Book Excerpt - For Alice, with Love
This month, I’m sharing a chapter excerpt from the very first full-length book I posted on Wattpad.
For Alice, With Love is a contemporary romance, and the trope could be classified as old flame, reunited lovers, friends to lovers. This novel was my attempt at "clean" romance. There's kissing, and some insinuation of sex, but there are no sex scenes. When I wrote the book, I was also working on an erotic novella, and I felt the sex scenes I did write were too much for the tone of the book (subsequent books have evolved to have much more sexytimes in them, of course).
I'm really proud of this book, as it was the first "first draft" I ever completed as a writer. It was the the book that helped me push past the fear of sharing my original fiction with the world. It needs a rewrite, less head-hopping, and someone to brutally, brutally edit it. Maybe someday!
The idea for the book actually came from a strange source. I was watching Vampire Diaries one night, and there was a scene where one of the sexy vampires swaggers into his beautiful wood paneled mansion and flops to the couch, completely exhausted. The house became the Smith Estate and that actor was the muse for Chris Smith, the main "hero" in the book. I asked myself the question "What would it be like to live in that house?" and Mel, our "heroine" was created from that question, her situation quite unique.
Amelia Harris never expected she'd have to share a roof with Chris Smith. Ever. When she took over managing the Smith Estate for his mother, he'd still been happily married in the city, far away from Juniper and her long-broken heart. It had been ten years since Alice had died and they had kissed on his balcony, at her funeral. But here he was. As handsome and sexy as ever, acting like a class-A jerk, making a mess wherever he went. Freshly divorced and dealing with the fallout poorly, he's nothing like the boy she knew, his attitude and disregard for her creating havoc in the house. Before long, tempers flare all around. Alice had said in a letter to her brother that the two of them would need each other. She had needed Chris, that was true... But he hadn't been there. He'd left after the funeral; never calling or answering any of the angsty, grief-filled letters she'd sent him. Could they bury the hurt from the past and become close, like they were before Alice died? Was it still true that they needed one another? Or was it too late?
I’m going to share Chapter 6 - Sweetheart for you today. We're well into the story of Mel and Chris by this point, and tempers are flaring. It is a chapter that helps tie in some of the prologue to the present day in the book.
I hope you enjoy!
Chapter 6 - Sweetheart
Towelling off, Chris wiped his hand across the mirror and grimaced at the bloodshot, scruffy face that looked back. He inclined his neck and took in the love bite, blossoming pink and purple across his shoulder, and rubbed it. It smarted, and would leave a fantastic bruise.
Once he had shaved and blinked in some eye drops, he let out a satisfied sigh, and draped the towel around his hips. Much better. He rubbed the love bite again, and smiled this time. He’d shoved the remorse away the moment he’d gotten into his car. No need for that. He was single, good-looking; why not? Turn off all the crap that he’d been dealing with, and just have fun.
Sun streamed in, and he stood at the open balcony door, tumbler of scotch in hand, letting the summer breeze refresh him. The nap had done wonders. He took in the green and rainbow colours of the garden, the sun-loving plants in full late July bloom. The gardens had gotten bigger since he had lived here, it seemed.
He noticed Amelia, a dirty, beat up ball cap shoved down over her honey-coloured hair, tromping through, pulling a cart full of tools, weeds in the other hand dangling like sad, dead things.
He frowned. He thought they’d had a gardener, but what did he know? He’d have to ask, should’ve already asked, really. He needed her to help him, not weed and plant. As if compelling her, she turned around and looked up to the window. He tilted his head and waggled his fingers at her, and he could see the distinct displeased look as if he was standing right beside her. It was too easy.
Someone had pissed her off this morning. Likely it was him putting his feet up on the couch before taking his boots off. Next time he’d stand on the cushions and jump, see what kind of a response that got. For some odd reason, he loved provoking her. Her temper was amusing and any reaction from her was better than nothing.
The tiny sobering thought that her dislike was well earned poked him as he watched her digging around amongst the flowers. He’d wrecked their friendship when he’d kissed her after Alice died, and then never contacted her again. But that was ages ago, and he had put it past him. Or at least he thought he did. The memory had crept up on him a few times since he got back, spurring him to avoid her if he could.
He snorted at his own ridiculousness, and leaned on the frame of the window, savouring the quiet.
He wandered into his closet after a few moments more, and rummaged around in the top drawer of the bureau. He found his father’s family crest ring box, touched it, and stopped. When his Dad died, he’d barely been home long enough to see him put into the ground, be admonished by his mother, let alone talk to old classmates and distant family. He’d stayed one night, argued with Gillian about it, then gotten back in his car and went home, her silently fuming at having to spend one moment in that house, let alone for the funeral of her father-in-law.
He wasn’t completely sorry his Dad was dead, which he knew was cold to think. It meant he could be free from the hounding and the constant nitpicking of his abilities. As soon as he was married, his Dad had given him a VP job, shoved him into a corner office, and loaded him down with work. Between the travel and the constant meetings, he and his father communicated by email and terse hallway conversations.
Such a change in his Dad had put a distance between them, work taking over their personal relationship completely. Chris missed him though. He needed his guidance, especially now with the company going through such rapid change in their industry.
He shoved the ring box back, the wave of feeling like a failure all too familiar, and unwelcome.
He closed his fingers over his Yale ring already on his hand, and turned to look out to the window again, in time to see Amelia bend over to retrieve a shovel. It hit him how perfect her body was, curves in the right places, not stupidly skinny like most of the executive wives he’d socialized with over the past few years.
He wondered if she missed Alice, living here, where her best friend had died. The thought of his sister put him off one more time, so he pulled some jeans and a black t-shirt out. He had to go to this meeting at three; no one said anything about dressing up.
He looked in the mirror before leaving his room.
“Lighten up, Smith,” he said to the mirror, attempting bravado in the face of feelings he didn’t want to explore, and the image in the mirror, that he didn’t recognize, smirked back.
“So projections have us running a deficit in two years if we’re forced to reduce the fracking effort, is what you are saying,” Chris said, eyeing the document on his laptop as the grey-haired heads on the large monitor in front of him bobbed up and down.
“We’re running into some heavy pushback from government to do so, but yes. We’ll have to think about really looking at our expenditures if our output can’t support revenue targets,” one of the heads said.
Chris ran a hand down his face, feeling frustrated and peevish. It was getting harder and harder to come up against the tightening sanctions, environmental controls, and activism shutting down supply line construction. People still needed the gas they extracted, but soon all they would be left with was a hammer and straw to do it with. It was insane. Fucking environmental tree-huggers. Smith Shale had been in business longer than most of the freak shows that picketed the mines had been alive. Half of them likely went home to houses heated by the damned gas his company sucked out of the ground.
He looked back at the video link on the large screen, and smiled wanly. “Alright then. Have Herb run the numbers, and I’ll see if we can’t get the regional guys into a meeting to talk about how we can streamline a bit. Jasper #2 is nearing EOL, is it not?”
Another voice, teleconferenced in, piped up. “Yes, we have to get up there to see what is what, but likely we only have another five to six years, unless we find another deposit within the shale bed. It is unstable, but—"
Chris cut him off. “Alright, alright. Get someone up there, do the analysis. See what the numbers and quality are coming out of that site. It may not be profitable to squeeze the lemon anymore, and we can do some restructuring based on that.”
More murmurs, some standard business administrivia, and he logged off the meeting with relief. His head was pounding, and he desperately wanted to be anywhere but behind his father’s big mahogany desk.
He put his head down on a stack of file folders, the papers sticking out of them at all angles. He could smell printer ink and a waft of the polish used on the rich, dark wood of the desk. He closed his eyes for what he thought was just a second.
A thump on the desk brought him out of his nap, and he opened his eyes to a steaming mug on the blotter inches from his nose, the aroma of coffee overpowering.
“Ohhh Coffee Gods, you listened to my prayer,” he mumbled, and sat up, rubbing his face. Amelia snorted softly, and he realized likely he had indeed fallen asleep, the top file folder now slightly damp from drool.
“Was I out long?” he asked, picking up the mug and cradling it in his hands happily. He leaned back in his chair.
“No. Not really. Only a few minutes.”
Chris watched her, amused that they had actually just talked to one another without a clipped, terse please or thank you. He took a sip of the coffee, and clicked open a couple of emails, while she straightened some files.
Her bristled irritation rolled off of her in waves, as it had the moment he’d arrived. As they studiously avoided looking at one another directly, he took glances at her, reconciling the last time they had seen each other to the woman he had shared a roof with for the last two weeks.
She was still the same Amelia. Jeans, and a t-shirt were her uniform of choice, fitted to her as only comfortable clothes could, frayed and worn in. He could not help noticing how her hair hung in thick, wavy cords down her back, and realized he still liked the way it glinted in the sunlight, showing hints of red, like firelight. She wore glasses. When did she get glasses? He hadn’t noticed that before just now.
Definitely not as put-together as the urban women he normally found himself attracted to. Gillian had been very polished. Designer everything, not a hair out of place, eighteenth birthday nose and breasts with a price tag on them. Always ready for action, except anything involving dirt.
He blinked, realizing he was thinking about his ex-wife, and cleared his throat, moving back to his laptop. He felt Amelia’s eyes move over him, and he turned and met them, wondering if she had caught him staring.
“Can I get you anything else before I do turn-in?” she asked, her voice dripping with irritating politeness. They had been like this since he arrived, but for some reason today it irked him. He was reacting to her though; she has been frosty to him. It worked both ways, didn’t it?
“No. But wait. I’ve been meaning to ask. Seriously, my mom has not told me a thing and talking to her isn’t something I do much… Saw you out in the garden today. What happened to the gardener?” he asked.
Amelia tilted her head. “I am the gardener, and maintenance.”
He furrowed his brow. “But I thought—"
“David and Fern?” Amelia finished, her nostrils flaring slightly, her brow furrowing as she crossed her arms.
“Of course. David and Fern. When mom left, I mean. To keep the place until she decided what to do with it.”
Amelia shook her head, sadness flitting across her face. She perched a hip on the edge of the desk, levelling her gaze at him.
“Chris, you should talk to your mom more often. David’s gone. He died in his sleep not two months after your Dad…” she trailed off, then took an audible breath. “Fern moved in with their son, once he was gone. I’d only been here a month or so myself.”
“Oh. I had no idea,” he said, saddened, abruptly remembering David and his big laugh, and Fern’s delicious carrot muffins. Why had his mom not told him? That had been a time in his life where he’d lived at the office. The amount of work to keep the company afloat had been enormous. Maybe, just like when Alice had died, she’d wanted him to be able to focus on what was more important for him. He would’ve liked to have known though.
“It… It seemed like the logical thing to do, and I was looking for something better. When my parents retired, Pearl needed someone to be a caretaker. She pays me plenty to get by on, the expense account always has enough in it,” Alice blurted out, pulling him from his train of thought.
“Well, it is a lot of work for one person, what say we get someone on to take care of the grounds and stables? You must be running like mad to schedule it all. Or we can shut them down. Those horses can’t be rideable anymore,” he remarked as he sorted through a stack of papers, looking for his cellphone.
She stiffened, and he realized he had insulted her, implying she couldn’t do the job she had been doing for the past year, without him in the mix. He had poked the bear. He should know better.
“I—" he started but a look from her stopped him.
“In fact, they are. I have a horse of my own, and I keep it here,” she clipped. “I like gardening. I can handle it. If you hadn’t noticed since you arrived, things do still get done around here.”
“Not what I meant, sweetheart,” he clipped back, defensive.
“Not how it sounded, Mr. Smith.” She replied icily, and got up. “If you need me, I will be out in the stables. And don’t call me sweetheart.”
He watched her steam out of the room, and sat back in his chair, idly creaking side to side, thinking on the predicament. Why had his mom not just plopped the place on the market? She’d held onto it for some reason, but he’d no idea why. It seemed Amelia was fond of being here, and who could blame her? The run of a massive estate house, gardens, horses…
He picked up the phone he’d been looking for and dialled his mother.
He had some questions, and he was going to make her answer them. She’d left a lot out.