I just got my second book published called A NOVEL OBSESSION (#1 of The Novel Series) available at:
Check out the Youtube trailer: http://bit.ly/UhtJhe
It will soon be in print.
This is a Mystery/Suspense novel with a touch of Romance.
I’m currently working on the sequel.
Here is the book description:
Abby has met the man of her dreams; too bad he lives in her fantasies! Nightly, she pulls out his picture and dreams of an erotic life with him, just like many other women do as his popularity and romantic image grows. Meanwhile, in the small town where Abby lives, she becomes the object of rivalry between several jealous and obsessive suitors, compounded by the interference of well-meaning friends and family.
Daniel Sheppard is a best-selling author who has trouble living out the romantic novels he writes. As he becomes more and more famous, he yearns for a love of his own to fill the void in his life. By chance, he discovers that he and Abby may be kindred spirits, but he is unable to contact her.
Will Abby and Daniel find each other across the miles and beyond the barrier of small town gossip? Or, will they remain each other’s Novel Obsession?
Any help with Likes or Tags on Amazon would be appreciated
Here are the first few chapters:
A Novel Obsession
By Jeff Joseph
A Novel Obsession
By Jeff Joseph
Copyright 2012 by Jeff Joseph All rights reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
* * * * * * * *
As their faces slowly drew closer together, driven by forces that neither had ever encountered in their lifetimes, their eyes locked in a trance so intense that the rest of the world completely vanished around them. They were in a fourth dimension, completely mesmerized. They didn’t blink, as the spell was too strong, too consuming, and too moving. Unconscious tremors had begun. Suddenly their undeniable desires of the flesh became trivial; they no longer registered, only the overwhelming desire to be close, as close as humanly possible, even closer. Unconscious tremors continued. They inhaled the essence of one another as their scents mingled and became one, became them; they were quickly ceasing to be separate beings. Unconscious tremors were working their way to the surface. Finally and mercifully, their lips met. It wasn’t a kiss, but a physical joining of souls, the completion of a union ordained by a higher order. Tremors were becoming more conscious.
Then without warning, the tremors suddenly erupted into pure, unadulterated passion, an explosion of love that had no boundaries. She involuntarily leapt into his powerful arms, wrapping her legs around his hips pulling her center to his. In that same motion, her form-fitting skirt rose to her waist as if it had a mind of its own and her four-inch stiletto heels flew from her feet in different directions across the room. His muscular body responded to the challenge unconsciously by accepting the urgent, rhythmic contractions of her thighs, answering them with powerful thrusts of his own as he cradled her firm, round bottom in both of his hands, lifting upward, and squeezing her cheeks frantically at the same time. They crashed up against the nearby wall, neither aware of the collision. He turned and drove her into it over and over with such force, pictures fell from their perches, crashing to the floor without either of them being aware of it, and if they had been, they wouldn’t have cared. The inevitable eruption was growing more intense. Their mouths hungrily pursued one another as they tried to consume each other in bruising fashion, lips sucking wildly, tongues thrashing and probing deeper and deeper, all generating searing, wet, passion. Despite his athleticism, he reached a point where he couldn’t hold her up any longer, and he needed to create enough space between them to tear open her blouse. She would never wear that blouse again. He pushed her off. She had a fierce look of determination upon her face that said she would not be denied. He grabbed silk in each of his large, strong hands and, with one effortless pull, sent buttons flying in every direction. The strength with which he did this sent her into an uncontrolled frenzy. He jerked off her bra with nearly the same ease, as two full, firm, perfectly upturned, and beckoning breasts sprang forward. Her nipples were so hard and protruding, he could have hung coffee mugs from them. There was no planning, no thinking at all, only instincts, and instantly his mouth was suckling one breast voraciously while his other hand grabbed as much of the other as he could, squeezing it and kneading it until her head fell back against the wall and she involuntarily screamed with pleasure. His worn, tight-fitting jeans along with his boxers were around his ankles without his knowing how they got there. She held his fully upright, thick, and throbbing manhood in her right hand, as she would have the stick shift of a Maserati, squeezing it firmly, leaving no doubt who was doing the driving now.
In hoarse gasps with a sense of dire urgency, she pleaded, “I want you inside of me; I need you inside of me.”
He couldn’t answer her. He couldn’t speak any longer and he was reduced to breathless grunting.
With her left hand, she peeled her nylons and panties down her long, lean, shapely thighs and legs, and when they reached her ankles, she feverishly kicked them off. Once free from them, she shifted his erection into fifth and placed it horizontally between her legs. It was so extended now that the head protruded beyond her perspiring buttocks. She squeezed it between her thighs several times, reveling in its girth and firmness. Grasping his broad shoulders, she turned and took three steps backward, falling back on the bed pulling him down on top of her. With her legs bent and her knees pointing to the ceiling, she spread herself wide open to ensnare him, and with a look of desperation on her face moaned, “Please take me, please.”
He didn’t need any encouragement. He truly loved her, needed her, desired her beyond reason, and he would spend the rest of his life making her feel loved every waking moment of hers. They couldn’t wait a moment longer. Now both thoroughly wet with anticipation, he plunged himself deep inside of her in one fluid, yet gentle motion. At the same time, her body instinctively sucked him in. Their joining was hot and tight, a perfect, sensual fit. It was as if that was how they had begun before being cruelly separated somehow. At the moment of penetration, her eyes opened so wide he thought he could see the blood vessels pulsating on her retinas, and she moaned so feverishly it was obvious that she had not only lost the ability to talk but to scream as well. As their passion became interwoven, it was entirely about love and not sex. Both were on the verge of delirium as their centers sought and retreated, sought and retreated over and over, in a rapidly increasing rhythm until at last they simultaneously succumbed to their mind numbing, crippling, involuntary spasms, which allowed them to finally experience absolute and heavenly satiation. Once fulfilled, unable to move other than to stare breathlessly deeply into each other’s beckoning eyes while still interlocked at the hips, they had come full circle and they were back to where it all had started. No verbal communication was necessary as their consuming eyes did all the talking.
* * * * * * * *
Abby began to stir as slivers of the golden rays of the early morning sun found their way through the small opening between the drapes of her bedroom window, their warmth gently caressing the slumbering features of her face. She tentatively opened her eyes and gently rubbed them with the backs of her hands and began to wake. Thankfully, her first conscious thought was of the glorious evening before, one that had lasted into the wee hours of the morning that she happily spent with a man so completely unique, she had never known anyone like him in her entire life. He was as close to perfect as a man could possibly be. She smiled, her expression a contented, dreamy gaze as she sighed and closed her eyes once again to revel in the magic she had experienced just hours earlier. As she rolled over and glanced at the object of her affection lying motionless on the bed next to her, she quietly said, “You were wonderful last night. I love you so.”
Her romantic trance was rudely interrupted as her cell phone, which was charging on the nightstand next to her bed, began to ring. The ring seemed louder and more piercing than usual due to the fact that she wasn’t completely awake yet. It also was too early in the morning for the summer sounds of the neighborhood to have created their pleasant white noise. It must be early,she thought as she reached for the phone, no one is even mowing their lawn yet.
“Hey, Ab, what’s going on?”
“Hi, Jules. Nothing much really, I just got up. I’m still trying to focus my eyes. In fact, I’m still in bed!” she said while stifling a yawn.
Jules, or Julie as most other people knew her, was Abby’s oldest and dearest friend. The two met at the age of five during their first day in kindergarten, and had been inseparable ever since, for nearly twenty-seven years. Neither had any siblings and through the years, Abby and Julie became closer than most sisters could ever hope to be. Other than biology, the only thing that disqualified them from being real sisters was that they didn’t sleep in the same house each night, although they had sleepovers so frequently even that distinction was somehow less relevant. Even their last names were related, which enhanced their reputation as being as close to sisters as two non-sisters could possibly be. Abby’s last name was Lane and Julie’s was Street.
“So what did you do last night, Ab?”
“Oh, Jules, I had the most glorious romantic evening. I was so happy and fulfilled.”
“Really, and would I be surprised to know who you spent such an evening with?”
“Not at all. It was Daniel.”
“You’re right, no surprise there. And I suppose he’s there with you right now?”
“So he was he as good as always, huh?”
Abby dreamily looked over at him and responded, “Yes every bit and then some.”
“Well, I’m very happy for you. Listen, why don’t you stop by for dinner tonight, that is, provided you won’t be with lover boy again,” she added sardonically. “We can have a beer and talk a little.” Julie was always looking out for Abby’s best interests and she had some very serious concerns about her romantic choices in men.
“No, I won’t be with Daniel tonight and that sounds great, I’d love to! Is there anything in particular you want to talk about?”
“No, just the usual stuff,” she lied. The usual stuff was Julie’s husband Rick and his lack of interest in anything other than alcoholic beverages and sports.
“Okay, I’ll see you at what, six?”
“Yeah, that sounds great.”
“I’ll stop at the store and pick up a bottle of wine so we don’t waste any of Rick’s precious beer. Besides, Daniel loves wine and I’ve been acquiring a taste for it lately.”
Julie rolled her eyes, a luxury of having a phone conversation about such subjects as Daniel. “Whatever you want. See you later.”
“Okay Jules. Have a good day. Bye bye.”
They both hung up. Abby looked over at Daniel and felt her heart skip a beat or two. He was very handsome, and there simply couldn’t be a man on Earth more romantic and sensitive than he was. His words painted such beautiful images that when he spoke to her she often found herself holding her breath. It was as if he knew exactly what a woman wanted and needed, and unselfishly did everything he could to satisfy her desires. He had a divine sense of humor that made her laugh for hours on end. But most of all, he knew the value of true love and commitment and believed that loving someone with all your heart was the sole reason for living. The time she spent with him left her feeling nearly complete as a woman and she couldn’t wait until they embarked on another adventure together. Sadly, it wouldn’t be for several months at the very earliest, but she was content for now just to look at his wonderful face.
She reached over, picked up Daniel, and leaned him against the lamp on her nightstand. That way she would see him every time she walked into her room, right before she went to sleep, and first thing when she awoke. The picture of Daniel on the back of Desperate Love, his latest novel, was his best picture yet. The expression on his face was more serious than that on his other book jackets and his eyes were very penetrating. Regardless of where she placed the book, or from what angle she looked at it, it always appeared as though he was looking directly at her. Those deep, dark brown eyes seemed to follow her around the room, which made him seem more real and alive. She felt his presence so strongly that she refused to get undressed in plain view of the book cover, despite having read and reveled in his searing but tastefully written climactic sexual passage over and over again the night before.
Daniel published a new novel about once a year. Abby had read them all and had read most of them several times. She discovered Daniel about two years earlier. She had heard of him in the literary circles she traveled by virtue of her job as the lone teacher of English and fiction at the local small town high school, but at that time didn’t consider him a serious author. She simply adored the classics: the works of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, and Edmond Rostand (she cried like a baby every time she read Cyrano de Bergerac), and considered the writings of a contemporary author who wrote of love in the modern era to be rather trivial. Still, as it seemed that he was becoming quite popular, almost a household name, she thought she would give him a try and purchased his original novel, Blackbird. She found the story to be so beautifully written she became completely immersed in it. It touched every emotion she had ever experienced. She went from laughing to crying to holding her breath in suspense, and back and forth so many times, she was exhausted once she finished reading it, which rarely took more than two sittings, regardless of how deep into the night that took her. Each of his stories was unique, but they all were about ordinary people who lacked love in their lives, accidentally stumbled upon it, fell hopelessly into its chasm, and then struggled to find a way to keep it alive and make it work. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t, but Abby found it impossible not to insert herself into the role of the heroine, and she suspected that every woman who read Daniel’s novels did the same thing, which was why he was so enormously popular.
His picture was the first one you would see every time you walked into a bookstore. You couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing him on one of the many talk shows. He had truly become a celebrity, yet at the same time seemed uncomfortable with the notoriety, which only added to his character in her eyes.
Abby had gone so far as to write a letter to Daniel recently, trying to explain to him how his novels had touched her so deeply. She had also, selfishly or not, asked him to come to her school to speak to the students to inspire them to embrace literature. She knew he must receive thousands of similar letters from women all over the country, yet writing such a letter somehow seemed to make her feel closer to him. She had never received a reply from him, but that didn’t prevent her from fantasizing on a regular basis that one day her doorbell would ring and when she opened the door, she would find him standing there, ready to sweep her up in his arms. She knew she was being silly and was even a little embarrassed that she wasn’t above writing such letters; in fact, she never told Julie about it because the ever-practical Jules would only roll her eyes if she did, but she just couldn’t help herself. It somehow made her feel connected to Daniel. She watched him on the talk shows whenever she knew he was going to be on them. During the day while she was teaching, she would record the shows and watch them later. She had collected a whole library of recordings and watched them over and over. The women in the audience screamed whenever he was announced and walked out on the stage. As the cameras panned the audience during the show, most of the women clutched their chests as he spoke. When Oprah kissed him upon his arrival on her set, it looked like there was going to be a riot, and when Jay Leno shook his hand, the applause didn’t die down for several minutes. Even the First Lady didn’t get such a response when she made an appearance on The Tonight Show. When Daniel responded to questions by the interviewer, nearly every answer received a thunderous ovation.
Abby knew quite a bit about Daniel from watching those shows and she loved everything she had learned. First and foremost, and almost impossibly so, he was single! Actually he had never been married, a notion that was difficult to fathom. There he was, handsome as could be with a chiseled six foot four inch frame, 34 years of age, as romantic an individual as there ever was, the most eligible bachelor in the country, and he was single? How could that be? Oprah must have thought the same thing one day and asked him directly if he was gay, as only she would. His answer was, “Although I respect and appreciate their right to the lifestyle of their choosing and their privacy regarding it, no, that is not my sexual preference.” The women in the audience, which usually made up roughly 99% of it, went wild. That answer shouldn’t have surprised anyone though, and it didn’t surprise Abby because Daniel was notorious for being a single man about town, and the dates he went on with celebrities were highly sensationalized. To her though, he seemed to be somewhat shy and uncomfortable with all the attention he received. Despite his success, he appeared to be very humble and unassuming. He usually dressed in jeans and a T- shirt, even on The Tonight Show, and of course, both accentuated his deliciously lean and muscular body. But the one thing that Abby had latched onto and kept replaying in her mind over and over for months now was his response to the question, “How come you’ve never been married?” His answer was simply, “I haven’t found the right girl yet.”
When asked further, “What qualities will the right girl have?” he responded, “Well for one thing, she won’t care at all about the fact that I’m rather wealthy and famous, and I, on the other hand, when I find her, will just know that she’s the one. I will know it with complete certainty.” All Abby could think to herself, as ridiculous and foolish as she knew it to be, was that as long as he remained single and thus hadn’t found the “right girl,” she had a chance with him! Perhaps he would read her letter one day, and get a feeling about her and want to meet her. The chances were rather slim she knew, but it was a possibility, if only one in millions!
Abby’s parents, although they couldn’t be prouder of their daughter, like Julie, they were becoming more concerned about the fact that Abby was still single and didn’t have any serious relationship prospects. Of all the men Abby had dated over the years with some regularity, Abby’s parents had their favorites and did everything they could, short of interfering, to encourage those relationships. Every time one of them failed, it broke their hearts and they tended to judge Abby harshly. They never let her know they felt that way and always got over it. Nevertheless, they had a hard time understanding why she was so insistent on perfection in a man.
To Abby’s way of thinking, she wasn’t looking for perfection. She was looking for a man who simply valued the things she did. She wanted to be in love for the rest of her life, not for the first year or two then have to settle merely for being comfortable, very much like she felt Julie was with Rick. She needed someone who would remain romantic and court her throughout their marriage, and not because she wanted him to but because he wanted to. The men she dated were willing to be romantic in the beginning, but inevitably, they began to feel comfortable in the relationship and started taking it for granted. As soon as they began to assume that they would have a date the following weekend instead of making the effort to ask her out, she knew the end was in sight. If a date asked her to do something he wanted to do rather than try to learn what it was she wanted to do, she knew they would have that date and that date only. It wasn’t that she was snobbish or impossible to get along with, quite the contrary. She just didn’t want to waste her time or his time if she knew it would never go anywhere. She also didn’t want to get hurt in the process. That had happened a number of times and led her to the conclusion that it just wasn’t worth the emotional investment in a relationship she knew would end sooner or later. Deep down, she knew she could settle for someone if she absolutely had to and make the best of it; after all, she did want a family: two girls, to be exact. But until that time came, she was determined to keep her standards and expectations high.
Julie was well aware of all of this, but her concern was that for the time being Abby seemed to have set the bar at Daniel Sheppard, a man she had never even met and likely never would, and of whom she knew nothing about other than the fact that he could write a good romantic story. Thinking of him as an object of love was pure fantasy. Practically speaking, Julie didn’t think that his literary success meant he was necessarily a decent man. He might be romantic when he had a paycheck dangled in front of him, but he was in all probability a self-centered, boorish creep in real life. After all, he couldn’t even maintain a semi-successful relationship with the growing number of Hollywood starlets he had dated. To Julie, it seemed that there was little substance to him and he was in fact nothing more than a handsome exterior surrounding a hollow core. It had crossed her mind several times recently that it might actually be a blessing if Abby was to meet him. Once her bubble was burst, she might be better able to get on with her life. But, until then, Julie would just have to try to talk some sense into her.
Abby got dressed in her favorite running shorts and sleeveless T-shirt. She slipped on her Nike running shoes, and started out for her regular morning jog. It was still early enough for the morning breeze to be cool and refreshing. As she headed down her favorite road that led out of town and along the picturesque Ohio River, her thoughts drifted back to Daniel and how happy he would be if he knew that she was keeping herself in tip-top shape for him.
Despite the pristine air and the fact that the day was so clear you could see for miles and miles into the distance, it was impossible for Abby or anyone to see that around a bend in the near future, that life in their idyllic small town would change forever.
* * * * * * * *
Shadyhill, Ohio is a quaint town nestled in the Appalachian foothills along the Ohio River. With a population of 7000, it offers the slow paced, laid-back lifestyle of a small town, while still being within easy reach of the amenities of larger towns; close by in all directions. To the north is Wheeling, West Virginia, only a fifteen-minute ride by car. About thirty minutes beyond that, to the northeast of Wheeling, in Pennsylvania, is Pittsburgh. Columbus Ohio, the state’s capital, is about an hour’s drive northwest of Shadyhill. And to the southwest lies Marietta, Ohio and Parkersburg West Virginia, again only about an hour away. The Tri-State area, as it is referred to, is very interesting geographically. If there were a road heading directly east out of Shadyhill, after driving less than thirty minutes you would have traveled through parts of three states: Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
The people of Shadyhill are very proud of their town and the many things it has to offer its citizens and visitors. Despite being relatively impoverished, it provides a way of life rapidly disappearing in America, a genuine friendly atmosphere that is nearly void of materialism and full of down-home hospitality. Everyone knows everyone else and truly cares about the welfare of his or her neighbors. Those with big ambitions who couldn’t wait to make their fortunes left for the bigger cities after college, but many of them came back to the clean air and solid family values that can only be found in intimate rural America.
Among the many families that populate the town, most can trace their genealogy to the early settlers who courageously migrated westward from the original colonies through the Ohio Valley in search of more land and greater opportunity. The earliest records of Shadyhill tell the story of a large group of such individuals, who facing the prospect of a long hard winter in the fall of 1781, decided to stay along the banks of the Ohio River and establish a cooperative village for the sole purpose of surviving the forthcoming cold season. Originally, the group planned to continue their westward journey in the spring. With the spring, however, came certain undeniable realities. The rich valley soil was perfect to grow bountiful crops, the undulating landscape provided unimaginable beauty, and with the river came all the water, transportation, and recreation they would ever need. They decided to stay permanently and thus the town of Shadyhill was founded. Among its founding fathers was a man known very well in local lore by the name of Thomas Lane, originally from the colony of New Jersey who became the first governor of the new settlement. He chose the name Shadyhill, as the story goes, because of the sloping landscape populated by towering oak tress that provided welcome shade during the sweltering hot summer months.
Thomas Lane’s ancestors could be directly traced to the current day Lane family of Shadyhill, in particular Richard and Emily Lane and their only offspring, Abigail.
Richard was a lifelong employee of the paper mill just south of Shadyhill on the Ohio River. He started out there when he was fourteen years old, corralling logs that were floated down the river and eventually converted into pulp for the production of paper. He worked his way up to first shift supervisor and eventually foreman during the next forty years before retiring. It was then that he followed in his family tradition by becoming involved in civic leadership. He became the mayor of Shadyhill, as did his father, grandfather, great uncle, and at least one male member of every generation since Thomas Lane originally founded the city. Every Lane family had produced at least one male offspring, until now. Richard was the lone male family member of his generation and he and Emily had Abigail, their only child. Richard felt that he would be responsible for the failure to continue the family legacy of Shadyhill leadership. However, in this day and age of the liberation of women, he fancied that Abby might take up the mantle one day.
Emily Lane was also very well known in town as she had been a librarian in the local library most of her life. She had a passion for the written word and brought books home by the volume for her daughter to read. Therefore, it was no accident that Abby grew to love to read at a very early age and consumed every book she could get her hands on. Whenever a new book arrived at the library, Abby was the first one in the community to read it, even before her mother. After a while, Emily relied heavily on Abby’s critiques when recommending books to the public. Over time, Emily noticed that Abby tended to immerse herself in classic love stories more so than non-fiction and considered this a very good sign that she would seek out and find true love in her life eventually. Emily had no way of knowing at the time that her daughter’s love for romantic literature would be more of an obstacle in her finding true love than anything else.
It had started to become obvious over the years, with the insightful opinions of Abby’s best friend Julie, that rather than seeking out the kind of relationship Abby loved to read about, she instead used those relationships to set a standard of love so high it was nearly unattainable. As time went by, fueled by Julie’s concern as well, Emily became distraught by Abby’s behavior toward men. She suspected that her husband Richard was also beginning to wonder whether the family lineage would come to an end with Abby’s generation. Still, at this point Emily had no choice but to trust her daughter as she had always done, and with good reason. Abby had never done anything to cause her and Richard any real concern, and to the contrary, she had always been a source of joy and pride to them. She was a wonderful girl: good citizen, doting daughter, and great friend. Still, it was becoming more difficult all the time to explain, both to themselves and to others, why Abby wasn’t married and didn’t have any serious prospects, considering her good looks and sweet disposition. Emily told herself to be patient, that everything would work out for Abby and perhaps the right man would walk into her life in the near future.
There was a rap on the wooden screen door of the small Early American cottage on Main Street. Emily came scurrying into the hallway and greeted Beau, a friend of Abby’s and her principal at the high school.
“Hi, Beau. What brings you around here today?”
“Hi, Mrs. Lane.”
Beau always referred to Emily as “Mrs. Lane.” She asked him over and over to call her by her first name as everyone else did, but Beau was a good down-to-earth country boy who was as high on manners, as he was lacking in confidence. He had dated Abby off and on the last several years. Despite knowing Emily well and the fact that he was almost thirty-six years old, he could never bring himself to say the name Emily, despite Emily’s urgings.
“I just heard some news I wanted to share with you. I thought you might find it interesting due to the fact that nothing much new ever happens around here. You do have to promise to keep it tight lipped, though, because an official announcement hasn’t been made yet.”
“Sure, what is it?”
“As I’m sure you know, Coach Green resigned at the end of the school year to take a job at Marietta College. Well, the board just approved the hire of a new coach who will be moving into town next week to get a head start with the football program. He’s a history teacher and has coached some very successful programs over the years, including one of the bigger schools in Columbus. To tell you the truth, I voted against him because he just doesn’t seem like the small town type to me, but I was the only one with a nay vote.”
“Why doesn’t he seem like the small town type to you?”
“To begin with, he played some professional football in the NFL and you know what those guys are like. They’re treated like gods and have so much money thrown at them, they have nothing better to do with it other than to buy fancy cars, parade around with gorgeous women, and take steroids.”
“Well, Beau, I’m sure they’re not all like that!”
“Damn near all of them are, I swear.”
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see about this one. What did you say his name is?”
“I didn’t and it’s Bill Thompson. He played for the 49’ers, I think, before he got hurt.”
“And is his family coming with him next week?”
“Nope, no family. He’s single. That’s really why I’m here. I wanted to warn Abby about his type so she could get her head on straight. I’m sure he’ll turn the heads of all the girls in town and probably break several hearts along the way. In fact, there’s a rumor going around that he got one of his senior students in trouble at his last school, and that’s why he had to leave, but it’s just a rumor at this point. I intend to find out the truth, though. We don’t need a guy like that terrorizing the girls in our town. I stopped by Abby’s house, but she wasn’t there. I thought she might be here.”
“I don’t think you need to worry about Abby. She can see right through a guy if he’s not sincere, you know that. I’m sure she’ll be fine, but thank you for your concern anyway.”
“Please let me be the one to tell her. No one else is supposed to know about him yet.”
“My lips are sealed.”
“Okay, thanks, Mrs. Lane. I’ll see you later. I’ve got to do a little investigating to see what I can turn up on this character.”
“Thanks for stopping by.”
Beau Bradford was several years older than Abby and had been in love with her most of his life. Over the years, he had done everything he could to get Abby’s attention and win her affection, but it wasn’t meant to be. As good and decent as he was, he had always been very insecure, tentative, and outright intimidated by her. He lacked charm and sophistication, not that Abby was looking for someone worldly necessarily, but Beau’s idea of a romantic date was a drive-in movie—they still had one in Shadyhill—and a sundae at the local Dairy Queen. He and Abby went out a dozen times over the years, when he could work up the nerve to ask her out, and he had never even tried to kiss her goodnight or even tried to hold her hand. He could never make a decision without asking Abby what she thought first, which was probably his character trait that she deplored the most. He was always very polite, but his lack of imagination and fear of the unknown overshadowed his good manners and frankly, drove her crazy. Rather than try to plan a date and surprise her with his plans, he always asked her what she wanted to do before committing to anything. When she would respond that it was up to him and that she would be glad to do anything, he always came up with the same suggestion, a movie and DQ. Abby had known Beau all her life, despite being several grades behind him in school, and she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. So, when he did muster up the courage to suggest a date, she accepted and made the best of it. In truth, she was glad he never made a pass at her because she was never interested in reciprocating. She knew that at that point, he would feel so ashamed and embarrassed he would never be able to face her when their paths crossed in the future.
Inasmuch as they worked closely together now as employer and employee, it was important that their personal relationship never interfered with their working relationship, so they avoided doing anything together outside of school. Still, Abby filled up Beau’s heart, and despite currently enjoying the absence of the pressure that always accompanied dating her, he hoped that one day they would be able to become a serious couple and would get married. He fantasized that eventually she would come to her senses and would realize that she loved him, and she would quit her job to pursue a permanent relationship with him. The fact that she was still single and didn’t appear to be dating anyone fueled his hopes. There wasn’t anyone as far as he could tell that she seemed to be enamored with at the moment, and being that Shadyhill was such a small town with so few new men ever being introduced into the equation, he felt comfortable that her affections could still be won over in time.
For the same reason, Beau was feeling quite unsettled about the arrival of the new football coach. Bill Thompson was a man he knew little about except that he likely was big, having played in the NFL, and probably had plenty of experience with women having traveled all over the country for several years with them undoubtedly throwing themselves at him wherever he went. His credentials as a coach were solid. In fact, it was hard to explain why a man with his football experience would even consider coaching at a high school in such a small, out of the way town. All Beau could think to himself was, Thank God he’s not an English teacher! If he was, he knew Abby would be spending a great deal of time with Bill. In the end, Beau was unable to convince the school board members that this guy simply wasn’t the right fit for the community. All he could do at this point was to learn as much as he could about Bill Thompson and hope that he might uncover some dirt that he could use to chase him away, thereby protecting Abby and of course, his own selfish interests.
As soon as the screen door slammed behind Emily, she made a beeline to the family room and turned on her computer. Minutes later, she was on Google, looking up whatever she could find on Bill Thompson, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. She was able to confirm that he had indeed played for them eight years ago, but there was very little information about him other than his vital statistics. He was six foot two inches tall, weighed two hundred and twenty-five pounds, ran the forty in four and eight-tenths seconds (whatever that meant), had graduated from Clemson, and was the backup quarterback. There were no pictures on the site and very little other information. The Clemson web page had an old article about Bill’s heroics during a big game with Georgia Tech in 1995, but otherwise provided no additional information.
Hmmm, Emily thought to herself. This guy must be something. Why else would Beau have his shorts in such a bunch? We’ll have to see what my daughter can find wrong with him.
“Emily? What was that all about?”
“Nothing. Beau just stopped by to say ‘hi.’”
“Doesn’t that twit have anything better to do than pay social calls and leave his sweat all over our porch?”
Richard Lane walked into the family room with a steaming mug of black coffee in his hand and sat down on the sofa. Richard was never a big fan of Beau’s. He saw through his polite veneer and recognized him for the spineless man he really was. When Beau and Abby were dating, Richard never had a good thing to say about him. In fact, he teased Abby to the point that she eventually had to tell him to cease and desist, once she stopped laughing, that is.
Richard and Abby had an ideal father-daughter relationship. They were very close and could tell each other anything. They often gave each other advice on a variety of subjects and always took the others views to heart. The one thing they loved to do above all else was to make each other laugh. Unfortunately, Beau provided all sorts of opportunities for good-natured ribbing although they never did it in his presence. And even though Abby knew it was wrong, she couldn’t help on occasion but to indulge her father by laughing when he joked about one of Beau’s many idiosyncrasies. The one that seemed to draw the most criticism was his propensity to sweat profusely when he became nervous, which was often. There he would be, trying to suggest to Abby that they go out on Saturday night with the beads of perspiration rolling down his forehead and dripping from his eyebrows! And it didn’t matter if it was in the middle of summer or the dead of winter. The faucet just seemed to turn on and give away the fact that he was scared to death.
“Now, Richard, don’t be cruel. You know Beau can’t help himself and bless his heart, you can’t condemn a man who loves our daughter the way he does.”
“If that’s the case, why the hell doesn’t he act like more of a man and do something about it? God knows he’s had plenty of time!”
“That’s just his way. And if he were to take charge, would you ever accept him as your son-in-law?”
“Luckily, I’ll never have to worry about that; Abby would never settle for a man like him. She has too much sense.”
“Would you rather she lived alone for the rest of her life and never had a family?”
“Emmy, please, she’s only…how the hell old is she anyway? Thirty-three or something?”
“Thirty-two, and that’s not so young anymore, especially when you consider there isn’t even anyone she’s serious about right now.”
“Come on, she could meet someone tomorrow, get married next week, and have a kid in nine months for all we know!”
“Dream on, dear. Do you know a man within a hundred miles of here who could measure up to her standards?”
“No, but when you consider that she would never settle for anything less than the kind of man her father is, it’s no wonder. You didn’t, so why should she?”
“You’re absolutely hopeless…. right as usual, but hopeless.”
“Of course I am, now how about a little breakfast for this hopelessly right husband of yours?”
* * * * * * * *
When looking around the living room of the apartment, it was difficult to imagine that anyone actually lived in it recently. The furniture, although tasteful and probably rather expensive, was completely covered with newspapers, dirty and wrinkled clothes, empty fast food containers, crumbled pieces of paper, and a litany of other refuse that made it impossible to sit down upon. Most of this had spilled onto the floor as well, thus rendering it difficult to take more than a step or two without stumbling over or kicking something. In one corner sat six large canvas bags marked “US Mail,” stuffed so full they looked as if they would burst at any moment. There were several bookcases filled with books, but the dust that covered them was so thick it was difficult to read the titles. The etched glass coffee table had a plate on it with the remains of a dozen or so barbeque chicken wings that were probably lathered in a delicious sauce previously, but were now decomposing and so dried out they were most likely glued to the plate forever. They must have been sitting there for days, if not weeks. The freestanding Bose speakers each had empty beer cans on top of them, and the 60-inch flat panel TV was . . . well, actually, there was nothing at all wrong with the TV, so apparently it was the one item of value in the entire place. However, it would be a serious challenge to find the remote control.
Despite being mid-afternoon in sunny Southern California, the drapes were closed tightly, making the scene even drearier. The casual observer probably would have concluded that the person residing here had died weeks before and the building management hadn’t gotten inside to clean up the place yet. That conclusion wouldn’t have been too far from the truth.
The bedroom door began to open slowly and the individual who was entirely responsible for the chaos in the apartment emerged. He too was disheveled, so much so that he blended in perfectly with the rest of the surroundings. His hair was completely flattened on one side and stood straight up on the other, and his face was covered with a thick growth of whiskers. He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, but looked as if he had slept in them for several nights in a row. The only color in his face was the red of his bloodshot eyes, which he began to rub vigorously with both fists at the same time. After that, he took two steps forward, scratched himself between the legs, then walked across the room to the coffee table. He must have been so used to the clutter that as he walked, he managed to avoid every obstacle in his path. Upon arriving at the table, he reached out for the plate and with great difficulty pried a partially eaten wing off, and began to have breakfast.
Daniel Sheppard barely resembled the picture on the back cover of his latest novel or any of the pictures on any of his novels. After all, a picture is merely a snapshot of a split second in time. This was the real Daniel Sheppard, an enormously talented writer and an equally enormous failure of a human being. He hadn’t always lived in such squalor, but then again he hadn’t always been this miserable.
As a young boy growing up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, life for Daniel was easy and carefree. His responsibilities consisted entirely of playing all day long so that his parents would be able to do their work and not have to worry about him. He took that responsibility very seriously and never let his parents down. It was a much simpler and safer life for a child back then. The air was clean and the landscape expansive. He would never run out of new places to explore, and the possibility for creating adventures was limitless. His mother fueled his imagination by reading to him every night before he went to bed, and the following day he would become Huck Finn, General George Custer, Abe Lincoln, or one of the hundreds of other characters she read about. The older he got, the more his imagination grew, and by the time he started school, he was an accomplished storyteller. In the beginning of his third-grade year at school, his class was asked to write about their recent summer vacation. The average length of the papers that were turned in was five sentences and contained such statements as, “I took swimming lessons. It was fun.” “We went to visit my Aunt Pearl. She smells like turpentine”…and so on. Daniel’s paper was seven pages long and started out, “My summer vacation was full of exciting adventures. The first day I was captured by pirates and taken aboard their ship. They tried to make me walk the plank, but I killed the Captain with his own sword and escaped in a rowboat. As I was rowing away, the pirate crew cheered me!”
The only reason the paper wasn’t longer than seven pages was because Daniel ran out of time to write more. His handwriting couldn’t keep pace with his thoughts. The teacher called his parents and told them about his remarkable accomplishment. She encouraged them to read to him as often as they could and supply him with books on a variety of subjects that he could read on his own. Being the caring parents that they were, that was exactly what they did and before long, Daniel spent most of his spare time reading. He became knowledgeable about virtually everything and eventually wound up skipping two grades.
By the time Daniel reached high school, he had a reputation for being an excellent writer. Unfortunately, the two grades he skipped had caught up with him socially. Despite being quite good-looking, he was a gangly, awkward thirteen-year-old among cruel and heartless fifteen-year olds. And, inasmuch as the average fifteen-year-old boy was looking for someone to pick on, Daniel turned out to be easy prey. His problems were compounded by the fact that he was at the age when his hormones were causing him to feel things he had never felt before. He found himself emotionally and sexually attracted to his female classmates, yet there was absolutely nothing he could do to befriend any of them.
There was one girl in particular who completely captured his young heart. She was very pretty and the most popular girl in the school. Her name was Melissa Stewart, and although she seemed to be kinder than most of the other tenth graders, Daniel knew she was unobtainable to a mere “child” like himself. Still, he couldn’t stop thinking about her all the time. He looked for her whenever he was walking the halls between classes and when he went to school events. He fantasized about her while in class and at home in the evenings. The weekends were especially difficult because he didn’t see her at all and knew she was with other boys, sadists who would delight in nothing more than torturing him given the opportunity. His high school crush lasted the entire school year!
As the summer drew near and he knew he likely wouldn’t see Melissa until the fall, he began to panic and decided he had to do something while he still had the chance. He couldn’t walk up to her in school because her entourage of boyfriends would lynch him by the waistband of his briefs. He couldn’t call her on the phone at home because he simply didn’t have the courage for that. He put his creative mind to work and finally came up with a plan. He wrote a story about a beautiful, virtuous girl and a younger, equally virtuous boy. The story was sweet and tender. In it, through the character he created to portray himself, he confessed his undying love for her. It would have been difficult for a grown man to write as eloquently as Daniel did, let alone someone Melissa’s age. He spoke of beauty, yearning, sacrifice, dedication, and true love. His heartfelt story had a happy ending in which the young heroine was able to look past the social restraints that bound her, and give her love happily to the young romantic suitor. Naturally, it ended with them walking hand in hand along a pristine beach as the sun set in the ocean painting the sky with its warm hues.
Near the end of school one day, Daniel put the story into an envelope and slipped it into Melissa’s locker through one of the air vents when there was no one else in the hallway. He was very familiar with her locker as he paid homage to it several times a day while walking the hallways of his school. After that, he ran home so he could hyperventilate in private. The next day, he could barely make himself go to school. He knew he would die of embarrassment once Melissa told the entire school about the story, or die of a broken heart should she tell him to get lost, and most likely would suffer both fates. After math class, he was standing in front of the drinking fountain and saw Melissa at the other end of the hallway. He looked away and tried to remain perfectly still so she wouldn’t notice him, but not only did she apparently see him, he sensed that she was walking in his direction. He bent down and started drinking water from the fountain in earnest until he was nearly gagging on it! Eventually, he had to stop drinking and all he could do was close his eyes and wait for her hopefully to pass by. The next thing he heard was Melissa’s sweet voice, a voice he had only heard from a distance until now, say, “Daniel? Hi.”
He turned to face her, unconsciously wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt. He had absolutely no other choice and shyly replied, “Oh hi,” unable to look directly at her.
“Daniel, I just wanted to tell you that was the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. Thank you. You’re going to be a famous writer some day!”
With that, she bent forward and kissed him on the cheek. By this time, a small group of students had gathered in the hallway to witness the spectacle. Melissa walked away smiling while messengers ran throughout the school to spread their version of the story to anyone who would listen. As Daniel walked away in stunned silence, he had a difficult time keeping his feet on the ground.
After several days, Daniel’s euphoria began to wear off. During that time, he actually believed Melissa’s heart belonged to him. He thought his strategy had landed him the biggest prize of his young life. But sadly, after that magical kiss, Melissa never spoke to Daniel again. As it turned out, the age difference was too big a hurdle to overcome and she never really took him seriously. Daniel’s heart was badly broken once he realized that all she had felt was momentary flattery, as a result of his story. But, he never forgot the prediction she made about his future success. He decided then and there that he would continue to write and write nothing but love stories. He believed that one day, one of his stories would help him find the woman he was meant to love, and that they would then live happily ever after.
Daniel went to college at Stanford where he studied Literature and Creative writing. He read hundreds of novels and wrote constantly. There was little time for a social life and he dated sparingly. With his mind only on his work, he was somewhat disconnected socially and never developed any relationships. Upon graduating, he published short stories in several magazines and began developing a reputation as an up and coming romantic writer. He was approached by dozens of literary agents, and after settling on one, embarked upon a career as a novelist. Daniel’s very first book, Blackbird, was published and earned him more money than anyone in his family had ever made. His second novel became a best seller, and his success multiplied exponentially after that.
The money Daniel made as a novelist was most needed and welcomed, at least in the beginning. When he climbed to Number One on the New York Times Best Sellers List for the third time, he already had more money than he could ever use. He saw to it that his parents had a comfortable home to retire to in Florida and enough money to satisfy their needs as long as they lived. He invested a good portion of his earnings in the stock market and added to his wealth considerably by choosing his investments wisely. He donated large sums of money to various charities, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Special Olympics being two favorite causes he championed. He made generous scholarship grants to the schools he attended, both high school and college, and still had lots of money left over with which to play.
The endless tours, book signings, and television shows, a requirement of his publisher, had earned Daniel an enormous amount of notoriety. Unlike the money, the fame was very unwelcome. Daniel was basically a private person, or had been. Now his life was lived under a microscope every single day and he couldn’t escape that fact no matter what he did.
In the beginning, he was reluctant, but at the same time, flattered by all the attention. When his agent introduced him to Pamela Stevens, one of the biggest box office stars in Hollywood, at a cocktail party in Daniel’s honor, not only was he star struck, he was convinced it was love at first sight, something he had never believed was possible. They dated for several months. The novelty of dating a Hollywood starlet wore off quickly however. Their entire relationship was based upon pretense for the sole purpose of promoting their careers. In private, Pam was cold and detached. She acted as though she really didn’t want Daniel around. He tried to be as nice to her as possible, but it didn’t take him long to realize how shallow she was. After he came to that realization, he played the game for as long as he could. His agent begged him to continue to see her socially, but when he finally refused, the agent responded by lining up another notable Hollywood personality for him to be seen with. The results were the same, only the faces had changed. And so on it went for nearly three years, until Daniel was so humiliated by the reputation he had established as a playboy and jet setter, he couldn’t face himself in the mirror any longer because he saw a stranger not a familiar face.
Ironically and sadly, his “man about town” reputation helped to sell millions of books. The more books he sold, the bigger that reputation grew and the less privacy he had. His only respite from all the media attention was when he was actually writing, and he was afforded less time to do that with each passing year. He insisted upon seclusion while being creative, and although his agent didn’t like him being out of circulation, he realized he had no choice but to comply. It almost seemed to Daniel as if he was becoming a one-man novel factory and he detested having deadlines to meet. On the other hand, writing was the only way he could be alone and he desperately needed that time to himself as a means of survival. And so on it went, the vicious cycle, whirling out of control like a hurricane in the South Atlantic.
Each of Daniel’s novels seemed to be better than the one before. He really didn’t expect that result. He reasoned that as time went by, he would eventually run out of ideas, and his stories would all start to sound the same. Ironically, it was the unhappiness in his personal life that fueled his creativity to help him reach new heights. He had become a desperate, needy person much like the main characters in his books. His life was void of meaning, purpose, and most of all, love. His most recent work was born out of fantasy rather than all the experience he had gained. He put more and more of himself into the hero’s character and developed the heroine into someone who met his criteria for a lifelong mate. While he wrote, Daniel was escaping what his life had become was and attempting to create the life he so badly wanted. The results spoke for themselves. Not only were his novels a huge commercial success, they were becoming literary masterpieces as well.
Daniel’s promotional tours took him to hundreds of cities all over the country, large and small. In the beginning, he enjoyed meeting his fans and thanking them for the glowing praise they heaped upon him. He especially loved encouraging his readers who expressed the desire to write themselves to do so. It was rewarding to see the country he loved and meet the people who made it so great. In every city he would be approached by at least one female fan that subtly suggested she would be available should he like some companionship while he was visiting. He was flattered and amused whenever that happened, and was tempted to say “yes” on occasion, but he never did, as he considered it to be inappropriate under the circumstances.
As the months turned into years, everything changed. The cities and their inhabitants all began to look the same to him. Daniel actually began to recognize fans he had met at book signings the last time he was in their town. He was certain he was developing carpel tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow from the thousands of books he had signed. The monotony was becoming more unbearable every day and he eventually reached a point where he couldn’t go on. He was more miserable and lonely than he had ever been in his life. He informed his agent that he would be taking some serious time off and dropping completely out of sight. By this time, his agent didn’t put up a fight. In fact, he thought it might be a good idea. Daniel clearly wasn’t the same man he had been when success was new to him. All the copy deadlines, traveling, hand shaking, and autographs had caused him to take on an edge. He didn’t seem to be as sincere when greeting people or appearing on the talk show circuit. All in all, his agent felt it would be best if he got some rest and rejuvenated his spirit before the next tour, so he didn’t begin to alienate his fan base.
Daniel retreated to his apartment in L.A. and became a recluse. He only went out when he absolutely needed to and even then avoided places where he might be recognized. He chose not to write because he knew if he did, he would be compelled to send his work to his publisher, and the cycle would start all over again. He watched hour after hour of television, read magazines and newspapers, consumed a great deal of wine, ate poorly, and paid no attention to the exercise regimen and good hygiene practices he had always maintained. As a result, he began developing a slightly protruding stomach for the first time in his life, rarely had a clean-shaven face, never wore matching or ironed clothes, and constantly had a hangover. He rarely spoke to anyone, including his agent, slept twelve to fourteen hours a day, and in general, had absolutely no ambition to do anything. Rather than resting and regrouping for another charge, he was drowning in self-pity and worst of all, didn’t care that his professional and personal standards were being compromised.
The only thing he did to amuse himself was read his fan mail, which had accumulated over many months and now filled six large canvas bags. It never ceased to amaze him that women would be so forward with someone they had never even met. Perhaps it was easy to be bold when writing such a letter from the safe confines of one’s home, not having to confront the object of their affection. But still, how could they say the things they said?
“I know you wrote your last book for me and me only. We’ve never met, but I feel certain that you were thinking about me as you were seated in front of your typewriter.”
Typewriter? Who the hell used a typewriter anymore? was all he could think to himself.
“I think you’re the sexiest man alive. I’ve been told I’m pretty easy on the eyes myself and I think we would make a great couple. Next time you’re in my neck of the woods, be sure and call me. I’ll show you the time of your life! My name, address, work number, cell phone number, and vital statistics are listed below.”
“You are an inspiration to me. Since I fell in love with you, I’ve lost one hundred and eighty pounds. My friends tell me how beautiful I am now and after I lose another eighty pounds, I’m going to come to meet you.”
“You’re everything a man should be but rarely is: handsome, romantic, sensitive, fashionable, and very sexy. It just so happens I’m exactly the same kind of man and I think we would make a sensational couple.”
Daniel would read them one by one, and either laugh or shake his head, then crumple them up and toss them on the floor. Some of the letters were indeed sincere, however, and expressed feelings of gratitude for the work he had done. Those he saved in a pile on his desk to give to his agent. His agent had an assistant who would fill out one of a series of appropriate form letters, then give them to Daniel to sign before they were mailed.
Whenever Daniel sat down to peruse his fan mail, he secretly hoped he would find a letter from Melissa Stewart, his high school heartthrob.
“I just knew you would be a successful novelist one day. Do you remember when I told you that? I couldn’t be happier for you or more proud to have gone to school with you.
“Back then, when we were just children, I was too blind to realize that you were different from the other boys, in ways that made you too good to be true. I still have the story you wrote for me and I read it every night before I go to sleep. I cry to think that we could have fallen in love if I had only been mature enough to see the truth about you, and had been true to my heart as well.
“My life has been empty because I never found the love that you spoke so beautifully about. I now know that we would have found that love together. I’m so sorry I ignored you after you poured your heart out to me. I was just a silly little girl back then. Please forgive me if I hurt you. I’ll never be able to forgive myself. You were so sweet to me and I was equally as cruel to you.
“I still live in Council Bluffs. It would make me very happy if you would call me should you ever come to town. I would love to reminisce about old times.
“Good luck in your future endeavors.
He never did hear from her again, but that didn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t a letter from her among the thousands of others sitting on the floor of his apartment. He was so far behind in reading his fan mail he felt a little guilty about it, but by and large most of them were a waste of his time. Still, there could be a letter from Melissa, or someone else, among them that might impact his life. That was the only reason he was able to make himself read them at all.
How desperately lonely he was in reality to think such things. It was really quite ironic. He was a man who was considered by many to be the world’s foremost authority on love, yet he had never been able to experience the all-consuming love he wrote about so easily. Perhaps he would find it in the next letter he opened. He reached into a bag and pulled one out.