Chapter Five: Love Me Tinder, Love Bytes: Book One

Chapter Five

“There’s not much to tell about online dating.” Sid savored another spoonful of ice cream from her pint. After she swallowed and licked her lips, she explained. “You create profiles on a few sites. Upload some pictures. Clean ones, if you want more than a hook up, and then sit back and see what happens.” She shrugged.

“I don’t have to do anything else? Is it expensive?” I frowned as I tried to do the math on my Milo-free budget.

“Eh, it’s not so bad. Maybe you can try one and that will be cheaper. Just commit to a single site.”  Sid licked the spoon and pressed the lid back on her pint. “I’ll eat the whole damn thing if I’m not careful.”

“No, if you’re not careful, you’ll eat yours and some of mine too.” I pursed my lips.

“Stop. It was one time.” She rolled her eyes before smirking. “As I recall, alcohol was involved.”

I giggled. “Yes, while I’ve learned to block better.”

Sid leaned toward me seriously. “If food is involved, you’d need to be a linebacker. Not much keeps us apart.”

“It’s not even that. You’re completely food selfish,” I noted.

Her eyes widened and she leaned back with her hand pressed to her chest. “What? Moi?”

“Yeah. Toi.” I laughed. “Or have you already forgotten stabbing Jayce in front of me?”

Sucking air through her teeth, she sank lower in her seat. “That.” Sid nodded and licked her lips. “In my defense…”

“You stabbed your husband with a fork,” I reminded her. “You drew blood.”

“I’d been dieting for thirty days. That was my cheat meal. And he was trying to eat the teeny tiny piece of cheesecake they’d given me at the restaurant.” She smiled weakly.

“That was the first time Milo met you. He was sufficiently terrified of you after that.” I laughed.

“Yeah, well Milo hates strong women.” She sighed, stood, and reached for my pint. “Want me to put it in the freezer while I’m up?”

“Sure. Thank you.” Then I frowned. “What do you mean? I’m strong. I thought I was strong, anyway.”

“You were and are.” Sid hugged me with an ice cream in each hand that had me shivering.

“Damn, that’s cold!” I jumped away.

“You think that’s cold, wait until you hear me out.” She strode into the kitchen and I heard the freezer open, then close. Sid appeared in the doorway once more. “You and Milo were never going to last.”

I swallowed hard and opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out.

“Let me finish.” She blew out a breath. “He needs a weak woman. He needs to feel strong and powerful because he’s not. Not in any sense. Not mentally. Not physically.” She shook her head as she came and sat beside me on the couch. “Look at you. He tried to break you to make himself feel big, but you’re still here, still holding it together. One day, you’ll look back and he’ll just be a speedbump from your past.”

“You think so? You think this will stop hurting soon? Because I really need this to stop hurting. And soon.” I nodded fervently.

“Listen, sometimes you have to take a wrecking ball to your life, so you can rebuild it better than before.” Sid laid a hand on my arm. “I promise your new life is going to be so amazing, you’ll be too busy to think back on this time.”

I nodded and inhaled deeply. “That sounds nice.”

Jonah leaned into the room. “I’m all done.”

“Thank you,” I whispered. Sid’s words had me feeling rather emotional.

“I guess we’re getting out of here. I’ll call you later.” She gave me a quick hug as she hustled Jonah out the house.

“I was going to leave her my number in case she needs anything,” Jonah complained.

“If I need you, I’ll be sure to reach out through Sid,” I assured him as I walked them to the door. Once they passed through, I locked up behind them. Slowly, I sank into my office chair. I’d slept all day and I wanted to go back to bed already. This wasn’t healthy. I knew what this was and as much as I wanted to give in and hide under the covers, I was going to force myself to hold it together. No way would I let Milo know he’d hurt me.

I’d barely finished my pep talk when my phone chimed. I glanced at the screen and saw a text from the bastard.

 

Milo: I see you had a guy over already. Whore.

 

My reaction was swift.

 

Me: What? Are you stalking me, creeper?

 

I glanced up at the monitor for the cameras to find out if he was somewhere in the area, sitting behind the wheel of his car, watching everything going on here. Then it hit me and I felt like banging my head against the desk. He didn’t have to stalk me. He would never be found on the street. He had the security app and could log in anytime to see the comings and goings. Finally, I sent a second message.

 

Me: Shouldn’t you be too busy with your new girlfriend to care about what I’m doing?

Milo: I’m just watching out for you, since you’re too dumb to do it.

 

My face burned. I wanted to kill him for every unkind word he’d used, but I decided to turn it on him instead.

 

Me: Sorry you left me for someone who can’t even keep you interested. Sucks to be you.

Milo: Are you serious right now? She’s twenty-three. She’s a stripper. And as soon as I find a place, we’re moving in together.

 

Once again, he’d managed to knock the breath out of me. I sucked in some air and typed furiously. He had just admitted he had someone else. God, I hated him for making me feel like I was less than I am.

 

Me: Well, that ought to save you some money at the club. Don’t you think it’s a little early to be moving in with someone you don’t know?

Milo: We’ve been dating for nine months. That’s plenty of time to know if we want to be together. Oh, and we do. In case that wasn’t clear.

 

I dropped the phone on the desk. Let him have the last word. He’d been having an affair with a stripper for nine months. Nine whole months of lying to me and dropping money down a g-string. Nine months of screwing some complete whore. And now, I knew I needed to go get tested. How could I even think about finding someone else if he’d infected me with herpegonosyphilaids?

Oh, how I loathed Milo. Though Sid had only been gone for all of five minutes, I felt like calling her back. That would mean Jonah came back too. No thank you.

So, I dropped her a text.

 

Me: Call as soon as you get rid of Jonah.

 

There was a decent chance he’d read that. It sounded mean, but I was too freaked out to care. Given my ankle, I couldn’t very well go pacing around, but I could go grab a drink to calm down. Hobbling out to the kitchen with my phone in hand, I received her reply before I even reached the counter.

Sid: Gimme fifteen. And thank you.

At first, I frowned. What the hell was she thanking me for? Then it occurred to me this was the perfect excuse for getting rid of Jonah. Knowing I’d hear from her soon made me feel infinitely better. Still, one shot wouldn’t hurt. Just a little something to take the edge off while I snooped. Nine months of lying about the stripper. I had to know more.

I grabbed the Crown and a glass. This would go better with Coke. Within thirty seconds, I’d made a nice stiff drink. Then I returned to my desk chair to search through Milo’s social media. He’d never been particularly smart. I say this even as I admit he had me fooled, but did he really? All through our marriage, I’d had my suspicions. I’d confronted him. In recent years, however, I’d kinda stopped caring. I’d started to build a life for myself apart from him. Was it because I knew this was inevitable? Simply a matter of time? Or was it because I was done too. Maybe I’d been done for years and this wasn’t the pain of loss I was experiencing as much as it was the bruise to my ego.

Soon, I had found everything I could and while I was still processing it, my phone began to ring. “Yo,” I grumbled into the phone.

“’Sup?” Sid replied.

“Milo.” I took a deep breath and admired how she waited for me to finish. Sid was a good listener. I…was impatient. “He has been cheating on me for nine months with a stripper.”

“Well, that’s…not surprising.” She sighed. “So, now what?”

I hiccupped and sniffled as I tried to hold back my tears. “I don’t know. I mean, first I’m going to the doctor.”

“Smart move. What else?” I heard her flop down on her bed.

“And I checked her out.” I laughed. “She’s so…cliché! She lived in a beach town, which is probably how he found her. He has been doing a lot of work down there lately. Contract for an entire school system had him there for weeks on end before he’d even come home.”

“Are you sure it was that?” she asked gently.

“No,” I pouted. “I’m not sure of anything anymore. All I know is she has this hot tight little twenty-three year old body. And he paid to see her naked. Fuck, for all I know he was paying for sex at first too.”

“Then this relationship has saved him a bundle,” Sid joked.

I chuckled. “That was my first thought too.”

“There’s something else you may want to consider,” she began tentatively. “Have you heard of this alienation of affection law?”

My brow furrowed. “Never.”

“Well, it’s one of those antiquated rules that gets dusted off periodically. I only learned of it on some Lifetime movie.” Sid blew out a breath. “Basically, if you can prove a married person left the spouse for someone else, then you can sue for that. He won’t get jail time or anything, but you can hurt him where it counts.” She let out a devious laugh.

“His balls?” I questioned.

“No, I think we’ve already established Milo doesn’t have any. I’m talking about his bank account.” She was quiet a moment, allowing me to think before she added, “And didn’t he earn more money than you do?”

“Yeah,” I grumbled.

“And didn’t you help him set up the company?” she prodded.

I sat up straighter in my seat. “Uh huh. All that and more. This never would’ve happened without me. I was the driving force. He did the grunt work.”

“Exactly. You can get him in court. You might want to consider this,” she urged.

I sighed. “I get it, but I don’t want some long drawn out court battle. I want to get on with my life.”

“Dammit, Randi. For the last time, it’s easier to get on with your life when you don’t have to worry about money.” She punctuated her sentence with a frustrated growl. “If Jayce hadn’t had the insurance policy, my life would’ve been so much harder. It’s impossible to work, think, even function while in mourning.”

“Milo didn’t die. Yet.” I narrowed my eyes at his picture on the screen with his arms wrapped around this teeny, tiny, curvy chick. “She’s not even pretty,” I moaned. I quickly sent Sid the link to her profile. I heard the chime in the background and knew she’d see it in a minute.

“That’s what Jayce used to call a butter face. He had an ex who was a stripper. He always talked about her saying…she had a hot body, but her face…” I heard her swallow hard, the first sign that she was still bothered by her loss even after all this time. “Listen, you don’t have to go after him in court. You just need to document everything. Use it as leverage. Did you find anything else?”

This admission hurt more than anything else. “Yeah. I checked his bank accounts. He hasn’t changed the logins.”

“What a dumbass,” she grumbled under her breath.

“He has been giving her about five thousand dollars a month for the last six months.” I rubbed my eyes. They stung, but I refused to shed another tear about Milo…tonight.

“Screenshots. Document everything. Tonight. Before you even think about going to bed. Follow the money first, then hit the social media. Screenshots,” she repeated.

“I get it. I know.” I closed my eyes and shook my head.

“He can erase stuff, but a picture is forever,” she murmured knowingly.

“Looks like I have my work cut out for me.” I stood and stretched. “I guess I’ll let you go.”

“Want help? I’m really good at this stuff,” she offered.

“Nah. I got it.” I stared at the screen a moment, my stomach in knots. “This could be cathartic.”

Chapter Four: Love Me Tinder, Love Bytes: Book One

Chapter Four

 

“Why are you up?” I groaned as I heard Sid sneaking into the bathroom at barely after seven in the morning. “You’re the one who drank, right? So, why do I feel hungover?”

She snorted. “Just lucky I guess.”

I heard the door shut behind her, heard the toilet flush several seconds later. She washed her hands, then exited the bathroom and peeked in my bedroom. I blinked at her a few times while I tried to get my eyes to focus.

“Oh, you’re up!” Sid giggled.

“Oh my God. And you’re pleasant in the morning too? Get out,” I grumbled under my breath.

“Sure.” She flopped onto the bed even as I tried to burrow back under the covers and bury my head in the pillows. “So, I have to get to work. I have to do this podcast thing today, along with the usual business stuff.” She rolled onto her side as she studied me. “Then I’ll return later today with Jonah.”

My head popped up. “With who?”

Sid smirked. “Right. Jonah always helps me fix things around the house. He was an old friend of Jayce’s and I swear he’s hoping to slide right into the vacancy that guy left, but I’m doing everything I can to keep him friend-zoned.” She stretched. “I thought you might be able to help me out with that.”

I must’ve had some dazed look on my face. I know for certain I didn’t respond.

Snapping her fingers, Sid sighed. “Miranda Jane, are you listening to me?”

My brow arched as angrily as I could manage that early and I replied, “Yes, mother.”

“Good.” She giggled. “He’s perfectly nice. He’s good looking. He has a great body. I just…don’t want to start a relationship with him like this. Weird, having my dead husband hanging over us, right?”

I nodded. “Definitely. So, how hot?”

“Huh.” She lifted the phone she carried with her absolutely everywhere. “Should be about fifty-five degrees today.”

I rolled my eyes. “No. How hot is Jonah?”

“Oh. That I can also answer with my phone.” Sid opened her photo app and began scrolling through images until she paused, loaded one, and lifted it for my examination.

“Damn, is he Italian. You know how I love Italians. They are my absolute fucking weakness.” I sighed happily. “So, what time should I be all dolled up, but look like I’m not trying?”

Sid licked her lips. “Seven. Think twelve hours will give you enough time?”

With a laugh, I rolled over.

“What are you doing?” she asked, sounding mildly annoyed.

“That’s so much time, I can even afford more beauty sleep.” I pulled the comforter over my shoulder. “You know how to let yourself out.”

“I do,” she agreed. “But who will lock up after me?”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “I kinda hate you right now.” With a moan, I rolled out of bed and followed her to the door. “Do I need snacks or anything tonight?”

“Eh, if you’re going to start dating, you might want to reconsider this being a dry house. You know, a little something to take the edge off isn’t a terrible thing.” Sid winked. “And no. I’ll bring Jonah, which means I’ll be leaving with Jonah, thereby relieving all awkwardness. You’re welcome.”

“And I’ll have better lighting.” I brightened some at the thought of installing those new fixtures.

“Yes, and a new window to see out of. Good times.” She reached out to hug me. “Have a nice day. I’ll be back.”

“Thank you.” I attempted a smile, but my face simply couldn’t pull it off this early in the day. “Later.” Then I crashed back in bed.

My bed was nice. Back when I had money, I’d spent nearly five thousand dollars on the mattress and box spring. If I let my mind wander, and wondered if Milo had slept with other women on this bed, it would ruin everything. If I simply thought about how I had something he wanted, my sleep was far more enjoyable.

This was why I woke around much later than I planned, feeling incredibly refreshed, until I peeked at the time on my cellphone. “Five o’clock? Shit! I slept all goddam day!” I bounded out of bed and realized my mistake immediately as I landed hard on my damn ankle. Once the shooting pains ceased, I carefully hobbled to the bathroom to get ready. Half an hour later, I was getting dressed and my phone rang.

“We’ll be there in about five minutes,” Sid chirped.

“You said seven! It’s not even six!” I shrieked as I pulled my shirt on over my head.

“Well, Jonah showed up early…”

I could hear all those words she couldn’t say because of her passenger. “So, now you’re punishing me?”

“Not exactly…” Sid laughed nervously.

“No. Not yet. Not ready.” I shook my head even though she couldn’t see me.

“Miranda Jane, you had all day,” she whispered loudly.

“Yeah, well I was asleep until thirty minutes ago,” I grumbled. “Some of us need more rest than others.”

“So, what do you want me to do?” Sid murmured with more than a hint of annoyance. “Again, I have Jonah with me.”

“And that’s why you’re so pissy.” I sighed. “Just…drive around the block before you come here.” I hurriedly worked on pulling my hair up into a wet, messy bun.

“You live in the country,” she complained. “A block is like…five miles.”

“Good point. Drive it twice. Bye.” Then I hung up.

By the time Sid and Jonah arrived fifteen minutes later, my nerves were frazzled and so were hers. In short, our night was doomed. “Alcohol?” Sid whimpered as she passed me on the way into the house.

I shook my head. “I haven’t left the house.”

“I don’t know how you live like this,” she hissed. “I’m gonna have to start carrying mini-bottles like I’m some lush. I’ll be back.” She picked up her purse from the sofa.

“Whoa. Where are you going?” My eyes widened as Jonah stood there glancing back and forth between us.

“You have a Walmart two miles away. I’m going to stock you up. You’re welcome.” Sid turned to Jonah. “I’ll be back soon. That fixture goes over the dining room table. These replace the flush mounts, and the one you’re going to come grab out of the back of the SUV goes in her bedroom. Got it?”

Jonah chuckled. “Absolutely, Sidra. Happy to help.”

She looked at me and rolled her eyes before waving and trudging out the door. I limped to the office to watch them interacting outside from my cameras. It felt a lot like spying, especially since Sid knew about them. I sank down in my chair and turned back to the monitor in time to see Jonah walking back to the house with the box in his arms and Sid glaring at the camera. I sent her a quick text.

 

Me: But I loooooveeee you!

 

Her response was quick and brutal.

 

Sid: You better. Enough said.

 

I was still giggling as Jonah rounded the corner. I’d gone from being married and perfectly comfortable around guys to being separated and being incredibly nervous. Without Sid as my buffer, I had no idea how to act around this man.

“Hi.” Jonah popped his head around the corner.

“Hi.” I waved awkwardly.

He grinned. “So, what if I start in the bedroom since I’m already holding this one and then I’ll install the rest.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that, Jonah.” I nodded while inhaling nervously.

“You’re welcome, Miranda.” He shrugged like it was no big deal.

I could’ve let him go. Yet for some reason, I felt the need to correct him. “Actually, all my friends call me Randi.”

His brow furrowed. “I swear I heard Sid call you Miranda Jane. Sorry.”

“Oh, she did. That’s her go-to when I’m in trouble.” I tilted my head. “I’m in trouble a lot.”

“Aw, you just need the right guy to help keep you on the straight and narrow.” He winked and slowly exited the room.

It’s probably just as well he did. I wouldn’t say I was in this man-hating frenzy, but I didn’t need a man. I hobbled to my bedroom as I considered some kind of rebuttal. Then I watched him removing one light fixture and installing another one. Fuck it. I give up. I needed a man. I frowned.

Suddenly Jonah glanced at me. “Oh, come to watch me work?” He grinned and I had the sense that he was used to women swooning over him. Sure, he was tall, dark, and handsome. Yes, there was no denying he had a fantastic muscular build. Still, he was an ass.

“Nope. Just checking to see if you needed anything before I start working in my office.” I crossed my arms over my chest, and did my best to remain friendly enough that he’d finish the job he’d come here to do, and standoffish enough that he wouldn’t try to hit on me. My life was a constant practice in balance.

He eyed me carefully for a moment. “Nah, I’m good. I’ll holler if I need anything.”

“Thank you.” I took one step backwards. “For everything.” Then I bowed slightly and returned to my office. I bowed. What the fuck did I bow for?

When Sid finally returned, I was still sitting at my desk holding my head. “Oh, it’s going that well, is it?” She glanced about to see if we were alone.

“Pretty much. So, you bought alcohol?” My brows arched as I waited for her to share the contents of the multiple bags she held.

“I did.” She sighed. “And then I remembered tonight I had to drive. “So, I also bought ice cream.” Sid pulled out several pints of Ben & Jerry’s and lined them up across my desk.

“I’m trying to work here,” I half objected.

“Yeah. Well, we can work on one of these together,” she suggested.

“Screw you. I’ll eat my own, thanks.” I huffed as I reached for the Phish Food.

“That’s my girl.” She disappeared into the living room and I could hear the fridge and freezer opening, followed by the silverware drawer. It was broken, so every time it opened the silverware clanged together and the entire drawer threated to fall on the floor.

I waited almost patiently for her to return with spoons. When she did, I grinned. “I feel better already.”

“Do you?” Sid handed me a spoon before plopping down on my office lounger. There was a loud squeaking sound and she giggled. “I didn’t do it.” She reached under her and pulled out one of Lucy’s old toys.

With this sudden reminder of my loss, I burst into tears. “Dammit. I’m sorry,” I whimpered as I wiped at my eyes and grabbed a tissue from the box on the corner of my desk. “I don’t know why I can’t hold it together these days.”

“You’re doing just fine. It’s okay to mourn, Randi. You aren’t supposed to be completely okay right now. If you were, I’d think you were some kind of sociopath.” She stood and moved to stand behind me where she began to rub my shoulders.

After blowing my nose, I glanced up at her. “Milo is fine with Lucy’s death.”

“We both know Milo is a sociopath. Point proven.” She hugged me around the neck for a split second. “Come on. Eat some ice cream.”

I shook my head. “I’m not hungry.” I blew out a breath. “Maybe it’s time to start working on my revenge body.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that. Just remember it’s not about him. It’s about you feeling good about yourself.” She eyed me knowingly.

“Sadly, I feel like I need this to come from the outside for now.” I frowned. “I need to feel attractive again.”

Jonah spoke from the doorway. “I’m done in the bedroom. Wanna come take a look?” He winked at me and I knew he’d heard our conversation which really made me want to puke.

“Right.” I could feel my cheeks coloring.

“Randi will go check while you work on the one above the dining room table. I think you mentioned you had plans for later in the evening,” Sid reminded him.

He shrugged as I limped past him. “They’re kinda open,” he murmured vaguely.

“Cool. Well, I have plans,” Sid lied. “So chop chop.” She redirected him to the other room while I peeked into my bedroom.

Leaning against the door frame, I sighed happily. “This is beautiful. I really appreciate your help with this. Money is tight and…”

“Please. I had that huge settlement. And then I had all those opportunities about handed to me after Jayce’s death, I can afford to spoil you a little.” She sighed happily. “If there’s anything I understand, it’s the importance of being comfortable in your own home and your own skin.”

I nodded sadly. “I want this more than anything. You wanna tell me again about online dating?”

Chapter Three: Love Me Tinder, Love Bytes: Book One

 


Chapter Three

“I love it.” Tears filled my eyes as I stared at the paint job on the door. “This is even prettier than I expected.”

“Yeah, we do nice work. What’s next?” Sid stretched and grinned.

“Bed? I’m worn out.” I blew out a breath and scanned the room. Already we’d taken out several garbage bags of Milo’s junk. The place was cleaning up nicely, but I had so far to go before I felt as though I’d truly reclaimed it. “The house practically looks empty.” I rubbed my eyes, which still ached from tears I’d shed earlier. “I’m empty.”

“You won’t always feel this way. I mean it.” She covered her mouth with the back of her hand as she yawned. After glancing at her phone, she murmured, “I suppose I should go home and snuggle the kitties. Call me in the morning. We’ll grab lunch or something.”

“Sure.” I nodded absently. My mind was focused on the future. Fear had me reeling, unable to think about anything else.

“I recognize that look.” Sid frowned as she sat on the other end of the sofa.

I forced a laugh as I played with my long brown hair and avoided her eyes. “No look. Go on. I’m fine.” When I started to stand, Sid reached out and grabbed my arm.

“You can hide those gorgeous hazel green eyes from me, but I see through you, Randi. You’re scared. There’s no fear in building a new life. There’s hope and happiness. Give it time.” She wrapped her arms around her knees and drew them against her chest.

“Are you scared?” I bit my lip and watched her carefully.

“Sometimes. Not like I used to be. It gets easier…being alone, managing everything on your own.” Sid shrugged.

“I feel so undesirable. And while I know I need to think about survival, I need to feel better about myself too.” I huffed. “I know it sounds crazy, even to me, but I feel so broken, I don’t know how to even function until I get past this.”

Sid’s brow arched. “You know, you could try online dating.”

“That’s ridiculous. Milo barely moved out. It’s too soon, right?” In my mind, I could picture my mother judging me. I imagined receiving my father’s disapproval. Still, I hoped Sid would be on my side.

“You don’t actually have to go on a date. Sometimes, just finding out other guys are interested is enough.” She shrugged.

My eyes widened. “Did you do this? After Jayce?”

She shook her head sadly. “We had a tumultuous beginning. He was torn. We broke it off several times before it stuck. One time, I was so devastated at the loss, I turned to the Internet. It helped more than you can imagine.” Sid sank into the cushions. “I almost went on a date, of course by then Jayce had come to his senses.” She grinned, but I could see more than a hint of sadness in her eyes. “You should do it. After all, I’m a widow, but you’re getting a divorce. Happiness is the best revenge.” She smirked. “That and taking his money.”

“Right.” I tapped my chin. “Money.” I frowned. “Maybe I shouldn’t have been so hasty in kicking him out.”

“Hasty? You hung on one helluva lot longer than I would’ve.” Sid shook her head. “I can’t tell you how many times Jayce and I broke up because…well, I have standards.” She giggled. “Oh, the stories I could tell.”

“Go on. Tell me.” I curled up in the corner of the couch. “I need to have hope. You and Jayce were so happy, so in love, I need to know you struggled and I’m gonna come out on the other side of this bullshit life.”

Sid inhaled deeply. “Hm. Where should I begin? You want me to tell you about the time I popped over unexpectedly with dinner and found him hanging out with his ex-girlfriend on the patio?”

My eyes widened. “That sounds…well, how did you not kill him?”

“He wasn’t worth doing the time.” She chuckled.

I raised a hand in the air. “I hear that.”

“Listen, if I’m going to share all my deepest darkest secrets, I need alcohol. Whatcha got?” She stood up and strode into the kitchen. I heard the fridge open and though I couldn’t see her, I could tell she was scanning the contents. “No wine. No wine coolers. No beer. Of course, I can’t imagine ever being that desperate. Why is there no hard lemonade? Where are my margaritas?” Sid groaned and moved to the kitchen doorway. “You’re still wearing pants. Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” I eyed her suspiciously. “The liquor store is closed.”

“I saw a Mexican restaurant down the road. We haven’t tried that one.” She was practically dancing in excitement.

“I’ve tried it. Mediocre at best. Their tacos were low on…contents. The damn shell was practically empty.” I shook my head. “I’m not leaving the house for that.”

Her brow arched. “You will if you want to hear this story. I bet I can order a margarita the size of my face. Please don’t ask me to talk about this sober.” She shook her head sadly.

“Fine. But you’re parking close to the door.” I stood with a huff.

Sid hooked her arm through mine. “And you’re my DD after I suck down that margarita. I’ll be crashing on your couch.”

“What about the kitties?” I eyed her curiously.

She shrugged. “They’re cats. They’ll live. Let’s go have fun.”

We’d reached El Patio in minutes. When we made it through the door, she squealed in delight. “Oh my God. They have a mariachi band. How did we not know this?”

“It seemed inappropriate. You’ve been in mourning and now I’m joining you. So there’s that.” I sighed and nodded to the hostess.

“Two?” The girl was maybe twenty. She looked so young and hopeful. I started to open my mouth to warn her about life, but Sid intervened.

“Yes, two. As far from the band as possible. We’re here to talk. And drink.” She giggled.

As we sat, the girl asked, “What can I get you?”

“She wants a margarita the size of her face.” I snickered. “And since I’m the designated driver…one coke, please.”

The girl grinned and turned to relay our order while Sid shouted after her. “Salt! I need salt on the rim!” She kicked me under the table and I winced. “How could you forget salt?”

“How could you kick me? I’m already injured,” I complained.

She smirked. “You’ll never forget the salt again, will you?”

I rubbed my shin. “Probably not.”

“It’s called behavioral conditioning.” She laughed. “This is pretty much how I trained Jayce.”

“How’s that? You kicked him in the shin? This I gotta hear.” I grinned.

“Stop with the pushing. We don’t even have my drink or our bountiful basket of baked chips with all the sauces and salsas.” Sid opened the menu. “I haven’t even decided what to eat.”

I laughed. “Enough with the pretense you’re actually going to eat a meal. Every time I’ve been to a Mexican restaurant with you, you order food. You fill up on your bountiful basket and then you make them pack the food. Every time.” I crossed my arms over my chest and leaned back.

“Truth. Oh, and so what? I love leftovers. One more meal I don’t have to cook.” Then her face lit up as she looked past me. “It’s like Christmas. My drink and our chips are being delivered all at once.” She clapped her hands together and held them to her chest.

“Look at you with the restraint.” I rolled my eyes while the waitress loaded our table.

“Are you ready to place your order?” The waitress glanced back and forth between us.

Sid sighed. “I’ll order food to go later, but for now, I need queso. Lots and lots of queso.”

The girl smiled and disappeared.

“We should do this more often,” Sid murmured as she took a sip of her margarita.

“Go out to eat?” My brow furrowed in confusion.

“Sh.” She waved at me. “I wasn’t talking to you. I’m having a moment with my margarita.” When she batted her eyelashes at me over the salted rim, I almost choked on my drink.

“You’re insane.” I grinned.

“Well, it helps. You’ll get there.” She shrugged, then pulled her enormous glass closer and wrapped her arms around the base of the stem. “We really do need to spend more time together.”

“Me, or the glass?” I asked with a smirk.

“You’re catching on.” She winked. “Eventually, Jayce did too.” She laughed. “Storytime.” Sid grabbed a chip, scooped up some salsa, and popped it in her mouth. She chewed thoughtfully for a moment and I leaned in, eager to hear some of her wisdom. I’d watched her and Jayce be happier than me and Milo had ever been. “You have to train people to treat you the way you deserve to be treated,” she began seriously.

I frowned. “It makes sense in theory, but clearly, I don’t know how to do this.”

“I got you.” She laughed as she took another sip from her enormous glass. “You know, it’s hard to look ladylike with a glass this big,” she noted.

“I hate to come between you and your alcohol, but teach me. Come on. I already ruined one marriage and I may actually date again one day.” I pulled up the hood on my jacket and clasped my hands under my chin while I channeled my inner Princess Leia. “You’re my only hope.”

Sid snorted. “Please.” After a sigh, she added, “But I will tell you how I trained Jayce to be the man I deserved.”

“Yes!” I fist pumped the air before I started scarfing down chips and salsa. “Whenever you’re ready,” I mumbled from behind the hand covering my mouth.

“Here’s the thing, people…and not just guys…all people, will only treat you the way you allow them to treat you. Some people will always be respectful. Some…won’t know better.” She grew serious and stared me in the eye. “Some need to be shown the line.” She sighed. “Jayce was one of those people.”

My brows arched. “Really? He treated you like a queen.”

“Yeah, he had to, or I was gone.” Sid shrugged. “I showed him time and again.” Her eyes had a faraway look. “We lived together while we were engaged. Once he kinda freaked about it. I guess he was missing his friends, missing going out drinking and getting stupid.” She reached for her glass and took several swallows while she closed her eyes. Sid opened them again as she spoke. “When he hadn’t made it home from work by midnight, I packed up and left.”

“Whoa. You left?” I wrapped my arms around my body as I tried to reconcile this with the relationship I’d seen.

“Yes, I left. All my big stuff was in storage. I owned a ton of luggage. Packing up took very little time. As angry as I was, I drove to my happy place.” Sid offered a half smile. “The beach.”

“That’s almost four hours from here.” My jaw dropped.

“Yeah, it was. It gave me a lot of time to think, decide what I wanted, where I wanted to be, how I wanted my life to look. I didn’t like where I was at the moment.” She swiped at her eyes and took another drink. “He called me shortly after the bars closed. Apparently, he expected me to be angry, but didn’t expect me to leave. I always did keep him on his toes.”

“I can see that.” I nodded.

“So, I ignored his call. In fact, I didn’t answer him until the next evening. He’d already tried to see me at work, only to discover I wasn’t there. He’d check with the friends he’d met and no one knew where I was, of course.” Sid dipped her chip in the queso the waitress had dropped off seconds before. After chewing quietly, she continued her story. “When we finally spoke, I explained that wasn’t how I wanted to live. He told me he didn’t think he was ready to marry. I told him I didn’t think I wanted to marry him anymore anyway. I added that I’d reach out when I returned to town to give him back the ring.”

My eyes bulged. “Holy shit. You don’t play.”

“No. This is my life. I own it. And if I have people in it who make me feel badly, it’s my fault. I was genuinely ready to walk away and Jayce knew it.” She held up a finger and ate a couple of chips. “Sorry. Margaritas make me hungry.” She ran a hand down the glass. “And this is why we can never be more than acquaintances.”

I laughed. “How long were you gone?”

“From our apartment or Charlotte?” Her head tilted.

“Um. Both? Duh.” I shrugged.

“Eh, I stayed at the beach for a good five days. So cathartic. Hey! We should do that!” She bounced slightly on her side of the booth.

“Let’s revisit this idea once I heal.” I kicked my leg out to remind her.

“Right.” She nodded. “Okay, so then I rented a room at an extended stay. I’d decided if he couldn’t be who I deserved in a month, he was shit out of luck and I was moving on.” Sid stared at me. “Remember this part. Never settle. It’s the first step to a miserable life full of regrets.”

“Got it. Never settle.” I nodded then shook my head. “I’ll try.”

She sighed. “Well, that’s something, I guess. As for Jayce, he didn’t believe me, thought I was going to beg to move back in. I showed up tan and calm to drop off the ring. He was shocked. He also was an idiot. He left it on the side table and Rex ate it.”

“Rex?”

“We had a dog.” Sid snickered. “Jayce called me in a panic. I told him the dog would poop the family heirloom out. He thought I’d help, but I declined. Three weeks later when he wanted to lock me back in, I refused the ring. He had to go buy me a new one. Can you imagine? Ew. Just gross.” She shuddered.

“I don’t know…I might have taken it after it had been professionally cleaned. Memories and all. The ring had history.” I laughed quietly.

“No. It would have been a reminder that he thought he could shit on me. No way in hell would I ever let anyone do that to me again.” Sid took a drink from her glass. “Get it?”

I tried to digest her lesson, but digesting our snack was easier. Could I ever be that tough? I knew what Sid would say. I had to be stronger. Luckily, I’d have her here to help every step of the way.

Sunday Snippet from The Temptation

 
Meet Sage and Merrick from The Temptation…
 
We sat in silence for several seconds before I finally admitted, “I don’t know how I’m going to recover from this.”
 
The bartender returned with a basket of bread and two bowls of stew. “St. Mary’s Well,” he announced.
 
“I’m sorry?” My brow furrowed in confusion.
 
“You go to St. Mary’s Well to heal a broken heart. Everyone knows that.” He rolled his eyes.
 
“Not us tourists,” Sage muttered. “So, where’s this well, anyway?”
 
“It’s a good hour and fifteen away.” The man tugged at his chin. “But once you get there, you get on your knees and circle the well nine times.”
 
“Nine? On my knees?” I glanced at Sage. “This has to be a Catholic thing. There’s always a price for everything, absolution, forgiveness…healing.” I huffed before turning to the bartender again. “Then what?”
 
“Then you drink a cup of water from the well and you’re healed.” He washed a glass, dried it, and slung the towel over his shoulder.
 
I turned to Sage. “Did you hear that? Presto change-o. I’m healed. My knees are wrecked. I’ll need arthroscopic surgery, but my heart will be fanfuckingtastic.” I made an okay sign with my thumb and fingers.
 
She grinned and took a spoonful of stew. For a moment, she chewed thoughtfully. “You know, it might be worth it.
What do you have to lose?”
 
“Three hours of my time,” I replied.
 
Sage snorted. “Yes, but then, presto change-o, you’re healed!” Then she smiled at me and I caved.
 
“Fine, but if I have to do some Irish legend quest, then you do too.” I turned to the bartender. “Whatcha got for her?”
 
“I don’t know. What’s her problem?” He chuckled.
 
“No love. Can’t find one. I have a broken heart. She has an empty one.” I shrugged. “You know. The usual.”
 
“Hey, it’s not empty,” Sage argued. “I’ve just never…given it to anyone. Never really loved anyone. Barely dated. Only a few unrequited crushes. That usual.” She glared at me.
 
“Have you considered Saint Valentine?” The bartender tilted his head.
 
“Yeah. I don’t get it. The man was served death three ways. I’m beginning to wonder why we celebrate February 14th at all. Seems almost mean.” She shook her head sadly.
 
“The man died for love,” the bartender argued. “You might want to try living for it.” Then he moved down the bar to serve a couple who had just arrived.
 
“That was way harsh.” She frowned as she finished eating a few minutes later.
 
“So, you gonna do it?” I asked, suddenly interested.
 
“You doing yours?” She challenged.
 
I leaned forward. “I will if you will.”
 
🍀🍀🍀
 
Coming March 13th in the Tempting Luck Anthology

Chapter Two of Love Me Tinder, Love Bytes: Book One (Subscribers ONLY)

Chapter Two

Randi

“I can’t go back there like this,” I whimpered as I stared down at my broken ankle.

“So don’t.” Sid shrugged. “Come back to my place. I have not one, but two spare rooms and my only roommates are of the furry variety. I find they’re less judgmental and super easy to talk to.” She glanced at her phone. “It’s closing in on seven in the morning. Let’s get breakfast, fill your meds, and then sleep all day.” Sid smiled gleefully. “What do you say?”

I nodded, thrilled to avoid facing either Milo or the reality that he was gone. “Yeah. Let’s do that.”

At the time, it seemed like a wonderful idea, the perfect scenario. Unfortunately, I never considered what I’d be in for when I returned to the house around dinner time. As soon as I hobbled through the door, I heard him grumbling in the kitchen. With a sigh, I made my way into the room and dropped onto the bench at the dining room table.

“You dirty whore,” Milo growled.

“What are you talking about?” My eyes widened in shock.

He pointed angrily at my clothes. “I woke up and you were gone. You stayed gone all day.”

I gestured to my walking cast and opened my mouth to explain when he planted himself in front of me and leaned so close our noses nearly touched.

“Didn’t take you any time at all to find a side-piece.” Milo looked me up and down. “You probably had one all along.”

“I didn’t. I don’t.” He had me so unsettled I could barely express a coherent thought.

“Lies,” he sneered before he reached out and patted me on the head. “Don’t worry, Randi. I have a side-piece too.” Milo stood and chuckled as he strode over to the stove to stir whatever he was making in the saucepan.

My mouth was still hanging open when he started in again.

“I’ve had lots of strange in the last ten years.” He grinned in a way that had me shaking inside. “Your maid of honor…”

“Jen?” I blinked back tears.

“Yeah, after we made it back from the honeymoon. She dropped by, you weren’t home, but I didn’t want her to have come all that way for nothing.” Milo waggled his eyebrows.

I inhaled sharply. “Awesome.” I struggled to cover the hurt and feelings of betrayal with a shrug, but I’m pretty sure I just shrank down in my seat instead.

“You know your good buddy Lisa?” He turned and leaned on the counter. “We fucked on and off for years when we lived in New York.” He laughed and shook his head. “Hell, we even rekindled when she came to visit us here in Charlotte, a couple of years ago.”

Squeezing my eyes shut for a moment, I inhaled deeply. When I met his glare again, I had one thought in mind. He’d opened the door, but I was going to strut through it. “Who else? Go on. You seem determined to hurt me. Don’t stop now.”

Milo stood and held out his hand, ticking off my old friends, his former co-workers, and some random chicks I’d never heard of. By the time he’d stopped listing all the times he’d cheated, I’d made a decision. “Are you done?”

Staring up at the ceiling, he tapped his chin a few times. Finally, he glanced at me and shrugged. “Yeah. I guess.”

I struggled to my feet, then took a couple of painful steps to meet him with only the counter between us. “Good. Now get out.”

“I live here. You leave.” His brow shot up in challenge.

“My parents own this house. Who do you think they’ll want to rent to, hm?” I leaned closer to him. To my satisfaction, he stiffened and rubbed the back of his neck. “Exactly,” I hissed. “Now go. I never want to see you again.” Milo rushed past me, presumably on his way to the bedroom, but I stopped him. “You forgot the garbage bags.”

He whipped around and growled, “What do I need those for?”

“Packing.” I smiled sweetly. “All of the luggage is mine.”

“What makes you think they’re yours?” Milo growled.

“Well, I bought them before we were married. And while you could pull the whole North Carolina communal property crap, I doubt you want to do that when you have so much to lose,” I reminded him not so subtly.

Stepping closer to me, his hands balled into fists at his side. “Let me get this straight. You expect me to leave with my clothes in a garbage bag?”

My head tilted to the side. “We might still have boxes in the spare room, but you’ll probably need those for your video games. You’re the one moving. You decide.”

Milo’s face turned a dangerous shade of red. I knew what to expect and he didn’t disappoint. Grabbing one of Lucy’s old toys from the sofa, he turned and threw it as hard as he could. This time, however, his aim was off and instead of it harmlessly bouncing off the wall, the giant kong shattered the window beside the fireplace.

“Fantastic.” I scowled. “Expect a bill from my parents.” I crossed my arms over my chest and winced as I tried to shift my weight to my good foot.

This time he let out this animalistic roar and started to reach for another toy before I interrupted him.

“Well, you could break something else, I suppose, or you could channel all that energy into getting your shit together.” My eyes narrowed on him.

At first he hesitated, then he stormed off and seconds later the bedroom door slammed. I didn’t want to be anywhere around him, but at the same time, I had to ensure he took nothing of mine. He’d already stolen ten years of my life. I’d give him not one more fucking thing.

An hour and a dozen minor skirmishes later, I’d managed to evict Milo. After limping around the house and locking the place up as much as possible, I collapsed in my office.
The house was finally mine. Now what the hell was I going to do with it? I hobbled around the emptier rooms and felt plenty empty inside too. There was still so much clutter. I’d let him hoard all manner of crap. Naturally, he had no desire to take it with him. Apparently, his fresh start meant leaving as much junk behind as possible, and not just me.

I glanced at the clock. He’d packed quicker than I expected. The clock showed it wasn’t quite 8:15pm. I had an idea. Picking up my phone, I called Sid. “Come over,” I urged when she finally answered.

“Ugh. It’s after eight. This better be an emergency. You know I about hibernate the moment the sun sets. The other night was an exception.” She sighed. “I suppose tonight could be too. You need me?”

“Yeah. I do,” I admitted quietly. “But I promise I’m not going to be all mopey. And there won’t be any drama because Milo moved out.”

“Wow. That was fast. Say no more. Let me put on pants…and a bra. Then I’ll be right over.” Sid laughed.

While I waited the twenty minutes for her to arrive, I covered the broken window with cardboard, secured it with packing tape, and began to plan the redesign of my life, which was why I needed Sid. I was all ideas. She was execution. Together, we were unstoppable. When I heard her knock, I rolled over to the door using my office chair and unlocked it. The window repair had taken a lot out of me. The second Sid entered the house, I was in work mode. “This one.” I tapped on the color swatch I had pulled out of my desk all of ten minutes ago.

“Cool shade of teal. Where?” Sid glanced around at my stark white office walls.

“The door. Just the door for now. I think.” I shrugged.

“Where did you get this?” She pointed to the stack of color swatches I had stacked on the corner of my desk.

“I’ve been holding onto them for a while.” I inhaled deeply. This part hurt, admitting how much I’d let Milo hold me back. “You’ve seen the rest of the house. I kept wanting to paint. My parents had no problem with it. Only, Milo never wanted to, never wanted me to, refused to hire anyone. I gave up. Pretty much on everything but life.”

Her head cocked to the side as she eyed me carefully. “You know, this is your chance to live. Take it from a woman who was suddenly single and seriously knows what it’s like to be on her own. There’s a beauty in losing a man and finally finding yourself. It’s not all pain. I promise.”

I stared up at her. “I believe you. And thanks to the Vicodin, I don’t even need to feel the pain for a bit.” I laughed, but sobered quickly when I saw the fear in her eyes. “Relax. I’m limiting my addiction to tacos. Let’s go grab some paint and start with the overhaul.” Pasting on my best fake smile, I hefted myself out of the chair and began moving toward the door. “You coming?” I called over my shoulder.

“I am. How are you even going to make it through the store?” Her brow furrowed.

I shrugged. “Simple. I grab one of those handicapped carts. Try and keep up.” I winked playfully. If I could only keep Sid around long enough, I bet I might actually feel as optimistic as I pretended to be at the moment.

“Fine, but the minute you plow into my heels, it’s on. Got it?” Her eyes narrowed.

I snorted. “Please. In that thing? No way you could catch me.” Sid stood beside me and I leaned heavily on her shoulder. “No way I’d hurt you, either. I need you too much right now.”

She shook her head and sighed as we exited the house, carefully locking up behind us. “Awesome. Just what I needed. Friendship security.” Still, when I met her eyes, I realized she was being playful and my oversensitive ass was taking everything the wrong way.

We rode in silence to Lowe’s. Sid dropped me at the entrance before parking her car. I was supposed to find my electric shopping cart, but I’d only managed to sit in it and start it up. For some reason, I couldn’t drive.

After assessing the situation, she bit hard on her lips to keep from laughing. Quietly, Sid wandered behind me and unplugged the cord. “Try it now.”

And I was off, racing into the store, feeling incredibly giddy. After more than five years of living in that house, I was finally going to make it mine. Unfortunately, I had no idea what that meant.

“Let’s grab paint first,” she suggested when she saw me frozen in the middle of the store. “We can look around while they’re mixing it.”

I nodded numbly. When we reached the counter, I passed the guy my paint swatch, which had become soft and almost malleable while clutched in my sweaty palm. The lights glinted off the diamonds and my eyes were drawn to my wedding rings, which suddenly felt ridiculously constrictive. “This, please. One can.” Then I began to twist the rings in a fruitless effort to remove them.

“Semi-gloss? Eggshell?” He stared down at me, his focus on my fingers, rather than the paint project.

“Um.” I stopped tugging on my band, blinked a few times, and glanced at Sid for help.

“It’s an exterior door. What do you recommend?” she asked calmly before reaching out and resting against my shoulder.

“Then you’ll want a high gloss enamel. And I recommend using a primer on it first, like this Kilz.” He turned and grabbed a can from the nearest shelf. “One can should be plenty unless you’re doing a garage door too.”

“No garage door.” I shook my head.

“Okay. I’ll have this ready in a few minutes.” He was an older man with salt and pepper hair. “You know, I have some liquid soap. Could help with that.” He pointed to my left hand.

Tears filled my eyes and I sniffled. “I’m good, thanks.” Then I tried to back up and speed away, but the damn cart drove even slower backwards while emitting this ridiculous warning beep. Then I started forward again at such a pathetic pace, my only hope for avoiding further embarrassment was for the floor to open up and swallow me. I wasn’t opposed to the option. Behind me, I heard Sid speaking calmly.

“We’ll be back shortly,” she murmured.

I’d barely rounded the corner at the end of the aisle when she caught up to me. “I’m not going back there,” I grumbled.

“No worries. I’ll pick up the paint.” She shrugged. “What would you like to look at next?”

I scanned the area. “How about…décor? I want immediate change, you know…like Milo’s departure. Only this will be good!”

“Milo’s departure will be good too. Give it time. You’ll see.” Sid jerked her head toward the next aisle. “Come on. Let’s shop.”

Sid strode down the next aisle with me rolling right behind her. She started to stop in front of a lighting display, obviously realized I might have trouble braking so quickly, and jumped out of the way. “Damn, that was too close.”

“Why’d you even stop?” I grumbled.

“Life looks different with the right lighting. You’d be surprised how something so small can make such a big difference.” She smiled and gestured. “Pick. Your first lighting fixture is free.”

I scanned the shelves for a sign explaining the promotion. “Where? I don’t see anything…”

Leaning low, Sid murmured, “I’m buying, Randi. You deserve nice things. Let’s work on designing you a better life.”

My face burned. “I can’t have you do that.”

“Right.” She pointed to a flushed mount light. “This one?”

“I’m pretty sure I politely declined your generous offer.” My brow rose.

“Yeah. And I’m pretty sure you can’t stop me.” She snickered.

I crossed my arms over my chest. “What makes you think so?”

“Well, two feet will beat those four wheels every time,” Sid joked. “Good luck racing me to the checkout.”

With a groan, I sank low in my seat. “I hate this.”

“Come on. Chillax. You’re going to love it.” She lifted a fixture from the shelf and tucked it under her arm. Sid quickly discovered it was too bulky and, from the look on her face, too heavy. She sighed and stuck it in the basket on the front of my slick ride.

“Leave it there. I mean it.”

“Fine.” I sighed, but secretly, I liked that she was making some decisions for me. For now, I’d lost all confidence in my ability to do so.

FREEBIE Alert! 1/22-26 ONLY

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First, enjoy the boxed set of the New Hope Series.

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Under Umbrellas

Visit New Hope, the small town with plenty of southern charm!

Sometimes the life you planned isn’t the one you get to live. Sometimes the pain of the past overshadows the future. Sometimes to start over you have to go back to where it all began. 

This was how Joe Masters ended up back in New Hope, thick in his thirties with nothing to show for his life. He needed a complete overhaul, just like his father’s old house. Instead of a fast track, he had slowed down and was plodding through a ten year plan, which felt more his speed after his stormy relationship and bad break up. Maybe alone wasn’t so bad. Maybe there would be sunshine in his future.

Martha had weathered her fair share of storms in Vermont. Although accustomed to the cold, both the chill in the air and the cold shoulder in her marriage, left her feeling like she would never get warm again after her miscarriage. Martha’s search for hope brought her to New Hope, South Carolina, a small southern town full of charm and character. So focused on the move, she never imagined her husband would trick her into leaving and never follow. Strong willed and determined, Martha decided to do more than survive, she’d thrive. 

Thrown together by chance, Martha and Joe would discover a connection neither prepared for, which would change everything. Inclement weather approached. Somehow, they had to find a way to survive together. After all…

Life is full of storms and love means sharing an umbrella. 

Tempest Torn

Book Two of the New Hope Series full of small town charm and southern romance.

A night of passion. A raging fire. A home destroyed.

The sun returned and Joey and Marti felt they had turned a corner in their relationship. Only when they turned that corner, they ran right into the insurance adjustor, Finn. She wasn’t just any woman, though. She was the one woman Joey always believed he’d spend the rest of his life with, even though they couldn’t make it work. Soon it was obvious she didn’t merely want to adjust the value of the house, but remind Joey of the value of their relationship, and adjust his attitude about the future.

Suddenly, Joey struggled to choose between two women he loved: one who would never hurt him and one who constantly hurt him. He wasn’t the only one with a choice to make. After leaving her cheating husband, Marti vowed to never be with anyone who didn’t see her worth.

A tempest brews. A man is torn. A woman refuses to wait.

Stormy Surrender

Book Three of the New Hope Series, set in a small charming southern town 

Six months have passed since Marti agreed to marry Joey. Despite her history, she’s having a healthy pregnancy. They finally have her house to themselves, and Joey has finished her To Do list. Life should be perfect, but it’s not. Joey is pressuring Marti to make it legal before the baby arrives, which is complicated by Blaine who refuses to let go, and Finn, who refuses to go away. Add in a town divided, a legacy to uphold, and a particularly vicious hurricane season, then hang on. 

With all its force and fury, a southern storm could be so destructive. Of course, after the storm, the land is washed clean, which is perfect for a fresh start and a forever love, if only they will surrender.

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**Please note: this book is rated MA for Adult Situations and the occasional curse word**

Two weeks.
One bucket list of sex acts.
And one sexy, bad boy to help her complete it.

Intern, Willow Stone, has two weeks to land her dream job as a sex columnist. The only problem is that she has no real experience in the bedroom. Unless, you’re counting a few mediocre attempts in college. And she’s not.

Calling on resident playboy, Wyatt Evans is Willow’s best shot at getting the “know how” to secure her career. But checking off each act of fun and fantasy might just be a little more than either of them bargained for. Will the final task on the list be just the beginning for Willow and Wyatt? 

Happy reading!

Sunday Snippet: Love Me Tinder

 
From Love Me Tinder
 
I glanced at the clock. He’d packed quicker than I expected. The clock showed it wasn’t quite 8:15pm. I had an idea. Picking up my phone, I called Sid. “Come over,” I urged when she finally answered.
 
“Ugh. It’s after eight. This better be an emergency. You know I about hibernate the moment the sun sets. The other night was an exception.” She sighed. “I suppose tonight could be too. You need me?”
 
“Yeah. I do,” I admitted quietly. “But I promise I’m not going to be all mopey. And there won’t be any drama because Milo moved out.”
 
“Wow. That was fast. Say no more. Let me put on pants…and a bra. Then I’ll be right over.” Sid laughed.
 
While I waited the twenty minutes for her to arrive, I covered the broken window with cardboard, secured it with packing tape, and began to plan the redesign of my life, which was why I needed Sid. I was all ideas. She was execution. Together, we were unstoppable. When I heard her knock, I rolled over to the door using my office chair and unlocked it. The window repair had taken a lot out of me. The second Sid entered the house, I was in work mode. “This one.” I tapped on the color swatch I had pulled out of my desk all of ten minutes ago.
 
“Cool shade of teal. Where?” Sid glanced around at my stark white office walls.
 
“The door. Just the door for now. I think.” I shrugged.
“Where did you get this?” She pointed to the stack of color swatches I had stacked on the corner of my desk.
“I’ve been holding onto them for a while.” I inhaled deeply. This part hurt, admitting how much I’d let Milo hold me back. “You’ve seen the rest of the house. I kept wanting to paint. My parents had no problem with it. Only, Milo never wanted to, never wanted me to, refused to hire anyone. I gave up. Pretty much on everything but life.”
 
Her head cocked to the side as she eyed me carefully. “You know, this is your chance to live. Take it from a woman who was suddenly single and seriously knows what it’s like to be on her own. There’s a beauty in losing a man and finally finding yourself. It’s not all pain. I promise.”
 
💜💜💜
 
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Love Me Tinder, Love Bytes: Book One (Subscribers ONLY)

Chapter One
Randi

 

You and Milo will be fine, Sidra wrote in a message that randomly popped up while I was scrolling through Facebook.

Swallowing hard, my hand shook as I tried to type my response. No. We won’t.
I rubbed my eyes, which ached from hours of crying. Then I frowned and typed again. How did you know? Sometimes with Sid, it was like she read my mind.

Her response was swift. Look at the prints you’re posting. Look at the songs you’re sharing. Anyone who knows you sees how you’re feeling. You’re all heart, Miranda Jane.

A hollow laugh escaped my lips. She was right. Everything going on with me ever was on display for the world to see.

PS. No one is going to buy them. Too much sadness to hang on a wall. Hell, I hurt just looking at them.

More tears leaked from my eyes. I’m sorry. I had so much more I wanted to write, but I felt completely paralyzed. The fear was so strong, I could barely breathe. So, I stared at the screen and tried to calm down, but all I kept thinking was what the fuck am I going to do? On the desk beside my glass of Jack and Coke, the phone began to vibrate. I almost didn’t answer because I didn’t know how to talk, but it was Sid. She’d know how to make it all come out right. She had a gift for making me feel better. I pushed the button, held the cell to my ear, and said nothing.

“Start with what happened,” she murmured in her most soothing voice.

I sniffled and laughed sadly. “You know, if this whole advice columnist thing doesn’t work out, you can totally get into radio,” I teased. Okay, I attempted to tease. My words fell miserably flat.

“Go on. Time for the healing to begin,” Sid urged.

With a long sigh, I leaned back in my chair and listened for a moment. Milo was silent. Maybe he’d gone to bed after all. I glanced at the clock. It was closing in on midnight.

“Why are you awake?” I asked sadly.

“Eh. Decided to work ahead. I’m thinking about writing a book. In order to do this, I need to carve out more time. And I can’t do that if I’m behind.” I heard her chair creak and I knew she was in her office. She was serious. “Now stop deflecting and start talking.”

“But your book,” I joked.

“It’ll be a relationship and dating advice book. Duh. You’re currently a case study. Don’t let me down. Tell me.” There was an edge to her voice and I knew I had to simply concede.

“Fine. I give up,” I grumbled.

“You’re having a bad month,” Sid admitted quietly.

“Three deaths.” I blew out a breath.

The tapping on the laptop keys stopped and she spoke. “I knew about your dog and your grandfather. What’s the third?”

“My marriage.” Even saying the words had warm, salty tears flowing down my cheeks.

“Are you sure you aren’t being dramatic?” I could absolutely picture her face, the way her brows furrowed, and her lips pursed slightly. I bet her hair was in a ponytail, but not a messy one. Hers were always tight and smooth.

“I wish I was.” I chuckled. Suddenly, the wave of emotions I’d been surfing ended and I was completely worn out. “Can we talk tomorrow?”

“Great idea.” The wheels of her chair rolled across the floor. “By the time I get there, it’ll be tomorrow. See you soon.”

She started to end the call, but I whimpered. “Wait.”

“What?” Her voice was crisp.

“Milo is here.” I chewed nervously on a pen I grabbed from the desk.

“Cool. So, we’ll go out.”

“Wait.” My mind raced as I tried to come up with an excuse for staying here and wallowing. I was afraid to leave. What if I came back and he was gone? What if I remained and he took off anyway?

“I’m already in the car. Bye.” Sid ended the call.

She was one tough nugget. Standing, I carefully made my way through the office, into the house, and to the master bedroom. The door was open a crack. I peeked in, hoping he’d be asleep, praying I would feel comfortable leaving.

Milo was in bed, laying on his stomach. His face was lit by the glow of the phone. He was clearly chatting with someone. Then I saw boobs. I’m pretty sure they were boobs. Pierced nipple boobs. I could see the barbell with the big balls on either side. He was laughing, smiling, and he began to shift his hips. The fucker had a hard on. I clapped a hand over my mouth as tears stung my eyes. Slowly, I backed away, not that he would’ve noticed me anyway.

Soon, I was back in the office. I stared up at the camera, watching and waiting for Sid to arrive. Even when she pulled in, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. Then my phone rang. As soon as I accepted the call, she started speaking while I stared at the screen.

“I know you know I’m here.” She waved at the camera. “Get your ass out here. I mean it. I will go in and get you.”

I sighed, but at the same time, I kinda laughed as I pictured little Sid rushing in here and dragging me out. “I’m coming.” Swallowing hard, I stood and grabbed my purse from the office couch. Then I trudged out the door, locking it behind me. Sidra sat behind the wheel, smiling at me. I could tell she felt super proud of herself for getting me out of the house, so I curtseyed. The gravel shifted beneath my feet and while I didn’t exactly collapse, I did manage to twist the shit out of my ankle, twingle my knee, and beat the hell out of my pride. I hobbled to the car and pulled open the door.

“Are you okay?” Sid asked, her face blanketed with concern.

“Of course I am,” I snapped to cover my embarrassment.

“Where to?” She smiled pleasantly, while studying me.

I shook my head and bit on my lip to hide the pain. “Anywhere but here,” I finally grumbled.

“Right.” She nodded. Sid shifted the car into reverse, backed out of my driveway, and then sped off without saying a word.

Curiosity was actually killing me more than my ankle at the moment. “Where are we going?”

Sid grinned. “Taco Bell. This seemed like an emergency. We’re making a run for the border.” She glanced at my rapidly swelling ankle. “Although right now, I doubt you could even manage a brisk walk.”

“I’m fine,” I lied.

“Oh, good. Then you won’t mind if we park at the far end of the lot where there are more lights, right?” Her brows rose as she smirked at me. With a growl, I looked away. “That’s what I thought,” she muttered. “Drive through it is. And then the ER.”

“I don’t need the ER,” I objected loudly.

Half an hour later, after we’d parked and finished our tacos, I was singing a different tune. “Maybe the ER isn’t such a terrible idea,” I grumbled.

“Uh huh. And after they give you something for the pain, we can talk.” Sid winked at me as we drove to the hospital.

“I’m surprised you’re willing to wait that long.” I sighed and reclined in the passenger seat.

“Well, I figured you’d let me know when you were ready. You seemed pretty upset when you left the house.” She reached out and squeezed my shoulder. “How can I help?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I can barely think.” Staring out the window, I began replaying the night in my head. “Milo came home the other night. Lucy took a turn for the worst. We brought her to the vet and they told us her kidneys had shut down. We had to put her to sleep.” I sniffled and swiped at my eyes. “After we said our goodbyes and drove home, Milo tried to hug me, but I stiffened. Next thing I know, he told me he was done.”

Sid groaned. “All guys say that. Back when we first started dating, Jayce said that all the time. We never were, mind you, but he said all kinds of stupid shit.” She shrugged.
I shifted in my seat to face her. “No. He means it. When he says something, he has thought it through and made a decision. We’re separating and getting a divorce.”

“Give him a chance. There’s a lot going on. Your grandfather…your dog…” Sid frowned.

I licked my lips as I tried to figure out how to explain. “We want different things. We’ve outgrown each other. He was my college boyfriend. We married when we almost didn’t even date.” I shook my head. “I shouldn’t have let him push me into it.”

“So, you want this? The divorce?” Sid asked as she pulled up to the curb at the ER.

“No.” I shivered and wrapped my arms around my body. “But I want kids and he doesn’t.” Before she could ask another question, I pushed open the door and struggled to step out of the vehicle. “See you in there,” I mumbled as I shut the door behind me.
While I limped into the ER, I recalled the discussion I’d had with Milo only hours ago. I’d been mourning the loss of our fur baby in the bedroom when he walked in and announced we were done. Initially, I struggled to process his proclamation. I couldn’t understand why he suddenly wanted a divorce, but he quickly explained we didn’t want the same things anymore. “You want kids. And the idea of having a baby freaks me the fuck out.”

“You’re only saying this because we just lost Lucy,” I argued.

“No.” Milo raked his hands through his hair before sitting hard on the bed. “I’m not. I’ve been thinking about this a long time. Losing Lucy simply cemented it for me.”

“Our dog died. And this is when you decide we’re not supposed to be together anymore?” I shook my head angrily. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“What makes you think anything is wrong? Maybe finally everything is right.” Milo stood and began to pace around the room. “It’s like I’ve had this moment of clarity. I spent the last six weeks staying in hotel rooms and I felt more at home there than I do here. I felt happier away from you than I do with you. It’s just time to end things.” Then he walked away and I was left alone in the room with my thoughts, battling all my fears. At first I didn’t know what to say or do.

Then it all came to me in this rush of anger. I confronted him out in the kitchen. “I can’t believe you want to end things this way. I didn’t want to date you ten years ago and you pushed it. Now you want us to be done. Maybe I should push it.” I stomped my foot angrily.

“You could try that.” Milo frowned. “I just think it would be a terrible waste of energy. And I don’t want to waste one more minute of my time on this earth. I especially don’t want to waste it fighting with you.” He sighed and his shoulders sagged. “My mind is made up. I’ll never want children. And I no longer want you.”

I froze at his coldhearted words. In my chest, my heart stopped beating altogether. And all I could think was this is how it ends. Only…I meant for me. I had to be dying. His words had knocked the air from my lungs. I had no idea how to move on and keep living like this. Suddenly, I was filled with an indescribable rage. “I can’t believe I wasted my best years on you. I gave you my best eggs. Now I’m pushing thirty. Who’s going to want me now?”

He actually laughed at me and shook his head. “Your best eggs? Really, Randi? That’s all you have to say?” Milo snickered. “Keep making this easy on me. I’ll be out by next weekend. I promise.” With a chuckled, he walked away and disappeared into the master bedroom.

I wandered into the office and shut the door behind me. As was so often the case, I lost myself in social media. Sometimes, it was work. Sometimes, it was a way to numb my mind and forget my problems. I scrolled through Facebook, periodically posting images that I found, and sharing every sad song that came to mind. This was when Sid found me. This was how we ended up here in the ER waiting for x-rays.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked as she stared at me sadly.

“I think there’s someone else,” I whispered. Now that I had spoken those words aloud I finally felt the truth of them. “When I left, he was on a chat app. I watched him for a minute. Then I saw boobs, and I left. It made me sick. I literally threw up in my mouth. To think that I’ve spent all these years with this man, and I guess I never really knew him.”

“Everyone thinks that when a relationship ends,” Sid announced.

“Really? Did you think that when Jayce died? Because I didn’t hear you saying anything remotely like that when you lost your husband.” I looked away. Those were probably the most hateful words I’d ever spoken to her. And I couldn’t bear to see the pain in her eyes after my careless outburst.

“It’s different. Jayce died; he didn’t choose to leave me. There’s really no comparison.” She tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear.

I blew out of breath. Slowly, my eyes met hers. “I’m sorry. I’m just hurting. I know it doesn’t give me the right to hurt you back.” I smirked. “Although there’s nothing wrong with me right now that a few pain pills couldn’t fix.”

Sid laughed. “I get it. I understand. No offense taken. You didn’t mean anything by it.”

She reached out and gave me a gentle hug. “You’ll get through this. We’ll get through this together.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. Still, I pasted a smile on my face and murmured, “Right now, I don’t see how. I guess I’ll just have to trust, since you have experience in this department.”

“About the other woman…” Her voice trailed off as she studied my face. “Don’t jump to conclusions. It’s probably nothing. Just concentrate on you. Be the best Randi you can be. Make him regret ever wanting to leave you.” She grinned.

“And when he doesn’t?” I asked sadly.

Sid wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “Then it won’t matter because so many others will want to be with you, spend time with you. Just wait. You’ll see.”

Sunday Snippet: Stay

 
I’m almost done with Stay, so this is the last snippet you’ll see before I publish. Hope you love Cadence and Xander.
 
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I wrapped my arms around my body. “I can’t just follow you around and piggy back on your dream. I have to have my own thing too. Make sense?”
 
“This makes perfect sense.” He paused in the hall outside our door. “So, what are you passionate about? Start building your dream. I’ll support you in every way you’ll allow.” Xander opened our door and motioned for me to enter first. Once I stepped inside he asked, “Seriously. What do you like?”
 
I laughed. “That was an easy question. Food and wine. Maybe especially wine. It makes me feel sophisticated.”
 
“I should’ve known this. After all, your first act around the silo was to make wine.” He chuckled. “How much longer until we can test the product of your efforts?”
 
“Probably at least a week still.” I moaned. “So…forever.”
 
“Look, you haven’t seen the land yet. You have no idea what’s out there, but I’ll give you the grand tour now that you can move around.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I planted grape vines. You know, just a few to start, but they seem to be taking hold. They produced. Not a ton, but they are still small.”
 
“What are you trying to say?” I huffed. “Spit it out. Dammit.”
 
“You could plant more. You could grow all the grapes you want. I have so much land. I’m talking more than fifty acres. That’s a lot of grapes.” His eyes sparkled and I knew he thought he was on to something. He wasn’t wrong.
 
“Why would you do that?” My brow furrowed.
 
“I thought that was obvious, Cadence,” Xander whispered. Then he leaned low and kissed my cheek before murmuring in my ear, “I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you, give you whatever you need, if only you’ll stay.”