Friday, September 20, 2019

Vulnerability is Power #selflove #beyourbestself


Some equate vulnerability with weakness...with tears or fragility or brokenness. I see it as authenticity. In an age of social media fakeness where everyone presents only their best selves to create an illusion of success or joy, a person being vulnerable and exposing their truth is a sign that they are in touch with their own power.

It's hard at first to peel back the layers of social brainwashing that tells us to be perfect or to be positive all of the time; but once you begin to strip away that mask, you will discover an intoxicating level of freedom.

When my husband died, I was struck by how many people averted their eyes if I showed my sorrow...if my voice trembled or a tear escaped my eye. I instinctively recoiled at their discomfort. Fuck them, I'd think to myself, I'm entitled to be sad at my husband's death! Why did I need to even state that to myself? It's okay to be sad...it's okay not to be perfect...it's okay to be angry. 


Being afraid of bullies or judgment or rejection are human fears that cross age groups, genders, and races.

This week a client of mine said she's afraid of being too vulnerable as she writes her memoir because she's worried what her family may think of her--but it's her truth that she's scared of revealing. I understand her fear, more that that, I understand the culture that has caused all of us to be afraid of being real.

Our nation is experiencing a tremendous increase in suicide rates amongst teenagers. I'm sure there are many theories as to why and I'm not intending to solve the issue here on my blog today. I do want to tie the theory of societal pressure to be perfect, the acceptance of bullying in our culture, and the fear of being real into it, however.

Our youth are being bombarded with images of perfect people leading perfect lives. They compare, even if they are told not to do it. Bullies believe it's okay to mock those who don't fit into a mold because our culture rewards them for bad behavior. We may speak out about bullying---and honestly believe it is wrong--but do we speak out when we see it or do we say it's not our business and go on with our lives (usually because we're afraid of retaliation from other bullies)?

Mothers are running themselves ragged trying to keep up with the other moms instead of admitting that they may be tired or longing for a quiet night with their families. Why? Because that would mean being vulnerable, or maybe they fear being mocked, or perhaps they fear not being good enough because they are comparing themselves to an illusion?

Being afraid of bullies or judgment or rejection are human fears that cross age groups, genders, and races. To protect ourselves, we learned to put on a "brave face" or to "suck it up" or "to be positive"--even if we were dying inside or our world was falling apart. In the process of all this positivity and sucking it up, we started chasing perfect and lost ourselves.

...once you begin to strip away that mask, you will discover an intoxicating level of freedom. 

It's easy to blame social media, but I remember this culture when I grew up, too. Social media simply amplified it. Perhaps we lost our humanity while trying to be perfect...chasing trends and comparing ourselves to celebrities and models.

The point is: we can all reclaim our authenticity by allowing ourselves to show our flaws. More than that, we can embrace our flaws for making us the unique humans we are! Practicing being vulnerable is empowering because you are conquering a fear of social rejection. With each baby step toward your inner truth, you learn to trust yourself to handle whatever comes your way. Truth becomes your armor.

I no longer apologize for being sad or weird or awkward or happy. Isn't it crazy how we have been trained to apologize for being ourselves?

I told my client to ignore that inner censor and to write her truth with as much passion as she can.

I reject anyone's judgment of my life because they aren't walking in my shoes or enduring my struggles.

I encourage my children--who are now in their early 20s--to do what is best for their lives rather than listen to the drum of others' expectations.

Vulnerability is powerful...so expect some people to be afraid of your new found confidence. Be okay with that. You only have one life to live, why not live it your way and be your best and most fabulous and somewhat flawed self?

Peace to you.
Amber
http://www.amberleaeaston.com 


Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of romantic thrillers, contemporary romance, women's fiction, and nonfiction. She also works as a professional editor and creativity coach, takes road trips with her dogs whenever the mood strikes, and advocates for suicide awareness. Her life motto is: Imagine, Create, Become. No matter what challenges life tosses her way, she gathers the pieces to create something weird and wonderful. Find out more about her books by visiting her website at amberleaeaston.com


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Something Dark and Deadly is Coming for Her #RomanticSuspense #NewRelease #excerpt




Do you ever truly know the ones you love? 

That's the question that drives this new romantic suspense/thriller novel, Mercy Upon Us... check out the blurb and the excerpt below. 
Available in paperback and all ebook formats worldwide



Back cover copy...

Doctor Riana Wolfe has a perfect life--a private practice in Dillon, Colorado, two cute kids, and a handsome husband--until one night unravels it all. Her husband's suicide rolls back the curtain on a web of lies so elaborate that she begins to question her sanity. Trapped in a spiral of deceit and betrayal, she and her children become targets and she has no idea why or who is behind it. 

Brody Dalton has no interest in drama. A retired ski champion, he is rehabilitating his shattered leg and nursing a wounded ego when he hears the gunshot come from next door. He rushes to the aid of his former childhood friend, Riana, without thought of the consequences. Rumors in the small community abound about why Riana's husband committed suicide and about what other secrets she may be hiding. He is battling his own demons, yet cannot stay away from his former friend's obvious distress. As the rest of the community shies away from the widow, he puts himself in danger to help. 

Drugs, secrets, and death chase Riana and Brody as they delve deep into the mysterious shadow life of her deceased husband. Through it all, they realize their bond from decades ago has never truly subsided, but the timing for love couldn't be worse. As Riana struggles to save her children from harm and to salvage what is left of her shattered life, can she open her heart enough to trust Brody? Will they be able to overcome--and outrun--the darkness that haunts them both? 

**may contain emotional triggers regarding suicide and drug abuse**

An excerpt...

Bam, bam, bam, rattle, rattle, rattle. She opened her eyes, confused about where she was and what the sounds were. She blinked at the surroundings, untangled herself from the chair, stubbed her toe on the toolbox and peeked down the hallway toward the front entrance.  
Brody stood at the door, hands cupped around his face that pressed against the glass.
For someone she hadn’t seen in years, he certainly appeared everywhere lately. She glanced over her shoulder at the toolbox before closing the door to Marshall’s office.
He knocked again. Groggy from her nap, she wondered what time it was and why he stood outside the office door.
“Let me guess,” she said when she unlocked the door for him, “you are in desperate need of counseling and can’t wait until I am officially open for business again?”
“Exactly. I know you’re the best in town.” He grinned and for a minute she forgot the chaos that was now her life. Brody Dalton definitely had a way about him, an I-Have-It-All-Under-Control-You-Can-Count-On-Me way.  
“What are you really doing here?” she asked, opening the door all the way to allow him access before locking it again.  
“I’m on my way home, stopped at the market, spotted your car and thought you might need my help.” He glanced around at the quiet room. “But now that I’m here it looks more like I have interrupted a nap than a packing.”
“Packing?” Back to him, she combed her hands through her hair and walked back to her own space. “Why do you think I am packing?”
“Marshall’s office…sorry…it’s probably too soon for that. I thought you were here going through his things.”  
"No one sent you here?"
"Why would anyone send me here?"

Instead of sitting at her desk, she sank into her therapist chair, which was burgundy suede with rolling arms. She loved this chair because it was easy to curl into, feet tucked beneath her.  
Brody sat on the sofa, his gaze scanning the room.
“I needed peace. It’s a little noisy at my house these days.” She smoothed her hands over the arms of her chair. “How was work?”
“Good.” He smiled without looking at her. “Do you know how many times I have driven by your office since I’ve been back and thought about stopping in to say hello?”
“How many?”  
“Dozens and dozens.” His gaze returned to her face. “I suppose you’ve heard I have a date with your cousin tonight. That’s okay, right? You don’t feel like I’m invading your personal life or anything, do you?”
“Are you trying to invade my personal life?” 
"Maybe so." His grin faded. Their gaze locked.
Rattled by his presence, she jumped from the chair and walked to the mini-fridge behind her desk. “Water? Juice?”
“Juice would be great. And, um, I should probably tell you that some people think we've been having an affair."
She froze in mid-motion, uncertain as to if she had heard him correctly. “I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"The sheriff stopped by my work today and—"
"The sheriff did what?" She spun around and gaped at him. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. 
"I shouldn't be telling you this."
"You definitely should be telling me this."
"He had a lot of questions about how I ended up at your house before the police arrived."
"You did?" She frowned. She had no memory of him being there, only the sensation of someone comforting her at one point. Everything else blurred after Marshall had put the gun to his head. 
Brody's face softened with understanding. "It doesn't matter, Ri. People are going to say whatever they're going to say, but we know the truth and that's all that matters."
"Maybe not." She returned to her task of getting him a drink. 
“I want to help. You didn’t deserve any of this and neither did your kids. I want to be here even if it makes people talk. Is that lame?” 
She handed him the juice without meeting his gaze. “Yeah, it’s pretty lame, Brody.”  
“Seriously?” He laughed before taking a drink of the juice. “You’re calling me lame?”
“You called yourself lame and asked if I agreed.” She settled into her chair. “Piper?  Seriously?”
They chuckled together in the quiet of the office, drank their cranberry juice and sat for a few minutes without need for another word. 
“Piper seems nice. I’m sure we’ll have a good time.” He studied the empty juice bottle in his hand.  
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll have a good time,” she muttered. “I thought you were going to cut wood for me and here you are slacking off in my office drinking my juice and dating my cousin.  Something is wrong here, Brody. Piper is probably pacing the driveway waiting to see you wield a chainsaw.”
“Do you think so?”
"I guarantee it. She's practically drooling over seeing you all hot and sweaty."
"Hot and sweaty? It's like ten degrees outside."
"You're a mountain guy—you'd probably rip your shirt off if it was minus ten."
Again, they laughed as if the years between them had never existed. 
She found herself wishing they hadn’t dropped out of contact. 
“Why did we lose touch?” she asked, after the laughter had lapsed into silence.
“You were a college chick and I was a no-good ski bum. I never thought you would be back here. You used to talk about living in California, somewhere hot with palm trees and sunsets on the beach.” Again his gaze traveled around her office. "I actually never thought I'd be back here, at least not under my current circumstances."
"Yeah, I thought you had house in Lake Tahoe or somewhere like that."
"I still do." He nodded, gaze averted to the carpet. "I needed so much physical therapy that my parents convinced me to stay here for awhile."
She frowned. "Aren't you going back to Tahoe?"
"People in Tahoe keep expecting me to make a comeback and I hate to disappoint." He grinned and spun the now empty bottle of juice against his knee. "So why didn't you end up on a beach somewhere?"
“Marshall thought we should raise the kids in Colorado, close to his parents, back in my hometown—he sort of liked the idea of reconnecting with our roots. End of story.” 
But it wasn’t the end of the story, not even the beginning or middle. She rubbed the tightness in her shoulders and closed her eyes. He had toyed with the idea of leaving, but she had brushed him off, had become complacent in her own life.
Why did I do that? I don't even remember my reasons for staying. The kids? The practice? Why can't I remember? 
“That doesn't sound like you.” He stepped toward the windows. “You always had such ambition, such clear ideas of what you wanted your life to be like. Coming back here—a place you always wanted to flee when we were kids—seems like a strange move."
"Yet here I am."
"And here I am."
"Exactly."
"Two fucked up individuals who have no idea what the next move is. Perfect."
She cleared her throat. 
“Well, at least we can spare each other the small talk and bullshit.” She grinned at the easy way they had fallen into their old communication style. “Since we’re being so honest with one another, tell me if you agree with everyone else and think I have lost my mind.”
He turned abruptly at that but didn’t answer right away. He leaned his hip against her desk and studied her upturned face. “I think anyone would go a bit crazy in your situation.”
“That is not reassuring, Brody.” Her gaze drifted through her open door, across the hall and onto Marshall’s door.  
“Any more news about possible suspects?”
Her gaze shot back to him. “Suspects? For what?”
“The break-in.” He motioned to her face. "Any news?”
“No.” Her fingers touched her lip as if she had forgotten.
“I get the impression that there’s something you want to tell me…what is it?”
“Who’s the therapist now, Brody Dalton?” She pushed from the chair and moved around the office as if looking for something else to do. “It’s almost dinner time. I promised the kids I’d bring home a pizza so…I should go.”
“I’ll walk you out.”
“That’s okay. I have enough babysitters waiting for me at home.” She hovered next to Marshall’s door. She needed to get the toolbox.  
“I am not your babysitter.”
"What are you then?"
"Some say I'm your secret lov-ah." He winked. "But in reality I am your friend." 
"It's good to have a friend," she whispered, lost in his eyes and in the ease of his presence. He made her feel safe even when her entire world crumbled around her like the Apocalypse. Maybe it was their history as two brats ripping up the mountainside back in the day or maybe it was simply the fact that he wasn't judging—whatever it was, she appreciated it. 
He folded his arms over his chest and stared at her. “What’s in that room?”
“Nothing. Marshall’s office.” She leaned her shoulder against the frame and waited for him to leave. “I’ll see you at the house.”
“I’ll wait.” He leaned his shoulder against the wall and grinned. “I want to see what’s behind door number one.
They stared at each other for a minute before she decided to open it. He had no idea what was in the toolbox. With as much casualness as she could fake, she retrieved her purse and the toolbox.  
“Let me take that. It looks heavy.” He reached for the handle of the metal box, his hand covering hers. When she refused to let go, he looked her in the eye. “It’s okay to let me carry some of the load, spitfire. I know more than you think I do.”
“What’s that mean?” she whispered, unwilling to release the handle.  
“I lived across the river from the two of you for the past year and I don’t sleep much. I heard things. I saw things.”
“Meaning?” 
“Meaning that I know that you didn’t exactly have an equal partner in the marriage.  Meaning that I know you carried more than your fair share and tolerated more than most people ever would have. Meaning I know he lived in the garage apartment for at least as long as I've been back in town.” He managed to pull the toolbox from her fingers. “So let me carry a toolbox to your car for you, chop your wood, and don’t think twice about it, okay?”
She nodded, mind too busy with possible scenarios of what he could possibly know for certain to speak. The arguments that had occurred late at night after one of Marshall’s disappearances…the strange comings and goings of Marshall and his buddy Ron… She stopped abruptly in the doorway.
Ron. It could have been Ron this morning. Same height. Same build. He had acted so strange yesterday, guilty almost.  
Guilty. 
“Riana.” Brody’s hand gripped her forearm. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She shook off the thought, determined to call the police detective who had given her his business card this morning.  
She had never liked Ron. There had always been something dark about him, an aura of doom. She activated the alarm and double-checked it before walking from the curb. She swallowed the fear that welled in her throat and looked around the parking lot.
Someone watched her, she knew it.  
Too many cars. Too many people coming and going. Too much to think about.  
“Hey, your tire is flat.” Brody stooped to the front tire. “Actually, all of your tires are flat.  It looks like someone let the air out.”
Dread expanded through the hollowness in her chest until she felt gutted with the icky sensation.  
“A prank,” she said, not believing it for a second.
“Have there been many pranks like this since you’ve worked here?”  
“No.”  
Brody looked up at her from where he squatted on the ground. He didn’t need to say a word for her to know what he was thinking. The man from this morning wanted something from her and was determined to get it.  
Hands on hips, her gaze locked onto the toolbox. They wanted the stash…or money…or maybe something she had yet to discover. She needed to trust someone other than Piper and Jenna, needed a confidante but…not Brody with his shaggy chocolate-colored hair, brown eyes, lanky body, and irresistible grin. He was too...too Brody. And if people were already concocting stories of some mad, passionate affair, she didn't need to add fuel to the fire. 
What would people say if she started getting openly close with Brody? Maybe the police would reconsider the suicide conclusion and think they had staged the whole scene? Maybe they already did suspect that if they were questioning Brody at his work. She swallowed the panic rolling in her chest. 
People loved to talk, to speculate, to create fiction from thin air to entertain themselves. 
Marshall was right. I'm consumed with what other people think of me.
"Fuck it," she muttered. She rubbed a closed fist against the center of her chest and willed herself to calm down. 
“C’mon. I’ll deal with this. We’ll pick up that pizza you promised the kids, I’ll drive you home and come back here. Don’t worry about it.” He put the toolbox into the back of his truck.
“I need that up here with me,” she said about the toolbox. “I don’t trust it back there for anyone to take.”  
Without questioning her, he handed it back before walking to the driver’s side. She stared at her car as they backed from the parking lot. While she had been napping, someone had been tampering with it in broad daylight.  
Or maybe that someone sat next to her pretending to be her good old buddy from the past. He had needed physical therapy, perhaps had been addicted to painkillers. Maybe the real reason Marshall couldn't stand Brody was because they had shared a shady secret. 
Maybe Brody had hit her this morning. 
Maybe Brody knew what was in the toolbox. 
She pressed her fingers against her forehead and wished she could think properly. As it was, all thoughts seemed either forced or out of control. No steadiness. No calm. No absolute answers. 
I'm a little unsteady.
Damn it. She was better than this.  
“Don’t worry about the car. There’s enough air for me to drive it over to the gas station in the parking lot or I’ll tow it with the truck. I’ll have dad drive me back and take care of it in no time.” Brody’s fingers thumped against the steering wheel as he talked to the windshield.  
“Marshall…” she began.
“Marshall what?”
“He wasn’t everything I thought he was.” She rested her feet on top of the toolbox. “I keep finding out how much I didn’t really know him. I could have helped him. I really could have. I would have. He never told me what was going on. He never told me how much trouble he was in.” She met Brody's gaze. "That's what I do...I helppeople. Did you take a lot of painkillers after your accident, Brody?"
“What kind of trouble was Marshall in?” he asked without answering her question.
“Ever since he died I keep uncovering new information, new clues about this man who I spent my life with…and I didn’t know him.” She shook her head back and forth and back and forth. "It's amazing how you never truly know another person, not even if you live with them, no matter how much you love them."
"I suppose that's true."
"Did you need a lot of painkillers after your accident?"
He glanced at her with wariness in his eyes. "Yeah, I did."
None of this felt real. If she hadn’t known her husband, then how could she ever trust that she knew anyone else at all? His death had pulled the string that had unraveled the structure of her life and she had no idea when it would stop or what would be left except a pile of tangled debris.  



Monday, September 16, 2019

Are you addicted to busy? #selflove #MondayMotivation

It took me a long time to understand the benefits of solitude. In my younger years, I believed that being busy was a status symbol. The busier I was, the more ambitious...successful..."in demand" I felt. If I wasn't rushing around to do something, then I would wonder what was wrong...I would fear failure. Failure at what, though? Life? Why did being busy feel like a must?

What am I doing wrong? I would ask myself if I had open time on my schedule to do nothing.

People at work would ask what I did on the weekend and it almost felt like a competition to have had plans. Go, go, go!

This translated to having kids too. What activities were they in? other moms would ask, even at the toddler stage. So we went to tumble tots, swimming lessons, music classes, soccer...eventually lacrosse and after school activities. Go, go, go!

This culture of busy is a sickness. Friends drifted away because they were always "too busy" to take an hour to chat or go for a lazy walk. Busy became a status symbol for all of us.

So, to the world, I must now appear to have fallen hard. I am purposely not busy. I refuse to over-schedule. I don't flinch when I say I am doing nothing. I take time every day to lounge outside to watch clouds or appreciate the way the leaves sway in the wind. I get excited over birds and silence. Does any of this mean I don't work? No, I work a lot...much more than I ever did when working in an office. The difference is that I now work around my life instead of live around my work. And, if there are days when I'm in a funk or when the words seem forced, I don't work...and I have no guilt about it.

There is an art to doing nothing. It takes times to detox form a world where busy is the norm. You may get a little twitchy as you learn to say no and to understand that planning on being alone or planning on staying home to do your own thing IS a plan.

People look at me strangely when they discover that I'm not a frazzled mess with countless items on my agenda. I know what they're thinking...why isn't she busy? Did she win the lottery? What's she doing in that house all day alone? Verrrrrrrry suspicious! 

Slowing the pace of life allows me to appreciate all of it. I work harder and am more focused because I am not exhausted or stressed out. I can sit still with someone and truly listen to them without worrying about rushing away. I take care of myself better because I am aware of my body and my mindset and the importance of both. I read without feeling as if I should be elsewhere. I walk in nature and connect with the deeper meaning of this thing called life.

Busy, to me, is a curse word. It's worse than saying fuck, in my opinion. I flinch when people say it. I look at people differently if they say it a lot...because I know they are caught up in the superficial world where it's seen as a status symbol. It's an ego thing. Busy to some people means they are more successful--at least on the outside.

I had a friend's husband go after me because I seem so free. He said, "Amber, what's your typical day like?" I told him it is whatever it unfolds to be. He did not like this response, his face turned red, and he glared at me as if I had just told him I start shooting porn at 7AM.

Why does it bother someone to see another person living their life on their own terms? Does it bother you? Are you one of the people who is caught in the perpetual busy of life? Why? If your answer is something like, "it must be nice..." Honey, it IS nice. Or, if your immediate response is that you have too many things going on to ever "do nothing", then my response is that you are doing too many things. Prioritize--and put yourself and your time on top of that list.

Life is short. I'm 51. I've lost my husband, my father, and good friends to death. I make no apologies for appreciating this earth and this life while I can or for realizing that I have all the power to do so.

There is an art to doing nothing...because when you are doing nothing, you are actually doing something very important. You are being. You are aware. You are present. 

Try working "nothing" into your schedule. You will be amazed at how your life improves!

Peace.

Amber Lea Easton
http://www.amberleaeaston.com

Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of romantic thrillers, contemporary romance, women's fiction, and nonfiction. She also works as a professional editor and creativity coach, takes road trips with her dogs whenever the mood strikes, and advocates for suicide awareness. Her life motto is: Imagine, Create, Become. No matter what challenges life tosses her way, she gathers the pieces to create something weird and wonderful. Find out more about her books by visiting her website at amberleaeaston.com

Thursday, September 12, 2019

An #AntiHero to Get Your Adrenaline Pumping

Today on Tantalizing Thursday, I'm shining the spotlight on my new release, Ex-Pat! It's an adrenaline pumping, action-packed romantic suspense about an Ex-Pat pursuing a dream in Mexico and an undercover DEA agent who walks the line between right and wrong. Take a peek inside! 

From the back cover...

Maggie Madison is finally living the life of her dreams in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico where she partners with two old friends to own a beach bar named the Purple Parrot. It has always been her fantasy to chuck the corporate world of Chicago to embrace a simpler life of tourists and margaritas, and when her dad dies and family divides, she decides to take the plunge. 

Her old friends are running a side-game with the cartel. When Maggie discovers that the cartel not only has its fingers in her business but also owns her condominium building, it's too late to get out. Torn between the cartel and a corrupt local government that runs the police, she becomes immersed in a game of survival. 

Salvador Acosta (alias Cruz) has been an undercover DEA agent for too many years to count. He thought he had lost any semblance of humanity after the things he has seen and been forced to do for the sake of the greater good. When he encounters Maggie, he has a choice to make—blow his cover by helping her or watch a good woman be torn in two. He has made this choice before—and has always chosen loyalty to his country over compassion for an innocent—but this time is different. Maggie reminds him of who he used to be before darkness eclipsed any hope he had had for a normal life. She reminds him of home—of love and laughter and possibility. 

As they traverse a dangerous affair in the shadows, they know that they are risking their lives with every kiss. Danger lurks around every turn as the two navigate their way through corruption, deadly foes, and false allies for a chance at love and freedom. Can they escape the grip of a relentless crime syndicate as they succumb to the pull of desire? 




An excerpt...



"We are intense."
She grinned. "We are."
"We are not having sex."
She arched an eyebrow and smirked. "And last night you told me we shouldn't be seen together, yet here we stand sharing our stories on a deserted beach straight out of a movie scene."
"Have you ever had sex on a beach? It's overrated."
"Maybe you were with the wrong woman."
"Most likely."
She turned and walked toward the water. She stopped, swayed her ass, and slowly shimmied out of her shorts to reveal the blue thong and her delectable ass. She strutted toward the water without looking back at him. 
He pulled off the t-shirt and jogged to catch up. He splashed past her and dove head first into an oncoming wave. He swam hard in the sea, using all of his pent up energy with every stroke. It felt good to swim like this without armed men around and with someone who knew who he really was. He treaded water and watched her emerge next to him. 
"This is incredible," she said with a laugh. "It's like we have the world to ourselves."
He slipped beneath the water and swam toward shore. Conflicting and fiery emotions swirled in his heart. He could escape for a few hours, but the knowledge of what Navarro's crew was doing back in Playa del Carmen hung heavy on him. Not that he could stop it—if anything, he would be witnessing something horrendous if he were there. He didn't stop swimming until his knees smashed into the sandy bottom. 
Maggie rose up from the water next to him. Droplets slid down her long legs as she moved away. He grabbed her ankle. She looked down, water sliding down her flesh and wet hair sticking to her neck. She resembled a sea goddess observing her next victim before she sank to her knees in front of him. 
He moved his hands up her thighs. His thumbs slid beneath the pale blue cloth of the thong before gliding over her waist. He inched forward and kissed each flying dove tattooed on her side before licking salt from between her breasts. He curved his hands over her ass before finally claiming her mouth with his. 
She gripped his shoulders as he laid her down in the shallow water. Waves undulated around them, pushing their bodies together as they devoured each other's mouths. Tongues danced together in erotic exploration. His hands roamed her flesh from hip to breast and back again. Sand slid around and beneath them in a sensual caress. 
Maggie's legs wrapped around him and held him close. Her fingers were in his hair, on his face, over his shoulders. 
The Caribbean washed over them and into their mouths. They laughed and kissed and breathed as one. Nothing existed beyond this moment or outside of this place. 
"Tide's coming in," he said after another wave nearly tossed them onto shore. 
"Yeah, we're going to drown."
He rolled off of her and dragged her to her feet. They stumbled through the pull of the water until firmly on dry sand. He fell back onto a towel. She grabbed his erection and nibbled his shoulder. He closed his eyes and allowed her to touch him wherever she wanted. When her tongue flicked over his mouth, he grabbed her by the hair and ground his lips against hers. 
He fumbled with her bikini top until he finally pushed it off of her body. He flipped her onto her back and paused a moment to appreciate the site of her naked breasts. Smiling, he flicked his tongue over a nipple before sucking on one breast while squeezing the other. She surpassed his fantasies. Her body was made to be worshipped by him. She tasted like salt and sweat and beer.
She pressed her hips against his erection. Her fingernails sunk into his back.
He wanted to bury himself inside her, rock into her hard and slow, watch her eyes widen with desire and orgasm. 
He buried his face in the curve of her neck, both hands on her breasts, and wrapped within the circle of her limbs. 
"We need to stop," he muttered. 
"Who says?"
"Me." 
He opened his eyes, propped himself up enough to look into her face, and stared into hers. 
"I don't want to stop."
"Maggie, you're worth more than a one-time thing."
"Why does it need to be a one-time thing?" 
He sobered, the joy of the moment fading now that they were on solid ground. "Because when we get back, I belong to Navarro." 
She rolled away from him and stretched out on her own towel. Bare breasted and covered in sand with her wet hair sticking to her face and neck, she looked like a mermaid who had washed up onto shore. 
"In my world, sex is not taken seriously," he said, still propped on his elbows. "It is a commodity to be traded, recreation that means nothing."
She looked at him through narrowed eyes but remained silent. 
"You mean something more than that to me."
"You don't know me."
"I know that you have been the only good thing in my life for three months," he said with a small grin. "You have been the one thing I looked forward to every day. Whatever horrendous event unfolded, I would think...tonight I will see Maggie. In two hours, I will see Maggie. If I can just survive this moment, I will see Maggie. And that would be enough." 
"You break my heart, Salvador."
Hearing her say his true name broke something open in his heart that he had locked away a decade ago. He crawled to her and traced a finger through the salt and sand combination on her skin. "Say it again."
"Salvador."
He kissed her slowly before falling backward on the sand and blinking at the sky. "Now you cannot say my name again until we are far, far away from here." 
They lay next to each other for a few minutes, serenaded by the steady hum of the ocean. 
"This is a perfect place," she whispered.
The sun had drifted far to the West. 
"Close to perfect, but not really."
"No?"
"I have seen better."
"You're a buzz kill. I am positive I am not the first person to tell you so." 
He smiled at the sky and reached for her hand in the space on the sand between them. She curled her fingers against his palm. He had learned long ago to live for moments only--and this was a moment worth cherishing because he knew it might be the last one they would ever share. 

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Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Plot Twist: When Grief Derails Creativity


It's as if I woke from a fog this morning and realized I hadn't blogged in months. Where have I been? What happened to my momentum?

It's not like I haven't been busy. Since May, I've published two new romantic suspense novels Mercy Upon Us and Ex-Pat, and one nonfiction book Fragments of Moxie. I also moved my 23 year old and 21 year old from Denver to Santa Fe in late July, and as we all know, moving sucks. August was a whirlwind of settling them into my home that I'd bought "just for me" and adjusting to being all together again.

Excuses, excuses...something I usually hate when it comes to not writing. I couldn't do it, though. I could not write anything fresh. My heart ached too much to open it up enough to create, to expose it to the raw emotion needed to write.

Yes, I completed the novels and the essay collection because staying frantically busy helped me cope. Fiction is a great escape and organizing essays into a book felt like the perfect distraction. No blogging, though. I couldn't do it, nearly shut it down. It felt superficial and I wasn't ready to open my life up anymore....at the time.

You see, my dad died in March after a massive stroke defeated his zest for life. We sat in hospice with him for over a week. He was the glue that held our family together. He was bigger than life, a true force of goodness in the world. As we sat in hospice, my family of origin split apart, with my brother and mother on one side and the kids and I on the other. As if my dad's passing wasn't traumatic enough, we were bombarded with hostility and lies and more than enough drama for one or two books down the road, or endless hours of therapy!

The impact of his death took my words away.

The horror of the family fallout hollowed out my heart for a long time.

I considered quitting writing all together, simply disappearing into the shadows with my existing books gathering dust on shelves and my works-in-progress remaining unopened on my computer. I didn't want to blog anymore. I didn't know if there was a point in any of it. My dad had died without ever seeing my new home in my new state...or seeing me flourish...or seeing his grandchildren get married...or anything we had spoken about in the past few years. We'd had plans...like so many people do with the ones they love.

So what was the point anyway? Why blog? Why write stories? Who cared?

I care. My dad cared. I haven't worked so hard on a career to simply abandon it. I could almost hear my dad's words saying, "So that's it then? You're just going to quit after all you've sacrificed? Are you honestly going to let them win?"

Hearing the echo of his challenge in my mind pushed me to release the books, but I couldn't blog until today because I finally felt strong enough to write about creativity and grief.

When we lose someone significant to our lives--a parent or spouse or child--the despair is overwhelming. All of our energy is focused on surviving one day after another with that void in our lives. There is no timeline. How we react to grief is entirely individual. For me, I could focus on the edits needed to release Mercy Upon Us and Ex-Pat, but creating anything new felt too daunting. I even made peace with the possibility that they would be the end.

Creativity is such a fierce yet delicate creature. When life throws us emotional traumas, we descend into a darkness where our every breath feels forced, where concentration is futile, and where focus is scattered. Our creative energy is rerouted to the mundane tasks of living...so that we can heal in time and in order for us to come out stronger than before. It's a gift, really, that our creativity is such a part of us that it can move through our system in the way we need...even if it isn't the way we want or expect.

Grief cannot be shoved aside or minimized, not when the loss is so extraordinary, nor should it be. Many people fear sorrow or avoid those who are sad. Shortly after my dad died, I met with an acquaintance at a coffee shop. I thought she wanted to discuss my dad because she knew I had just returned home after his death. Instead, when uncontrollable tears entered my eyes and my voice quivered, she folded her arms across her chest and said, "Can we talk about your writing? What are you working on?"

I wasn't working on anything, nor did I care to be. I was curling up in bed and sleeping instead of writing. I was crying at night instead of thinking of plot twists and edits. I was caught up in the usual "I wish I would have said more or done more or been more" thoughts that accompany a loss. I was rolling with the waves of despair rather than fighting against them or pretending I was okay. I was swept up in processing not only the loss of my father, but the loss of my childhood family and so much more that's difficult to explain.

Why are people so afraid of another's sorrow?

I gave myself the compassion I needed from others. I cut myself some slack. I said fuck it. I let it go. I made peace with the idea of quitting...until that echo came to me and I found myself finishing the edits and making my deadlines and publishing those books and finding the energy to rearrange my house to accommodate my children and traveling to Denver to pack up their place and move them here. It felt good to be busy, to be in a state of constant activity.

But I couldn't write about any of this until now. And that's okay. It's all in the timing and I do believe in Divine Timing.

After my dad died in South Dakota, I drove back to New Mexico. As I rounded the corner on the highway into Santa Fe on I-25, a white balloon shaped like a dove hovered in my lane out of the blue. It startled me, to say the least. The next day I was in my garage and found a random picture of my dad sitting on a shelf near the gardening tools. It was a picture that had very special meaning to me...and no other photographs are in the garage. I smiled then because I knew he was still with me, still believing in me, still encouraging me, and still smiling.

It took me months to write again, and that's okay. When my husband died in 2005, I couldn't write for a year! I did not cut myself slack then. I did the opposite and beat myself up. I guess I've learned with time. I have grown...ripened, if you will.

Creative professionals are known to be overly harsh toward ourselves. We have high expectations and  protect our craft with all we have. When grief derails our creativity, it's easy to judge that as a weakness instead of seeing it for what it really is...our creativity protecting us. 

I'm back to writing and have several new clients (after saying I was quitting that too). The bad thing with this business is that you can't stay quiet for too long without being forgotten....the good thing about this business is that it's flexible enough to make room for self-care when you need it and welcoming enough to give second chances and third chances and more.

My dad didn't raise a quitter.

Peace and love to all of you. Cut yourself some slack if you need it.

Amber

Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of romantic thrillers, contemporary romance, women's fiction, and nonfiction. She also works as a professional editor and creativity coach, takes road trips with her dogs whenever the mood strikes, and advocates for suicide awareness. Her life motto is: Imagine, Create, Become. No matter what challenges life tosses her way, she gathers the pieces to create something weird and wonderful. Find out more about her books by visiting her website at amberleaeaston.com

To join her fan club for exclusive short stories, fan-only eBooks, and alternate ending of her bestselling novels, go to Patreon for all the fun! 




Thursday, February 21, 2019

A Hotshot Smokejumper Meets His Match with an Old Flame from His Past #RomanceReaders

He may battle wildfire for a living, but confronting his old flame is the most dangerous thing he has ever done. 
SEDUCING THE FLAME
Here's a peek into the first chapter 


(the blurb)
Flames rip through southern Colorado and fire crews from across the US rush to battle the Million Dollar Fire. Devon Ross never thought he would step foot into his hometown of Ouray again, but as captain of the Flame Slayers—an elite fire jumping squad out of California—his call to duty thrusts him onto a collision course with his past.

Darby Shaw can't believe her eyes when she sees Devon at the makeshift camp for the fire crews. He had disappeared—literally—ten years ago and his possible whereabouts had become a source of town lore. Seeing him here, now, under these crisis conditions, creates a whirlwind of conflict within her. The last time she had seen him face-to-face, she had whipped him with her wedding bouquet. 

There is an arsonist in their midst. When a second fire develops southeast of town, the life and death struggle intensifies. 

Devon may be brave when facing down a fire, but is he courageous enough to confront his reasons for cutting ties with his family and friends? Can Darby come to terms with the depth of her past betrayal? Will the seduction of the flame be more powerful than love? With the fire roaring its way through the mountain landscape, time works against them as they struggle to heal what went wrong between them for a second chance at a what-if. 


Chapter One

Some men simply have that special something that makes a woman want to simultaneously kiss him mindless and skin him alive with her fingernails. 
Darby Shaw dropped the case of cold water she had been carrying. Bottles scattered, a few split open and leaked onto the ground. She knelt as if in slow motion, praying that her eyes were playing tricks on her. She squeezed them shut, counted to ten, took a few deep breaths, and slowly opened them. 
Nope. No trick. There stood Devon Ross. 
Covered in black ash, his blue eyes flashing with laughter at something his pal next to him said while he used his teeth to pull off one of his dirty gloves, he looked remarkably the same as he had ten years ago. He shrugged out of his gear, his focus still on his fellow firefighter, and dropped his helmet to the ground at his feet. Blonde hair matted with sweat and grime twisted around his forehead and stuck out in wild spikes over his ears. 
It was as if a ghost had stepped from the smoke and smacked her across the face. 
Woosh, woosh, woosh. Helicopter blades churned in preparation for takeoff at the clearing situated at the far end of the clearing. Side doors open, filled to capacity with firefighters, the copter swayed slightly as it lifted into the air. 
Darby covered her eyes with her hands, the reality of what she had seen smashing up against fantasy. Devon Ross couldn't be here, couldn't be a fireman, couldn't be standing twenty feet away. He had disappeared, dropped off the face of the earth, had cut all ties with this place. 
"Darby, what's wrong? Do you have something in your eyes?" Glenda tapped her shoulder before kneeling to help with the scattered bottles. 
She lifted one palm and then the other.
Yep, he was still there, definitely not a figment of her imagination. 
Devon Ross, I'll be damned.
The last time she had seen him she had been pelting him with her wedding bouquet and telling him to go to hell. He had stood there, white rose petals smashed against his shoulders, pleading with her to run away with him, asking her to leave her groom at the alter. Then he had been gone—poof! Vanished. Never to be seen or heard from again. 
Until now. 
She ripped her gaze away and rushed to gather the remaining bottles. 
"Darby, what is wrong? You look like you're about to faint. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine, I dropped all of this water." 
Maybe he won't recognize me, she thought to herself. Then again, why should I care if he does? I have no reason to hide.
Except she did. Sort of. 
Wincing, she scrambled to her feet, adjusted the case, and carried it into the supply tent set up at the south end of the Hawkins' Ranch. Many ranchers in the area had offered their land for the fire crews and all the equipment needed to fight a fire of this magnitude. Inside the tent, Darby placed the crate on the table and glanced around at all the supplies that had been donated for the men who had spent hours fighting the Million Dollar Fire that ripped across the forest down deep ravines and up treacherous cliffs. Currently at sixty thousand acres, the fire was a beast and many out-of-state crews had been called in to help. 
Devon Ross is a firefighter?She leaned heavily against the table and struggled to catch her breath. 
The smell of smoke warred with the scent of pine in this meadow made into a makeshift camp dotted with tents. Music drifted over the chatter of men and women who sat in various circles to eat sandwiches and share stories of their fire battles that day. 
Darby ran a hand across her forehead and grimaced. Maybe it wasn't Devon, maybe just some other guy who sparked that inner fire in her gut at first sight. 
Yeah, that's it. A doppelganger. A freaky coincidence that his look-alike would be here. 
God, she hoped that were true. 
She knew in her gut that it wasn't. 
"We should be getting back to town," Glenda said before taking a break to rub a purple scarf across her head. "Damn, it's hot. We really need a break in the weather. I don't know how these guys are still standing wearing all that gear and facing the fire down like they do. I heard that an elite fire jumping crew from California is here, they got in last night and were the first to hit the frontline this morning."
"Is that so?" She busied herself with shoving the water into the troughs of ice that had been set up. The sooner she finished unloading this last crate, the sooner she could escape. 
"They call themselves the Flame Slayers — I saw their flag near their tents when we drove up. All these people are so badass, I feel like I'm wasting my life as a yoga instructor and your very best bar manager."
"Lots of people like yoga, Glenda, and they definitely like bars. Both serve their purpose." She blew a strand of hair from her eyes as she glanced toward the tent entrance. "I think we really need to get going."
"You're acting really strange. Maybe you have heat stroke." Glenda grabbed a handful of ice and slid it down Darby's tank top. 
"What the hell, Glenda?" She leapt back, pulled the fabric from her skin and gasped at the shock of having ice slide between her breasts. 
"Just trying to lighten the mood."
"Yeah, well, don't." She strode toward the entrance and peeked outside to see if she had a clear shot to her 4Runner. 
Sinewy arms, wide shoulders, tanned muscles revealed by the gaping rip in the back of his t-shirt, tight ass, long legs—she would recognize that physique anywhere. No, he didn't look like any other physically fit man out there. That was a body she had memorized with her tongue, explored with her fingertips, and clenched between her thighs. 
"Hiding from someone?"
"I think so."
"Did you trip and hit your head or something?" Glenda joined her at the flap. "Who is it that we're hiding from?"
"Devon Ross."
"No shit? Are you sure? Where?"
Darby jumped back inside the tent when Devon started walking toward them. 
"We need to go," she whispered.
"Where?"
"Out of here."
She glanced around at the troughs full of ice and the tables stacked with food. Volunteers, firefighters, and reporters crowded inside. 
There was only one way out and Devon Ross had just stepped through it. 
"Darby Shaw," he whispered as if in a trance. 
Tension wrapped them in a bubble full of surprise and regret. Neither seemed able to speak or move as others moved around them. 
She fought the urge to touch him to make sure he wasn't a figment of her imagination. Grime layered his face and neck, but those blue eyes of his were his trademark feature. 
"I'd ask what you were doing here, but it's fairly obvious." She forced a grin and faked a casual attitude. 
"Did you know I was here?"
"No, I thought maybe you were dead."
His eyebrows shot up. Glenda jabbed her with an elbow. 
"Don't go writing my obit just yet, Darby Shaw."
"That's not what I meant. I-I-I didn't mean dead as in dead." She realized that telling a man who had spent the day risking his life that she had assumed he had been dead was a major faux paux. 
"It's pretty point blank." His gaze roamed over her face before sliding over the now wet tank top. 
I can't be talking to him. I need to run—fast! 
Devon Ross visited her every so often in her nightmares.
Fear — the kind a person gets right before jumping off a cliff — shrunk her lungs to the size of raisins. Her legs refused to move. 
"I am shocked to see you so I'm blurting out all the wrong things. Satisfied that you have me rattled?" She patted at the wet fabric and hated that the ice cubes continued to melt in her bra. 
"Do I have you rattled?" He stepped closer. 
Glenda muttered something about catching up with the other volunteers and dashed out of the tent. 
Coward.
He grinned when she pulled the front of her tank top away from her wet skin as if he enjoyed her discomfort. "What are youdoing here?"
"Delivering supplies."
"But why? I thought you lived in Denver."
"Moved back to Ouray a few years ago."
"How's Ted?"
 She tilted her head to the side and squinted at the cocky smile that slid back onto his face. "How was the fire?"
"Hot."
She gritted her teeth, lifted her head a bit higher, and forced one foot in front of the other until she had exited the tent. She fought the urge to sprint.
Be cool. Head high. Remain calm. 
"I always loved watching you walk away from me, Darby Shaw."
She stopped dead in her tracks and slowly turned around. "Does your family know you're here playing hero?"
"I'm not in the mood for a big reunion." He slowly walked toward her, his smile growing with every step. "And I'm not playing at anything."
She took a step backward. "I know you're not...I didn't mean to say that."
"What doyou mean to say?"
"Damn it, Dev, don't make this so hard."
"Why would I do you any favors?"
She shifted her weight from foot-to-foot yet lifted her chin a bit higher. "You owe me."
"For?"
"Disappearing like that."
He squinted as if her answer surprised him. "Are you going to tell anyone that you've seen me?"
"Where have you been all this time?"
"Around."
"So infuriating." She gritted her teeth and balled her fists at her sides. She wanted to smack him...then hug him. 
Damn it anyway. 
She slid her gaze toward the white van where his youngest sister unloaded more donated food. Her long blonde hair had been twisted into a messy bun and she had knotted her t-shirt against her abdomen. She felt like shouting, hey, Kiley, you're wayward brother is here and he's some kind of hero fireman who's going to save us all. 
How ironic when he had been the one to destroy them all once upon a time. 
He followed her gaze and squinted. "I'll let you get back to what you're doing," he said, obviously not recognizing his youngest sister who had only been twelve when he had skipped town. 
"You're a grown ass man, Devon, who is still hiding from daddy. If you want to break the news, that's on you, not me." 
 "So self-righteous." He mocked her with a slow-clap. "Yes, I am a grown ass man, thank you for noticing. Nice seeing you again, Missus Reecher. Tell your husband that his former best friend said hi."
"So you want to dive right into it?"
"That's kind of what I do." He stepped so close to her that she needed to tip her head back to look him in the eye. Of course, the top of her head barely came to the middle of his chest so it was easy for him to tower over her like a menacing beast.
"You disappeared—you're like a myth around here. Everyone has a story about what happened to Devon Ross, and now here you are acting like a...like a..."
"Like a what?"
"Asshole."
"How do you expect me to act at the sight of you?"
She flinched as if slapped and took a step backward. "That's not fair."
"It's fair enough."
"Don't you have a team to lead or a meeting to attend?" She motioned toward the group of firefighters, law enforcement, and forest rangers gathering in front of a long table in the makeshift headquarters. 
"Yes, I do, but not until I've had a chance to sit the fuck down for ten minutes. I've had a busy goddamn day and, remarkably, you have managed to make it worse." He stepped around her and walked toward the tents emblazoned with the Flame Slayer flags. 
The wind moved the back of his t-shirt where the rip gaped open and she glimpsed a tattoo or two on his lean muscles. She doubted the man had an ounce of fat on him, but then again, with the kind of workout these people did for a living, how could he? 
She noticed then that he had a large cut on the back of his left arm and the blood had already dried. 
Leave him alone, let him rest, walk away.
Too many memories flickered from the recesses of her mind—him licking her skin in the moonlight, them pulling at each other's clothes in the back of her dad's truck, him laughing with another girl in front of a bonfire, him breaking her heart over and over again. 
She strode toward him, angry at so many things long repressed. She didn't care about the people starting to notice their little drama unfolding in the middle of the camp. 
"Devon, stop."
He gulped down a bottle of water before glancing over his shoulder at her. "What do you want from me?"
"Your family should know you're here."
"Why?"
She shrugged. She didn't have the right words to communicate what she truly wanted to say. She looked back toward the van where Kiley joked around with the other twenty-somethings and sighed. When you've been missing for a decade, coming home again gets complicated. Add a wildfire and a potential crisis situation into the mix, and it's more than complicated—it could be a catastrophe. 
More than most, she knew exactly why he had left town, but she had never anticipated him dropping off the face of the earth and disconnecting from everyone who loved him. Rumors flew in such a small town. Some said he lived in a van and spent his days rock climbing and skiing. Some said he had gone to South America and ran a tour company in Peru. Yet here he stood, staring at her against a backdrop of pine trees and smoke, sweaty and dirty, and just as cocky as he used to be. 
"Forget you saw me, Darby." He turned and resumed walking toward his crew. 
She jogged after him and managed to block his path. Why she chased him when her instinct had first said to hide, she didn't know. Curiosity had always been her downfall, though. 
"Stop. For one minute, just stop."
He sighed and put his hands on his hips. He frowned down at her and shrugged. "Spit it out. I am not in a mood for a chat."
"Do you really live in a van?"
He stared at her a full minute before bursting out in laughter. "What? God, you can still surprise me, that hasn't changed." 
She smiled, too, because she knew she sounded like an idiot—but her strategy worked and he cracked a genuine smile. They had grown up together in a small town, but they had also had ten years of life apart. They were strangers who once knew each other a long time ago when life had been easy and innocent...well, somewhat innocent. 
"You are still keeping it weird, aren't you, Darby Shaw?" 
"I try." His gaze skimmed over her again. "Want to tell me why you have ice cubes in your bra?"
"How did—" Embarrassed, she glanced down at herself and folded her arms across her chest. 
His smile widened, his teeth looking overly white against the dirt on his skin. "Want to meet my crew?"
"Your crew?"
"Yeah, I'm the boss man these days." 
When he looked into her eyes, it was like going back in time when things had been simple between them. She wanted to smile and give him a high-five for being the boss. She wanted to grab his arm and look at that cut. In that instant, she wanted everything that was out of reach. 

"Darby!" Glenda waved at her. "We need to go. Ruby gets out of day camp in an hour."
She looked toward the tents marked with a flag designed with two axes engulfed in fire and the group of men and women who watched them. She didn't really know him at all, not really, and had no business stopping him from relaxing with his friends after a long battle on the front lines. They had become strangers with history—nothing less, nothing more. 
She fixated her gaze back on his face, noticed the exhaustion in the depths of his eyes, the weariness in his grin, and suddenly felt like a jerk. 
"I need to pick up my daughter."
"Daughter?" He winced and looked away. "Yeah, you had better get back to your family. I need to sit, eat, see what the latest updates are, and then nap for a few hours. Say hi to Ted for me."
"I own the brewery in Ouray now," she fell into step next to him, unable to stop talking. "It's called High Altitude Brewing Company. It's become the place to be in town. Your team is welcome anytime."
"We don't usually stray too far from camp when we're on the job."
Disappointment fluttered in her heart. "I suppose not. You're a local legend. Everyone whispers about what ever happened to Devon Ross."
"And I live in a van in these legends?"
"Among other things."
"Good to know Ouray is still short on entertainment."
"Come down the hill if you can break away—free food and beer for any firefighters at my establishment." She did a mock bow and tried her best to salvage this encounter.
Keep it light, keep your cool. 
He kicked the dirt with the toe of his boot. "I would love to know what ever happened to my good buddy Ted. How does he feel about being back in Ouray? He hated this place."
"You have your secrets and so do I." Her already shaky smile disappeared at his words.
"Trouble in paradise?""
"Divorced. Five years now." 
A look of genuine shock transformed his face. Curiosity churned in the blue depths of his eyes. 
"Don't tell me I told you so...I don't want to hear it," she whispered, for his ears only. 
"I'm sorry," he whispered back. 
For a brief second, she forgot the years of absence and swayed toward him. 
He took a step back, as if repelled. 
Snapping out of the brief spell she had been under, she waved at his friends who studied them intently. "Free beer at my place if you guys can get this one," she jabbed a thumb toward his chest, "to bring you to his hometown one of these nights." 
"Thanks for that," he muttered low enough to be heard by her ears only. "None of them know I am from Ouray."
She tilted her head and studied him. "I think it's time you come home, Devon Ross. Would it really be so bad?"
"Oh, I think it would be pretty bad." He popped a pair of sunglasses over his eyes, smile gone, and nodded toward Glenda. "You had better get going. Your friend looks worried."
She took him up on the chance to leave. Nerves quaked beneath her skin over their brief interaction. Sweat slid down her back into the waistband of her jeans. Her skin burned. Pinpricks of awareness skittered up her neck. She fumbled for the keys that she had jammed deep in her front pocket.
She gnawed on her lower lip, angry with herself for basically bribing him to come to town. She kicked some dirt out of her way before yanking open the drivers' door. 
"What was that all about?" Glenda asked.
"Devon Ross."
"And?"
"History."
"I figured that out. And?"
"More than a fire is threatening to burn down Ouray, let's leave it at that."
"Um...no. Let's not leave it at that."
"Glenda. Stop." Her trembling fingers dropped the key to the floorboards beneath her feet. She smacked her head against the steering wheel. She pounded the dashboard with the palms of her hands. "Fuck me! I can't believe I just saw Devon Ross."
"I heard he ran a shark diving business out of Australia."
"Worse. He jumps out of helicopters into wild fires." 
Darby glanced into the rearview mirror and saw him staring at them as they drove away. Backed by tents and firemen and news vans, he stood there watching them leave. 
Stay there, she silently prayed to herself. I like knowing where you are, even if it's only temporary. 


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