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Unlucky In Love

 

Unlucky in Love

Copyright© 2016 by Carmen DeSousa

Shakespir Edition

 

ISBN-10: 1-945143-00-2

ISBN-13: 978-1-945143-00-7

 

www.CarmenDeSousaBooks.com

PO Box 253

Delmont, PA 15626

U.S.A.

 

Cover Design: Suzana Stankovic at LSDdesign

 

This is a fictional work. All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are solely the concepts and products of the author’s imagination or are used to create a fictitious story and should not be construed as real. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form by any means, without the prior permission in writing, except in the case of brief quotations, reviews, and articles.

For any other permission, please email Ann at [email protected]

Book Description

Some lucky women meet the man of their dreams and live happily ever after. Some lucky women focus on a career and make their own happily ever after. And then some women wake up after fifteen years of marriage and discover that their luck just ran out … right into the arms of another woman.

 

Jana Embers isn’t one to sit back, though. The first thing Jana realizes she needs to do is empty the joint bank account, then she’s thinking she might take a tire iron to her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s truck. After that, she’s not sure what she’ll do … Maybe she’ll adopt a cat.

UNLUCKY IN LOVE

To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.

– Oscar Wilde

Chapter 1 – Temporary Insanity

Temporary insanity, I thought as I swung the tire iron I’d plucked out of my Toyota Tacoma against the headlights of my husband’s four-wheel-drive Tundra. I felt bad for hurting such a beautiful truck, but I’d done everything for that lying, cheating, two-timing son-of-a-bitch, and this was the only way I could think of to hurt him.

Certainly, even a fresh-out-of-college attorney could get a jury of my peers to understand why I had to take revenge against Dick Embers. And since I didn’t have the stomach to pull a “Lorena Bobbitt” job, a “Carrie Underwood” meltdown would have to suffice.

Maybe that would be my defense … She’d been listening to the radio, Your Honor, my attorney would plead on my behalf, and well, the next thing Jana Embers knew, she’d come to with a tire iron

“Jana!” my husband’s shrill tone hit me just as I smashed in the second taillight. “Oh, my God! Are you insane?”

I looked up at my soon-to-be ex-husband and forced a smile. “As a matter of fact, I am. Meet your creation, Dick!” I swung the heavy steel rod down on the lip of the tailgate, leaving an indentation that no dent-remover tool in the world would ever be able to pull out.

Dick embers pressed his clenched fists to his head as he assessed the damage, but then stopped gawking and chased me as I ran to the front of the truck. “Give me the tire iron, Jana,” he said as calmly as I’d ever heard him speak.

I swung the heavy metal against the hood. “Fifteen years! I’ve given you everything within me for fifteen years. And you repay me by getting some bimbo pregnant.”

Dick raised his hand as though he expected me to hand him my weapon. “It was a mistake, Jana. I didn’t mean —”

“A mistake?” I swung my makeshift bat into the chrome grille as though all the bases were loaded and I was going for a home run. “Wearing different color socks is a mistake.” Whack. “Sending a text to the wrong person is a mistake.” Whack. “Sticking your penis in the wrong woman isn’t a mistake, Dick!”

He dropped his head. “I’m sorry —”

“Sorry?” I jabbed at a piece of dangling metal that hadn’t fallen. “Sorry because you got caught? Sorry because you didn’t use a condom?” My eyes on him, I backed up to the driver’s door, hopped up on the running board, and then bashed the windshield with all my might. “I made you who you are, Dick Embers. If it wasn’t for me, you never would have been promoted at that stupid car dealership. I handled all of your follow-up calls for your work and still found time to wash and cook and clean. I changed all the diapers, handled all the discipline for our son …” I continued to bring down the iron rod on the front window over and over, aggravated that the safety glass refused to shatter. “We had sex all the time, as often as you wanted …”

Dick took a step toward me, so I jumped off the side step and held the tire rod on my shoulder, ready to swing it against his head if he came near me. Self-defense, my attorney would call it. Mrs. Jana Embers was in fear of her life after she’d gone temporarily insane.

“Please, Jana,” Dick whined.

“Please, what?” I screeched.

“Please forgive me.”

“And have to share you with a woman for the next eighteen years while the child the two of you adulterers created grows up? No. Uh-uh. Not this woman, Dick. I gave you fifteen years. I’m certainly not stupid enough to give you another day.”

I walked backward in the direction of my Tacoma, surprised to see that every corridor of the apartment building where Dick had moved into this week had people standing in the doorways.

Ignoring the surrounding stares, wondering why no one had called the police yet, I raised my chin to Dick as I opened the door. “Oh, I’ll be filing for divorce first thing in the morning.”

The crowd cheered, some whistled, one woman called out, “Atta girl!”

Surprised, I twirled my weapon as though it were a baton and curtsied. I skipped to my truck and hopped inside, feeling the most alive I’d felt my entire life.

 

***

 

Shaking too violently to avoid spillage, I used both of my hands to lift a cup of coffee to my lips, wondering when the police would show up. The adrenaline from my crazed attack on Dick’s Tundra had worn off, replaced with the fear that I might be spending the next sixty days in jail.

I’d called my cousin on my way home in case I needed someone to drive my fifteen-year-old son to school and then be available to bail me out of jail. Now we just sat across from each other, staring in silence, fearing the rap on the door that would surely come at any moment. I’d never been incarcerated before. I wasn’t very large. So how would I defend myself in jail? I wondered briefly if the arresting officer would let me take my tire iron. Probably not. Especially since it would be marked as exhibit A on the evidence table.

Angela reached for my quivering hands. “I’m so sorry, Jana. Is there anything I can do? Is there something else you need to handle? Not that I can beat up a truck or anything.”

A laugh burst out of my mouth that quickly turned into a sob. “No … but … thank you. Before I went on my rampage, I went online and transferred every penny out of our joint accounts, which sadly wasn’t as much as I’d hoped. I dumped every penny into Eric’s account, since it was the only account that didn’t have Dick’s name on it. Then I called all our credit card companies, reported the cards as lost, and ordered new cards. I’m not sure what else I can do.”

“So this is really happening?” Angela asked.

I swiped at my tears. “What else was I supposed to do, Ang? Not only did he cheat on me, but he also didn’t use protection. God only knows what type of disease that woman might have … or any other woman he might have been screwing.”

Angela blew out a long breath. “You’ve just been together so long. Heck, you’ve been married since I was in grade school. I’ve known Dick almost my entire life.”

“Yeah … me too,” I said on a sigh. “Since I was nineteen. Believe me, I didn’t plan to be a single mother at thirty-four. And what will I do to make money? I have a B.A. in business, but what good is that when I haven’t worked outside the home in fifteen years? I’ve spent nearly half of my life helping him make it to the top. And then he —” I burst into tears again, as I’d been doing for the last week. It surprised me that I had enough water left in my body to shed any more tears.

Angela got up from her chair and wrapped her arms around me. “I’m so sorry, Jana. I really am. I wish there was something I could say or do that would make you feel better.”

I sniffed and looked up at my cousin, who also happened to be my best friend. “Ever think about contract killing?”

Angela laughed. “No, and I’m going to forget that you asked that.”

“Okay, so if you won’t kill him, the least you could do is help me figure out how to get back at him. And give me some suggestions of what I can do to make money. I did a budget last night, and even if Dick continues to pay the mortgage, and I scrimp and scrape every dime, I have enough savings to pay for the utilities and food for about a year. After that, I’ll have to hit the streets.”

“From what you told me last night, I think you already got back at him.” Angela sat back down, then picked up her mug, smiling over her steaming hot latte. “You still look pretty good, too. I’m nine years younger than you and I have more gray hairs than you do. Maybe it’s the dark shade you got from your mom, whereas I got the light hair from your father and my dad’s side of the family. I bet you’d do rather well on the streets.”

I rolled my eyes, then swiped at my tears again. “Not funny, Ang. Seriously. It’s not like I can go back to cocktail waitressing. Who wants to see a thirty-four-year-old mom in short-shorts and a tank top?”

My cousin jumped up from her chair. “I got it! Remember when I told you about Jenny, my friend from college who’s doing so well, the one who started that couponing website.”

I dropped my head into my palm, rubbing my temples with my middle finger and thumb, trying to massage away a headache that was forming from lack of sleep … and stress … and probably because I hadn’t eaten anything in days. Not to mention that the continuous waterworks had more than likely left me dehydrated. “I don’t even like clipping coupons for myself.”

Angela waved her hands as she paced around my kitchen. “It’s more than that. It’s not really about the coupons as much as it is about the products she displays on her website. She’s an affiliate for several major websites. And get this,” Angela leaned across the counter in front of me, “she makes up to ten percent when someone from her site buys a product, any product. It doesn’t even have to be the item she’s advertising.”

I sniffed, then cocked my head. “Go on …”

“Well, you just have to find something you love, and then start blogging about it. From there, I guess you can add all the links.”

I huffed out a breath. “What do I love? I’ve never done anything. I know how to be a wife and mother. Other than that, I don’t even have any hobbies. I’ve been too busy raising Eric and taking care of my stupid unfaithful husband.”

Ignoring my complaint, Angela slid onto a barstool, then rested her head on her folded hands. “There’s gotta be something, Jana.”

“I like wine …” I ventured, thinking a tall goblet of Merlot would taste really good about now, but Angela would probably start to question me if I pulled out a bottle of wine at five a.m. “You and I have always enjoyed going to those wine-tasting events. And I’m great at picking out the most expensive.”

Angela nodded, then shook her head. “You are, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. You know, with your mother’s history … and Aunt Heidi.”

I didn’t want to think about my mother. Not that I knew her anyway. She’d been dead since I was in diapers. My aunt, on the other hand, had been the closest thing to a mother I’d known. But in the last year or so, I’d only seen her a handful of times. Angela and I both knew she had a drinking problem, but it seemed to have gotten worse lately.

Not that I was an alcoholic, but with the history of drug and alcohol abuse in both of my parents’ families, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to take up a hobby that required me to drink on a daily basis.

“Yeah … I guess you’re right,” I said.

“Oh!” Angela jumped up again. Even pregnant, the woman had more energy than my son, and that was saying a lot. “Reading! You love to read!” she exclaimed with conviction, as though my love of reading would solve all of my problems. Truly, reading had helped me cope when I was a teenager, but I doubted I could disappear into make believe as I’d done when I was an adolescent.

Still trying to loosen the tension in my head, I pinched the skin above my eyebrow. “Yeah, but how am I going to make money from reading?”

“You can blog about what you read. Write reviews and stuff.”

“Angela, you’re a lot younger than I am. You understand all of that computer stuff. I wouldn’t know how to do that.”

“Jenny says it’s easy. In fact, she’s been wanting to train me. But with the baby, not to mention being pregnant again, I just don’t have the time or energy. I’m sure she’d come over and help you set it up, though, especially if you tell her you’ll link back to her site.”

I leaned back in my chair. It was worth a look. I didn’t like the idea of starting a full-time job when Eric was accustomed to me taking him to school and all of his extra-curricular activities every day. Since I’d been unable to do much other than go to school and babysit Angela when I was a teenager, I’d wanted Eric to enjoy his high school years.

“Okay … I’ll look into it. Anything is better than nothing at this point, I guess. Besides, it’ll give me something to do so I don’t spend every minute of my day scheming how to make Dick’s life a living hell.”

Angela laughed. “Well, it’s been three hours and the police haven’t shown up. Maybe he’s decided not to press charges, hoping he’ll get in your good graces.”

I inhaled a deep breath, hoping Angela was right about the cops, but then said, “Dick Embers couldn’t earn his way back into my good graces if he were the Pope himself.”

Chapter 2 – A Plan

The following week after I dropped Eric off at school, I headed to the library.

I hadn’t been to the library in years, but I needed to commence with the scrimping and scraping immediately.

When I’d first learned to drive, my father told me that most people died because they failed to notice that they were in an emergency situation until it was too late. He’d even tied a pocket knife that had a seatbelt cutter and an emergency glass breaker to my gear shifter.

I wasn’t in an emergency situation yet, but it was time to batten down the hatches. Twenty-dollars-a-pop books were definitely not in my budget, but I needed to read up on blogging. Hopefully, the downtown library had current data.

After finding the correct station in the three-story library, I handed the librarian the application I’d printed off, along with my driver’s license and a couple of utility bills as proof of my address. “I’d like to apply for a library card, please.”

The woman looked up and smiled. I glanced at her nametag that read: Volunteer and then Makeda underneath.

I watched as her fingers flew across the keyboard. I’d taken typing in high school, but even though I remembered where all the keys were located, I was a hunt-and-pecker. Maybe I needed to find a typing class too since I was planning to type on the computer for a living. Speed typing would definitely be a plus.

Within a few seconds, the woman presented me with a temporary library card, advising me that a permanent one would be mailed to my home address in a few days.

I tucked the card into the side pocket of my purse. “Thank you, Makeda. I wonder … would you point me in the direction of anything you have on blogging?”

Obviously happy with her volunteer job, Makeda smiled again. “The reference section is on the third floor. And,” she hunted through papers on her desk, “if you’re interested, we offer a ‘Blogging for Business’ class on Mondays at four o’clock.”

Sometimes fate had a way of letting you know you were on the right path, I thought.

“You’re kidding me! That’d be great. Thank you, Makeda.” And it was. I’d always been better at listening to lectures and taking notes than I was with self-study. Maybe Angela would accompany me, too, so we could learn together.

Still suffering from lack of sleep and a perpetual feeling of dehydration after my month-long crying jag, I eyed the coffee shop on the first level but then remembered my budget. For years, I’d thought nothing of running into Starbucks after dropping off Eric daily and grabbing a five-dollar latte. But when I’d written out my budget, I realized that was a hundred-dollar-a-month expense that I could no longer afford.

Since I could afford to lose a few pounds, though, I opted to ascend the open set of stairs instead of taking the elevator to the third floor. As I climbed, I stared through the three-story glass wall at the intercoastal waterway and the Clearwater Memorial Causeway. The library in downtown Clearwater was beautiful, and I quickly wondered why I’d never come inside before today.

When I reached the top level, I strolled across the open floor, passing rows and rows of magazines, another item I’d crossed off my grocery budget. Amazing how I’d thought nothing of a few dollars here and there, but now I realized how one or two extra purchases a day added up to hundreds of dollars a month.

I took in the different faces of the people who sat at tables, chairs, and squatted in front of shelves. Nearly every age, sex, ethnicity and, based on the different styles of clothing, social and economic statuses were represented as well. Even a few patrons who appeared to be homeless, based on their attire, were busy reading.

For just a second, I closed my eyes and inhaled, thinking of the library I used to visit as a child. This new building didn’t have the same aromatic scent, but my mind still latched onto the faint scent of books, searching for that sweet rotting smell of old books and the gardenia scent that had emanated from the elderly librarian who’d introduced me to the Phantom Toll Booth and stories by Judy Blume.

The scent swept me back to my first love: reading. It felt like coming home. As if the written word could seep out of the books in thin lines like long tendrils of smoke, and then intertwine with my veins, making their way through every inch of my body, enveloping every fiber of my being.

I sighed. Angela was right. I loved to read. And just maybe … books could be my salvation once again.

Realizing I had to get busy, I glanced at my phone for the time. Before I knew it, I’d have to get Eric.

Instead of a card catalog, I was instructed to search in the old desktop computer for the books I wanted. I jotted down several titles, including Mom Blogging for Dummies. Then I realized I should look at the current bestselling fiction books. I had read plenty of books in my lifetime, but I hadn’t read a book with the intention of reviewing it. And truthfully, I hadn’t read very many books lately. I’d been too busy running Eric from school to drama to football practice. And when there wasn’t a school activity, I’d drive him to the movies or a friend’s house.

In the last couple of years, I really hadn’t found the time to read more than a handful of books, usually the most popular books that had been made into movies, and I was sure those books had a plethora of reviews.

As I entered the aisle for mystery fiction, I skidded to a stop. A man stood in front of the shelves where I’d been heading. Uneasy for no reason that I could comprehend, I held back, busying myself with the last names beginning with S, even though I’d been heading for the Ps. Although I preferred to read something with romance, I figured I’d better add some books that didn’t center around romance to my list so that my site offered readers reviews on different genres.

I started to head to the romance section, but peeked out of the corner of my eye at the man. Not that I had any interest in a man, but he wasn’t the type of man I expected to see in the public library. The last thing I’d anticipated was to run into a good-looking businessman strolling the aisles. Not on a weekday afternoon anyway.

Catching my gaze, the man held up the newest release by James Patterson. “Have you read this?”

I gulped, my right hand immediately reaching for my left, and I found myself twisting an imaginary ring. My ring finger was bare. I’d removed the set my husband had given me for our fifteenth anniversary.

The man’s eyes dropped, and I immediately stopped fidgeting. “Not yet. Actually, I was looking for it.”

The dark-haired man stepped forward, handing me the book. “Here you go, then. Maybe you can tell me if it’s worth reading. I have to get back to work anyway. I’m on my lunch break.”

“Oh … umm … thanks.” I accepted the book, but cocked my head. “How will I tell you?”

He smiled. “I’m here most days on my lunch break.”

I about choked. A man who loved to read, who spent his lunch hours at the library instead of boning Ms. Floozy?

I returned his smile. “Okay … If I see you, I’ll let you know.”

Mystery man smiled, then trotted off. I was grateful that he hadn’t asked me for my name or number. I definitely wasn’t ready for that. It had only been a few weeks since I’d told Dick what he could go do to himself. And only a two weeks since I’d trashed his truck.

One of the first things the attorney I had contacted had asked me was had I had any extramarital affairs.

Never, I’d told him honestly. And I hadn’t. I hadn’t had a physical — or emotional — affair. I hadn’t even put hobbies above my husband. For that matter, we didn’t even have a pet. Dick had been allergic, so even though I wanted Eric to have a pet, he never could.

I shook my head at what I’d given up in the last fifteen years.

Other than Eric — and I wouldn’t change the mistake of getting pregnant at nineteen even if I could — Dick Embers hadn’t given me anything other than my son, and he’d taken everything else from me.

 

***

 

Angela and I stared at the website we’d created. It had actually been easier than I expected. Mostly, it had just been a matter of clicking and dragging boxes for texts or images. I searched for the most recent books I’d read, which already had thousands of reviews, but … who knew, maybe someone would be interested in my point of view.

Next I used my affiliate code to add images via HTML. Just saying the initials — which I had no idea what they stood for — made me feel important. I jotted down a note to look it up.

I smiled as I squeezed Angela around the shoulders. “Thank you, Ang. I can’t believe we did this. Now I just have to catch up on my reading.”

“Well, I’m sure you won’t make any money for a while, but you said you had a year. Jenny said it took her about two months until she really started to see a surge in ‘clicks,’ as she called it. She gave me a list of social sites that we need to sign up for that will push readers to the website. She assured me that it’s really just a matter of finding people who share your interests.”

I laughed. “Why aren’t you doing this again?”

Angela patted her belly, which really wasn’t showing yet, but I knew the morning sickness had been taking its toll. “You have to ask? You remember what it was like. But I was thinking, I might be able to knock out a few book reviews too. That way you’ll have multiple reviewers. Maybe Aunt Heidi will write some reviews too. She likes to read the medical thrillers, so that would give you even more ideas to share.”

For the first time in a week … my eyes watered up. I’d been doing well. I hadn’t broken down and cried, and it had been even longer since I’d cried when Eric was home. Even though I hated Dick, I didn’t want my son to hate his father. Every day after school, Eric had been politer than normal, asking if I wanted him to stay home instead of going to football practice. Just the fact that Dick’s infidelity had actually caused my son to grow up overnight had threatened to send me into full-out crying sessions several times, but I’d been strong … for Eric … for my sanity.

The tears I couldn’t contain now were different, though. These were tears of hope.

Angela started upright. “Are you okay? Did I say something?”

“Yes …” I sputtered. “I mean, yes, I’m okay. You’ve said and done everything right, Angela. Thank you so much … It’s just … I’m feeling hopeful. I haven’t felt optimistic in a while. But it’s more than that. I feel … useful again. As though I have a purpose in life.”

She squeezed my hand. “Oh, Jana. You’ve always had a purpose in life. I know Dick cheated on you, but he loved you … He knows he’s nothing without you, the reason he keeps trying to get you back. And Eric … he’s a great kid. I mean … how many fifteen-year-olds even like their parents? And he worships you.”

I sniffed as I jumped up and threw my arms around my cousin. “Thank you, Ang. I love you.” I leaned back to look at her. “How did you get so smart for only being twenty-five?”

“I had a great role model, Jana. You know you’re my best friend and cousin, but did you also know that when I was a child, I’d wished you were my mother? Even when you were fifteen, you took better care of me than my mom did.” Angela swiped away a few tears on her face too. “See … now you have me crying. I love you too.”

I threw my arms around her again, and we remained that way for a few minutes in a long embrace. It was true … I’d never had a mother, and Angela had seen very little of hers. But we’d had each other.

Catching my breath, I stood up and stared at my baby cousin who was no longer a baby. She was a mother of a two-year-old with another child on the way. And she had a great husband. I could only hope that Paul would continue to treat her well and not break her heart the way my husband had broken mine.

I clapped my hands together to break the moment. We didn’t have time to cry. “Okay. Let’s get to work. I wrote out my thoughts on the book I read, so help me check if this makes sense. After all, you’re the one with an English Lit degree. Might as well put it to use since you decided not to take that teaching job when you found out you were pregnant again.”

“Thanks for reminding me.” She laughed. “I was thinking … after the baby is born, maybe we can add an editing service. I can proofread the books, then you can critique them.”

Goosebumps ran down my arms. This was going to work. I could feel it. “That’s a great idea.”

For the first time in a while, I felt happy. I smiled as I walked toward the kitchen to make another pot of coffee, thinking, I could do this. I could live my life without Dick Embers.

Chapter 3 – Never Judge A Book By Its Cover

I sat in the fiction area of the library, as close to the mystery section as possible, reading a new romantic-suspense novel that Makeda, the librarian I’d met on the first day, had suggested. Or Mak as I called her, which drove Angela crazy; I had a habit of nicknaming people. At least the names weren’t usually derogatory. I just had a difficult time remembering names, and it made it easier for me to remember people when I shortened their name or nicknamed them by what I thought about them.

Mak and I had become friends over the last few months, which was unusual for me. Other than Angela, I’d never really had friends. Not since my high school and college years anyway. When Mak saw a great book she thought I’d like, she’d set it aside, knowing I’d be in after I dropped Eric off at school. I’d pretty much been coming early and leaving early, so I had time to build my blog posts before I picked up Eric from school. To get in more reading time, I’d just been sitting in the parking lot and reading while Eric practiced. Previously, I’d drop him off and drive home, but that was an extra half an hour a day … and more gas.

When I added up the hours and miles, I realized I was wasting almost ten hours, plus more than fifty dollars in gas monthly, which meant I could read one to two more books a month with my time savings, and feed us for a week with the gas savings.

I’d been trying to post a review every day, but … I was running out of new books. The library had plenty of books, but not a lot of new books, and that’s what my readers wanted.

I’d only been blogging for a month, but already I’d learned what my readers wanted and made more friends than I’d ever had. Albeit they were virtual friends, but in some ways, they were more real to me than the girls I’d known in college. Maybe it was because we were behind a computer screen. That way we could be more forthcoming. Whatever it was, I liked it.

In fact, after chatting with one of my new online peeps this morning, I decided to set up my blog early and come to the library at lunchtime, hoping to bump into a certain dark-haired book aficionado. Not that I had any plans to suggest we hang out, but I’d reviewed the book he’d asked about. While I’d been setting up my post for tomorrow, I thought of how I’d approach him if I saw him again.

I would smile, walk over to him as though he were just another customer I was doing business with, and then hand him the business card for my website, as though I’d been reviewing books for years. Then I’d saunter off, leaving him with something to think about.

Dick may not have appreciated the fact that I kept myself in good shape, but I was sure some men would. After all, I was thirty-four and I could still fit into many of my clothes from college. And as Angela had said, I hadn’t even had to take drastic measures with hair color yet. My dark hair had natural bronze highlights from the Florida sun, which did a great job at hiding the few gray hairs that were starting to sprout.

“Hey …”

Completely lost in my thoughts, I jumped at the deep male voice, toppling backward in the chair I’d been leaning back in as I looked up at the handsome stranger who stood peering down at me. I struggled to get my chair upright, my legs flailing as I also attempted to hide the sweeping romance novel I was reading.

“I got ya,” he said.

I blew out a breath, my heart thrashing inside my chest, as though I would have fallen a thousand feet instead of three. I had a terrible fear of heights, so I wasn’t comfortable falling, no matter how short the distance.

So much for being smooth and confident.

“Thank you,” I choked out, then attempting to get back to my original plan of being aloof and nonchalant, I said, “Oh, hey … it’s you. I was hoping I’d bump into you today. I read that book you asked about.”

He tilted his head, and I immediately felt like an idiot. Of course, he didn’t remember me. Why would he remember something so trivial as handing a book to a stranger in the library? Whereas I’d been thinking about him and his request for a month.

Slightly irritated, but still nervous, I said, “The … new book … by James Patterson.” My voice cracked as though I were a teenage girl inviting the star quarterback to a Sadie Hawkins dance. Feeling stupid, I reached into the side pocket of my purse and pulled out my card. Regardless of how I felt, I was going to try to send more viewers to my website. “I review books for a living. You asked me to tell you if the book was worth reading.” I handed him my card.

Angela and I had spent days designing the cream-colored embossed card, and yet, Mr. Forgetful had accepted it without even looking at it. But maybe that was because his eyes were on me.

He smiled. “Oh, yeah. I’ve been wondering about that one.”

Hmm, I thought, wondering why he was pretending not to remember. Surely this conversation had to strike some memory of our meeting. But I kept my opinion to myself.

I shrugged as if I really didn’t care. “Well, it was pretty good. You can read the review on my website if you like. I never give spoilers.” I gathered up my purse and collection of books, then sauntered off. Okay, scampered was probably a more accurate term, but at least I held my head high instead of looking like the rejected mousy teenager that I felt like.

“Hey,” Mr. Forgetful called from behind me, “I didn’t catch your name.”

“Jana,” I said without turning around, catching Makeda’s eye. She smiled, and I flashed her a wink as I sauntered — yes, sauntered — out the sliding glass door that led to the parking lot and then quickly jumped into my truck before I caved on my decision just to give him my card and walk off.

Right from the beginning, I’d given my ex-husband everything. I’d been enamored with him, and I hadn’t even played a little hard-to-get. It wasn’t that I wanted to play games; I didn’t. But with all of the books I’d been reading, I decided there was something attractive about a mysterious woman, a woman who didn’t throw herself at a man. A woman who made a man work for what he wanted … so he’d appreciate his catch.

And for the first time in my life, I felt like I was in control of my destiny. Felt like I was going to be all right.

Well, other than nearly tipping over backward and cracking my skull, but everyone had to start somewhere.

 

***

 

As much as I wanted to go back to the library at lunchtime the following day, I waited. And then the next, and the next, I made sure I was long gone before lunch.

“Hey, Makeda! You have anything good for me today?”

Mak shook her head. “Sorry, girl. You’ve read us out of our new books. I’ve never seen anyone read as many books as you do.”

My shoulders drooped. What was I going to do? I’d made a whopping twenty-five dollars on my site last month. Although I could see it inching up, it was a slow process. I definitely didn’t have the budget to buy a book a day.

I sighed. “I don’t have a lot of other things to do. My son stays busy fifteen hours a day. And the more books I write reviews about, the more people I have that come to my website.”

“Girl, I didn’t know you reviewed books.” Mak whooshed her long obsidian-colored braids over her shoulder. I loved the relaxing clicking that the beads made when she ambled around the library, returning books and helping readers find something. I imagined that some day, a little girl would hear the familiar sound and be transported back to her early days of discovering books.

I tilted my head at her statement, though, wondering what difference it made. “Does that mean you have more books?” I laughed. “Does the library keep a secret stash for book reviewers?”

Mak spurt out a laugh, then covered her mouth as she glanced around the quiet library. “You don’t have to check out books or buy them, Jana. If you’re a reputable book blogger, authors’ll send them to your doorstep.”

Now I really was confused. “Why would an author send me a book?”

Mak leaned over the counter, but then stood upright again. “Linda, watch the desk for a moment, will you?”

Linda left her task of checking in books and came out to the front counter.

Mak walked around the desk and took my arm, leading me to the shelves of romance books. She ran her index finger along the spines, and then pulled down a book with a beautiful bright blue cover. “I was waiting to show you these … until I had an idea of what you liked.”

I trailed my fingers around the edges, anxious to dig in. “I like to read almost everything.”

Mak giggled quietly. “I noticed. But … that’s my book. And I like to make sure someone will enjoy it before I recommend it.”

“Your book?” I flipped the book over, and sure enough, Makeda’s beautiful smile lit up the back flap. I hugged it to my chest. “I can’t wait to read it. I’ve never met an author before. How exciting.”

Mak flicked her hand upward as though she were waving away a gnat. “Girl, I’m just me. I’m published by an independent publisher. And there’re a lot of us Indie authors. As I was saying, just put a link on your website for authors to submit their books to you, and you’ll get more books than you can read.”

I scanned the first few pages, glancing at the copyright page and such. It looked like every other book I’d read. “I hate to sound naïve, but that just doesn’t make sense.”

Mak shrugged. “Authors need reviews. Especially new authors. But I’ll warn you upfront, not all independent and self-published writers should be authors. There are a lot of great ones, but there are also a lot of poor writers who choose to self-publish but don’t spend the time or money to find an editor. We have authors bringing us books all the time, so we’ve learned to check them out first.” Mak leaned toward my ear. “You know, you can’t always judge a book by its cover — good or bad.” She laughed softly, then headed back to the front counter.

I reached to the shelf and pulled down the rest of the books with Makeda’s name; it appeared they were part of a series, which I loved.

Toting the three books, I headed to the checkout desk and pulled out my card. “I’ll have all three book reviews up on the site in the next few days. They’re available on Amazon, right?”

“They are,” Mak said. “And thank you. I’ll look for them, and … I’ll make sure I share. Of course, that should go without saying, but not all authors understand that we help ourselves by helping others. There are a lot of readers out there. It doesn’t hurt my book, one little bit, to recommend other books. In fact, I usually pick up readers, as those readers and authors end up sharing my books. It’s just like the circle of life.” Mak focused her gaze on me. “You want me to send some authors your way?”

“Would you?”

“I’ll post your info on my Facebook fan page and Twitter account when I take my lunch break.”

“Thanks, Makeda.” As Mac had said … You can’t always judge a book by its cover — good or bad. I’d befriended a librarian volunteer, not knowing she was an author who might be able to help me get the word out on my website. I gathered up my books and turned to leave, but spun back to her. “Hey, does anyone call you anything but Makeda?”

She flashed her signature smile, the same one she wore for her author profile picture. “My friends call me Mak.”

“I like it! Thanks, Mak!”

Chapter 4 – A New Roommate

I sat across the table from my date, Declan. Although Angela and Paul hadn’t actually mentioned that they’d planned to have extra company for dinner, it was clear that I was being set up.

Not that Declan wasn’t good-looking or nice enough, but I’d told Angela a hundred times that I wasn’t ready to date. It had only been a few months, and I was busy trying to run a new business. The last thing I needed was another man in my life to worry about.

But Declan did work with Paul at the computer software company, and Paul was a good guy, so who knew? I definitely wasn’t going to be rude. Not rude to Declan, that is. Angela, on the other hand, she’d get an earful from me tomorrow.

“So, Jana,” Declan said with his slight brogue … That was one characteristic I found absolutely endearing anyway. I hated to sound cliché, but an accent just seemed to make a man more attractive. “Paul said you review books for a living?”

I took a sip of water, then set down the glass. “I do. I run a book review website.” I was impressed that one of the first things he asked about was what I did for a living. That showed that he was interested in me anyway, right?

He laughed. “So, in a sense, you get paid to sit around and read romances all day?”

Scratch that. Declan was as bad as Dick … or was one. I didn’t plan to hang around long enough to find out which.

I picked up my phone and stared at it as though it had just buzzed. “Oh, it’s Eric. His coach canceled football practice, so I need to run and get him.” I looked between Paul and Angela. “Thanks for dinner, guys. It was great.” I flashed an obligatory smile at Declan but couldn’t force myself to say nice to meet you, since that would be a lie.

Angela smiled apologetically. “No problem, Jana. See you tomorrow.”

Paul and Angela moved to get up so I rested my hands on their shoulders. “Don’t mind me. I know my way out the door.”

 

***

 

The following day, I bounced Davey on my knee as Angela darted around the kitchen preparing his lunch. “It’s okay, baby,” I cooed to my two-year-old nephew. “I know exactly how you feel. I get cranky when I haven’t eaten either. Maybe if Mommy didn’t spend her time telling the entire county that I was looking for a date, she’d be more prepared.”

I ducked as Angela threw a towel in my direction, even though I knew it wouldn’t come close. Certainly she wouldn’t take a chance at hitting her son.

I tickled Davey, trying to get him to pay attention to me instead of wailing at his mother. “We’ll laugh when she has to pick that up, won’t we, baby?”

Angela slid into the room with a PB&J and a sippy cup of milk. Balancing on one foot, she picked up the towel with her toes and then tossed it into the laundry room.

After she’d set the plastic plate and cup on the table, she reached for Davey. “I didn’t tell the entire county that you were looking for a date. Paul mentioned one guy he thought you might like, and I agreed. Who knew he’d turn out to be a male chauvinistic pig?”

I narrowed my eyes. “If you didn’t tell anyone, how come I’ve been asked out three times in three days? I actually looked in the mirror to see if someone had pinned a sign stating ‘available’ on my back.”

Angela whooshed out a breath as she collapsed into the chair across from me. “Really? Who?”

“Don’t laugh.”

My cousin made a point of locking her lips, so I continued, even though I knew she’d laugh, whether she’d locked her lips or not.

“Remember Media Man, that guy at the library … the one who taught the blogging course?”

Angela bit down on her lip, but her cheeks puffed out.

“Don’t suffocate yourself,” I growled. “It’s not that funny.”

She spat out just a tiny laugh. “I was laughing at your need to nickname everyone you meet. But, yeah … he’s like twenty-something … and he’s so …”

“Geeky,” I finished her sentence.

“Geeky wouldn’t bother me. After all, I married a geek. I was thinking creepy. I’m surprised he’s even interested in dating.”

I sighed. “Yeah, I didn’t want to say that, but I agree. And apparently he’s very interested. He’s taken to stalking me while I’m there. He’s harmless, I’m sure, but I can’t get a bit of work done.”

“Who else?” Angela asked. Clearly my news had breathed life into her today. Davey banged his sippy cup on the table, which I took as encouragement to continue.”

“Eric’s coach,” I whispered.

“No … Really? I thought he was married.”

“Apparently he’s been divorced for a couple of years. Shows how much we keep up. I thought he’d been getting crankier on the field.”

Angela swiped up a glob of jelly with her ever-present burp cloth, then drilled her gaze at me expectantly. “Did you accept?”

I scrunched up my face, making my nephew giggle in response. “Of course not … Can you imagine if it didn’t work out? How awkward would that be with Eric on the team? He seems like a nice guy and all, a little old for me, but that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. But I couldn’t possibly entertain dating anyone that’s connected to Eric’s school or activities.”

Angela wiggled back and forth in her seat. “So … you’re gonna start dating again, though? Who’s lucky number three?”

I rolled my eyes. “You think you know me so well.” I exhaled a deep breath, then laughed. She did know me well. “Well, you know I’m not ready for anything serious, but that guy at the bank … You know, the one you were giggling over when he started …”

Angela’s eyes widened and she bit down on her lip again. “Oh, yeah! He’s a cute one, and so sweet. He’s always so friendly.”

I moved my head from side to side, as I weighed the situation. “I haven’t said yes … yet. After all, he can see my bank account. He didn’t ask me out on a date, he just asked if I’d like to get a cup of coffee or something one day, and I said I’d get back with him.”

“Whoa … look at you go, girlfriend. I like the new Jana. Such confidence.”

“Not exactly … I’m just.” I struggled for the right word. “Tired.”

“You’re tired?” Angela screeched. “Try chasing a two-year-old around while you’re pregnant.”

“Duly noted,” I said. “But you know what I mean. I don’t think I have the energy to start a new relationship. What would you do if Paul pulled what Dick did? Would you want to start over?” I hated even thinking about Paul hurting Angela, but what would she do? She had a baby and one on the way. Sometimes I wondered if she should stash away a little mad money.

Angela pursed her lips and rolled her head in a gesture I could only describe as, Oh no he better not go there. “If Paul screwed around on me while I’m pregnant and raising a two-year-old, I’d kill ’im, so that would be the end of that discussion since I’d probably end up in prison. Then you’d have to raise your nephew and niece-to-be.”

Rearing young children was not something I was ready to do over again, so I decided to lighten up the mood. “Hey, I thought you weren’t willing to kill someone.”

Angela frowned, but at least her skin color returned to her normal pale beige. “Dick didn’t cheat on me. And Eric is nearly grown. Soon enough, you won’t even have to drive him places.”

I dropped my head into my hands. “Don’t remind me. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like in that big house all by myself when he goes off to college in a few years. But I can’t sell it. Not after I fought to get Dick to pay the mortgage for the next ten years.”

Angela tapped her hand on the table to get my attention. “Jana, why don’t you get a pet? You’ve wanted a dog for Eric for years. A puppy would be a wonderful companion, not to mention that even a small one would be a great security system. Dick was the only one allergic, right?”

I rubbed my hand across my mouth. “Yeah, you’re right. That’s exactly what I need. I’m sure I can find a shelter pet that needs a home. So I’d be doing a good deed at the same time, too.”

Angela nodded her agreement.

A puppy, though, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that type of commitment. Dogs were a lot of work. A cat, on the other hand … Cats were independent … like I wanted to be. Maybe I could rescue a cat from her old life and give her a new one. We’d start a new life together before I made any dating decisions. That way I wouldn’t end up with a man who was against animals ever again.

“Angela,” I said as I stood, “I’m going to go adopt myself a new roommate.”

 

***

 

For the first time in months, Eric had sprawled his body out on the living room carpet. Typically when he got home from school, if he didn’t have practice, he’d raid the fridge, and then disappear into his bedroom for the rest of the evening. He would come out for dinner, but all too soon, he’d scarf down the food, and then jump up, insisting that he had homework.

Not tonight, though.

Tonight, Eric had stationed himself on the rug next to the couch, whispering softly to the new calico I’d adopted today. “Here, baby kitty,” he whispered repeatedly, but our new cat had decided that she would come out when she was ready. Of course, she wasn’t really a kitty; she was about a year old. One of the volunteers at the shelter had said that she was already spayed and that it was harder for an adult cat – even one only a year old – to get adopted. “Everyone wants kittens,” the woman had said with a scowl. And I’d wanted to rescue a cat that nobody wanted. I understood exactly how the calico felt. I wasn’t old, and yet, Dick had wanted to play with a new kitty. I didn’t need a kitten; I wanted a cat with character. And this calico had shown more spunk and personality than any of the cats — or kittens, for that matter. She was feisty and independent. She’d be my role model.

“Eric,” I said softly, “why don’t you just sit back on the sofa and ignore her for a while? Maybe try the string again? But this time, act as though you aren’t interested in her, just the string. I bet she’ll come out.”

My son lifted his chin, then smiled. “You mean, play hard-to-get, like all the girls in school?”

I laughed. “Exactly. You know … girls aren’t the only ones who can play hard-to-get. Sometimes, if a guy just does his thing, without worrying who’s watching … well, often, those are the most popular guys.” I thought about the man at the library, Mr. Forgetful, how he’d been more attractive in my eyes than any guy I’d met. Not because he was attractive physically, but because he hadn’t come on to me in a Yo-why-don’t-we-go-out-sometime kind of way. I concentrated on my son’s eyes. “Is there someone you’re interested in?”

Embarrassed or irritated with my probing question, Eric dropped his head, shaking it lightly. “No, Mom.”

Too far, I thought. I knew my son loved me, but he didn’t like to talk about guy stuff with me. Dick had been scarce, though, so I felt like I had to ask. Thank goodness Dick had already had “The Talk” with him when Eric was in junior high. Dick had insisted that telling him in eighth grade wasn’t too early. That if we didn’t explain the “Birds and the Bees,” someone else would.

Eric positioned himself upright against the back of the couch as I’d suggested, and in a few seconds, he was tapping on his iPhone, completely forgetting about the string he’d been twisting in his fingers.

Nodding to the white paw poking out from beneath the couch, I whispered, “Slowly.”

Eric gently pulled on the string, but then the kitty pulled back her paw. He danced the twine above the crack between the couch and the carpet, and the kitty curled her paw upward, trying to reach it. Eric let her grab just enough to make her feel as though she’d won, and then he’d slowly pull it away.

Who would have thought that a cat and some string could teach a fifteen-year-old boy how to be patient with a girl? But I had a feeling it just might. And more importantly, I had my son in the same room with me.

I blinked away tears as I realized how many years Eric had missed having a pet, and how many months I missed having Eric near me. Yeah, I had Angela, but I hadn’t really felt the touch of my family for months. Growing up, I’d sworn to myself that I’d have a lasting relationship, not a broken marriage, where I made my son susceptible to unloving or callous stepparents, as my father had repeatedly done.

After a few minutes, our new family member ventured out from beneath the couch. Inch by inch, she explored her new home, stopping and smelling everything, wincing every time Eric’s phone chimed.

Without my asking him, he flicked his phone to silent. He was growing up, and I just needed to sit back and be willing to listen when he was ready to talk. Play hard-to-get, so to speak, but be available as soon as he came looking.

“Why don’t you show her where her food is again?” I suggested.

My nearly six-foot-tall son crawled on all fours to the kitchen, looking back at the kitty to see if she was following him.

She was, and the sight nearly made me cry again.

Eric pulled out a piece of kibble and set it on the tile. “Here you are, kitty.” He peeked his head around the counter. “What are we gonna call her?”

I shrugged. “What do you think?”

Eric bit down on his bottom lip. “I like the name Jane.”

“For a cat?” I laughed, but then covered my mouth. “I do too, actually. Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors.”

Eric sat up and scratched the kitty between the ears. “I got it. How about J’Austen? That sounds cool.”

“J’Austen, it is!” I agreed.

Chapter 5 – Off Limits

I dropped my keys on the credenza by the door and ran — quite literally — to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of Merlot.

Even though she knew she wasn’t supposed to, J’Austen jumped up on the counter to greet me. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear she did it whenever I was upset, though, so I couldn’t scold her too harshly.

I scooped her up and headed toward the lanai. “You know you’re not allowed on the counter, baby kitty, but I’ll forgive you since you are much better company than a man.”

I sat down on the swing, setting J’Austen beside me, and then picked up my Kindle to read the latest book an author had sent me. The book description and cover had held great promise, but just as Mak had warned me, You couldn’t always judge a book by its cover. But I was determined to press on, even if I didn’t like the first few chapters of the book. At least the male protagonist was more interesting than my date had been. After all, he’d come out of the mind of a woman. And most women knew what other women wanted.

J’Austen purred as I swung, but then flinched when I suddenly stopped the back-and-forth motion, slamming both of my feet to the floor. “Are you kidding me?” I’d put up with several of the writer’s silly ramblings, but the last scene had done me in.

If I were reading a paperback, I would have thrown the book into the pool. But the Kindle had cost me a hundred bucks. That was almost a week’s groceries. But the ereader did make receiving and transporting books easier. Whether I was in the school car line or at one of Eric’s events, I always had a new book. I never had to worry about finishing one story and not having another one to start. Or, if it was like this book, where there was no way I’d ever finish it, I could jump right into the next book on my Kindle.

I liked fantasy, but I wasn’t willing to suspend my beliefs or check my intelligence at the door to read a book that wasn’t even classified as paranormal. Nor was I a cop, but I knew enough about the justice system to know that no court would allow what this author wanted me to believe.

Next …” I told J’Austen as I flipped through the Kindle. “That title is a DNF, baby.”

J’Austen stared at me through her golden eyes.

“It means Did Not Finish, which means I won’t review it.” I didn’t feel right reviewing a book that I didn’t finish, which meant that I pretty much didn’t review books unless they were worthy of more than a three-star review. After all, who wants to read a book that isn’t, at least, three stars? So why bother writing a review? That was my philosophy anyway. I wanted people to want to buy the books I posted on my website.

My kitty yawned, letting me know she couldn’t care less.

“Fine. Want to hear about my date, then?”

She rolled over and covered her eyes with her paw.

“Guess not! Hey, you’re supposed to be a good listener.” I scratched her behind her right ear as she always liked. J’Austen was a good listener. Unless it was naptime, which for her was three-quarters of the day.

I’d call Angela, but she had enough things to worry about. The last thing she needed was to hear about what a worm Mr. Teller turned out to be. When he’d mentioned coffee–or something–I didn’t know that the or something was all he was really interested in. And for some reason, he seemed shocked that I didn’t want to go back to his place for a quick roll in the sack. He’d sounded so shocked at my repulsion that I started to wonder how many thirty-some-year-olds were into that.

Not that he’d even waited to get to a house; he practically tried to undress me outside the coffee shop.

Had I looked desperate? Ugh! That’s the last thing I needed in my life.

And worse, now I’d have to change banks.

Note to self, I thought silently, so as not to disturb baby kitty: Never date a man who you’ll have to run into if it doesn’t work out, which meant the bank, Eric’s school or events, and the bookstore were all off-limits. And the library

The library … I hadn’t been back since Media Man had made a play for me. And truthfully, I didn’t have to go to that library. Although, I did miss Mak.

Maybe I should go see Makeda tomorrow. Around lunch time. Now that I had my Kindle, the library wasn’t off-limits.

Which meant Mr. Forgetful wasn’t off-limits. All I had to remember was that I didn’t want to look desperate. Which I wasn’t. Not yet anyway.

 

***

 

The following morning, I took an extra-long time getting ready to take Eric to school. I’d meticulously blow-dried and straightened my hair and opted to wear a light sweater over a pair of the nicest jeans I owned instead of my ever-present T-shirt and favorite pair of faded jeans. I even slapped on a touch of powder and mascara.

“Wow!” Eric said, fanning his hand in front of his face. “Coach was right.”

“Excuse me?” I asked as I jumped into the passenger side of my Tacoma, allowing Eric to drive. He’d gotten his permit a few months ago, but I’d only recently allowed him to get behind the wheel of my baby while we were on an actual road. I loved my vehicle. It was just the right size, and I didn’t need to borrow or rent a truck when I wanted to pick up something from Home Depot. The last thing I needed was for Eric to total it. I was pretty sure Dick Embers wouldn’t replace my paid-off truck.

Eric shrugged. “Coach said you were one of the hottest moms in my school. I guess I just don’t see you get dressed up much anymore. You got a hot date today?”

Coach … I groaned internally. As flattering as that was, I hated that he’d told my fifteen-year-old son that I was hot. I knew there was a reason I’d marked him as off-limits.

“No,” I said, “I’m just heading to the library, and thought I should care about my appearance when I go out in public.”

“You never did before.”

“Eric!” I smacked his leg since I didn’t want to hit the hand that was on the steering wheel. “That’s not true. Just because I don’t dress up and put on makeup every time I run to the grocery store doesn’t mean I don’t care about my appearance. At least I don’t go out in public wearing curlers and slippers. I saw a woman dressed like that last week.”

“Ewww …” Eric cringed. “Really?”

“Yeah. Anyway, no, I don’t have a date. I’m just heading to the library. But, you never know.”

Eric put the truck into park once he made it to the front of the car line, but didn’t get out. “You don’t ever know, Mom. You deserve someone who’ll treat you well. But … be careful, okay? There’re a lot of scary people out there.”

I reached across the center console and kissed him on the head. “Thank you, sweetheart. I will.”

We both hopped out and ran around the truck at the same time, looking like circus clowns. Me, to the driver’s side. Eric, to the school.

“See you tonight,” I called as a goodbye, but also checking that I remembered that he had drama practice directly after school.

“Yep, pick me up around six today, please.” He stopped. “And, Mom, I was just messin’ with you. You always look great. Love you!” He turned and jogged off toward the building.

I smiled, but then jumped back inside the cab, realizing I couldn’t bask in the moment more than a second before the horns started blaring behind me.

I ran all my errands early, including finding a new bank, which was something I’d wanted to do anyway since that’s where Dick banked as well. I didn’t want some pretty young thing sharing any of my information with Dick Embers, and I certainly didn’t want to run into my ex-husband.

According to Eric, Dick had finally moved his new baby mama in with him, so maybe he’d stop calling me. She had to be pretty far along now, so I was certain that she wouldn’t condone him trying to get his ex-wife back. I really couldn’t understand it. If he loved me so much, why had he felt the need to sleep with another woman? Not that there was any excuse for a man cheating on his wife, but if I’d been cold, bitchy, or didn’t take care of myself, I might understand a little bit, but I was none of those things.

Giving my head a firm shake, I turned the key in the ignition and shifted the vehicle into drive. Next stop, the library.

As always, Mak greeted me with a smile. And I was pretty sure if she hadn’t been behind the counter, she would have given me a hug too. “Hey, girl! It’s been forever. Where’ve you been? I’ve wanted to say thank you. Those reviews were perfect. Absolutely perfect. And I saw a rise in my Kindle sales.”

I felt my cheeks warm slightly. I’d never spoken with someone for whom I’d written a review. If I tagged authors in a post, they usually said thanks, but this was different. I felt … appreciated.

“You’re welcome,” I said. “I only wrote the truth. The series was great. I could hardly put the books down.”

Makeda smiled. “Well, thank you. And hey, I haven’t been keeping books behind the counter, since you haven’t been stopping in as much, but there are some new ones I just put out today. Take a look, there are a couple of good ones.”

“Thanks, Mak. I’ll go take a peek.”

I headed off toward where I knew the new releases were, and within minutes, I was absorbed in a new story. Amazing how I hadn’t found the time to read all these years. In college, even when I was studying for an exam, I’d found the time to read a book or two a week. But, as with everything else in my life, I’d given up the things I loved to take care of my husband, child, and the house. Not that that had been a bad thing. I’d loved being a homemaker. But if Dick had been interested in just one of the things I’d loved, we could have done it together. Sadly, Dick only liked to play golf, and when I’d asked if I could learn, he’d not been happy. In fact, he’d been upset. He’d said it was the one thing he had that helped him decompress, his only quiet time.

As always, I’d understood. But now I wondered why. He worked sixty to seventy hours a week. Why hadn’t he wanted to be with me on his days off?

“Jana?”

I nearly jumped through the roof. What was wrong with me? I hooked my finger into the book that I’d stopped reading about five minutes ago and closed it, then stared up at Mr. Forgetful, who hadn’t forgotten my name. That was a good sign.

“I’m Seth … we met here a couple of times.”

Had I looked like I didn’t remember who he was? Or maybe my mouth was hanging open. In the pretense of scratching my chin, I lifted my hand to my mouth to check that I wasn’t drooling. Mr. Forgetful — Seth — was gorgeous.

“Oh, yeah!” I said. “I know. I was just lost in this book.”

Seth glanced down at the book. “Must be pretty good to be so engrossed after only a few pages.”

I followed his gaze. He was right. I couldn’t have read more than a couple of pages before I started thinking about my previous life. Oh, well. I was getting better every day. I was here. That was a start.

I set the book back on the shelf. I had too many books waiting for me in my Kindle anyway. “So … did you read Patterson’s new book?”

Seth smiled, then walked to a nearby chair, looking back as though he wanted me to follow him. Man, he was smooth. Too smooth?

Seth pulled out a chair for me and then sat across from me. “After reading your review, I rushed right to the bookstore. Didn’t even bother taking a chance that it wasn’t here.”

I resisted rolling my eyes, opting for just a subtle lift that told him I didn’t buy his act. “You’re teasing me.”

He shook his head. “No, I’m not. I really enjoyed your review. And after reading the book, I agreed with every one of your points.”

Two compliments in one day … three if I counted Eric’s. I could get used to this.

I leaned back in the chair, though, waiting for Seth to make his next move. I certainly wasn’t going to ask him out. “Thank you. I’m glad you liked it.”

“I also read some of your other reviews. You’re good. So, you review books for a living?”

I nodded, feeling my guard go up, but I refused to take it personally. I worked hard on my website. It wasn’t just about reading books. Not only did I have to write out a thought-provoking review, but I also had to design and market my website. I spent well more than forty hours a week on my new career. And besides, whoever accused Siskel and Ebert of sitting around and watching movies all day? Men could be so inconsiderate sometimes.

“That’s amazing!” Seth said, surprising me. “What a wonderful career. I wish I could do that.”

I shook my head to clear it. Clearly, Seth wasn’t real. “You could.”

“No, I couldn’t. I’m still paying on my student loans. It’ll be a long time before I can do what I want to do.”

I rested my chin on my fist. “What do you want to do?”

“Anything but what I do,” he said through a chuckle. “I’m an attorney. Unfortunately, it’s nothing like I envisioned it would be. After I read The Firm, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, even though it hadn’t turned out well for the main character. I think what I really wanted was to be John Grisham.”

I laughed. “Being John Grisham is a good career choice.”

Seth threw his head back. “Yeah … I was hoping if I became a lawyer, I’d have some interesting cases worth writing about.”

“Have you?”

He shook his head. “Regrettably, no. Nada! Mostly just workman’s comp and personal injury claims.”

A career wasn’t like a marriage, so I wondered, why did people hang on if they weren’t happy? I wasn’t unhappy in my marriage, but even when I got down or started questioning where my husband was, I knew I couldn’t just quit. But a job …

“Silly question …” I started. “Since I’m self-employed, and I’ve never worked a regular career, but I can’t help but wonder … Why not quit? What’s the worst thing that would happen?” I shrugged. “Sell your house, pay off your remaining bills, and live like you did in college. Not in a frat house,” I laughed, “but what are you working toward?”

Seth dropped his shoulders. “I don’t know. Nothing. I think you’re right.”

He reached across the table and touched my hand. “I’m glad I met you, Jana. I think you’re absolutely correct. I was going to ask what else you recommend, but it looks like I have a lot of work to do.”

“Wait … that’s not how you’re supposed to do it. You’re still supposed to set aside time to read.”

He laughed quietly. “I will. Do me a favor, review some more mystery books.”

I bobbed my head up and down as I tried not to laugh. “Okay.”

Seth peered down at his phone. “Well, I have to head back. Still employed, for now.” He winked as he hopped up. “Thanks, Jana.”

And he darted off toward the door.

I dropped my head on the table. Great advice! You missed your calling, Jana. You should have been a psychologist. Instead of getting a date with a hot lawyer, you told him to quit his day job and become a writer. Smart!

I felt a pat on my back and I looked up to see Media Man. “You okay?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah.” I gathered up my few things and rushed toward the closest exit.

“Jana,” Media Man called, but I rushed out the front door as fast as my legs would carry me. I didn’t know why, but I was pretty sure I’d hear an Action News alert about Media Man. I could hear it now, “He was so sweet. Always so helpful.” Yikes! My dad had warned me to always go with my gut. Too often, I’d chosen to ignore that small voice, but not in this situation. Alarm bells might as well have rung over his head.

I hopped in my car and pressed the lock button. I still had hours before I had to pick up Eric.

When I’d been getting ready, I’d envisioned running into Mr. Forgetful and him asking to take me to lunch — on the beach. We’d be having such a good time, discussing books, but then I’d have to dart off like Cinderella to pick up my son, and he’d be longing after me.

Instead, Seth had dashed out of the library as though he were the prince and he’d just remembered that he had to go to war today.

Sigh! Why didn’t men ever do what women expected them to do? Or, the better question was … why did I expect a man to do anything?

This was my life. If I wanted something, I would damn well have to learn how to ask.

Chapter 6 – People Don’t Change

My eyes darted around the Starbucks, hoping no one I knew would walk in. I’d purposely chosen a Starbucks that I rarely went to so that if things went poorly, I’d lessen the chance of a recurrence.

I set the bright purple shoulder bag I’d received as a gift-with-purchase at the end of the tabletop. Other than the beach, I rarely used the neon-colored monstrosity, but I hadn’t wanted to do something as cliché as carrying a yellow rose or setting my tattered paperback version of Pride and Prejudice beside me.

Chancing a quick peek at my phone for the time, I wondered again why I’d allowed my cousin to talk me into this. Why was she so adamant that I dated someone? At least Angela hadn’t suggested that I sign up for online dating; she’d just insisted that I meet the brother of one of her sorority sisters. It had been a few years since she’d seen him, but she insisted that he was super sweet, cute, and every time she’d seen him, he’d had a book in his hands. So worst case, if we had nothing else in common, at least we could talk about books. Assuming he didn’t read space operas or horror novels. Those were the two genres that I couldn’t seem to get interested in reading.

And that was what I was starting to realize … The reason my marriage had failed, the reason that every guy I’d dated before Dick hadn’t worked out. I hadn’t shared an interest in anything that they enjoyed.

Sadly, that was partly my fault, because other than books, movies, and wine, what did I like? My son. But that conversation would only interest Dick, probably the reason my marriage had made it to the fifteen-year mark. We’d shared two loves: talking about our son … and sex.

“Jana?”

I bolted upright in the chair, spilling coffee on the cuff of my white long-sleeved shirt. What was wrong with me? “Yes … I’m Jana. Sorry.” I motioned my hand for Kyle to sit, then squirted some spring water from my bottle of Zephyrhills on to my shirt and dabbed at it with a napkin.

“No, I’m sorry,” Kyle said as he handed me a couple more napkins. “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

I wagged my head. “You didn’t. I scare myself, I think. Sometimes I zone out. I get so deep in thought that I don’t realize what’s going on around me.” Nice conversation starter, Jana. First, you prove that you’re a klutz, then you tell him you’re a ditz. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that I was purposely trying to sabotage any chances of starting a relationship with another man. Maybe I was.

Kyle laughed. “You too?”

My lips curved up slightly. I wasn’t sure if Kyle agreeing with me was a good thing or not. “So, Angela tells me you’re an exterminator?” When Angela had first mentioned “exterminator,” I immediately had thought about my request that she knock off my ex-husband. As much as Angela and I had laughed, something told me that I didn’t want to bring that up in the first five minutes either, especially since I’d already proven that I was jittery and a space cadet.

“Yeah …” he said. “Not extremely glamorous, but it pays the bills.”

Well, at least he wasn’t high and mighty about it. All jobs were important, but it always amazed me how some people were pompous about their jobs, especially given the fact that most people fell into their jobs. “How did you end up being an exterminator?”

“I started as an apprentice in high school, doing the dirty jobs that sales reps didn’t want to do, then … after a few years of that, I was able to get my license.” He paused to take a sip of coffee, then started right in, “One of my first jobs was at a triplex. One of the tenants moved out and then all of a sudden, the other two became overrun with pests …”

My mind wandered off as Kyle rambled on and on about palmetto bugs as large as the palm of his hand, fruit rats, and a plethora of insects and rodents I didn’t care to hear about over coffee … or anywhere else for that matter. Now I understood why an intelligent, well-read, and decent-looking man was still single at thirty-two. I hadn’t been a fan of all of Dick’s stories about irritating car shoppers, but I’d be willing to listen about picky shoppers for another fifteen years than stories about bugs. Eww

I’d like to think that Kyle could discuss something other than his job, but since he’d gone into the sordid details within the first five minutes of meeting me, I had to believe that he couldn’t.

And the one thing I knew more than anything when it came to men: you couldn’t change them. Being raised by my father had taught me that. Just watching him go from relationship to relationship, each one ending almost exactly the same way, I understood that fact better than any other facet of human behavior. My father was a good man, but he liked to drink, fish, and play, and no matter what a new woman in his life thought or wanted, he’d never change.

As sweet as Kyle seemed, people didn’t change. At thirty-four, I was too old to take a car home and see if it grew on me. If I didn’t like a car during the five-minute test drive, chances were I’d never appreciate it.

At the first sign of a pause in Kyle’s next account about mice, I glanced at my phone. “Well, it was very nice meeting you, Kyle, but I have to pick up my son.” Which wasn’t a complete lie. I did have to pick up Eric, but not until after practice. But Kyle didn’t know that. I’d purposely scheduled our coffee date for one-thirty, though, as most people knew that high school got out around two.

“Oh, sure.” He stood as I got up, again showing that he was a sweet guy, but I wasn’t willing to train a new man. I’d leave that task up to some other woman. Maybe a fellow exterminator.

“Thanks for meeting me —”

“I know you’re in a hurry,” he interrupted, “so I’ll just throw this out there. Would you like to have dinner sometime?”

I smiled. “You’re a nice guy, Kyle, but I think it’s just too early for me to start seeing someone. I didn’t realize how hard it’d be.” Another lie, but I told this lie so I wouldn’t hurt his feelings. After all, some women liked mice, so they might like his stories. What did I know?

“Sure, sure … I understand.” He held the door open for me. “You have my number. Call me if …” he trailed off, seeming to understand that there wouldn’t be an if.

I opened the door to my truck and offered him a smile. “I will, Kyle,” I said, though, because who knew where I’d be in a year? Maybe I’d go deaf or suddenly have a houseful of pests. Or maybe I would become desperate. Still, after meeting Mr. Forgetful, I was pretty sure that when I was ready to find another man, I’d be able to. When the time was right.

I was starting to think that the right time just wasn’t right now.

Chapter 7 – New Hobbies

While I typed up my review for the next day, J’Austen laid her head as close as was catly possible to the keyboard.

If I thought she did it because of lack of attention, I’d feel bad, but I knew that wasn’t the case. Actually, I didn’t know why she did it. Because once I finished whatever I was typing, she would trot off and lounge around somewhere else in the house. Lately I’d been finding her basking beneath a slice of sun that had taken residence for a few hours during the day across the bottom of Eric’s bed. But next week, she might take up residence on one of the barstools that surrounded my kitchen counter.

As it was, it was getting harder and harder to write reviews on contemporary romances, so as endearing as J’Austen was, I needed to think. It wasn’t that the last book that I read wasn’t good; it was. The writer had a firm grasp of the English language, which was always a plus. I understood a few errors here and there — we’re all human — but when I had to stop and reread sentences throughout the entire book, it detracted from the pleasure of reading. The author had also researched her story, which I appreciated. I couldn’t stand reading a romantic-suspense book where the writer misquoted laws that were easily researchable or wrote a story where every cop and politician in a town was corrupt, except the one champion who would save the woman who had secret information that would take down an entire city. Bleh!

The writer of the book I’d just finished hadn’t done any of those things. She’d done the worst thing of all. She’d broken every rule when it came to boy-meets-girl and living happily-ever-after. Sure, I believed in love-at-first-sight, a too-good-to-be-true man, and everything working out perfectly for the rest of forever … just not all in the same book.

Maybe I was becoming jaded with reality, since the last three dates I’d gone on after Mr. Bugman had been total flops.

I blew out a breath. “How am I going to write this review, baby kitty?”

J’Austen looked up at me and fluttered her eyelids.

I gawked at her in disbelief. “You’re telling me to lie?”

She crinkled her nose, which I took as, No, don’t lie … just write the truth … gracefully. Maybe J’Austen was right. Maybe some women still wanted a fairy tale, a real fairy tale. Because in the old fairy tales, things weren’t always sunshine and roses. Those princesses had to work hard for their happily-ever-afters.

If only men would read some of these books, they’d know what women wanted and what not to do.

Before I knew it, my fingers were moving across the keyboard, but I wasn’t writing the review. I was writing my thoughts.

Instead of laughing at your date’s chosen profession, maybe ask how she ended up doing something you never heard of as a career.

Instead of talking about bugs, talk about the people who were thankful, the reason you love your job.

Instead of beeping your horn to let your date know you’ve arrived, get out of the car and walk to the door.

Instead of assuming that your date likes weird ethnic food, maybe ask before you choose the restaurant.

Instead of getting turned off by the fact that a woman is raising a fifteen-year-old boy solo, learn about her before you beg her to go out on a date.

Instead of getting furious that your date doesn’t want to hop into bed with your greatness on the first date, maybe try proving you’re great instead of telling her how great you are for hours on end.

I looked down at my list and all I could think about was my father. How he’d been right up front with women, and truly, some women probably would have enjoyed all the things he loved. But he wasted so much time with the fakers, that he never met a woman who’d love him for who he was. My father was a gentleman, a great listener, and he was intelligent. But he also liked to hang out at biker bars and fish. And I understood that. Truthfully, I respected it. He knew what he wanted.

What did I want? Why did I care about what men were like on dates when I wasn’t meeting men who were doing things I liked anyway? Shouldn’t that be the first step? Who cared if a man held open the door if he bashed what I did for a living? Who cared if he liked what I did for a living if he spoke about bugs the rest of the time? Who cared if he had a great job and was handsome if all he wanted was to get into my pants?

“What do I want?” I said aloud.

J’Austen stared up at me again.

“Exactly, baby kitty! I wanted you, and I went out and found you. What else do I want to do?”

I sat back and stared at the screen, then started typing again.

What do I like? Reading, wine, dancing, the water, exercise

I already had the reading down, but what else could I do? Dancing … I was certain I could find free dance classes somewhere. Exercise … but maybe I could do more. Maybe there was a class at my gym where I could learn martial arts or something. The water. I couldn’t afford to own a boat. Dick had kept the boat. But … he’d left the kayak he’d bought for him and Eric.

That’s what I needed to do. I needed to stop worrying about finding a man, and start finding myself. And I needed to stop reading sappy romance novels.

 

***

 

In my search of free hobbies, since my budget didn’t allow for “paid” fun, I discovered that there were several nightclubs that offered free line dancing classes. I’d also found a free self-defense class, but figured I’d do that after I learned how to dance since I was certain that balance was important. Sadly, I wasn’t what most people would define as graceful. I was also aching to learn how to use the kayak that neither Dick nor Eric had used more than a handful of times, but since it was large and bulky, I figured I’d better wait until I found a dolly on Craig’s List. That way I could transport it from the truck to the water without throwing out my back.

As it turned out, tonight was ladies’ night at the local country western bar. I had no desire to hang out and drink all night, but according to the ad on Google, they offered free line-dancing classes from seven-thirty until nine o’clock. And everyone in the ad was nice looking and having a nice time, so clearly it was the place to be. Everyone knew that advertisements never lied. According to the calendar, Thursdays were “Improver to Intermediate” night, and I was pretty sure I could fake it. After all, I’d been to umpteen weddings in my life, and nothing — including my two-left-footed ex — had ever kept me from jumping up and trying to do the Boot Scootin’ Boogie and the Cha Cha Slide.

I fished through my closet for the pair of cowboy boots I’d bought back in college. In the process, I stumbled on the one pair of jeans I’d saved too. I hadn’t worn them since I found out I was pregnant. I pulled them down from the top shelf, hoping they’d still fit.

No such luck. I guess only the shoes and T-shirts I’d owned since college still fit. But I didn’t have too far to go, so instead of tossing them, I hung them up on the door of the closet. They’d be my inspiration.

I slipped on my most recently purchased jeans, dabbed on extra mascara, and pulled my mop of hair up into a clip. Even though I knew I looked better with my hair long and flowing, I didn’t think that sweating profusely on the back of my neck would look attractive.

Besides, learning to dance wasn’t about meeting a man, it was about doing something I wanted to do. If I started thinking about the men around me, I wouldn’t be able to have as much fun dancing.

When I walked into the country bar, I immediately imagined I was at a down-home shindig set inside the town’s largest barn.

Of course, it was a rectangular steel building on the outside with plenty of exposed steel beams and rafters on the inside, but the walls and bar area were lined with naturally stained pine and the massive dance floor was filled with dancers of all ages and sizes. From the college girls in their short-shorts, tank tops, and cowboy boots to grannies in large smocks over polyester pants.

As I suspected, there weren’t a lot of men, which elicited a sigh of relief from me. I really just wanted to learn how to dance. Once I learned how to dance, if I liked it, then I’d consider meeting a man who liked to dance. After all, what if I hated dancing in a bar as opposed to a wedding where I knew everyone? What if I realized that dancing was sweaty and tiring, but then I suddenly met Mr. Wonderful, who just so happened to love dancing so much that he wanted to go out every weekend.

Jana, my friend, I thought to myself, you really should start seeking professional help because really … you might just be going insane. I gave my psyche a good chiding for picking on the practical side of myself for thinking ahead for once and then allowed my fun-loving self to trot over to the dance floor. Way in the back of the dance floor so that no one could signal me out.

I passed a few men who were entirely too young for me, and then a few who looked like they might be gold prospectors, but thankfully, all of them just smiled and concentrated on their own hops and claps.

After just a few dances, I felt at home on the dance floor. I’d never been great, but I enjoyed dancing. When I was in college, I never missed a chance to dance.

An hour later, the instructor informed the wannabe dancers about the specials if they chose to stay after the dance lessons. She smiled widely when only a few people cheered. “Oh, you want to hear about tomorrow’s special?”

A few more dancers cheered at that announcement, encouraging her, it seemed.

“Who hates Valentine’s Day?” the woman screeched in response.

The floor came alive with stomping and hooting. Even I couldn’t help but applaud for that question. I’d almost forgotten about the lovers’ holiday. And why shouldn’t I? If I dwelled on the fact that tomorrow was Valentine’s Day, I might start feeling sorry for myself, and that’s the last thing I needed. For the first time in more than fifteen years, I had no one to bring me candy and flowers. Meh! Chocolate was fattening and flowers just made a mess of my counter top and then died anyway.

“That’s more like it,” the announcer continued in her drawl. “Tomorrow night we’re havin’ an Anti-Valentine’s Party. Don’t forget to wear blue if you’re single.”

***

 

Blue … Other than blue jeans, I didn’t own anything that was blue. I racked my brain for something that Angela owned. Ooh … that silky tank top she’d worn for New Year’s Eve a couple years ago … that would work. I pulled on a pair of jeans and just a basic T-shirt, then texted her I was coming over.

Before leaving the house, I downloaded the Uber app I’d seen advertised at the bar since the bar offered a twenty dollar credit. Not that I planned to drink much — drinking at a bar definitely wasn’t in my budget — but I figured why take the chance? I wasn’t opposed to accepting a paid-for drink if a man was so inclined. It was Valentine’s Day after all.

Angela chuckled as she sifted through her closet.

“Why are you laughing, Ang?” I bit out. “Do you think it’s too dressy?”

“No, not at all,” Angela grunted as she nearly got down on her knees. “It’s perfect. Hang on …” She rummaged through the shoe boxes on the floor.

“Angela, you’re going to hurt yourself. I have shoes —”

“No, you don’t,” she cut me off, “you have boots.” She exited the closet with the top draped over her shoulder and a shoebox in her hands. She threw the box on the bed and then handed me the ruffly and sequined silk blouse. It really was quite beautiful.

I slipped the top over my head, noticing that it fell lower than I thought it would. I liked the pockets of these jeans and had wanted to show them off.

Angela leaned back, shaking her head. “Now, get rid of those boots and jeans.”

“But … what will I wear with the top?”

My cousin rolled her eyes. “It’s not a top, Jana, it’s a dress. You never actually saw me wearing it since you and Dick went to that party at the country club he’d wanted to go to.”

I darted my eyes to hers to confirm that she was serious, then stared down at the tiny patch of fabric between me and my legs. “You’re kidding me. My butt will hang out in this.”

Angela walked around me, inspecting my backside. “First of all, your butt doesn’t hang — thank God — and no, it won’t.”

I walked to her full-length mirror and then turned around, doing my best to see my rear. I pulled at the hem, checking the length. “I couldn’t possibly.”

“You can, and you will. I’m not letting you wear my dress over jeans.” She opened the box and handed me a pair of black four-inch ankle-breakers.

I pulled the straps over the backs of my heels and examined myself in the mirror.

Angela popped her head over my shoulder. “You should wear cobalt blue more often, Jana. It looks good on you.”

“Dick hated blue,” I murmured.

“Dick was a fool,” Angela said in response.

I huffed out a breath through my nose as I tried to hold back the tears. Not once had Angela said anything like, I never liked Dick or You’re better off without him. She’d just kept her opinions to herself and had been a shoulder for me these last few months. Even now, she didn’t call him names, she’d just pointed out the obvious: Dick was a fool. And he knew it too, at least I assume he knew it since he’d tried repeatedly to come home. But I just couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get the idea of him having sex with another woman out of my mind. And I knew that I never would be able to.

I lifted my head, attempting to dry my eyes. “Thank you, Angela.” I wrapped my arms around her. “I love you, cuz.”

“I love you too.” She pulled back. “Now, go have fun, but be careful. Call me if you decide to drink.”

I smiled. “I downloaded something called Uber. It’s supposed to be pretty easy. If I use it, I’ll call you to go pick up my truck with me tomorrow.”

Angela flashed a half smile. “I know what Uber is. My husband uses it a lot when he’s out of town on business. Says it’s easier to use than most taxi companies — and cheaper.”

I rested my hands on my hips. “How is it you always know about this stuff before I do?”

“Because I’m almost a decade younger than you. My generation grew up with all these new gadgets as you old-timers call them.”

“Oh, right.” I twirled and inspected my reflection in the mirror again. “Are you sure?”

“You look hot! Go have fun. Don’t think about meeting anyone, just dance and enjoy yourself.”

 

Every time I tugged at the hem of my dress, the famous words of Richard Gere from the movie Pretty Woman flashed in my head: Stop fidgeting. He’d been right, of course. Nothing detracted from what a woman was wearing — or trying to wear — than when she continued to yank on it … because she knew it was too short or too low cut.

In the case of the dress I was wearing, it was both. Whenever I hitched up the dress to cover my cleavage, I immediately had to check that my rear was still covered. Regardless, I heeded Angela’s command. As soon as I heard a familiar song, I headed to the dance floor. By the second chorus, I had most of the steps down and had all but forgotten the length and cut of my dress. After all, what did I care? I was single. It’s not like I had anyone who would be offended. Actually, even if I were still married, it wouldn’t have mattered. Dick had always asked me to dress sexily, especially when we were going out.

Since I was no J-Lo, though, I constantly tripped over my own feet and stepped on a few others. Thankfully, most people laughed it off. Those who were wearing cowboy boots, that is.

By the third dance, I was laughing myself silly, but I was in love … with dancing. I’d been so concentrated on my feet that I didn’t have a chance to see if there was anyone cute around me. I was also parched, though. I quickly remembered why I could eat and drink anything I wanted when I was in college … dancing burned calories — and dehydrated me. I was dying of thirst.

I headed to the bar, hoping they didn’t charge a buck for a plastic cup of water.

As soon as I sat down, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Hey …” a male voice shouted in my ear.

I swung around on the barstool, hoping it wasn’t someone I knew. Nope! The man standing in front of me was a lot younger than I was, so more than likely we didn’t run in the same circles.

“Yeah?” I asked, not sure what he wanted. Had I taken his seat?

“Wanna dance?”

“Oh, thank you,” I said, immediately flattered, “but I just sat down. I need to drink something before I die of thirst. Maybe in a little bit.”

The man turned to leave, but then waved his hand at me as though he were telling me no. “A hundred dollars? No thanks.”

“What did you say?” I shouted over the din, even though I was a hundred percent sure I’d heard him correctly.

The man sat down at a table with several other young men, and they all laughed hysterically at their friend’s rude comment.

As much as I wanted to walk over to the man — boy — and slap him up the backside of his head, I remembered all those barroom brawls my father had to break up, and how he’d always complained that if people just wouldn’t pay any mind to belligerent morons, there’d be a lot less fights.

I decided against the water. I wouldn’t stop coming back to the club to dance. I definitely loved to dance. But I really wasn’t into the bar scene. I’d wait until I could come back with a date or continue to restrict my dancing to weddings and New Year’s Eve parties.

Chapter 8 – A New Plan

I pulled off Angela’s shoes and tossed them next to the door so I’d remember to take them back to her. I certainly wouldn’t be needing them anytime soon. Next, I dropped my keys and purse on the credenza.

At least I had my car. I hadn’t had to use Uber. Which also meant that I hadn’t even gotten the gift of a drink on Valentine’s Day.

I pulled a wine glass off the rack and filled it higher than usual with Merlot.

J’Austen finally showed up to greet me. She must have been sleeping with Eric.

I kneeled down to give her a scratch. “Hey, baby.”

She blinked in response, as if asking, Where have you been?

“You in the mood to hear about tonight’s adventure?”

J’Austen strolled toward the lanai, so I took that as a yes.

After I sat down on the swing, she jumped up beside me. I reached for my computer, deciding I’d start working on tomorrow’s post since I knew she really didn’t care to hear me complain. I’d already written up the review; I just needed to copy and paste, and add links to purchase the book at Amazon.

I opened a new Word doc, just to collect all the info, but then hesitated on the keys as I looked down at J’Austen.

“The thing is …” I said aloud, not really concerned if she wanted to hear about my night or not. I suddenly understood why Tom Hanks had started talking to Wilson. Living without a partner after fifteen years could drive you crazy. Then again, Dick hadn’t been that great of a listener. Even if J’Austen wasn’t the best listener, at least she allowed me to talk out my thoughts.

“The guy at the bar didn’t have to be an asshole,” I said. “I would have danced with him after I had a few sips of water. Heck, I would have danced with anyone who’d asked. I’d always been like that. Well, maybe not Media Man. No sense in leading on a potential stalker.”

Sighing loudly, I stopped trying to explain what I was thinking and started typing.

He should have … I smiled as a thought occurred to me. I didn’t need anyone to listen. I could write down my thoughts, like I did when I was a child. Journaling had been almost as great as an escape as reading had been.

As soon as she sat down at the one empty seat at the bar, Jana felt a tap on her shoulder. She swiveled around on the barstool, hoping the tap had come from the tall bronzed cowboy she’d caught eyeing her on the dance floor.

Evenin’, Ma’am. I was wondering if you’d save the next dance for me?”

Jana smiled at the sweet country drawl and the way the man had dipped his head to ask her. “Oh, thank you. I just danced to three songs in a row, though, and I’m really thirsty.”

Understood,” the handsome cowboy said. “You were something else out there. Wish I’d had the nerve to come dance with you. Be okay if I buy you a drink instead?”

Jana smiled. “Thanks. Just water would be great, though.”

He winked. “Water, it is. Bartender, would ya fetch this lovely lady a bottle of your best water?”

Jana couldn’t help but laugh. “Thanks again.”

My pleasure, Ma’am. Name’s Seth. After you cool down, would you do me the honor?”

Definitely.”

I smiled as I thought about Seth as the southern gentleman. Well, he didn’t have an accent, but he’d been nothing but kind the last few times I’d met him at the library. He hadn’t suggested we go back to his place for a romp in the hay. Hadn’t talked about insects and rodents. And he definitely hadn’t shouted out in the library that I was some “ho” who charged men for a dance.

Seriously, it wasn’t that hard. Why couldn’t men just behave?

I thought back on my words … It wasn’t that hard. To write the perfect man, that is. Well, not the perfect man. That wouldn’t be any fun to read. But … what if I could write my own frogs into princes?

Why not? I’d led a pretty interesting childhood. I’d dated enough losers before I’d dated Dick, and then I knew what it was like to be jilted.

I’d loved my Com II class in college. I’d even written a story that the professor had said held promise.

That was it! I could start writing. Of course, I’d still read and keep the blog going, as I was doing rather well with my affiliate earnings. But what if I could start publishing books? I didn’t have time to find a publisher — I needed money soon — but I could self-publish them. Mak could give me some tips. Angela would make sure that they were properly edited.

I opened a new document and just started jotting down ideas for my characters. My male and female protagonists anyway. The rest would come as needed. I thought of my mother and how she’d ended up, and my father’s life, pulling pieces from each as I came up with an idea for a story line.

 

Hours later I looked up and noticed it was four a.m. I’d been writing all night. I glanced at the word count, surprised to see that I’d written more than ten thousand words in one night.

No sense going to bed now, but I closed the file, deciding I needed to clean up, which would also wake me up so I could get on with my daily tasks. If I laid down for even a few minutes, I might not be able to get back up.

Standing in the shower, I closed my eyes and let the hot water run over my head.

The words I’d just written, the characters I’d created, and the world I’d just designed bounced around in my head. It was as though the characters were talking to me, telling me where their characters should go, how they should grow, what they should become.

I chuckled to myself. “Okay, I obviously hallucinate when I haven’t had enough sleep.”

But enjoying the visions, I closed my eyes again and continued to stand under the rushing spray of water. Delirious or not, I liked this. I imagined the next scene. Envisioned the male protagonist chasing the female protagonist, begging her to let him explain. The scene was so real that I couldn’t help but smile.

As soon as I got out of the shower, I opened the notepad on my iPhone and jotted down notes for the next scene. In my closet, as I pulled down a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, I thought about how the chapter should end.

In the kitchen, I stood in front of the coffee pot, waiting for it to finish brewing, but I didn’t see the coffee stream; I saw my characters, and the hotel bar where they’d meet up with the man she’d owed money to.

“Mom?”

I jumped, of course. “Yeah?”

“What are you doing?”

“Waiting for the coffee to brew.”

Eric walked over to the machine. “It helps if you turn it on.”

“Oh …”

“We’re gonna be late. Can we just pick up something at McDonald’s?”

I hadn’t splurged in a while, and I used to enjoy our drive-thru stops in the morning. “Sure.”

I threw Eric the keys. “You definitely have to drive. I didn’t get much sleep.”

“You gonna be okay driving home, then?”

I smiled at my son who’d suddenly become my protector. “Yeah. The coffee will help.”

Eric pulled the shifter into drive, then turned to me. “What time did you get home?”

I yawned. “Not too late. It was only around eleven, but then I’d worked on my computer until four.”

I didn’t dare tell Eric about my idea to write a book. Not yet. Nor would I tell Angela, simply because she’d want to know everything before I was finished.

This was something I planned to do on my own. I’d seek help once I finished.

Chapter 9 – New Toys

As I sat outside the school, waiting for Eric to finish rehearsals, I typed furiously on my laptop.

The words had been coming at me with a vengeance as if they’d been waiting for me to hear them. It had only been a few weeks, and I was already at sixty thousand words, and I had so many chapters left to go. This was easily going to be a hundred-thousand-word romantic-suspense novel.

Other than driving Eric back and forth to school and cooking and sleeping, I hadn’t stopped. Even my review website had succumbed to me posting reviews of books I’d read years ago.

I simply had to get the words out of my head and into the computer. I now understood why authors said that they had to write to quiet the voices in their heads. Even while I was trying to finish my current story, a million other ideas kept barraging my brain. Breaking my no-extra-expenses rule, I finally just downloaded a writing app on my phone and made folders for each of the ideas that I came up with, knowing that when I finished this story, I’d jump right into the next. I was hooked! But right now I was having fun writing a romantic-suspense novel featuring Seth and me. I would change the names afterward, but right now it was fun picturing myself in the story.

There he is!” Jana shouted as her ex took the corner too fast, nearly coming up on two wheels. “He caught up with us.”

Seth slammed his foot down hard on the accelerator, and the Mustang screamed forward, sending a cloud of dust up into the air behind them. Jana whipped her head around, but kept low, hoping if her ex-husband was true to his word and started firing rounds that the trunk and two seat cushions might stop a bullet from penetrating her skull.

She had to take the money, though, it was the only way that she and Seth could escape. At least she knew he wouldn’t report the money stolen. After all, how would he explain having half a million dollars in the house?

Jana ducked as the rear window exploded into a million pieces, but Seth didn’t even flinch.

Hold on, baby,” was all Seth said as he jerked the wheel to the left, threading the Mustang between a semi and SUV as he turned onto a side street.

Jana held onto ‘OSH’ handle above the door, but still craned her head to see her ex-husband’s truck get crammed by the SUV. She wasn’t sure if she was happy that the semi had missed him or not.

You did it, baby!” she screeched as soon as Seth sped up the on-ramp for the highway. She threw herself across the seat, nearly sitting on the center console. Who ever thought center consoles were a good idea?

Seth turned his head so he could kiss her, but kept his eyes on the road.

Jana grabbed his face and locked her lips with his, loving the way he tasted. Like power and sexuality, and yet romantic and faithful. She pulled back after a couple of seconds. “How soon until we reach the border?”

A few hours …”

I can’t wait that long.” She crawled over the console and straddled him —

“Jana?”

Not only had I jumped at the sound of my name, but I also lifted my computer in front of my face as if someone who knew me might want to kill me. Okay, maybe I’d researched a little too many murders for my story.

Lowering my computer, I peeked out the window to see Seth standing beside the door. “Oh, hey, Seth!” I said, finally dropping the computer in my lap again.

Two creases appeared between his eyebrows as he laughed. “Do people sneak up on you a lot?”

I shook my head as I chuckled nervously. “Seriously, you’d think so, huh? I don’t know why I’m so jumpy.”

Seth leaned on the window frame and nodded toward the laptop. “Maybe it’s what you’re writing. That looks like a pretty intense scene.”

“Oh!” I slammed down the lid and glared at him. “You’re not supposed to spy on people.”

He flashed a bright white smile. “Sorry. You were just so absorbed … I was curious.” He frowned. “How come you didn’t tell me you were a writer?”

I rubbed my hands over my eyes, surprised that he hadn’t asked me why I had used his name for my male protagonist. “I’m not a writer. I mean … I’ve never written anything before. I’m just … rambling.”

“Looks good to me —”

“Hey!” Eric’s voice broke off whatever Seth was going to say. I looked up to see my son walking toward the driver’s door of my Tacoma. He lifted his chin at Seth. “What’s up?”

Seth stepped away from the window. “Not much, dude. Just talking with your mom.”

I stared up at Seth through the window. “You two know each other?”

Seth shook his head. “Nah … Guess your son just wants to know who’s talking to his mom. Can’t say that I blame him. Maybe I’ll see you at the library tomorrow?”

I nodded, thankful he didn’t mention my writing. “Sure.” I hadn’t made time for the library, but … since he’d asked …

Eric threw the shifter into reverse and Seth hopped further away so Eric wouldn’t run over him.

I waved goodbye, then whipped around to glare at Eric. “Why are you being rude?”

“Who’s that guy? I thought you didn’t have a date at the library.”

I licked my lips. “Not that I have to explain myself, but I didn’t have a date at the library. I’ve just run into Seth a couple of times.”

“Hmm …” was all Eric said as he tore off down the street. At the first light, he turned to me. “Just be careful, Mom.”

I resisted rolling my eyes. “Okay, Eric, but he’s a lawyer. Not many cold-blooded killing lawyers out there.”

Eric laughed. “Maybe there are … we just never hear about them because they know how to circumvent the law.”

I tapped the shoulder of my baby who was no longer a little boy. “Thank you, Eric. I’m careful, I assure you. I have no intention of going home with — or bringing home — some homicidal rapist.”

 

***

 

The next day I shoved my makeup bag in my attaché case instead of fixing myself up in the morning. I’d decided that I’d go to the library after I dropped Eric off at school, and then before lunch, I’d prepare to see Seth.

The writing was coming along great. After seeing Seth the previous day, I’d gone back into the PG13 sex scenes I’d written and raced them up a bit. The scenes weren’t something I’d be embarrassed if Aunt Heidi read them, but I might blush if Eric got a hold of the story. Not that I wouldn’t tell Eric about my writing, but I’d have to come up with a pseudonym when I published so his friends and my ex wouldn’t see them.

At eleven-thirty, I freshened myself up and then splurged on a cup of coffee and a snack from the eatery located inside the library.

At twelve o’clock on the dot, I repositioned myself in the fiction area, the section Seth always seemed to like. Only this time, I kept all four legs of the chair on the floor, and I made a point of glancing up at the door often.

A few minutes after twelve, Seth strolled inside, flashing a huge smile. “Hey …” he called as he approached, looks like I can’t sneak up on you today.”

“Nope,” I said, pushing out the chair across from me with my foot. “I’m on high guard against snoopers.”

Seth dropped his briefcase on the table and then just stared at me. “So, tell me about the book you’re writing.”

I shook my head quickly as I bit down on my lip. “No. Uh-uh. It’s too embarrassing. It’s my first try at writing.”

He laughed. “No, it’s not. You write every day when you write your reviews.”

“That’s different. I’m just sharing my thoughts.”

He narrowed his eyes across the table. “What do you think you do when you write?”

I bobbed my head from side to side. “Yeah … I guess you’re right. So, what have you been writing?”

This time he shook his head rapidly. “I asked you first.”

“Ahh … so you have been writing.” I drummed my fingers on the table. “Tell you what. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”

Seth threw back his head. “Ooh … it’s like we’re sitting beneath the bleachers in junior high. You got an old Coke bottle in your backpack? Maybe we can play Spin the Bottle next. But okay …” He reached into his messenger bag and pulled out a small laptop about half the size of mine. After he clicked on a few keys, he turned it around and pushed it across the round table. “Here you go.”

I blew out a long breath and then did the same with my computer, but held it as I asked, “Did you do that in junior high? The ‘underneath the bleachers’ thing?”

Seth winked. “I’ll never tell.”

I raked my teeth across my bottom lip as I released my grip on my laptop. “Mine’s romantic suspense, though, so don’t gag.”

Seth grabbed the computer and turned it around. “I happen to like romantic suspense, Jana.”

I smiled, thinking again that this guy couldn’t be true. I would have to ask Mak if she saw anyone sitting with me. Or if I was just rambling on to myself. Maybe men had driven me to the point that I had to create an imaginary boyfriend — on paper and off.

Regardless of whether Seth was real or not, I liked him. I ran my finger down the page, positioning the cursor so I could just arrow down as I read.

I peeked up once to see that Seth had already started. Evidently feeling my gaze, he waved me off as though I should get to work.

Smiling, I started to read.

Twenty minutes later, I tore my eyes from the page to see Seth staring at me. I’d been so engrossed in the story that I’d forgotten he was here.

He tilted his head as if to ask for my opinion and then shrugged. “What do you think?”

“It’s amazing. Has anyone read this yet?”

He smiled. “Not yet.”

“Seth … this is fantastic. Really. Oh, my God! You’re going to be famous.”

He waved his hand at me, and if I wasn’t mistaken, he might have even blushed. “You think?”

I lifted my hands. “I’m just a reader, but I read a lot of books, and this is … I don’t know what to say. I do know this … I read plenty of books that I couldn’t care less if I read past the first chapter, but yours … When can I read it all?”

He grinned. “Really? You want to be a beta reader?”

“Well, I don’t know how good I’ll be as a beta reader, but yeah. Is it finished?”

“Almost. Write down your email, and you’ll be the first one I send it to.” He moved his hand across the keyboard of my computer, then pointed. “Jana, this is good. I love how you started the story with a bang — literally. I’m pretty sure I even teared up when she finally had the courage to leave him. Is it finished?”

I shook my head. “Not yet, but I hope to have it finished next month. I’ve been managing about two thousand words a day. After that, my brain shuts down.”

Seth reached into his computer bag as he laughed. “Me too.” He pulled out a card and jotted something on the back. He pushed the card across the table. “Here’s my personal email. Email me when you can, and I’ll send you mine and then you can send me yours.”

I laughed. “Okay.” He still hadn’t asked me out on a date — or mentioned the fact that I’d used his name — but maybe this was even better. A writing partner, and a man’s point of view at that. That would be great. Afterward, maybe we could get together … as a male-and-female writing team. I’d never read a book written like that, but I’d seen a few. It seemed like a great idea.

Seth scooped up his computer and shoved it back into his satchel. “Well, I have to go. I’m still at the firm, but things are coming together. I have the house up for sale, so we’ll see how that goes. It’s not as though I needed all that room anyway.”

I cocked my head as I thought about what he’d said. “By the way, why were you at the high school?”

“My daughter … she’s a senior.”

My eyes fell to his hands.

Seth laughed again. “Her mother and I have been divorced since she was two. It was a mistake right from the beginning.”

There was nothing to say, so I just nodded. I understood. Or, at least I think I understood. My marriage had been a mistake too. I should have just had Eric and carried on with my life. But I truly thought that Dick had loved me.

Seth stood and I just stared at him, wondering why he hadn’t come on to me in any way. Other than the Spin the Bottle comment, which I’d walked right into.

“Thank you, Jana,” he said sincerely as he flashed me a soft smile, then he turned and walked off. Obviously there was some reason he didn’t push for anything more than my email to swap books.

Once again, I’d not been able to ask him, but maybe that was better. It was clear he wasn’t looking for a relationship, and I certainly didn’t want to start one either. I’d just wanted someone to hang out with. And yet, I felt a little frustrated. Or was anxious the word for what I was feeling?

 

***

 

Instead of going to the local store that everyone knew, I drove all the way to Tampa. According to my research, the store was the largest on the West Coast and supposedly carried the model I wanted. Was model even the right word?

Before getting out of my truck, I peered around at the parking lot. Partly for my safety — the shop wasn’t located in the best part of town — but mostly to make sure that no one I knew was around.

Seeing that the coast was clear, I rushed out of my car and made a beeline for the door.

Inside, I tried to look cool, calm, and collected as I waded the aisles. There were hundreds of them … in every size, shape, and color … and powers. Yikes! I didn’t want to ask for help.

After a few minutes of back and forth, and gawking, a woman — thank God — approached me. “Can I help you find the right toy?”

“Toy?”

She smiled. “That’s what I call them. After all, they can definitely be a woman’s favorite toy.”

I chuckled nervously. “Oh … yeah. I wouldn’t know. But after looking at some of these …” I laughed again, and then preceded with the story I’d rehearsed on the drive here. “I’ve been put in charge of finding a toy, as you call it, for my friend’s divorce party. But I have no idea what to choose.

“I see …” The saleswoman started walking, so I followed. “Has your friend ever owned a toy?”

I bit down on my lip. “Uh, I don’t think so. She’s never mentioned owning one.”

The woman turned to me. “Has she ever mentioned how large her ex-husband was, and if his tool satisfied her?”

So a husband had a tool, but a fake one was a toy? “Uhhh … she didn’t mention that he was too small or too large, so I guess he was about average.”

“And your friend, does she like white men, or men of color?”

I could hardly contain my smile. I don’t think she has a preference, but she’s white, so maybe …”

The woman, Shauna, I finally read on her nametag smiled back. “I think I know exactly what your friend will like.” Shauna walked off and I followed again.

She walked behind a counter and then came out a few minutes later with a box. Shauna opened the box and then revealed an amazingly real-looking toy.

My jaw dropped, and I quickly closed it. I’d always imagined toys as being hard, straight rubber, but this one was natural looking in its color and ridges.

Shauna flopped it back and forth. “It’s soft and flexible, but firm. Here.” She held it out for me.

I shook my head. “That’s okay.”

She shook her head as she blew out a breath, trying not to giggle, it seemed. “You can touch it. It won’t bite.”

I reached out as I laughed. “I certainly hope not.”

“Make sure you buy your friend a water-based silicone gel to use with it, and tell her to only clean it with mild soap and water. After it’s dry, store it in its bag with a little cornstarch.” Shauna put the toy back in the box and handed it to me. “Tell her to enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with a little self-pleasure.”

I nodded and smiled. “Thank you. I will.”

I accepted the box and paid cash, thinking I’d need a couple extra glasses of red wine tonight.

Chapter 10 – No Worries!

It was Saturday, not a normal day that I went kayaking, but I planned to be gone all day, and I couldn’t do that when I had to pick Eric up from school. Eric was with Dick this weekend, though, so I decided that today was the day for two of my goals: tell Angela about the book I’d written. And paddle out to Egmont Key.

I’d already loaded my thirteen-foot kayak in the back of my Tacoma, along with plenty of water and snacks for the nearly three-mile round-trip run. Now I stood in front of Angela with a bright red folder, stuffed to the seams. Since I didn’t have the capability of two-sided printing, and I’d used Times New Roman 12 pt font and double spaced the lines, the manuscript came out to nearly four hundred pages.

Angela smiled. “Is this your last will and testament after you get run over by a cargo ship and then eaten by a bull shark?”

Ruffling her hair, which I know she hated, I laughed. “I’ll be fine, Angela. I checked the tides so I won’t be trying to come back when the tide is heading out. Also, the Gulf is as smooth as glass today, and the wind is coming out of the south. The conditions are perfect.”

Angela sighed. “I just don’t get why you have to do this.”

I shook my head. “I don’t have to do this. I want to do this.” I pointed to the folder in her hands. “That, I had to do.”

Seeming to have forgotten about the phonebook-sized folder in her hands, Angela looked down and then back up at me. “Is this what I think it is? Did you write … ?” She flipped open the cover. “Wait! You found something Gram wrote?”

Licking my lips, I smiled again. “I’m Carmen. After Gram.”

“Oh, Jana.” Tears flooded her eyes. “You wrote a book? And you’re using Gram’s name?”

“Well, part of her name.”

Angela reached out and smacked my shoulder. “How come you didn’t tell me about this?”

Ignoring her, I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around her, then leaned back. “Just let me know if it’s good enough, okay?” I stepped back. “I gotta go. Don’t want to be out there after dark. That would be dangerous.”

Angela sniffed and wiped her eyes. “Okay. Be careful. I’ll read it today.”

I’d already opened the front door to leave, but I turned back to her. “You don’t have to read it today. Just whenever you get a chance.”

“Okay.”

I rushed to my truck and hopped in before I started to talk. I just wanted her to read it and give me honest feedback, which I knew she would. No matter what people thought of her, Angela would speak her mind.

A block away, I pulled off to the side of the road … and cried. I’d been putting on a good front for Angela, my son, and … myself, but I was scared.

This was it. This was my real chance. Yes, I could scrimp by with the earnings from my review website, especially once Eric went off to college. His groceries alone cost close to three hundred dollars a month. Not to mention his use of water and electricity. I swear he took longer showers than I did. Of course, Dick had always warned me not to knock on the door while Eric was in the shower, stating it was natural for teenage boys to take long showers.

If I could make it as a writer — and I wasn’t thinking a New York Times bestselling author — I could support myself. I mean … really … how hard could it be to sell twenty books a day? Dick’s company typically sold twenty cars a day … fifty on Saturday. So, how hard would it be to sell a product that costs less than a latte at Starbucks?

I lifted my head off the steering wheel and sniffed away my tears. “I will do this!” As long as Angela likes it, and then Seth. Seth had agreed to read it too, but I wanted Angela to read it for any typos first.

Shifting the truck into drive, I sped off toward today’s challenge. I’d been kayaking for months now, but I hadn’t ventured too far from shore.

Egmont Key was located a little more than one and a half miles off the far tip of Pinellas County, where the Gulf of Mexico connected with Tampa Bay. The water was crystal clear, but since the pass allowed freighters and cruise ships into the port of Tampa Bay, it was also close to ninety-foot deep. The waterway would get wild too, with swift currents and larger waves than most beaches on the Gulf side of Florida. It wasn’t unusual to see surfers, especially during storms.

My reward, though … a lighthouse and the ruins of an old fort from the Spanish-American War. As Angela had suggested, I could have taken the ferry, but where was the challenge in that?

Like every other time when I’d started to unload my kayak from the portage carrier, a group of kids, sometimes a few older men, and every once and a while, a woman, would question where, what, and why I was paddling to wherever I was paddling.

But never men my age. Sometimes, college-aged paddlers would chat a bit, but not once had a man who was older than thirty, but less than fifty, talked to me. Not even to say, “Nice yak!”

“Yes, it’s mine,” I said to a boy who looked to be six. Young children were obsessed with whom things belonged to, it seemed. I could understand that. I knew how I’d felt when Dick signed over the deed to the house to me. It had felt like a safety net. Worst case, if I failed, I could sell the house and use the equity to pay for a small two-bedroom condominium. But I didn’t want to, not if I didn’t have to. I wanted Eric to be able to come home, even once he moved off to college. Just because his father had chosen to break up the family home didn’t mean that I had to.

“Do you ever see any sharks?” the young boy asked, his tone excited at the idea.

I smiled. “Sometimes.”

“Do they bite your boat?”

I giggled. “No. But … I did see some kids on Jetskis who were bothering a shark, which they shouldn’t have been …” The boy bounced his head up and down as if he agreed. “Well, the shark bit down on the back of one of the Jetskis. The rider was lucky that the shark didn’t chomp off the guy’s foot.”

The boy’s eyes grew wide and round. “Yeah …”

“You should never pick on someone else, huh? Especially someone or something that can’t defend itself, right?”

“No … Uh-uh.” The boy ran off toward his mother, screeching about a shark and bites and skis.

I shoved off from the beach, aiming for the southeast side of the waterway. The tide was going out, so if I headed southeast, I should end up at the tip of Egmont Key. If I headed straight across Lower Tampa Bay, the waterway that connects Tampa Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, I could end up fighting to get back to shore.

Thinking about Eric when he was the age as the boy on the beach, I smiled. He’d worshiped his father. I hoped that he and Dick would get along okay this weekend. Dick hadn’t invited Eric over much, not that Eric would have wanted to go anyway. He couldn’t stand Dick’s new woman. And since Dick hadn’t married her yet, Eric saw no sense in getting to know her.

But Dick had made Eric an offer he couldn’t refuse: a weekend trip to Orlando. Dick had booked a hotel near Universal Studios for three nights, and had promised him it’d be just them.

At least Dick realized that just because he lost me didn’t mean he had to lose his son too. I could never forgive Dick for his infidelity, but even though Eric might never forget what his father had done, he was certainly capable of forgiving him.

As I paddled, I attempted to put Dick … and everything else out of my mind. Hopefully, this would become a new tradition after I finished a book. I’d reward myself with a trip … anywhere. While working out of my house was the most enjoyable job I’d ever held, it certainly wasn’t the easiest. The problem: there wasn’t a quitting time. Other than stopping to pick up Eric or making dinner, I found that many days I put in well more than fifteen hours.

I inhaled the fresh air and delighted at the light mist on my face. A few times, I spotted a pod of porpoises and halted my paddling. I’d found that if I just sat still, they’d investigate. But I couldn’t sit long. The last thing I wanted was to be in the center of the channel when a tanker was coming through.

When I made it to the other beach, I looked back across the bay at my trek. It wasn’t as hard as it looked the first time I’d come out here.

The first time I’d stared across the divide, I’d thought of dangerous wakes left behind from the large ships that used the pass, strong currents, and the fear of the unknown wild creatures beneath the water. Today, I’d seen an adventure.

My future was no different than this trek across the open water had been. Yeah, I might get caught in a riptide every once and a while … But I was smart. I prepared for storms. I had my gear, my life preserver, my boat …

If life threw me a curveball, I was ready. If my book bombed, I’d sell the house. I needed to start living my life as though I had no worries.

After all, what else was there to worry about?

Chapter 11 – The “D” Word

Goals: I printed neatly at the top of the first page of my new leather-bound journal. For several long minutes, I stared at the one tiny word that demanded so much of me.

A minute later, I ripped out the page.

Dreams: I wrote on the new first page of my journal. Sighing broodingly, I stared at the word. What was my dream?

J’Austen jumped up beside me and burrowed her head beneath my right hand. I offered her a scratch behind her ear and she immediately began to purr.

“What do I want, baby kitty? Why do I feel so blah?”

J’Austen pressed her paws up and down on my knee as I scratched her. I dropped the pen and scooped her up into my arms.

In the last six months, I’d been so busy writing, editing, and publishing that I hadn’t realized how lonely I was. I’d managed to fill every minute of my time writing three books. After the first one, the ideas just kept coming. I was able to write a book in less than two months. Editing, on the other hand, had taken much longer. Angela and I had gone back and forth a hundred times.

Even though I would have loved a man’s point of view, too, Seth had been unavailable. Not only had he followed his daughter to New York, where she was going to college, but he’d been picked up by an agent. Truly, I should be proud that I had such a good eye. Seth had submitted his manuscript to twenty agents and had received three offers of representation. But, he would also have to wait close to eighteen months before his manuscript saw the light of day.

As much as I wanted to try my hand at submitting to an agent, especially after I discovered all that was involved with launching a book, I really didn’t want to sell my house, so I needed money — STAT.

Back to the library, I went, reading up on everything about self-publishing. Luckily, I had Mak, and my website offered me a platform of some sort. I made sure that all my readers knew that the series was written by me, though, and for the first time ever, I didn’t add a star rating for the book I posted. Just a note why they should read this new book, as I always offered.

The response was amazing, and in no time, I had readers writing reviews for my book.

Then came the marketing. Ugh! Why didn’t anyone tell me about that part?

But I pressed on …

After I’d uploaded the third in the series, I allowed Amazon to offer the first book free, and the turnout was amazing. I gave away fifty-three thousand books in three days, but there were still more readers. Within hours of the book reverting to its full price, it hit the top one hundred of all paid books on Amazon. Within days, the first book in the collection was sitting next to a book by Nicholas Sparks — while the adaptation of his book was playing in the theaters. And after several days, the book hit number one on the romantic-suspense bestseller list.

So the question begs to be answered … Why am I suddenly depressed?

I’d managed the last nine months without having a nervous breakdown or even having to resort to prescription anti-depressants, but now I broke down and cried during Hallmark commercials.

Frustrated, I set down J’Austen and headed to my room. I hadn’t gone to my self-defense class in weeks.

I’d found the instructor because he’d offered a free class in honor of two area women who’d been victims of domestic violence. Not that my ex-husband had ever laid a finger on me, but Eric was right, there were some scary people out there. I’d wanted to get in more exercise, so I decided, Why not learn how to defend myself at the same time?

After the initial classes, since I’d finally started making money, I’d signed up for Krav Maga, a self-defense style that the Israel Defense Forces had developed. What interested me was how Krav Maga incorporated combinations of wrestling and boxing, as well as other types of martial arts like judo for a realistic approach to training that focused on real-life situations and proficient counterattacks.

I arrived late, but I hung out in the back, hoping not to catch Steve’s eye. He liked to call people out.

Thankfully, he’d held off on embarrassing me for not only being late, but also for not showing up lately. After the class had finished, I turned to leave, deciding I’d just use the elliptical and do a few squats to burn off some steam.

“Jana!” Steve called over the heads of the other people who probably showed up on a regular basis — and on time.

I stopped my retreat, waiting for the verbal lashing about how martial arts was about self-discipline.

Steve stopped in front of me and smiled. “Hello, Jana. I haven’t seen you in a while. Do you have a moment? I’d like to show you a couple of moves you’ve missed.”

I stared at the seventy-something-old Asian man who had a better physique than most twenty-year-olds. “Oh, thank you, Steve, but I realize the class is over. I’ll just do some cardio, and I promise I won’t be late next week.

He waved his hand. “Nonsense. I have nothing pressing, and I don’t want you to fall behind. I’ll show you the moves and you can practice them for next week.”

I dropped my head. “I’m tired, Steve.” I stared at the floor, hoping a trap door would open up, swallowing me whole. Not to escape Steve, though … to escape my tired life.

Steve walked toward the other side of the room, motioning for me to follow him.

He stopped beside the dark blue punching bag that hung from the ceiling, then turned to me. “Why are you here?” he asked, his face and speech taking on his training demeanor. He was so soft-spoken in normal conversation, but when he trained, he had the sternness of a drill sergeant.

I sighed as my eyes met his. “To get stronger.”

“Why?” he demanded.

At his severe tone, I stood straighter. I felt pathetic and powerless against the world, and I didn’t want to be that woman. “Because I don’t want to be weak,” I groaned.

“Why?” he asked again.

Tears filled my eyes, and without warning, I cried out, “Because I don’t want to be afraid.”

He punched the bag beside him, making me sidestep. But he just drilled his gaze at me. “Afraid of what?”

I gasped in a breath as I tried to control my tears. “Every … thing,” I sputtered.

He pushed the bag toward me, then stepped back. “Then let me see you.”

I assumed my fighting stance, struck my fist forward, and gave my best warrior Kiai!

“Again. Harder.”

I released another strike, followed by a roundhouse kick.

“Face your fear,” Steve shouted.

I felt the fear that lived inside of me as though it were a living and breathing entity gnawing on my heart, a weighty beast that had curled up inside of my stomach, weighing me down.

But I couldn’t visualize my fear. It wasn’t Dick cheating on me. It wasn’t my failed marriage. It wasn’t my horrible childhood. It wasn’t even a fear of not having enough money to pay the bills.

I knew what my fear was; I just didn’t want to admit it, and I didn’t want to spend one more minute of my life wallowing in my grief or being afraid. I needed to face my fear once and for all.

“I hate you! I hate you!” I screamed, punching the bag as Steve held it steady.

“Give your fear a name, Jana!” Steve shouted above my cries and grunts.

“Loneliness!” I cried. “I don’t want to be afraid to be alone!”

Chapter 12 – You Don’t Need A Man.

The day after my watershed moment, I got to work. No way was I going to be afraid of being alone. I would learn to love myself and enjoy life by myself — without a man.

I didn’t need a man. I had Seth. Yes, it was odd that I’d named my toy after a man that I’d never gone out with, let alone slept with. But even though Seth hadn’t made a play for me, he was one hot man, so who better to think about? I had my toys in the garage too, and I planned to use them.

Angela needed my help too, if only to give her one day a week when she didn’t have to change diapers, clean up spit-up, or listen to the ABC song a hundred and one times. She’d been there for me when I was at my worst, so I owed it to her to be there for her while she was trying to take care of two babies while her husband was out of town on business.

Surfing the web, I found several kayak clubs. The pictures on the site indicated that they took trips all around the globe, and I planned to join them. Obviously, I couldn’t go for long periods, only day trips for now. But Eric had his driver’s license — as well as a new truck, courtesy of Dick Embers — so I had plenty of time during the day.

At least once a week, I made sure I took a day to go do something worth writing about, and it showed in my writing.

But I wanted more … I wanted a rush.

After every great adventure, I wrote about it in my journal, determined to share it somewhere.

But it still wasn’t enough. I’d been held back for so long that I felt like all the adrenaline inside of me would explode if I didn’t get it out.

 

***

 

I stared up at the “Extreme Motorsports” sign and smiled. That’s what I wanted, something extreme, exciting, maybe even a tad dangerous.

As I walked through the store, my hand grazed the motorcycles, dirt bikes, Jet Skis, and mountain bikes. I glanced around at the individual salesmen, either sitting behind their desks, typing on the computer, or just staring out the window.

I sighed. Every time I went shopping, it was the same old thing. If Dick walked into a furniture store, the salesmen dropped their donuts to assist him. Of course, Dick looked like he had money. Even when we hadn’t, he still managed to have a certain air about him, which I now viewed as pompous.

Me, I was dressed in my standard jeans and a T-shirt, my hair pulled back in a ponytail. Yeah, after a quick glance at my left hand, men had no problem asking me out, but getting waited on was another story altogether.

I rested my hands on my hips and just stared at one guy until he had to acknowledge me.

Reluctantly, he pocketed his phone and dragged his feet across the floor. “Looking for something?”

“Yes, please,” I said, pointing to a sleek red-and-white WaveRunner. “What type of financing do you have on that?”

The salesman turned to the Yamaha brand watercraft and flipped the placard over repeatedly in his hands, as though whatever was written on it might change. He sucked on his teeth. “I think it might have 5.9% financing.”

I resisted rolling my eyes. “When I looked on the Internet, I read something about 2.9%. Could you check, and also let me know the best price out the door, including tax and any registration fees?”

The man sniffed. “Yeah, I think you’re right about the 2.9%. You wanna bring your husband in and we can get y’all a deal?”

I sighed. “Boy, did you just lose the fastest deal ever.” I turned and walked out the door. There were several other stores in Pinellas County. I’d keep looking until I found one that knew how to treat a woman.

Twenty minutes later, I was standing in front of another salesman, a salesman who approached me as soon as I walked in the door, telling me to wave when I was ready for help. I walked right over to the exact same WaveRunner I’d seen in the other store and made the same request.

One hour later, I had a new WaveRunner hooked to the back of my truck. A couple miles down the road, I headed into the outdoor store where Dick had bought the sea kayak.

I wanted more …

I signed Eric and myself up for a whitewater rafting trip, something I’d wanted to do my entire life. If he didn’t want to go, I’d go by myself.

 

***

 

Which I ended up doing just that …

Mark, the whitewater guide assigned to our group, held my hand as I lowered myself into the Ducky, as he’d called it. I’d paid to go on the whitewater raft, but as soon as I saw the individual whitewater kayak rafts, I knew this was my chance to release some more adrenaline. A chance to hit the rapids on my own, without relying on someone else to paddle.

After each rapid, I rejoiced. The fear of death actually made me feel alive. Not that the Nantahala River was dangerous in comparison to other rivers I’d researched, but I’d heard there’d been a couple of deaths caused by paddlers getting their feet pinned beneath rocks after their boats had capsized.

Well, I just wouldn’t tip over, that was all there was to it.

The crisp fall day was sunny, so even though the water was freezing, it felt good. I inhaled the sweet rotting smell of the fallen leaves as I soared down the crystal clear whitewater. The guide had told me to slow down, but I was on a high. After each rapid, I couldn’t wait to get to the next one. I’d spent my life staring at the flat waters in Florida … I wanted the rapids. I also wanted a boat like the bright green one that Mark was paddling.

Several times after we’d rolled over the rapids, he’d moved into a “hole” as he’d called it, and surfed the waves. He’d actually been able to paddle upstream without moving forward or backward. Instead, it looked as though he were surfing.

Once when his boat had flipped, I’d gasped, but in seconds he’d popped upright.

My wetsuit folded down over my shorts, I ran to catch up with the whitewater guide. “How did you learn to do that?”

Mark cocked his head and smiled. “Learn how to do what?”

“Turn the kayak over like you did.”

“Oh, rolling it? My boss. He taught me how to kayak years ago. I’d started in sales at the outdoor store, but I wanted to be a guide. He made me roll a kayak over and over until I had it down, said he wouldn’t take me into whitewater until I learned. We spent hours on Lake Nantahala.”

“Is that something most rafting stores offer lessons on?”

“Usually … if they have a pool or lake nearby.”

I smiled. “Thanks, Mark!” I trotted off toward my car.

“Hey,” he called, and I turned back to listen to him, “we’re all going to Cherokee tonight. You’re welcome to come.”

“Sounds like fun,” I said, and then darted off again. It did sound like fun, but I had some writing to do. One adventure at a time.

While on the water today, I’d realized what I really had to write. My writing wasn’t about money anymore … although it was nice to be able to pay the bills.

 

***

 

Eighteen months to the day after I’d kicked out my husband, I had an epiphany: I didn’t need a man.

Sure, I might want to date and fall in love again someday, but I didn’t need to. And it was nothing short of amazing how much more attractive I was to the opposite sex after I wasn’t interested in them anymore. Just like Mark the whitewater guide. The man was friendly and cute, and must see a hundred good-looking college girls a week, and yet, he’d asked me to join him and his friends in Cherokee. I hadn’t heard him invite anyone else.

But I didn’t have time to date. Dating was messy. I needed time to write.

Once again, every minute of my life, other than the time I set aside to spend with Eric, was dedicated to writing a new book. Eric would head off to college in a few months, so I had to force that time. But every other minute of the day and night, even while I was sleeping, I concentrated on my story.

All of a sudden, I felt as though I were writing a self-help book. Me, the woman who’d been unlucky in love. Me, the woman who’d finally made it on her own, but then fell into a bout of depression.

That was okay, though … I’d learned that luck was relative. What I originally thought was bad luck had been an eye-opener. In the last eighteen months, I’d learned to really live. And more importantly, I’d learned to love myself. The woman who’d been unlucky in love had finally found someone to love her who’d never leave her: herself.

I’d learned what I needed to learn, so even if no other person felt the way I did, at least writing out my thoughts had been therapeutic. And who knew, maybe I’d touch someone with my words, and that was all that mattered.

Once again, my same tattered folder bound together close to four hundred pages of my ramblings. Only this time, it wasn’t a romantic-suspense novel where the hero rode off with the heroine; it was a collection of stupid mistakes made by the female protagonist … and all the other characters who’d been a part of her life.

It was a novel, but it was more than that. It was a journey of one woman’s survival through her unconventional — bordering on abusive — childhood, her unloving marriage, and her unrelenting determination to learn to love herself. The narrative wasn’t meant to induce pity, though. Hopefully, the story prompted laugh-out-loud moments and at other times a box-of-tissues crying jags.

I dropped the folder on the table and collapsed into the chair closest to the door.

Angela stared at it as if it might burst into flames. “It’s finished?”

I blew out a breath. “It’s finished. Well, until you attack it with your bright red pen.”

Angela bounced her youngest on her hip as she ran her long fingers through my hair. “You look exhausted. Are you sure you should be going kayaking?”

Even though I could barely keep my eyes open, I looked up at her. “It’s tradition. I can’t break tradition.”

“Who says you have to go the same day that you drop off your manuscript with your editor?”

I attempted a smile, but it took too much energy, so I just grunted.

“I thought you made the rules?” she continued.

I rolled my shoulders and rested my head against the wall. “You’re so fresh. Who raised you again?”

“Some lucky woman who was fortunate to have me as her charge so I could take care of her once I grew up.”

“True. Very true. I am some lucky woman, all right.” And I was. I may have been unlucky in love, but I had my son, Angela, and now I had J’Austen.” I yawned. “Maybe just a little nap. Because we don’t have much time. As soon as you finish reading it, I’m sending that baby around.”

“Really, you’re going to submit it to an agent?”

“Yep.”

“And are you still planning to submit it with your real name?”

“Yep. I want the world to know that Jana Embers doesn’t need a man.”

 

Turn the page for a sneak peek at Some Lucky Woman, or just head on over to my website, http://www.carmendesousabooks.com/, to find links to this and all of my books.

Sneek Peak at Some Lucky Woman

“Everything worth having costs something, and the price of true love is self-knowledge.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I Got This!

Heedless of a paper cut, I tore into the envelope with my real name, Jana Embers, neatly printed across the front. My handwriting, of course. All manuscript submissions sent via post required that a self-addressed stamped envelope accompany the query. After all, if I took the time to physically send my manuscript to a literary agent, the last thing I wanted was an email back, right?

Wrong! I’d love an email. A phone call would be wonderful. Hell, a text would suffice.

As the neighborhood advocate for recycling, I wasn’t even sure I was interested in an agency that didn’t accept electronic queries, though, so I’d only sent out a handful of submissions via snail mail.

But then I thought … What if no one sent manuscript queries to the agency via post? How much more professional would I look if I took the time to print off and mail a one-page query letter, a three-page synopsis, and the first three chapters of my manuscript?

Dedicated, I decided. I’d look like an author who was willing to go the extra mile when it came to her career choice, which I was.

Palms sweaty and jaw clenched, my eyes darted across the page, which I knew immediately from the one short paragraph would be a rejection.

“Blah! Blah! Blah!” I grumbled as I read the few words, then crumpled up the single sheet of paper and made a perfect bank shot of the wad, right off my writing desk into a mesh trash can. “Two points!” I cheered, jolting my cat, Jane Austen, whom I lovingly referred to as J’Austen, from her slumber.

The agent hadn’t even taken the time to use my name in the salutation “Dear Author” as she wished me success. Forget the sugarcoated rejections, I wanted someone who was willing to give me the facts straight so I could write a better novel.

“Meh!” I grumbled, then smiled down at my calico. “Not my first rejection, baby kitty, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. Never give up the dream, right?”

J’Austen stared at me through one amber eye, apparently not pleased with my outbursts and my attempt to talk to her. Since we lived alone, she was my sounding board. But she was a terrible conversationalist and an even worse listener than my ex-husband when she wanted to take a nap.

“Oh, stop being such a grouch,” I reprimanded her. “My books pay for that fancy cat food you love so much. We may be doing fine with my self-published books, but imagine the cat towers and snacks we could afford if my book got picked up by a major publisher?”

J’Austen responded with a wide yawn, reminding me of a lion on Animal Planet, then rolled over on her back, stretching her body out beneath a ray of sunlight streaming through the screen room. Even a lizard couldn’t vie for her attention when it was time for her mid-morning nap.

Not bothered by the rejection letter or my cat’s lack of enthusiasm at my great shot and career goals, I headed for my pool. I had a date with my new whitewater kayak today. Kayaking had become my favorite pastime. Favorite pastime in the daylight hours, that is. But I wanted to step up my paddling a notch.

I’d taught myself to kayak on the smooth flat waters in Florida, but I was ready for a new challenge. The instructor at the kayak store had been clear, though: “If you can’t master the kayak roll, you have no business in whitewater,” I mocked his California surfer dude accent.

But it’s what I wanted to do. For me. I wanted to feel the spray of cool water in my face. I wanted to experience the rush of conquering the rapids. I wanted to feel alive. I had proven to myself that I could make it on my own, that I could get my son through high school and off to college, that I could make it as an author.

Now, if I could conquer my fear of being upside down in my kayak and my largest challenge: selling my new book to an agent. Oddly enough, I experienced almost the exact same anxiety every time I opened a letter or email from an agent as I did when I was suspended upside down inside my kayak.

In either situation, I couldn’t breathe.

My calico stretched her neck upward as I walked past her, so I offered her a scratch between the ears as I muttered, “We can do it, can’t we, J’Austen?” My loyal, even if grumpy from time to time, writing partner indulged me by meowing her assent, then hopped up and trotted to her cotton towel on the lounge chair, obviously assuming that my sudden eruption hadn’t signaled that her laid-back world was coming to an end today.

The fact of the matter was I was doing well as a self-published author. But, man, oh man, I wanted an agent. Marketing and all the other tasks associated with actually selling my books monopolized so much of my day that often there wasn’t enough time to write, let alone do the activities I now loved, like kayaking, which fed my mind with more ideas to write about.

Determined now, I picked up the thirty-seven-pound river-running kayak and lowered it into the pool, careful not to disturb J’Austen any more than I already had. She hated when I did this, but I had to do it. I had to learn.

Today was the day! I avowed silently.

The trainer at the outdoor store had taught me everything there was to know about rolling a kayak. I was just scared. I was afraid of drowning.

Something like I’d felt the day I’d kicked out my unfaithful husband two years ago, leaving my son and me with barely enough money to eat and pay the utilities. Thankfully, I’d gotten the house in the divorce, and since I hadn’t worked outside the home during our fifteen-year marriage, he had to pay the mortgage, and child support for a few more years, which of course wasn’t enough to keep the lights on and feed a growing teenager.

At that time, I’d been thirty-four with no résumé and no idea how I would keep the house running. My son and I had needed water to bathe and to eat something other than coffee and English muffins so I’d had to find a way to make money.

Although wonderful lying ex-hubby had called me a MILF during more than one heated roll in the sack, I figured finding a sugar daddy was out of the question. I’d still looked okay. I’d always kept my five-five frame in shape, and my dark chestnut hair had very little gray. Even my hazel eyes usually attracted a second glance from many men. Of course, those traits were compliments of genetics, so I couldn’t really take too much credit, and I couldn’t make money off the fact that I was still in decent shape — not legally anyway — so I’d decided to do the only things I loved: read and write.

Well, other than college, I’d never written anything, but I’d read enough novels in my day to know what women wanted in a book boyfriend, so I started to write sappy romance stories. Even though my prince charming — and every other man I’d dated since my divorce — had turned out to be a frog, I took pleasure in writing the heroes who didn’t. And surprisingly, I was good at it. I started making enough money that I could go out and enjoy my life, finally be adventurous.

As fate would have it, while I was having fun in my new career as an author, my ex-husband, Dick Embers the car salesman, wasn’t living life as the free spirit he’d wanted to be. Instead, he was raising a new baby with Miss Floozy. Ironic that he traded me in for a newer model, as though I were an outdated used car.

I wasn’t being crass, I swear. That’s my ex’s name. He liked to go by Dick instead of Richard, so that he could say that his … umm … Well, most people could come up with plenty of racy comments, even without him saying his name as though he were James Bond. Embers, Dick Embers. Ugh!

A dozen or so crummy dates later, I realized I didn’t need a man. A perfectly sized and shaped device and writing about the perfect hero would more than suffice. My cat certainly didn’t need a tomcat, so why did I need a man who acted like a wild feline? The answer was simple: I didn’t.

Not that I hadn’t been devastated by my husband’s betrayal, I was. At first. Devastated, furious, angry, repulsed, vindictive, bitter … as any woman who’d poured her life into a marriage would be. I even went a little Carrie Underwood on his truck. Thankfully, my ex hadn’t pressed charges.

But then I realized, other than sex, we had nothing in common. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find anything that we liked to do together. And he hadn’t bothered to try to find something. My ex hadn’t been interested in anything other than working and playing golf. Oh, and sex. Our marriage had started after we’d had unprotected sex, then ended because of unprotected sex.

But that was two years ago. My life was so much better now. Now I was an author who wasn’t afraid to be adventurous indoors — and outdoors. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted. Took long baths, walked around in a T-shirt and ponytail 24-7. Oh, and I owned plenty of toys — all sorts — in different shapes and sizes. From the kind stowed away in my nightstand, to the kind I’d used to fill the second vehicle parking space in my garage. I had a motorcycle, hybrid bike, and a Jet Ski. But my favorite toy — umm … second favorite toy — was my kayak. Nothing relaxed me as much as paddling away from land and finding a secret paradise that no one other than persons operating non-motorized crafts could find.

And now, I was going to learn how to roll this baby so I could go on the whitewater kayak trip in North Carolina that I’d already paid for. I’d been on plenty of large rafts and individual kayak rafts, but I wanted more … needed more.

Paddle in hand, I situated myself inside my sleek new Dagger, snapped the skirt into place, then paddled until I was in the dead-center of the pool. Thankfully, I had a large pool. My ex-husband had always wanted the best. Even a better woman. Well, I wanted better too — a better life — and I was determined to find it. Without a man.

Sucking in a final breath, I slowly leaned forward and dunked my head to the side of the kayak until it flipped over.

As every other time, I immediately started to panic. Squeezing my eyes shut, I worked at relaxing my mind, willing myself not to lose it again.

Not today, I thought. I will never panic again.

I struggled to lift my head toward the surface, flicking my hip to flip the kayak while applying force with the paddle.

I will not pop out. Not today. If I exit the boat and try to swim, I will put myself in danger, I reminded myself what the trainer had repeatedly warned. I’m not in danger. I can handle anything.

“Mwraaawwwww … .” J’Austen’s woeful wail came from the surface. She hated this more than I did, and I hated putting her through the stressful situation.

Exhausted and out of breath, I popped out and dragged the boat to the shallow end. “Dammit, Jana!” I smacked the surface of the water with the paddle. “What would you have done on a Class IV river? Got your foot stuck in a rock, that’s what! And then you would have drowned for real!”

“Mwraaawwwww …” my kitty cried again, clearly not understanding why I wanted to torture myself and, by extension, her. She wouldn’t come to the edge where I could reach her and convince her that I was okay. Instead, she flattened her belly on the concrete, ears down, eyes wide. I could only imagine what she thought the bright red beast was that held me under the water.

“I’m okay, baby kitty. I thought you were taking a nap.”

Evidently hearing that I was okay through my tone, she paced around the pool, obviously not pleased that I hadn’t given up on this crazy venture.

To me, calm-water kayaking was like my writing. I enjoyed it and I’d done well, but I hadn’t made it. Sure, authors and readers in the Indie world knew me, but who knew I sat right beside Nicholas Sparks on the bestseller list? No one other than people who looked through my images on Twitter. Of course, I took a screenshot.

And I wanted everyone to know.

I wanted the same thrill from my books that I got from kayaking. But I wanted more. I wanted whitewater. I wanted the rush. I wanted an agent to represent my latest book so I could share my love with as many readers as possible.

According to my beta readers, my new book, You Don’t Need a Man, was the best yet. Why? Because I’d finally told the truth. I stopped writing about Mr. Someday Right, and wrote about how much fun I was having being single. Yeah, I still wanted to meet my knight in shining armor and live happily ever after, but then I thought, Why not have fun while I’m looking?

My friends screamed when I didn’t publish it, as I’d done the rest of my novels under my pseudonym. But this book was different. This one I wanted to publish under my real name, and I was determined to wait for an agent who wanted to represent it. Not because I needed the money, but because I wanted as many women as possible to read it. I wanted to show the world: I got this! And you can too.

I was still writing my spicy romantic-suspense novels to pay the bills, but this book would be my Driving Ms. Daisy, rather, my Eat, Pray, Love. This book would launch my career and, hopefully, encourage women everywhere.

I would show all the women in the world that I didn’t need a man, and neither did they. I planned to make my own happily ever after.

Ignoring the cries from my beloved cat, I crawled back in my kayak and positioned myself in the center of the pool again. I already wrote the book, so now I planned to live it.

As my trainer had demonstrated a hundred times, I leaned forward and kept my head down, then leaned to the right. Within seconds, I was upside down again.

Only this time, something was different … I didn’t panic. I wasn’t going to drown. I could come out whenever I wanted. But my kayak was my safe place. I wanted to stay inside it.

I’m just paddling upside down, I thought. It’s fun to be under the water. It’s peaceful and quiet. I was going to do this today! Nothing would ever hold me back from what I wanted again. I’m just paddling upside down, I reminded myself. And then it hit me …

I’m just paddling upside down.

That’s it!

I swept my paddle downward while thrusting my hip forward and upward and, all of a sudden, I was upright.

“I’m upright!” Tears burst to my eyes. “I did it, J’Austen!”

I dunked my head to the side and rolled the kayak again, and again, and again. I’d never be afraid of drowning again.

The next time I came up, I lifted the paddle high over my head in triumph and announced at the top of my lungs, “I got this!”

Three Years and Thirty-One Days Later

Day One, I clumsily typed with my left hand in my new online journal. I was determined to track the progress of my health and writing.

J’Austen stared up at me with those disapproving golden eyes of hers. It was as though she could read my mind sometimes. Or maybe she was just an extension of my own subconscious since we spent so much time together.

Okay,” I spoke aloud for my cat’s benefit as I pecked out the note in the journal, “it’s actually Day Thirty-One.”

But really, it’s best that I start here as the last month was rather pitiful. For the last thirty days, I’d done nothing but whine and cry about how pathetic my life was, ate anything in the house that didn’t require two hands to prepare, gained about ten pounds, and generally just moped around, tapping on my iPhone.

Word count on my Work in Progress: ZERO! I added to the journal, then decided to log out until later in the evening, after my physical therapy appointment.

I signed into Facebook, deciding to chat a bit before my cousin arrived, but then sighed as I read a comment from one of my favorite aspiring author friends. I knew they were just trying to be helpful, but I was tired of hearing how they or someone they knew got through their injury, or how they’d write if they didn’t have the use of their hands.

Yes, I have the Dragon app, I stabbed at the keys with my left hand. But it’s hard to be creative when you have to speak the words. :)

I added the smiley face, even though I wanted to add an angry face, since I’d written those exact words about a hundred times. I shouldn’t have told my readers and author friends about my rotator cuff surgery. But if I hadn’t, they’d be looking for the next book in one of my three ongoing collections, and I just couldn’t find the words via an app! I was a pantser. The words flew from my fingers as they came to my head. I simply couldn’t speak them. I could barely even speak ideas for a storyline.

My physician was the best in the area, the surgeon to three major league baseball teams in Tampa Bay. “Second worst case I’ve seen in thirty years,” he’d said. With a smile on his face!

Aren’t I the lucky one? Why couldn’t I have those odds playing the lottery? Based on his apparent excitement over my unusual case, I was certain that I’d find my story in a medical journal someday, detailing how he’d cured me. I had a good mind not to get better just to mess up his future book deal. I mean, seriously, why should he get a book deal off my injury?

“The sad thing is … I should be ecstatic, huh, J’Austen?” My calico peered up at me again, then smacked her lips together, letting me know that she was bored of this conversation. Yeah, she was tired of my whining too, especially since I should be happy. After all, I sold my book, even got a movie deal. I’d gotten my wish, conquered my fears.

But here I was, crying over my lack of freedom. Because of shoulder pain. Who knew a stupid rotator cuff injury could bring my world to a screeching halt? I’d certainly never imagined that possibility.

I’d gotten used to playing racquetball every Wednesday. Dance class on Thursday nights. Martial arts three days a week, where I’d recently received my first-degree black belt, and had planned to go higher. And my favorite hobby, the kayak trips I’d taken at various locations around the globe. The last one in Lake Powell, Arizona had done me in, though. I’d been showing off by taking the lead position, and now I was paying for it.

The deep rumbling sound of the decrepit muffler on my cousin’s car alerted me that she was pulling into my driveway. Since I couldn’t pick up J’Austen, I nudged her off my lap, then slowly inched my way off the recliner that had become my sleeping quarters, dining room, and home office.

J’Austen hopped down easily and followed me to the door. I would swear she’d turned into a worried mother, as if she knew the pain I was in, wondering where I was going.

“I can’t reach you, baby kitty. It’s too difficult to lean over.”

She twined herself around my legs, purring loudly enough that I felt the vibrations through my legs. Maybe the soft tremors would travel through my body and work out the thickening of tissue in my shoulder, saving me the torture of physical therapy. I could only wish.

“I have to go to physical therapy, but don’t worry, it’s not the mean lady I told you about. Dr. Bellows is sending me to a new therapist.”

My kitty meowed, which I took as an okay to leave the house.

My cousin ran up to the door as soon as I opened it, taking the keys from my hand. “Here. Let me lock that,” Angela said.

“Thanks. I was wondering how I was going to lock the door one-handed.” I gingerly walked over to her car, thankful that she had even opened the passenger door for me. My entire body hurt and the familiar pain surged up my shoulder as I lowered myself into Angela’s old Ford Focus, which sat way too low to the ground. I missed my Toyota Tacoma, but I couldn’t very well drive one-handed, popping Percocets to dull the pain.

Angela pulled the seatbelt over my lap and strapped me in. “One day after surgery and you have to go back to physical therapy? Aren’t you in pain, Jana?”

I gazed up at her. “Yes. Unbelievable pain. I took two Percocets an hour ago, and they haven’t even taken the edge off. Dr. Bellows says the rotator cuff repair from the first surgery has healed beautifully, though. I’m sure he was proud to see his work after the fact. But now I have to start PT immediately to make sure it doesn’t freeze up again.”

A hint of envy ran through me as I watched my cousin dart around the front of the car. I used to be able to move without wincing in pain.

Angela hopped into the driver’s seat, pulled the shifter into reverse, and backed out of the driveway. “I still don’t understand. What did your doctor call it again? Why did you have to have a second surgery?”

“Adhesive capsulitis. No one knows why some shoulder injuries respond that way, but mine apparently decided to work overtime. He had to shave off all the scar tissue, then physically manipulate my elbow and shoulder out of their frozen positions.”

“And this new physical therapist is supposed to be an expert?”

I shrugged my one good shoulder. “Supposedly. I can’t imagine what one physical therapist can do differently than another, but Dr. Bellows took it upon himself to call this new office directly, requesting that Dr. Adrian Kijek take over my physical therapy. Said it wasn’t the first PT’s fault or my own; it just happens sometimes. At least if this new therapist tortures me like that last woman, I can cry out, Yo, Adrian!”

My cousin spurt out a breath, then covered her mouth, doing her best not to spew the sip of coffee she’d just taken. “You’re a nut. How can you joke like that? I hurt just looking at you. Those bruises look like someone beat you up.”

I stared down at my tank top and yoga pants, the only thing I could manage to dress myself in. Shades of puke yellow, cell-block blue, and a color of purple resembling rotting prunes covered my arm from elbow to neck from where the surgeon had to physically move my arm from its frozen condition. If someone didn’t know me, they’d probably try to escort me to a women’s shelter.

“It feels like someone beat me up,” I said. “And now I get a new physical terrorist to provide me with hours of physical torture. Pretty sure it’s not a coincidence that the initials are the same.”

“Jana!” Angela shrieked. “Don’t you dare say that to the PT. I know how you like to make up little nicknames for people.”

I waved her off. She was so sensitive, whereas I would say whatever was on my mind. If the therapist couldn’t take a joke … “I won’t,” I said to set my cousin’s mind at ease. “As I said, the PT has my body in her hands to torture me as she sees fit. I swear that last woman just stared at me when I cried out in pain. Then she mockingly held out a tissue, as though it were my fault my shoulder had seized up, as if I hadn’t been doing my homework.”

“Have you?”

I rolled my eyes. “Of course I have. What else can I do? Writing is my life. If I can’t use my right arm, what will I do?”

The last hourly job I’d held was twenty years ago. As a cocktail waitress. My father had gotten me the job. He’d been a bouncer at night in the bar, which kept him in constant supply of women and booze, his two favorite things. In the daylight hours he’d made a backbreaking living as a construction worker. Even at nineteen I’d known that I hadn’t wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps, working grunt jobs my entire life. So I’d worked my butt off to get a business degree. Of course, my BA in business was now worthless to me, a woman nearing forty without on-the-job training.

“Jana,” my cousin cut through my thoughts, “you zoned out again.”

“Sorry, I was just reminiscing about my life. I’ve been doing that a lot lately, since I can’t do much else. What did you say?”

“I asked if you tried that voice-to-text app I emailed you information about?”

“OMG!” I ran my hand over my eyes, massaging my temples with my thumb and middle finger. “If one more person asks me that!”

Angela snorted. “OMG? You sound like the teenaged girl who watches my kids.”

“Yeah, well, my protagonists are usually between the ages of seventeen and twenty-seven, not much different from teenagers most of the time — except for the fact that they have sex — so maybe they’re rubbing off on me. The attitude part, obviously, not the sex.”

Unlike my ex, I hadn’t had sex in five years. Him cheating on me was the last thing I’d ever expected. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t gotten sex at home. We’d made love as often as he’d wanted, as often as he was home. And he’d been good too. I missed sex. A lot. I’d kept myself so busy in the last five years I hadn’t had a chance to miss it, but now that I couldn’t do anything else, my non-existent sex life was starting to bug me.

“Hmm …” Angela said through a giggle, “maybe your protagonists should start teaching you a few things.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

She shrugged. “It means that maybe you should act like a college student sometimes. You know, start dating again. Ever since you published your big hit, you’ve all but stopped trying to find someone to love again.”

Dating and finding someone to love were two different things. I did want to find someone to love again, but all the men I’d dated in the last five years had seemed okay at first, but by the end of the evening, all they’d done was ramble on and on about how great they were. Probably trying to impress me, hoping I’d want to hop into bed with their greatness. I didn’t want to date anymore. If I met Mr. Right while I was having fun doing what I enjoyed, at least I had a good chance that we might like the same things.

I’d spelled out my philosophy of dating in my book, by showing everything my character had gone through, how she finally realized how much more fun she had when she stopped worrying about the men around her. “Did you forget, Angela? You Don’t Need a Man.”

Angela pursed her lips and shook her head. “Keep telling yourself that, cuz.”

“Hey, I thought you liked the book?”

“I did. I do like it. Everyone does, but I know the truth.”

“Which is?” I nearly growled. I didn’t care for it much when my cousin, who was nearly ten years my junior, but the closest thing to a sister I had, started reading me the riot act. Just because she was married to Mr. Perfect and had two point three kids. Really. She was three months pregnant.

The truth, she’d said. The truth was, even though I wanted to find a man to love someday, I was also scared of starting a relationship with a man. I couldn’t afford to waste another fifteen years of my life. I didn’t want to take the chance of ending up with another liar.

If my ex had cheated on me with one of the secretaries at the dealership he managed, at least I could have believed that he’d fallen in love because of the hours they spent in close quarters.

But no, he worked seventy to eighty hours a week, but had gone to a bar after work, drank too much, and then hooked up with some bimbo who’d gotten pregnant.

“The truth is,” Angela continued, “you’ve done a lot with your life in the last five years. I’m so proud of you, but you’re turning forty, and I see the way you look when you’re over for dinner. How just like now, I have to wait while you work out in your head whatever you’re thinking. I know what you wrote in your book, but I know the real you. You’re lonely. And I just don’t want to see you end up alone …” she trailed off, and I knew what she was thinking.

“Like Aunt Heidi …” I cocked my head as I finished her unspoken words. Aunt Heidi — the deceased sister of my father and Angela’s father — had shut herself out from the world, refusing to take any of our phone calls or answer the door when we tried to visit her. She’d been found by the police when a neighbor called because her two dogs wouldn’t stop barking for several days. Angela and I had been devastated, wondering if we’d done enough to reach her.

Angela sniffed. She’d been even closer than I was to our aunt. “I know you’d never end up like Aunt Heidi. You’re not an alcoholic. But yeah, I don’t want J’Austen to be your only bed companion in life.”

“Well, I don’t either, even though she’s a great companion. She doesn’t even hog the covers. But as I wrote in my book, I don’t need a man to complete me, so please stop worrying about my love life. I won’t stop it if it happens, but I’m not going to go looking for Mr. Right either. If it happens, it happens.”

I’d already given up too many years to a man who couldn’t be faithful. My ex still loved me. He’d begged to come back, but I knew I’d never be able to look at him the same way again, never be able to trust him. I had loved being a wife and mother. I poured my life into my husband and son. But if I allowed Dick to stay after he’d disrespected me in the worst way …

My father hadn’t taught me much in life, but the one thing he’d drilled home was that I was supposed to respect others, and that I should expect the same in return. And Dick hadn’t just cheated on me, he hadn’t used protection, making me susceptible to God-only-knows-what type of disease.

Frustrated with this stupid conversation that only had me feeling more pitiful than I already felt today, I looked down at the map on my iPhone. “Turn left here, then take the first left into the business center complex.”

Angela peered up and down the sidewalk in front of the therapy office as though she were looking for hazards. Typical mom reactions. Great. I’d never really had a mother, but now I had two. “You sure you want me just to drop you off?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’ll only take about a half an hour today, and I don’t want you to hear me cry. There’s a Target next door, so maybe you could do a little shopping.”

“O … kay, I suppose. Need anything?”

“Yes, please. A large bottle of Merlot,” I requested, then quickly added, “I promise I won’t drink it while I’m taking Percocets. A box of Keurig coffee packs — whatever’s on sale — vanilla creamer, whole-grain English muffins, a couple of frozen pizzas, and a bag of dark chocolates.”

A tiny crease between Angela’s perfectly sculpted eyebrows screamed her disapproval. Already, her kids were on a strict meal plan, which didn’t include any of my staples. “Other than the wine, that’s what I got you last week. Is that all you eat?”

“Of course! I’m an author, or haven’t you heard?”

Physical Torture

Using my left hand, I clumsily signed in for my appointment. Nine-thirty on the dot. I’d never been good about making it to appointments early, but at least I wasn’t usually late.

As I sat in the tiny area, I stared through the glass partition as a man paced behind the receptionist. I watched as he flipped through papers in a manila file folder, obviously perturbed about something. He muttered something to the receptionist, which I couldn’t hear from my side of the barrier, and she shrugged in response. He tossed the folder in front of the woman, who seemed shocked by his actions, then disappeared back into the other part of the building.

A few seconds later, the same man stuck just his dark blond head through the doorway and muttered, “Mrs. Embers?”

Confused by his previous actions while in view of a patient and now his tone, I cocked my head, but answered politely anyway, “Yes. I’m Ms. Embers.” I couldn’t help but emphasize the Ms. It just seemed to pop out when I was speaking to the opposite sex. Whether it was an opening that I was single, or a full frontal assault against the male species, I wasn’t quite sure, since I seemed to do it no matter how young or old, or how average or good-looking the man was.

“Follow me,” he grunted, the words barely audible, as if he had no desire to have me in his sights.

Wow! Really? Wasn’t it normal to introduce yourself? Use the word please when you demanded something from someone you’d just met? Apparently a new patient didn’t warrant a, Hi! I’m so-and-so. How are you feeling today?

Not only did the man fail to greet me in a professional manner, he scowled at me as I struggled to stand without jostling my arm. Clearly this guy hadn’t eaten his Wheaties for breakfast. Hadn’t Dr. Bellows personally called the office so that I would get the best possible care? Well, I’d be sure to let the new doctor know about her employee.

After walking through the doorway, I let my eyes wander to the man’s name tag so I’d be able to give my new therapist a name to go along with my complaint.

I grumbled inwardly. Just my luck. Adrian. Why had I thought Adrian would be a woman? Maybe because my last therapist had been a woman. Maybe because the only other person named Adrian I’d ever heard of had been the wife in the movie Rocky.

And tough luck for all the doctor-seeking women in the world. Adrian may be a grouch, but now that I had a full view of him … I heaved a silent groan at how utterly cute he was. Actually, he wasn’t just cute, he was extremely good-looking. But since he was so much younger than I was — in his late twenties, I guessed — cute seemed like a safer appraisal.

His blond hair was cropped and mussed, giving him a boyish, surfer look. And his build … Sigh! His physique was what I would expect of a man who’d dedicated his life to physical therapy. His shoulders were broad, but then tapered down to a slim waist. And apparently he was the prince of the new squat rave because his … My mind flitted to unsafe areas, so I quickly reeled it back in.

As attractive as he was, his personality wasn’t the least bit cute. No doubt, Dr. Adrian Kijek would make some unlucky woman a terrible husband someday.

I laughed internally at my thoughts as I followed him through the antiseptic-scented room stocked wall-to-wall with different types of torture devices. The large room looked identical to the therapy office where I’d been going for the last six weeks. Several patient/therapist combos occupied different machines: a four-step stairway to nowhere, a weight machine with multi-colored bands tied to it, and several other pieces of exercise equipment I couldn’t identify.

The irritable doctor led me into a small room at the rear of the medical building which held nothing but a narrow platform covered with paper that looked like an examination table in a doctor’s office, a desk with a computer on it, and an electronic muscle stimulator device that had been my only friend at the other therapy office. It was the one torture device I’d actually enjoyed.

My new physical terrorist pointed to the padded table, then sat down behind the desk. He moved a clunky black mouse back and forth to rouse the old-fashioned computer with a large square box for a screen. “You have your script?” he asked without looking up.

Instead of throwing the computer-printed page at him, I handed the rude man the piece of paper. Doctor or not, no one should treat people like that. If it weren’t for the fact that Dr. Bellows had said that Dr. Kijek was the best, I would have already left. Maybe the great Dr. Kijek got his reputation by being the meanest therapist. His patients were probably frightened into getting better.

As he started to type, I considered storming out of the office. But I didn’t storm out of places impressively lately, so it probably wouldn’t affect him in the least if I inched my way out of the office and then sat down in the waiting room until Angela returned.

Still not making eye contact, Dr. Kijek asked, “What is your current pain level?”

As in pain in the ass? I wanted to spout off. Pretty High. I’d say it’s a ten. Again, I held my razor-sharp tongue as Angela had instructed. Maybe it was just my imagination. Maybe he wasn’t purposely being rude.

I cleared my throat, then checked my attitude, making sure I kept my tone friendly. “The nerve block just started to wear off, and I’ve been on two Percocets every four hours, around the clock, so I’m about a five. But when I get close to the four-hour mark, it surges to about an eight.”

No response. He just jotted notes on his pad, pushed back on his rolling chair, then stood. His hands went to my sling, deftly unbuckling all the snaps. “Don’t go back in this. Your chart states that the anchors for the original tear have completely healed. You need to extend your arm so it doesn’t freeze up again.” He inspected the bandaged areas. “I’ll have to wait until I take out the stitches to do electronic muscle stimulation, but I can stretch you out.”

I winced. “Already? Are you sure?”

His answer was a glare. “Can you lie down, or do you need help?”

“I can manage.”

After raising the table with a switch, he placed a foam leg roll beneath my knees and a pad beneath my arm, then slowly, methodically began to apply pressure. Instead of just using one of his hands to move my stiff arm, he distributed an equal amount of pressure against my entire arm with his chest.

I waited for the excruciating pain, but it didn’t come as before. It actually felt … good. How was that possible?

“Okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said through a breath of relief.

“That stretch should feel good,” he said as he looked down at me. His eyes were a deep and dark brown, like melted dark chocolate. “The others won’t feel so good,” he continued, “but I’ll go easy on you today.”

I searched his face for a smile; there wasn’t one.

“Have you been doing pendulums?” he asked.

Great. A chance to let him know that I’d been doing my homework. “Up until an hour before the second surgery, which was less than twenty-four hours ago,” I offered as a reminder that it hadn’t even been a full day since I’d been under the knife.

“Start pendulums again as soon as the nerve block wears off completely, and I’ll show you a few more exercises.” He situated my arm in a different position, then slowly applied pressure.

Owww … There was the familiar pain. I cringed, attempting not to cry in front of this cold man on the first appointment.

He released the stretch, patting beneath my elbow, a move I remembered the last therapist doing on our first appointment, right after she’d brought me to tears. I knew it was the PT’s job to push, but bringing me to the point of tears seemed a little harsh. I’d always thought I had a high tolerance to pain. After all, I’d had a child naturally, no epidural.

I glanced around the room to keep my mind off the pain as he maneuvered my arm into yet another uncomfortable but thankfully, not excruciating stretch. His diploma hung on the wall behind the computer, reminding me that he was a doctor, so I decided I’d try to talk about him. Try to loosen him up a bit since we were going to have to work together several days a week.

“Have you always wanted to be a physical therapist?” I asked.

“No.”

That went well. Time ticked by with only my heavy breathing filling the air — which felt awkward — so I tried again. “So, did you go to medical school and just fall into physical therapy?”

“It’s the family business. My father started the practice.”

“Ah … so you’re following in your father’s footsteps?”

“No. This is just a good position for the time being.” I nodded, then cringed as he held my arm for a longer stretch as he said, “Just a few extra seconds,” then shifted my arm into yet another position.

“But you’re a doctor, right? Don’t most physical therapists stop with their master’s degree?” I pushed out, doing my best not to grunt from the pain. Last time my cousin had accompanied me to a therapy appointment, she’d teased that my cries of pain could easily be interpreted as sounds of ecstasy. I squeezed my eyes shut and tapped out a rhythm with my toes to keep from crying out as he held my arm at what felt like a ninety-degree angle, which I knew was impossible.

“I believe in higher education,” he answered. “Open your eyes, Ms. Embers.”

I obeyed, wondering why he wouldn’t let me suffer through my pain in my own way. And why he’d felt the need to emphasize Ms. Had I offended him by clarifying my title?

“See where your arm is?” Dr. Kijek asked.

I peeked over at my arm.

“Had you gotten there before the second surgery?”

“No … I … How did you do that?”

“It’s what I do. If you want to keep your arm there, you need to do all your stretches.”

“Oh, I will. I’ll even do extra credit if it’ll help get the use of my arm back.”

“Just the exercises I show you for now,” he said. Still no friendly tone, just matter-of-fact. Man, this guy was a tough nut to crack. I wanted to ask why the chip on his shoulder.

He handed me back the use of my arm, which I still didn’t have enough strength to hold up on my own. I was thankful he knew that. I’d kept grabbing my arm from the last therapist. She’d known, obviously, but it was as though she’d wanted me to work to grab it.

Once I had control of my arm, he reached for my left arm to help me get up. I eased myself off the table and sat in the chair he’d pulled out.

Dr. Adrian Kijek sat down behind his desk again. After clicking the mouse a few times, he reached inside a printer next to the computer and pulled out a sheet of paper.

His eyes fixed on the paper, he scribbled as he spoke, “Twenty pendulums each. Side to side, clockwise, counter clockwise, and then back and forth.” He turned and faced me, rolled up a white towel he’d grabbed from a basket by the table, then gently stuffed the terry cloth between my elbow and my waist. “Hands at your side, a rolled-up towel beneath your elbow, you need to do a mock clap.” He demonstrated, waiting for me to mimic the move, with little success. “You’ll work on it.” He removed the towel and positioned my arm on the top of my leg. “Lay your arm on top of your leg, then twist just the wrist.” Again, he demonstrated. “Do you have a squeeze ball?”

Thinking it was a chance to lighten the mood between us, I said, “I do. It was available as a custom accessory with the sling. I went all out.”

No chuckle. Not even a quirk of his lips. “Do the exercises six times a day, but only for a few minutes right now. Use the ball as often as you think about it. To keep the blood flowing,” he continued. “I’ll see you again tomorrow, and then have my receptionist schedule you for three times a week.” He stood and walked out of the room while uttering the words, immediately greeting the next client by name.

As I waited for the receptionist to finish talking on the phone, I watched Dr. Kijek direct the elderly woman to a stationary bike. To warm up her knee, he’d said. The good doctor glanced around the room at the other patients working with therapists. His eyes swept past me, not making eye contact, like a stain on the wall, something he saw every day, so he wouldn’t notice.

Irritated again, not just at his terrible bedside manner, but his total lack of courteous human behavior, I contemplated walking out without making an appointment. But Dr. Bellows had said that he was the best, so when the woman behind the glass window hung up the phone, I did as Dr. Adrian Kijek had instructed and made the next four appointments.

Other than the fact that Adrian would make a great character in one of my books, I was pretty sure I’d regret not going with my first impulse of walking out the door and never coming back.

 

Want more…

Download the novel, Some Lucky Woman, which includes all three parts of Jana’s story! You can find links on my website: www.CarmenDeSousaBooks.com.

Before you go…

I hope you enjoyed Unlucky in Love, Part One of Some Lucky Woman. If you would like links to my other books, visit CarmenDeSousaBooks.com, or sign up for notifications of new releases, promotions, and giveaways [+ here+].

Although all of my stories have a common thread — Love and Forgiveness — I write in several genres: Romantic Suspense, Paranormal Romantic Suspense, and Mysteries with a Paranormal Edge.

 

The Southern Romantic-Suspense collection consist of five stand-alone stories — NO CLIFFHANGERS — but a couple of them should be read before the follow-up novels, so as not to run into spoilers. You can read them in any order, as long as you read Charlotte 1 before Charlotte 2 and Nantahala 1 before Nantahala 2.

 

In order by release date:

She Belongs to Me (Charlotte 1)

Land of the Noonday Sun (Nantahala 1)

Entangled Dreams (Florida)

When Noonday Ends (Nantahala 2)

Split Decisions (Charlotte 2)

 

The Creatus Series, an Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance series, on the other hand should be read in order:

 

Creatus

Creatus Rogue

Creatus Eidolon

 

I also write a collection of mysteries with a ghostly edge.

 

The Pit Stop – FREE where allowed!

The Depot – FREE where allowed!

The Library (Where Life Checks Out)

 

New Series Coming Soon

The Watermen Series

A Solstice with Jacky Waterman

 

You can find all my books on my website, www.carmendesousabooks.com.

 

If you enjoyed Unlucky in Love, please leave a review. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a few words to let other readers know if they should download it too. It means so much to an author to hear what readers loved — even didn’t love — about a book. It’s how we grow and learn what you want to read next time … and in the case of a series, which I hope this book will be part of, which characters you want to see more of in the next books or which ones we should knock off. :)

 

Thank you again!

 

Carmen

 


Unlucky In Love

Some lucky women meet the man of their dreams and live happily ever after. Some lucky women focus on a career and make their own happily ever after. And then some women wake up after fifteen years of marriage and discover that their luck just ran out … right into the arms of another woman. Jana Embers isn’t one to sit back, though. The first thing Jana realizes she needs to do is empty the joint bank account, then she’s thinking she might take a tire iron to her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s truck. After that, she’s not sure what she’ll do … Maybe she’ll adopt a cat. After her divorce and a few too many crummy dates, Jana decides she doesn’t need a man. A perfectly sized and shaped device and writing about the perfect hero will more than suffice. Determined to share her philosophy, she pens You Don’t Need a Man, encouraging women everywhere to go out and experience life instead of waiting for a man to complete them. Three years later, Jana has a New York Times bestseller and a contract for a movie adaptation, but she also has a shoulder injury, which has put a crimp in her new carefree lifestyle. Worse yet, she can’t write. Her only hope is Dr. Adrian Kijek, a renowned physical therapist who hates her simply because she wrote a book about not needing a man, or so she thinks …

  • ISBN: 9781945143007
  • Author: Carmen DeSousa
  • Published: 2016-03-03 21:40:12
  • Words: 34926
Unlucky In Love Unlucky In Love