, my company, was doing and I caught her up on how I’d gotten an actual location instead of working with scattered freelancers.

“It was definitely worth it to rent a space. There are way more bills…” I paused to sip my wine, deciding to push those worries away for right now. “But there’s this great energy from having people working together in the same room.”

“Seems like it’s kept you busy,” Derek said, and while his tone was upbeat, I felt a pinch of guilt.

“I warned her,” Breandan said with a chuckle. “But it’s good to be busy to get things up and going.” He knew about starting a business after he’d grown his own real estate office with Jerry. The conversation turned to that, and I didn’t mind getting out of the spotlight.

With the attention off of me, I relaxed. I even decided as we started rich, chocolate cake for dessert, that tonight wasn’t so bad. Derek and Cici laughed so much I started to laugh with them. The tired sadness I’d been living under lifted a bit.

Cici laid her hand on Derek’s and made a little noise.

“We have a little announcement,” Derek said, his eyes swinging over to his wife as he turned his hand over to hold hers. They share an intimate, loving, close look.

My stomach bottomed out—I felt an IV of burning jealousy dripping into my system. Had I somehow expected this?

I held steady, lifting my eyebrows in polite surprise, even trying for a half smile. The chocolate cake in my mouth turned overly sweet and thick. I reached for my wine. That didn’t taste any better.

Cici had a glass of water by her plate. Somehow I had noticed that all evening without consciously seeing it.

Derek kept talking but my heartbeat covered his voice.

“Congratulations,” Breandan said, happiness seeping through his voice.

Oh, dear God in heaven, there must be a way to make it through this, because I couldn’t run out of the room like I wanted to. I pushed my face muscles in a smile and dug up the feeling of excitement, pretending I was another person in another life.

“When are you due?” I strained to get my voice up.

“August second!” She squeezed Derek’s hand. I stared at their joined hands resting on the table. “We wanted to wait till we were twelve weeks along before sharing,” she added, looking at her husband with a closeness that made another stab into me.

Wait, her due date at the very beginning of August was five months away. Less than that—like four and a half months. She was halfway through her pregnancy and she hadn’t told me yet? Because she knew Breandan and I weren’t going to have kids? Or because we weren’t talking that much?

I snuck a glance at her stomach, realizing for the first time that her bohemian shirt was loose enough to hide a growing baby bump. Was she showing, and I’d missed that too? Images came to mind from What to Expect When You’re Expecting—which I’d read at length—and made me realize how much I’d missed, how much she hadn’t shared with me.

I held a plastic smile on my face and nodded along to their conversation.

I was sick for two weeks in the morning…Didn’t realize… Derek surprised me with a test!

Can you believe she didn’t suspect?

I about fell over, I mean it! I couldn’t believe it! We weren’t even trying yet. I mean, we were talking about it…

“That’s great! Congrats again,” Breandan said with a raise of his glass. “That’s just terrific, and you both are glowing.” He turned my way to share a look with me. I glanced at him and back at them, trying to not show him anything. I didn’t want him to glimpse the molten lava churning up inside me. Maybe I could leave. Just walk to the bathroom. That wasn’t running away.

I waited as long as I could before I slowly rose. “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.” I flashed a smile at them and got two blinding grins back. I thought I pulled it off.

But as I turned the corner away from the dining area, I clutched my stomach and stumbled down the hallway to the bathroom.

I shut the door, all the while pulling in a very long breath through my nose. That didn’t stop the body shattering pain rising in me or stop my lungs from collapsing, ready to pull in air for a sob.

I won’t let myself cry.

I will not cry.

Not here!

But the pain was unbearable and I couldn’t stop. I grabbed a thick, plush purple towel off the rack and buried my face in it. My body fought me, my entire stomach straining with emotion, wanting to scream. I tried to hold back and it made me dizzy.

I slipped down onto the floor, huffing in the towel. Bottomless pain and desperation shook my entire body. My lungs strained, wanting to pull in a big breath for a scream. I pressed the towel as tightly as I could, muffling this awful sickness.

It didn’t stop the loud, quick inhale of breath. And suddenly I remembered where I was…and knew someone was standing outside the door. It had to be Breandan.

“Lily?” The door cracked open. Why hadn’t I locked it? “What on earth?”

He dropped down behind me while I wiped at my face.

“Are you crying?” His voice wasn’t annoyed, just really surprised. Of course he’d be surprised.

I shook my head, still facing away, and felt his hand on my shoulder.

“Please, Lil, talk to me.”

There wasn’t any way to explain this away except the truth. It would hurt him. It would slice through him to know I wanted something he could never give me. I was still gasping but managed to get the words out in between. “I…want…a…baby.”

His hand fell away. I still didn’t look at him. A minute later, “What?”

We had agreed before we got married that we’d be that fun couple that traveled instead of having kids. He’d been clear that he couldn’t have kids, and he didn’t want them anyway. And I’d been okay with that, back in the Before.

“I want a baby. Breandan, I want a baby.”

I could almost hear things clicking into place in his memory. How I had been pointing out babies and families. How I spent less and less time with Cici while they talked more and more about starting a family.

“Lily… I …. I just…” His hand came back up and rubbed my back.

I sniffed, blinking, as panic hit. Here we were sitting on their bathroom floor and I was a mess. “I just need a minute. I’ll be fine. You should go visit. I don’t want to make them worry.”

He lingered while considering what to do, and then he rose. Before leaving, he squeezed my shoulder once more and shut the door behind him. Now he knew.

~ ~ ~

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