“Why are we watching this? They’re supposed stars, but I don’t recognize half of them,” Nora groused from her slumped position on her sister’s couch.
“Because the girls got me hooked on this stupid show and now I have to see the finale,” Sam replied as she pulled another cake pop off the coffee table and proceeded to shove the entire thing into her mouth.
Nora just rolled her eyes and mindlessly stared as the B-list celebrities danced the foxtrot. Normally she enjoyed a little brainless reality TV like any good American, but with everything in her actual reality being thrown through a blender these days, she just didn’t have the stomach for the fake stuff.
“If you sigh like that one more time I’m kicking you out and you’ll have to go play with the kids,” Sam said without turning her gaze from the television.
The threat made Nora smile. She knew that her sister had every intention of following through should she need too. That girl took her dance shows seriously. Nora buttoned her lips so she wouldn’t sigh again and be relegated to the toy room. She loved her nieces and nephew, but in the mood she was in, the last thing she wanted to do was entertain little kids.
Closing her eyes, she tried to concentrate on the cake she was making for Mr. and Mrs. Eldridge’s Brazilian Carnival themed anniversary party next week.
She wanted to do at least five tiers, so she’d need support stands on each layer. The frosting had to be bright and colorful, with feathers and glitter accents to really make it fabulous. Maybe she’d even add sparklers or something to really up the wow factor.
“Okay, now you can help me with my baby name list.”
Sam’s voice startled her out of her mental cake decorating and she almost rolled off the couch.
“Geez, Nora. I didn’t mean to scare you out of your skin,” Sam said with a hand over her mouth trying unsuccessfully to stifle her giggles. “Were you asleep?”
Getting up to sit cross-legged on the couch Nora brushed her hair out of her eyes and looked at Sam in sisterly scathing.
“No, dearest sister. Despite the riveting drama between the overweight businessman and the out-of-work actor, I was cake planning.”
Sam stuck her tongue out and Nora rolled her eyes.
“Very mature, Sam. You’re a mother.”
“Right, and I’m about to give birth again. Matt and I are exchanging baby names tomorrow, and I need your help.”
After grabbing the list her sister held out, Nora glanced at the list of names.
“Oh Sam, please tell me you’re kidding with these names. I get that mom and dad gave us weirdo names, but give me a break!”
Sam snatched her list out of Nora’s hand.
“What do you mean? These are great names,” Sam said as she looked at the paper in her hand. “Besides, our names aren’t that weird.”
Nora had been named after her paternal grandmother who had come to the U.S. from Ireland after her husband died in the seventies. Nora and Sam’s father had been a teenager at the time. Sam had been named after the Russian city their mother had immigrated from as a nod to her heritage.
“Yeah, Nora and Samara are super normal.” Nora said sarcastically and launched herself off the couch to walk across the room to grab a soda out of the wet bar in the corner. “As for your baby name list—Murphy? And Evelyn? If you name your kid Evelyn, she’s going to be born sixty-five years old and wearing a polyester sweater. The first thing she’s going to do once she pops out is to offer the hospital staff some shiny ribbon candy.”
Nora popped the top of her soda dramatically to emphasize her punch line and Sam burst out laughing.
“You obviously missed your calling as a stand-up comedian, Nora.” Sam said after she got her laughter under control. “Toss me a bottle of water will you?”
Nora reached back into the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water to toss to her sister.
“I can’t believe you guys still have bottles of water in here. Isn’t Matt on some saving the planet, going green, stopping global warming kick?”
“Yes, but these are what’s left over from his pre-Captain Planet phase and I promised to recycle.”
Nora started laughing as she pictured her buff brother-in-law wearing tight spandex while he flew around town with a group of racially diverse children with super powers.
“Now I’m going to have to call him Captain Planet all the time.”
Sam and Nora both doubled over laughing like lunatics. When they finally calmed down they collapsed against each other on the couch and sighed. Sometimes it was like they were teenagers again. It had been she and Sam against the world back in those days, but they had kept each other standing, and in the end they’d both ended up okay.
“So, tomorrow,” Sam said. “I’m thinking we can meet up for coffee at like nine o’clock and then hit the shops on Michigan. I need to pick up a bunch of stuff for the kids and I need to look for a new couch for the den. Plus, I need to hit up the lingerie store for bras and add some members to my support group.”
Nora had forgotten about their plans for tomorrow. She’d been so busy with work and the fact that she’d accidentally sliced her arm open on a sharp shelf yesterday that it had flown out of her mind.
She looked down at her forearm at the thought of all those stitches. The stupid thing still ached like a beast, but it hadn’t been the first time and it sure as shootin’ wasn’t going to be the last. It seemed like every five minutes she was cutting herself, or burning herself, or catching her bangs on fire.
Ah, the hazards of a giant klutz working in a kitchen.
You know that your ability to screw up is top notch when the triage nurses and ER doctors start to know you by name. It was a good thing she had insurance because stitches didn’t come cheap and she didn’t plan on relinquishing her kitchen anytime soon.
“Yo, earth to my space cadet sister!” Sam waved her hand in front of Nora’s face before flicking her on the nose, causing Nora to flinch away.
“Hey! Quit with the theatrics. I’m listening.”
Sam gave her a patented I’m a mother and your big sister, and I don’t believe that for a minute stare down. It was equal parts frown, disbelief, and censure.
“All right, so I wasn’t listening, but your coffee and shopping plan for tomorrow sounds great.”
Sam didn’t relinquish her look right away, but eventually she blew out a breath and laughed.
“Fine. I’ll see you at the cafe ́ at nine tomorrow morning.” Sam said as Nora hauled herself off the couch and grabbed her bag. Sam yelled after her as she made her way to the front door. “And wear tennis shoes this time!”
“Yes, mom!” Nora yelled back and slammed the front door with a satisfying thump of defiance. Where had she put those wedge tennis shoes with the three-inch heels?
Nora Connolly sat in the cafe ́ down the street from Sam’s apartment enjoying her morning coffee while waiting for her sister to arrive. It was a modern-style coffee shop that turned into more of a bar at night. She and Sam frequented the little café quite a bit. It was usually less busy than some of the others on the block, plus they liked giving their money to a more mom and pop type of store rather than one of the faceless chain places.
Not to mention there was usually some pretty fabulous eye candy with Winterman Security being across the street. It turned the little cafe ́ into a bit of a hotspot for the former-military caffeine enthusiasts, which usually meant that any time of day there was at least one buff guy with a bad boy attitude and unholy grin drinking coffee and providing fantasy fodder for every woman in the place.
Nora openly studied the fine male specimen before her. She had no qualms about him seeing her check him out either, since he did the same thing to her all the time.
Every time Nora saw Jack Coleman she couldn’t help but hear the theme song from Power Rangers play in her head. However, to his credit, Jack would have made that shiny spandex uniform look way better than the White Ranger ever did. It would mold to his glorious physique in all the right places.
She had known Jack since she was in high school, and he looked even better now than he had back then. That was saying something because he had looked damn good at seventeen .
Jack was absolutely drool-worthy. Standing at about two or three inches over six feet, he had broad shoulders and a trim waist. He also did more heavy weight lifting than most of the men she knew, so he seemed to have rippling muscles. Nora figured it was part military- honed gym skills and part good old-fashioned genetics.
Nora shook her head and tried to get the image of tracing the lines of each one of his muscles with her tongue out of her brain. He was wearing his blonde hair longer than he ever had, probably a bit of rebellion after his time in the Marines and subsequent years spent as a mercenary in Asia and the Middle East.
While Jack wasn’t beautiful, his features were cut and raw. He was manly and rugged. The man had a jaw that looked like it had been chiseled from a rock.
Just looking at him had her getting hot. One look at him and she was thinking clashing mouths, handcuffs, and rough, sweaty sex. Secretly, she was hoping eventually he would do something about their lightning attraction, but he kept holding back.
A few years ago her sister Sam had married her longtime boyfriend, Matt Taylor. Jack had pawed at his date through the entire ceremony and reception. That was, of course, after he scared Nora’s date off with some sort of threat of pain or maiming.
She had been fuming at his high-handed arrogance around the side of the house, out of view of wedding guests, when he’d come to find her. She couldn’t help but remember how good he’d looked in his tux. Hell, what was she talking about? The man made any form of clothing look downright sinful. She figured he would look even more sinful wearing nothing at all.
“What are you doing? Come back to the party. They’re throwing the bouquet soon and Sam will need you,” Jack had grumbled at her as he came around the side of the house and spotted her.
Nora had let out a very unladylike snort at that. The idea of catching the bouquet was utterly ridiculous. It wasn’t like she would be able to find anyone to marry her even if she did catch the stupid thing, not with Jack running off all of her prospects.
When she told him as much, she saw his shoulders tense and his hands fist. Nora had no idea what he had to be angry about, but she had been sick of his antics.
“What’s your problem, Jack? You don’t want me, but you don’t want anyone else near me either? I’m getting sick and tired of you and this stupid, ass backward game you’re playing. I don’t know what your problem is, but I’m done with you!”
Nora stomped forward with every intention of shoving her way past him, but at the last second he grabbed her wrist and pulled her flush against his body. Her skin sizzled and he slid a hand to the back of her neck beneath her hair while the other locked around her at the small of her back.
“Well, I’m not done with you,” he growled.
The hand in her hair twisted and the arm around her waist tightened while his lips conquered hers in an almost brutal fashion. When she offered no resistance, his lips softened and she found herself melting into his kiss. With every pass of his tongue she felt her panties getting wetter. And judging by the way he pressed his groin into her stomach, he wasn’t unaffected either.
When his hand moved from its location around her waist to squeeze her ass, Nora released a moan. The pleasure of his hands and mouth were overwhelming. She had waited so long for him to do something like this.
Alas, it was too good to be true. Her moan seemed to break the spell and Jack shoved her roughly away from him.
“That was a mistake. We can’t get involved, Nora.” He shook his head and looked at her like he was pleading with her to understand. “It can’t happen again.”
Was he trying to convince her or himself?
Then his words hit home. A mistake? That kiss that had just scorched her nerve endings was a mistake?
Ugh! That man couldn’t go five minutes without driving her crazy.
“Damn right it won’t happen again, Jack Coleman. You think being with me is a mistake? Fine! Stay the hell away from me then. I’ll find someone who doesn’t think moments with me are mistakes. And stay away from my dates!”
She gave him a parting look that would have been fatal if looks could do such things. When she shoved past him a second time, he called her name and reached for her hand again, but she ripped it away.
She wrapped her anger around herself like a shield so she wouldn’t breakdown and cry in the middle of Matt and Sam’s reception, but later that night, after she’d made it to the safety of her own house, she let the tears loose like a waterfall.
After that day, she and Jack went back to being only friends. To Nora’s rose-tinted eyes, their friendship had a new element of closeness to it, but Jack never made another advance. He continued to make bawdy comments when they were in public just as he did with everyone, but he never made another physical move toward her.
Sam plopped down in the seat across from Nora, startling her mind back to the present.
“I’m sorry that I’m late. I let Matt get Olivia ready this morning and she came downstairs with only two thirds of her hair in a ponytail, an orange skirt, purple tank top, and red cowboy boots. It took me fifteen minutes just to repair the damage that he’d done.”
They both laughed at that. Olivia was their youngest child and Matt, for all his fine qualities as a father, failed miserably at every attempt to assist in getting his daughter ready. Nora figured he did it in an attempt to get Sam to stop asking him to help, but she couldn’t prove it.
“Did the kids go to Matt’s parents for the day?” She and Sam had planned on coffee and then taking a long shopping trip in downtown Chicago.
“Nope, they’re hanging out with Matt. He, Sebastian, and Jack are going to take them to the zoo apparently. I told them that we might meet them for dinner. Is that okay?”
“Of course that’s fine. We’ll be starved by that time anyway. Besides, your husband always picks up my bill, so I’d be an idiot to turn down a free dinner.”
Nora had forgotten how unforgiving of a shopper Sam could be. After a full day of hitting the stores, they were beat and Nora was regretting her shoe choice. They’d done their work and driven Sam crazy, but Nora hadn’t thought through the ramifications of actually wearing them all day. The only reprieve she’d gotten had been while in the cab driving from one end of Michigan Avenue to the other.
As fun as these trips to the city were, Nora couldn’t wait to get home, put on her sweats, slip her feet into her horribly cliche ́ pink bunny slippers, and watch an old movie on the black and white cinema channel.
First, however, she was going to have to get through dinner.
Sam had called Matt during the afternoon to tell him where to meet them for dinner. As they entered the little Italian restaurant, the hostess greeted them. Sam told her she was looking for three men with three kids. The girl blushed and smiled brightly as she directed them to where the men and kids were seated.
Obviously the guys had made quite an impression on the poor hostess. They tended to do that on their own, but when you put them all together in the same room, any woman would fall prey to the pure virile masculinity and gorgeous features, not to mention their outrageous charm. Each one of them had their own charisma, but when they were all together they were lethal.
When she and Sam approached the table, all of the men stood. Sam kissed her husband before sitting beside him. This left one seat open for Nora, next to Jack. Figures . She suspected foul play. Her friends were trying to set them up, and to their eternal dismay, it definitely wasn’t working. They just kept trying anything they could think of, hoping something would stick.
“So ladies, how was shopping?” Matt asked as he handed Olivia and Heath more crayons so they could continue to draw on their children’s menus. Sam’s oldest, Audrey, was currently engrossed in her attempt to capture Sebastian during a rather giggly thumb war.
“It was great. I got some clothes for the kids and some kitchen stuff, but the bigger news is that I found the perfect couch for your den. It’s being delivered on Tuesday!”
Matt groaned and pretended to wipe the sweat off his forehead. “How much is that costing me?”
Sam just chuckled and shoved at his shoulder. “Not too much.
Besides, I refuse to keep that ratty old thing that some pothead pulled out of an estate sale in the seventies.” Sam levelled her that’s the way things are going to be look.
Matt’s couch had been a source of constant bickering between the couple since college. It really was atrocious—brown, orange, and what Nora assumed used to be white, now more of a dirty yellow color. One of the cushions looked like bong water had been spilled on it, which it very well may have been, and the cushion covers were falling apart.
Matt, however, loved it and didn’t want to give it up, but Sam was apparently putting her foot down.
“Fine, but it had better at least be comfortable. If you got us a couch that looks good and sucks to sit on I’m going to be forced to...” Matt let his sentence trail off as he looked around the table. Instead of finishing his sentence he gave his wife a menacing glare that she scoffed at.
“What will you be forced to do, little brother? Inquiring minds want to know.” Sebastian set his elbows on the table and put his head in his hands. He looked at his brother with enthusiastic mock interest.
Sebastian, Matt’s half-brother, couldn’t ever resist and opportunity to razz someone.
Besides, it wasn’t a secret what Matt and Sam’s sexual proclivities were, and Sebastian loved to tease them at every opportunity. It was their fault. If they would stop getting so embarrassed by it, Sebastian would stop thinking it was funny.
“Fuck you, Sebastian.”
“Daddy!” A little gasp came from Audrey. “You said a bad word. You need to say you’re sorry and put a dollar in the cussing cup,” she said with her little voice.
Nora stifled a laugh. Sam had made sure her children were incredibly polite. At least Audrey and Heath were. Olivia was still too small to say much more than stilted, incomplete sentences.
The ‘cussing cup’ was an idea that Nora and Sam had concocted to get everyone to stop cursing around the kiddos. The guys kept trying to call it a swear jar so it would sound more manly. Even though they were the only ones contributing money, the girls kept it the cussing cup.
Matt apologized for his cursing while simultaneously kicking Sebastian’s shin under the table. He also handed a dollar over to Sam. They used the money for the weekly trip to the ice cream shop. Thanks to the time the guys had spent in the military, there was usually plenty of cash.
Nora couldn’t help but smile at the camaraderie they all had. Sam and Matt had started dating in high school. She had become friends with Matt and Sebastian since there was only a year age gap between her and Sam. Jack was best friends with Matt and Sebastian and had gone into the Marines with Sebastian right after high school.
Nora liked to think of them as a tight little family. After all, weren’t friends supposed to be the families you choose for yourself?
She couldn’t help but enjoy the warm feeling that having a family, of sorts, created. It had been only her and Sam for a while and it was nice to have other people around who cared about her. Especially now, since Sam had become a wife and mother. Nora still lived in the house that they’d shared after their parents had passed away.
Ian and Jana Connolly had been killed after they were forced off the road by a semi-truck. Nora had been a senior in high school and Sam had been in her first year at Chicago University. Even after all these years, Nora still missed them like crazy.
Her dad had been the strong and steady type, an Irishman through and through. He’d never had a lot to say, but he’d been wise and loving. Her mother had been a total cuckoo bird. She’d loved bright colors and never shut up. If she weren’t talking then she would hum and sing and tap pencils.
That’s what Nora remembered most about her childhood—color and noise. And love. They’d never doubted how much their parents loved each other and their daughters.
As if he could sense her sudden melancholy state, Jack reached his hand out to grasp hers and stroke it comfortingly. Even though she was sure the gesture wasn’t meant to be sexual, any touch he gave her set her on fire. To her utter horror she could feel her nipples bead against the front of her cotton t-shirt for everyone’s viewing pleasure. The horny little tramps were pleading for attention and apparently didn’t care if they humiliated her in the process.
As if he knew her thoughts, she saw Jack’s gaze dip from her face to her chest. After catching an eye full of her headlight situation, the side of his mouth picked up in a little grin of satisfaction. She morphed from consoled and horny to pissed in zero point two seconds.
One minute the jerk was comforting her and next he was making her mad as hell. She slid her fingers up to his wrist under the guise of moving his hand inward on her thigh before she pinched the inside of his wrist as hard as she could with her nails.
He jerked back his offended arm to cradle it in his lap as he rubbed her mark with his thumb. He scowled fiercely at her, but she just gave him her best shit-eating smile before she turned away to the waitress to give the woman her order.
When the waitress turned her attention to Jack he gave her his biggest grin that showed off his dimples and gave her his order with a wink. When he turned back to the table, he had a satisfied smirk. Nora wanted to wipe that smug look right off his face, but she couldn’t think of anything to say other than to call him a butthead.
Really mature, Nora. Letting jealousy turn you into a five year old is a great idea. Then you and Audrey can compare insults.
Once Nora was back in the car with Sam for the ride home, she knew the questions about dinner would start. Sam had seen what had transpired all throughout dinner between her and Jack. She was just waiting for Sam to start barraging her with questions.
When she didn’t, Nora studied her sister’s face questioningly. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Sam glanced over at her with a questioning look but Nora saw the humor in her eyes and the way her mouth tried not to smile.
“You’re a real pain in my ass sometimes, you know that?” Nora crossed her arms across her chest and pouted. She seemed to be in a five-year-old mood lately.
“Look, honey. I know that you and Jack have a thing going. You know that you and Jack have a thing going. The only problem seems to be convincing Jack that you two have something. I don’t know what his deal is or why he is acting this way, but in the meantime it is a little funny the way you two bicker and bitch all while undressing each other with your eyes.”
“Well, I’m glad that we can be entertaining.” She couldn’t take too much offense though. She knew that if she had been the outsider looking in, she would have been amused too.
After walking into her house, Nora hit the button on her phone to listen to her messages, though she didn’t think she’d have any since she’d just been with everyone who would have called her.
There were five messages. She was surprised and a little bit excited. For some weird reason, she loved having messages. It was like opening the mailbox and seeing a greeting card instead of a grocery ad.
Hitting play, she listened and deleted the first four messages since they were blank. She was a little disappointed. The last message however had her breaking out into a cold sweat and nearly hyperventilating.
“Hello, my gorgeous girl.” Nora shivered with the memories. “I’m so glad I found you. I’m on my way to see you, beautiful. We can make some new memories together. I’ll see you soon.”
Nora sank to the floor because her legs were shaking so badly she couldn’t hold herself up any longer. It had been months since she had heard that voice. The last time had been at the CIA field office, and he had stared at her the entire time with a satisfied smirk on his face. Even when the scary guys in black suits moved to take him away, he blew her a kiss. She shivered at the memory.
She had thought she was safe. She had been so wrong. She couldn’t stop the chills that overtook her body. She needed to figure out what to do, but she was having trouble breathing and standing, so formulating plans was not going to work at the moment.
She knew she wouldn’t be safe in the house alone. She loved her house, but she wasn’t under any delusions that it wouldn’t be easy to break into the large Victorian by breaking a door or window. She was pretty sure that she’d be fine for the night, but anything after that she’d need to figure something out for protection.
What she really wanted to do was pick up and run away to some foreign country, but she couldn’t. She’d put a lot of time and emotional effort into a life not lived in fear.
She needed help. Nora picked up her cell phone and hit the speed dial. Voicemail.
“Sam, it’s me. He’s back, Sam. He called me. I don’t know what I should do. Please call me as soon as you can.”
She hung up, knowing that Sam would get the message at some point.
The exhaustion from the day of shopping combined with the new stress hit her like a bullet train. She dragged herself into bed but didn’t bother with getting undressed. She just toed off her tennis shoes and crawled in. She fell right to sleep but it was restless and full of nightmares.
About The Author ~