Category Archives: Excerpts

Monster (excerpt)

“Come. Sit here,” he said, motioning toward the seat next to his arm chair.

“No,” she said, remaining in her place.

Maxim tilted his head slightly. “Please,” he said. “I’ve missed you.” Still, August didn’t move. With a sigh, Maxim said, “I’m not a monster.”

“No? What’s worse than a monster?”

He let out a short chuckle. “Me, I suppose?” August said nothing. “I’ve missed you,” he repeated. “I’m glad I got to see you again before…” His voice trailed off a moment. “Anyway, thank you. For coming.”

August glared at him. “I’m not here for you,” she spat. “The only reason I agreed to step foot in this house again was because Juliette told me that Olivia’s been having some trouble adjusting. If it weren’t for her, you would die without ever seeing my face again.”

“Well, then,” he said, seemingly unfazed by her piercing words. “I guess I’ll thank Olivia. Another time.” August grimaced. “But you’re wrong, you know,” he went on. “I see your face all the time. Every day. Every time I close my eyes, there you are.” And lowering her voice, he said, “Nothing has changed.”

With that, August was on her feet, making her way toward him. Did she see him flinch? Cower a little, if only for a moment? The possibility gave her strength, added fuel to the fire burning in the pit of her stomach. “That’s what I’m afraid of, Maxim.” She leaned over him. “If I ever find out you hurt Olivia—”

“Don’t you dare,” he shot back. “Remember, AJ, it takes two to tango.”

August recoiled as if she’d been slapped. “I was just a child!” she cried in a hushed whisper. But Maxim remained impassive.

“You were never just a child,” he said.

“Is that what you tell yourself?” she demanded. “Is that what helps you sleep at night?” He opened his mouth to reply but she took another menacing step forward and he remained silent. “You better not ever touch her. Don’t even look at her. I swear to God, Maxim, if you do, I will make Cancer the least of your problems.”

He scoffed and shook his head. “What could I possibly do to her? Look at me. I’m harmless.”

Staring him straight in the eye, she growled, “Well, I’m not.”

And still, Maxim sat unaffected, unmoved. “Like I said,” he replied. “You never were.”

526: Long Time, No See (excerpt)

His eyes danced across her face, her hair, her shoulders. They devoured her, every inch of her. She flushed red under his scrutiny and smiled. “So…”

“So,” he said, returning her smile.

He wanted to touch her. He couldn’t remember how her skin felt, or how her hair smelled, or how her mouth tasted. He’d done everything in his power to rid himself of her before, and now he only wished he’d left himself just a little something to cling to. She was sitting right in front of him, close enough to reach out to, yet she seemed so far away. She wasn’t his anymore. This new Mia. He had no idea who she was.

“How have you been? What have you been doing? Look at you,” he said. He was indeed looking at her. He couldn’t stop looking at her. “You’re so…” Beautiful. Glamorous. Sexy. “Grown up.”

She nodded. “Yeah. I guess I am.”

“You’re  stunning, you know,” he said, finally dropping his gaze. This time, it was Mia who couldn’t help but stare at him. “I mean, you’ve always been. But. But now—”

“Mia!”

Both Mia and Maxim jumped as the back door slid open and Abel appeared. He paused a moment and looked from Mia to his brother. “Sorry. Am I interrupting?”

Mia parted her lips to reply but Maxim got to his feet before she could do so. “No. We were just…” He looked at her again and smiled. “Catching up.”

Mia nodded. “Yeah. Do you need something, Abe?”

“My mom wants us in the living room. She wants us to sing.”

Mia’s face burned even more red and she shook her head. “No, no, I don’t sing anymore. Tell her I can’t.”

“Oh, c’mon. One song and she’ll leave you alone.”

“Yeah, right. One song will turn into one more song—”

“You know she loves when you sing,” he insisted. “When’s the last time you’ve done that for her?”

The guilt trip. As if she needed that. “I’m sorry, I just don’t—”

“Mia Nora,” came Maxim’s voice. Mia lost her words. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard him say her name. Her full name. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard anyone say her full name. “One song. I’d love to hear you. After that, I will personally make sure my mother doesn’t bother you,” he promised.

Silence fell over the three as Mia stared up at Maxim. Her bottom lip hung slightly agape, her eyes were wide and full. Full of something. Abel couldn’t quite make out what it was, though for the life of him, he tried. Finally, she, too, rose to her feet. “Alright.,” she conceded. Making her way past Abel into the house, she said, “One song.”

Maxim followed close behind her with a smirk, briefly meeting Abel’s eyes as he passed.

Life After (excerpt)

I’ll start with the car ride; the one that drove me away from you. That’s when it started, where it started. Behind the wheel of my yellow Volkswagen as I made my way to a new city, a new life.

I was driving fast, despite the heavy downpour. Everyone had accused me of running when I’d told them I was going away, and for the first time since I packed my shit and left, I felt like they were right.

The only things I packed were the things I was able to fit into the tiny backseat; Scottie was in the front, of course. I think he’s what set me off, actually. Stupid Scottie and his annoying whining and the way he kept staring at me with his puppy dog eyes. Actual puppy dog eyes. How was I not supposed to break down?

I almost turned back. Instead, I pulled over and cried until the rain stopped.

***

When you told me, I broke.

Right there in front of you, I crumbled. You couldn’t see it, of course, because it all happened inside of me. Everything fell apart, every single thing.

So what difference did it make that she didn’t mean anything to you? What did that matter?

***

My apartment was small and shitty with all leaky faucets and loud neighbors that partied and fought and fucked non-stop.

I lived through them for a while. The first few months, at least. Listening to them through the thin walls was almost like a movie, and at night I’d close my eyes and put us in every scene.

I hate you! Just get out! Why are we even doing this anymore? It’s not worth it, just leave!

That was me, yelling at you. I saw myself, red-faced with rage, maybe throwing pillows from our bed at you as I told you to go. Or maybe we were in the living room, and I was throwing magazines from the coffee table, instead.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any of that stuff. I love you.

Or at least that’s what I imagined what her muffled words were as she spoke more calmly hours later. I imagined that’s what I’d say.

***

“On to the next chapter, huh?” Ma said when I told her I was leaving.

But when I’d thought of the part of my life that was you, I’d thought of it as more of a novel than just a chapter.

And when I thought of everyone after you, I compared them more to paragraphs. Some longer than others, but generally all short and sweet.

Except him. He was at least a chapter.

Don’t Go: Forget Me Not (excerpt)

Maxie got up to clean the kitchen. For a while, she said nothing, and Isaac remained on the couch, looking at the television but not really watching it. Finally, he stood up and went to her.

“Should I go?” he asked.

She turned to him. “What? No. I mean…” She dropped her eyes. “If you want to go.”

“I don’t.”

“Then don’t.”

He nodded. “Let me help you clean.”

“No, no. I’m fine, I’ll do it.” She gently pushed him back toward a chair. “Just sit, alright? I’m almost done.”

He sat down at the kitchen table and watched her as she moved about, collecting the dishes, wiping down the counters, putting away their meal. Cleansing the kitchen of all traces of him. He saw himself all over her face, though. Traces of him stained her skin, lingered in her eyes, on her mouth. How did Van miss it? he wondered. “Will you teach me how to fight?” she asked, not turning away from the sink as she loaded the dishes into the dishwasher.

Isaac chuckled. “Who would you ever fight, Maxie? Who would ever want to fight you?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I’d just like to know I could kill someone with my bare hands if I wanted to.”

“You know,” he said, lowering his voice, “I can do a lot of other things with my hands. Nonviolent things.”

She stopped. Even from where he sat, behind her, he could see her face redden. Then she continued to rinse the dishes. “Will you teach me?” he asked.

“The nonviolent things? I would love to teach you.”

She shook her head. “You know what I mean.”

“Yes. I know what you mean.”

When the last of the dishes were in the washer, she came to the table with a pie. “Midnight snack?” she asked, setting it down before him.

“You mean three AM snack?”

A sigh escaped her. Was it so late already? That meant he had to be going soon. She got two small plates, two forks and cut them each a slice. By the time she got through with hers, he was already halfway through his second. “You like it?” she asked. “It’s a new recipe I’m trying.”

“Mm,” he said, swallowing a mouthful. “It’s delicious. And I never eat sweets. Never.”

She smiled, more than pleased. “Van hates when I make sweets. She doesn’t want to eat it, but when it’s here, she can’t help it. So sometimes I make low-fat ones, even though they’re never the same. I just don’t see the point in low-fat snacks.”

He nodded. “I agree. It’s a double negative. Even though Van could stand to put on a few pounds. She’s perfect now. But if she loses anymore weight…” He let his voice trail off and shook his head.

“Alex thinks I should lose weight.”

Isaac’s eyes shot up to her. “He said that?”

“Not in so many words, but he hints, you know?” She shrugged. “I mean, I can’t blame him. He used to the tall, skinny, model type girls he shoots with—”

“Do me a favor, Max, and don’t make excuses for him.”

Maxie shut her mouth but her eyes widened. “I’m not,” she murmured.

“Good,” he said. “Don’t.”

She frowned. “What the matter?”

“Nothing,” he said nonchalantly. Too nonchalantly. “I just don’t understand how someone like him manages to keep someone like you.”

“You don’t know me, Isaac.”

“I know you well enough. You try to please everyone. You smile even when you’re sad. She close your mouth when you have something to say. You make excuses for the people who treat you like shit, maybe because you think you deserve it. Is that it? You think you deserve to be treated like a maid? Or trophy? Or a piece of meat?”

“Well, what about you?” she snapped, finally looking up at him. “Aren’t you the one who parades in here with groceries so I can cook you dinner? Aren’t you the one who’s come every night and told me exactly what you want to eat and watched television while I made it for you? Have you complained as I’ve served you, or refilled your glass when it was empty, or took your plate away when you were done eating?”

Isaac glared at her from across the table, his eyes dark, his jaw taut. And then he stood— grabbed his plate— and left the table. “Wait, no, Isaac,” she said, raising her hands to stop him. She stood up quickly, knocking over her chair. He placed his plate in the sink and turned to her.

“You’re right. I’ll go.”

“No. That’s not what I want. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.”

“Yes, you did,” he said.

She shook her head. “No, I didn’t. I’m sorry, you just upset me—”

“It’s me you stand up to? I’m the one you lash out at?” She bowed her head in shame. Or maybe it wasn’t shame. Maybe it was because he took a step closer to her, and she couldn’t stand to look into his beautiful eyes for a second longer. He was gorgeous when he was angry.

Engagement: Forget Me Not (excerpt)

Maxie looked from him to Van. “Tell us what?” Gnar asked.

Throwing her arms around Isaac and pulling him close, Van gushed, “We’re getting married!”

Maxie inhaled sharply. Did they see the horror, the anger, the immense, indescribable sadness that passed over her features, all in those short seconds? Maybe Isaac had. He was looking right at her the entire time, right in her face. Gnar stood, smiling widely, and embraced his friend. “Wow,” he said. “I never thought I would see the day. Congratulations!”

He embraced Van next and kissed her cheek. “I can’t think of anyone else I would rather see this guy with.”

Isaac went to Maxie. “Aren’t you going to congratulate me?” he asked. She hadn’t even risen from her seat.

“Of course,” she said, slowly pushing her chair out. He wrapped his arms around her and she held her breath. When she pulled away, Van was waiting to embrace her next.

“Are you happy for me, Max?”

“Of course,” Maxie choked out again. “Congratulations.”

“You know that you’re going to be my maid of honor.”

She bowed her head against her friend’s shoulder and shut her eyes tightly. Don’tcrydon’tcrydon’tcry. What would they all think if she cried? When Van let her go, she turned and began cleaning off the table. “You guys are done eating?” Van asked.

Gnar raised an eyebrow. “Actually, we just started.”

“Oh,” Maxie said, looking down at their plates in her hand. She’d lost her appetite. “Right. Sorry.” She put Gnar’s plate back down on the table but continued to empty her own. He sat back down and Van and Isaac joined him.

“So, is it too soon to ask the date?” he asked.

“We’re thinking the spring time,” said Van.

“Are we?” said Isaac.

She shrugged. “We were. Before you got shot.” Everyone jumped as the loud clang of dishes echoed through the kitchen. They all turned to Maxie, who stood above a pile of broken plates and glasses at her feet. “Christ, Max! Those are our good plates!” Van snapped.

Gnar rose to his feet. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah, sorry,” she said, kneeling down to pick them up. Gnar kneeled down to help while Isaac got the broom. Van, on the other hand, remained seated.

“It’s going to be a small ceremony,” she said. “Just a few friends and family. Thirty people, tops.” Maxie could feel Gnar’s eyes on her, but she kept hers averted. Don’tcrydon’tcrydon’tcry. “We’re not going to do it in a church, since Isaac doesn’t believe in God. Central Park, maybe?”

“Max,” Gnar whispered as Van prattled on. She managed to look up at him. For a moment, he simply stared at her. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” she lied, forcing a smile. But really, she was anything but fine. Her heart wasn’t beating. She wasn’t breathing. Her insides were collapsing. Engaged. Married in the Spring. Before he was shot.

Picking up the last of the glass, Maxie turned to Van. “Congratulations. I’m happy for you, Van.”

She smiled widely. “I’m happy. For myself.”

Junior Year (excerpt)

 When he turned the corner, her mouth fell agape. Moving swiftly across the office, speaking low in the same, serious tone she remembered so clearly, was Noah. He looked the same as he did that night, a little fresher, and without the five o’clock shadow, but the same no less. Tall, and sharp, with that intense look in his eyes. She watched him, dumbfounded, as he headed directly for her.

In a panic, she quickly lowered her head, sinking into her chair. He passed right by without even a glance in her direction. Still, her face was burning. Had anyone else noticed? No, it didn’t seem so. Still, he would notice. Sooner or later. Probably sooner. Her heart hammered against her chest as the realization of the situation sank in deeper and deeper.

He was her boss.

She’d thought about him constantly since that night. The mysterious man who bought her drinks and listened as she went on and on about her shitty past and her shitty relationship and her shitty apartment and her shitty— She gasped out loud as remembered exactly what she went on and on about that night, and Janet looked up at her. “What’s the matter?” she demanded.

 ”Umm, nothing,” Christian lied, getting to her feet.

 I’ve been at this new job for almost two weeks now, and God, I fucking hate it. Those were her words. That was what she’d said to him. She had to leave. She had to get out of there. She hated that place, anyway. Plus, it wasn’t like she was getting paid. It wasn’t worth the inevitable humiliation. No, she had to leave.

She stuffed her phone in her pocket, reached for her purse— Shit. Her purse. She locked it away. I think I’m going to start locking my stuff up. I swear the guy next to me looks like some sociopath serial killer, or at least a klepto’… In a huff, she plopped back down in her seat and fumbled for the drawer key. Just as she got it in her fingers, Jack emerged from the back office. “Christian?”

She popped up, feeling flushed. “Yes?”

“Come on back for a minute. Mr. Hale wants to meet you.”

Her heart sank. She tried to think of any excuse, any excused at all to get out of there, but her mind was blank. “Oh. Well. Alright, then,” she stammered. “Of course.”

Still, though, she stood there, staring toward the office, willing her unresponsive feet to move toward it. Jack looked back at her, puzzled. “Ah. Now?” he probed.

“Oh, right,” she said, finally advancing forward. She smoothed her blouse, ran her fingers through her hair, and a sudden blanket of relief settled over her as she realized it was straight. That’s right, she straightened it the night before! Maybe he wouldn’t recognize her! After all, it was dark in the bar, and her hair had been pulled back and curly, and she’d been dressed down, and he was a bit tipsy. Wasn’t he? She couldn’t recall. Still, there was a chance he wouldn’t remember. A small chance…

She took a deep breath as Jack pushed the door open and motioned for her to go in. Noah was sitting behind a large desk, leaning back in an oversized, leather chair, flipping through mail. He didn’t look up as she approached, and in her desperate panic, she thought, for a moment, that maybe he wouldn’t look up at all. But then, Jack stepped in after her, slamming the door behind him, and Noah jumped.

His eyes darted up and settled on Christian. They immediately flickered with recognition, bulged even, and then went to Jack. She watched as his features miraculously settled into an unreadable expression. She’d seen it, though. The initial shock of having her there, right in his office. He remembered her, no doubt about it. “Mr. Hale, this is our new intern, Christian Trimmel,” Jack introduced. “Christian, this is Noah Hale, founder of this agency.”

Christian couldn’t breathe. In fact, she thought she would die right there. Just drop dead of humiliation, right at Jack’s feet. “Well, hello,” Noah said, his voice as confident and silky smooth as it remained in her memory. He never took his eyes off of her, not even to blink. His stare seemed to swallow her whole. “It’s good to meet you. Christian, is it?”

“Yes,” she choked out.

He leaned back in his seat, still examining her. “So you’re the new intern, huh? I’d love to hear what you think of everything so far.”

Her face reddened.

“Everything is great,” she squeaked.

“Yeah? How about the staff? Did they welcome you alright? Was everyone… hospitable enough?”

She could practically hear her own drunken voice, slurring, they have to be the most unwelcoming group of people I’ve ever met. Hasn’t any of them ever heard of hospitality?

She thought she might sink into the floor at any moment. In fact, she wished the moment would just come already. “Yes. Very.”

He nodded. “Great. Because here at the Hale Agency, we’re more than just coworkers. We’re like a family. Isn’t that right, Jack?”

And my stupid supervisor, always walking around spouting off some bullshit about being a family. I thought my family was fucked up. I wish you could meet these people…

Noah looked at Jack who nodded emphatically. “Yes, I say tell them that all the time! Don’t I, Christian?”

Noah’s eyebrows raised and a grin tugged at the corners of his lips. For the first time, Christian realized he was enjoying it. He wasn’t angry. He was amused.

“Well, then. I’m glad everything is working out for you. You’ll let me know if there’s ever a problem, won’t you? Anything like… oh, I don’t know, bogus assignments—”

“I’ll let you know!” she breathed, dropping her eyes. She was cringing on the inside.

“Great. You both can go back to work.” Exhaling, she spun and hurried toward the door, only she heard his voice before she could escape, summoning her back. She paused and slowly turned back to him, not moving from where she was by the door. Jack stopped, too, and Noah nodded at him. “She’ll be out in a minute,” he said.

“Of course,” Jack replied, and hurried out, shutting the door behind him. When he was gone, Noah leaned forward in his seat and motioned to the chair in front of his desk.

“Have a seat,” he said. Hesitantly, Christian obliged, and for a moment, Noah’s eyes just played over her face, over her hair, over her blouse, over her trembling fingers gripping the arms of the chair. “I see you’ve changed your hair,” he said, finally.

“God, I had no idea!” she cried. The words simply came flooding out of her mouth. “I didn’t know you were… you. I was drunk that night, everything I said, I didn’t mean any of it—”

“Really? None of it?”

Of course not. She meant it all. “Well… I mean, some of it, maybe.”

“So you don’t feel like the tasks you’re assigned are meaningless, bogus wastes of your time?” Her mouth hung open, helplessly. “And Darren Reynolds doesn’t look at porn at his desk?”

She raised an eyebrow. “How did you know I was talking about Darren?”

He laughed. “Just a hunch.”

“Oh, God. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” She dropped her face in her hands and shook her head. “I was just having a really bad day when you met me. I was drunk and emotional, probably on my period or something—” She stopped herself. Too much information. Too much information! a voice inside her head screamed. “Do you think we could just forget about it? Is it possible to remain professional, from this point forward?”

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “We’re both adults.”

She let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Mr. Hale.”

He chuckled, shaking his head. “Not that professional, alright? Call me Noah. I try to get everyone else to do it. Maybe if you do, it’ll stick.”

“Alright, then. Noah.” She stood and made her way to the door.

“Christian,” he called again.

She turned and looked at him. “Yes?”

“I like your hair like that,” he said, eyeing her in that peculiar way again. His gaze was still so intense, just not the serious intense she was used to. As he sat there, staring at her, it was a different kind of intense. “And that color on your nails. It does go with your skin tone. I’m glad to see you again. I’m glad that you’re here.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Me, too.”

He chuckled. “Hopefully one day, you’ll mean that. Now would you do me a favor and send Jack back in here?”

Excerpt: One Night Stand

He opened his eyes and there she was, still sound asleep- and still naked- lying there beside him. She was on her stomach with her arms up over her head, as if she were sheilding herself from something. Every few minutes, she would inhale deeply, or lightly jerk. Abel wondered what she dreamt about. What tormented her in her sleep? The same things that tormented her when she was awake?

He watched her for a while, trying to hold onto every fuzzy detail his memory could conjure up from the night before. Her head thrown back as she moaned, her hair splayed across his red pillows, her flesh, so much of it, bare and flawless and damp with sweat. He ran his fingers over the welps that she’d left behind, trailing across his shoulders. He could still feel her lips against his ear, he could still hear her voice, begging him not to stop.

That hadn’t been too hard to oblige by.

And now there she was. Still in his bed. Still entwined in his sheets. Still so close to him, he could smell her shampoo. He wanted her to wake, so he could see her eyes and hear her speak. But even more then that, he wanted her to stay there. Right where she was, where he could see her and feel her pressed lightly against him.

He was in love.

He was in love, and he barely even knew her.

The Next Morning: Forget Me Not (excerpt)

When Maxie woke the next morning, Alex had already gone. She wondered if he even waited out the night, or if he snuck away right after she fell asleep. The thought only passed through her mind; she didn’t care much either way. It only meant one less person to cook breakfast for.

She freed her hair from its tie and shook it loose, pulled on an oversized sweatshirt over her bra and panties with wool, knee-high socks and made her way to the kitchen. She glanced at Van’s door as she passed, wondering what time she’d returned home from her date. An aching resentment rose in her gut and she quickly suppressed it. Isaac was just a man, after all. What did it matter that Maxie’s thoughts had remained constantly on him since the moment she woke to find him in her hospital room? He was just a man. There would be others. Others that her best friend wasn’t interested in.

In the kitchen, Maxie put on a pot of coffee and began to mix batter for pancakes. She didn’t turn around when she heard Van’s door open. “You’re up early,” she called. “It isn’t noon yet, you still have three and a half hours—”

 “Maxie?”

The familiar— but unexpected— voice made her jump. She spun around, nearly turning over the whole bowl of batter, and gasped. “Isaac?”

He stood before her, wearing nothing but boxers and socks, an expression on his face that conflicted surprise and anguish. Maxie’s eyes moved down the length of his body, his flawless, godlike body, and for a moment, the reality of the situation got away from her. Isaac was standing half naked in her kitchen. It only meant one thing.

Blinking, she quickly looked away from him. “I’m sorry,” he said, though he didn’t move an inch to cover himself. “I didn’t know you were here.”

 “Why would you?” she asked. “I only live here. You, on the other hand…”

She allowed herself to look at his face. His brows were furrowed, his jaw was taut. “I spent the night with Van,” he informed her, his voice low and heavy. Nodding, she looked away again. “We’d been drinking,” he said. “I couldn’t drive all the way back to Brooklyn—”

 “You don’t need to explain,” she said, raising her palms to him.

 “—I didn’t even mean for anything to happen—”

She shut her eyes tightly. “Please don’t explain.”

He stopped. She gazed at him, at his perfect face. She couldn’t speak. There it was again, that familiar shortness of breath that she’d gotten when she was with him the week before. Only this time, it wasn’t just his good looks that had her gasping for air. The immense disappointment settled on her chest. Disappointment for what? she asked herself. Had she expected something different? Was she hoping for another outcome? She realized that a small part of her was. A tiny part that she ignored for days as she daydreamed of nothing but him. How stupid of her.

Before either one of them could speak again, Van plodded out of the bedroom, hair unkempt, makeup smeared, and naked accept for a skimpy, satin nighty that barely reached the back of her thighs. Maxie had to look away. “Here you are,” she said, going to Isaac. Even Van, four inches taller than Maxie, had to look up to him. She laced her arms around his waist and kissed his collarbone. “Good morning.”

He looked down at her with dark eyes. “’Morning,” he mumbled.

 “Maxie’s cooking you breakfast, huh?” She looked at her roommate and her eyes widened. “Maxie! What are you wearing?”

For the first time, Maxie realized that she was half naked. She looked down at her oversized sweatshirt, just long enough to cover the swell of her behind, and her bare legs, and felt her face grow hot. She shut her eyes for a moment, struggling to contain her overflowing humiliation and anger and jealousy. Van giggled.

Pulling the hem of the sweatshirt down, Maxie opened her eyes and met Isaac’s gaze. His stare was dark and unwavering, glued on her face and not budging. “Right. Well, I’m just gonna go in my room,” she said, struggling to keep the emotion from her tone. “Good seeing you again, Isaac,” she said, moving past him, and then added, “Not at all awkward.”

“I like your hair,” he said, his eyes following her past him. Another giggle came from Van before Maxie disappeared into her room and shut the door behind her.

Run In, pt. 2: Forget Me Not (excerpt)

“I think the doctors wanted to keep you overnight. For observation. You hit your head pretty hard.”

 “It’s fine,” she repeated. “Anyway, my roommate is a nurse. She’ll look after me.” She went to the small table beside her bed and grabbed her clothes, which sat folded neatly on the surface. Still wearing the nighty, she slipped on her jeans before reaching for her bra, then paused and looked at Isaac.

 Understanding, he turned to face the wall so she could finish dressing. With some soreness, she got out of the nighty and managed to get one arm through her bra strap, but when she lifted the other, sharp pain shot up her side. She cried out, and Isaac nearly spun around before stopping himself. “Are you okay?” he asked. She, too, turned toward the wall, the wall opposite his, arms tightly over her breasts with her naked back to him. She gripped her side with her free hand, slouching slightly to the side as she waited for the stinging to subside. “Maxie? Are you alright?” Isaac pressed.

“Umm, yeah,” she said, though she looked down at her bra, only halfway on her body and not even snapped, and wondered how she would managed to get it all the way on by herself. Holding her breath and bracing herself for the pain, she slowly tried lifting her arm again, but her aching ribs wouldn’t allow it. Finally, she decided against the bra all together. “I’m almost done,” she said, breathlessly. How could a task as small as putting on a bra, something she did every single day, be so tiresome, she wondered. However, putting on a shirt quickly proved to be most difficult, and most painful.

 After what seemed like hours, Maxie finally threw down her shirt in frustration and leaned on the bed to gather her bearings. Isaac still faced the opposite wall, and she stood behind him, still bare from the waste up, holding her breasts with one arm and her ribs with the other. “How are you doing back there?” he finally asked.

 She sighed. “I can’t do it.”

With furrowed eyebrows, he slightly turned his head, cutting his eyes in her direction. “Do what?”

“Put on my shirt.”

For a moment, he didn’t reply, and then he asked, “Can I… I mean, do you want me to help?”

She turned her back to him again. “No, I’m fine. I can do it.” She reached for her shirt, but only held it in her hand. She didn’t actually believe that she could do it. But was she supposed to let a stranger— one who hit her with his car, at that— help dress her? Taking a deep breath, she got one arm into the shirt. She groaned and winced as she put her head through the appropriate hole next. And then, when it was time to lift her other arm, her ribs objected and she cried out and doubled over in pain.

“Okay, wait,” she heard Isaac say. And then she felt his warm hands on the cool skin of her bare back.

“No!” she cried. “Don’t look at me!”

“I won’t,” he said, gently. “I promise I won’t look. Just let me help you. You’re only going to hurt yourself more.” Maxie remained bent over, her arm still tightly over her chest. “Please,” he said. “I just want to help. It’s the least I can do.” She nodded but didn’t move. “Can you stand straight?” he asked.

She breathed. “In a minute.”

He waited. After a minute, she slowly rose and turned to him. She kept her eyes straight ahead on his chest as he carefully lifted her arm while the other shielded her nakedness. She grimaced in pain as he got it into her sleeve, and then shuddered as he pulled it down over her belly, lightly grazing her skin with his fingertips. “There,” he said, without stepping back. He stood so close to her that their chests nearly touched, so close that the masculine scent of him filled her nostrils.

“Thank you,” she replied, her voice just above a whisper. Still avoiding his eyes, she moved to put on her shoes, and he followed.

“Just sit,” he said, taking the rain boot from her hands and kneeling before her. Her eyes widened as he slipped it onto her foot, and then put the other on her, too. Then he stood and carefully pulled her up to help her into her coat.

“Thank you,” she repeated.

“It’s the least I can do,” he replied. “Listen, are you sure you won’t consider just staying? It’s only one night.”

“My roommate will take care of me,” she assured.

He nodded. “Well, I’ll drive you home, then.”

“You don’t have to.”

He shook his head. “It’s the least I can do.”

Run In: Forget Me Not (excerpt)

Before she opened her eyes, Maxie gripped a handful of the soft blanket draped over her. She inhaled the scent of her surroundings; she listened for the ominous silence. Before she opened her eyes, she knew that she was in a hospital. Exhaling heavily, she finally opened them and peered around. As suspected, she was in a hospital room, lying in a narrow bed with white sheets and grey rails, wearing a pale blue nighty. However, she could see again, and her head wasn’t throbbing, and the burn in her side subsided to almost nothing. She slowly sat up and her body shuddered as an unnerving chill ran through her.

“Oh, you’re awake,” a familiar voice said. Her neck snapped in the direction of the dim corner, where a man occupied an arm chair. She gasped, jumping back and slapping her hand over her heart, which hammered against her chest. “Sorry,” he said quickly, raising his palms to her. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

 He looked tired and unkempt. His large body fit awkwardly into the small chair he sat in. Had he been sleeping like that? she wondered. It appeared so. “Who are you?” she asked, her eyes sweeping over him.

The man stood and as he came toward her, she sank into herself. He was across the room, at her side, in just three smooth, confident strides. His massive frame towered over her.

He outstretched his hand and she took it, losing her own in his long fingers. “My name is Isaac,” he said.

He was looking her straight in the eye, and she felt unsettled under his gaze. He was beautiful. Even in his wrinkled, slept-in clothes and the bags under his eyes and the six o’clock shadow growing darker, the man was absolutely stunning. His sun-kissed skin tone glowed beneath the dim lighting of the room, his eyes, low and calm and liquid brown, remained captivatingly intense. And his lips— Maxie couldn’t help but stare at his lips— were full and shapely, and when he moistened them with his tongue, gently biting down on the bottom one, she nearly lost her breath. “I’m Maxie,” she finally choked out, willing herself to tear her eyes off of his perfect, symmetrical face.

 “Maxie,” he said, still holding onto her hand. “Maxie… As in Maxine?”

 “As in Maximilienne.”

 He eyes widened. “You’re French?”

 She nodded. “My father was.”

The corners of his lips turned up into a small grin, his eyes sparkled. Still, they hadn’t strayed away from her face. Did she look as flushed as she felt? “My mother was,” he replied. “Parlez-vous français?”

Un peu,” she replied. “Just the basics.” He nodded, still grinning lightly. “Isaac,” she said. “How long have I been here?”

 His grin faded. “A few hours. Listen, I’m sorry about hitting you. How are you feeling? How are your ribs?”

 Her ribs? Oh, yes. Her ribs. She’d forgotten about those. “Oh, they’re fine.”

“They don’t hurt? Three of them are bruised.”

 “They feel fine.”

 He nodded. “How about your head? You got a concussion.”

 “My head is fine, too. Did you sleep in that chair for hours?”

 He glanced back at the small chair in the corner. “The nurses wanted to contact your family, but we couldn’t find your wallet and your cell phone is locked. I didn’t want to leave you alone, so…” His voice trailed off. “I’m sorry again. It’s Christmas, your family’s probably worried.” He pulled out his cell phone. “Is there someone you want to call?”

“No,” she said, pushing the blanket to the side. “I should probably just get home.” He stepped back as she lowered her feet off of the side of the bed. His eyes fell on the nighty, which was hiked up, practically to her hips, revealing her bare thighs. He looked away as she quickly lowered it.