One Summer Day is a prequel novelette to L.G. O'Connor's novel Shelter My Heart. It serves as a standalone offering to introduce new readers to the world of her Kindle Press Book. Check it out and learn more about the romantic world of Shelter My Heart!
Meet Jenny and Devon ten months before their story begins in Shelter My Heart. This short prequel gives you a glimpse into three of my favorite characters: Jenny, Devon, and his twin, Lettie. These characters have flaws, doubts, and in some cases, shattered dreams, but they also have hope and determination. This story, like all of the stories in the Caught Up in Love series, has a central theme of love, loyalty, and the meaning of family. Welcome to my Kindle Press world!
About One Summer Day
Recently dumped by her long-time boyfriend and still looking for her first job out of college, Jenny is grieving the recent loss of a family member, the fourth in six years. Her aunt thinks their family is plagued by death, Jenny doesn’t disagree. She only wishes she wasn’t partially to blame for the first one.
In remission for the last twelve months, Devon won a battle for his life to sacrifice what’s left of it to protect his family. Groomed since birth to step into his deceased father’s shoes as CEO of the family’s multi-billion-dollar conglomerate when he turns twenty-five, Devon has fourteen months left to prepare with the help of his twin sister Lettie…if he lives that long.
She's haunted by nightmares of the past.
He's bound to a future he can't escape.
All they want to do is forget for One Summer Day.
One Summer Day
“THEY’RE BACK.” I slide deeper into the plush couch across the desk from my therapist, Dr. Graham, inside her sleek, modern office. Like an addict admitting a slip, I whisper, “The nightmares…they’re back.”
Not that shocking, since I lost someone else I love two weeks ago. The perfect trigger for unhinging my coping mechanisms and opening the Vault of Black Doom to prey on my grief and drag back me into its macabre maw.
My aunt Jill thinks our family is cursed by the specter of death. Maybe. Someone close to me has died every two years since I was sixteen, Great-Aunt Vee makes the fourth. Right on time. I’m twenty-two.
The guilt I carry over the first death, my friend Brittany, and knowing I’m partially to blame, is what brought me to Dr. Graham six years ago. That, and the near catatonic state I was in after finding her body. Nightmares and other PTSD-like symptoms have plagued me on and off ever since, along with an unnatural fear of the people I love dying. After Brittany, the other deaths felt like punishment.
So here I am, on the heels of my great-aunt’s memorial service. A total mess. Again.
Unlike before, someone new haunts my dreams. A guy I’ve never met. His face remains out of view, though I’ve seen the back of his sandy-blond head and a sliver of his profile. Not enough to pick him out in a crowd.
Dr. Graham, a slender and attractive woman in her late thirties, lifts a perfectly shaped brow and scribbles a note. “The same dream as before?”
I chew my lip and shake my head. “No…I don’t know this person, and I didn’t see his eyes.”
That’s the other thing that’s different. I never see his body. I wish I could say the same about all the others.
I shiver and remember the morning I found Brittany. Cool mist hanging in the early morning air at the campsite just past sunrise. Brittany, lips parted, lying in her sleeping bag. Her sightless eyes wearing the filmy, white calling card of Death. My screams…
It’s a memory I can’t expunge from my brain no matter how hard I try. In my nightmares, the dead eyes are always there, it’s only the person who changes.
My hands tremble with remembered panic as I run them over my shorts. “I was trapped on a plane, far away. They kept us on the tarmac and wouldn’t let us take off. I couldn’t save him.” Phantom pain, raw and bottomless, assaults me and raises a lump in my throat when I think of failing him over and over, every night for a week. My lip quivers and I brush away an escaping tear. “This hurts more than the others. I don’t know why.”
There’s an odd intimacy between me and the faceless stranger. Something important is at stake. Whatever it is, his survival hinges on me. And I fail him. Every. Night. Just like Brittany.
Dr. Graham gentles her voice and relaxes the hold on her pen, tapping it on her notepad. “Given the plane, perhaps this new man is a metaphor for Russ’s departure. How do you feel now that he’s been gone a few weeks?”
Simmering anger replaces any weepiness over the blond guy and a heavy scowl settles over my lips.
Russ. His name sits silently on my tongue like a lead weight. He’d been my boyfriend since high school, and my ex-boyfriend ever since he accepted a job in California—three thousand miles from Summit, New Jersey—without me. We’d graduated in May from NYU. His tech degree scored him an offer in July at a start-up in Silicon Valley, while my communications degree… Well, let’s just say I’m still waitressing and living off tips.
Abandoned. That’s how I feel.
My jaw tics. “How am I supposed to feel?” I pick at my chipped Posey Pink polish, my new favorite color until it became a reminder of the night Russ and I broke up.
Bastard. I’m not even close to being over it.
I try to stifle a replay of our beach weekend at the Jersey shore almost a month before Great-Aunt Vee died. I lose…
I hold up my champagne flute. An excited flush fills my cheeks as I smile, ready to celebrate my upcoming job interview at a prestigious media company in New York City. “To our bright future?”
Instead of picking up his glass, Russ flinches and takes my hand across the candlelit table. He’s been distracted ever since we arrived at the bed and breakfast this afternoon. Even our pre-dinner lovemaking fell flat.
“What’s the matter?” I ask, reaching the limit of my patience and trying to ignore the uncomfortable buzz traveling over my skin.
The flickering candlelight dances over his dark curls and sends shadows across his face. The set of his jaw and the distant look in his swoon-worthy green eyes puts me on edge.
“I have something to tell you,” he whispers, and then kisses the back of my hand before releasing it.
I sit up straighter and a shiver travels down my bare back. “What is it?”
Taking a deep breath, he lowers his gaze to the table. “I got a job offer from a company called Nanotekx.”
I lean into my chair and frown. “When was this?” And why didn’t I know about the interview?
His face flushes a light pink. “Recently…”
My instincts fire, sending my stomach into free fall. Liar.
My brain rapidly snaps the puzzle together, and the distance between us widens into a cavernous gorge. My voice turns hollow. “Where are they located?”
“Silicon Valley,” he whispers, still not looking at me.
My lips part as the last piece falls into place. “You’ve accepted,” I whisper back. An icy numbness settles in the center of my chest, knowing the answer to the next question before I ask. “And you’re going alone…”
“I’m sorry…,” he whispers, peeking up to meet my gaze. “This doesn’t mean… I just need to get established first…”
I can’t speak. I’ve lost the ability to form words. Yeah, a bright future, but not for us. For him. He plans to leave me behind.
At least he has the good sense to look regretful. “I love you, Jen. That hasn’t changed.”
Bile and the bitter taste of betrayal rises in my throat. I push back my chair and drop the napkin on the table. “Obviously, not enough,” I grit out. “I thought…”
Angry tears collect in my eyes and I brush them away. I thought we’d get an apartment, have some fun, and plan our future together.
“Please, Jen,” he whispers, his pleading eyes glitter a green that used to weaken my knees. “I’m not saying we should break-up, just see how things work out.” He reaches for my hand, but I snatch it out of reach.
“And how’s that supposed to work?” I snap. “I thought we were doing this together. What happened to that?”
He sighs, and his shoulders collapse forward. “My parents think I should go alone.”
I knew it. They always wanted him to find someone with more potential than me. Translation: someone from a wealthier family. It’s been a bone of contention in our relationship since day one.
“No,” I whisper. “Let’s not do that. You’ve made your choice, and it’s not me.”
Before I realize what I’ve done, I’m halfway across the dining room, taking whatever dignity I have left with me. I’m not going to waste any more of my life on someone who doesn’t have the strength to choose me.
I don’t stop.
Dr. Graham gives me a pointed look and taps a finger to her lips. “Doesn’t this separation give you an opportunity to test your love?”
I grimace. “How do you figure that?”
She tents her hands and leans towards me. “Do you miss him?”
I shake my head. “I’ve been too mad.”
“Maybe that’s your answer,” she says gently.
“What answer is that? That I’m not important? That I don’t matter?” I’m unable to hide my bitterness. “I gave him six years of my life, for what? So he could run off without me? I thought…I don’t know what I thought.” Whatever it was, he’s no longer in my nightmares. He’s no longer someone I’m afraid to lose because I’ve already lost him.
I study my nails and admit the truth. “He betrayed my trust, and I’m not sure I can ever forgive him for that.”
Dr. Graham smiles and asks, “So who’s the stranger?”
Great question. I run my hands over the gooseflesh suddenly covering my arms. “No clue…Whoever he is, he’s someone I’m afraid will die.”
MY PAINTBRUSH hugs the canvas like a lover’s touch as I take refuge in creating whatever the hell it is I’m creating. Nothing about the painting felt right until I added her. Why my landscape needs a woman crouching at the water’s edge, I’ll never understand. But something about the way my brush sensuously caresses the curve of her neck sends my mind heading in a much different direction.
I lean back and soak in my monthly therapy assignment—to create a place of solace—and a smile creeps onto my lips.
My concentration breaks with a rubber band snapping and the sting of it hitting the back of my head.
“What the—?” I snarl, spinning on my stool in the light-filled studio to find James grinning like an idiot next to his easel. We’re the only two who showed up today. Not that I can blame everyone else. It’s a sunny Saturday in early September. According to some, it’s the perfect time for an end of summer holiday. Wish I had the time to take one, but with the little time I do have, I’d rather paint.
James wiggles his eyebrows and points to my canvas. “Dude, you want to go clubbing tonight? Looks like you need to get laid.”
I snort and give him a cocky grin. “Tempting, but I don’t need to go clubbing to get laid, man.”
Yeah, well, maybe I do, or one of those dating apps, but I’m not about to admit it. Besides, that would involve contact with a real woman, and right now, I have all I can handle keeping my own counsel to retain my goddamn sanity outside the sanctity of this studio. It’s my safe place. A place I can escape everyone else’s expectations and do what I love. Today, that’s painting a tranquil place I once visited in England’s Lake District.
Our painter’s loft is on the top floor of a ten-story, pre-war building near Mount Sinai Hospital on New York City’s Upper East Side. The studio occupies a corner unit with high windows on two sides. Just shy of nine hundred square feet, the space has twelve-foot ceilings, a kitchenette, bathroom, hang-out area with a sofa and two chairs, six work stations, and a storage room.
I share it with James and four of our cohorts as part of a hospital-sponsored experimental arts program. All of us are cancer survivors in varying stages of remission. My chemo ended a year ago. I’m in full remission, but I’m not out of the woods. Not by a long shot.
Chemo nearly destroyed my kidneys, putting a major crimp in my life. I’m getting by for now on diet, exercise, and meds. But that won’t last forever. Whatever happens, dialysis isn’t an option for reasons that aren’t medical.
Outside of here, obligations of gargantuan proportions lurk, ready to coil around my neck and throttle me to death. With the help of my twin sister Lettie, every second of my life is absorbed in learning all there is to know about Kingsbridge Industries.
As heir to my father’s global conglomerate, in eighteen months when I turn twenty-five, I will take over as CEO from the board that’s been running the show since my father died.
If I live that long.
If I don’t, we could lose everything. And I’m not only talking about money.
I hop off my stool and walk over to take a gander at James’s work. He’s got a hot nude going on that’s painted in black watercolor brush strokes of varying thickness. It’s good but borders on pornographic. I cock a brow and stare harder. I take that back, it is pornographic. Hidden within the folds of fabric pooled between her thighs is a rather large phallus.
“And you think I need to get laid?” I snort and give his shoulder a friendly shove. James, standing a few of inches taller than my six feet one, throws out a foot to keep his lanky frame from slipping off the stool. Like me, he’s done with chemo and has been N.E.D. (no evidence of disease) for the last twelve months.
Sweeping a piece of shaggy brown hair from his face, he shrugs and smiles broadly. “Never said I didn’t. Can’t think of a better place of solace than that. Just looking for a partner in crime.” He points at my canvas. “What’s with the chick by the lake?”
I rub my chin. “No clue. She just kind of popped into my head, so I added her.”
He gives my landscape a dubious eye. “Need something better than that to submit to the ArtExpo SOLO show next spring.” He’s been obsessed with that show since we were in treatment. Having hope and aspirations is a beautiful thing, especially when you’re sick. Even better when you’ll live long enough to make them happen.
I don’t want to come off like a conceited dick, so I don’t tell him about the body of work I have in storage and the art shows I exhibited at in England when I was still too young to realize I’d never be allowed to have my own dreams despite my talent.
I point at the hidden penis and smirk. “You should talk.”
The alarm on James’s cell phone chimes. “Crap.” He taps it, grabs a pill bottle, and heads to the kitchen area.
I lean against James’s station and glance at my picture, assessing it. Not my best work. My mystery girl is the only thing good about it. “Hmm. You’re right. It’s absolute rubbish.”
He chuckles and opens the refrigerator. “Your Briticisms kill me.”
“Yeah, well, see how you speak after spending your formative years in an English boarding school.” I mindlessly pass a hand through my hair and realize too late that I have paint on my fingers. I look behind me to find a discarded palette, and then glance in the mirror affixed above James’s work table on the wall. Multi-colored streaks cut a haphazard path through my light hair, which borders on sandy whereas Lettie’s is pure cornsilk. “Bollocks,” I mutter and look for a clean rag.
Behind the stainless steel door, James chuckles again, followed by pills rustling and the pop of a soft drink top. “Maybe you should go full-on James Bond and speak with a British accent. Girls love dudes with accents.” The door slams shut and he takes a long draught from his soda as I head to the small bathroom to check the supply cabinet.
“That could definitely help us in the getting-laid department,” he yells after me.
I roll my eyes and scrub at my head in front of the tarnished mirror. My efforts just make it worse. Dammit. “May I borrow your baby oil?” I yell back. Better choice than mineral spirits.
His muffled laughter filters through the wall. “What’s the matter? Can’t wait? Need a little tension relief?”
I stick my head out the doorway, glare at him, and point at the multi-colored streaks. “Hardly. Pull your mind out of the gutter. I need to get the paint off my hands then out of my hair.”
His brows shoot up and he takes the can from his lips. “Dude, you look like a peacock.”
I scowl. “Thanks.” Before I can do any more damage, my cell phone rings. James gives it a toss, and I catch it one-handed.
I eye the display. It’s my sister. “Hey, Lettie. What’s up?”
“Hey, Dev. When will you be ready to leave?”
I roll my neck and suppress the urge to snarl at her. “Why?” We have an unspoken agreement: I’m her willing slave for everything Kingsbridge twenty-four-by-seven, except for the time I carve out to be here.
“It’s a surprise,” she says too sweetly, tripping my alarms. Lettie may look underage and deceptively innocent, but looks are deceiving, and there’s nothing sweet about my sister. My condolences to anyone who underestimates her.
“I hate surprises.” Especially the Lettie variety, since her motives aren’t always apparent at first blush. Although we’re close and fiercely loyal to each other, she has no shame when it comes to manipulating the hell out of me to get what she wants.
“You’ll like this one.”
Doubtful. I glance at my watch. It’s half past three. “I’ll be home by six.”
“Wrong answer. A car will meet you downstairs in thirty minutes. Ta!” She hangs up. I grit my teeth and swear under my breath.
Classic freaking Lettie.
I text her. “I’m covered in paint. I need a shower and clothes.”
She texts back a crazy face emoji with a winking eye and tongue sticking out. “Have some faith, little brother.”
I roll my eyes at the reminder of our three-minute separation in pecking order. I text her a middle finger emoji and stomp back to my station to clean my brushes.
She texts two pink hearts followed by blond prince and princess emojis.
James holds out a plastic bottle of baby oil. “Leticia?”
“Who else could annoy me this much?” I retort, and wave off the Johnson & Johnson. Screw it. I’ll keep the Technicolor hair. If for no other reason than to annoy Lettie, because God knows, it’s not like I have any plans to get laid.
**To Be Continued...
Find the rest in the Summer Solstice anthology!