A Love Unfinished: Chapter One - #Giveaway
My blog tour for A Love Unfinished kicked off a couple of days ago. Tours are always fun and it's great to visit so many different blogs and met new readers and bloggers.

Today, I thought I'd share the first chapter from A Love Unfinished. Below, I've added the Rafflecopter included in my blog tour. Enter to win a copy of this novel and a 10$ gift certificate to Evernight Publishing.


Chapter One 

No, no, no!”

I cussed and kicked at whatever was in my way. Early morning sunlight filtered through opened curtains. The sight made me sick to my stomach. It meant I was late for work.

“Leon is going to skin me alive.”  

Blankets and sheets twisted around my ankles. I stumbled to the cold floor, grabbing the fabric dragging me down while trying to remain upright, in a failed attempt. Quiet chuckles rang out from the bedroom doorway as I scrambled to retrieve the appropriate clothes for work from the mess that had become my dresser.

It was no easy task considering I didn’t exactly have the best organizational skills, and I honestly believed doing laundry was the worst possible chore to ever grace my life. I didn’t mind putting the stuff in the washer and drying it, but folding and putting it all away? Ugh, kill me before I even got started.

Still, God knew if I showed up to work in jeans and a t-shirt instead of black dress pants and a white button-down, my boss would have a conniption fit. It wasn’t like we were working in some swanky restaurant that required a dress code. No, it was just a small coffee shop that catered to whomever walked in off the street and wanted homemade sweets with their caffeine. Either way, an angry boss was not high on my list of priorities. Not that he wouldn’t be already, given that I was so freaking late.

“Dani…babe, calm down.” Joey’s words did nothing to help the raging panic surging through me. I’d only had my position at the coffee shop for a little under three months. I hadn’t even made it past the probation period. “It’s not that bad. You’ll only be a half an hour late.”

Only a half—” His chuckling interrupted my shrill rant. “Stop laughing, Joey,” I warned with a glare, turning on my companion who still stood motionless in the doorway. The laughter quit, but the mirth dancing in hazel eyes didn’t disappear for a single second. I almost felt jealous over how carefree he always seemed to be, like anything bad just rolled off his shoulders as if it didn’t matter. Once, I might have been the same, but not now. “It’s a mark against my name and Leon isn’t one to let tardiness slip. You know my boss is a righteous ass on his best days. Why did you let me sleep in?”

“I thought you didn’t have to work today.”

Yes! Of course I have to work today. It’s Saturday. I work every Saturday.” Eventually I succeeded in finding the clothes I needed, with the exception of the black dress pants. “Damn it, where are those pants?”

Joey cleared his throat, looking as sheepish as his six-foot frame could manage. “I took the ones you left in the bathroom and put them in with the others in the dirty laundry. They’re washing downstairs in the laundry room.”

No. That meant two strikes against my record at the new job, taking into consideration Leon even let me work without the proper clothes on. Dread ran through my heart. “Joey!”

“Shit, I’m sorry.” He looked it, too. “I honestly thought you didn’t have to work this morning. Figured getting some of your laundry done and letting you sleep in until noon would do you some good. You needed it, all right? You’ve been stressed out about the new place, about work, and everything else running around in that pretty head of yours. Whatever it is,” he added with a shrug, “because you sure won’t tell me.”  

My shoulders sagged at his words. He was right. Since showing up in New York six months ago with nothing to my name but a black bag full of clothes and a shattered heart, things hadn’t been easy. I’d made the decision to move and leave the life I thought I had behind. To start somewhere new where no one knew my name or face, not to mention the day I woke up alone to nothing more than a note on a counter.

And then there was Joey. Odd circumstance put us together when I tried to get a job at the bar where he worked. I assumed bars were always looking for someone, but that particular one wasn’t. I had nothing but fifty dollars in my purse, nowhere to live, and a half a pack of gum in my back pocket. He moved me in to his small, two-bedroom apartment that night, didn’t expect me to sleep with him, and helped me get on my feet without asking for a damned thing in return.

Things progressed between us, maybe a little too fast for my liking. One bottle of cheap vodka and a particularly bad night later, I found myself waking up in his bed instead of mine. I didn’t feel ashamed, but I certainly felt regret. That was much worse. He never brought it up, and didn’t try to initiate sex between us again, but late nights, tears on my pillow, and the mess that had become my life pushed me into Joey’s strong, quiet solace again and again.

The regret wasn’t so bad the second time, or the third…or the fifteenth.

I didn’t love him. That was the biggest issue, and the very reason I made the choice to find my own place and put a healthier distance between us. I couldn’t have him expecting something from me that wasn’t going to come, and I had hoped a few city blocks and unshared beds would put us back in the friend zone. Maybe it did, in some ways. Other ways, it certainly didn’t. Like last night. Or like the times when a stranger’s dark hair would send me spinning into memories or the shadows that sometimes chased me home after a too-late shift at work felt safer than they did frightening.

These were things I didn’t—couldn’t—cope with to understand. I wanted to move on from a past that rendered me barren and lost, but instead I found myself looking for reminders, to keep what should have been left behind clashing with my present.

“Dani?” Joey’s voice brought me out of my thoughts. “You do like the new place, right? I mean, you could move back—”

“No,” I interrupted sharply. A little too sharply if the wince he responded with was any indication. “I just…needed this, that’s all.”

Joey shot me a look. “Really? Because it still looks like you just moved in, two months later.”

Okay, so maybe I’d lied, a little, but it wasn’t like his place was going to be any better. He took one step into the bedroom and looked around. The small amount of furniture I had in the room was scattered, the mattress and box spring that served as my bed still sat on the floor instead of set up on the bed rails like it should have been. Boxes sat in corners unpacked and untouched unless there was something I absolutely needed to take out and use.

The problem? It didn’t feel like home.

Unpacking and placing the few possessions I had been able to collect here and there, or had picked up from secondhand shops for cheap, just seemed like I was putting a more permanent title on a place that didn’t feel for one minute like it was mine. I had that place once, the one I called mine, and this wasn’t it. Walls, a roof, and windows looking out on a world that still kept revolving when mine fell apart. That’s all it really was for me. 

“Are you going to lecture me right now when I’m already late as it is, don’t have the right clothes for work, and haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet?” I asked him, anger coloring my tone. “I don’t need it, or want it, if you are.”

“No, of course not.”

He kept silent as I dressed. The black skinny jeans I pulled on in place of dress pants would have to do, but I knew they wouldn’t please my boss in the least. In the freestanding mirror that leaned against the wall, I quickly brushed through the tangled strands of black curls that fell halfway down my back. My wide, blue eyes framed with dark lashes were far too tired looking for my liking. Instead of the brightness you would expect from someone who just had an extra two hours of sleep, the puffiness over my cheeks remained and the redness from rubbing out the sleep colored the white.

Joey came to stand behind me, stoic with a face that said he was chewing over words I might not like. I’d seen that face from him too many times over the six-month period of our odd friendship. I needed to avoid his pensive stare, so I focused in on the thin and flat, almost oval shape of the rock hanging off a leather cord around my neck.

It was the oddest shade of cobalt blue I had ever seen. After a long walk on my parents’ property one day, I’d ended up lost. When I turned around to try and find my way back the way I came, the strange glimmering rock lay in the middle of my path.

Every search I ever did to find out what kind of rock it was had come up empty. All I knew was that it looked to be the same shape with similar ridges and markings to a scale. Like from an alligator, or some kind of reptile. Except for the fact that it was much too large, and hard, to be one. Not that it mattered much to me. One leather cord bound around the rock and it hadn’t left the spot where it rested just below the hollow of my throat since I found it. Just the sight of it calmed me and touching it gave me the oddest sensation.

Joey cleared his throat, making my eyes snap up to meet his in the mirror. “Last night you were in a huge panic when you called. Didn’t even stop to tell me when to wake you up after we were done, or what was going on. I know we haven’t ever delved into what sent you here, but…you know you can talk to me, right?”

I decided to play the avoidance game again, braiding my hair over my shoulder instead. “It was nothing. I just got myself worked up and figured you would want some company.”

Damn, I was becoming one hell of a liar.

The truth was, I swore I heard a voice the night before that I hadn’t heard in over a year. And the shadows that always seemed to follow me when the darkness starting creeping through the city streets were there again, too close for comfort but never making me feel afraid. Considering I hadn’t spoken to the person that the mysterious voice belonged to, and no one else I kept in contact with had heard from him either, that left me thinking I was going certifiably insane.

Joey waved at us in the mirror. “You and me…we’re not—”

I dropped the brush to the floor, stopping his words up short. I had always been straight out with him, honest to a fault until there was nothing left to question when it came to whatever was between us. Sure, I kept my past locked inside the steel bars that protected my damaged heart and patched up soul, but I was truthful where it counted the most. Having been totally abandoned by the one person I loved more than even my own self, it was a monstrous fear I couldn’t seem to shake. Leading Joey on was the last thing I wanted to do.

After all, breaking hearts wasn’t in my repertoire. I was just the one who had their heart broken.

“You know we’re not.”

 “That didn’t come out right,” he muttered lowly. “I meant to say that I know we’re not something, okay? We’re friends, whatever. Occasionally we sleep together but it’s not going much further than that.”

“Get to the point. I’m already late.”

The stare-down he locked me into lasted much longer than I liked to admit. Ultimately, he broke his gaze away and sighed. “I always knew where I stood with you, but right now all you’re serving to do is make me confused. Calling me at nine o’clock at night in a panic, jumping me as soon as I get into your apartment, barely calling me throughout the week. Sweet as sugar when you want me and nasty in the morning when you realize I’m still here.” The disgruntled sound that fell from his lips hurt, but I deserved it. “I mean, make a choice, Dani. That’s all I’m trying to say.”

“You probably won’t like the one I do make.”

Joey cocked a brow. “Figured if you outright said it and made it clear what you want, maybe I could finally quit running whenever you called.”

Ouch, that one stung a little, too. “Maybe I’m the one who needs to stop calling.”

I could see the agreement written all over his face. There were a whole lot of maybes being thrown around between us and the reality was a great deal harsher than either of us wanted to say. Joey kept running because he was already well on his way to falling and I kept calling because he was the safest option for me not to get hurt. He was all too aware I wasn’t about to open up my mind and heart to allow myself to fall in love. I was unavailable, broken down, and closed off to any of that. I just wished he would finally realize it.

All my issues held me back, though. That was the brutal, honest truth. There was something wrong with me. A part inside that disappeared a year ago, when I woke up to a note haphazardly tossed on the counter, in the brand new house I had bought with my fiancĂ©, the morning he up and left. Talking about it wasn’t an option, but apparently pretending like it didn’t exist wasn’t about to get me anywhere, either.

Here I was in New York, with a man who didn’t push or expect too much from me, didn’t blink twice when he realized how lost and in need of help I was, but I was the one who still couldn’t open up and explain why we were stuck like we were. Or whose fault it was, for that matter.

I turned, wanting to try and give him something—anything—to justify the screwed up mess I walked him into. “Joey…”

His hand raised and I thought it was meant to stop me from speaking, but instead his palm cupped my jaw while two fingers brushed along my cheekbone softly. “I’ve been there once…” he said with a sad smile, “…where you are right now, kind of lost and confused while you’re searching and feeling all broken up inside.”

“Not because of me, I hope?”

Joey laughed a distant sound. “No, not because of you.”

That left me feeling slightly relieved. It wasn’t like I was purposely seeking to hurt him. “Thank you, for everything.”

The half-smile he wore turned into a full-blown grin. “Someone did it for me once, too. And hell, she didn’t even know it.”

I had the strangest feeling he might have been talking about me. That put us straight back into the territory where we were beginning to wade into uncomfortable waters. “I need to go,” I whispered. “Leon is probably blowing a gasket right now.”

Joey hummed a low sound, releasing my cheek and stepping back at the same time. “Yeah, you better hurry then. And hey, could you do me a favor?”

“Quit calling?” My question was laced with a light teasing.

“No way. I kind of like your calls when they’re not all high pitched and anxiety worthy.”

It was time for me to be honest, too. “And I suppose I like you coming.”

“I always do…come that is,” he replied, winking. Heat flooded my body. Despite our weird status, the sex was great. No point in denying it. Then, his expression turned serious as fisted hands dropped into jean pockets. “But really, what I meant for you to do is just stop it, Dani.”

My heart dropped right along with my smile. That was not what I expected him to say. “I’m sorry?”

“We both know you’re running from something, right? So stop running away. Maybe when you do, whatever it is that’s following behind will quit trying to catch up.”

I hated that he made sense.

I hated it even more that something inside of me was screaming he was still so wrong.

****

I slid into work exactly forty-seven minutes late. Going in through the back entrance, I hoped that if I encountered Leon, we could just get the lecture and yelling over with before I started my work at the counter. It wasn’t like the customers needed a front row seat to my lack of punctuality, not to mention how big of an ass my boss was.

Shoving my tote bag into the small locker and pulling out the clean, white apron with my name embossed along the top, I tried to be as quiet as possible getting my things together. Apparently I wasn’t.

Jade poked her head into the small employee room. “You’re late.”

“I know. Is he here yet?” I asked, referring to Leon as I shot her a look over my shoulder.

“No, but Patricia might have mentioned when he called at five after seven that you still hadn’t arrived.”

I let loose a low cuss before slamming the locker door shut. There wasn’t much point in trying to keep a low profile now. “She couldn’t resist, huh?”

There were only four of us girls working at the coffee shop and usually, we all got along. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case, as Patricia in particular seemed to like to see just how far she could shove her nose up Leon’s ass. Every workplace had one of those and she was ours. Since we were the three that always took the morning into afternoon shift because it was the busiest of the day, I should have expected her to be the one answering the stupid phone when Leon called.

“I’m not even that late!”

“You’re wearing jeans, hon.”

I looked down at my denim-covered legs. “Not my—”

“Late night?” Jade interrupted with a grin.

My aggravated huff of hair blew a stray curl out of my braid and over my eyes. “Joey came over and didn’t wake me up when the alarm went off. He also thought doing my laundry this morning would be a good idea … hence the lack of dress pants.”

At the very mention of Joey, my coworker’s grin grew. I knew she held a tiny crush for my sometime-lover. And if I were honest, she’d probably be a great fit for him. “That’s kind of sweet.”

“Kind of,” I agreed dully.

I didn’t realize how awkward that sounded until Jade asked, “What is it with you?”

“Excuse me?” Confusion colored my tone. “Nothing is with me, Jade.”

She waved at me, shrugging. “You’re gorgeous. Joey is a definite nine on a scale of one to ten. Sometimes he just stops in to say hello or to bring you that disgusting flavored water you like so much. He’s a sweetheart and I can’t see the problem you seem to be having. Are you ever going to give the guy a break, or what?”

No, I likely wouldn’t. It just wasn’t meant to be. Not that it was any of her business. We weren’t friends outside of work, but I liked the girl enough to give her a straight answer. “I’m just not where I need to be for that to happen.” That was about as much as she was going to get and as nicely as I could manage to say it. “But hey, the next time he stops in, maybe you should be the one to say hello.”

Jade’s blue eyes widened, mouth falling open at my statement. “Uh…”

“We’re not dating,” I clarified, finishing up tying the bow on the back of my apron the way Leon demanded it be done. He didn’t need another reason to be angry with me. “We’re not even seeing each other past the occasional hook-up, which would stop, if someone else came into play. He’s just a friend and if he found someone he wanted to seriously date, I’d be cool with stepping back. Just to let you know,” I finished with a shrug.

“Um, okay.” Her vocabulary was seriously lacking. Usually Jade wasn’t so thunderstruck over a guy. Maybe I misjudged just how little her crush was. “Do you think that he—?”

“Like you said, he’s a sweetheart,” I interjected softly. “Say hi the next time he’s in. Take your break and ask him to have a coffee with you. Joey is a sucker for blue eyes.”

“Okay,” she repeated, still seeming dumbfounded by my support of her trying to date my friend and lover. “You wouldn’t…?”

“Nope.”

“Not at all?”

“Listen,” I said, turning to face her full on. “I said I wasn’t there. He knows we’re not going further. I don’t want to treat him like a crutch I need to survive. He deserves better than that. So, with that being said, do what you’ve got to do.”

“Somebody did you really wrong, huh?”

Air caught in my throat at her words, muscles constricting around the object that suddenly seemed lodged in my esophagus. It was physically painful the way my entire body reacted to a simple statement from someone I didn’t know all too well, who nonetheless seemed to know me more than I wanted to admit. “Is it that obvious?”

“Sort of,” she murmured almost apologetically. “Was it that bad?”

“Yeah, it was.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” I replied honestly.

Jade tapped manicured nails to the doorframe, evading my gaze by looking down. “What size are your feet?”

What did that have to do with anything? “Seven. Why?”

Without another word, she stepped into the small space and turned the combination lock on her locker until it popped open. Black, five-inch, peep-toe stilettos were pulled out and placed to the floor in front of my feet. I stared at the footwear with obvious hatred.

Oh, God no.

“Do you like heels?”

“No way.” Those things on the floor were a death trap waiting to happen. I’d have to soak my feet for hours after an eight-hour shift on them, or pay someone to give me a foot massage. That thought made me cringe. People, touching my feet? That was a no-go. That was, if I could manage not to kill myself while wearing them for an entire shift. Had she gone completely crazy? “Not going to happen.”

“Put them on. Leon is a hard ass, I know, but he’s also a man. He won’t even notice you have jeans on if you wear these today. Your feet are going to feel like hell by the end of the shift, but it’ll be worth it. I’ll tell him you weren’t more than ten minutes late and it was only because a cab held you up.”

“I live three blocks away. I wouldn’t ever take a freaking cab!”

“You did today…” she supplied, winking, “…because you wore heels.”

“Great.” Sarcasm was my best friend. “Do I have a choice here?”

“He’ll ride your ass all day otherwise, and not in the way you’ll like.”

 “You’re evil.”

“You can wear a pair of heels, right?” Jade asked. “Because if not, you’re screwed.”

Oh, I could wear the shoes. They were gorgeous, if that counted for anything. They’d make my legs look sexy as hell, especially in a pair of skinny jeans. There was someone who once loved to see me wearing a pair of those damned things, though he preferred my skin to be bare when I did wear them. Naked legs, dresses that came down to mid-thigh, and large hands that warmed my flesh with a single touch…

My chest ached all over again at the thought. “Yeah, I can wear the shoes.”

Jade slammed her locker shut. “Good. Meet you at the cash in five.”

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4 Responses
  1. I'm LOL at her reaction to the heels; my daughter was the same way. Now she wears them as high as 5" and I'm the one who's smh!


  2. My favourite book? Now, that's an impossible question to answer. I love so many different books. I love books by Doris O'Connor. And I would really love to read your book too.

    Kay


  3. Me too, actually. Thanks for the comment. :-)


  4. Thanks you, lady. I also love Doris's books. She's a great author.


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