The Absence of Intellect – Fifteen

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There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it felt wrong to Emily. Her sister was being lowered into the ground and the weather didn’t even have the good grace to mourn with her. It was as if nature itself was ignoring the fact that one of the brightest lights had gone out.

After years in the coma, her lungs being inflated by machines, her heart had finally given out. The doctors had been unable to revive her, and had explained to Emily that even if she had, the damage to her brain would have been profound. Even if the neural bridge had been finished, it wouldn’t have been able to bring her back. She’d stood over her sister’s body, looking down at it and feeling as if someone had scooped her heart out.

The feeling had only intensified at the memorial service, and Emily had stayed until they closed the casket, wanting to get one last glimpse of the other half of her heart, the one she had shared everything with since the day they were conceived. When the lid was closed and took her away for the last time, that was when Emily finally started to cry.

“You want to go home?” Hunter put a hand on her arm and she looped her arm through his, holding him tightly. He was there, anchoring her to reality, and she clung to him. “We can order something for lunch. Maybe Alice’s, you like their sandwiches.”

“Let me stay here a little longer,” she said, sounding like she was badly congested. Hunter nodded and kissed her on the top of the head as she leaned on him. “It’s so strange. Everything I’ve been doing, almost every dime I’ve earned, it’s all been for her. I put everything on hold to try and save her, but I couldn’t make it in time. What am I supposed to do now?”

“Just keep working on it,” Hunter said. “You can still help more people like her and me. That’s the best way to honor her memory.” Emily smiled at him with tears in her eyes. She was about to tell him how much his words meant when an older couple dressed entirely in black. Hunter was wearing a black suit with a dark gray shirt underneath and a black tie, and looked more well off than them by far. Emily thought it was appropriate, since he was the one who was paying for the funeral, the headstone, and the black Chanel suit she was wearing, and she tightened her grip on his arm.

“I hope you’re proud of yourself,” the woman said, her voice cold and hard. “You kept her alive all this time for nothing.”

“Hello, Mom,” Emily said. “It’s nice to see you too.”

“She could have been at rest years ago but you had to go and be selfish,” her mother continued. There wasn’t a tear in her eyes, and Emily knew she’d been rehearsing this for years. “You couldn’t just let her go, you were so sure you were smart enough to save her, and it didn’t matter what anyone else told you. She’s been dead since the accident, and you’re the only one who couldn’t accept that.”

“I had to try,” Emily said, unable to pull any strength into her voice. “She was my sister.”

“And she was our daughter,” her father said. “Don’t you think we knew what was better for her than you?”

“I’m your daughter too, in case you forgot,” Emily said. “It didn’t matter who knew better, she chose me to be her advocate. I did what I thought was right at the time.” The casket was almost entirely in the ground now and the guests were gone, leaving Emily and Hunter were alone with her parents. “Can we not fight today? Out of respect for Melissa?”

“Now you have respect for her?” Her mother’s hands were on her hips now, and Emily couldn’t summon the strength to argue with her. In her heart she knew her parents were right, but admitting it to herself would be too much at that moment. She could admit it to Hunter but absolutely refused to admit it to her parents.

“I’m not going to have this argument here,” Emily said, shaking her head. She looked past them at the grave and saw that the casket was out of sight, then tugged on Hunter’s arm. “Let’s go. There’s nothing left for me here.” He nodded and they started to walk away, leaving Emily’s parents at the gravesite where cemetery attendants were moving in to gather the chairs.

“That’s right,” her mother called after them. “Just run away, like you’ve always done. You have these grand ideas and you think you’re going to save the world, then you just walk away from what you’ve done when it all falls apart.”

“Don’t listen to her,” Hunter said. “Just keep walking, we’ll go back to the house and order lunch. We can order sandwiches from Alice’s, you like those.” Emily sighed and looked up at him. “What?”

“You already said that,” she said. Repeating himself made Hunter so self-conscious that she almost automatically made a joke to lighten the mood, but today she couldn’t make herself do it. Hunter pulled his arm away from hers and her stomach dropped. “I’m sorry, Hunter, I—”

“Don’t apologize. You don’t have any reason to. Now come on,” he said gently, putting his arm around her shoulders instead. “I’ll drive. You can give me directions if I get lost.”

“Yeah,” Emily said, trying to smile. “I know how you get when the houses start to have grass in front of them.” Hunter raised an eyebrow.

“Yards. I can still remember the word for yard.”

“Then the treatment must be working,” she said, finally managing a smile. “How are you feeling this time? Still nauseous?”

“No, that pretty much passed after a couple of days, thanks to the stuff you prescribed me. One of the perks of having a girlfriend who’s a real doctor.” They had reached the car and Hunter unlocked it and opened the door for her. Emily got in and let him close the door behind her as she put her hands over her face. Part of her wanted to go back to the grave for one last look at the coffin before they started filling in the hole, but she didn’t want to chance running into her parents again.

She knew how they felt about her decision to keep Melissa alive, they’d never hidden their disapproval. Now that her sister seemed to have taken things into her own hands, she’d known they would show up to throw it into her face. In spite of everything, she still didn’t regret a thing. Even if it seemed hopeless, if there had been the slightest chance her sister could be saved she would have done the same thing. Hunter got into the driver’s seat and started the car, and Emily looked over at him.

Hunter would understand. Out of all the people in the world, Hunter was the only one who would understand exactly why she had done it and she loved him for it. If he had been anyone else, she would have tried to hold his hand while he was driving but she knew he would be focusing on driving. Emily had no doubt that he would be fine but she understood why he was nervous.

“I think I’m going to get their chicken salad,” Hunter said as he pulled away from the curb. “The apples and celery really make it different.”

“Uh-huh,” Emily said, leaning her head against the seat and closing her eyes. Hunter’s car was much nicer than any she’d been in before and the smell of leather was comforting. Before she knew it, she was starting to nod off. She hadn’t slept much in the week since Melissa’s death. When she opened her eyes next, she was been shaken awake by Hunter.

“Hey,” he said, his hand on her shoulder. “We’re home.”

“What?” Emily sat up and looked out the window. “Already?” He nodded and she smiled. “See, I knew you could do it.” She got out of the car and followed him into the house with a yawn. “I didn’t realize I was so tired.”

“I’m not surprised, you’ve had a stressful week.” Hunter tossed his keys into the bowl by the door and loosened his tie. “You want the menu from Alice’s or do you already know what you want? I’ve got their number on my phone.”

“Yeah,” Emily said around a yawn. “I want the California club with kettle chips. I’m going to go get out of these clothes. I think my tights are cutting off my circulation.” She went up the stairs to the guest bedroom, peeked in on the kittens that were wandering around, then went into the bedroom she and Hunter were sharing to get undressed. The shoes were the first thing to go, and she sighed with relief when she kicked them under the bed. Emily rarely wore anything but flats or sneakers, and every time she wore heels she was miserable while they were on and extremely appreciative whenever they were off. She was just reaching back to unzip her dress when Hunter put his arms around her waist from behind and she turned to see Hunter smiling at her.

“They said it’ll be 45 minutes before the food gets here,” he said. “Lunch rush.”

“Maybe I’ll be hungry by then,” Emily said. “Unzip me?”

“Sure,” he said, pulling down her zipper. Then, to Emily’s surprise, he leaned down and kissed her back. “I have an idea about how we can kill 45 minutes and work up an appetite.” He pushed the sleeves of her dress down her arms and Emily bit her lip. It felt wrong to do this while Melissa’s grave was being filled in but at the same time there was nowhere else she wanted to be than in Hunter’s arms. “We don’t have to,” he said, and rather than reply Emily turned to face him.

“I’d rather we did,” she said. “My sister wouldn’t want me to stop my entire life because of her. She’d rest a lot easier knowing I was fighting with our parents and getting naked with my boyfriend after her funeral.”

“She would, huh?”

“Definitely. Melissa was always the one with the dirty mind.” Emily grinned. “She knew every filthy joke and could find at least a double entendre in anything. I used to tell her she stopped maturing at twelve.”

“Well then,” Hunter said, putting his arms around her and leaning in to kiss her, “I can’t think of a better way to honor her memory.” Emily laughed and threw her arms around his neck, and Hunter kissed her again, then took out his phone.

“What are you doing?” She frowned and he shook his head as he put the phone to his ear.

“Hi, this is Hunter Chambers, I just placed an order for delivery. Can you have the delivery guy just leave it on the front porch? My wife’s got a headache and I don’t want him to ring the doorbell and wake her up. Thanks.” He hung up and tossed his phone onto a pile of clothes on his dresser. “I’ve always hated working under a time limit.”

“This sounds promising,” Emily said, and Hunter raised an eyebrow at her. “I like a man who takes his time.”

“Then you’re going to love this.”

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September Forever

I was on the plane having a minor panic attack over the turbulence and weighing the options of spending $7 on a tiny cocktail when it occurred to me that last year I was at my conference when Every Rogue’s Heart blew up.

I say blew up, because I’d never had anything I’ve been involved with come close to reaching this level of success. I watched it climb the entire time I was at SWVS (the annual conference I have attended for the last eight or so years) and I spent my downtime in my hotel room working on Book One of the Night Lodge series feeling pretty damn good about life.

This month I released The Search For Sam and it has also done better than I could have hoped. I’m sure a lot of the success of ERH can be attributed to the amazing women I was working with, so for a book that I wrote alone, promoted and published on my own to reach the top 100 in 20th Century Historical when I’m such a new author is amazing.

It’s only fitting I guess that my success has come in the same month as last year’s amazingness, and I fully intend on continuing to spend my downtime in my fancy hotel suite finishing A Christmas Reunion. This year is a different conference that takes place in a different state so I had some downtime in airports as well to work on things.

On the subject of Night Lodge, I plan to release the first book next summer. I’m hoping to release a new book around this time next year, this one closer in time to Drowned History so hopefully this upward momentum continues! It would be amazing to break the Top 50 next time.

Becca Don’t Fly

As we speak I am sitting at a boarding gate waiting for my plane to start the terrifying process of boarding that will lead to the equally terrifying process of getting on multiple planes today. I do not fly well.

Years ago, I enjoyed flying. We are talking decades at this point. It was cool to be up in the air going super fast and seeing the clouds from above. Way cooler than being stuck on a Greyhound bus with my cousins.

Then…anxiety.

When I was 14, I went to Italy for an exchange trip. It was my first overseas trip and I was looking forward to it. It was a long flight, so I brought a nice thick Stephen King book along with me. It got dark partway through the flight and I started reading The Langoliers. In retrospect this was a bad idea.

We just happened to be over the ocean in the middle of the night, making it a dark, wide expanse, when I read the bit about there being nothing under the plane in the book. Instant panic attack. I was anxious the entire rest of the flight and I still haven’t recovered.

I’m focusing on my destination, which is an amazing opportunity for me. I’ve wanted to go to this conference for almost fifteen years and I’m sure once I get there I’ll be fine. However, two planes are involved and I am not here for it.

The Absence of Intellect – Fourteen

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The last person Hunter expected to call him at work was his housekeeper, so when he saw her picture on his cell phone he knew something was wrong. He grabbed it before it went to voicemail and put the phone to his ear.

“Hello, ah,” he paused, trying to remember her name and halfway panicking because he’d never forgotten someone’s name that he knew so well. His stomach lurched and he put a hand over his eyes in case his body decided it wanted to start crying. Then it came to him and he relaxed. “Patricia. What’s going on?”

“There’s a deliveryman here with a package for you but they won’t give it to me without your authorization.” Patricia sounded deeply affronted by this and he smiled.

“Hand him the phone, if you don’t mind. I’ll talk to him.” Hunter waited a moment, picking at the corner of a notepad they gave their drug reps to give as freebies. The phone changed hands and a man’s voice came over the line.

“Are you Hunter Chambers?”

“Yes,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “I’m currently at the office, so I give my full authorization for Patricia to accept the package for me. If you want, I can send a photo of my driver’s license to her.”

“That’s all right, sir, I just needed to confirm it was you. Thank you.” The phone changed hands again and Patricia returned to the line.

“I assume you didn’t know this package was coming,” she said. “Otherwise you would have told me that you were expecting it.” He heard the door close and the click of Patricia’s clogs on the floor. “The return label says it’s from Eagle Pharmaceuticals,” she said. “It also says to keep it refrigerated.”

“That’s excellent news,” Hunter said, a grin spreading over his face as he got up from his desk. “Just make a spot for it in the refrigerator and put it in there. I’ll take care of it when we get home. Thank you again.” He hung up and dropped his phone into his pocket, eager to go to Emily’s lab and tell her that his first round of the infusion had arrived.

His hand was on the door handle when it moved on its own and he took a step back so the door wouldn’t hit him when it swung inward. Much to his surprise, one of the three men who stepped into his office was the owner of Apogee Labs, Edward Kessler. Hunter smiled at him, hoping his face didn’t reflect the return of the sick feeling in his stomach. Standing alongside Edward was Derek Haynes, who was smiling in an unsettling way.

“Dr. Chambers,” Edward said as the third man closed the door behind them. He assumed that the man was Edward’s assistant, but didn’t ask. There was no point when he’d just forget it anyway. “I’m glad we caught you. How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Hunter said, his nausea intensifying. “And yourself?”

“We’re not here to talk about my health,” Edward said. “We’re here because I’ve heard something extremely disturbing and I wanted to get confirmation from you before I moved on it.” His assistant closed the blinds on the window that looked out into the hall. “Dr. Haynes overheard you talking to Dr. Ashton in her lab – which we’ll be discussing later – and she asked if there had been any further progression of the dementia. Would you care to explain that?”

Hunter’s blood froze. He didn’t know how to answer. If he lied, it sounded as if they would be able to call him out on it. If he told the truth, he could lose his job, his insurance, and the reputation he’d spent his life building. He thought of Emily down in her lab, working on her new drug with no idea what was happening several floor up, and wished she was there to help him somehow. Even if she was, Emily had plenty to lose herself and he wasn’t about to throw her into the middle of it. Hunter took a deep breath, trying to steady himself.

“Dr. Chambers?”

“I have Alzheimer’s,” he admitted, not surprised that he was shaking. “Early-onset Alzheimer’s. I’ve had it for almost a year.” The three men in front of him were silent and he exhaled. “I’ve been on medication, and I’m in a clinical trial for a new medication that Dr. Ashton’s friend developed. It’s as close to stable as it can possibly be for the moment.”

“And that’s the reason you and she have been seen together so much recently?” There was more than a hint of disapproval in his voice and Hunter tried his best to remember if there was anything in the hiring manual about employees not being in relationships. Even if it hadn’t been years since the last update, his memory got even worse when he was stressed. The best thing to do was tell the truth, otherwise Emily could be in more trouble later.

“In part. We started out spending time together because of her research but it developed into more. We’re in a relationship now, and as far as I can remember there’s no rule against it.” It was a poor choice of words and he regretted it almost instantly.

“That’s not what’s troubling us,” Edward said. “I’m afraid I have serious doubts about your ability to run this company in light of this new information. You are responsible for the jobs of hundreds of people and oversee research that can affect peoples’ lives. We just can’t leave all of that in the hands of someone who might one day not remember his login credentials or misplace reports.” Hunter remembered the trouble he’d had in Emily’s lab and felt his face getting hot.

“What are you saying, Ed?”

“I’m saying that hiding your dementia is no longer an option, and we can’t allow you to be in a position of such enormous responsibility in your current state, much less the way you’ll eventually be. You know better than anyone that Alzheimer’s is progressive. You’re only going to get worse.” Edward sighed and shook his head. “I’m truly sorry, Hunter. You’re one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met, and it’s a shame what’s happening to you. But as of today you no longer work for Apogee Labs.”

As much as he wanted to, Hunter knew there was no sense in trying to argue. He couldn’t deny that he wouldn’t be fit to run the company someday, but he had been doing fine up until that morning. It was hard enough accepting that he was being fired but asking him to accept the fact that he truly was unable to work in his former capacity was almost impossible. He became aware that Edward was still talking and tried to focus.

“—until the end of the day to clear out your office,” Edward was saying when Hunter’s attention snapped back to him. He wanted to ask his now former boss what he had said, but he knew it wouldn’t help his image and he had a pretty good idea of what he’d said. “Dr. Haynes will be taking over your position as of this afternoon. We’ll leave you alone to pack up but he’ll be moving his things in tomorrow.” He turned to go back out the door and Hunter took a step toward them.

“What am I supposed to do about my treatment? I can’t pay for my medication without insurance.” Hunter was aware that he sounded like he was whining but he didn’t care. Even though it didn’t seem to be doing much on its own, he was afraid to discontinue his regular medication. Edward turned to him and smiled kindly.

“As I said, we’ve put together a generous severance packet for you. Two years’ salary and you get to keep your insurance indefinitely. It’s the least we can do after everything you’ve done for us. I’m sorry to do this so suddenly,” Edward said. “We have to do what’s best for the company.”

“I understand,” Hunter said, even though he really didn’t. “I’ll have my things gone by the end of the day and I’ll turn in my keys.”

“Thank you for being so reasonable about this,” Edward said. “I told Dr. Haynes that you would be; you’ve always been one of the most levelheaded men I’ve known, and you deserved every award they gave you.” Hunter noticed that he was already using the past tense and he fought the sick feeling that had become so all-encompassing that his mouth had started watering. “HR will send the paperwork up to you this afternoon, you don’t even have to go down there and see anyone. We want to make this as painless as possible for you.”

“I appreciate that,” Hunter said, and though he knew it was his voice he felt like it was coming from someone else entirely. He was beyond appreciation, or understanding, or anything else that he might have mouthed while his brain was elsewhere.

“We hope to see you again,” Haynes said, sounding more condescending than anyone he had ever known. Hunter wanted to shout at him that he wasn’t incompetent, but he continued to sit in his chair as they walked out of the office that had been his for the last twenty-three years.

His entire body felt numb. It seemed like it had been days since he had gotten the call from Patricia about his package, but it hadn’t even been forty minutes. He looked around his office at his awards, his diplomas, and the trophy he’d gotten for winning the trivia contest at his favorite bar, the one that he didn’t even go to anymore. There was no way he was going to be able to get another job in his field, not if his Alzheimer’s was public knowledge, and thinking about his honors being relegated to a corner of his attic made him want to cry. Before he could, however, he shot out of his chair and went for the door. There was only one place he wanted to be at that moment and he had to get down there before he was barred from it altogether.

Everything that he passed made him more and more aware that he had been fired. The hall that led to the animal research area where Emily refused to go, the 3D printer that had been installed after a handful of senior employees begged for it, and the genetics lab that might have held the secret to helping Emily’s sister. He was no longer authorized to work with any of these things. In fact, he had a feeling they assumed he was cleaning out his office at that moment.

“Good morning, Dr. Chambers,” one of the research assistants in the pharmaceutical development department said as he nearly ran through it to the door that led to Emily’s small corner of the lab, the one he’d given her when he’d only just known her name. Through the door he could hear the loud dubstep music she used to keep the other researchers away from her lab, and he gripped the handle of the door tightly for a few moments, trying to gather his thoughts before he turned it.

He had no idea how he was going to tell her what had happened. Until Haynes and Edward had walked into his office, she was the only person at Apogee that knew what was going on with him. He’d hoped to keep it that way longer but there was no stopping it now, no going back, fixing the damage, keeping his job. Working on computers for so long had made it second nature to undo any mistake, and he found himself impossibly thinking that he could hit a button that would take him back to the moment he was diagnosed and make things different. Hunter exhaled slowly. Almost from the beginning, he’d told Emily the truth, even when it was blunt or hard to get out. She was kind about it, and her strength gave him what he needed to get through the mess his life had become. He needed that strength now, even if it was completely selfish to ask for it. He turned the knob and pushed the door open.

“Emily,” he began as he stepped through the door, only to see that she had her hands over her face and was shaking. All thoughts of his current situation fled from his mind when he saw her crying and he closed the door and knelt beside her chair so that he was in her line of sight. “Emily, what’s wrong?” Emily put her arms around him in response and held him tightly.

“It’s Melissa,” she said between sobs. “She’s dead.”

I Broke The Top 100!

Well, this was unexpected! The Search For Sam came out Tuesday as planned and I had an awesome party! It was well attended, people engaged my posts, and my friends had fun too. I figured with my mindblowing number of preorders and that party, it couldn’t get any better.

I was wrong.

Wednesday I checked my stats and discovered that I had made it into the top 100 in one of my categories! My rank crept steadily up until Thursday morning when it peaked at #60, far higher than I ever hoped as a new author.

I posted immediately in my planning group and all the ladies, some of whom are bestselling authors, congratulated me on it! It’s small potatoes compared to them but they were so kind about it. I’m so glad I met them all.

I got another unexpected surprise today at work when I opened my locker after surgery (hence the extra post).

A tiny cake! It’s actually a huge cupcake but the fact that they are proud enough of me to celebrate my accomplishment means a lot to me.

I am so lucky that my family, friends, and work are all so supportive of my writing. When I was growing up, some members of my family said I would never be successful doing it, so I chose not to pursue my English major. While I regret it, I do love my job and I never would have met these wonderful people otherwise.

I’ve got a plan of action for my Christmas novel’s release so I hope I’ll go even higher next time!

The Absence of Intellect – Thirteen

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“Wow,” Hunter said from the entryway of Emily’s apartment. “This place looks worse than I imagined.” The insurance agent looked over at him, pausing in his writing on a clipboard. “Sorry, thinking out loud.”

“Your boyfriend is right,” the agent said, shaking his head. “This place is a total loss. It’s a good thing you had your own insurance. Your landlord’s wouldn’t have covered any of your high-end items. You’ll be lucky if you get more than $1500 in compensation from his insurance company.” He looked back down at his clipboard. “You’ll have to speak to him directly about the terms of your lease but unless he has another property he wants to move you into, I’m going to guess your lease is terminated.”

“What about my neighbors’ place?” Emily was standing in the doorway of her kitchen and the agent pointed up at the holes in the shared wall.

“The fire was caused by a pizza box left in the stove while they were at the store, reportedly buying beer. Since it went unreported until it was visible from the neighboring houses, the damage was far more severe. Almost everything has been destroyed, and because the fire was caused by neglect very little of it will be covered.” He tore the top page off the form on his clipboard and handed it to Emily. “I recommend you start going through your things to find out what can be salvaged. Where would you like me to send your check?”

“Can you do direct deposit?” The agent shook his head, and she looked up at Hunter. “Is it okay if I have it sent to your place?”

“Of course,” Hunter said with a smile. “You can forward all your mail if you want.” His words made Emily’s heart swell and she picked her way across the water-damaged carpet to kiss him. “We’ll put your name in the mailbox when we get back.” Emily didn’t get a chance to reply to this before the insurance agent looked at his watch.

“I have to be going. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me.” He started for the door and Emily followed him.

“Thank you,” she said, opening the door for him. “Have a good day.” The agent nodded and went to his car, leaving Emily and Hunter alone in her apartment. “Well, I guess we’d better start figuring out what’s salvageable and what isn’t.”

“You’re going to need some sort of things to put things in. Those plastic things,” Hunter said, then closed his eyes. “You know what I mean, the ones with the lids.”

“Storage tubs,” Emily said, kissing him on the cheek. “You feeling up to running to Target and getting some for me? All you have to do is go straight down Addison. It’s fine if you don’t, I’ll completely understand.” Since she’d driven Hunter back from the airport after he came back to Chicago, Emily had done most of the driving and she had come to enjoy it when there was no traffic. Arriving at work at the same time as Hunter on a daily basis had gotten the attention of some of her coworkers, and for once the gossip she had caught was speculation about her relationship with the director rather than talking about her methods. “I can always go myself once we sort things into piles.”

“That shouldn’t be too difficult,” Hunter said, following her into the half room that she had made into a tiny office. “How many do you want?”

“I don’t know,” Emily said, opening the closet door. It was the smallest closet she’d ever seen but there was enough room for the squat gray safe that was inside. She knelt down, then grimaced as the knee of her jeans was soaked. “Ugh. How is this carpet still wet?”

“It’s probably the carpet pad,” Hunter said. “What’s in there?”

“Important family stuff,” Emily said. “Diplomas, financial information, and a few legal papers that can’t be replaced. I also have copies of Melissa’s and my birth certificates, her husband’s death certificate, and I think I’ve got their marriage license. There are some family pictures in here too.” She smiled and took out a small photo album, then stood up. “Check these out.” She opened the photo album and handed it to Hunter. “This is us as babies.”

“You’re so cute,” Hunter said with a grin. “You’re dressed alike. How did your parents know which of you was which?”

“See those little bracelets? They had our names on them.” She squatted in front of the safe this time to avoid getting her pants wet again and took out a small jewelry box. “I still have them. There’s some of my grandmother’s jewelry in here too.” She handed him a tiny bracelet with ‘Emily’ engraved on it in script.

“That’s a cute idea,” he said, turning the bracelet around. “I assume they stopped having you wear them when you got a little older.”

“Yeah, they started getting non-matching clothes for us when we got a little older and outgrew the family hand-me-downs. Mom gave these to Emily when she got pregnant and I got them after Emily died, along with some of her most precious photos and the jewelry Grandma Ashton gave her.” She took the bracelet back. “I think she intended her to give them to her granddaughter.”

“Did you ever consider having kids?”

“No,” Emily said, taking a second photo album out of the safe. This one was white and she opened it to the first page. “I assumed that since I have all the same genes as my sister, I could be carrying the one that caused her disease and I was worried about passing it to a child. Here, look at this.” She took the first album out of Hunter’s hand and set it on the desk beside the ruined computer and printer. “This is my sister and Brian on their wedding day. And if you flip all the way to the back her maternity photos are in it too.”

“It’s a good thing these were all in the safe,” Hunter said, turning the pages. “You can’t replace memories like these. Wouldn’t your parents want some too?”

“My parents and I don’t speak anymore,” Emily said, looking through the jewelry box so she didn’t have to look at Hunter. She didn’t particularly want to talk to him about her parents. Not because she didn’t think he could handle it, more because she didn’t want to talk about it to anyone at all. It was still too difficult for her to accept their ultimatum about Melissa, and she honestly didn’t know if she would ever speak to them again. “This is the engagement ring Brian gave her.”

“It’s gorgeous,” Hunter said. “I wish I could have kept Ellen’s. There was a mistake with her jewelry and her burial clothes and she ended up being buried with it. I had hoped to give it to Robin when she got old enough.”

“That’s too bad,” Emily said, closing the jewelry box. Hunter had never talked to her about his wife before, and she couldn’t help wondering what Ellen had been like. She knew firsthand about waiting until he wanted to tell her more, so she smiled. “Honestly, I could care less about most of this stuff. The only things that are really important are in this safe.”

“What about your computer?”

“I can probably have the data on the hard drive recovered, but the majority of my work is on my laptop and the computer at the lab. Insurance will cover the other hardware.” She sighed and put her hands on her hips. “I don’t want to do this, Hunter.”

“I know it’s probably hard to see your home ruined like this but you need to get your things. I’ve got plenty of room in my attic, you shouldn’t have to make any tough choices just yet.” He tapped the photo albums. “I’m going to get your storage containers. How many do you want?”

“Get me three to start, I guess. I’m going to see what clothes and books aren’t completely ruined,” Emily said. “I’m sure they all reek of smoke.” She walked to the door with Hunter. “If you have any problems, call me.”

“I will.” He leaned over and kissed her, then opened the door. Emily was just about to turn and go up the stairs to her bedroom when Hunter leaned back in. “That agent called me your boyfriend. Is that what I am now?”

“Maybe,” Emily said with a smile. “If you want to be.”

“It’s been a while since I was anybody’s boyfriend,” he said. “That being said, I can’t think of anything that would make me happier.” He closed the front door again and she put her hand on the back of his head and pulled him into a kiss that was much deeper than he had kissed her a moment earlier. Hunter held her tightly and kissed her back, then surprised her by picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder in something of a fireman’s carry.

“What are you doing?” Emily laughed as she slapped his back and he started up the stairs. “You’re going to hurt your back!”

“My mind may be going, but there’s nothing wrong with the rest of me yet and I intend to take advantage of it as long as I can.” The door to Emily’s bedroom was open and he dropped her onto the bed, then took his shirt off. The bed seemed to have dried out, though it smelled a little musty, and she decided that since it was probably the only time she’d ever get to have sex with someone in the townhouse, she was going to take advantage of it herself.

“All right,” she said with a smile, unbuttoning her jeans. “Don’t throw your clothes on the floor, though, they might get wet.” She tossed her jeans onto the dresser near her bed and took off her shirt as Hunter threw his pants on top of hers, followed by his shirt and finally his boxer briefs. He pulled Emily’s panties, the last piece of clothing she was wearing, off and dove into her. Once he was inside her, he rolled onto his back, pulling her on top of him.

A ridiculous sudden fear that her landlord would choose that moment to come back made her burst out laughing, and she decided she didn’t care. She started to ride him, thinking that if this was what having a boyfriend again was going to be like, she was extremely mad at herself for waiting this long. A moment later, all she could think of was Hunter and nothing else really mattered.

Training Journal: Mistakes Were Made

mistakesGood job, Rebecca. Good job.

Last week I went running on Tuesday, like I do. I ran five miles on one of my favorite routes, then checked my preorder status. I’d been refreshing like mad because I was so close to a milestone…literally ten times the number of copies I sold of any of my books before! I needed to get out of the obsessive headspace I was in so I went out on the trail. I finished my five planned miles, then checked in on my preorders.

When I saw that I’d blown past my milestone, I got so excited that I did a celebratory extra five miles. And promptly pulled what Dr. Google has informed me is my hip flexor. I took it easy for the rest of the week and over the weekend with a few breaks to walk dogs, which actually made me feel better. Even the dog who tried to drag me across the concrete and caused a leash injury to my finger didn’t make it hurt so I thought I’d be cool to run on Sunday.

Nope.

I made it 2.5 miles before I had to tap out and I was kind of disappointed in myself. It didn’t hurt nearly as bad as it did on Tuesday but I could feel it getting annoyed with me so I stopped. Then I walked some dogs and it felt better. I don’t know what’s up but I’ve been looking up hip flexor exercises and I’m going to try laser therapy at work this week. I’ve also got two rolls of KT tape that I can pull out but I have got to put a bandaid on this thing because there’s less than 2 months til the Skyline Challenge, then another 2 months before the marathon.

I have a feeling that I’ll be walking the Cowtown Half in 2019.

The Chex Mix of Romance Fiction