Thursday, April 30, 2015

Giveaways, Excerpts and New Releases - Oh My!

It's nearly May 1, y'all... you know what that means!



Okay, okay. My love for Tony Stark aside... ahem...



It is also the day you all finally get to meet Xander!



I'm SUPER excited, you guys. This is one Book Boyfriend who even took *me* by surprise. I knew what I wanted him to be when I sat down to write the book. Well, honestly the story nipped at my heels long before I actually sat down to write it. It haunted me, the way all my favorite story ideas do. Xander would come to me in a flash, whispering things in my ear, that had me as discombobulated as he left our heroine, Joely. I guess you could say he seduced me first.

But nothing... nothing could have prepared me for the ride he took me on once I started writing. This book is racier than anything I have ever done. Two of my most diehard fans are my mother-in-law and my grandmother-in-law, who read everything I write even if they have to skip certain passages. Let me put it to you this way... I'm highly tempted to print a special censored version of this story just for them, because Xander is a naughty, naughty boy.

Exhibit A:

***

When she returned to the house, she met a delivery driver at the door, who carried a large white box. “Miss Morgan?” he asked.

She fought the urge to correct him and say, “Mrs. Morgan,” considering, like Xander and Novanna had said, that wasn’t who she was anymore. “Yes,” she said as she approached.

“Package for you,” he said as he handed it off.

She fished a few dollars from her purse to tip the young man before carrying the large parcel into the house and up the stairs. She didn’t stop until she reached the bedroom, where she deposited the box onto her bed. Before she could rip it open, her phone rang.

It was Xander.

“Good morning,” he crooned into her ear.

“I assume you had something to do with this,” she said as she sat on the bed next to her gift.

“Guilty as charged,” he admitted happily. “Open it.”

She put him on speakerphone before she lifted the top of the box away and moved the tissue aside to reveal a silky black and lace dress. “Oh, Xander,” she murmured as she withdrew it, revealing a flowing skirt, snug bodice with a sweetheart neckline that dipped low in front. The wide straps were made of lace and the style was much like the other 50s-inspired clothing he’d selected for her. He clearly preferred retro glamour. “It’s lovely.”

“I’m glad you like it. I can’t wait until tonight so I can see you in it.” She shivered in spite of herself. “There’s just one thing,” he murmured.

“What’s that?”

“You’re not allowed to wear any underwear underneath it,” he said in a voice so low it nearly made Joely groan out loud.

“Allowed?” she echoed.

“That’s right. No panties. No bra. Just you. When I hold you close to me tonight at The Ranch, I want to know that I’m just a fine bit of silk away from fucking you right there on that dance floor. And I want everyone else to know it, too.”

“Xander,” she started, but he wouldn’t allow it.

“Ah, ah,” he said, and she could hear the smirk in his voice. “I’m the one in charge, remember? And you will be a good girl and do as you’re told.”

She could barely breathe. “Okay.”

“That’s not all,” he said. “I want you to drop off the kids wearing this dress.”

Her heart nearly stopped. “Why?”

“I want him to see what he threw away.”

She made a face he couldn’t see. “He won’t care,” she said.

“Yes, he will,” Xander promised. “Because somewhere deep down he’ll know that this weekend you belong to someone new.”
***


I said it before and I'll say it again...



You can pre-order BACK FOR SECONDS right now, and it'll be available for you to read the second you leave the theater for that midnight showing of AVENGERS 2: The Age of Mancandy.

Ahem... I mean Ultron.



Speaking of Mancandy... how many of you have met Snake from CHASING THUNDER?



You can read all about my badass biker with a heart of gold (and quick wit) RIGHT NOW! My editor fell in love with him, so I think you definitely will too. Not only can you pick up your copy of CHASING THUNDER at Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and Kobo - where it is currently ranked 400 in International Mysteries/Suspense, btw - but we are hours away from the close of the Goodreads Giveaway for one of two signed copies of the paperback!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Chasing Thunder by Ginger Voight

Chasing Thunder

by Ginger Voight

Giveaway ends April 30, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to Win


If you miss that giveaway, I've started another one for one of two signed copies of BACK FOR SECONDS, which ends in two weeks!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Back for Seconds by Ginger Voight

Back for Seconds

by Ginger Voight

Giveaway ends May 15, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to Win


So that's all the news that is fit to print for this last day of April, 2015! Let's all roar into May like a lion.

xoxo
Gin

BACK FOR SECONDS: Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords

CHASING THUNDER: Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Kobo

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Only ten more days until you meet Xander. (Squee!)

Mark your calendars, ladies and gents. A new book boyfriend is preparing himself for his international debut on May 1. His name is Xander Davy. He's from England, but no moss grows under this rolling stone. He's only 26, but thanks to his touch of wanderlust he's lived in some of the most fascinating cities in the world: London, New York, San Francisco...

So how did this cultured, sophisticated gent land in Abilene, Texas, of all places?

Let's just say that not all cowboys were born in the Wild West. Xander Davy brings that spirit with him, in super-sized helpings that leave you hungering for more.

Sure, the ladies love him. He's handsome. He's charming. He's got that accent. And he's way intense. He takes what he wants but like a truly self-possessed alpha, he doesn't have to rob anyone else of anything to do it. There's a lot to like, as our emotionally vulnerable heroine, Joely Morgan, quickly learns.

Needless to say he even left me breathless a time or two, the lil' dickens.

So mark your calendars and get your copy pre-ordered ASAP, because I can't *wait* to see what y'all have to say about Xander.

Here's a taste...

***


Joely turned to Xander. “What’s all that about?” she wanted to know.

“What’s what about?” he asked as he popped another huge bite into his mouth. His dark eyes watched her closely.

“Playing buddy-buddy with my kids,” she replied as she took his plate and headed back toward the sink. The chair scraped against the tile as he stood and walked over to join her.

His mouth was still full when he said, “It’s called being nice.”

Her look was skeptical. “Look. They’re going through a difficult time right now."

He swallowed his last mouthful. His eyes kept hers captive as he ran his tongue around the corner of his mouth to capture any leftover frosting. “I know,” he finally said. “Your mother told me.”

Inwardly Joely groaned. That explained everything. “Great.”

He leaned against the counter. “It’s no big deal. Lillian thought maybe I could connect with Nash. He’s alone in a house full of women now. She thinks he could use a man to talk to.”

From where they stood nearly a foot apart, she could see his broad shoulders straining against the navy blue shirt he wore. His legs were long, crossed casually at the ankle, as he linked his hands and rested his elbow on the counter. Her nose filled with the scent of his cologne, a mixture of wood and spice. There was no doubt about it. He most definitely was a man. And the look in his eyes wouldn’t let her forget it. “I just,” she started but then found herself flustered and stammering. “I don’t know how long I’ll be here and I don’t want them to get attached to anything temporary. I appreciate the thought, but it’s not necessary.”

He towered over her 5’5-inch frame, studying her long brown hair and her deep brown eyes. The longer he stood without saying anything, the more nervous she got. When the tip of his thumb brushed the side of her mouth, she nearly jumped right out of her skin. Her doe eyes opened even wider as she watched him lick his thumb. “Missed a spot,” he murmured.

She was still sputtering behind him as he walked from the kitchen.
***
Pre-order your copy of BACK FOR SECONDS, now on AMAZON, B&N, iTunes, and KOBO!



Monday, April 13, 2015

TOMORROW is the big day! The storm is almost here! #chasingthunder #mjiscoming

I was seventeen years old when I met my first husband, Daniel. Because I was so young, I did all the things young girls do when they're completely smitten with someone older and more complicated: I tried to mold myself into his perfect girl. I did what he liked to do, even if I didn't particularly want to do it. I watched what he liked to watch, even if I didn't particularly like it. I grew up in a house devoid of testosterone from the age of 11. Guy flicks, namely action movies, war movies and westerns, all fell off my list from a very early age. Dan, a rough and tough guy chock full of testosterone, brought 'em all back. And really, they weren't all bad. I developed a healthy respect for martial arts movies in particular. But, as a feminist from an early age, nothing pissed me off more than those female characters who did nothing more than "prop" the action for their male co-stars. The most egregious of these offenders were typically bare-assed naked and screaming while all the fists flailed around them, the very definition of eye candy.

It became crystal clear to me after sampling several popular movies in these genres that most "tough" women, the bad-ass women, the ones that didn't need men to save them, were colored with a different color pen. Virtuous girls, the girls that these hot macho men couldn't resist, always defaulted to the victim who needed saving because they were too "good" to save themselves. (Queen of these useless babes was Kelly Lynch's character in Road House. ICK... and no.)

Granted, these were bubblegum movies that didn't necessarily need to have a point. They were written by men for men, defaulting time and again to the patriarchal socialization we all share, whether we like it or not.

It was, and still is, a sticking point for me.

This imbalance influenced me so strongly that it bled into my first full-length novel, which I began in 1989. Many of you already know how the idea came to me. I was 19 years old and living out of my car in Los Angeles. "Welcome to the Jungle" came on the radio and I began to see it in terms of a story. Of course there would be an innocent teenager, and of course she would wind up on the mean streets of Hollywood. And of course, a noble biker, a tough anti-hero, would ride to her rescue. (Another major Dan influence.)

And then it hit me...

Who said that biker had to be a man?

Thus, M.J. Bennett was born. In truth, she's the daughter Dan and I never had. She's fearless and tough as nails, like him. And she's devoted and loyal and refuses to back down from a fight... like me. M.J. knows who she is and what she can do, and she does it all without apology.

It's taken me 26 years to fully bring this complicated character to life. Things have changed a lot in the meantime. We now have some badass female characters everywhere we look, on TV and in the movies. Writers like Joss Whedon bravely embarked on this exciting new frontier as early as the 1990s, which paved the way for heroines like Katniss Everdeen. Tomorrow, at long last, M.J. joins the ranks of some badass lady characters who have changed the way we see women. I couldn't be prouder or love her any more.

Here's a sneak peek of what's to come, with the first confrontation between M.J. and Dominic Isbecky, the man she suspects is behind the brutal murders of underage sex workers.

Get your 1-Click fingers primed and ready. #mjisalmosthere!

***


They reached the door to his office and he shoved her inside. He locked the door, lowered the lights, and kicked on the sound system with the touch of a button. “Make yourself comfortable, Miss Bennett.”

He assumed his position behind his desk, so she walked to one of the chairs on the other side. She flopped down and kicked her boots up on his expensive ebony desk. He immediately scowled, which made her smile. “You wanted me here and I’m here. So what’s up, buttercup?”

“You’ve been interfering with my business, Miss Bennett. And I don’t take kindly to that.”

“I don’t take kindly to your business,” she told him bluntly.

He leaned across his desk. “Too bad there isn’t a damned thing you can do about it,” he said. “Slick operates as a legitimate business. According to the law, and a litany of lawmakers, I am above reproach.”

Her eyebrow arched. “Even the second floor?”

“The second floor is not part of Slick. It includes private residential quarters for a few close friends. And I am a man who takes care of his friends.”

“Unless they’re female and underage, right?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “I don’t make a practice of hanging out with underage girls. But I’m sure you can tell me all about it. How is your young friend from the alley?”

It was her turn to shrug. “Dunno. Got her on a bus and got her the hell out of here the very night I met her. Just like I’ve done for at least two other girls who’ve spent time within these hallowed walls.”

He chuckled as he leaned back in his chair. “It’s amusing that you think I don’t know.”

“I figured you knew,” she corrected. “Come on. A smart guy like you? You just never cared until now. Which makes me even more curious why you’d care about this last girl at all. She was on the streets for a day, so she couldn’t have been one of yours. Unless it was some initiation gone awry,” she added, scouring his face for any tell. He was stoic, and his smile never changed. M.J. stood from the chair and sauntered around his office, taking in the details of his d├ęcor. “So of course I have to ask myself what makes this girl different. Why is she suddenly so important?”

She stopped in front of his marble chessboard. Dominic watched as she studied the pieces thoughtfully. Finally she reached down and moved a piece before turning toward the window.

It took a minute or two, but finally Dominic slid from his chair and walked over to the chess board. He spotted her move almost immediately, as this particular game had been at a stalemate with his latest opponent. He grinned as he took the piece with ease. “It’s amazing what one day can do,” he commented. “Just one day in this jungle and that pristine young girl will be a tatted-out junkie giving blowjobs at chain restaurants near freeway on-ramps. Call me a romantic, but I thought I could help.”

“Help,” she repeated. “That’s a nice word for it. Do you have an upstairs room set aside for her, too?” His eyes glittered, and he let the comment slide. She glanced down at the chessboard. Within a minute or two, she made another move. Again, he took it with ease.

“But you were right about one thing,” she said. “A lot can happen in a day, an hour . . . or even a minute.” She quickly moved the knight into position. “It can even dethrone a king.” Her eyes met his. “Checkmate.”

There was a flash of irritation in his eyes and the barest hint of a scowl as he realized what she had done. She had set a trap that he had overlooked, simply because her original move had been so easily conquered. He scanned the pieces on the board to figure out how she had unlocked a previously unwinnable game so quickly. He crossed his arms and stared at her, trying to figure her out. Was this another game? Another trap?

If so, he had to sniff out her vulnerabilities. Where were her weaknesses? What mattered to M.J. Bennett?

She made her way to the door, and he crossed the two feet between them. “Impressive,” he said softly. “But no matter how clever you think you are, if you are hiding this girl here in Los Angeles, I will find her.” He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. “We have unfinished business, and I am a stickler for loose ends. That means no matter where you send her, I can find her.”

Her eyes gave nothing away as she stared back at him. Finally he bent forward. “The same way I’ll always be able to find you.” He sniffed the air around her. “I’ve got your scent now, Miss Bennett. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t want me on this hunt. I won’t stop until I take it all.” His hand slid down the side of her face to grab her throat. The tighter his grip became, the bigger his smile grew. “Think about that the next time you put your nose where it doesn’t belong.”

She broke the hold easily, almost too easily. He laughed. “You entertain me, Miss Bennett. Such fire,” he murmured, touching the wild red curls that fell over her shoulders. “Now that I’ve met you, I might even consider a trade.”

“Bad move for your business,” she replied.

He stepped closer. “And why’s that?”

Her voice was smooth as silk. “Your clients can’t afford me.”

He trailed a finger along her arm and over her chest, just above the lace trim of her shirt. “And how much are you worth, M.J.?”

“I’m priceless, motherfucker,” she answered, her hand landing on the button on the side panel that controlled the door. It unlocked with an audible click.

He made no move to stop her as she left his office. But he followed her, and stood, arms crossed, at the end of the hallway and watched her depart, ensuring that the mysteries of his private rooms remained undetected by the meddlesome troublemaker. He didn’t go back into to his office until she had disappeared from sight.

***


Get CHASING THUNDER now from AMAZON, BARNES & NOBLE, iTUNES and KOBO.

To get into the mood, check out the CHASING THUNDER Playlist I created for YouTube.

Monday, April 6, 2015

CHASING THUNDER sneak preview and pre-order info! #mjiscoming #listenforthethunder

In eight days, a 26-year dream of mine is coming true when CHASING THUNDER releases from True North Publishing. I've been in love with these characters for more than half my life, which is about how long it took for me to tell their story as well as it deserved to be told. It is a true joy to bring them to you at last. Meet my feisty kids, M.J., Snake and Baby in this excerpt from Chapter 2: Thunderstruck.

***


Hollywood faded into the distance behind them as they raced along Sunset Boulevard. The mosaic of Los Angeles passed alongside, from West Hollywood to Beverly Hills. The bike didn’t stop until they reached Santa Monica, where the rider finally turned off the main boulevard to a smaller side street, easing up to a nondescript white building with a green neon sign that read The Snake Pit.

Her rescuer hadn’t bothered to say a word during the long retreat. She killed the motor and slid from the bike. As she turned to face her, Haley didn’t know whether to thank her or scream for help. Those green eyes pierced right through her. “Got a name?”

Haley thought about it a second. She instinctively knew that she had to bury her identity in order to protect it. “Baby,” she finally answered. It was what both Billy and Tammy had called her, and it seemed as good an alias as any.

“Of course,” the biker said, reaching for her jacket.

“What about you?” Baby asked.

“M.J.,” she replied. She looked the young girl aboard her bike up and down, then handed her the jacket. “Here. You may get cold in that tissue you’re wearing.”

Baby only hesitated a moment before she dismounted and shrugged into the oversized jacket, which wrapped around her like another, more modest dress. With a satisfied nod of her head, M.J. turned on her heel and headed into the dive bar without another word. Baby was quick to follow.

The heavy steel door slammed behind them. Classic rock blared from the sound system. The bar was filled with bikers of all shapes and sizes, and every single one of them turned to see who had entered. Baby found herself shrinking behind M.J.’s lean frame, intimidated by the crustier clientele. M.J., however, stalked purposefully toward the bar, where a tall bearded man was making drinks.

He was rugged and handsome, towering over six feet tall, with broad shoulders barely contained by the black T-shirt he wore. His thick brown hair curled by the nape of his neck, while a neatly trimmed beard trailed along his strong, square jawline. Though he was rough around the edges, his dark eyes were kind. They regarded the redhead with playful affection.

“Look what the cat dragged in,” he said, smiling. He rounded the bar and took her up in a massive bear hug. “I oughta kick your ass for staying away so long,” he growled, holding her close.

“If you think you’re man enough,” she teased with a smile of her own.

He kept M.J. in the crook of his arm and turned his attention to Baby. “And who is your friend?”

“This is Baby,” she said. “Baby, this is Snake.”

Baby held out her hand and he shook it with power and authority. Despite his venomous moniker, for the first time in a long time, Baby actually felt safe. She offered him a small smile, which pleased him. He rounded the bar to pour her a soda. “Any friend of M.J.’s is a friend of mine,” he announced. “You hungry? I think we have just enough chili left for one more bowl.”

M.J. groaned. “I just got this girl out of Hollywood. I’m not sending her to the ER because of your chili.”

He held a hand to his chest. “I’m . . . I’m hurt.”

Baby couldn’t help but giggle. He was a charmer, there was no doubt about it. “I’ll risk it,” she said with a shy smile.

“See? She’s not afraid. Lori!” He hollered to the waitress across the room. “Set our friend up with a bowl of chili.” He leaned across the bar from Baby with a teasing gleam in his eye. “They’ll have to scrape most of it off the bottom of the pan with a chisel and a rock. Good stuff, though.”

Again Baby giggled. He gave her a wink and turned back to M.J. “So. What’s up?”

M.J. glanced down at Baby, who turned her attention back to her soda. With a wave of her finger, she led Snake away from the bar and into his office, closing the door behind them.

“Hollywood, huh?” he asked, perching on the edge of his cluttered desk. She shrugged in response, as if he should have known better than to ask. And of course he did. Molly Joanne Bennett had been patrolling Hollywood for nearly ten years, taking up the mantle left behind by her grandfather, Joe. She still wore his signet ring on the index finger of her left hand, and now she wore his bandana on her wrist and his dog tags around her neck as well. His mission had become her mission. It was her duty. It was her calling. All of that was status quo.

The only surprise was that she had brought one of her kids with her to the bar. That was new. “Surprised you didn’t leave her with Rose.”

“There was a slight complication,” M.J. replied, as if a dead gangbanger was as inconvenient as a misplaced set of keys. Snake, however, could easily read between the lines. “M.J.,” he groaned.

Her green eyes met his. “Can we crash with you? Just for a couple of days, while I figure out what to do with her.”

He sighed. He knew she wouldn’t ask if she had any other choice. And she never asked for help unless it was important. The girl sitting at his bar was in danger, and M.J. was willing to set aside her pride to help her. Snake looped two fingers through the belt loops on either side of her hips and drew M.J. toward him, fitting her right in between his powerful thighs. “When have you ever had to ask?”

“I don’t know. I just thought, maybe after last time . . .” She trailed off. Their turbulent history lay between them, as always.

“I guess you’ll just have to work really hard to make it up to me,” he said softly.

She happily responded with a kiss. He closed his arms around her waist, practically lifting her off the floor as he took immediate possession of her mouth. She melted against him with a soft moan.

When they rejoined Baby in the bar, she had already scarfed down half her bowl of chili. Jack, their resident playboy, had immediately filled the seat next to her to work on his A-game with the newest female. He realized his error as M.J. approached. “Back off, Jack. She’s underage.”

He held up his hands. He knew better than to pick a fight with the feisty redhead, who wasn’t called a “force of nature” for nothing. “No need to get testy.” He turned to Baby with a teasing pout. “You didn’t tell me you were underage.”

“You never gave me the chance,” Baby pointed out.

Snake laughed. “Now that’s a girl that speaks her mind. I like you already,” he told her with another wink. “Just give me about twenty to finish up a few things and then we can get out of here.”

Baby’s eyes widened. “Where are we going?”

Snake glanced between Baby and M.J. “Home,” he finally declared.

Baby opened her mouth, but no refusal was forthcoming. She couldn’t go back to the streets. She had had two brushes with disaster within the last twenty-four hours. She knew better than to press her luck with a third. And something told her she was completely safe with Snake. She wasn’t as sure about the redhead at his side, especially after seeing what she did to those scary men in the alley. M.J. was easily the most unpredictable woman Baby had ever met, which made her almost a threat by default.

But what choice did she have, really?

She finished her chili and crackers. She’d sucked down three sodas to fend off its five-alarm hot pepper, as well as her dry mouth from her earlier high. True to his word, Snake was ready to go shortly after. He shrugged on a jacket similar to the one M.J. had loaned her, and she followed them both on shaking legs to the parking lot. Without being told, she climbed aboard M.J.’s bike and waited.

***


The Storm is coming in EIGHT DAYS!! Pre-order CHASING THUNDER through AMAZON, iTUNES and KOBO!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Back for Seconds" Chapter One Preview and Pre-Order Info!

Enjoy a sneak peek of BACK FOR SECONDS, my new book releasing May 1. As you can tell from this introduction, I throw my heroine's world right into chaos from the get-go. Learning her husband has cheated on her was only the beginning. Her whole world gets turned upside down when he refuses to save the marriage, and she's forced to abandon the life they had built together. This will make her ripe for the pickin's for one of my sexiest heroes yet. Seriously, y'all... I can't WAIT for you to meet Xander. You like an alpha male who takes what he wants? It's going to take that kind of a guy to remind Joely what it means to be wanted, pursued and valued. We'll get to him over the course of the month. In the meantime, enjoy Chapter One!

You can pre-order it now!

***


The last time that Joely Morgan had been in her bedroom she had thrown a heavy hand-blown glass vase at the wall. It was fitting. It had been a wedding present and, like the marriage itself, it deserved to be destroyed. It had been a beautiful vase, with only one minor inclusion she had found a week after her honeymoon. She had joked with Russell about it way back then, saying that proved that things didn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. That one tiny air bubble gave the vase character, made it interesting. She believed with her whole heart that had been a good omen for their marriage. It wouldn’t be perfect, just like their courtship hadn’t been perfect.

But it could last forever, just like that solid, tear-drop vase swirled with deep cobalt blue and emerald green. As it so happened that vase shattered quite handily when hurled against the wall. It easily broke into pieces just like the rest of her life the second she found out her husband of seventeen years had been sleeping with a younger woman from his office.

She remembered the look on his face as she stood in front of him, confronting him with what she knew. He didn’t even have the decency to be ashamed. “Yes,” he said simply when she asked him if he had slept with this girl. “She makes me feel alive again. It’s something I’ve been missing for a long, long time.”

That was when Joely started throwing their expensive belongings across the room like some demented carnie game from hell. She wrecked, on purpose, the home that she had meticulously kept so tidy, just like the rest of their four-bedroom house on the southwest side of Abilene, Texas. It was a 3,000-square-foot brick monstrosity adjacent to a golf course where Dr. Russell Morgan could be found at least three days a week, which usually included the weekend.

Golf had been a major sticking point in their marriage. Given Russell was one of the top cardiac surgeons in West Texas, his schedule didn’t allow much free time. Russell always managed to fill what little there was of it with golf, despite their large family. The rearing of their three children was left largely to Joely, whose career had been a stay-at-home mom ever since Russell opened his first practice.

While she was supposed to be a 24-hour counselor, chauffeur, chef and cop, he got to show up a few hours a week like Santa Claus. He didn’t get to see them, he said, so he would leave most of the discipline up to her. Instead he was the one they went to for allowances, special gifts and – often – a get-out-of-kid-jail-free card when Joely wouldn’t cave in to what they wanted.

He often used his work schedule as an excuse to bail when things got a little too intense around the house. Due to the life-and-death nature of his particular expertise, he was on-call pretty much 24/7, so their family dinners were interrupted whenever he was needed, even if it meant flying to Dallas, Amarillo or Houston and staying overnight. In fact, the only family commitment that was binding at all was the two hours they spent at church every Sunday.

Church, she scoffed, her lip upturned in that same snarl she hadn’t quite been able to unscrew from her face for the past week and a half. They attended one of the biggest churches in south Abilene every single week without fail, presenting the picture-perfect Christian family, an all-American success story of fidelity, honesty and faith. It had all been a big fat lie. Little did she know her domestic bliss had come with its own hidden inclusion that she had never quite noticed in seventeen years. It took finding an email to his new lover to blow the whole thing to bits, just like the expensive vase that had crashed against the wall.

Now, ten days after The Event, she stood staring at the indention left behind. He hadn’t had it fixed yet. Who knew if he would? Who cared? It was his house now. He could do with it what he pleased, including moving in his 22-year-old playmate. Like some twisted soap opera, the part of Joely Morgan would now be played by an up-and-comer named Jena. She would sleep in her room, on her bed, on her sheets, living her life.

With a sigh Joely turned towards her huge walk-in closet. It was 10’x10’, with a long, squat chest in the middle that created two aisles in the large space. One side was his, filled with expensive suits and casual wear. The other side was hers, filled to the brim with all the pretty things he had bought for her over the years. Her throat tightened as she stared at the two wardrobe moving boxes waiting to be filled. She said nothing as she began the transfer, with all the designer clothes she had worn by duty of being a doctor’s wife.

To be truthful she hadn’t exactly worn many of the clothes that hung in her closet. Chasing around after three kids didn’t leave her much spare time to worry about such things. She generally wore sweats or jeans, with any functional top within reach. She also had a vanity table full of makeup and perfume, much of which dried out or expired before she could fully use it all. She only broke it out for special occasions, such as the aforementioned church. Other than that, her lavish wardrobe and vanity sat untouched unless she was required to step out on Russell’s arm as his lovely, doting wife should the occasion call for it.

Other than that everything just hung in her closet, neatly out of sight.

It dawned on her as she crammed the wardrobe boxes full that the same could be said for her. Russell had always kept her neatly tucked away until she was needed, on his terms, at his convenience.

Now he didn’t need her anymore. He had made that perfectly clear ten days before. She had gone all in when she said, “You want a taste of the single life? Maybe I should just leave, then.”

Those cool blue eyes never faltered. “Maybe.” It was all he said, and all, really, that needed saying. He was done. It was over. Instead of fighting for their marriage, he walked out of the house that Friday night. By Monday, he had contacted a lawyer. Since Texas wouldn’t recognize any legal separation, he settled for an informal one. They worked out an agreement. She would move out of the house, with the kids, (“Because they need you,” he had said,) and he would provide a monthly check in lieu of child support, ensuring him semi-weekly visits with his children.

It was all perfectly civilized, though every time Joely thought about it she wanted to scream. Despite their years together he had easily let her go. “I’m not in love with you anymore, Joely,” he said, without a hint of remorse or regret. He hadn't mourned their lost love and he certainly hadn't apologized for nailing the coffin shut on their seventeen-year marriage.

Why should he apologize? It had just happened. They grew apart, like many other couples. They’d lasted longer than many of their friends, an accomplishment that used to fill her with a sense of pride.

Now she was a stone’s throw from forty and on her own just like those women she used to pity.

Well, technically she wasn’t on her own. The minute Russell left the house after The Event, she had called her mother. After a few unladylike curses, Lillian Murphy formulated a contingency plan within mere minutes. Eventually Joely would have to find a job to get into her own place, but until then she could move back home to mother.

“It’s a big ol’ empty house anyway,” Lillian had said. “Five bedrooms, just me and your Gran. You’re welcome to stay here as long as you need to get back on your feet.”

Her kids were far less enthusiastic about this plan. Five-year-old Hannah immediately burst into tears. “I won’t get to sleep in my room anymore?”

“No, honey,” Joely said as she stroked her hair. “But it’s at Nanna’s house. You love staying there, don’t you?”

Hannah nodded but her crying didn’t cease. Fourteen-year-old Nash didn’t cry. In fact he didn’t speak at all. He sat there in the formal dining room, completely stoic, staring at the wood grain on the table. His adolescence had turned a once cheerful little boy into a moody, withdrawn teenager who wore black almost exclusively. She had read every book she could get her hands on regarding depression in teens, but he had been a particularly hard nut to crack. It as though it physically pained him to show any kind of emotion.

Kari Morgan didn’t have that problem. At fifteen, she was comfortable sharing every single emotion she had the very instant she had it. She had always been an expressive child, ever since she was a baby. Joely often envied her willingness to be seen and heard. She was a bit like her grandmother that way. It was one of the positives of moving back home to Lillian’s 1930s colonial home in Old Elmwood, a distinguished, older neighborhood just east of the Winters Freeway.

Unfortunately Kari didn’t see it the same way. Her safe, upper-class existence had imploded, violently, just like Mount Vesuvius. To hear her tell it, Kari Morgan was essentially Pompeii. All these changes were just that dire. Since Joely couldn’t promise that she and Russell would reconcile any too soon, if at all, they made every single change as if they were permanent. This included changing schools and moving across town from her friends.

Of course, in a city of 120,000 people ‘across town’ was still just a ten-minute car ride away at the most. From the way Kari was acting, it was like they were moving to Mars. She screamed and cried before she stomped from the room, slamming every door between the dining room and her bedroom upstairs.

It had been like wrangling wild mustangs trying to coordinate the move these past ten days. Even now, while Joely toiled away, filling box after box, her kids were scattered to their different rooms, each procrastinating as they did their level best to delay the inevitable.

Joely couldn’t help but feel a bit resentful. It was hard enough to leave. She had invested years creating a home for her family. She had picked every single piece of furniture. She had chosen every single knickknack. From the paintings and photos on the wall to the tiles on the floor, every single inch of the place had her touch on it.

“I should have fought for the house,” she mumbled as she started filling another box with shoes.

She probably would have, had Russell decided one way or the other if he wanted a divorce. For now, he just wanted to “wait and see” how the new arrangement worked for everyone. What he really meant is that he wanted to see how it worked for him. If he had cared about Joely at all he never would have cheated on her.

Her blood burned just thinking about it. Russell admitted that the affair began six months before. He had been lying for six solid months, to her, to their kids, to their God every Sunday he sat stoic and pious in that church pew, silently condemning everyone else. Likewise he didn’t come to her, letting her know anything was wrong. He never gave her a chance to fix what was ultimately broken in their relationship. He just made all the choices for her, which was the most disrespectful thing he could have done. He didn’t value her as a person, certainly not as a mate. He just decided one day he didn’t love her anymore and that was that.

“That’s an easy decision to make for the guy who has already found someone else,” she had sneered. “What if I had done that to you?”

He had chuckled then, which only pissed her off even more. “Be serious, Joely.”

Those three words had emotionally leveled Joely. It wasn’t just that her husband didn’t want her anymore. He was sure no one else did either. She was like last season’s fashion trend, or last year’s technology breakthrough. As a thirty-nine-year-old homemaker, she was obsolete.

“Joely?” she heard Russell call from the bedroom. Out of habit she scrambled to her feet when she heard his call, and cursed herself the minute she did so. He appeared at the door of the closet, looming large at six-foot-three.

Even though she hated to admit it, he still took her breath away. He was as handsome a man at forty-two as he ever was at twenty-four, when they met. He was tall and fit, with smooth jet black hair with a touch of gray at the temples. He wore a neatly trimmed beard, which only made him look more distinguished. Add that to the fat bank account, luxury car and the thriving medical practice, and he was still as desirable today as he had been in 1996. Maybe even more so.

Unlike Joely, whose hips had widened with every birth, and whose boobs had begun to lose their battle with gravity, whose long, brown hair looked best tied back in a convenient ponytail, he was able to dip his toe back into the dating waters. Girls of all ages flocked to him. Apparently one of them had already reeled him in.

“I thought you weren’t going to be here today,” she said as she continued stuffing things in a box.

“I wanted to say goodbye to the children personally,” he said in that calm, condescending tone he had perfected as a renowned surgeon.

She shoved another belonging into the box. “How generous of you.”

He leaned against the door jam. “I was hoping we could conduct this ugly business as mature adults.”

“Funny,” she said. “That’s how I felt about our marriage.”

He turned to leave, which broke her heart even more. He wouldn’t fight, for her or the kids. He was willing to just walk away from everything they had built. She wanted to scream at him, to ask him why. If only she had another vase to throw.

She followed him to the bedroom. “You have nothing to say?”

He spared her a glance. “I think we’ve said all we needed to say.”

How could that be possible? She still had so many unanswered questions. Rationally she knew that no answer he could give would ever satisfy her, but dammit. He should at least try. He was the one in the wrong. It was up to him to repent, to fix this mess… to make things okay again. “You haven’t said you’re sorry,” she pointed out.

His gaze was as direct as his tone. “Because I’m not.” Her jaw dropped as she stared at him. “Face it, Joely, we’ve been coasting for years. We don’t talk. We don’t have sex. We are really nothing more than glorified roommates. Be honest. Is this what you wanted for your life?”

Her answer was immediate. “Yes. This is what we signed up for, you and me. For better, for worse. Remember?”

“Those were promises made by clueless twenty-year-olds,” he dismissed easily as he stopped next to the door. It was as though he couldn’t wait to get away from her.

“Clueless twenty-year-olds who loved each other,” she corrected.

He smirked. “This isn’t some fairy tale, Joely. This is real life. And sometimes there aren’t any happily ever afters.”

She wanted to scream at him, telling him there could be if they were both willing to fight for it. For Russell Morgan that fight was over.

He left her to her task so that he could spend a little more time with the kids. By the time she headed downstairs, she realized that much of their things weren’t even packed. She had hoped to be out of there by sundown, but thanks to Russell she now had at least two more hours of work to do.

“Just leave their stuff here,” he shrugged. “They’re going to be visiting twice a month anyway. Might as well leave it as familiar and welcoming as possible.”

She noted that exemption only applied for the children. He hadn’t stopped her from packing everything she owned and removing it from the house. “Fine,” she responded tightly. “The movers will be here tomorrow at seven o’clock.” She turned to her three kids. Hannah burst into tears as she flung herself at her Daddy. He picked her up and cuddled her close, crooning into her ear. “Now, now,” he said as he kissed her hair. “Be a big girl. It’s going to be all right.” She was still inconsolable as he placed her back onto her feet. He turned to Nash, who was doing his best not to cry. His eyes were glassy and his lip quivered as he faced his father, who ruffled his hair. “You’re the man of the house now,” he said. “I want you to be strong for the girls.” Joely had to wonder if she was included in that group. She suspected not. In every way Joely was no longer Russell’s concern. Russell turned to Kari, who fell apart as she threw her arms around his neck. “I don’t want to go,” she wailed as she clung to him.

“I know, Kare-Bear,” he said as he patted her back. “But you’ll be back before you know it.” He tried to untangle her arms, but she had a death grip. His voice was soft and sure. “Come on, now. It won’t be as bad as you think.”

“It’s awful,” she sobbed into his neck. “Please don’t make me go.”

The pain in her voice tore at Joely’s heart. She hated to see her daughter so devastated. And she hated Russell for it, more every day. “Give it some time,” Russell told his daughter. “You’ll see that this is the best thing for everyone.”

“It’s just best for you!” she hollered, her mood turning on a dime. With that she grabbed her bags and ran from the house. Nash shuffled his feet behind her, holding Hannah’s hand in his.

Joely turned to Russell. He reached down for an envelope on the table in their huge foyer. For all the things she had hoped he’d say, he said nothing at all. He handed her the envelope, which, from the blue checkered paper within the clear window, she could tell was a check. He was paying her to take care of his children, but more importantly he was paying her to leave. She took it without saying anything, stuffed it in her purse and walked out of that $350,000 home with her head held high.

***


To be continued!! Stay tuned!