Hey gang! How is everyone? You enjoying 2015? I sure am. It's my hubby's last semester of college, I just got a brand new nephew who is easily the most adorable baby in the history of babies, a new book on the way, and kids who are happy. 2015 is looking to be a good year! But let's start with that book I was talking about. When Lightning Strikes is the third book in the Storm Inside series. It features Jake's best friend Greg, who I fell in love with while writing Reflected in the Rain. He's a unique dude and one I couldn't simply walk away from. His book was a pleasure to write, and I'm still not quite sure how it happened. He just kind of leapt onto the page all on his own while I did my best to keep up.
I can't keep him to myself any longer, so while we're waiting for all that important proofreading, formatting, and such, I'm sharing the first few chapters of the book, starting with Chapter One and Two today! The book will be available on January 30th, 2015.
**This book is filled with swearing. It is an integral and essential part of Greg's personality. The following excerpt is no exception. If you are offended by foul language, this book is not for you.**
When Lighting Strikes
I needed my fucking coffee like I needed air to breathe. If one more person stopped me from getting my cup I was going to put my fist through their face.
“Greg!” The familiar shout stopped me in my tracks.
“What?” I clenched my fist at my side and counted to ten. As much as I wanted to punch Stephen, it was probably bad form to hit a cop—friend or not.
“Damn. Chill out. I was just going to tell you that you left your window down.” Stephen was leaning out the side of his police car which was stopped only a couple of feet away from me.
I glanced up at the sky. Rain was moving in, but it wasn’t here yet. I’d be in and out of the coffee shop in a minute. “Thanks. I think I’ll take my chances.”
Stephen looked at me like I was crazy. “Suit yourself. Have a nice afternoon.” And with a wave he was gone.
I shook my head at the red Porsche I’d over-indulged in when I moved back to the States to start my company with my best friend, Jake Spencer. The car had been my baby for the first year, then the newness started to wear off and now I was itching for a different toy.
But moving and starting a company with my best friend? Best decision ever. Spencer, Hamilton, and Associates was quickly becoming one of the most innovative and unique engineering firms in the country. With Jake’s brain and my leadership, we were unstoppable.
Thunder rolled and bounced off the tall buildings of downtown Tampa. The stupid car was the one thing I let myself waste money on, so I didn’t usually feel guilty about it, but at the moment I was feeling like an ungrateful asshole. I jogged back over and took the extra thirty seconds to roll my window up.
By the time I finally pushed inside the coffee shop I was in a truly foul mood.
“Your usual?” The young girl behind the counter asked with a smile.
“Yep.” I glanced at her nametag. Lisa.
She shook her head as she grabbed a cup off the top of the pile. “Bad day?”
I must’ve been frowning or some shit like that. “Yep.”
“So two cookies instead of one?”
I tossed the cash down on the counter and glanced around the mostly empty shop. I stopped in every afternoon on my way home from the office. It was a weird holdover habit from my childhood, but it was something I looked forward to every day: a coffee and a chocolate chip cookie every afternoon at four o’clock.
Usually there were a few stragglers like me, looking for an afternoon caffeine fix and maybe to satisfy a sugar craving. But today the shop was dead as a doornail except for the girl who always sat in the corner with her textbooks spread across the table and her nose stuck in a book she was entirely too young to be reading (and probably not part of her homework).
“Here you go.”
I glanced back as Lisa placed my coffee on the counter beside my cookies. “What’s she reading today?”
Lisa glanced over at the girl and smiled. “I believe she was talking about The Stranger, whatever that is.”
I grunted and took a sip of the ridiculously hot liquid. “A depressing book a girl her age shouldn’t have even heard of, let alone be reading. Where is her mother, anyway?” I never saw her there. It was always the girl and whoever was working at the shop. I knew she didn’t belong to Lisa—or the owner of the coffee shop—because I’d asked.
“Miss Bancroft works until five.”
I knew that curt answer was meant to stop my questions. And really, why did I care? The kid wasn’t mine.
But she reminded me so much of Jennifer.
Jenn always had a book in her hands, no matter where we went or what we did. She even kept a stack in our tree house. When we got older and started dating, as everyone expected, she started keeping some at my house and in my car.
A dull ache formed in my chest, and I started to massage it.
“Are you ok?” Lisa was staring at me wide-eyed and I realized she probably thought I was having a damn heart attack instead of a bad case of regret and nostalgia.
“Well, I’m pretty sure a cup of café con leche and chocolate chip cookies are not going to help that.”
“I’ll take an antacid when I get home.” Remembering Jenn always hurt. And it always would. “Have a good afternoon, Lisa.”
I wandered over by the girl and found that she was stretched out across the chairs clutching a paperback of The Stranger. “Aren’t you a little young for existentialism?”
“Aren’t you a little old for afternoon cookies?” she replied without looking away from her book. She had strawberry blonde hair, light hazel eyes, and a smartass smile. I liked the kid. She had attitude and the smarts to back it up.
“Don’t tell me you’re debating the absurd and the meaninglessness of existence before you’ve even hit adulthood.” I still didn’t fully understand the concepts in that book, and I was thirty-five.
She rolled her eyes and set the book down. “Quite the opposite actually.”
“Why don’t you read something fun for a change? You always pick such dark books.” Last week it had been Of Mice and Men and As I Lay Dying. Both still gave me the heebie jeebies and I hadn’t read them since high school.
“Actually, after this I’m re-reading it in the original French, and then doing a translation project for school with Notre-Dame de Paris, as well.”
“Meaninglessness and destiny in the same week? In a second language? I’m gonna buy you some Boxcar Children to read.”
“You know I’m not eight, right?” she grinned. “Maybe I should buy some large print books for your poor eyesight, old man.”
“Whatever.” I tossed the second cookie on the table. “Act like a kid for a change.” And she did. She squealed and grabbed up the cookie, popping the first bite in her mouth before I’d even made it to the door.
“Have a nice night, old man!”
I chuckled and ducked outside just as the rain hit.
“Marie, baby…” Brandon cooed.
“I swear if you make me fly to Paris…” I threatened into my phone as my blood pressure spiked. Spring break started in three days and he was changing our plans at the last minute—as usual.
Brandon replied with his typical laugh. “Babydoll, we can meet half way. London?”
“How the hell is London half way?” I shrieked. The cocky son of a bitch was my least favorite person on the planet, and unfortunately, the one person I would never be rid of. Brandon was arrogant, self-absorbed, and lived to antagonize me. He was also the father of my daughter.
“New York then? I’ll cross the pond this time, Ree.”
Like nails on a chalkboard—that was what I heard every time Brandon attempted to be nice and use his old nickname for me instead of my full name. Marie was not a long name, but somehow Brandon had found a way to shorten it.
“Fine. New York. Natalie will be thrilled. Can you take her to the library again? She hasn’t stopped talking about it.”
“Absolutely. Whatever my baby wants, my baby gets. You know that.” Despite being the world’s worst boyfriend, Brandon was a fairly decent dad. He always dropped everything for Natalie.
“Excellent. Forward me your itinerary and we’ll plan accordingly.”
“See you soon, ReeRee,” he replied as he ended the call.
I wanted to gag. I would love the opportunity to go back and give my seventeen-year-old self a good lecture on reproduction and birth control, but then it would mean I wouldn’t have Natalie. I loved her to pieces even though her mere existence meant my life was tied to Brandon’s for the rest of time.
I always comforted myself with the knowledge she was conceived out of love. I loved Brandon in the way any rebellious seventeen-year-old loves the perfect seventeen-year-old bad boy that pisses her father off. He was the perfect man for me at the time, but it quickly became clear that Brandon was the last person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We made a lot of decisions during my pregnancy, including the agreement we drew up and signed before Natalie was born. We were partners in the loving and raising of our daughter with clearly defined roles and expectations.
We were also clearly the over-educated children of successful businessmen. Because I mean, really? Who draws up contracts for raising their illegitimate daughter at seventeen? Brandon and me. We were hands-down the most unique family I’d ever encountered, but it worked for all of us even if I sometimes fantasized about setting Brandon’s pants on fire.
I stared at my daughter’s picture to calm myself down. It was my typical habit after talking with Brandon: stare at my daughter and remind myself of all the reasons I was nice to Brandon.
My phone chirped and I flipped it back over in time to see a message from Natalie flash across the screen. Ready when you are.
With a sigh I grabbed my bag and sweater. “Have a good night, Joan.”
My assistant glanced up from the novel she was reading. “You, too. Say hi to Natalie for me.”
“Will do,” I replied as I pushed out into the muggy Florida afternoon. There was no way I’d be able to spend the whole week in New York with Natalie and Brandon, which meant I’d be doing a lot of flying. But work was work. I led the southern branch of my family’s company: Bancroft Sports. We had dozens of major athletes under contract with our agency, and hundreds of minor athletes. Florida was a logical choice with the insane number and variety of sports franchises and camps throughout the state. Tampa put me in a nice central location…and near the beaches.
Not to mention the thousands of miles it put between my father and me.
Natalie was waiting at the curb when I pulled up. Her bright blue backpack was slung over her shoulder and her uniform was almost perfectly in place. Only the white shirt was untucked. There were no electronic devices in sight. No cell phone (though I knew it was stowed safely in her bag). No iPad or Kindle. There weren’t ear buds dangling from her ears or unauthorized touches of makeup on her beautiful face.
She wasn’t that kind of kid. Or to put it more plainly, she was pretty much the exact opposite of me at that age. The things that had driven me and gotten me excited were completely and utterly boring to my daughter.
Natalie opened the back door and tossed her giant backpack onto the seat before slamming the door shut and climbing in front beside me. I watched her as she buckled in. “You know you can change into something more comfortable after school.”
She shrugged. “Why waste the clothes? My uniform is comfortable enough.”
I shook my head. “What about something fun?”
She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m good. Trust me.”
“Suit yourself,” I sighed as I slid back out into traffic.
Thirteen had been fun so far. Natalie and I were so alike and yet so… not. I blame it on my awesome parenting. And the massive differences in our childhoods. I had two incredibly successful parents who hated each other and never wanted to spend time with their child. Natalie had two parents who didn’t particularly like each other, but loved the ever-living crap out of her—enough to move heaven and earth to make her happy.
Love and happiness was the difference between living to piss someone else off, and living for you. I could look back now and see how my clothing and makeup choices had been motivated by rebellion. I could also see how my friends and relationship with Brandon were about more than fitting in. I’d raced into adulthood for one very important reason: I wanted to escape my parents.
It was different for Natalie. She could become whoever she wanted to be, instead of a reaction to everyone else.
I envied her sometimes.
“You should have some fun while I’m gone.”
The quiet statement came out of nowhere and hit me like a ball out of left field. “Ummm….” Eloquent. I could nail pitches in the boardroom and think on my feet in a meeting, but a comment from my daughter left me speechless.
“Seriously, it’s been like, six months since your last date.”
“I’m busy,” I replied a little too quickly.
“You are not too busy. What did Dad say about spring break?”
“We’re meeting in New York now.”
The grin on my daughter’s face was so enormous I didn’t care that I hated her father for changing all our plans at the last minute. “Yes! Did he say he’d take me back to the Morgan Library?”
I smiled as I turned the car into the driveway. “He said you could do whatever you wanted, including the Library.”
Last time in New York, Brandon hired a touring service to personally take Natalie through each of the museums and give her a guided tour. Natalie had been in heaven, but the Morgan Library had been her favorite.
“Don’t work too hard while I’m gone. In fact, try not to work at all. Go out with your friends…Grace said she’d love to do a girls night. Go on a date. Or three.” The words were bubbling out of her mouth as fast as she could spit them out. Obviously this was something that had been on her mind and, more than likely, she’d been waiting for the perfect moment to say.
She looked down at her delicate hands. “I worry about you, Mom. You spend so much time working and being a mom, but you don’t do anything for yourself.”
“I take care of myself, baby.” I stroked her hair. “I don’t need a love life right now. I have all the things I need.”
Honestly, even thinking about having a love life usually made me nauseous. It was so much work for so little payoff. It was shocking how many jackasses existed on the planet. Not to mention the sexist jerks. Most were flat out intimidated by me. (That was at least partially my fault. I liked to see if they scared easily and well…most of them did.) That left about two dudes on the planet who weren’t scaredy-cats or assholes, and I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of meeting either of these mysterious men.
Natalie frowned. “Just…think about it?”
I could think about it all I wanted, it wasn’t going to change my feelings on the subject, but for the sake of my daughter, I let her have a small victory. “I will,” I promised.