Edits are back and In the End is looking good for April 20th! So, as I've just got this finished, here's the first chapter. :D Please excuse any minor issues, it's still got to have final proofreading!
Today’s the day.
I smiled as I flicked through the radio stations trying to find something among the static. The Brynderwyn hills were a dead spot and the radio had died a while ago, but as I came out the other side, I picked up something old. The sound of Ray Charles and “Georgia on my Mind” filled the car. But it wasn’t Georgia I was thinking about.
It was her big brother, Finn.
After nearly three years of road trips, and travelling back and forward between my home in Auckland and the farm in Kerikeri, Matt and I were finally about to tell my son the truth.
We’d all held back—Ella, Matt, and I—from telling Finn that I was his father. As far as he knew, I was a friend of Mum and Dad’s who came to see him every second weekend. That would still happen if that was what he wanted. I didn’t want to remove him from his settled life on the farm, but now he’d know the truth.
Ella hadn’t been keen about this weekend, but even she realised that Finn would start asking more questions soon enough. We’d kept to the same routine for so long, but I wanted a little more.
At least if Finn had the knowledge, he could decide when he was ready to spend more time with me.
My life had been at a stand-still since I’d started making the trips to see him. There wasn’t room in my head or heart for anyone but the boy with the smile like mine. Nothing could distract me from him.
My stomach rumbled. Part of me looked forward to a lunch prepared by Ella. My ex-wife was an amazing cook. Better than I’d ever been. Though how much lunch I’d eat I didn’t know. My stomach flipped with nerves.
How would Finn react? Would he be happy? Sad? Angry at me, or resent the man he’d thought of as a father until now? The last thing I wanted was to take anything away from Matt. Matt had been Finn’s rock, and I’d do whatever it took to keep it that way. For Finn.
When I finally pulled into the yard, it didn’t take long for the door to fly open. There was one thing I was always guaranteed at the farm—a huge welcome from Finn, Georgia, and Zach. I’d been travelling up here every second weekend for three years, they knew when I was due. It was heart-warming.
I came to a stop and stepped out of the vehicle.
“Sam,” Finn screeched as he ran toward the car. His brother and sister were close behind, and I squatted, the three of them throwing themselves at me, knocking me into the dust. These kids were the best.
“Hey you guys.” I laughed, pushing myself back up.
“I see this lot have said hello.” Matt stood over me and offered his hand to help me up.
“They’re brutal.” I laughed as I got to my feet. It was hard to spend time with my son alone; his siblings were never very far behind. But I couldn’t be angry. They were a package deal, no matter what.
Finn was seven now, Georgia six. Little Zach was three, and the three of them resembled their mother far more than Matt or I.
“Come on. Let’s all get cleaned up and see if Mum’s got a drink.” Matt took his daughter by the hand and scooped Zach into his arms.
That left me trailing behind with Finn, who talked up a storm. I only caught half of it as he chattered about what he was doing in school and how well Georgia was doing, and how annoying Zach was.
I tried to listen to it all, enjoying the ease with which Finn took my hand. It never took long once I arrived to feel like I was part of the family.
We’d come so far these past three years.
There was a time when I’d thought Ella wouldn’t want anything to do with me ever again, but now she stood in the doorway, a bemused expression on her face.
“The usual welcome then?” she teased me. We’d settled into a mostly comfortable friendship. There would always be a part of me that loved Ella, that wished I hadn’t screwed up what we had. My regrets were many, but she’d found a good man in Matt. He’d always be there for her, and never let her down like I did.
“Every time I think they’re tougher than my last visit.” I reached down and tickled Georgia’s waist. She wriggled and giggled. “When did you get to be so strong, missy?”
“She’s not as strong as me,” Finn said.
“I dunno. I think you’re pretty even.”
He rolled his eyes, pulling me to the doorstep.
“As usual, you’re just in time for lunch,” Matt said.
“That’s the plan.” I laughed.
Matt shook his head at me as he stopped to hold open the door for all of us before following us in. Ella had moved to the kitchen bench while she fussed over the food.
“How’s it going?”
“Good. Lunch is nearly ready.”
I kissed her on the cheek and took a deep breath. She had this familiar, comforting smell about her. Maybe it might help me get through the afternoon.
“Dad said you might have a drink for us.” Finn looked up at Ella who smiled that contented smile. I’d watched as she’d waited to get pregnant with him, the strain on her, on us, too much to cope with. Now she was in her element with her children. It was one of the reasons I couldn’t make demands of her. After everything we’d been through, how could I interfere with that?
“Is that right, Dad?” She raised her eyebrows at Matt. “If you wash up for lunch and sit at the table, I’ll bring you all a drink.” Ella bent and ran her fingers through Finn’s hair, kissing him on the forehead.
“Take your brother and sister with you.”
“Okay.” His face lit up at his mother’s attentions. As much as I loved him, I loved watching them together more.
“Do I get lunch too?” I asked as he left the room, his siblings trailing behind him.
Ella laughed. “You know I always make extra for you.”
“Aren’t I lucky?” I grinned.
“Are you ready for today?” she asked.
She shrugged. “I was never ready for any of this. But I think it’s important for Finn to know where he came from.”
I met her gaze. Ella was such an expressive person and this time was no different. In her eyes was the concern she had about today.
“I think I’ll join the kids washing up. Give you two a moment.” Matt patted me on the shoulder. Ella shifted her gaze to him and in her face I saw the reassurance he gave her.
When he’d gone, I took a step forward. “I think Finn knowing where he came from is important too. And that he knows that he was conceived by two people who loved each other very much at the time.”
She nodded. “It seems like so long ago, Sam.”
“Nearly eight years. It’s crazy to think we’ve got a seven-year-old boy.”
Ella gave me a wide smile, the dimples in her cheeks on show. I used to love making her smile like that. “It’s insane. It feels like he was born five minutes ago. For what it’s worth, despite the bad times, I’m glad we had what we had when we did. We got him out of it.”
“Ready,” Finn screeched as he stampeded through the kitchen, Georgia and Zach right behind him.
Matt followed, shaking his head. “Seriously those three were so busy arguing over who got to go first, they never would have finished if I hadn’t gone in there.”
“You did a good job, Dad.” Ella laughed, reaching for his arm and kissing him tenderly.
“Do you need a hand serving up lunch?” he asked.
She shook her head. “No. You two get to the table and keep the peace. I’ll get the kids a drink and bring out the food.”
“Sounds good to me.” Matt grinned, kissing her again. Seeing them so affectionate had bothered me at first—I couldn’t deny that. There was something weird about your former best friend and ex-wife being so lovey-dovey. Over the years, I’d grown to appreciate that it was just who they were. For them to be this far into their relationship and still be so loving was great for both of them.
Watching them gave me a pang of jealousy. Maybe it was time for me to look for someone special.
“Ready for lunch? I roasted a chicken last night and made a salad with the leftovers. There are freshly cooked bread rolls, too.” Ella turned her attentions to me as Matt pulled away and walked to the dining room.
I followed Matt to the table, taking my usual spot next to Finn.
“What have you been up to?” I asked.
“School. It’s so boring.” He rolled his eyes.
“You know I’m a teacher, right? I teach kids your age.”
His eyes widened. I was sure I’d told him before, but maybe this time he was paying attention. “Can you come and be my teacher? It’d be cool.”
I laughed. “I’d love to, but I teach in Auckland. It wouldn’t be fair for me to leave my kids, would it?”
He shifted his gaze to Matt. “Can I come with you to see the sheep later?”
Matt nodded. “Sure thing. Sam and I have to talk to you about something after lunch and then I think Mum’s heading into town to get some things if you want to go with her. I’m going late in the afternoon.”
Finn grinned. “Okay. Don’t go without me.”
“Never.” Matt winked at him, and my stomach flipped at the ease between them. Finn and I had become good friends, but the father–son relationship between him and Matt had left them very close.
Part of me knew I could never mean as much to Finn as Matt did, and it hurt.
The knowledge that that was my own fault hurt even more.
* * *
After lunch, Matt and I washed the dishes while Finn, Georgia, and Zach sat with Ella in the living room. The children all sounded so happy with each other. Even when they argued it never lasted for long.
“Are you ready?” Matt asked, nudging my elbow.
“I asked first.”
Swallowing hard, I looked up at the ceiling. “I want this so much, Matt—I can’t even begin to tell you. More than anything I want that little boy to know the truth, to know me as his father.” I shifted my gaze back to him. “It’s so hard because I have all these feelings, and you’re the person I should be able to confide in. But you’re the one person I can’t because the last thing I want is to hurt you.”
He grasped my shoulder. “I know it’s tough. And Ella and I both know you could have been much more demanding on her, could have taken us to court for shared custody. And you probably would have got it. But I know you have Finn’s best interests at heart. Still, I can’t pretend it doesn’t hurt to have to share him when I’ve had him to myself for so long.”
Matt had been there during Ella’s pregnancy, there for Ella giving birth. He’d bonded with Finn before I’d even realised Finn was my son.
“Is Ella sitting in on this?”
He shook his head. “We talked about it. She didn’t think she’d handle it too well. Hell, I don’t know how well I’m going to handle it, but at least his dads will both be there to tell him.”
I nodded. Ella always was a softy. As big as this was for us, it’d be a massive shift for her.
“We can have a drink to recover while Ella takes the kids to the supermarket.”
This—this was the other reason I came here regularly. Matt had been like a brother to me for so many years that when Ella and I broke up, it felt as if I’d lost a part of myself. Now we joked and bantered like we always had. But there was still some awkwardness about it. It wasn’t like he could confide in me. Not about his relationship with Ella, anyway.
“You know what?” he asked.
“I don’t think I could ask for anyone better to co-parent with. You’ve changed, Sam, and I think it’s for the better.”
I smiled. “Thanks.”
“I mean it. Back when Finn was born, you were still so angry. Mostly at yourself, I think. Now, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather do this with. Ella feels the same way. We’ve regained so much of our friendship.” He licked his lips. “Of the trust that existed before.”
His words hit me in the chest. “That means a lot.”
Matt let out a loud breath. “Let’s go do this.” He raised his voice. “Finn, can you come here?”
Finn appeared in the doorway, Georgia and Zach on either side of him.
“Us too, Daddy?” Georgia asked.
“I just need Finn right now. But if you want, you can all come and see the sheep later on.”
She pouted, but turned back to the living room, pulling Zach behind her.
“They really are one gang, aren’t they?”
“When they’re at home, they’re almost inseparable. Come on, mate.” Matt smiled at Finn, who followed us up the hallway.
Matt led us to Finn’s bedroom, closing the door behind us. He sat on the bed, and Finn followed suit, sitting beside him. In the corner of the room stood a computer on a desk with a chair. Clearly, programmer Matt had Finn starting early. I grabbed the chair and sat opposite the others.
Matt licked his lips. I could see how uneasy this made him. Part of me wanted to leave it, do this another day, but we’d all decided today would be it.
“There’s something we need to talk to you about.” He smiled proudly at Finn, and patted him on the back.
Finn nodded, glancing between the pair of us. Suspicion grew in his eyes; we’d never pulled him aside for a chat like this before.
“So, umm, Sam has been visiting every second weekend for a while now, and I wanted to tell you why.”
My boy--our boy—slipped his hand between Matt’s arm and body.
“See, it’s like this, Finn. I’m married to your mother, and I’ve raised you since you were born, and I’m your dad,” Matt said. “But Sam’s your dad, too.”
Finn’s eyebrows shot up as he stared at Matt. “What do you mean?”
“You’ve got two dads. Sam and your mum, they made you, just like I made Georgia and Zach with her. Then I took over when Mum needed help.” He was floundering—I could see it in his face.
Finn’s lower lip wobbled, and tears welled in his eyes. “Do I have to go and live with Sam now?”
I swallowed down my resentment of my son turning to Matt to soothe him. Of course he did. Matt was the only father he’d ever known.
“No. Of course not. This is your home,” I stepped in.
Matt wiped Finn’s tears away, planting a kiss on his forehead. “We just wanted you to know so that later on, if you wanted to spend more time with Sam, you could.”
Watching them brought a lump to my throat. It was easy to feel a little left out, they were so close. I licked my lips. “When you’re ready, you can come spend the weekend with me in Auckland.”
“Would Georgia and Zach come too?”
I shook my head. “They can come and visit, but for the weekend it’d be just you and me. We could go to the zoo, hang out, spend time together. But you have to be ready for that. I’m not going to rush you.”
Finn sucked in his bottom lip, shifting his gaze between Matt and I.
“Do you have any questions? I know it’s a bit scary, but I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere,” Matt said.
“I have one question.”
Finn’s lips curled into a lopsided smile. There were times when I saw myself in him, and now was one of those moments. “If I have two dads, am I better than Georgia and Zach? They only have one.”
I laughed, shaking my head. “Bro, that’s an awful question. They’re still your brother and sister, and I’ve spent so much time here, I love them both.”
“Are you gonna be their other dad too?”
This kid. “No. Just yours.” I leaned over and ruffled his hair, but he still clung to Matt. When he said nothing, I smiled again. “Any more questions?”
“Can I go now? I don’t want to miss out on shopping with Mum. She always gets us a treat.”
I met Matt’s eyes, the amusement in them obvious.
“Sure thing,” he said.
My heart ached as Finn threw his arms around Matt’s neck and kissed him on the cheek before disappearing out the door.
“Well?” Matt asked.
I shrugged. “I think that went about as well as could be expected. He didn’t seem too upset once he realised he didn’t have to live with me.”
Matt gripped my shoulder. “He handled it better than I did. Want to go and get a coffee?”
“Do you have anything stronger?”
He chuckled. “That could be arranged. Come on.”
We walked back down the hallway to find Ella standing in the kitchen. “Finn’s gone out to the car. How did it go?”
“Great.” Matt beamed.
She let out a loud breath. “Good. I won’t be long, just need a few things.”
Matt wrapped his arms around her and pecked her on the lips. “See you soon.”
She nodded, giving me a small smile as she went out the back door.
Matt watched out the window as she left.
“Let’s get that drink,” he said, smiling as he turned toward me.
He crossed the kitchen and opened a top cupboard, pulling out a bottle of amber liquid. Taking two glasses, he scooped some ice from the ice-maker in the door of the fridge and poured the liquid over them.
Matt laughed. “Sure is. I don’t indulge often, but this might just help settle the nerves.”
I grinned as Matt handed me a drink. “That’s the best idea I think you’ve ever had.”
We sat at the dining room table, Matt with a glass of his own. “Was it really that easy?”
“Are you worried?”
Matt shrugged. “I don’t know. It just seemed a little too easy. Not that I’m unhappy about that. Whenever we told him, it’d be difficult.”
“Apparently more difficult for us than him.” I chuckled. “You know, I’m happy I have you back. I know I’m probably still not your favourite person, but that we can sit here having a drink together means a lot.”
He looked down at his drink. “Yeah, to me too.”
“We can only get better at this. Surely.” I held my glass up to toast.
He grinned as he clinked his glass with mine. “I think we’re doing okay. It’s not like we can work through all this overnight.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes, Matt.”
“I know.” He took a sip of his drink, licking his lips.
“Are we alright?” I asked.
“What do you mean?”
“You and me?”
He shrugged. “We seem to be doing okay. We’re drinking together, right?”
I put down my glass. “Yes, we are. Nothing like the old days, though.”
Matt shook his head. “That’s probably a good thing. How any nights did we get ourselves into trouble drinking too much?”
He studied me closely. “Got a girlfriend?”
“Why? You interested?”
Matt laughed. “Call it curiosity. It’s not like we see each other every day like we used to.”
“No girlfriend. It just all seemed so hard. I’m a changed man, Matt. Finn saw to that.”
He had a grin on him bigger than I’d seen in a long time. Even after the past couple of years, he’d always been slightly reserved with me. Now, that had disappeared. “I’m glad to hear it. Not that you have no girlfriend, but that you’ve changed.”
“He’s worth it. I knew I had to be a better person.”
Until today, knowing I was Finn’s father and not telling him had hung over me. Now I had a real chance of taking the next step to get to know my boy and spend more time with him.
I couldn’t wait.
It was Tuesday.
I don’t know why proposing to Vanessa became a Tuesday thing. Maybe it’s because I first met her on a Tuesday. I bet anything Vanessa doesn’t even remember that fact, but I do.
I swung my legs over the side of the bed, and reached for the clothes I left out the night before. Vanessa was already out of bed, making the most of the later shift she was working this week. By the time she got home tonight, Isabella would already be asleep.
It sucked, but it was just a part of life. She’d had to spend longer on her internship, having taken time out to have our baby. It’d be worth it in the end, but we were nearly at the point where she’d completed that stage of her career.
Dragging my clothes on, I made my way out to the kitchen.
She stood at the bench, whisking eggs in a bowl. Isabella sat on the floor, just outside the kitchen, playing with her toys.
“Good morning.” I said.
“Daddy!” Isabella stood, launching herself at my legs, and I reached down and scooped her up into my arms.
“How’s my girl? Being good for Mummy?”
She looked at me with the big hazel eyes she shared with Vanessa and grinned, cupping my face and planting a kiss on my nose.
“Hey. That’s my move.”
“She started doing that yesterday. I’m surprised she didn’t catch you last night.” Vanessa laughed.
I smiled. “She flaked right after dinner.” Tickling little Ella until she giggled, I dropped her down and she returned to playing with her toys.
“I hate working this shift.” Vanessa turned back to what she’d been doing, and I wrapped my arms around her waist, dropping my nose to her neck. Caressing her thighs, I ran my hands up her body until I cupped her breasts.
“Connor, Ella’s right there.”
“She’s not paying any attention to us, and you’ve got your back to her. I hate this shift as well. Lucky it’s only for a two weeks every two months.”
Leaning her head back on my shoulder, she sighed. “Maybe I should become a GP and work days.”
“Whatever you want to do is fine by me.” I planted a kiss on her neck.
“It’s hard to focus when you do that.”
“Marry me.” Might as well get her when she’s distracted.
I groped her breasts before running one hand down to between her legs. “I’ll be waiting for you tonight. No falling asleep, I promise.”
“Better keep that promise, or else.”
“Or else what?”
She twisted free, turning toward me. “You’ll be in so much trouble. Now, let me get breakfast finished so you can get to work and I can get on with spending some time with my daughter.”
People sometimes didn’t get our relationship. Vanessa could be sweet, and she could also be sour, but I loved every aspect of her personality. I always knew where I stood with her, and her love for our family was raw and unconditional. From the outside she could be prickly, but when Vanessa loved, it was everything.
I sat at my desk and flicked on the computer. It was the end of the month, and today would be a bitch as I analysed billing data for the internet provider I worked at. Back when Isabella was born, I’d been able to spend more time at home. The company had grown, and with it; so had my responsibilities.
Maybe if I got through as much as I could today, I could slip off a little early and spend time with my little girl. Sure, we got time together at the weekends, when Vanessa wasn’t working, but every single second counted. I missed them both when I wasn’t with them.
“Wanna order in for lunch today?” My boss, Terry, asked.
“That’d be great. If I can get everything out of the way, I’d like to leave a bit earlier today.”
He smiled. “Should be fine. You work hard, Connor. As long as I’ve got my reports, you can go.”
“Thanks, boss. I want to spend some time with my daughter before she falls asleep. She was so tired last night.”
Terry sighed. “I understand. My girls never see enough of me.”
He disappeared back into his office, and I turned my attention back to my computer.
“I think that was his way of telling us to work through lunch.” Colin, my colleague, spoke up.
I laughed. “I think you’re right.”
Opening the programme that collected the data, all I could do was watch as it downloaded.
The sooner the day was over, the better.
By lunchtime, I’d made a huge amount of headway. Colin had coded a new piece of software to help us and this was the first month he’d put it into production. It was processing data like a dream, and we both grinned when the pizza turned up.
“You’ll be good to go early, Connor,” Colin said. “This’ll be done in an hour.”
“That’s brilliant. I’m freaking starving. Let’s eat.”
I picked up a piece of pizza from the box. Grease dripped from it, and I screwed up my face as I set it on a napkin.
Colin laughed. “Gross, but delicious.”
“It’s only the delicious part that matters.”
I kept an eye on my screen as the computer went through its tasks.
This morning, Vanessa said yes. Well, she said okay, which is as good as yes. I mean, it means … Even my thoughts are jumbled. Two years, one hundred and seven proposals.
At least, I think that’s what she said.
I picked up the phone and dialled her mobile. If I was lucky, I’d catch her at a good time, otherwise I’d have to wait until tonight to confirm what I thought I’d heard.
“Hey,” she said as she answered.
“You said okay.”
She chuckled down the phone. “Yes, Connor. I said okay.”
“So that’s a yes?”
Vanessa hesitated. “It’s nearly 1.30 p.m. Have you just worked that out?”
“Well, you said no a hundred and six times.”
“Maybe the hundred and seventh is the charm?”
I laughed. “I so want to kiss you right now.”
Across the room, Colin, stared at me with raised eyebrows.
“Well, if you’re a good boy, I’ll see if I can find someone to cover the second half of my shift and try and get home early.”
I sighed. “I would like that very much. Love you, Ness.”
“Love you too, you doofus. I’ll text you and let you know what’s going on.”
“See, now you’re saying okay. It must be our thing.”
Laughing I rolled my eyes. “Must be. See you tonight. Bye.”
I grinned at Colin as I hung up the phone. “Vanessa and I just got engaged.”
He smiled back. “Really? Over the phone?”
“No, at seven this morning. I’ve asked her every week since Isabella was born and she said no. This morning she said yes. I was so used to hearing no, I didn’t even hear it.”
He laughed. “Congratulations, man. She must really be worth it if you asked her that many times.”
Nothing could wipe the smile off my face. “I would have asked her every week for eternity if I’d had to.”
Getting home was an even bigger priority now.
She said yes.
I posted all about my cover reveal in my previous post and then forgot to post the cover!
I found what I think is the perfect image for this. From the model to the background to the dog tags, it was perfect. Coming Home isn't a military romance as such, but the impact of the Hero having served is to come during the series. It was also a bit of a nod to my father, who died in March. He served 30 years in the New Zealand army in various capacities and the cause of his death was partially due to his service.
So a big thanks (again) to CJC photography and BT Urruela for taking the perfect photo in the perfect place. Part of the story involves an old garage, and in my head I pictured something like this:
I had this image of an old, maybe concrete building, the windows all boarded up. So the background was bang on as far as my imagination went. :D
This story is doing my head in a little. It's not like any of my Ariadne books and there are some quite dark moments in flashbacks.
I love it!
Yesterday, I shared my cover for my next book, Coming Home. This is something new for me. I'll be publishing under the name Wendy Smith (my real name), and this is a very different type of story.
My bigger vision for this series is that it's a series about a family who live in a small town. The town holds secrets, and so does the family. Each of the sons will have their own book, in which one of those secrets will be revealed.
The first book is about Adam and Lily. Adam is kind of the black sheep of the family. He and Lily fell in love as teenagers and were going to be married. Only, on their wedding day, Lily is nowhere to be found and the broken-hearted Adam is ushered out of town and goes to stay with friends of his parents, later joining the military.
The story is about his eventual return to town when he discovers his mother has cancer. Not everyone is happy to see him, and things aren't quite adding up.
This is different in that there are some flashback scenes that are quite dark. Otherwise, it's a second chance romance, and I adore those.
I'm looking forward to sharing. :D
When I wrote In a Lifetime, the scene I pictured to kickstart it was the first chapter. Guy spots girl that he'd really like to know at party. He's a nice guy so when someone needs help he sets that aside to get them home, only to return to his best friend and said girl getting to know each other in an intimate way.
That was it. I didn't know where it was going, or what a ride I'd end up on writing it.
I don't know why infertility became the thing that put strain on Ella and Sam's marriage. Perhaps because there seems to be so many people out there struggling and trying their best to work through it. Including close friends of mine.
I never thought of myself as lucky. My own pregnancies were straight forward, even when I was diagnosed while pregnant with my first child with PCOS. If anything it made me more aware of what was going on around me, seeing friends and family struggle to get pregnant, go through IVF, try to get in to IVF, go through multiple miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. And that was just among people I knew.
So, Ella struggled with infertility, and after I published the book I became aware that someone very close to me was going through the same thing. I had no idea. It's not a thing that gets talked about a lot. For this reason, the book became even more personal to me and when it came to Vanessa's book, I wanted to try to retain some sameness even if the story was different.
In a Heartbeat is about Vanessa suffering a miscarriage and how she deals (or doesn't deal) with it. It's reasonably early in the pregnancy, but it has lasting effects on her and impacts everything else in her life. Including her happy relationship with Connor. Where Ella was open and emotional about her fertility issues, Vanessa keeps everything close to her chest. The sisters have so much in common, but are so different. Their close relationship really shines through in his book.
Of all the books I've written, this series has become the most precious to me. I think because the situations depicted are so real and human. All I can hope is that I did Vanessa's story justice because I love her so much.
I can't wait to share it. :)
I'm working through edits, but couldn't wait to share!!
Blood. So much blood.
I dealt with blood every day of the week as a doctor. This was different. That disconnect I felt when dealing with bleeding patients was gone when it was me doing the bleeding.
My baby was gone. The baby I’d never wanted in the first place.
Connor squeezed my hand. “Deep breaths, babe. Let’s just see what the doctor says.”
“I am a doctor.” I pulled my hand away, glaring at him, and immediately my stomach clenched. None of this was Connor’s fault.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, and slid my hand back in his. None of this was fair. Not when he’d been so happy. This was my fault. I’d been the reluctant one, the scared one, the one who hadn’t wanted children. At least not yet.
Being qualified was still new to me. The last thing I wanted was a baby. I was in the first year working as a junior doctor in a hospital, still learning while I worked out what I wanted to specialise in. Those two lines on that pregnancy test had changed everything.
For four weeks, we’d known I was pregnant. Connor’s excitement had slowly rubbed off on me, and I’d fallen in love with the idea, fallen even more in love with Connor. He would be the best father my baby could have.
Now, the dream was over. I didn’t need another doctor to tell me.
Connor leaned over and kissed my temple. “You have nothing to be sorry for. You’re scared. So am I. I just need to know you’re okay.”
Beautiful, sensitive Connor. So good for me, and too good for me. There were times when I didn’t know how he put up with me and my moods. I’d never been one of those happy-clappy optimistic people. I left that for my sister, Ella. I was the one who had the resting bitch face. Connor loved me anyway.
“Miss Brown, sorry for the wait, I …” A familiar voice came through the door. “Holy shit, Vanessa. What’s going on?”
“How many Vanessa Browns do you know?” There it was again—that snarky tone I couldn’t seem to help but use when stressed. It wasn’t his fault, Brown wasn’t exactly an uncommon surname.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t click. Tell me what’s happening.” Doctor Will Clay stood by my bed. We’d gone through university together, graduated together, and were both now in our first year of working as junior doctors in the hospital.
“I’m losing my baby.”
He leaned forward. “I didn’t know you were pregnant.”
“No one did. We haven’t hit the twelve-week mark yet.”
Will nodded. “Are you okay with me examining you?”
I leaned back and stared at the sterile white ceiling. “I know you have to.”
“I can get a female doctor.”
I looked back at him, fixing him with as steely a glare as I could muster. “And wait another half hour?”
He licked his lips, flicking a nervous gaze between Connor and I. “Right.”
“Just get it over with.”
I went back to staring at the ceiling as Will was as gentle as he could be. I couldn’t fault him, but tears rolled down my cheeks, and Connor squeezed my hand again in response.
“I’ll get you an ultrasound to confirm.” He spoke so softly, but the way he said the words didn’t make this any less painful. My baby was gone.
“You already know what’s going on, Vanessa,” Will said softly. “And from what I can see, it’s nearly over. How far along were you?”
“About eight weeks.”
He nodded. “I’ll just give radiology a call, and I’ll take you up there myself. I think I’m due a break.”
My eyes welled as I looked at him. I kept my focus on Will, too scared to look at Connor and the pain I knew would be written all over his face.
“Please,” I whispered, as Will picked up my other hand and squeezed it.
“I’ll take care of you. Both of you.”
Warm tears rolled down my cheeks as he let go of my hand and disappeared out of the room to make his call. Despite my natural inclination for snark, I had a good bedside manner because I cared. Will, however, seemed so much more caring than I was. Of all the doctors to get, I couldn’t have asked for any better.
“I’m sorry, babe.” Connor leaned over, kissing my temple.
“It’s not your fault.”
“I know, but I hate seeing you like this. Love you, Ness.”
“Love you too,” I whispered, closing my eyes.
Through it all, Connor was by my side, and when we finally got home and I broke down, he held me in his arms and rocked me.
“My heart hurts,” I whispered.
“So does mine. I love you so much. None of this is fair.” He led me to the bathroom, and twisted the mixer for the shower, checking the water until it ran at the right temperature before stripping me down. I stood, motionless, letting him do what he needed to.
He stripped off too, and guided me into the shower. I closed my eyes as the warm water covered me, and Connor picked up a cloth and gently washed me off. What I ever did to deserve him, I’d never know, but his kindness brought the tears back.
“It’ll be okay, Ness. Let’s go to bed and sleep and maybe things will be a bit better in the morning.”
“I’m so empty,” I whispered.
Connor cupped my face in his hands. “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’m here, and I’ll always be here.”
I nodded. I knew he meant the words, but everything felt hollow now. It was amazing how in such a short time your world could be flipped on its head. A few weeks ago, I might not have felt so strongly. Now, it seemed like I’d lost everything, and I didn’t know how to start myself again.
I stepped into the bedroom, a towel wrapped around me. Connor plucked a pair of panties from my bedside cabinet and helped me dry off as I stood still.
“Here we go.” He slipped my nightgown over my head, and I stepped into my underwear. Connor reached to pull them up, but I put my hand out and stopped him.
“Anything for you.”
I shuffled around the bed, my underwear around my ankles, and opened my bedside cabinet again. Pulling my panties up, I slid a sanitary pad in.
Connor blushed as I looked back at him. “Of course. Sorry.”
“You don’t have anything to be sorry about.”
He peeled down the sheets on the bed, and I lay down as he pulled on some underpants and slipped in beside me.
I had no more tears left, at least not tonight, with exhaustion overwhelming me. It was so good to be back in my own bed, but at the same time, the last time I’d slept here, I still had my baby inside me.
Connor wrapped his arm loosely around my waist. “Do you need anything else?”
My baby back?
“No. I just need some sleep.”
I rolled toward him, snuggling up as his grip tightened. This was my comfort, the boy I loved more than anything, the man who was my heart. It wasn’t his fault my heart seemed so empty. If anyone could fill it again, it was Connor.
My eyes didn’t want to open in the morning. I couldn’t blame them; it had been a late night, and I didn’t particularly want to get out of bed. At the same time, I needed my life to get back to normal.
I yawned, and rolled over, opening one eye to look at the alarm clock. It was 10.03 a.m.
“What the hell? My shift started at eight.” I sat up and dropped my feet to the floor.
Connor’s hand landed on my back. “I turned off your alarm clock.”
“You did what?”
“I called your work and told them you wouldn’t be in.”
I looked over my shoulder and glared at him. “I didn’t ask you to do that.”
“I know, but last night was exhausting. I figured you could do with the rest.”
Pulling away, I stood and turned. “You had no right to do that. How is that going to look, my boyfriend calling in sick for me?”
He smiled. “They were so good about it. Said for you to take your time.”
“I can’t believe that you would do that. I’ve never missed a day of work sick. Ever.”
The last thing I wanted to do was sit around. I’d worked so hard for what I had achieved, was proud of my perfect work record. Not to mention that the only way I knew to get rid of the nagging misery in my head was to think about something else.
My relationship with Connor had bloomed at the time when I had come to Auckland to study, and he knew how serious I was about my career. My father had wanted me to be a vet, but then again, he hadn’t done what his father wanted, and instead had followed in his grandfather’s footsteps on the farm.
I had never been much of a people person, but I cared much more than I ever usually let on. On the job training also kept me learning, which I loved.
Stuck at home, I wouldn’t be learning anything.
“No, you haven’t. So you have plenty of leave to use.” Connor’s words snapped me back to the present and irritated me further. I was the one who should decide that.
“I don’t want to stay home. I want to get back to normal.”
“You need to give it time, babe. Last night was a huge thing for you to deal with.”
I buried my face in my hands, letting out a growl. “I need to deal with it my way.”
“Want me to be with you?”
Sighing, I shook my head. “No, I’ll be fine.”
With nothing else to do but crawl back into bed, that was exactly what I did. All my motivation had gone. Between the staff who saw me in the department last night, and Connor’s phone call the word would have spread, and everyone would know my personal business. Maybe if I stayed away for a while, it’d die down.
I buried myself under the covers, Connor kissing the top of my head through the sheet as he left. Closing my eyes, I drifted back to sleep.
Sleep wasn’t easy, dreams full of blood and sadness, stabbing at my heart as it broke all over again. And the guilt, the overwhelming guilt of knowing that I hadn’t wanted to be pregnant in the first place.
I woke to the sound of the front door closing and raised my head to look at the bedside clock. It wasn’t even midday.
“Connor?” I called.
“Babe, I told them at work what had happened and they sent me home. I’ll just work from here.” He stood in the bedroom doorway. “Want anything?”
“No. I thought I was going to get some time alone.” I knew I was being irrational how him being here irritated me, but if I wasn’t distracted by work I needed to be alone. To grieve and hurt alone.
His eyebrows crept up. “You wanted to go to work this morning.”
“I just need space, Connor.” I pulled the sheet over my head again.
“I’ll be out in the living room if you need anything. I’ll leave you to it.”
He means well.
I buried myself in my bed, trying to shut out the noise from the television.
One day at a time.
Here's a post I never thought I'd write.
In a Lifetime was supposed to be a standalone. But a couple of things happened that stopped that.
When I sent it to my editor, one of her comments was that it was a great series starter. The other thing that turned it into a series was me falling completely and utterly in love with the characters.
The book ended, and I wanted to know what happened with Finn. Did he find out the truth about his parentage? Could they ever become one big happy family, dealing with the aftermath of the events of In a Lifetime?
Besides, I wanted to write more Vanessa. The much younger, snarky sister of Ella, she deserved a whole book to herself. So, I decided to write one.
Then, to fill the gap, I wrote In an Instant. This isn't essential to read between the two books, but I loved writing my favourite characters, their love for each other, and their love for their family.
In a Heartbeat is Vanessa's story. Her story is similar to Ella's in that there is love and loss, heartache and triumph. At her core is that snarky girl, but she's older and trying to be more responsible.
What also surprised me were the comments requesting more Sam. Readers wanted him to have some resolution, or to find out what happened to him. I really tossed up writing a book for him because there are some things that can't be forgiven, and I'd already faced a backlash writing Andrew's redemption book in the Friends series. People still comment that they don't want to read that because of Andrew's actions in Loving Rowan.
Despite this, once the seed was planted, I couldn't get the idea out of my head. So, I decided to compromise with myself. I want to see how Finn's relationship with Sam plays out, and how he handles finding out the truth about his father. Plus, I have what I think is an amazing story for him. He's older, more mature and has had his love life on hold since everything blew up in his face.
So, In the End will be out first quarter of 2017. It's Sam's story, but it's also Finn's. Of all the characters I love, I think he deserves a happy ending too. ;)
I started this as a Facebook post, but it got too long. :D
I just sent Unexpected to the lovely Lauren for editing. This was a tough book. I had to get my head back into the Friends series after In a Lifetime, which was hard. Then, I'd made allowances for my trip to Australia knowing I wouldn't get that much done.
What I didn't account for was my dad's health declining so quickly. We've lived with his various illnesses all my life. He was exposed to chemicals in Vietnam (good ol' Agent Orange), and after my youngest sister was born, he had glandular fever which the doctors say made things worse. After that he developed CFS which left him tired, and when he was up and about, he had continuous pins and needles in his legs.
When I was 19, he had a series of heart attacks, followed by a minor stroke after which he drove himself to the hospital rather than bother my mum. And then he was diagnosed with emphysema.
Emphysema is a cruel disease. It slowly takes away your capacity for breathing until you struggle just to get some air in your lungs. When Dad discovered the internet, he also from searching, found a drug that was being trialled and managed to get on it. The difference in him was incredible.
However, nothing lasts forever, and about a month ago he was taken to hospital having trouble breathing. After this, it seemed nothing would make him better, and to cut a long story short, my father died yesterday, aged 74.
There's a scene in Unexpected that I drew on my own experiences of one of his illnesses.
Unexpected is dedicated to my dad. Despite his failing health, he was one of my biggest supporters, and although we lived in different cities, I'll miss him terribly.
The sample has gone up on iBooks for In an Instant, so for those without iBooks, here it is. :D
This is still undergoing final editing and proofreading.
Stop reading if you haven't read In a Lifetime, as this contains spoilers!
I groaned, rolling over to hit the ‘off’ button on the alarm clock. Four a.m.
Ella stirred beside me, and I slid my arm across her chest.
“Sam,” she whispered.
I froze. What the hell was this about? “Ella?”
“Don’t.” She rolled onto her back, her eyes still closed, and I scanned her features as best I could in the moonlit room. She shook her head. Years ago I read that you shouldn’t wake someone in the middle of a dream, so I held her tight instead.
She stilled. “Matt?” Her eyes flickered open.
“Hey. You were dreaming.”
“Sam took Finn away.” She gasped between words. The sound of her struggling not to cry broke my heart.
“Baby, Sam will never take Finn away. You know that.”
“I know, but it was so real.” Tears rolled down her cheeks, and I wiped them away with my fingers, kissing her temple.
“Is this the first dream you’ve had like this?”
She shook her head. “No. I’ve had a few.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Ella shrugged, and I stroked her cheek with my thumb.
“I thought we weren’t going to keep anything from one another.”
She rolled to her side, facing me, and I bent my head, brushing her lips with mine. “I need to know what’s going on in your head,” I whispered.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to worry you. It’s nothing.”
I rested my hand on her hair, pushing wayward locks back off her face. “Ella, I’ll always worry. You’re my one.”
Her lips curled into a smile, and she snuggled up to me. “I know. You’re my one, too.”
I loved this woman with all my heart and soul. Having her next to me each and every night warmed me to the depths of my being.
She’d taken to sleeping in one of my shirts when she was pregnant with Finn, and never stopped. As much as I loved her naked, it drove me crazy seeing her in it, and the soft fabric pressed against my bare chest stirred the rest of my body awake.
“I want you to promise me that you won’t worry about it. Sam knows where we are to talk to us, and one day maybe he’ll want to be part of Finn’s life. But you and me are it for Finn, and Sam knows that. If he wants to be part of Finn’s life, it’ll be on our terms.” I planted a kiss on her nose, reaching over her to flick on the bedside lamp.
Ella squinted as the soft light filled the room, but now I could see her properly, make sure she really was okay.
“You’re right.” She sighed.
“I’m always right.”
Her throaty laugh filled the room, her voice still a little husky from sleep. I loved her so much like this.
I licked my lips. “So … uh … there’s still about fifteen minutes or so before I have to go out for milking.”
“And?” One of her eyebrows crept up, but the smile in her eyes told me she knew exactly what I was meaning. “You are terrible, Matt Carver. So early in the morning.”
“With you, it’s all times of the day. Not just in the morning.”
I wriggled out of her grasp, moving down to kiss her thigh. “You’re overdressed.”
“I’m only wearing a shirt.”
I slid my hand up her leg, pausing at the apex where her thighs met. “If I’d known you weren’t wearing underwear, I would never have let you sleep.”
Our life together was perfection, and there was no better start to the day than being buried between the thighs of the woman I loved more than life itself.
My soul mate.
Up until the point I met Ella, I wouldn’t have believed in any of that crap, but the connection I had with this woman was magical. We were meant to be together.
Her father usually took care of the cows, and I got longer in bed, but he and Ella’s mother had recently gone on their first real holiday in years. They were currently on a cruise ship somewhere around Australia. For the next week, I’d have to leave the soft, warm bed I shared with my wife and shiver down the path to the cowshed every morning.
I slipped back into my underwear and grabbed a shirt from the drawer near the bed. I’d have a shower when I returned. There was no point doing so now when I was only going out to get dirty.
Ella’s father, Eric, had employed a part-time farm hand who helped in the mornings with the cows. I was grateful for his assistance. It wasn’t exactly my favourite thing to do, but needed to be done.
The herd wasn’t huge; Eric had about fifty cows at the most. He provided milk to a small cheese factory nearby, and sometimes we were given the end result of his hard work. Despite my best efforts, I’d gained a few kilograms since moving.
“I’ll be glad when Dad’s back and I get to snuggle with you for a bit longer.” Ella smiled. All I wanted to do was to climb back into bed with her, but if I did that, I’d never get back out of it. I pulled on my jeans instead.
“I’ll get going. See you when I’m finished.” I kissed her once more. She cupped my face, pressing her lips back to mine.
I left the house with a song in my heart, the recent memory of our bodies pressed together bringing a smile to my lips.
Oh yes, life was good.
The morning turned out to be a mess. Instead of crawling back early to my warm bed with my wife, I ended up repairing some fencing as some unexpected woolly guests ended up in the wrong paddock. It wasn’t a big gap, but enough that I spent the next four hours fixing the problem and rounding up the escapees. In the distance I saw Ella, hanging out the laundry on the clothesline, the kids running in circles around her.
I knew she loved every minute of it.
Later, when they were in bed, she would tell me the stories of how they drove her crazy, alternating between playing and fighting. Every day was an adventure for the three of them, and I loved seeing them all so happy. The best feeling in the world was coming in from a hard day’s work to a chorus of “Daddy” and holding my precious children in my arms.
Ella turned, laughing as she caught Georgia in her arms, spinning her. The sound carried on the breeze toward me, music to my ears.
She spotted me, waving and holding Georgia’s hand in the air. At the sight of me, my little girl waved, and soon all three of them were calling out, their arms gesturing wildly. Ella reached for Finn, and he slid his hand into hers.
It must be close to eleven o’clock. Both the children had naps around now.
“Matt, the sheep are all sorted. Want me to do anything else?” Liam, the part-timer and also Vanessa’s ex boyfriend, stood behind me.
“I think we’re good. Thanks for helping with those damn things. They’ll be the death of me.”
He grinned. “Mr Brown will be back soon enough to take care of them. You know how much he loves it.”
I shook my head, laughing. “I’ll always remember the first time I came here. The sheep were the first thing he showed me.”
“I bet. I’ll catch you tomorrow, then.”
He stalked toward his car. Most mornings, he’d ask if I’d heard from Vanessa lately. They’d broken up before she moved to Auckland for university. While she’d moved on and was living with her boyfriend, Connor, Liam was obviously a little hung up on her still.
That rusty old bucket of bolts he drove started with a shudder, and I shook my head again as he drove away, the dust kicking up from under the car tyres.
I turned back to the house. The kids would be asleep by now if they had followed their usual routine, and Ella and I would have an hour or two uninterrupted before we all had lunch together.
I’d almost made it back when the sound of gravel crunching under tyres made me turn. Who on earth was that?
An unfamiliar silver sedan drew closer, pulling up in the grass about twenty metres away. The driver’s door opened, and a tall, dark-haired man climbed out and walked toward me.
I narrowed my eyes at the sight of him. Not only had I missed out on climbing back into bed with my wife this morning, the last person I wanted to see had arrived.
“Hey, Matt.” Sam smiled, like nothing had ever happened. The last time we’d spoken was my wedding day, when he’d admitted to working out Finn was his and told me to take care of him.
There was only one thing he could want.
“Sam.” It was hard to be polite to the man who had broken Ella’s heart. But then, if he hadn’t, would we be here at all?
“I’m sorry for just dropping in. I thought if I called, you’d tell me where to go. Hell, you still could.”
I nodded. This shouldn’t hurt as much as it did, but it was difficult to see him without remembering all the time we’d spent together. From two young boys starting school through to two grown men graduating university together, we’d been inseparable.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“I had to see him.”
I didn’t have to ask who he was talking about. If it wasn’t me, there was only one ‘he’ Sam could mean. Finn.
“You can’t just turn up like this. How do you think Ella’s going to take it?”
He took a step closer. “I’ve thought of nothing else. If she doesn’t want me to see him, I’ll get in my car and drive away. I promise.”
That just made things even harder. I couldn’t be angry at him being unreasonable when he wasn’t.
“Sam, I can’t even begin to know how Ella is going to take you being here.”
He licked his lips, the corners of his mouth turning up into a smile. “I understand. I thought it was time I took a chance. I’m not surprised to find you living here, either. You liked this place so much.”
I swallowed. Hard. I’d turned my back on him when he’d hurt Ella so badly, but there had always been a part of me that missed Sam. He’d been like my brother.
“We love being here. It’s a good place to raise the children.”
He grinned. “I bet it is. I was never a fan of the country, but I can see it’s doing you the world of good. You’re looking pretty well taken care of.”
“If you’re trying to say I’m out of shape, that’s far from the case.” I laughed, before the realisation that I’d just slipped back into that friendly banter I’d always shared with him slapped me in the face.
“I bet, Mr Fitness. No, I mean you’re looking well. Ella does a great job of looking after the people she loves.” His voice cracked. He’d thrown all that away, and it was something I would never take for granted.
“Look, I’ll go and talk to Ella. If she tells me she doesn’t want anything to do with you …”
“I’ll leave it for a while and try again another day. I don’t want to hurt either of you. I just want to see him.”
I let out a loud breath, torn about all of this. We’d always known Sam would come looking for Finn one day. Finn had been with me since the day he was born, and I couldn’t imagine my life without him as my son. I was the one he called Dad, the one he came to when he skinned his knees, the one who read to him as he drifted off to sleep.
Finn was mine as much as Ella’s and Sam’s.
“I don’t want to disrupt your relationship with him. You know of all the people on this planet, there’s no one else I’d want raising him. It’s my own fault I wasn’t there.”
My mouth was so dry, and I found myself unable to form any other words in that moment. We’d been so close in the past; no matter how far apart we’d been, we just knew one another so well.
“I’ll be back shortly. Wait here and one or both of us will be out.” I turned toward the house.
“I’m not just here for Finn, Matt. I miss us.”
I stopped, closing my eyes. Until that moment, I’d thought nothing could break down my dislike of him. Before Ella, before all the bad things, I’d loved him. Now, his words raked across the edges of my nerves, pressing on that tiny bit of feeling I still had. Deep down, I missed us, too.
Sam had been by my side through all the good times and the bad. Right up until the moment when he’d crossed the line and hurt the woman we both loved.
“I know you, and I know how much you feel all that emotional shit. You’ve missed me too. Admit it.”
Fighting the urge to just walk away, I looked back over my shoulder. “I’m not admitting anything. I’ll go and talk to my wife, and maybe you can say your piece to her. That’s all you’re getting from me.”
As I reached the door, I closed my eyes. Ella and her dreams. Of all the days for him to turn up, it had to be the same day she’d dreamed of this moment.
How the hell was she going to react?
This year has been crazy.
I could write a big long blog post about it, but instead, I'll share this with you.
This excerpt is from the next book in the Friends series, Unexpected.
Unedited and subject to change. :D Merry Christmas!!
“It’s not often we see a young lady accompanied by her father to antenatal classes. It’s so nice that you have the support.”
Neil gripped my hand, but all I could do was grin before giving into the giggles. I turned, burying my face in his chest as his own chest began to move with laughter. What else was there to do?
When I turned back, Brenda looked between us, uncertainty all over her face.
“Neil’s my partner,” I said, snorting as I laughed again.
Her jaw dropped, and she slapped her hand across her mouth, clearly mortified at her error. “I’m so sorry, Nicola. I just assumed …”
“It happens all the time. No one can believe she’s so lucky to score an older guy like me.” Neil said the words completely straight faced, and I slapped his arm.
Brenda shuffled on her feet, forcing a smile. “Just make yourselves comfortable. The class should start soon.”
We joined a small group already sat on a bunch of chairs in the centre of the room, Neil leaning back and slipping his arm around my shoulders protectively.
“Should I call you Dad?” I whispered.
His eyes widened. “Don’t you dare. That’s just wrong.”
All that did was make me giggle more, not helped by the curious stares we were now getting.
“Stop it, young lady.” He tried his hardest to sound stern, but I couldn’t breathe for laughing, and I gripped his arm, shaking my head.
“You are incorrigible.” I sucked in some air, trying to stabilise myself as he leaned in and nuzzled just below my ear.
“I believe that’s what landed us here in the first place,” he murmured. Damn it. With my hormones going into overload, I would have done him there and then in the middle of the antenatal class. But that’d have to wait until later.
Ariadne Wayne is the pen name of an overworked, often exhausted mother of two who frequently turns to the internet for relaxation. It doesn't always work...