WELCOME! THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO GET TO KNOW MY WORK! Welcome to the Summer Reading Trail 2010, too!
Please read on! NO MATTER WHY, my debut novel, is now available in digital and print from The Wild Rose Press! (The Summer Reading Trail picks up after NO MATTER WHY’s HEA! I can give you this much without giving away any of the sequel!)
A little background:
Trust and stability became empty words the day motherless, sixteen-year-old Carrie Norwell came home to find her brothers murdered. Within moments, her father arrived and his heart gave out at the scene. Five years later, is it any wonder the walls with which she’s barricaded her heart are virtually impenetrable to anyone looking to get close and offer what she wants more than anything? The security only a loving family can give? Or someone with whom to build her own?
Prologue to NO MATTER WHY’s sequel, tentatively entitled NO MATTER WHAT and part of the Summer Reading Trail 2010!
“Hang tough, Angel-girl.” Billy Jay smoothed back clumps of hair sweat-glued to Carrie’s face. “You can do this. Push!”
Carrie clenched her teeth against the cramp that threatened to cut her back and belly in two. She’d been stupid to pass on the epidural.
Billy Jay glanced at the mirror the doctor placed at the end of her bed. “Come on, babe, one more. I can see her head.”
She panted and waited for the next wave. “How do you know it’s a her?”
“I just do. You’re almost there.”
With a mighty wail and a groan she latched onto the bedrails and gave everything.
“Head,” the doctor said.
Another contraction, another push.
A yowl besides hers filled the room.
Billy Jay’s normally steady voice caught. “Here she is Carrie-Angel. Look!”
Her gaze trailed his to the doctor who held up their daughter, red, slick and foamy with some kind of newborn slime. Her tiny eyes were scrunched shut, her little mouth open and making clear her displeasure at the sudden environmental change.
The doctor held out a clamp. “Do us the honors, Dad.”
Billy Jay’s gorgeous jaw dropped. With wonder-filled, ocean-blue eyes he gaped at the tool. Slowly he reached for it, and under the physician’s guidance, cut the lifeline between Carrie and the baby.
The nurse wiped their daughter clean, wrapped her in a blanket and placed her in his arms where her slippery head found an immediate, if not questionable, pillow against his bicep.
The lips Carrie could never kiss enough curled into a grin as Billy Jay freed a hand and brushed a tear from his cheek. “Hey, Samantha.” Mesmerized, he talked and cooed to her, stepped closer to Carrie and dropped a kiss on her sweaty head. “Something tells me, Mrs. Eldridge, I’m going to have a hard time sharing this little girl, even with you.” He laid the baby in Carrie’s arms.
All she remembered was pressing her own wet cheek to her daughter’s sticky one.
*** Two months later
This was her life now.
Carrie’s gaze roamed the bedroom, softly illuminated in the glow of a single votive. Nearly six years since the wedding, she remained in awe of everything around her. One by one, she tuned into the sensations that made it real: the pillows that padded the headboard and cradled her back and shoulders, the billowy weight of the blue and white down quilts. The more pronounced one of Samantha in her arms, kneading sweetly Carrie’s breast.
She inhaled and her daughter’s scent wafted up, mingled with coconut-verbena that floated from the candle and throughout the bedroom. With swelling emotion she looked at the infant who’d inherited her father’s coloring and, so far, his laid-back spirit.
Carrie breathed a contented sigh. With her free hand she caressed her husband’s sand-colored locks, his head tucked snug against her hip, simultaneously under her elbow and the baby’s tiny backside.
She didn’t really want to disturb his rest. Lately he didn’t get enough. Quiet moments such as these were even rarer, but Carrie couldn’t help tracing the curves of his amazingly sculpted cheekbones, the square line of his jaw. “This is all because of you,” she whispered.
As if in response he made a soft sound, wriggled closer. Deep in sleep his hand sought hers, twined together their fingers.
“I love you, Billy Jay Eldridge, and everything about our life.” She lifted their hands, touched a kiss to his. “Thank God you didn’t go when all I did was push you away.”
Find more great free summer reads at : A. J. O’Donovan UK Trailhead – http://ajodonovan.co.uk/?p=450 and Voirey Linger US Trailhead – http://www.voireylinger.com/index.php?p=1_12_Trail-Head
Look for more in June! Thanks for stopping by!
So here’s where we pick up (almost immediately) after the excerpt on the first page of NO MATTER WHY:
Carrie couldn’t drive home fast enough. She shifted into park and was barely through the door when the phone rang. She hadn’t noticed her aunt’s car in the driveway. Carrie quickly spread her saturated coat across the hooks and ran for the nearest handset. “Hello?”
”You’re out of breath. I should have waited another five minutes.”
“Who…?” Carrie recognized Billy Jay’s voice. The guy was resourceful. “Why are you calling me?”
“Just wanted to say hi. Talk a little. You know, get to know each other.”
“Didn’t you say I had time to think?”
“Thirty minutes wasn’t enough?” He gave her no time to answer. “Don’t shake your head like that. It might fall off.”
She stopped short. Billy Jay had already shown up at work. Why wouldn’t he stop by her home?
He kept talking. “Could you imagine all that wavy hair and those big green eyes of yours sticking out of the ground without the rest of you attached?”
She found her bearings. “You’re crazy.”
“Only about you, Angel-girl.”
The sweet words warmed Carrie. “Will you not call me that, please?” She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Better yet, don’t call me.”
“Obviously, I’m past that point.”
Obviously, Carrie was getting nowhere. She remembered Jessica’s comment about Monica. “Since you insist on talking, explain how you excuse this behavior to your girlfriend.” Carrie’s hands shook, but she kept her voice steady.
Behind gritted teeth Carrie stifled a not so nice response. Had Billy Jay been there in person, she might have mustered just enough nerve to reach up, grab his oversized shoulders and give him a good hard shake. “Would Monica approve of you following another girl around and calling her at home?”
“Monica?” Billy Jay’s surprise sounded genuine. “What makes you think I’d even look at someone other than the girl I’m dating?”
Carrie struck a nerve. His persistence had already dug through her last one. “What else am I supposed to think? You were with her at the diner.”
A short silence prefaced Billy Jay’s whistle. “Amazing. Jess kept something to herself.”
His unexpected change in attitude threw Carrie off guard. “What are you talking about?”
“I broke things off with Monica the next day. I’m free to pursue any girl I choose.”
Carrie chewed her inner lip. “Lucky you. Choose somebody else.”
And here’s what happened that fateful day, about five years before we meet Carrie (from the prologue that never made the final edit):
“Where are your brothers?” Lauren swept her bangs away from her face and made a show of cocking her wrist and checking the time. “We’ve been standing here twenty minutes already.”
Carrie hugged her books to her chest and shrugged, unfazed by her friend’s dramatic displays. “I told Matt I’d be at the front entrance of the school.”
“Maybe he forgot,” Allison chimed in.
“Maybe you’re so excited about Michael Mallory eying you at gym you forgot what you told your brother.”
Spinning, Carrie faced her red-haired, dark-eyed friend. “Michael was not eying me.”
Allison confirmed it. “Bet my new CD player he’ll ask you to the spring dance, too.”
“I don’t like Michael,” Carrie said.
“Then why did you turn so red?” Lauren extracted a pack of gum from her pocket and popped a pink stick into her mouth. She held the pack out to her and Allison. “Maybe you won’t admit it because he’s kind of nerdy.”
Carrie made a face at her friends and shifted her books to one arm. “Imagine you two on my bad side. Anyway, Michael’s only a little nerdy.”
They laughed. “Coming over later?” Lauren asked.
“Guess I’ll go home first and figure out what happened to the guys.” The girls fell in step beside her. “Elliot and Matt promised to take me to the mall after school. I want something new for that dance.”
“So you can look good for Michael, right?” Lauren blew a huge bubble and retracted the pink goo with a flick of her tongue.
Allison’s brown eyes turned dreamy as she toyed with the end of her golden brown ponytail. “You’re going out with that gorgeous blond-haired, hazel-eyed brother of yours and not inviting yours truly?”
“Like Elliot would be interested in a puny fifteen-year-old like you,” Lauren said.
“It could happen.”
Lauren huffed. “He’s twenty, stupid, and surrounded by college girls every day.”
They rounded the corner. Carrie rolled her eyes, glad to glimpse her house. Her brothers’ cars stood side-by-side in the driveway. “That’s kind of weird.”
Allison cast a glance at Elliot’s black Carmaro and got that faraway look again. “Sure I can’t come with you?”
Carrie exchanged exasperated looks with Lauren and hiked up the steps. “Bye, Alli.”
“Call me when you get back,” Lauren said.
“Okay.” As Carrie sifted through her pockets for her key, she noticed the heavy chestnut door hadn’t been completely shut. She pushed it open, dropped her purse and books on the small entrance table. “Elliot? Matt?”
No one answered. Aunt Marilyn had told Carrie earlier the guys had gotten in late last night, were working Spring Break to the hilt. She ran upstairs and peeked into each brother’s bedroom. Both were empty.
Another day when she’d called through the house without getting an answer crept to mind. Carrie shivered and crossed her arms against the stillness. She headed back down the stairs, through the kitchen and rounded the corner into the family room.
Since when were the bamboo shades rolled down during the day? Her gaze swept the room, fell on Elliot’s shadowy form facing the rise of the sofa. “Nice to know you’re snoring while I got to stand outside and wait for you.” She imagined the two of them out through the dark, early morning hours. “What the heck did you do, party all last night?”
Matt, his red-brown hair and olive-green eyes so much her own, was the charmer. Carrie would bet there hadn’t been less than two girls at a time vying for his attention half the night. Elliot would have sat back, maybe while nursing a beer or two, envying their older brother’s magic with the ladies. “El?” She shook his shoulder. Nothing. “Don’t tell me you got trashed.”
A second time she shook him and he rolled toward her. Carrie lost her footing and fell square on her backside. His full weight landed on her.
“Get off me, El!” She pushed at him then touched something moist and sticky, thought she smelled—Carrie looked at her hand then her brother’s face. “Oh God, oh God…” On jelly legs she somehow stood and flipped the light switch.
Just under the window, Matthew lay face up. His huge eyes stared vacantly at the ceiling. From his open mouth, a red-brown trail disappeared into his neck.
Nausea surged savagely from her belly. Carrie covered her mouth. She screamed when she felt Elliot’s blood against her face. “Please God. No…”
Before she could find the phone, she heard sirens.
She chanced another glance at Matthew then at Elliot. “Oh, God, please… Don’t do this…”
Outside she heard a bullhorn: “Police!”
Carrie couldn’t move, couldn’t make a sound.
The police shouted again. Footsteps pounded the floor after a splintering crack at the front door. An officer shouted, “Freeze!”
Carrie leaned against the wall, no longer able to hold herself up. “Help them. Please,” she whimpered.
The officer lowered his weapon, looked around and paled. “Good God in heaven.”
Others moved behind him. “Get an ambulance,” the officer said into his radio. “Somebody find Norwell and for God’s sake, get that girl out of here!”
Again footsteps scratched the floor. “I got a call…my sons…”
“Dad!” Sobbing, Carrie found her feet, scrambled toward him.
Their eyes met but his face paled into a pasty, gray-green. “Carrie!” His eyes glazed, his teeth clenched. Blanched-knuckled fingers scratched their way to his left shoulder. “No…my boys…” He doubled and crumpled into a heap.
“Dad!” Someone held her back…wouldn’t let her get to him. “Daddy!”
One. Two. Three. Carrie counted the hearses as the funeral director led them to the limousine. Aunt Marilyn held her hand tight.
Through the windshield Carrie stared at the pallbearers, lined up alongside the coffins. Police officers in dress uniform, fellow agents, men who’d worked with her father. Her brothers’ friends were at their posts, too, their faces masks of grief and disbelief. One by one they hoisted identical silver coffins into the idling vehicles.
She hid her face in the black of her aunt’s blazer. Dear God, less than a week ago Carrie had been a semi-normal sixteen-year-old, waiting with her girlfriends outside school for her brothers to drive her to the mall.
This can’t be. Under the seat, quiet engines revved. “So much burden for my darling girl,” Aunt Marilyn murmured. “Too much.” Over and over, her hand smoothed the length of Carrie’s hair, held it out, let it drop into place—the way her aunt had soothed Carrie since she was five.
The shield between passengers and driver inched upward. “Please leave it down,” Carrie choked out. She brushed the wet haze from her eyes and locked her gaze onto the vehicles in front of the limo.
One. Two. Three. Each pulled away from the curb, taking everyone except her aunt.