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First pages

Present Day

Kitty

October, 2016 – Memorial Hospital

 

BLIP. BLIP. BLIP.

In the dead of night, fighting the cocktail of controlled panic and exhaustion pulsing through my veins, I hunch in a padded chair next to John’s bed, holding his hand. I take comfort from the steady beat of the heart monitor that he’s alive and in there somewhere.

I say the first and most important thing that comes to mind. “I love you, Shaw… I’ve never stopped. Come back to me…” The words travel over a raw ache in my throat. Words I never thought I’d get a chance to say again. Lowering my lips to his knuckles, I kiss the nearest part of him not bandaged or hooked up to a hanging bag or monitor. “I’ll be waiting.”

Sitting quietly for a few minutes, I breathe in the mild scent of disinfectant that lingers in the air. My hand stays entwined with his as I listen to the opera of whirring, whooshing, and beeping that accompanies the costume of tubes snaking in and out of him.

A florescent light behind the bed provides the darkened room’s only illumination, casting shadows over him and giving his skin a stark, translucent pallor in contrast to his short salt-and-pepper hair. With the breathing apparatus, his face carries only a glimmer of the strong, craggy-but-handsome middle-aged man he’s become—the man I’ve loved, at times secretly, since I was seventeen.

I study him, searching for my first love, the high school football player with a bright future, and then the ex-Marine with ten more years of life behind him, and now the police detective, on the cusp of one last chance for us after thirty-five years of me choosing the best of the worst choices.

He just has to live first…and if he survives, I need to tell him the truth.

BEFORE

Chapter 1

Kitty

August, 2015 (15 months earlier) - Night of Aunt Vera’s Memorial Service

 

“JILLIAN, are you sure about this?” I ask my younger sister and warily eye the O’Connor’s Irish Crème de Menthe in my hand. A super-sweet, minty version of Bailey’s, it’s guaranteed to leave a hangover in its wake if consumed in quantity.

At least that’s what I remember from a covert raid on my parents’ liquor cabinet when I was eighteen. A flicker of remorse bubbles up as I think, even for a sliver of a second, of the significance of that night with John.

John Henshaw. He’s been on my mind more than usual lately. Not a surprise, considering Vera’s death and the past we both shared with her. I ignore the unwanted flush of warmth that arises with the long-ago memory.

I sigh and set the bottle on the kitchen counter. Vera’s instructions were clear: have two drinks in her honor. A nod to our Irish roots. Jillian and I decided to share the wealth, each having a glass. But of this?

Jillian shrugs and snorts a chuckle. “I’d prefer something else, but it was Vera’s favorite.”

She pulls two cordial glasses from the bar cabinet in her Spring Lake beach house, the place our family has gathered for a weekend of togetherness and mutual support after Vera’s passing. A place chosen because of its proximity to the ocean.

“If you say so.” I frown at the offending bottle. Leave it to my irreverent eighty-two-year-old aunt to love something this vile. Then again, if I hadn’t overdone it at eighteen when Jillian was too young to remember our parents grounding me for stealing it, maybe I wouldn’t dread drinking it at fifty-three. The memory wasn’t all bad. No, not at all. I may have regretted stealing the alcohol, but I never regretted stealing the time to spend lying with John on that blanket under the stars.

I glance at Jillian and, for a second, glimpse a shadow of our mother’s likeness. At forty-two, Jillian has the same chestnut-brown hair, striking amber-colored eyes, and easy elegance. Something I could never hope to replicate with my wider girth. I shudder and refrain from projecting the feelings I have toward our mother onto Jillian.

Twenty-eight years after Mom’s death, I still carry her secrets and resent the hell out of her for it. Vera’s identical twin, Vivian McNally wasn’t remotely the same as her sister. A darker soul lit my mother’s amber eyes. God help me, but I loved my aunt more.

Patting my hair—the grays covered for the first time in years—I hope the ponytail I’m wearing provides a moderate defense against the sea breeze at the water’s edge. Togged out in black from head to toe, Jillian and I look more like a pair of cat burglars preparing to break into a neighbor’s house than two women in mourning, preparing to illegally cast the remains of our beloved aunt into the ocean under the cover of darkness.

“I guess it could be worse,” I bemoan. “It could be tequila.” I have even worse memories of tequila, which involve a lot of puking. But that was in college.

“What’s wrong with tequila?” Raine asks, walking in behind Jillian and slipping his strong arms around her waist. Tall, blond and blue-eyed, he’s built like a Viking warrior who could grace the cover of a romance novel. Exactly where Jillian plans to feature him—on the cover of her next book.

She melts against him. “Hey, sweetheart. We’re just grabbing the rest of the stuff we need for Vera’s send-off.” Her eyes close for a moment as she languishes in his embrace.

I paste on a smile, secretly fearing the day he wakes up and realizes my sister is old enough to be his mother, though I hope that’s not the case. She deserves the happiness they seem to have found together. I pray it sticks and has nothing to do with Raine’s eerie resemblance to Drew, Jillian’s dead first love who died the summer before she left for college. A resemblance eerie enough to steal my breath the day I met Raine at Vera’s wake.

Still, Jillian’s face hasn’t glowed like this in years. She looks ten years younger. If Raine gives her a second chance at the love she lost, who am I to judge?

Raine points to the O’Connor’s. “You’re not seriously going to drink that, are you?”

“We sure are.” Jillian sighs.

“’Fraid so,” I chime in, unable to fake a shred of enthusiasm.

“Better you than me.” He chuckles and kisses Jillian’s hair. “Add a little whiskey, it’ll taste better.”

Jillian’s eyes light up. “Good idea.” She reaches for the bottle of Jameson.

I fix a disapproving stare on the whiskey. “Jillian, really?” To say I’m not a whiskey lover is an understatement, though I’m inclined to trust Raine’s judgment. He should know, he bartends part-time at an Irish pub.

“Live a little, Kitty. Vera would approve. It’ll cut the sweetness and keep us warm.” She tucks the Jameson into our backpack along with the Irish Crème de Menthe and cordial glasses. I can’t argue her point. We’ll need some warmth with this evening’s lower-than-average August temperature. But…

Live a little? Did I mention my run-in with whiskey? Though justifiable, I’m amazed I made it into adulthood without becoming an alcoholic. Jillian would be shocked, I’m sure, to see the part of me that hasn’t existed in decades. Far from the teetotaler I am now. A passionate girl named Kat who had dreams with a boy from the wrong side of town.

My thoughts slip back to John, and I wrestle down a flush of shame over not inviting him to Vera’s memorial service. He loved her, too. Probably as much as I did. At least Jillian had caught my neglectful misstep and invited him. Still…it should’ve been me. A point John would agree on. Damn life for being so complicated.

Raine gives Jillian one last squeeze and drops his arms. “We’re going to start the movie. You taking your cell?” he asks Jillian, who turns and presses up against his muscled chest. She nods and says in a voice all honey and silk, “We shouldn’t be too long.”

“Call me if you need anything.” He kisses her nose and then grabs a few bottles of beer from the refrigerator before heading to the door. “Later, Kitty.”

“Enjoy the movie,” I reply with practiced cheer. My acceptance of Raine means a lot to Jillian. Lucky he doesn’t make it difficult.

He smiles back and nods, then disappears through the doorway to join my husband Bob, my daughter Jenny, and Aunt Sue who flew up from Florida.

Jillian looks bereft for only a second before she grabs a second backpack and a flashlight. I help her pack Vera’s silver urn inside, and then we head for the door. She snatches a dark-colored beach blanket on the way out.

The sea-scented air brushes over my face as we steal quietly across the street.

We pull off our shoes before stepping onto the beach. My toes dig into the cool sand that chills the soles of my feet as I walk. The full moon sparkles over the ocean like a shimmering carpet and lights our path. Waves lap against the sand with an occasional crash at the water’s edge while the breeze carries a briny ocean mist that covers us. I lick my lips, tasting the sea’s salt on my tongue.

“How about here?” Jillian asks, placing her stuff on the ground. She shakes out the blanket, which catches an air current that keeps it aloft and flapping in the night breeze.

I lower the other backpack to the ground and grab the opposite edge. Together, we drift the blanket onto the sand and anchor two corners with the packs. Jillian slips out the Jameson and the O’Connor’s and secures the remaining corners with the bottles.

She plops onto the rough wool, draws her knees close to her body, and wraps herself in an embrace. Not nearly as flexible or lithe as Jillian is, I ease down next to her.

A cool, gentle breeze rolls past, and I inhale the scent of the ocean. “I like him,” I say.

“Huh?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I catch her glancing my way. Avoiding her gaze, I trace a finger over the wool blanket alongside my outstretched legs. “Raine. I like him. He’s good for you. I’m sorry I misjudged him.”

“Thanks...” A soft, moonlit smile touches her lips for a second and fades. “How are you holding up?”

I trade doodling on the blanket for twisting the rings on my right hand. The “I’ll be fine” I intend to say gets lodged in my throat, and a tear slides down my cheek. I’m proud of myself for holding it together this long.

Jillian scoots over, wraps her arm around my shoulders, and tucks her head next to mine. “I miss her, too. I know you were even closer to Vera than I was.”

Vera. The only person left who knew the whole truth. The loneliness I feel without her guts me. If she were here, she’d know what to do next. She’d know what to do about the impending implosion of my marriage, and the letter that arrived the day she died. Things I’m not prepared or inclined to talk about with my sweet baby sister.

I nod imperceptibly, and my shoulders pull tight under her touch as I wipe under my eyes. It feels odd having Jillian comfort me. I’m the one who does the comforting. That’s my job. I’m her protector, she’s not mine. Still, I hate that I can’t be honest about why I’m crying, but my choices robbed me of honesty years ago.

“This might be a good time to break out the O’Connor’s.” She stretches toward the bottle.

I grab her arm. “Not yet. I’m not ready for that yet.” Instead, I drag the urn out of my pack and cradle it in my lap. “Vera was so proud of you, you know.”

Jillian frowns. “She was just as proud of you.”

Doubtful. “I wish I was brave like you,” I whisper, sharing a different kind of truth. “I admire you for seizing the chance to be with Raine . . . Even though we didn’t make it easy.”

She stares at me in the silvery light and whispers, “Kitty, why didn’t you invite John to the funeral?”

I swallow and say nothing. Rather, I tighten my grip on Vera’s urn and hug it closer, letting shame wash over my grief.

How can I tell her that every time I see John it’s an excruciating reminder of what I did to him and what I should’ve done differently? How I abandoned him, not once but twice? How, when I look in his stormy blue-gray eyes, I see a reflection of the girl I used to be? How I hunger with every shred of my soul for something that I can’t have and don’t deserve?

“Vera knew what happened back then, didn’t she? Between you and John,” Jillian says, her tone taking on a breathy quality as if a puzzle piece has just snapped into place.

Rather than answer, I press my lips firmly together.

“I saw the way he looked at you today outside the church… Please, Kitty. Tell me something, anything, about you and John. I want to know,” she pleads and tugs at my arm.

My breath catches. She has no idea what she’s asking of me. I shake my head. “I can’t.”

“Why not? I don’t understand what could be so bad,” she huffs, changing tack and displaying her usual impatience at my refusal to answer questions about my past with John.

Everything, Kat wants to scream, but tepid, mild-mannered Kitty only offers, “You’ll think less of me.” With that, something else inside me crumbles.

She sighs and gives my arm a soothing stroke. “No. I won’t. I promise.”

I use the urn as a shield. Apropos. Vera was my shield in life, why not in death? “You will.” My voice carries the hollow ring of certainty.

Jillian stills and her golden stare locks on mine. “Kitty…,” she whispers, “what did you do?”

I swallow hard. My gaze drifts to the ocean shimmering in the darkness. Rather than offering an escape, it pulls the breath out of me and my tears along with it. They flow in hot, tiny rivers down my cheeks.

When I don’t answer, Jillian takes me in her arms and rocks me. “It’s all right.” She rubs my back in slow circles. “Just tell me something simple, like how you met.” Her hand drops away, and she lowers her voice. “It’s obvious you both still care for each other…even after all these years.”

A denial sits on my tongue, but it would be a lie and we both know it.

I stay silent, afraid to speak for fear that something simple will lead to something complex. It’s just easier to avoid talking about my past with John. Our history is twisted with deeper secrets, and I’m not ready to shatter my sister’s vision of the family she thinks she knows.

As for me and John? Not all love stories have a happy ending. Ours didn’t. That’s life. But most people want to examine, reexamine, and look for that pearl of wisdom or the justification why a romance did or didn’t work out. In this love story, there’s a single point of failure, and that’s me.

“Kitty… Please?”

Something about Jillian’s plea cracks me open. I take stock of my vulnerable state and realize if I don’t release the pressure that’s building inside me I’ll lose my mind. With a heavy sigh, I relent.

What harm can come of a story or two? But I’ll need a drink first. A real one, and I want the good stuff. “How about a little Jamison?” I ask, letting Kat slip her bonds, careful not to resurrect too much of the long-dead girl buried inside me, but unable to keep my armor fully in place for the telling.

Jillian’s eyes widen. “Sure.” She unrolls the whiskey from the corner of the blanket while I retrieve the cordial glasses.

I hold them up and feel my expression slide into something less reserved. Like riding a bicycle for the first time in years, releasing Kat feels both foreign and instinctual, and unexpectedly better than hiding behind kind, non-descript Kitty. “Drink with me?”

Jillian eyes me suspiciously. “I thought you didn’t drink.” She’d been surprised when I’d agreed to share Vera’s sendoff toast.

I shrug. “I don’t.” Anymore.

She humphs, letting it go, and we trade. I take the bottle and crack it open while she holds the cordial glasses. I pour us each a shot.

We clink the rims, and I throw mine back in one swallow. The alcohol burns a path down my throat and into my stomach. I hate the taste but love the warming sensation.

A wave crashes at the water’s edge, and a sudden spray of mist rolls through the air and gently covers us.

“Another?” I ask.

Jillian’s eyebrows lift. “Really? You sure? Wow. Here I thought I’d coerced you into sharing Vera’s shots.”

“You were the one who said to live a little,” I say matter-of-factly, and try to remember what that’s like.

“That I did.” She shrugs and refills our glasses.

I throw back the second shot and put my empty glass on the blanket. The alcohol hits my bloodstream immediately and does its job of easing my anxiety. My gaze settles on the ocean again, and this time it doesn’t suffocate me. “I can’t tell you everything, Jillian, so please don’t press. But I’ll answer your question about how I met John.” I glance her way. “Deal?”

Her lips part, and she tries to hide her enthusiasm. “I’ll take what I can get.”

We’ll see how long that lasts.

After years of her asking and me refusing to answer, I almost smile at the look of stunned victory she’s wearing.

“So how did you meet?” she asks, then grimaces at her second shot of whiskey before dumping it onto the sand. Pity. Waste of good alcohol.

Drawing in a deep breath, I prepare to dance in the flames of my past. On a slow exhale, I begin. “We met during our junior year of high school…”

Chapter 2

Kitty

October, 1979 – Summit High School

 

“OH, NO WAY!” I say, looking at the name I was assigned on the mid-semester roster for tutoring geometry. All these poor souls are on their way to Flunksville after the first marking period.

Sue squints at the clipboard on the door of the math office then casts a glance at me with a glint of jealousy in her eye. “What are you complaining about? At least John Henshaw is good-looking.”

“Yeah, in a big, meatheaded sort of way, like the rest of his jock friends.” I snort. “He’s probably just doing it so they won’t throw him off the football team.” As cool as I’m trying to play it, the thought of tutoring a guy who would never look at me twice makes my palms sweat.

“You want to trade him for Shelly ‘dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks’ Madison?” Sue asks, wearing a hopeful smile that highlights her braces, her eyes magnified behind a pair of super-thick lenses.

Sue and I are the resident Chess Champions at Summit High School, and also part of a small majority of students who actually work for their spending money. Hence our little tutoring gigs.

“You win, she’s worse. I’ll stick with him.” I pivot and head for my locker. Sue trails behind me but quickly catches up.

My heart drops as Karen Stark and her blonde, bubble-headed cheerleading clan of popular girls come strutting toward us in their Jordache jeans and Candie’s platform slides. Her mouth drops into a sneer when she sees me. “Hey, Checker Butt. Suck any dick lately?”

Not even close.

I surreptitiously study the hall as if it’s a chessboard, looking for my knight. Finding him, I suppress a smirk. I usually cower, but this time I have an unexpected move.

My mom is friends with hers, and I don’t like to make waves, but sometimes it’s worth it even it if ends up in a cat fight and Mom grounds me. Chances are good that won’t happen. Knowledge is power, and Karen is one detention away from getting kicked off the cheerleading squad.

A small grin spreads across my face. “Nah. David Ross isn’t my flavor, but I’ve seen he’s yours.” I do my best to project so people can hear me halfway down the hall.

She grinds to a halt and blanches. Not just her, but her whole crowd. Besides the obvious, what makes this particular piece of gossip juicy is that David Ross doesn’t happen to be her boyfriend. That unfortunate privilege goes to Mike Ryan, our quarterback.

“What are you talking about, you pervert?” she snaps.

I shove past them, ignoring the nerves gripping my middle. “You should find a better place to give head than the school parking lot.”

“Bitch!” she screams and lunges at me. I prepare for impact, but her flock grabs her by the arms and hauls her backward.

“Not now. Walk away,” one of them hisses by her ear. Karen screeches, turns on her heel, and shoves her way through the flow of traffic as she and her horde stomp off with the click-clacking of molded high heels.

I wink at the hall monitor as I pass.

Checkmate.

God, that felt good. But I’m positive I’ll pay for it later. Somehow.

Sue beams at me in awe. “Did you really see her blow him?”

I sniff. “Unfortunately. I forgot my lunch in Marsh’s car…speaking of.”

Marshall’s gangly frame is propped against my locker as he awkwardly tries to balance a piece of paper on top of a stack of books and write a note. Probably for me. He’s a senior and my ride home most days when I’m not attending Chess Club or a tournament.

“Hey, Marsh,” I say.

He fumbles with his pen as he pushes his glasses back up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. His lenses are almost as thick as Sue’s, but his smile is free of braces and kind of nice. His dark hair is thick, springy, and higher on one side than the other due to an untamable cowlick. Too bad—with the exception of not being green, he looks like Gumby. He steps away, and I spin the lock. My hand trembles from the encounter with Karen.

“Hey, Kitty. I was writing you a note.” He waves the paper as his books teeter precariously against his chest. He glances at Sue and flashes his geeky but endearing smile. “Hi, Sue.”

She shifts on her feet, blushes, and gives him a nod.

“’Bout what?” I ask, popping open my locker and exchanging one set of books and notebooks for another.

“I’ve got to leave early for a dentist appointment. Can you find another way home?”

I roll my eyes. “I have legs, Marsh. I can walk. Besides, I have to meet my tutoree, or whatever the heck you call him, at 2:45 when classes end. Today is his first session.”

Marsh’s eyebrows lift and his mouth flattens into a line. “He?”

“That’s what I said. He. Boy. Male genitalia. Need I get more specific?” I twirl the tumbler on my locker and give him a mischievous smile. “Jealous?”

He turns beet red, and before he can answer I walk away and shout over my shoulder, “See you tomorrow morning.”

I’m not being mean, it’s just that Marsh and I have known each other since we were in diapers. Our history makes him a little overprotective. Almost like a brother. I’ve even seen his pee-pee. When we were five. He may be a grade ahead, but we’re still the same age. A loophole created by my mother starting me in Kindergarten a year late. If my parents had the money they pretended to have, I wouldn’t be bumming rides. Sometimes I think Marsh feels responsible for me in a way that’s just ridiculous.

Besides, I know it’s Sue he really likes, plus he’s not my type. Not that I have a type. But if I do have one, I can guarantee he doesn’t look anything like Gumby. And he definitely doesn’t look anything like a meatheaded football player. Probably more like Shaun Cassidy from The Hardy Boys, or maybe even his older brother David during The Partridge Family years.

Then again, who am I trying to kid? I’ve yet to have my first kiss or my first real date. As for blowing anyone? Yeah, no. Other than reading a few articles in Cosmopolitan, I wouldn’t have a clue what do if a guy stuck his dick in my mouth. Other than gag and fight back the urge to vomit.

By the end of last period, my heart is beating faster than normal, and I have barely enough time to swing by the math office to pick up this week’s lesson plan and squeeze in a quick application of lip gloss before I get to my appointed spot at the shiny mahogany table in the library. There’s a plaque affixed to the corner from the wealthy Summit donor who provided it for the school. The economic divide in my high school is as maddening as it is depressing for those of us less fortunate. Especially when people assume we’re rich.

Luckily, they provided name tents for the first day, since I doubt this guy even knows who I am. He hasn’t so much as looked at me in the last two-plus years we’ve been here.

On the upside, he’s not one of the mean boys on the football team. The bullies who treat people like crap and have a steady stream of the hottest popular girls—like Karen Stark and her crowd—hanging on them in and out of school. If anything, John keeps a low profile most of time, even when he’s sitting with the team during lunch. At least on the occasions I’ve noticed him.

Like me, he doesn’t come from money. Plus, he didn’t grow up here. That much I know.

I sit at my table and tap my fingers on the fine wood surface as other students find their tutors. It’s 2:55 p.m. and still no John. I huff and wonder where the heck he is. Either way, I expect to be paid. That’s the policy.

At almost three p.m., he strolls in with his books under his arm, wearing his varsity jacket and looking pissed off.

He scans the tables and I give him a wave. Lughead. Where the hell has he been? He nods and walks over. Dumping his books on the table, he mumbles an apology and sits. “Sorry, I’m late…” He squints at a slip of paper in his hand and then my name tag. He holds up the white scrap. “This says Katherine, but your name tag says—”

“Kitty, I know. It’s a nickname for Katherine.”

A slow smile grows on his lips, easing his pissed off expression. “Kitty, huh?”

I nod and keep a straight face, anticipating a snide comment of some sort to follow.

“What about Kat? Anyone ever call you Kat?” he asks, an unexpected shine glowing in his—what I now notice are—blue-gray eyes. Kind of like a stormy sky that’s about to clear.

He’s better-looking up close than from a distance. His face is on the rugged side, which fits his broad shoulders and hulking frame. A real guys’ guy. Nothing remotely like Shaun Cassidy with his leaner physique and softer good looks. Still, John has a nice mouth and, if the upward pull of his lips is any indication, probably has a decent smile if he let his mouth get that far. Still, unless “intimidating” suddenly makes my list of attractive features, he’s not even close to my type. But that doesn’t mean he’s not appealing.

“No, why?”

“It’s a more grown-up version of the same feline.” His eyes rake over me with a smoldering glance, then shutter just as quickly when he sees my brow pop up.

Perv. I flush anyway, wondering if he sees anything pleasing. My scoop-neck top hints at cleavage, but true cleavage requires more than my smallish B-cups offer.

Two people at the end of our table shush us.

“Is that your attempt at flattery?” I ask in a heated whisper.

He leans closer. “Maybe.”

I scowl. “It won’t get you a better grade.” Damn, this guy’s a jerk.

“Ooo…the kitten has claws.” He winks and opens his book. “Can’t blame a guy for trying. Sorry. Maybe we should start.” A smile tugs at his lips again. “Kat.”

Something about the cavalier way he’s dubbed me with a nickname in his thick and unrefined Jersey accent gets under my skin. I want to shriek to relieve my frustration. But that will only get us tossed out of the library.

I skip further banter and cut straight to the lesson plan.

We get halfway through, and I’m happily surprised that he’s approaching the work with a diligence I didn’t expect. I’m impressed. He’s definitely smarter than I thought he’d be. Makes me wonder why he’s failing.

I drop my pen and lean forward. “I have question.”

His gaze catches mine and I get a full dose of stormy blue. “Ask.”

“You’re not having any issues with the concepts I’m throwing at you. Why do you need a tutor?”

He blows out a breath and runs a hand nearly twice the size of mine down his face. “I had some…personal crap at the beginning of the year. Failed the first exam. The coach threatened to bench me if I didn’t get a tutor. Not a good idea with Rutgers courting me for a football scholarship. I need a full ride through college…so here I am.”

His gaze hardens on mine and he folds his white-jacketed arms over his broad chest. “Contrary to popular belief, not all football players are meatheads.” He pauses, his stare unwavering. My stomach goes into free fall, but I refuse to drop my gaze. I have an inkling of what he’s going to say, so I hold my breath and wait.

He caves and rolls his eyes. “I heard you mention my name outside the math office.”

Crap. Heat spreads like wildfire up my neck, burning my cheeks. I squeeze my eyes shut. “Oh God, I’m sorry.”

He surprises me with a chuckle, so I open my eyes. He’s shaking his head and there’s an amused sparkle in his eyes. “At least you didn’t trade me for Shelly ‘dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks’ Madison.”

I smile back, ignoring the warmth still flaming in my cheeks, and say softly, “Really…I’m sorry. You’re not a meathead.”

“That’s a relief.” He drops his chewed pencil and leans forward. “You’ll be happy to know that I don’t think all chess players are geeks, Checker Butt.” There’s no malice in his tone. The opposite—he makes the vile nickname Karen gave me freshman year slide off his tongue like an affectionate caress. He looks at his watch and pushes back his chair. “Gotta go.”

“Huh?” I glance at the wall clock, flustered. “You still have ten minutes.”

He shakes his head and gathers his things. “Got practice. I need to gear up. See you Thursday?”

I roll my eyes. “I guess so.”

He gives me a smooth smile and whispers, “Bye, Kat. See ya around.”

My eyes gravitate to his denim-clad butt as he turns to go. Hot damn.

“John?” I whisper.

He turns.

“What position do you play?” I ask.

“Tight end, why?”

I try to suppress a grin. “No reason.”

He chuckles and walks away as I stare at what I think is one of the finest tight ends I’ve ever seen.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Kindle Scout Winner, LG O’Connor is a corporate exec by day who takes her author cape out at night. An avid reader, she loves books with memorable characters that make her heart sing. She’s the author of the urban fantasy / paranormal romance series, The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles, and the romantic women’s fiction series, Caught Up in Love. A native ‘Jersey Girl,’ she’s always in search of the perfect cup of coffee and fine Italian leather. Advice to live by: Enjoy every day. Go barefoot.

Q. This book is part of a series, tell us about your series.
A.
Nicholas Sparks Meets Colleen Hoover in Surrender My Heart, the third novel of the Caught Up in Love series which centers around three New Jersey women from one family. Each woman harbors her own guilty secret and must journey through personal pain to find redemption and surrender her heart.
Q. What books have influenced your life the most?
A.
The most profound books I’ve ever read have left indelible marks on me. They all share the same characteristics: flawed characters I’ve fallen in love with; heroic acts on their road to self-discovery; sacrifices in the name of love; and stories that have left me with a feeling of hope.
Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
Some of the writers I’ve read recently who inspire me most are: Colleen Hoover for her brave, angst-filled contemporary romance, Elizabeth Hunter for her engaging cast of characters and world-building, and Sarah J. Maas for her grip on both epic fantasy storylines, and strong, delicious characters.

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