Excerpt provide with permission of the author.
Michael Brouchard has staged the congratulatory dinner she never had, the one her father effectively canceled a year before when he stormed out of the house in a rage. As if the balloons weren’t enough, there’s a bottle of champagne chilling in an ice bucket next to the table. Laney hesitates behind her empty chair, grasping the back of it with one sweaty hand. She reads the champagne bottle’s label in the flickering candlelight. It’s VeuveClicquot, the vintage, her first year of high school.
They’ve only had one conversation that’s lasted longer than a few minutes, and already Michael has filled a gap in her life. Not only that, he recognized it was there in the first place, that it was pulling at the fabric of her self-worth more than she wanted to admit. She knew tonight would be full of seductive risks, but didn’t expect to start here, with an overwhelming sense of having been seen and heard and valued.
He gestures to her empty chair, waits for her to take her seat before taking his own. Only once she’s seated does she realize Michael had extended his hand toward hers and she’d been too distracted by the balloons and the champagne to notice. Now there’s no going back to rectify her rudeness without sounding like a sputtering idiot. The host, who has stood by politely throughout her hesitation, hands her a menu and departs. She’s folding her napkin across her lap when she sees a large envelope resting against the edge of her plate, as large as a wedding invite. Her name is written on the outside in precise, draftsman-like handwriting. Just her first name. Not her last name. And not Miss Foley, which they both agreed he wouldn’t call her anymore.
Her hands shake as she tears open the envelope, as she unfolds the piece of heavy sketch paper inside of it. The breath goes out of her when she finds herself staring down at the amazingly detailed pencil sketch of—me. That’s me. That’s me holding a rose in one hand while more rose petals shower down all sides of me. Roses for the Rose Scholarship. Oh, my God. He drew me.
The card seems to waver suddenly. She’s blinking back tears.
She can’t remember the last time anyone has been this thoughtful, this kind. She’s never thought of herself as a victim of abuse. But what do you call an entire lifetime of having your own intelligence, your own competence used against you, an entire lifetime of everyone from your parents to your friends thinking they don’t really have to show up for you because you do such a good job of showing up for yourself?
Sometimes you don’t know you’ve got a shell around your heart until it cracks.
Get it together, Laney. Get it—
“Laney…are you all right?” Michael asks.
A sane and reasonable answer is right on the tip of her tongue.
About Christopher Rice:
After publishing four New York Times bestselling thrillers by the age of 30 and being declared one of People Magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive, award-winning writer Christopher Rice became the first author to make his erotic romance debut part of the 1,001 DARK NIGHTS series. THE FLAME: A Desire Exchange Novella kicked off a steamy new series set in New Orleans, featuring magical candles and a sexy new breed of supernatural beings, The Radiants, who are devoted to helping heroes and heroines realize their heart’s desire. THE FLAME earned accolades from some of the biggest names in erotic romance and was quickly followed up by THE SURRENDER GATE: A Desire Exchange Novel, available from Evil Eye Concepts as a Blue Box Special. Aside from authoring eight works of dark suspense, Christopher is also the co-host and executive producer of a streaming Internet radio show he launched with his best friend, New York Times bestselling author Eric Shaw Quinn. Each Sunday at 8 PM ET/ 5 PM PT, THE DINNER PARTY SHOW WITH CHRISTOPHER RICE & ERIC SHAW QUINN brings you a new episode at TheDinnerPartyShow.com.