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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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Nun Walks into a Bar - Sneak Peek!


I have been told I look like Mila Kunis. You’d think that was a good thing, but in my line of work, it’s more of a hindrance. You see, I’m a nun. Admittedly, I’m not a very good one, but nonetheless, I am, in fact, a nun.

Which (in a very roundabout way) led me to a tiny, hole-in-the wall, bar at the edge of the Pearl District in Portland, Oregon, on a quiet Wednesday night.

I was supposed to be meeting my friend, Laura, for dinner, but as I stepped off the MAX, I realized I’d gotten off at the wrong stop and, as was my luck, the small wet sprinkle coming from the sky earlier quickly turned into a downpour.

“Well, crap!” I snapped, then slapped a hand over my mouth. “Sorry, Lord.”

Seriously, I was the worst nun ever.

I took shelter under an awning in order to fish my phone from my purse and try to figure out where I was. The building I stood next to had a frog motif, but no other information, and I wasn’t entirely sure which street I was on. I discovered I had a missed call from Laura, and a new voicemail, which I could only guess meant she wouldn’t be able to make it.

“Hey, Sadie. I’m so sorry, I’m stuck at work and I can’t get down to the Pearl for another hour. Do you want me to still try or do you want to resched?” Yes, she said, “resched.” “Anyhoo, text me and let me know what you want to do. Love ya, ’bye.”

Laura was my oldest friend, but she was hardly reliable, and yet, I always gave people the benefit of the doubt, so here I stood in the middle of the street in the pouring rain. And it was pouring. I fired off a quick text to Laura, pressing send...just as my phone died.

“Oh, holy mother of—” I pulled my sweater closer around me and decided to step inside so I could get warm and perhaps borrow a phone, but just as I moved away from the wall, water came loose from somewhere and dropped on my head. I let out a quiet squeak and pulled off my now soaked veil, yanking open the heavy wooden door of the bar and slipping inside.

“I.D.,” a gruff voice demanded.

I nodded even though I couldn’t see anything in the dark space, reaching into my purse and pulling out my Oregon I.D.

A large hand swiped it from me then handed it back. “You look lost.”

I let out a snort. “You have no idea. I’m stranded and my phone died.”

“Ryder can call you a cab.”


“Owner.” He nodded toward the back of the building. “He’s at the bar.”

“Do I need to go to the bar?” I asked.

“Lady, he’s got the number for the only cab company he trusts and if I let you leave in one from a company he doesn’t trust, he’ll be pissed.”

“That sounds serious.”

Bouncer dude chuckled. “Yeah, he’s got this weird thing about sweet women being protected.”

“What about women who aren’t sweet?” I challenged.

“Those too.” The bouncer laughed. “But the sweet ones always seem to get special treatment.”

I smiled. “Okay, I’ll head to the bar.”

“Good plan.”

I walked past the pool tables, dartboards, and a jukebox to the bar which ran the length of the back of the building. There weren’t a whole lot of patrons, just a few who looked as though they paid weekly rent for their stools.

A tall man with his back to me turned and I felt sucker punched. Like, as in, the breath left my body, I stopped moving toward him, and I wanted to find out what it would be like to be kissed by him.

See? Worst nun ever.

His eyes met mine and he gave me this incredibly delicious sideways smirk as he crossed his arms, keeping eye contact as I was once again drawn into his tractor beam like pull. He had longish dark blond hair, a full beard, not quite Portland hipster full, but still sexy as heck full, and his light blue eyes seemed to peer into my soul.

“You lost, sister?”

“How did you know I’m a nun?” Without my veil, most people just glanced at me sadly as though I didn’t know how to dress in anything fashionable. I wore a sturdy black wool dress, black tights, and a grey button-up cardigan.

He chuckled. “Five years of Catholic school. ’Course never saw a nun who looked like you, but it’s your shoes that gave you away. It’s always the shoes.”

“Oh.” I bit my lip, glancing at my feet. “Well, you got that right. They call them sensible...I call them ugly.”

“Not touchin’ that one.” Ryder smiled. “You need directions?”

I shook my head. “I’m that tale of woe I’m afraid. My friend couldn’t make our dinner date and my phone died.”

“You need a cab?”

“Yes, but do you mind if I just warm up for a minute?”

“You want some tea?”

I couldn’t stop a huge smile of relief as I sat on one of the stools. “I would love some tea.”

“Give me your phone and I’ll charge it for you.”

“That’s okay.” I waved my hand dismissively. “I doubt you’ll have a charger that works.”

He chuckled. “You’d be surprised.”

I pulled out my six year old flip phone and slid it to him.

“Right,” he said.

“Solve that one,” I retorted with a giggle.

“Oh, you don’t think I can?” He pulled open a drawer next to the cash register. After testing several cords against my phone, he let out a, “Gotcha!” and faced me again, plugging my phone into the wall. “Found one.”

“How is that even possible?”

He laughed. “We never throw anything away and people leave shi—ah, stuff here all the time.”

I raised my hands and gave him quiet applause. “Well done, sir. Well done.”

He grinned and handed me a cup of hot water and a couple of tea bags. I picked the orange flavor and steeped it in the water, while Ryder went about his business. I wondered what my fellow sisters would think about the predicament I’d gotten myself into. Granted, they rarely left the Abbey, but they also didn’t have jobs like I did.

Being a fourth grade teacher and working for the Catholic school next to our living quarters was a perfect set-up for me. Lately, however, I’d been feeling restless and I know Reverend Mother noticed. In fact, I had a meeting with her in the morning and it sounded serious, so being late or tired would not be an option. Perhaps, my ill-fated evening was cut short for a very good reason. Mother always said God worked in mysterious ways.

“You ready for that cab?”

Ryder’s question pulled me from my thoughts and I smiled, shaking my head. “Is it okay if I stick around for a little bit?”

“Knock yourself out.” He glanced at his watch. “But you’re outta here within the hour. It gets a little rowdy after ten.”

“Your bouncer warned me about you.”


I wrapped my hands around the cup, warming them. “He said you’re very protective about women.”

He glanced behind me and then met my eyes again. “Russ talks too much.”

“Maybe so.” I shrugged and then sipped my tea again.

“What do people call you other than ‘sister’?”

“Mostly they call me ‘sister,’ but my name is Sadie.”

He leaned against the bar. “Pretty.”

My breath caught. “My parents thought so,” I said once I could speak again.

“But not you?”

“No, I like it fine. I guess I don’t really think about my name much.” I shrugged. “My students call me Sister and I don’t have many friends outside of...well, outside.” I shook my head. “Gosh, that sounds so narrow.”

Ryder grinned. “Sheltered perhaps.”

“That’s very gracious, Ryder.”

He chuckled. “Never been called gracious before.”

I settled my chin in my palm. “That surprises me.”

“Of course it does. You’re a nun.”


“You’re gracious to everyone, so you assume others will be gracious as well.”

“I’m not gracious to everyone. I’m a nun, not perfect.”

Ryder laughed. “Fair enough.”

“I should go.”

“Probably a good idea.” He grabbed his cell phone and put it to his ear. “Hey. Got time to drop someone home?” He faced me. “Where do you live?”


“Beaverton. Great. Yeah, five minutes is great.” Ryder hung up and slid his phone back in his pocket.

“You’re pretty friendly with the cab company, huh?” I took the last swig of tea and set the cup down.

“One of my guys is taking you home.”

“I thought you were calling me a cab.”

“Can’t let a nun pay the cab fare all the way to Beaverton.”

I frowned. “You don’t think I can pay for cab fare?”

“Not what I said, Sadie.”

“Wow, you’re really this this whole I am man, hear me roar stuff, to a whole other level, huh?”

His gaze went to something (or someone) behind me and he nodded. “Ride’s here.”

I decided not to argue; probably because it would do absolutely no good, and slid off my stool. “Thanks for the tea.”

“Anytime, sister.”

Somehow, him calling me “sister” instead of “Sadie” felt lacking. I took a deep breath. Lordy, I was ridiculous...and I probably needed to confess, but I knew I wouldn’t.

Again, worst nun award goes to...

Ryder grabbed my phone and stepped out from behind the bar. “My number’s in there if you need anything.”

“What would I need?” I asked, and took the phone from him.

He shrugged. “You never know, Sadie. It’s a resource. Feel free to use it.”

What a strange thing to say.

“Thanks for everything, Ryder,” I said, leaving my internal thoughts in my head.

“No problem.” He nodded toward his friend. “This is Reese. He’s gonna take you home.”

Reese was tall, dark, and handsome as they say, but he had an edge about him that made me a little nervous. I was fairly confident he wouldn’t hurt me, but if I’d met him under different circumstances, I might have declined a ride.

A warm hand settled on my back and I felt a shiver steal my spine.

“You okay, sister?” Ryder asked.

“Yes, fine.”

“You’re safe with him, yeah? You have any issues, you call me.”

“Okay.” I stepped away from his touch and forced a smile. “Reese, it’s lovely to meet you. Thank you for the ride.”

“No problem.” He waved his hand toward the door. “This way.”

With a backward glance and smile to Ryder, I followed Reese out to the car, grateful he wasn’t a big talker. Our conversation consisted of him asking me for my address and me giving it to him. The rest of the ride strictly featured me gripping the door handle (as was my habit). I hated cars and avoided them whenever I could.

It didn’t take long to arrive at the rectory and I thanked Reese and climbed out of the car, a little taken aback when he followed. “I’m fine from here.”

“Ryder’d kick my as—rear if I didn’t make sure you made it inside safely.”

“Right, his protection fetish.”

Reese chuckled, but didn’t comment.

I led him up the brick walkway and to the back of the building where I unlocked the door and stepped inside. “Thanks again for the ride.”

“My pleasure, sister. Have a good night.”

He walked away, and I closed and locked the door. Quick, uneven footsteps sounded on the hardwood floors and I smiled as I peeked around the corner. Reverend Mother had had a limp since childhood, and although it didn’t slow her down, it did mean I knew when she was coming. “Hi, Mother.”

“Sister Sadie, you’re home early.”

I rolled my eyes. “Laura couldn’t make it, so I found myself a little stranded in the Pearl.”

Mother’s hand flew to her chest. “Oh my word, sweetheart, I don’t really like the idea of you riding the bus home in the dark.”

“I didn’t. A very nice gentleman dropped me home.”

“Sadie,” she admonished. “Who is this man?”

I filled her in, however, I left the part out about Ryder being gorgeous, and his friend almost equally so, and she relaxed...sort of.

“Well, it sounds like you met a nice person. However, I would caution you to avoid bars in the future.”

I giggled. “I have no problem with that.”

“Since you’re home so soon, how about we sit down and have a chat.”

“Ah, sure.” I followed her into her office and sat across from her. I was a little nervous, which was silly. She’d been the only mother I’d known since I was eight, and she was always kind, but she seemed different somehow.

“I won’t bore you with the suspense, Sadie,” she said. “I will get right to the point. I think it’s time you went out on your own.”

“I’m sorry?”

She smiled. “You are not cut out to be a nun, sweetheart—and I don’t say that as a criticism. I truly don’t believe you’re called to this life.”


She raised a hand, cutting me off. “You are young, you are beautiful, and you deserve a life...one outside of these walls.”

“Am I not committed enough? I can do better.”

“Sweetheart,” she breathed out, standing and making her way to me. Taking a seat in the chair beside mine, she took my hand. “No one, least of all me, could or would ever question your commitment to God and your students. You are a gifted teacher and you’re a beautiful soul, but you should not be a nun. You were made to love and be loved, and to have children.” She sighed. “Oh, beautiful girl, you were made to be a mother. I have no doubt in my mind.”

I blinked back tears. “I don’t know how to live outside of these walls, Mother. I have a little money saved, but I doubt it’s enough to live on for very long.”

“You have your trust fund.”

I shook my head. “I gave that to the church.”

“The church didn’t take it.”

“What?” I gasped. “Why not?”

“Because you were eighteen years old, Sadie. You’d spent ten years learning how to live without your parents and you fell into the role you currently serve. But you didn’t really choose it...you settled for it. It was the balm that soothed the wound of your parents’ death, but it’s not really living, sweetheart. I knew that one day we’d have this conversation, so I kept the money in your name, as it should be.”

Mother Superior was in fact my great aunt on my mother’s side. Only ten years older than my own mom and barely hitting her sixties, she looked much, much younger. As my only living relative, she’d taken me in (and loved me) when my parents’ had been killed in a car accident. At only eight years old I’d survived the accident, although, I’d been in a coma for a few days and required several months of physical therapy. She’d been at my side the entire time.

I sank further into the chair. “Wow.”

“None of this is going to happen immediately,” she assured me. “You’ll finish out the term and in the meantime, you can take some time to look for a place to live and a new job.”

“I have to find a new job?”

“We only employ nuns to teach, dear.”

“But I’m happy being a nun.”

Mother gave a sad chuckle. “You’re comfortable being a nun, but you’re restless and you forget I knew your mother.” She reached out and cupped my cheek. “You are just like her, Sadie, and I want you to be as happy as she was. You can’t do that being a nun.”

I leaned my face into her hand, raising an eyebrow. “You’re not asking me to be the nanny to seven kids in Austria, are you?”

Mother dropped her head back and laughed. “You don’t play guitar, which I believe is one of the requirements.”

“Well, just don’t start singing about solving a problem like Sadie and it’ll be all good.”

“I’m already solving the problem of Sadie, sweetheart. I’m pushing you out of the nest. You need to fly.”

“Touché,” I grumbled.

She patted my hand. “Go and process all of this and we can talk more if you need to. We’ll slowly transition you into your new life, okay?”

I nodded. I didn’t really have a choice. “What about our dinners?”

“Honey, I’m still your auntie. We’re family. Nothing about that will change. I’m here if you need me, we’ll still have our dinners, and I hope you’ll give me lots and lots of great-great nieces and nephews.”

Ryder floated into my mind and I shivered.

“Are you cold?”

“No. I suppose in order to give you those nieces and nephews I’ll have to meet a man and I wouldn’t know the first thing about dating.”

Mother chuckled. “Let’s get the job and home sorted first.”

I grimaced. “Probably a good plan.”

I rose to my feet, hugged my aunt, and headed to my room. Sparse though it was, it was home, and I now had to come to terms with leaving it.

My phone buzzed as I set it on my dresser and I smiled. “Hey, Michael.”

“Hey. Sorry, is it too late?”

I shook my head. “Nope. Just got home from my canceled dinner with Laura.”

Father Michael Denton was one of our priests. One in training I guess you could say, and honestly, he shouldn’t be a priest. I mean, maybe he should, that was between him and God, but I heard a lot of women in our church lament the fact he was too pretty to be a priest and that it was a waste to the female population. They weren’t wrong. He was tall with dark hair and chocolate brown eyes, broad shoulders, and an easy way about him. He was one of my closest friends, but totally off-limits for obvious reasons.

“She canceled?”

“Well, sort of. She got stuck at work so I had the choice to wait for her or reschedule.” I sat on the edge of my bed. “What are you doing up?”

“Going over a few things from the Bishop.”

“Sounds serious.”

Michael chuckled. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

“Did you know what my aunt was going to do?”


“You didn’t think to warn me?”

“I’m sorry, Sadie,” he said. “It was confidential. If I could have told you, I would have.”

I sighed. “I know. It’s fine. Just sucks.”

“Let’s meet for coffee tomorrow and we can talk.”

“That would be great, Michael. Thanks.”

“Better get back to it. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay, have fun.”

“Oh, I plan to.”

I giggled. “’Night.”

“’Night, Sadie.”

I hung up and dragged myself to bed, prepared for a restless night.

* * *

Ryder flopped onto the sofa in his office and dragged his hands through his hair. He was screwed. He could quite easily get himself out of his current predicament, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to. The second the beautiful nun walked into his bar, he’d been knocked on his ass and he wanted to find a way to see her again.

Damn it!

Lifting a glass of whiskey, he took a swig just as his phone buzzed in his pocket and he answered it without checking the screen. “Ryder.”

“Hey man, it’s Cam.”

Cameron Shane was a good friend, private investigator, and happened to be an expert in all things kidnap and recovery related. He was perfect for it, particularly because you never saw him coming. He was an ex-FBI agent, turned pastor, but because of his special abilities, occasionally took on cases where he knew he could help. Like now. Ryder had asked to look into a family situation and they’d spent almost a month spinning their wheels until a lead popped up a week ago.

“Hey.” Ryder sat up, his body on alert. “You got anything?”

“Followed her boyfriend to Savannah. All roads point to her being with him.”

“Georgia?” Ryder snapped. “What the hell are they doin’ in Georgia?”

“No clue.”

“Damn it!”

“I need to do a little more digging and I may have to do it at home, but we’ll find her, buddy. I promise.”

Ryder sighed. “Yeah.”

“One way or another. I’ve got a guy here who’s going to keep an eye on things and we’ll go from there.”

Ryder squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the panic away.


“Yeah, I’m here.”

“Okay. I’ll be home day after tomorrow and we’ll talk,” Cameron said.

Ryder nodded. “Thanks, man.”

“No problem.”

Cameron hung up and Ryder dropped his face into his hands. If he didn’t find her soon, he never would, and he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to live with himself. He was the reason she was gone. Staring down at his phone, he tried to call Scottie one more time, but it went straight to voicemail. “Scottie, you need to call me okay? I know I screwed up. I know you’re mad, but I’m worried. Please, baby girl, call me soon, yeah? ’Bye.”

Downing the rest of his whiskey, he forced his thoughts away from his wayward sister and back to the beautiful woman he’d met tonight.

It was just too damn bad she was a nun.

Before he could get too wrapped up in what would never be, he was dragged back out front to deal with a customer service issue. A good ass-kicking always helped to tire him enough to sleep the panic away and if that didn’t work, he had more than enough Jack Daniels at his disposal.

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.