Authors: Lisa N. Paul
* * *
© 2014 by Lisa N. Paul
Design by Mae I Design and Photography
Edition January 2014
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is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents
are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various
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doesn’t matter what the weather is…
pack up the shovel, the umbrella, the coats, boots, and sunscreen and make
certain we are always prepared. Your presence in my life is the calm that never
allows the storm to consume me—for that, I am grateful.
RYAN TURNED UP the radio to drown
out the awkward silence. It pained him that it was slowly becoming the norm for
him and Ashley. The short car ride to Max and Janie’s house for Sunday dinner
was torture. He chanced another quick glance and saw her hands knotted together
in her lap. Ryan sighed inwardly, frustrated with the fact that other than
cordial conversations the past few months, their friendship had been reduced to
this. Quick glances, hurried hellos, and niceties. He wasn’t sure how they’d
gotten to this point…again, but he hated it with every fiber of his being.
Something needed to change before he lost her again.
“We’re here,” Ashley announced walking into Max and Janie’s
house. Her skin prickled at the fake cheer in her voice.
God, I sound
ridiculous, I need to tone down the Mary Sunshine act before I make myself
Sunday dinner was a tradition that the group had come to
love over the past six or so months. Ashley looked around. This was the one
time during the week when true peace filled her soul. She watched while
everyone stuffed their faces with homemade lasagna, salad, and garlic bread.
Ashley glanced at the couple across from her, and a mixture
of happiness and something else, unnamed, churned in her gut.
A few weeks after they’d become an official couple, Janie
had moved into Max’s house and wasted no time making Max’s bachelor pad into a
cozy and inviting home. Now that they were together, Janie worked during the
day as a middle school teacher. Max finally made the decision to give up his
bartending shifts at Danny’s and work full-time at
. It was
the finest full service auto-repair and motorcycle rehabilitation garage in the
tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. It was also the
business that he co-owned and operated with Sebastian Gage. Max spent his days
working with his hands alongside his best friend, and his nights curled up with
the love of his life. Yep, life was pretty fucking great for them.
After dinner, everyone settled in the family room to watch
the Eagles game. During the half-time break, Janie, Lyla, and Julie went to the
kitchen to get drink refills. Ashley sat quietly on the floor waiting for the
women to return. She hadn’t been feeling like herself lately. Pretending to be
someone she wasn’t was taking a lot more effort than it used to. If she were
being honest with herself—something she tried extremely hard
do—she was getting really fucking sick of the charade. The people in this house
were her friends…no, her family. They would love her even if she stopped
pretending, but the real question was could she love herself? Could she ever
forgive herself for all of the pain she’d caused? Did she deserve to be happy
when he no longer could?
“Every time I see you guys together, I feel so…overjoyed.”
Julie sounded choked up as she continued her thought. “It’s like seeing my kids
growing up. You guys are a good pair.”
Even from the family room, Ashley could hear the gushing
tone of Janie’s voice as she replied, “Thank you, Julie. We wouldn’t have come
this far without each of you.”
The three women walked back into the family room just as the
meteorologist spoke on the television:
Tropical Storm Leo is gaining strength in the Atlantic as
we speak. We are expecting it to morph into a hurricane by Tuesday possibly
hitting landfall as early as Wednesday night. Get ready, people. This is going
to be a big one.
The world went silent. Ashley’s body went rigid and her
heart began to thud quickly in her chest. The thundering of her heart and the
whooshing sound of blood through her ears were the only two noises that
infiltrated the complete stillness of the space around her. She looked down at
her hands—completely powerless to stop the fierce tremble of her interlocked
Out of the corner of her eye Ashley saw Ryan’s head pivot
down to hers and immediately felt the burn of his gaze. Not wishing to
acknowledge him she trained her eyes back to her knotted hands. Her shaking was
obvious to her, but she hoped no one else had noticed. Ryan would. Of course he
would. He knew her body’s reactions before she did. They were that in-tune…or
at least they had been. Was it still the same? She didn’t know and right then,
she didn’t have the mind space to care.
Strong, tattooed arms wrapped around Ashley and a scent that
was everything Ryan engulfed her senses. His denim-clad legs moved to either
side of her, locking her in place. Giving her comfort that she so desperately
needed in a moment when her world was spinning off its axis. She knew she
shouldn’t let him do this. His behavior was reminiscent of a past she spent
years trying to forget, but she couldn’t bring herself to push him away.
Ashley moved slightly and Ryan’s strong arms tightened in
response. Biting down on her tongue, she prayed that her instincts were wrong,
but even as she tried to convince herself that everything would be okay, every
fiber in her being told her that the coming storm would bring a whole lot more
than just rain.