Sneak Peek! First Chapter of A Stranger Like Me

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.

* * *

Chapter One: Angie

 

Angie Duval glanced at the photo of the missing teen taped to her Winnebago’s dashboard. Had that been Candice she’d glimpsed yesterday?

The possible sighting happened at dusk. She thought it was Candice up ahead, walking with a group of teens. She had hurried to catch up when they rounded a corner and mixed into the downtown crowd. She’d followed the foot traffic for three blocks before conceding she couldn’t see anything.

Sighing, Angie tapped her fingers on the steering wheel while scratching Galaxy’s head with her other hand. “Ready for another wild goose chase?” she asked her partner and best friend.

“Raaahahhaaa!”

Galaxy was a vocal breed, although Angie wasn’t sure what breed exactly. German Shepherd ears. Husky voice. Surprising intelligence. She’d found Galaxy as a tiny gray, speckled puppy, all alone out on a desert road. The specks had looked liked stars to Angie, hence the name. The tiny fluff ball was now over a hundred pounds and had enough personality for ten dogs.

She also shed enough long dog hair for about twenty dogs.

“Alright, let’s hit the street, baby girl.” Angie moved back into the open living space of the mini RV to click Galaxy’s leash onto her collar. The giant dog jumped outside, ignoring the stairwell, and shook her long coat of hair in glee.

They set off out of the paid parking lot at the edge of downtown Eugene, Oregon. The earlier summer rain had cleared and it was a whopping seventy-five degrees, a somewhat cool day for mid June in western Oregon.

She wore her typical leggings and black T-shirt over a tank top. Hopefully it wouldn’t heat up too much, although more for Galaxy’s sake than hers.

Angie was petite and small boned, and looked young for her twenty-five years. Her wavy hair probably made her look younger still. Before, she didn’t like it, but now it helped her fit in with teens and do her job better.

A tall man with sun-streaked hair was playing a guitar on the corner. He looked a lot like those old pictures of Jesus. They nodded at each other as she passed by.

As she walked farther downtown, she passed groups of people sitting on blankets, playing drums, and passing a pipe. Clouds of pot smoke floated here and there. She tried to walk Galaxy around them, but she also needed to check their faces.

It was probably too much to hope she’d spot Candice again today, but either way, she’d keep at it. She shivered, a memory of cold, long nights on the streets creeping up her back. Focus. She had to be present and aware, always ready.

So she brought her mind back to this place and the people here. She wasn’t a stranger to Eugene, having grown up in Portland, two hours north. But city people tended to stick within their own city, in her experience.

She neared the 5th Street Saturday Market, which didn’t allow dogs into the park area. The teens usually hung around outside anyway, so she continued walking to make a few laps around the perimeter.

She checked groups of teens amidst the homeless, potheads, artisans, and market goers. People were calling downtown a cesspool, and she could see why, but she also noted a police presence and she’d heard talk about making downtown safer.

This town was much more than its problems. Eugene was a college town full of diverse students, Oregon Duck fans, professionals, and the world’s most opinionated and eco-friendly hippies. Angie identified with that last group the most. She didn’t brew beer, grow a garden, raise chickens or bees, but her aunt who lived in Southern Oregon did a lot of those.

There was community and culture here too, but it was the downtown culture that drew runaways. People from all over the country came here for the benefits. Several sources had told her that other states actually bussed homeless people here and dropped them off. Portland had a similar situation, but something really drew people to Eugene.

Was that why Candice came here?

Candice Nicole Farmington. Sixteen. Blond hair, blue eyes. Fit. The perfect target for all kinds of creeps. Older men would take her in, giddy to find a willing and naive young girl. Sex traffickers would grab her and ship her off to god knew where. Groups of teens living the streets would welcome her. Small groups liked to “join up” and pool resources, usually with some half-baked scheme about going somewhere for a festival or culture they’d heard about.

This would be her second time coming to the outdoor craft and farmer’s market for this case. She’d gotten into town last Friday, came here Saturday, and then spent the week exploring and finding out what she could—which wasn’t much so far, except that people had seen Candice, and Angie might have spotted her from behind. Too bad she hadn’t been able to catch up with her.

Having a dog helped. Everyone wanted to pet the gentle giant, and Galaxy was a real people-person. Er, people-dog.

A group of girls stood chatting by a group of shirtless drummers, and Angie slowed down. A redhead girl with pretty freckles and bright red lipstick smiled at Galaxy. “What’s her name?”

The girl looked about fourteen while others looked a little older.

“Galaxy. It seemed to fit her fur and starry eyes.”

The girl squatted down to pet the dog, followed by a few others. Galaxy gave little sniffy-kisses on the girl’s cheeks, making her giggle. They were so damn young and innocent. They were out here to have fun on a Saturday, but Angie couldn’t help but think about all the creeps preying on them.

“What kind of dog is she?”

Angie went into her dog story and then how she liked Eugene so far. How she traveled around with Galaxy, working as a photographer. She even gave them her business card—the cover business card for “Dany Davis” with Perfect Finish Photography.

“That’s so cool,” one of the older girls gushed. “I’m going to do that. Just travel the US. The world too. Maybe I’ll get a dog like this one.”

Yeah, the dog really did open doors. She kept them talking while trying to listen to the side conversations. A phrase jumped out when someone said, “that new girl.”

In the next pause, Angie said, “Hey, maybe you guys can help me out.” She pulled out the photograph. “My cousin was supposed to meet up with me here last week and I haven’t heard from her. Any of you seen her?”

She held out the photo.

“Hey, I know Natasha!”

Natasha? Good thing Angie hadn’t said her real name. “Is she doing okay?”

“I think so. I mean, she’s got a few friends. That guy Demon takes care of her.”

“Demon?” Seriously? Angie tried her hardest to keep her reaction off her face. Damn it, this case might have just gotten even more serious. According to her friends, Candice had come here with her boyfriend.

“That’s just what he goes by, but he’s a real sweetheart, really.” The girl smiled, confident in her assessment of others. It was a typical line, too. Young girls seemed to think any man that was nice to them was a good guy. They never questioned motives.

“What’s he like?” Angie asked. “Any idea why he calls himself that?”

Two girls exchanged a look and didn’t say anything. The third, the redhead who had first greeted Angie said, “Because he’s like a ghost.”

“So you don’t know what he looks like?” Angie was asking too many questions but had to try.

“Big…a lot of tattoos.”

“A dragon on his arm.” The second girl swiped a hand down her forearm as she talked.

“He might look scary…but not when he smiles.” They all nodded.

“And he’s helping Natasha?” Angie asked. “Like with a place to stay?”

The group shrugged noncommittally.

“Wonder if I could finally find her,” Angie said, almost like she was talking to herself.

“She hasn’t been around in a few days.” The redhead seemed to feel bad at their lack of information and added, “I think she likes that bookstore up on 6th. When she’s not with Demon. He’s never awake this early so she’s probably there.”

“Got a name for the bookstore?”

Three girls said three different names, Bird Song, Blue Heron, Blue Something, and one girl added, “But it has other stuff too. It’s not just a bookstore.”

Angie talked for another minute before getting away. She made a B-line back to her Winnebago and checked Google maps for bookstores, then drove up to 6th street. Galaxy loudly drained her water bowl as they drove. There was a Blue Moon Books coming up, which sounded like what the girls meant.

Before she reached the bookstore, however, Angie spotted another shop called Blue Magic Women’s Mercantile and it had a big sign exclaiming, “Books! Clothes! Coffee! Soaps and More!”

Someone was enthusiastic about their offerings.

She pulled into the parking lot—it had “more than books” so it felt like a good start. She turned off the RV, refilled Galaxy’s water, opened the side windows to let a breeze through, and went into the shop.

The aroma of coffee and pastries met her, along with…fruit? She spotted signs for handcrafted soap, explaining that last smell. It had everything promised on the outside sign and more.

It was a cute shop, but would a runway teenage girl hang out here? Still, she was here, so she went with the direct route and approached a guy who looked her age or a little younger at the register. He was digging around like he was looking for something.

Seeing a male working in this store seemed a bit odd. He had brown hair and stubble along his haw, and when he looked up, a smoldering gaze.

“Hey there,” she greeted, pulling up a warm smile.

He straightened, and she read “Cole” on his nametag before noticing that he was staring at her in shock. His eyebrows came down slowly as his expression turned confused and suspicious. On edge now, she wondered how he’d been alerted that she might stop by.

“I’m looking for my cousin,” she started, thrown by his expression. “And I heard she comes here a lot. A young girl that goes by Natasha.” She had the photo ready and showed it to him.

“Vivi?” he asked…but he also seemed like he was calling out the name. She couldn’t tell if he was talking to her or something else. Was Candice going by both Natasha and Vivi? His gaze shifted over toward the window, then back at her, and then darted back and forth.

Was Candice—Natasha—in the shop?

Angie planned to back up slowly and spot her. Offer her money to talk. But as she backed up, Cole’s eyes kept darting back and forth, and she couldn’t stop herself. She turned to look.

It wasn’t who she 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.

“You know her?” She took a small step toward her. “Her family is worried about her. Can I have a minute of your time?”

“Uh, yeah. Of course. Would you like to sit down?” She waved towards a small table, then met Angie half way there. “I’m Vivi.” She held out her hand.

“Dany,” Angie said her fake name, taking Vivi’s hand in a firm but not too strong handshake. They were studying each other but Angie didn’t want to be the one to say it out loud. They sat down and Vivi asked Cole to bring them coffee.

Vivi wore a long dress—like a coverall dress over a long-sleeved shirt that made Angie think of her arts and craft teacher from third grade. It was like seeing the bookworm version of herself.

“So about Natasha?” Vivi asked.

Angie pulled out the photograph, noticing a tremor in her hand. “Is this the Natasha you know?”

Vivi nodded. “Is she okay?” she asked again.

“When did you last see her?”

“A few days ago. Ah…Wednesday. You said you’re her cousin?”

Cole slowly set two mugs of coffee down as he looked back and forth between them. “So…. Vivi, you never mentioned that you have a twin.”

She gave him an odd expression, something you’d expect a teacher to do to silence a student. He slid backwards and returned behind the counter. It wasn’t any less awkward with him over there.

“Do you know how to reach her?” Angie pressed. “This is time sensitive.”

“Why?”

Angie drummed her fingers on the table, then wrapped her hands around the mug to stop her nervous habit. “Listen, I’m going to level with you.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Vivi said dryly.

Angie wasn’t sure how to take that.

“I’m not her cousin. I’m a private investigator. Her mother hired me to find her and make sure she’s okay. She’s sixteen, and her name is Candice Farmington, but apparently she’s going by Natasha and running around with a guy named Demon.”

Demon? Seriously?”

“That’s what I thought. But yeah, that’s what he calls himself. The girls downtown assured me he’s a real sweetheart.” They shared a raised-eyebrow look before Angie continued. “Candice left Boise a month ago, without leaving a note or anything. She packed clothes, so the police are treating it as a runaway case. They’re not doing much outside of sending out her photo. She told her friends that she wanted to come to Eugene with her boyfriend Regan. He might be out of the picture already.”

Vivi leaned back with a thoughtful look on her face. So weird to watch someone with the same face!

“She’s brought a few different girls with her, but mostly she comes alone during the day. I don’t mind teenagers hanging out here, especially if they’re reading. She likes the beanbag in the back corner.”

“She seemed okay to you?”

“Yes, she did.” Vivi shrugged. “I mean, she seemed a little lonely. We talked sometimes but she’s never told me anything too personal.”

Angie leaned back too, and took a drink of her coffee, sweetened with cream and sugar. She pulled a small notepad out of her pocket. “Can you write down any names you remember? Days and times she came by? Any details at all?”

Vivi nodded and pulled the notepad over, mumbling, “I could show you how to take digital notes.”

Luckily Vivi didn’t see Angie’s expression. Of course she could take notes on her phone and then add them to her case file on her laptop—but she found it was useful to have people write down what they remembered on paper. It triggered more information.

Plus, she used the writing trick so she could have a few minutes to notice more details about the person or place while they were distracted.

While Vivi wrote, Angie glanced around at the small coffee shop in the corner, the wall of homemade jewelry, a section of homemade soaps, shelves of books, and a clothing section.

“My mom hand makes the soaps and lotions in small batches,” Vivi said, sliding the notepad back over. “This is our store. I’m also a school counselor.”

“Ah, you look the part,” Angie said, mentally comparing Vivi’s long dress to her own black leggings and black T-shirt. Vivi didn’t seem to take offense at it.

“Are you from around here?” Vivi asked.

“No.” She nodded toward the RV out the window. “That’s home.”

Vivi turned to look, and Angie glanced too because she wanted to check on Galaxy, who stood proudly in the middle of the front RV window. She looked like a wolf…except for her big doggie smile and that giant tongue hanging out the side of her mouth.

“Oh my goodness! Look at your dog! What’s his name?”

“Her name is Galaxy.”

“Does she need some water? A treat?” Vivi was on her feet, and as weird as it felt, they went outside together and Angie let Galaxy out, thinking, this might be interesting.

Galaxy didn’t stop and do a double take. She treated Vivi like any new person, standing up on her back feet, sniffing, vocalizing all kinds of weird doggie talk. Vivi pulled a treat from an oversized pocket on her skirt.

“What kind of dog is she?” Vivi asked without looking up.

“A mix of Shepherd and Husky, as far as I can tell, and maybe some other large breeds. I found her abandoned out on Highway 97 in the middle of last winter. I had no idea she’d get so big.”

“Someone dumped her? Poor baby. Yes you are. Poor puppy. But you sure look happy now!” Vivi dissolved into baby talk and giggles as Galaxy nuzzled her neck and sniffed her all over.

Galaxy looked up in pure contentment, so Angie couldn’t muster a dirty glare at the betrayal.

But then Galaxy wiggle-waggled up to her, her hips doing a crazy swing dance as she let loose with a long and thoughtful vocalization.

Vivi laughed. “Wow, what a talker. She’s very affectionate, too.”

Angie almost launched into telling her how Galaxy loved babies and toddlers, and how calm she was as she approached them and asked to snuggle. But what was she doing? Why were they out here shooting the breeze?

“I should get focused back on finding Candice. This is the first real lead I’ve found.”

Vivi frowned and looked her over. Angie knew she didn’t look like the typical P.I., and that was exactly why she could work her way in and find lost teenage girls.

“So what do you do now?” Vivi asked.

“I go back to talking to people, see who else has seen her. Maybe run into her.” She pulled out a business card and gave it to her.

“Perfect Finish Photography?” Vivi asked in confusion.

“It’s my cover job, but it’s my cell number.”

Vivi looked doubtful.

“If Candice comes by, will you call me? If she looks like she’s going to leave, go ahead and tell her about me. I have two hundred in cash for her if she’ll just talk to me and call her mom.”

“Okay… I’ll let you know if I see her.” Vivi hesitated, clearly about to say more.

“See you around,” Angie said first, as she hurried up the steps, calling Galaxy.

“Wait! I have a lot of questions.”

“Doesn’t everyone?” Angie shut the door and started the RV, but waited for Vivi to take a few steps back before putting it in reverse.

Galaxy announced a long list of her own questions as they drove off.

“What was I supposed to do?” Angie asked herself and the dog. “Sit down and share life stories or something? I don’t have time.” She glanced down at Galaxy and got the uncanny feeling that the dog was judging her.

“Hey, just because Vivi looks just like me doesn’t mean anything.”

Galaxy gave her a knowing look.

 

***

A Stranger Like Me releases in less than a month! Pre-order here!

 

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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!

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.

~ ~ ~

Releasing June 7th!   Check it out and preorder on your favorite retailer:

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Say Yes is on Pre-order!

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Say Yes… A story about love, marriage, friendship, life, loss, and how to bounce back.

Special Pre-order price of only 2.99! Releases June 7th.

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Lily Ann McKee thought she had it all… Her quirky Victorian house, her own marketing company, and best of all, she was head-over-heels in love with her handsome, charming husband Breandan. They planned a life of adventure together, just the two of them.

Then tragedy struck a year ago, and everything changed. Lily Ann began to want a baby of her own but she was afraid to tell Breandan. A year later, she has no choice but to share, and discovers he has a secret of his own, something too painful from his past to share.

She had pulled away from everyone, most of all her best friend Cici, the one person who would understand what she’s going through. Her business isn’t thriving like she thought either; just the opposite. Now her marriage is on the line. Will she have to choose between her marriage or having a child of her own?

Preview:

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 it 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. 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, and our summer hikes for some reason. It’d been a couple of years since we’d gone. He wore a green long sleeve shirt, one that he often wore for St. Patties or anything else remotely Irish-related.

“How did it go with that house?” I asked Breandan as we both buckled up. 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 house that he wanted to buy and then rent. “You were super excited about it yesterday.”

“Well…” He blew out his breath as he backed out of the garage and swung backwards onto the street. I waited, wanting to hear about the house but also about his day. 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 a lot 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 a lot. 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.