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Friday, May 29, 2015

Cover Reveal and Excerpt! FIGHTING TO BREATHE by Aurora Rose Reynolds


Lea Lamb and Austin Wolf were young when they fell in love. They never imagined the future could hold anything other than together-forever. 

When Lea’s father dies in a tragic fishing accident, she's crushed under the weight of her grief and catches a glimpse of another type of future, one she knows she's not strong enough to face. 

Austin is angry. For the past fifteen years, he's believed the woman he loved with every ounce of his soul left him without so much as a backwards glance.

When Lea unexpectedly returns to their hometown, all the years of heartache inside Austin bubbles to the surface and presents itself as blinding rage. 

Faced with the truth about the past, a newly discovered secret, these former lovers will learn that if they want to have any chance at the future they’d given up on all those years ago, they will have to rescue one another from drowning in pain so debilitating it will leave them both fighting to breathe.


Fighting to Breathe
Fighting To breathe (Excerpt) Copyright 2015 ARR

Looking out at the ocean, you sometimes forget it’s dangerous.
The sea is like a woman; you have to respect her, listen to what she’s telling you, and never ever doubt that she has the power destroy you.

Prologue

“It’s so beautiful,” I whisper, cuddling deeper into Austin’s side as I look up at the night sky. I swear you can see every single star there is when the nights are clear like this.
“Yeah,” he grunts, making me smile as his fingers on my arm move in soothing strokes.
“We graduate in two weeks,” I say while butterflies erupt in my stomach. Austin has been my boyfriend since I was sixteen, and since the very beginning, we have talked about getting married as soon as we graduate high school. I know a lot of people would say we’re too young, but ever since the day I laid eyes on him, I knew he would be my husband.
“Lea Wolf,” he says, and those butterflies begin to fly faster. I scoot up, place my hands on his chest, and rest my chin on top of them while searching his face. Austin has always appeared older than he is. His dark dirty blonde hair is shaggy, his jaw covered in an ever-present layer of scruff, and his lips that I love so much are full and soft, but as my gaze locks on his, I know his eyes will forever be my favorite thing about him. The crystal blue reminds me of the glaciers near my house, one of the most beautiful places on earth. “You’re going to be my wife, Lea. Are you ready for that?” He runs his finger down the center of my face and brings them to rest under my chin while his thumb sweeps across my lower lip.
“So ready,” I say, watching anxiousness form on his handsome face. I know he thinks I’ll want more than the life of a fisherman’s wife, a small town life, but deep down I know this is all I will ever need. As long as I have Austin, I don’t need anything else.
“Graduation, then Vegas,” he rumbles, pulling me up to rest completely on top of him.
“Graduation, then Vegas,” I agree then smile as his hand on the back of my head pulls me closer until we’re sharing the same breath.
“I need to get you home,” he breathes against my lips then rolls me to my back, looming over me before dropping his mouth down to mine.
“I wish we could stay out here all night,” I sigh when his mouth leaves mine.
“Me too, baby, but I promise you—when summer starts, we’ll sleep outside, under the stars, on the boat, in the middle of the ocean. Out there, you can see everything.”
“I would like that,” I say, wrapping my arms tighter around him and giving him a squeeze. He pushes back and stands before holding out his hand for me to take, helping me out of the back of his truck, where we had been lying and looking at the dark, starry night.
“I wonder what’s going on?” I question as we pull up in front of my parents’ house, where the sheriff’s car is parked.
“Don’t know,” Austin mutters, sounding concerned as he shuts down his truck, gets out, walks around the hood, and opens my door, lifting me out and setting me gently on my feet. As soon as we make it up the front steps and into the house, my confusion turns to worry as I see my mom sitting on the couch, rocking back and forth while sobbing hysterically.
“What happened?” All eyes turn my way, and my mom lifts her head and begins shaking her hand frantically while tears stream down her cheeks.
“Have a seat?” Sherriff Jefferson says in a tone that I have never heard from him before as he holds his hand out to me.
“Mom?” I whisper. My stomach begins to knot, and I feel Austin’s arm slide around me, pulling me closer into his side.
“I—” my mom starts then covers her face with her hands and sobs harder, the noises coming from her ripping into me, making it hard for me to even breath.
“What’s going on?” Austin asks, pulling me around and tucking my face into his chest. Even though I know deep down what the sheriff is going to say, nothing can prepare me for hearing the words out loud. Every single one of them strangles me until I’m fighting to breathe.
“Sorry, Lea, but your dad’s boat disappeared this afternoon after he called in a mayday. The coastguard found his boat, which caught fire; they also, found his skiff, which was empty. They are still searching the water for him, but with the temperature, it’s not looking good.”
“There’s still a chance, right? He could still be alive?” I practically beg.
“There’s always a chance,” Austin says, holding me closer.
But there wasn’t a chance. My dad’s body was never found. They believed the fire spread so quickly on his boat that he didn’t even have a chance to put his survival suit on before he tried to get into his skiff, ending up in the water and either drowning or freezing to death.

Chapter 1
15 years later

“Lea, you need to breathe,” I tell myself as I drive my car onto the ferry that will take me from Anchorage to Cordova. I never thought I would be going home again, not after so many years away, but when my mom called to tell me she had cancer and wanted to be in the home she and my father shared, I could only tell her of course. Even if that meant I’d be going back to a place I left behind, to people I left behind. The only thing I can hope for is never running into Austin, that somehow the town I grew up in had sprawled out and the population became similar to Manhattan, lessening the chances of me ever seeing him again.
Fifteen years ago, I was crushed under the weight of the loss of my father. I realized then how easily life could change, how quickly someone you loved could be taken from you, and I knew then that I couldn’t stay in Alaska with Austin, not when there was a risk of something happening to him. I also knew after mentioning leaving to him that he never would; his family had been fishing in Alaska for generations.
He grew up loving the sea, grew up knowing he would spend his life doing something he loved and that one day he would pass his love for fishing down to his son. I couldn’t ask him to choose me, so I left him behind, even though in leaving him, I left a piece of myself. My only hope is the parts of me I was able to salvage would be enough to get me through the rest of my life.
Leaning over the side of the ferry, I look down at the water then hold out my left hand. Five years ago, I got married. I thought Ken could heal me. I thought the parts of me that were left after losing my father and leaving Austin would finally be full. I knew my father would want me to be happy, and I knew from talks with my mom that Austin had moved on, so it was time for me to do the same, to stop believing he would come after me, that our love was more than just a young girl’s fantasy.
I tried to give Ken all of me. I tried to make things work, but in the end, I failed and he found what he was looking for in someone else. I won’t say it didn’t hurt, but I wasn’t devastated by the loss of us. I was more upset that the idea of us had been ruined, but if I was honest, I brought it upon myself when I gave him our vows but didn’t follow through on my end.
Slipping my wedding ring off my finger, I feel tears pool in my eyes as I drop the metal band into the ocean, watching it disappear before squeezing my eyes closed. There was no going back, and now wasn’t the time to feel sorry for myself. I needed to pull myself together enough to take care of my mother. My mother, who had flown out to Montana to see me every few months since I left home. My mother, who was never the same after the loss of my father. I’m not sure how I’m going to cope with her illness, or eventually the loss of her, but I know I will need to find a way, especially if I’m going to survive myself.
“Lea?” My eyes open and I turn my head. “Lea Lamb?” I feel my eyebrows pull downward in confusion as I take in the woman in front of me.
“Rhonda.” She points at herself and smiles. “We went to school together.”
“Rhonda?” I repeat in shock. The once chubby girl who didn’t have many friends had become a stunning woman. With red hair that fit her fair skin, her face was round, but her cheekbones were pronounced, showing off her button nose and full lips. “How are you?” I ask, stepping back from the edge of the boat.
“Good…great, really.” She smiles bigger and places a hand on her stomach, which I realize is large and round, but the stylish coat she’s wearing minimizes it.
“You look beautiful.”
“You do too, but then you were always beautiful.” She smiles then waves at someone over my shoulder. Turning my head, I watch a handsome man wearing jeans, a hoodie, and a vest, walking towards us. His long hair is pushed back away from his face and his skin is tan. His sunglasses hide his eyes, but there is something familiar about him.
“Ben, look who’s here,” Rhonda says, and it takes everything in me to not run away when Ben looks at me, pushes his sunglasses up to the top of his head, and frowns. Ben was Austin’s best friend in high school, and judging by the look in his eyes he’s giving me, he’s not happy to see me.
“What are you doing here?”
“Ben,” Rhonda hisses, coming to hold onto my arm.
“No, you know the way she left Wolf,” he says, looking at Rhonda. Then looks at me and snarls, “Why are you here?”
I know I deserve this, but I won’t lie and say it doesn’t burn just a little that someone I had once considered a friend was looking at me like I was the scum of the earth. I was hurt, too. Yes, I left, but he never came after me; he never even asked my mom where I was, if I was okay…nothing.
“You know why she’s here, Ben,” Rhonda says softly, moving to stand at his side, resting her hands on his chest. His eyes leave me and go to her. His face goes soft as he wraps his hand around the back of her neck, dropping his forehead to hers and speaking gently. I take two steps back then pull in a deep breath.
“Stay away from him,” Ben says, standing upright and turning his head my way.
“He won’t even know I’m in town,” I tell him, taking a step back then turning on my heels and heading to my car, where I sit for the rest of the ferry ride.

~*~*~

“Mom,” I call as I walk into the house. The smell hits me, and it’s exactly the same as when I was little. It’s so familiar that I almost choke on it as it saturates my lungs.
“Honey,” Mom whispers from the couch, where she is lying covered by one of the many blankets she knitted.
“Are you okay?” I ask, going to her side, getting down on my knees.
She still looks the same as the last time I saw her a month ago. Her hair is long and grey, her face tan from hours in the sun, planting flowers, and her eyes are a brown similar to mine. It’s hard to believe she is so sick, that she only has months to live. The doctors caught the cancer too late, and it has already spread from her uterus to her stomach. They said she could try chemo, but she refused, saying that if she was going to die, she would do it on her terms, and not while having poisons pumped into her body.
I can’t say I agree with her. The idea of her leaving me behind kills me every time I think about it. I want her to fight, but it’s not my battle.
“I’m fine; I just wanted to lie down. Now tell me, how was your trip?”
“Mom, I spoke to you every few hours,” I remind her while helping her sit up.
“I know, but this is a small town. You never know who you may run into.”
She was right about that. “I saw Rhonda. You never mentioned her being pregnant,” I mutter, leaving out Austin’s best friend, thinking that maybe if I ignore anyone having anything to do with him, I can ignore the fact this is Cordova and chances are I will see him at some point.
“Was Ben with her?” So much for that plane
“Yes, they seem…happy,” I whisper out the last word. Happiness seems like such a foreign concept to me. I don’t even remember the last time I was really happy.
“What’s wrong?” my mom asks, touching the side of my face.
“Just tired.”
“Your room is all set up, so why don’t you go take a nap? Then we will go to The Picnic Basket for dinner.”
“That place is still here?” I ask in disbelief. The Picnic Basket is a small metal trailer that was turned into a restaurant that serves mainly hamburgers and fries, and it’s only open during the summer months. To the kids in Cordova, it’s like McDonald’s. Normally, I would have immediately agreed to eat there, because the burgers are amazing, but the idea of running into anyone else I used to know doesn’t sound appealing.
“Of course it is. Go lie down and we will leave in two hours.”
“Mom, I really don’t think I’m up to going out,” I tell her, watching as she folds up the blanket that was covering her laying it over the back of the couch.
“You loved eating there before you left home,” she says, turning to face me.
“Sorry, you’re right. It sounds great,” I say, putting a smile on my face that doesn’t reach my eyes. I don’t want my last memories with her to be tainted by my fears or my past; she deserves so much more.
“Perfect, now go lie down.” She pushes me towards my old bedroom, which thankfully isn’t the way I left it years ago. The pictures that used to be on my walls are now gone, and the walls are painted a beige color that goes well with the dark blue bedspread and the painting of the ocean at night that is hung above the bed.
The only thing in the room that remained the same is a picture of my dad and me. We had gone four-wheeling right after a rainstorm. The ground was muddy, and my dad had driven through every puddle on the trail. I was sitting in front of him, so I was covered in mud from head to toe, but we were both smiling. I remember that moment and thinking that my stomach hurt from laughing so much.
How am I going to make it through this, Daddy? I think, running a finger over the top of the frame, then I go over to the bed and lie down, pulling the quilt from the footboard up over me and closing my eyes.
“Can we stop by the liquor store on the way to dinner?” Mom asks from the passenger seat of my car.
“Should you be drinking?” I frown then turn onto the main road—well, really the only road in town.
“What’s it going to do, kill me?” she jokes, making me inhale a sharp breath. “Honey,” she says quietly, and I look at her briefly, wondering how the hell she can be so casual about this. “I’m dying. When it will happen, only the good Lord knows, but it is happening, and there is nothing you or I can do about it. I have made my peace with it, and I want you to do the same.” She reaches over to pat my thigh.
“Make peace with it?” I repeat, shaking my head.
“Yes, make peace with it. If you think about it, I’m lucky. I know I’m going to die. I know that sooner rather than later God is going to come take me home, and when he does, I will be ready. I will have had a chance to say goodbye to the people I care about and right any wrongs I’ve caused. I’m lucky, honey.”
“What about me?” I wring my hands on the steering wheel, feeling my chest get tight as I fight back tears.
“I love you, honey. I loved you before you were even a sparkle in my eye, and I will always be with you. I know this isn’t easy for you. I know there are going to be a lot of tears shed, but we’re lucky, honey.”
I press my lips together to keep from saying something I might regret. I’m not lucky; in fact, I’m unlucky to the tenth power.
“Oh look! Sheryl!” She yells, pulling me from my thoughts then reaches over, pressing the horn on my steering wheel while reaching across me and waving franticly out my window. Looking to where she’s waving and feel my heart begin to beat wildly against my ribcage when I see not Sheryl, but Austin walking into one of the many bars that litter Main Street, only it’s not just Austin—it’s him and a woman with her arm wrapped around the back of his waist as he holds the door open for her.
Even from the distance separating us, my lungs compress at the beauty that is him. The years have been good to him. His hair is still shaggy, only now a little lighter, and his face is tan and covered in a beard that makes his crystal blue eyes stand out even more. My eyes travel from his face to his torso, which is covered in a dark green thermal that shows off the muscles of his arms, chest, and tapered waist, then down to his denim-covered thighs. When my gaze sweeps back up, his eyes are on me, and I see them crinkle in confusion then realization that soon turns into anger.
“You missed the liquor store,” my mom complains as I speed up.
“We can stop on the way back through town,” I assure her, willing my heartbeat to calm down.
“Or we can go to the bar on the way home.”
I know I said I would do anything to make my mom happy until I have to let her go, but there is no way in hell I’m going to a bar, not in this town. “I promise I’ll get you alcohol before we go home,” I mutter, pulling up in front of the small, metal trailer with four large picnic tables out front, all painted a checkered red and white. As soon as I put the car in park, I get out and inhale a deep breath. This town is too small, and I was fooling myself thinking I wouldn’t see Austin while I was here. I’m sure the rumor mill has already started. That’s the thing about small towns: everyone knows everyone’s business, and me coming home after so many years is sure to be big news.
“Are you okay, honey?”
I look across the roof of my car at my mom and plaster a fake smile on my face, one I’m hoping I’ve somehow perfected over the last few hours and say, “Just hungry,” before slamming my door and walking around the hood taking her arm and leading her up to the window, where we order hamburgers then sit outside at one of the picnic tables to eat, and just like I remembered, it’s the best hamburger I’ve ever had.

Chapter 2

“Morning, honey,” my mom greets me as I walk into the kitchen.
“Morning.” I walk over to the kitchen table and take a seat then watch in a daze as she turns over bacon in a pan then places eggs on the griddle. “Are you expecting an army?” I ask, watching as she adds pancakes to a large platter that is already overflowing.
“Rhonda called me this morning. Ben’s going out on an opener, and she doesn’t want to sit at home alone all day, so she’s coming for breakfast, and then we’re going to check out the new yarn and craft store that opened up in town.
“How long have she and Ben been together?” I ask curiously. In high school, Ben was the typical guy. He was always dating someone new, and Rhonda was very sweet but shy, and kept to herself or the few friends she had. I don’t even remember them talking back then.
“Going on about five years, I think. She went away to college, and when she came back to town, they just hit it off and were inseparable.”
“I’m happy for them. She was always nice, and Ben was a good guy.”
“Ben adores her, and yes, she is. She reminds me a lot of you, actually.”
“Really?”
“Yes, she’s been very good to me when I’m home, always helping me with anything I need, or just coming over to visit.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here,” I whisper, feeling guilty.
“You have nothing to be sorry for. You know I’ve loved going out to Montana to visit you. It’s nice to get away for a few months every now and then; plus, you had your own life to live. It’s not as if I never saw you.”
“I know. It’s just…I wish I hadn’t been so far away or that I could have gotten here sooner than I did.”
“Ken’s a dick.”
“Mom,” I sigh.
“No,” she points the spatula at me, “he’s a self-centered asshole who thinks the world revolves around him. What happened between the two of you is not your fault. And the way he acted when he found out you were coming here to stay was deplorable.”
She was right about that. When I told him I had to leave to take care of my mom, he told me I needed to stay until we separated all of our assets and the divorce was finalized. I hated him for that; it was already hard enough being in the same town as him and his girlfriend, but him making it hard for me to leave when my mom needed me showed me a side of him I didn’t even know existed. “There’s a lot you don’t know.”
“I know more than enough,” she states, and before I can reply, there’s a knock on the back door, and Rhonda pokes her head inside.
“Hey.” She smiles when she sees me sitting at the table.
“Hi.” I smile back, feeling awkward. It’s not her that makes me uncomfortable; it’s what happened with Ben on the ferry that I can’t get out of my head. I hate feeling judged by anyone, and I know Ben has probably talked to her about everything that went on.
“Take a seat before you topple over,” my mom says in greeting, making Rhonda laugh as she takes a seat next to me .
“Sorry about Ben,” she says softly, and I pull my eyes from my mom to look at her. “He shouldn’t have talked to you like that.”
“It’s okay,” I reply just as softly, not wanting my mom to know what happened.
“What are you two whispering about?” Mom cuts in, setting a plate in front of each of us.
“I was telling Rhonda that I hope she is hungry, since you seem to have cooked for twelve instead of three,” I lie, and Rhonda laughs rubbing her large belly.
“I’m eating for two, and since this little guy seems to be taking after his father, you could even say I’m eating for three.”
“How far along are you?” I ask as my hand itches to reach out and touch her stomach.
“Just about seven months.”
“Holy cow,” I breathe. Her stomach is already huge, so I can only imagine how she will look when she’s full term.
“I know.” She nods. “I keep telling Ben that he’s having the next one.”
“I can’t wait till he gets here so I can hold him,” my mom says, and pain slices through me. I have always wanted children, and if by some chance I find a man to have a family with one day, I won’t be able to share any of that with her. She will never hold her grandchildren; she won’t even be there to lean on when I have questions or concerns about being a mom.
“I’ll be right back,” I excuse myself from the table and rush away from the table and go to the bathroom. The second I’m behind the closed door, I burst into silent tears. I have no idea how I’m going to make it through this time. She thinks we’re lucky to know she’s dying, but I feel like it’s so much worse this way. Now all I can think about is everything she will be missing out on, everything I will be missing out on without her. If she just were to have passed away suddenly, I would be forced to accept what happened and try to move on. With this situation, I feel stuck. There is no moving on, because I’m waiting for the inevitable to happen.
All my mom wants is for me to be happy, and I wish more than anything that I could say I am, that I don’t feel like I am dying inside, like I’m not constantly fighting just to take a breath.
“Honey, breakfast is getting cold,” she calls through the bathroom door.
“Coming call back then turn on the faucet to splash some cold water on my face, dry off with a towel, and then go back into the kitchen, where Rhonda and Mom are huddled together talking quietly.
“So, your mom was telling me you’re an accountant,” Rhonda says as I take a seat, placing a pancake on my plate.
“I am. It’s boring to most people, but I have always loved numbers, so I enjoy it. What about you? What do you do?”
“I’m a registered nurse. Here in town, I do private care. I actually have my own company, and have three girls who work for me.”
“That’s amazing. What kind of care do you do?” I ask.
“We help some of the elderly in town who can’t make it to their doctors, and we also do hospice care if it’s needed,” she says, and I can’t help but turn my head from her to look at my mom, knowing there may come a time when she’ll need to be placed in hospice. I’m actually relieved to learn there is someone in town who could take care of her, that she won’t need to be moved from the house, and that I won’t be on my own when the time comes.
“I’ve been looking for a new accountant since Larry retired a couple months ago,” she says, bringing me out of my thoughts.
“I can help you out until you find someone.” It would be good to work while I’m here, and luckily, accounting is something you can do from anywhere; you don’t need much more than a computer.
“That would be perfect, and if you decide to say in town, I know a lot of people who are looking for help.”
That is one thing about living on a small island in Alaska: there is normally only one person for each job, and if that person decides to leave, you’re screwed, unless another person with the same profession moves into town.
“Just think, you could open your own office in town. I’m sure Larry would sell you his space if you asked,” my mom says, sounding excited at the idea, so I smile, even though on the inside I begin to feel sick. After my mom is gone, I have no idea what I’m going to do or where I will go. The house Ken and I owned in Montana is set to close in a few weeks, and I sold all of my stuff in a huge yard sale before I packed up my clothes in my car and drove to Seattle to get on a ferry to Anchorage.
“I’ll think about it,” I tell her, watching as she gives Rhonda’s hand a squeeze.

“My baby shower is next weekend, and I would love it if you were to come with your mom,” Rhonda says as we walk into the yarn and craft store.
“I would love to go.” I lie not wanting to hurt her feelings.
“Hey, Rhonda.” I turn my head, coming face-to-face with a beautiful, willowy blonde, and it registers she’s the woman I saw wrapped around Austin as he held the door open for her at the bar. I can see what Austin would find appealing about her. She’s almost as tall as he is, where I’m at least a foot shorter. Her body is shaped to perfection, where mine is full of curves from eating a little too much.
“Hi, Anna,” Rhonda says, but I can hear a slight annoyance in her tone, and I wonder what that’s about.
“You must be Lea,” the woman named Anna says, and her eyes sweep over me from head to toe, making me thankful I took a little time in getting ready and didn’t just put on the first pair of jeans I found. I had on a pair of black corduroy pants that flared at the ankle, a cream scoop-neck sweater, cream boots that were casual but still sexy, and my puffy black vest that was just perfect for the Alaskan June weather.
“I didn’t know you were in town,” Rhonda says, and Anna’s gaze moves to her.
“Austin asked me to come for a few days.”
“Anna’s a flight attendant. She lives in Anchorage,” Rhonda informs me, and I look from Anna to her then back again and smile, because there is nothing else for me to do. I have no right to feel jealous that this woman is spending time with Austin. He hasn’t been mine for a very long time.
“It must be nice to travel all the time,” I say then look around to see where my mom disappeared to.
“It is, but I’m thinking about moving here and making this my home base. You know, the things we do for love,” she says, and my heart sinks a little at the thought of her and Austin in love, moving in together, and eventually starting a family. “Well, I better go. Austin’s waiting for me. See you around.”
“Bye.” I murmur, watching her walk away.
“God, I hate her,” Rhonda says, pulling my attention to her. “Just so you know, she and Austin are not as serious as she makes them out to be. They see each other when she’s in town, and from what Ben told me, Austin doesn’t want to see her even then, half the time.”
I have no response. I have no idea what to do with the feelings that are swirling around inside of me at the moment. You would think I would be completely over Austin by now but judging by the nausea that has settled in my stomach I would have to say I was defiantly not over him. “Let’s find your mom.”
“Yeah,” I agree then follow her down one of the aisles, where my mom is standing, looking at stickers for scrapbooking. “Did you find anything you like?” I ask, coming to her side.
“I’m not sure I have the patience to do a scrapbook, but they have so many cute things that it almost makes me want to.”
“I’ll help you. We can make one together,” I suggest.
“Maybe we can do one with all the pictures I have of you and your dad,” she says quietly, picking up a packet of stickers of boats and waves.
“I would like that.” Although my dad has been gone for years, I feel like the wounds from his loss are still wide open. When he first passed away, we didn’t really talk about him much. I don’t think either of us really got any closure.
“It would be good for us,” she says, pulling her eyes from the items in her hands to look at me. “I think it’s time we let him go. Maybe we can see if Ben will take us out on his boat, and we can go to the place he was lost, to say goodbye?”
“If that’s what you want,” I tell her and watch as tears fill her eyes, and she nods once before picking up a few more items.
“It’s long overdue,” she whispers.
She was right; it was well past time we said our goodbyes to him. He deserved that, and so much more from us. So we spent an hour picking out scrapbooking stickers that reminded us of my dad. It felt good to laugh and talk about the good times we shared before he passed.

“I’m starving,” Rhonda says as we put our bags into the back of my mom’s SUV.
“How about we stop for tacos?” Mom suggests as I climb behind the wheel, and she and Rhonda buckle in.
“Yes,” Rhonda groans, making me laugh. She wasn’t lying about eating for three. Since we left the house this morning, I have seen her eat three cereal bars that she had tucked away inside her bag..
“Is that okay with you, honey?”
“Sounds good.” Today has been one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. Mom has always been like my best friend, so spending time with her is always nice, and Rhonda is funny and easy to be around. I’d forgotten what it was like to have girlfriends to talk to. My friends from back home had been Ken’s friends as well. After I found out he was having an affair, I found out most of them knew about his relationship with Courtney. No one wanted to be the one to tell me what was going on so I was left to find out on my own while my friends went on like they didn’t know my husband was a cheating asshole.
“Baja Tacos is down near the pier,” Mom directs from the backseat as I pull out of the parking lot. When I reach the docking area near the pier, I comprehend how much the town I had grown up in has changed. Long gone are the small shops, and in their place are large buildings, most of them new.
“Make the next left,” Rhonda says, and I do, turning onto a small dirt road that travels back behind a few of the larger buildings and ends in front of a red shack that sits on stilts, with a large front deck covered in a white roof.
“How long has this place been here?” I ask, shutting down the engine.
“The owners opened it a few years ago. They actually appeared on Food Network for the ‘Best of Alaska’ a while back,” Rhonda replies, getting out.
“That’s so awesome.” I smile into the rearview mirror at my mom.
“Austin.” Rhonda yells as I get out of the car and slam the door.

Turning my head, I see her walking toward the stairs of the restaurant, where Austin and Anna are stepping down into the dirt parking lot. The moment Rhonda stands in front of him, a smile comes over his face that takes my breath away. He leans forward saying something then places a kiss on her cheek. When she points her thumb over her shoulder, his body goes tight, his head lifts, and our gazes connect, causing a pain to slither through me.
When Austin was mine, I learned every single expression that would cross his face. Most of the time, he would look at me with tenderness, but there were times I would see frustration. What I never saw was anger, and that was the look he was giving me now. That was the look that was slicing me open.
“You ready to go inside?” Mom asks, and I pull my eyes from Austin’s as she takes my hand.
“Yep.” I smile down at her, giving her hand a light squeeze, taking some strength from our connection, a reminder of why I’m really here. When I look toward the restaurant, Austin and Anna are walking off in the opposite direction and Rhonda is waiting for us. My excitement about sitting down to a nice meal is gone, replaced with unease. I don’t even know if I taste the salmon tacos I ordered, and I try to smile when appropriate, but for the most part, I sit with a weight in my stomach while looking out at the beautiful view of the harbor, watching as boats come and go.

“I’ll get it,” I say, getting up off the couch when there’s a knock at the door.
“Will you bring me some of those cookies you baked when you come back?” my mom asks from her recliner, where she sat so we could watch a movie.
“Sure.” I smile, running my hand over her hair.
“Hey,” the deep timber of Austin’s voice greets me as I pull the door open to see him standing on the front porch. My heart starts to beat at a faster tempo as I realize he’s in front of me, so close I can smell his warm, masculine sent mixed with the smell of the ocean…so close I could reach out and touch him, if I was brave enough to do so. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” He shoves his hands into his pockets and takes a step back.
“Um.” I look over my shoulder, seeing that my mom is still sitting in her chair. “Sure.” I pull my sweater around me as I step out onto the front porch, pulling the screen door closed behind me. The second I’m in front of him, I tilt my head back to catch his eyes. He was always much bigger than me, but now his presence seems to tower over me, making me feel small and insignificant. “What’s going on?” I ask, going for casual hoping that he doesn’t notice the way my voice shakes.
“I wanted to come clear the air.”
“Okay,” I reply, wrapping my arms tighter around myself, when all I want to do is touch him in some way to see if he’s real.
“This is a small town, and there is no way we’re not going to end up running into each other from time to time.”
“I know.”
“I know why you’re here, and I know your mom needs you right now, so I don’t want you to feel awkward when we do see each other.”
“Thank you.” I breathe a sigh of relief.
“I hate you, Lea,” he says, causing that small glimmer of hope I was feeling to fizzle out and turn my insides dark.
“I’m sorry,” I choke out.
“You fucking killed me when you left, and I will never forgive you for the things you told your mother to tell me after you were gone.” His words barely register over the anguish twisting my gut and the loud slosh of blood pumping through my veins. “Stay out of my way and I’ll stay out of yours.” I nod, because my lungs have closed up on me. “Later,” he says, then disappears into the darkness, leaving me alone as my lungs collapse.
“Who was at the door?” Mom asks as I hand her the plate of cookies she asked for.
“No one important,” I tell her, taking my seat on the couch, pulling my knees up against my chest, and wrapping my arms around them while I stare at the television, not really seeing it.



NEW YORK TIMES, USA TODAY & WALL STREET JOURNAL BEST SELLING AUTHOR Aurora Rose Reynolds was also featured in a one on one interview for the Cosmopolitan online magazine. Aurora is a navy brat who’s husband served in the United States Navy. She has lived all over the country but now resides in Tennessee with her Husband. She’s married to an alpha male that loves her as much as the men in her books love their women. He gives her over the top inspiration everyday. In her free time she reads, writes and enjoys going to the movies with her husband. She also enjoys taking mini weekend vacations to nowhere, or spends time at home with friends and family. Last but not least she appreciates everyday and admires it’s beauty.

3 comments:

alwssa12 said...

If they really want a chance together they have to stop eating each other. Really good names.. Lamb and Wolf :) Kinda ironic!

Alexandra Gheorghiev said...

Interesanta coperta :)

Romina Gianina said...

Asta as tine-o separat in biblioteca la cat e de frumoasa coperta

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