SHADOWS OF THE PAST – a stand alone novel
Teaser Sample: Please note that this sample has not been through final edits. Copy not final. Pre-order on iBooks now.
Coming to Europe should have changed things, but I was wrong. It didn’t ease the pain and the distance only made me feel alone. The fact is, the woman I was four years ago doesn’t exist anymore. In her place is an empty shell of who I was before, each day only going through the motions, terrified of opening myself up to more pain and loss. The shadows of the past drag me under, keeping me constantly gasping for relief.
This time of year and everything it represents is horrible. Today is the anniversary of the day my life changed forever—again. Instead of celebrating fourth birthdays and putting ribbons in their hair, blowing out candles, and listening to their laughter, I’m stuck in an endless loop of nothing.
The alarm clock buzzes again. I smack it with my pillow, and knock it on the floor. Damn. I pivot in the bed and reach down, extending my arm as far as possible. I manage to whack the button, which quickly turns it off. Once again, I’m shrouded in the silence.
After four years I want to forget, just for a second. For those first few minutes of each day, it’s as if waking from a bad dream. I close my eyes and see their sweet faces, smiling. Then reality sets in and my soul rips apart. The weight on the center of my chest crushes me, making me fight for air.
Images, memories pour into my mind in an unrelenting wave. One thought after another. I relive the nightmare, seeing it behind my eyes every time I blink. Tears streak my face until its cold and my pillow is soaked. I’m fully awake and…
“This is stupid,” I blurt out as I tug the hemline of my way too short dress down.
Emily swats at me. Her British accent is thick when she speaks, “No it’s not. You seem out of it lately, and there’s no bloody way I’m letting you sit at home and swallow a bottle of booze. You need to use a different vice or you’ll turn into a wine-o.”
Emily is a sweet little rich girl. Her daddy bought her a flat in London a few years back, and it’s in the perfect place—right by Kensington Park. When I first arrived in London, I’d wander the park for hours lost in thought.
Then I met Emily.
Now I’m wearing a slutty dress with fuck-me heels. Emily had to practically yank my sweatpants off to get me to go out. Now I’m all dolled up with a plan, but my stomach is twisting in knots.
I stop abruptly. “I can’t do this.”
Emily rounds on me, taking my hands. “Yes you can. One night will help you feel better, and get rid of that sourpuss.” She squeezes my cheeks together and smirks.
I bat her hand away. “I’m not like you. I can’t just walk up to a guy and say let’s do it.”
Emily laughs. “You’re so crass! And you don’t have to say anything, that dress does it for you.” She arches a dark brow at me. It stands in contrast to her fair skin and pale hair.
“Compared to you, I look like a tramp.”
“You are a tramp—tonight, anyway. Then tomorrow you can go back to be the mousy, sulky flatmate that is going to let me adopt a cat.” She waggles her eyebrows at me.
“Again with the cat thing?” I fold my arms over my chest.
Emily gazes down at my neckline and smirks. “Nice cleavage, but I’m already seeing someone.” I frown and put my arms down, ready to turn back and bury myself in a mountain of blankets. Crying for hours sounds like a great way to spend the night. Okay, maybe not. The truth is, I’m tired of crying. It feels like grief has consumed me and I don’t know who I am anymore.
Emily smiles quickly and takes my hand. She’s so touchy feely. I don’t jerk away from her because she’s just trying to help. “Listen, I know today means something to you—something bad. Let’s go in and see if there’s a dashing fellow that can help you, just for the night. And if not, I’ll help you get smashed, and then we can wobble home together.”
“Fine, but I don’t do girls.” I’m teasing. Emily changed teams a while back and has a girlfriend.
She nods. “Yes, I know. You’ve told me. A lot. I won’t hit on you, even though you look totally delicious in my dress. The last time I wore that…” she touches her fingers to her red lips and giggles. Glancing at me out of the corner of her eyes, she adds, “Well, let’s just say the dress will hit the floor fast.”
There’s a chill in the night air and the familiar sounds of London evenings fill my ears. Inhaling deeply, I fall into step with Emily again, heading for some new, swank pub she’s been gushing about for weeks. These heels are much higher than I’m used to so we walk slowly. At the same time, I’m well aware of male eyes sliding over my body in this tight red dress as we walk down the street. I’m treated to several smiles and a wink.
As we get to the place, Emily grabs my hand. “Listen, tonight you’re someone else—no names, no contact, no commitment. Just fun. Got it?”
My stomach dips, but my resolve solidifies. “Got it. I’m someone else.” I can do this. I can jump into bed with a guy and roll around, have fun, and then bolt. I don’t need a relationship, but something about this prospect makes me feel hollow inside.
I shrug the feeling off and look at Emily. She’s waiting for me to decide if I’m going to do it.
At that moment, a man walks up behind us, cutting the entire line. He looks like a model, with a toned body and dark hair. His gaze is on the sidewalk and his shoulders are hunched forward. For a split second, he glances at me. Our eyes lock and hold. I feel pinned in place, breathless. Emily is talking, but I can’t hear her and my feet won’t work. The world around me flips to slow motion as I remain eye-locked with this stranger.
The shadows under his eyes make me wonder what hell he’s been through. He doesn’t like the kind of man to get lost in liquor. Everything about him is very sleek, pulled together, and proper. I’m sure that’s who he is, or who he was before whatever made him upset. From the look in his eyes, the pain is raw—still fresh.
He breaks the gaze and disappears through the door. My heart is pounding in my chest, but I’m not sure why.
Emily glares at me with her huge eyes and rams my shoulder. “Hullo? Earth to Kayla. Are we going in or not?”
Nodding slowly, I step forward and reach for the door. “I’m in. Help me find a hook-up, wingman.”
For a city that’s older than dirt, what the heck is the attraction to the super modern style? The inside of this place is made entirely of chrome and glass. Silver metal barstools at super sleek, skinny glass tables. There are no linens anywhere, no curtains, nothing soft or warm. The floor is white and pulses under a black light that surrounds the perimeter of the room.
The barstool is a little high for a dress this short and tight. Since the tables are see through, there’s no where to hide. I feel totally exposed.
Emily turns to me. She holds a cocktail in her hand, swirling the little contents that are left in her glass. “I need another. I’ll get you a refill too. Be right back.” Emily slips off the stool and walks like she’s not sloshed, over to the bar.
Music blares as more people pack into the place. This is one of London’s rare night spots. Everything closes after dinner. No joke. Coming from the city that never sleeps to London was strange at first. The long lonely nights sucked. When I first arrived I got stuck on the other side of town and had to ride back on the night bus. That was scarier than walking through Time Square in the middle of the night when the orange jumpsuits are cleaning up.
The memory comes back to me and I smirk. God, I was dumb. Speaking of stupid, I should probably call a car to take us home. I think one more drink and neither of us will be able to do it without sounding idioitic.
“Hullo.” A deep voice comes from behind me.
Based on the other greetings I’ve gotten tonight, this one is tame. I turn slowly in my seat, and look over my shoulder at him. It’s the guy from outside. His shoulders are straight, but he still has that kicked puppy look in his eyes.
“Hi,” I say coyly, looking up at him from under my lashes.
The guy looks over at the counter and points to my table. “Share a drink with me.”
I smirk. “Since you asked so nicely…”
“You don’t want nice, not tonight. You want a fling, a meaningless sweaty night with a stranger.” The way he says it makes me freeze. “What’s the matter, love? Cat got your tongue?”
I shake off my shock. A smile spreads across my lips at his audacity. “Great pick up line. Do you use it on all the girls? Or am I special?”
He smirks and pulls up Emily’s chair before sliding into the seat. Placing one hand on his knee he leans back and surveys me. Pushing his hand through his dark hair, he laughs. “Tell me American Girl, why else would you be wearing a dress that hugs that sinful body if you weren’t on the prowl this evening? Do you enjoy tormenting the opposite sex? Or are you just afraid of relinquishing control and having a good time?”
My jaw drops and I gasp. “You don’t even know me!”
He scans my body with a smug look. Leaning toward me, he whispers, “I know enough. Your thighs are pinned together as if no man will ever be able to pry them apart.”
“Well, you certainly won’t.” I laugh and push my long dark hair over my shoulder. Then I glance around for Emily, but I don’t see her.
“No, I won’t. I don’t dip my wick in crazy.” He smirks again, showing off that lopsided, lickable smile.
“Neither do it.”
He glances down at my lap and back up to my face. “Really? I wouldn’t have taken you for a man at all. Where do you hide it?”
My jaw drops and I gape. Before I realize what I’m doing, I shove his arm. “That’s not what I meant. You’re a jerk. Go bother someone else.” I stare straight ahead and when he doesn’t leave, I turn and look at him.
He’s grinning. “Am I really bothering you?” I let out an exasperated sigh. “Right, I thought not. Ah, here we are. Just in time.” He looks up at a woman carrying a tray. “Place those right here, love. Thank you so much.”
After she leaves I arch an eyebrow at him. “So, how’d you get her to bring shots over to the table?”
“Really? That’s your question? I thought you’d be more interested in what we’re drinking.” He gestures toward the golden liquid in the little glasses. The barkeep also brought limes and salt in clear, square bowls.
“I have eyes.”
“Yes, you do. They’re rather spectacular, if I might say so.”
I glance at him sideways and then reach forward to grab a lime slice and salt. “You may.” Keeping my eyes on him, I lick the skin between my thumb and pointer finger before sprinkling it with salt.
He watches me, but doesn’t take a glass. Actually, he doesn’t move.
“What?” I ask, frowning.
“You’re very expressive when you’re irritated.” Leaning in close, like he’s going to tell me a secret, “It’s very sexy.”
His warm breath against my skin makes me shiver. When he straightens, his eyes appear to be a darker shade of blue causing my breath to catch in my throat. Before I can get my equilibrium back, he licks the salt off my hand and downs the shot.
Shocked, I stare at him with my mouth open.
He grins. Reaching forward, he presses his finger under my jaw and lifts. My lips close. “Gaping isn’t as sexy. Well, I guess it depends on what we’re doing at the time. Do you find me shocking, love? Or do you behave like this around all British men? I can’t imagine what you’d do with an American man.”
Inexplicably, my cheeks burn. I press my eyes shut and gather my thoughts. I’m here for a reason. Pull it together, Kayla. This guy wants me, it’s clear that I’m attracted to him, so what’s stopping me? Besides my innate need to bicker?
“Dear Lord! You’re blushing!” He looks shocked. Before he says anything else, I act.
Feeling brave, I take his hand in mine, which silences him instantly. He watches as I lift his palm to my lips and lick his skin. His breath catches as his back goes rigid, as those deep blue eyes watch me shake salt across his moistened skin. Leaning in slowly, I slip my tongue over the salt, licking it up. He stops breathing at the first swipe of my tongue across his flesh, then watches me intently as I down the shot before biting into a slice of lime.
“Bloody hell.” His voice is raspy, deeper. He shifts in his chair and watches me. The rawness of his pain is still close to the surface. I can see it flicker when I move. It’s as if he’s trying to shove his past behind him—for just a night—and forget.
Just like me.
——–END OF EXCERPT——
RELEASE MARCH 16th, 2015
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**Copy not final and may be revised before publication.**