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Vancouver, Washington, United States
Married for 19 years (and still madly in love) 2 kids. For excerpts from The Civil War Brides Series, or the Cauld Ane Series, visit: www.traceyjanejackson.com

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Bound by Light - Sneak Peek

Pre-Order at Special Price:


SYDNEY WARREN HEARD the doorbell, turned off the stove, and made a dash for the front door. Her mother taught art classes at Ohlone Community two days a week and wasn’t typically this late. Sydney was supposed to join her today, but had been down for the count with a nasty migraine, so her mom insisted she stay home and rest. Any progress with the migraine had been lost in the last couple of hours when her mom hadn’t answered the dozen or so texts and voicemails Sydney had left.

Sydney pulled open the door, hoping that her mother’s explanation would be a lost phone and keys, but what she found were two police officers standing on her porch, looking grim.

“Sydney Warren?” the older gentleman asked.

Sydney forced back tears as she nodded.

“I’m Officer Hill,” he said, nodding to his female counterpart, “and this is Officer Montclair. I’m sorry, ma’am, but your mother has been in a car accident.”

“Where is she?” she asked, feeling a modicum of relief. If it was an accident, she could deal with that. “I’ll come right now.”

“She’s at the hospital.”

“What do you mean at the hospital?” she challenged. “Why didn’t they call me? Why did they send cops?”

“May we come in?” Officer Montclair asked.

Sydney hesitated for a second before stepping back and letting the officers inside.

“Let’s find somewhere for you to sit down.”

She lifted a shaky hand to her mouth. “I need to sit down?”

Officer Montclair nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Um, okay,” she rasped, and headed into the front room, sitting in her mother’s favorite chair. “How badly is she hurt?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but your mother’s injuries were too extensive, and she didn’t make it.”

“What? I don’t understand.” Sydney swallowed. “I thought you said she was at the hospital.”

“She is. I’m sorry; we can’t give any more information.” Office Montclair gave her a gentle smile. “The doctor will speak with you when you get there.”

Sydney nodded woodenly, her mind numbing as shock set in. “I’ll get my keys.”

“Do you have anyone who can drive you?”

She shook her head.

“We’ll take you, ma’am.”

“How will I get back?”

“One of us will be happy to bring you back.”

She swallowed hard. “I...I need to get my purse.”

The officer nodded and Sydney walked in a haze to the kitchen, grabbing her purse and keys before sliding on her shoes and heading back to the front door. She followed the cops to their car. She could have been walking through water to an octopus chariot, as surreal as the situation felt.

Sydney was grateful the officers didn’t speak to her on the ride to the hospital. By the time they arrived, she had half-convinced herself that they’d made a huge mistake and she’d prove it to herself, and them, before telling her mom all about her eventful day.

She checked her phone (again) and there was still no return call from her mom. She still hoped she’d walk into the room and find someone else there.

One of the officers opened her door and she slid out, following him inside.

They led her down a hallway teaming with medical staff and into a room that was eerily quiet. A doctor met her right inside the door. He cleared his throat, but Sydney caught sight of the figure in the bed and rushed past him before he could speak.

“Mama,” she whispered, her heart rate spiking. Her mother lay bloodied and bruised, a tube in her mouth, her chest rising and falling as a hissing sound echoed in the stark room. Sydney glanced over her shoulder. “She’s breathing.”

The doctor sighed. “We’re keeping her heart beating because your mother is an organ donor, but there is no brain activity. I’m sorry.”

Sydney stroked her mother’s cheek as a tower of hopes crafted by denial began to crumble. “What happened?”

“Head-on collision,” one of the police officers answered.

Outside of the trauma to her body, she looked so peaceful. How could she be gone? Sydney’s world shattered silently as she sat beside her mother’s body, watching her chest rise and fall as the machines kept her “alive.”

“Are you her only relative?” the doctor asked. “Is there anyone else? Your father perhaps?”

With a mighty effort, Sydney turned her head to answer him. “My father died a while ago. It’s just us. My uncle, my mother’s brother, lives in England, but I’m the one who has power of attorney.”

The doctor pulled a chair up to her and touched her shoulder. “I just need a signature on these forms to release her organs, but why don’t you sit a while with her? We have a little time still.”

Sydney nodded and sank into a seat. “I need to call my uncle,” she rasped.

“No problem,” he said. “I’ll give you some privacy.”

“Thanks,” Sydney whispered, and pulled out her phone with a trembling hand.

* * *

Present day...

Sydney walked off the plane and into the loving arms of her aunt Clara. “Welcome, love!”

Sydney gave her a tired smile. “Thanks, Auntie.”

With nothing left for her in California, Sydney had pulled up stakes and moved to London. After all, the death of her mother left her an orphan. A twenty-four-year-old orphan, but an orphan, nonetheless.

Aunt Clara hugged her. “You’re probably knackered, eh? We’ll head straight home and you can sleep. Your uncle will be home around six and we can talk.”

Sydney nodded. “Is Lucy there?”

“She will be soon. She had a couple of classes today, but should be home around four.” Her aunt smiled. “Come on, Burt’s got the car idling at the curb. Dennis is waiting at luggage claim.”

Sydney nodded and walked with her aunt toward baggage claim. She didn’t know Burt or Dennis, but deduced they were part of her aunt and uncle’s staff. Uncle Carville—Uncle Cary—was exceedingly wealthy. Over the years he’d found it necessary to put into place an extensive myriad of trusted house staff and security personnel who had been with him for years. This protection now extended to Sydney, since she would be living with them for a while.

Arriving at baggage claim, Sydney discovered Dennis waiting to pull her bags from the carousel. She smiled and introduced herself and then pointed out the three that came around quickly. As they waited for the final piece, she thought about how she could easily get used to this kind of pseudo-Kardashian-esque lifestyle.

“There it is,” Sydney said, and pointed to the final and largest, green and blue tartan suitcase coming towards them.

“I’ve got it, miss,” Dennis said, and pulled it off the carousel.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a young man jogged to them at Dennis’s wave of a hand and grabbed two of the bags, while Dennis took the other two and then led Sydney and Aunt Clara to the car. A rather fit, white-haired man gave a slight bow and opened the back door as they approached. “Burt, this is Sydney.” Aunt Clara slid into the car.

He smiled. “Lovely to meet you, miss.”

“You too. Thanks.” She followed her aunt and Burt closed the door.

“You should feel free to just rest and get acquainted with the staff over the next week or so, love,” Aunt Clara said. “You’re not obligated to do anything for a while. Give yourself some time to grieve properly and heal.”

Sydney nodded. “Thanks, Auntie.”

They sat in peaceful silence as Burt drove them from Heathrow to St. Peters Place in London. Her aunt and uncle lived in a spacious four-story townhouse they’d gutted and renovated twice in the last thirty years. Lucy and her brother also lived there, although Anson would be moving out soon, as his job was taking him to France.

Burt pulled the car up to the front of the house, and Aunt Clara and Sydney climbed out. Tears sprang to Sydney’s eyes as she gazed at the house and felt the love and comfort of family it had always held for her.

“We’ve put you in the room next to Lucy,” Aunt Clara said. “She wanted you close, but if you’d like to sleep somewhere else, you let me know.”

Sydney smiled. “That’s my favorite room—I love being next to her.”

Her aunt chuckled. “Almost verbatim what she said.”

Burt and Dennis started up the stairs with Sydney’s luggage and Aunt Clara squeezed her hand. “Are you hungry, love, or would you like to sleep?”

“I slept a bit on the plane, so I think I’ll go with hungry.”

“Come on, then, I’m sure Leticia has prepared something delicious you can snack on.”

Sydney followed Aunt Clara back to the kitchen and enjoyed a spread of cheese and cold cuts before heading to her room and falling into bed. For the first time in a long time, she fell asleep quickly, but as usual, couldn’t stay asleep all night. She only managed two hours and spent the rest of the time attempting to read.

At what her family would consider a “respectable hour,” Sydney showered in what was deemed the “small bathroom.” It was just off her bedroom and probably bigger than a few studio apartments in San Francisco. She’d giggled when her aunt had apologized the first time she’d stayed. The room was all marble—a claw-foot tub, shower that fit two, plus a toilet and bidet. Double sinks sat along a wall with two mirrored medicine cabinets above them. A large skylight in the ceiling flooded the room with natural light and could be opened via remote.

She headed down to the kitchen and found Lucy sitting at the dinette table, a gossip magazine open in front of her. Because of jet lag and the fact that Lucy had gotten home later than expected, Sydney hadn’t seen her yesterday, so it was a long overdue reunion.

Lucy let out an excited squeal and rushed for Sydney, pulling her into a hug. “You’re here, you’re finally here.”

“I’m here, cuzzie.” Sydney giggled and hugged her back. She pulled away and shook her head. “Do you ever not look perfect?”

Lucy had dark, glossy, shoulder-length hair that swung perfectly in an asymmetrical style that Sydney couldn’t have achieved without a constant hairstylist. Sydney’s, on the other hand, was long and straight, and probably would be forever. She was way too chicken to cut it more than an inch at a time.

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Hello, pot, have you met kettle?” She tugged Sydney to the table. “Come and have some brekkie.”

“What would you like, Sydney?” Leticia asked with a smile.

“I’m happy to make something.”

“You know the rules, love,” the cook said good-naturedly.

“Oh, fine.” Sydney gave her a mock frown, secretly loving being banned from the kitchen for a few days. “I’d love an egg on toast, please. I’ll get my own coffee if you have it.”

Leticia chuckled. “It’s in the pot.”

Sydney poured a cup and then sat next to Lucy.

Lucy set her magazine aside and folded her hands on the table. “What do you want to do today?”

“Just hang out if you don’t mind.” Sydney sipped her coffee. “I need to sit down with your dad at some point and sort out the inheritance and money from the sale of the house, but I kind of want to pretend that I’m on vacation for a little while.” She forced a smile to her face, hoping it met her eyes, and lowered her coffee cup to hide the shaking in her hand.

Lucy squeezed her arm and nodded. “Okay, so we’ll hang out today and then tomorrow we’ll be obnoxious tourists.”

“That sounds perfect,” Sydney said, hoping it sounded genuine.

“Do you need to stop at the bank?”

“No, I have my credit card and a hundred pounds in cash.”

“Good,” Lucy said, staring at her phone. “Stasia and Nadia said they’d love to join us.”

“Oh, that would be fun!” Again with the overly happy tone.

“We don’t have to.”

“No, I want to. Really,” Sydney assured her.

Lucy grinned and pulled out her phone. “I’ll let them know.”

Three hours later, Sydney, Lucy, Stasia, and Nadia walked into a cafe near the London Eye. The girls had tried to get Sydney to go on the Ferris wheel, but it was never going to happen. They argued through most of the line, ordering in between good-natured bickering.

“But it has the most amazing views,” Nadia continued as they took their seats.

“And if you’d like to go up in that death trap, you can feel free to take a few photos for me,” Sydney said.

“It’s perfectly safe, cuz,” Lucy piled on.

Sydney nodded. “It is if you watch from the ground.”

Stasia giggled. “She wouldn’t even go on the roller coasters with me when I was in the States. I was forced to go with one of her friends.”

“Oh, yeah, you had such a hard time screaming and hanging on to the arm of one Topher Murray, rock star wannabe and general poor man’s bad boy.”

“He was nice.”

“I know he was, which is why he isn’t a real bad boy. He took you on all the scary rides, promising to protect you, and spent the whole time staring at your butt whenever you walked in front of him.”

Stasia gasped. “He stared at my bum?”

“Yes, yes, he did.”

She groaned. “Why didn’t you tell me? I would have totally given him tongue if I’d known.”

Lucy choked on her tea. “Anastasia!”

“What? I thought he wasn’t interested, so I kissed him all chastely and crap.”

Sydney giggled. “He was trying to be a gentleman because I told him if he wasn’t, I would cut a certain appendage off.”

“Well, why’d you go and do that?” Stasia demanded. “We could’ve had way more fun than we did.”

“I don’t think I want to know what ‘more fun’ would have entailed.” Sydney took a bite of her sausage roll and shook her head.

“No, you really don’t,” Lucy agreed.

Stasia sighed. “He was so hot. Are you guys still friends?”

Sydney shrugged. “Facebook friends mostly. He moved to Australia for a girl, and I guess they broke up, but he stayed.”

Stasia raised an eyebrow. “Hmm, maybe I should reach out. I love Oz, and I’m thinking Daddy owes me a little trip for my grades this past semester.”

“Aren’t you nearly twenty-four?” Sydney said.

“Yes, so?”

“Your dad still buys you trips for doing well on college courses?”

Stasia giggled. “Daddy buys me anything I ask for.”

Sydney blinked back tears.

“Oh crap, sorry, love,” Stasia rushed to say. “I’m sorry about your parents. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“No, it’s okay.”

Lucy reached over and took Sydney’s hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“So, Topher,” Sydney pressed. “Do you want me to connect you two?”

“Yes, that would be amazing.”

Sydney nodded, the subject effectively changed. All in all, it was a good day spent with old friends, and Sydney was able to enjoy the moment. Win for her... for now.

* * *

A week later, Lucy arrived home from school and pulled Sydney into her bedroom and closed the door.

“Whoa, lady, you okay?” Sydney whispered.

Lucy’s head bobbed up and down as she let out a quiet squeal. “I met a boy.”

“Seriously?” Sydney giggled. “Deets, please!”

“His name’s Zach and he’s American.” She let out a girly sigh. “His accent is divine.”

“Yeah, yeah, go on.”

“Well, he’s just transferred from his school in California, and we’ve been talking for a few days. We hit it off right away and today he asked me if I’d like to go out with him. Like a date, date, and I said yes. Oh my god, Sid, he’s so cute. Dark hair, these yummy chocolate-brown eyes, and he’s tall and a total beefcake.”

Sydney shook her head. “Sounds just like your type.”

“It’s like I imagined him and he appeared before me.”

“Maybe’s he’s a robot,” Sydney retorted.

“With a really big schlo—”


“Not all of us aspire to be virginal, love. No judgment, just fact. It’s been a dry year for me and I need a little relief.”

Sydney felt heat creep up her cheeks. “I just haven’t met the one yet. That’s all.”

“Like I said. No judgment,” Lucy stressed. “Anyway, once Dad runs his little report on Zach, I’m hoping he’ll release me from my gilded cage and let me go out with him.”

“I’m sure he will.”

“I can’t wait for you to meet him! You’re going to love him.”

Sydney smiled. “I don’t doubt it.”

“It needs to be soon, okay?”

“Sure. How about this weekend?”

“That would be great. I’ll talk to him about it and we’ll make a plan.”

“Can’t wait.”

Lucy slid off her bed. “Okay, I have a paper to finish. I’ll see you at dinner.”

Sydney grinned and watched her leave. She wondered if she’d ever be in a place to date casually, but she doubted it. One thing Sydney knew about herself was that she never did anything casually. It made her vulnerable and it got her hurt, but try as she might, she couldn’t change that part of her. She cared about people too much. For now though, she was happy to live vicariously through Lucy and watch the drama that would certainly unfold.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Bound by Tears - Chapter One

Present Day

JESSKA HEARD THE doorbell peal through her little duplex and, after checking the peephole, pulled open the door. “Well, hi there, Winky.” 

Amanda giggled. “You can’t call me that anymore, you know.”

“You might have married Marc Miller, but you’ll always be my Winky.” Jesska grinned. “Come in. Where’s Kiana?”

Amanda’s four-year-old was the cutest, and busiest, little girl on the planet.

“She’s with Marc. Daddy-daughter bonding time,” Amanda said, and took off her coat before holding up a bottle of Jesska’s favorite wine. “I thought you and I could drink a little and find out who Manny sends home this week.”

“You know I love it when you just pop over,” Jesska droned.

“No, I know you hate it, but since you’ve been dodging my phone calls for almost a week now, I figured desperate measures and all that.”

“I haven’t been dodging you.”

Amanda pointed at her. “So, you have no idea what today is.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re wearing his sweatshirt, babe.”

Today was the tenth anniversary of Brady’s death, and Jesska had been inconsolable most of the day, as she was every anniversary. Her friends and family knew to leave her alone… except for Amanda, who inserted herself whenever possible.

Jesska huffed. “Fine. Okay. I’d hoped to be by myself, but if you insist on joining my pity party, you better get comfortable. You’re just lucky you brought the wine—you’d never have gotten in without it.”

Amanda handed her the bottle. “It’s Bachelor night. We can watch it together in real time.”

“I was thinking I might just watch it, drink some wine, and take a bath.”

“Yeah, your obsession with tubby time’s a little weird.”

“You’re just jealous.”

Amanda sighed. “You’re right. I never have time to relax like that anymore. Plus, I don’t have a kickass claw-foot tub at my disposal.”

Jesska laughed. “Is it weird I chose my house based on the tub?”

“Oh, babe, you surpassed weird about a lot of different things a while ago.” Amanda grinned, flopped onto the couch. “Come on. Which lady will it be this week, hmm? Enquiring minds want to know.”

“I think ‘lady’ is generous. Especially when talking about that Rosa chick.”

“Yes, probably.” Amanda giggled. “Got ice cream?”

“Do I have ice cream?” Jesska snorted. “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

Amanda cued up The Bachelor while Jesska prepared bowls of ice cream and poured wine. Manuel Garcia was the new bachelor and the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. He was the Latino dream, with his chiseled body and beautiful face, complete with dimples that Amanda and Jesska were convinced he used as weapons. Manny was the most popular bachelor in six seasons, and the women were horrible. All but a couple of them, anyway.

By the time the show ended, and Jesska and Amanda had discussed Manny’s date with Alana, one of the ladies both Jesska and Amanda liked, they’d gone through an entire carton of ice cream and a bottle and a half of wine. Jesska had even broken down and grabbed a box of tissues.

“I should have had that,” Jesska complained.

“The chance to vie for a guy’s love and devotion against twenty-four other psycho women?”

“I’m not psycho.”

“Oh, right, sorry. Twenty-four psycho women and you.”

Jesska snorted. “Do not tell me you didn’t think Alana’s date was ├╝ber romantic. Manny was adorable. And Brady did stuff like that all the time. I should have had that.”

“I know, buddy,” Amanda agreed. “But maybe there’s someone else out there for you. Maybe God has a bigger plan.”

Jesska bit back an insult. It wasn’t Amanda’s fault she still believed in some old man in the sky who liked to devastate young women by killing off the people they loved. It also didn’t matter that even though Amanda had graduated with a degree in rocket science and had just quit her job at NASA, Jesska always thought she was very, very pretty, but lacked a little in the brains department. She was far too loving and trusting to be a genius. But outside of Amanda’s paltry street smarts and her religious views, Jesska adored her.

“I see you’re trying to reconcile my looks with my brains again.”

“Don’t talk to me like you know me,” Jesska retorted.

Amanda laughed as she checked her phone. “Marc’s wondering what time I’m going to be home.”

Jesska smiled. “How much have you had to drink? I’m not sure you should drive.”

“I had two glasses, lady. You drank the rest.”

“Shut up.”

“Serious.” Amanda rose to her feet and stretched.

“So you’re okay to drive?”

“I’m great to drive. My directive has been achieved.”

“Which was?”

“Keeping you distracted for a few hours.”

Jesska sighed, realizing she felt quite a bit better after girl time and a good cry. “Again, Winky, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t talk to me like you know me.”

Amanda laughed. “Too late. Will you go straight to bed, or do you need me to stay and sing you a wuwwaby until you fall asweep?”

“Suck it, Winky,” Jesska joked as she rose to her feet. “I wish I could say you’re annoyingly mommy-ish now that you’re actually a mom, but that trait started long ago.”

“Guilty.” Amanda grabbed her purse and coat. “Oh, would you be able to watch Kiana on Wednesday night?”

“Totally. It’s my turn to drive for the carpool, so I can pick her up after I drop off Kim, if you like.”

“You’re a life saver!” Amanda exclaimed. “Marc and I need a date night and he has tickets to a movie preview.”

“Ooh, fun. Which one?”

“Okay, don’t laugh.”

Jesska laughed.

Amanda raised an eyebrow. “I said don’t laugh.”

“Which makes me want to do it all the more.”

“That’s true. My bad,” Amanda conceded. “Anyway, his high school buddy did this documentary on Portland and its history, and he’s premiering it for family and a couple of close friends. Marc was invited.”

“That’s actually really cool,” Jesska said.

“I hope so. If it sucks, Marc and I’ll just make out in the back row.” Amanda grinned. “Anyway, thanks again. I’ll text you when I get home.”

“Sounds good. Hey, thanks, Winky. Seriously.”

“Love you.”

“Love you too.” Jesska hugged Amanda and watched her walk to her car before closing and locking the door. She was exceedingly grateful to her best friend as she fell asleep relatively quickly.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Scavenger Hunt, Day Two - Clue #1

Have you ever wondered how authors find covers? Where they go for images or who they use as their artists?

I am very lucky to be married to a graphic artist who does all my covers. He is able to take my jumbled idea and make it beautiful. In the case of the Civil War Brides series, we had originally thought to use an image of Jackson and me at a masquerade ball, but the photo wasn't as crisp as we would have liked and it just didn't quite work, but when he adjusted it and made it a silhouette, it popped beautifully, so the "brand" was born.

When it came to the Cauld Ane Series, I wanted something different, but I had to rush to get Bound by Blood released, so I chose a photo I liked from iStockphoto and went from there. I used to be a photographer in another life (I suppose I still am, I'm just no longer doing it for money), so I had this brilliant (insane) idea to shoot my own covers. As you can see, I have gorgeous friends who were somewhat easy to cajole into  posing for me, and setting up shooting sessions and getting together to laugh and take a few photos is a blast!

What is the title of Book #5 in the Civil War Brides Series? (Hint - the cover is purple) 

I need to be able to find your name easily, so if your username is abbreviated, please add your first and last name. Thanks!

Good luck!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bound by Dreams - Sneak Peek!

Bound by Dreams releases June 10, 2014, and is available for pre-order at several places!

Amazon does not allow pre-orders for Indie authors, so watch for it June 10th! 

Read the first chapter below!


Anaheim, California
Three Months Ago                                                                    

CHARLOTTE WHITMORE STOOD in the ladies’ dressing room of Disneyland’s staff area and ended a rather frustrating phone call with her best friend, Grace Wilson. Charlotte’s thoughts ran rampant as she processed the fact that Grace had just been visited by the object of Charlotte’s own desires… Niall MacMillan, the incomparable drummer for her favorite band, Fallen Crown. Well, technically, his brother Max had visited Grace, but Niall had been with him, and Charlotte scowled in irritation that she wasn’t there too.

She sighed and adjusted her Princess Ariel costume as she stared at herself in the mirror. She supposed she should be grateful she was wearing the dress rather than the tail, but still, it seemed like adding insult to injury that she was being forced to portray the most pathetic princess in the Disney lineup.

“Stupid, vapid girl who sells her soul to an evil witch for a boy,” she muttered to herself as she walked out of the dressing room in search of her “prince.”

Charlotte had moved to Los Angeles six years ago in an attempt to “make it” as an actress, but with blondes aplenty and roles not so abundant, her dream meant working at Disneyland. She enjoyed her job, crazy as that might sound, she really loved the variety…except for today. She would have much preferred to be hiding in the air-conditioned back office rather than out in the cancer-beckoning sun.

“Hey, Charlie,” Don called.

Don Leavitt was six feet tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed, and also trying to make it as an actor. He and Charlotte met when they moved into their apartments across the hall from each other on the same day. He was what most women swooned over, but not Charlotte. She leaned toward the dark-haired, blue-eyed, drummer variety. Besides, after two failed relationships, one of which put her in the hospital, she’d put dating on hold.

The bottom line was, she wasn’t a serial dater, but she was also away from her family and Grace, which meant she didn’t have anyone giving her daily reality checks…and Lord knows, you won’t find any kind of reality in L.A. During her hospitalization Don had sat vigil by her bedside and then spent a week fawning over her. He’d become the brother she’d never had and the confidante she really needed at the time.

“Hey, Donnie.” She chuckled at his dark wig. “Your hair’s crooked.”

“Dang it,” he said, and faced the mirror, shifting Prince Eric’s wig. “Good?”

Charlotte nodded. “Much better.”

“Ready to look like you’d sell your soul for me?”

“Oh, you’re hilarious.”

“Thank you, m’lady. I’m here all week.” He gave a princely bow and smiled. “So. What’s new in the land of Charlotte? We haven’t talked in over a week.”

“I know,” she said. “So very unlike us. Let’s see. Um, Grace just called to tell me that half of Fallen Crown showed up at church.”

“Fallen Crown the band?” Don asked. “Didn’t she meet them in Scotland?”

“Yep, she sure did…which is why we hate her, right?”

Don laughed. “Right. I hate your best friend…whom I’ve never met.”

“Good answer. Anyway, the lead singer and his dreamy brother made a special trip, apparently to visit her.”

“Wow. She must have made an impression.” Don cocked his head. “Of course, from the many pictures I’ve seen, she is super hot, so I can see why she would.”

Charlotte punched him on the arm.

“Ow, what was that for?” he asked.

“It was because I had to hit something. I should be there meeting Niall MacMillan.” She lowered her voice. “Not here, portraying an idiot. Grace doesn’t even like them!”

“At all?” Don asked. “But they’re really great.”

“Preaching to the choir, buddy…but, no, she’s not a fan.” Charlotte shook her head.

“What’s her jam? Does she love country?” he retorted.

“There’s no such thing as real country music anymore,” Charlotte complained. “She loves pop, whether it falls into what the industry calls “country” or not. Granted, she loves good pop, not the auto-tuned crap radio tries to feed us, but still, Fallen Crown’s a bit out of her comfort zone.”

“So, is she dating the lead singer or the dreamy drummer?”

“Neither yet, but Maximilian seems pretty determined to get to know her.”

Don rubbed his bicep with a grimace. “Damn, girl, you hit like a man.”

“Oh, please. That was merely a love tap.”

Don laughed. “Would now be a good time to say how sorry I am that you didn’t get to meet the object of your obsess—I mean, affection?”

“Yes. Thank you. You just made everything better.” Charlotte smiled. “You’re not really hurt, are you?”

“That depends. Can I milk the injury? Get you to do my laundry for a week due to my broken arm?”

“Hells, no.” She laughed. “And don’t ask me to cook you anything either.”

“I would never! That could be dangerous for me,” he murmured. “So, no, you didn’t really hurt me.”

Charlotte laughed. “You really should go into acting.”

“That’s good advice. Thanks. I’ll think about it.”

The couple’s handler, Ryan Smith, arrived to lead them to their meet-and-greet, effectively cutting off their banter. “Ready?” he asked.

“As I’ll ever be,” she grumbled, and glanced in the mirror with a sigh. The signs on every mirror read, “Check your smile,” so she forced her best princess grin and took Don’s elbow. The day was in the nineties, unusual for winter, and it drove home how much she hated the southern California weather.

* * *
Two weeks later, Charlotte let herself into her apartment just as her phone rang. She checked the caller ID and saw it was her best friend. “Hi Grace.” Charlotte heard sniffling in the background. “Gracie, what’s wrong?”
“Um, hi…ah…something’s happened,” Grace rasped.


Grace sniffled again.

“You sound miserable. Everything okay with your new man?” Charlotte dropped her keys in the dish on the counter and poured herself a glass of wine. “Is he your new man? I’m still not getting a read on that.”

“I guess,” Grace whispered. “Yes. He is.”

“What’s up, Gary? Really. Tell me.”

“It’s Maggie.” More sniffling. “She has cancer.”

That was all Charlotte could make out, because Grace turned into a blubbering mess after that. Nothing coherent came out for several minutes, and Charlotte used the time to process. At twenty-three, Margaret Marie, “Maggie” as everyone called her, was Grace’s youngest sister, and as far as Charlotte was concerned, as close to her as her own sister was. Closer, probably. Even Spencer, Grace and Maggie’s brother between them, was a great friend to Charlotte. She lowered herself onto her bed and squeezed her eyes shut.

“Are you still there?” Grace asked.

“Of course I am.”

“Oh, good. Thank you.”

“I won’t hang up until you do,” Charlotte promised.


Charlotte sighed. “What do the doctors say?”

“She has to have chemo and Spence and I are going to be tested…um, to see if we can donate bone marrow.”

“Oh, Gracie, I’m so sorry.”

“I just had this amazing and slightly confusing time with Max in Scotland, but none of that matters, knowing Maggie might die.”

Charlotte forced back tears. “Oh, honey, let’s not go there, huh? Maggie’s going to be fine.”

“What if she’s not? I can’t lose my sister, Chuck.”

“You won’t.”

“Do you promise?”

Charlotte grimaced. “I promise.”

“Well, you can’t make that promise,” Grace snapped. “You’re not God.”

“You got me there.” Charlotte rubbed her forehead, ignoring her best friend’s bark. Grace had every right to feel like crap, and if she needed Charlotte to be her punching bag, she’d happily take the beating. “What does Max say?”

“Basically the same thing you did.”

“Well, he sounds like a smart man.”

Grace snorted. “Says the woman who’s their number one fan.”

Charlotte let out a lackluster giggle. “Sadly true.”

“Why sadly?”

“Because even if meeting them was an option, I’d never be able to be in the same room with Niall MacMillan without saying something incredibly stupid.”

Grace snorted. “Well, that’s entirely untrue…and you’re going to have to meet him eventually, if this thing with me and Max works out.”

“I’ll cross that bridge then.”

“Fair enough. Thanks, Charlie.” Grace sighed. “She’s gonna be okay.”

“Yes, she is. Absolutely.”

“I should go,” Grace said.

“I love you, sister from another mister.”

“Love you too.”

Charlotte hung up and sat staring at the floor for she didn’t know how long. It was only the buzz of her cell phone that jarred her out of her trance. “Hello?”

“Charlotte Whitmore, please.”


“Miss Whitmore, this is Martha Reynolds. I’m Allison’s new assistant.”

Allison Rodriguez was Charlotte’s agent…the not-so-hard-working agent to the “wannabes.” Martha was Allison’s eighth assistant in less than a year, and Charlotte thought she might have had double that since she signed with her three years go. That fact probably should have been a red flag, but Allison was the only person who’d even looked at her, let alone signed her, so Charlotte stuck around.

“Oh, yes?” Charlotte said.

“I’m calling to let you know that you didn’t get the callback for the NBC pilot.”

Charlotte sighed. “Oh, okay.”

“Sorry. We’ll be sure to keep your name on the list for anything that comes up.”

“Okay,” Charlotte said, as evenly as she could. “Thanks anyway.”

“No problem. ’Bye.”

Charlotte hung up, and without a second thought, she fired off an e-mail to her poor excuse for an agent, severing all current and future ties, e-mailed her landlord, and typed up her two-week notice for Disneyland. Then she called Don.

“Hey, Charlie,” he said after the first ring. “You okay?”

“No, not really.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“You don’t have to do that,” she said.

“Try and stop me.” He chuckled. “Open some wine.”

She smiled. “Okay. See you in a bit.”

Less than two minutes later, Don let himself into Charlotte’s apartment after an obligatory knock and wrapped his arms around her. He’d obviously used the spare key she’d given him for emergencies. “Okay, tell me.”

She burst into tears, but managed to force out everything Grace had told her plus the news about her failed attempt at getting the part.

“Oh, buddy, I’m sorry,” he said, as he rubbed her back.

“Wine. We need wine.” Charlotte pulled herself together and headed into the kitchen, returning with two glasses of her favorite red.

“Thanks,” Don said, and took the glass she offered. “So, what now?”

Charlotte grimaced.

Don raised an eyebrow. “What did you do?”

“I kind of quit.”

“Quit?” he asked. “Quit what?”

“Disneyland, my agent, my apartment,” she said, and lowered herself onto one of her overstuffed chairs.

Don frowned, sitting down on the sofa beside her. “Thinking about quitting, you mean?”

She bit her lip. “No. I quit, quit. Sent the e-mails about twenty minutes ago.”

“Oh, Charlie, seriously? This isn’t you. You’re not impulsive or reckless. What are you going to do for money?”


He laughed. “Okay, show me what you got.”

She kicked his leg. “You wish.”

“A man can dream.” He grinned. “Where are you going?”


He frowned. “What? Seriously?”

She nodded.

“When do you go?”

“Two weeks.”

“You’re supposed to give thirty days notice here,” he pointed out.

Charlotte shrugged. “Mrs. Morrison let me out of this month early. You know they need units, and they can rent it for a lot more than I’m paying.”

“Damn it!” Don snapped, and rose to his feet, setting his wine on the coffee table.

“Why are you so mad?”

“Shit, Charlie!” Don walked out her door without another word.

Charlotte shook her head in confusion. The only time she’d ever seen Don mad was when he’d picked her up at the hospital. It was a night she’d managed to put behind her, although, it was never forgotten. After an argument with her boyfriend, she’d been sideswiped by a fist in the face, and suffered a couple of bruised ribs and a broken wrist. He was a popular actor at the time…not as big as he was now, but he had a sense of entitlement even back then, and when she wouldn’t sleep with him, he became enraged.

One of his goons intervened and pulled him off her, while another scooped her up and drove her to the hospital. He’d stopped something much worse from happening, and she’d always be grateful. He’d slapped down a wad of cash on the emergency room counter, walked Charlotte to a chair, and then left. She never saw him again.

The doctor had set her break, bound her ribs, and loaded her up with heavy-duty painkillers. They wouldn’t let her leave without someone to drive her, so she’d been forced to call Don.

 Her door opened again, pulling her from her memories, and Don leaned against it. “Sorry,” he said.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I should have talked to you about everything before I made any decisions…I just…I don’t know…”

He raised his hands in surrender. “Don’t, Charlie. You don’t owe me an explanation. It’s your life. I guess I just don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Find a nice girl and settle down.”

“But I’ll always compare them to you.”


“I love you, Charlie. I have since the day we met.”

She blinked back tears. “No, don’t say that.”

“Why not? If you’re leaving anyway, I at least need to tell you how I feel while I have the chance.”

“But you’ve dated like, a gazillion women,” she argued.

“I have. All of them a poor substitute for you.”

“Now I feel like an idiot.”


She let out a deep breath. “Because I never knew. Never even got an inkling.”

“Well, that was the point,” he said, crossing his arms. “If you’d been ready to reciprocate, I’d have been there to take advantage. But after…well, everything…I knew that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. And I wasn’t going to be the bastard who tried to convince you otherwise.”

She dropped her face in her hands. “Donnie, I’m so sorry.”

“Hey.” He gently pulled her arms down. “There’s nothing to apologize for. Seriously. If all we are is really good friends, I’ll deal.”

“Oh, great, thanks for ‘dealing,’” she droned.

“Poor choice of words.”

“Ya think?” she challenged.

He smiled. “Okay, enough of this unrequited love talk.”

“Oh, that’s so much better.”

He chuckled. “Anyway, I’ve got you for two more weeks. You are mine. Got it?”

“Will you help me pack?”

“Of course I’ll help you pack. It’s what the pathetic guy does when he’s in love with the hot girl next door.”

She smacked his arm. “You’re the most horrible person on earth.”

He laughed. “Which is why you won’t date me.”

Donnie,” she said in exasperation.

“I’m kidding.” He gave her a quick hug.

She sighed. “I really am sorry if I hurt your feelings. That wasn’t my intention.”

“I know it wasn’t. Don’t worry about it.” He checked his watch. “I have to run right now, but seriously, let’s spend some time together before you go, okay?”

“I’d like that.”

After closing and locking the door behind Don, Charlotte spent the next two hours packing up a few things in her tiny apartment, glad her Toyota was an SUV, because it meant she didn’t have to tow a trailer. Sadly, everything she owned would more than likely fit in her car. For the moment, she set her boxes in the corner of her living room in anticipation of her move out date.

Tell me where you are and I’ll find you.

Charlotte jumped at the sound of the voice in her head. The voices kept coming. No, not voices…one voice. It had started on her twenty-fifth birthday, and it would come at the most inconvenient times. Like in the middle of an audition…usually when she was feeling the most nervous or stressed. The voice was sexy, deep, and very Scottish, something she’d always been a sucker for. What girl wasn’t? No one she knew, that was for darn sure. She flipped off the bedroom light and climbed into bed, hoping sleep would come quickly.

The following morning, she handed printed versions of her e-mail notice in to both her landlord and boss. She made the most of her time left with Don and then, two weeks later, she pulled out of the Disneyland staff parking lot and headed north. It took her almost two days, with a stop at a dive motel when she was in danger of falling asleep at the wheel, but she arrived home just after eleven p.m., grateful her mother was a night owl and sentimental. She had kept Charlotte’s room exactly as she’d left it. Falling into the familiar warmth of her childhood bed, she slept until after lunch the next day and then went about trying to reestablish her life in the Pacific Northwest.