Excerpts liberations kiss robotics faction science fiction romance

Liberation’s Kiss – Chapter One

In celebration of my upcoming new release, Liberation’s Kiss, I am posting the first few chapters here and on Wattpad. Like what you read? Take advantage of the $0.99 pre-order price, changing back to $4.99 on release day July 1. Or, join my newsletter and request a free review copy in exchange for an honest review.


Cressida had been hiding under her bed ever since the bombing had stopped.

Because after the bombing stopped, the robots would come.

And then she would die.

She shifted in the sunken room, stretching out first one aching leg, then the other. Her travel jumpsuit pulled tight in unfamiliar places, and her shoes pushed against her beloved inks, brushes, and papers. Although she had often retreated here for peace, savoring a steaming cup of plum tea over the meditative strokes of her ancient calligraphy hobby, now the room pressed in on her like a prison.

She shifted again. Outside, the silence was profound. A distant myna bird cried, its sad voice echoing tremulously through her open windows on the moon’s balmy, subtropical breeze. Despite her many wishes for quiet, now she would give anything for one more noisy, bustling, too-busy week juggling speaking engagements and hostessing the constant extraplanetary visitors to her parents’ diplomatic residence.

Was that distant murmur really the shiver of leaves in the vine-strewn trees? Or was it a shuttle creeping ever closer?

Cressida took a deep breath and hugged her legs tight into her chest, struggling to calm.

Three days ago, her parents had performed a highly publicized departure, shooting through the wall of Nar Conglomerate warships and hopefully convincing everyone that they had taken their beloved twenty-six-year-old daughter away with them. It was a huge risk. But not from the Nar. The Nar were not particularly interested in two diplomats, no matter how famous their lineage.

No, the real risk was from one of the Nar’s more secretive partners. The dark, mechanical underbelly that provided the Nar’s technological superiority. The “harmless” Robotics Faction.

Her stomach growled piteously.

She straightened and poked her head over the edge of the marble floor. A layer of sand dusted the spacious tile, and a few dried bougainvillea blossoms curled near the front terrace. Cressida rose, creaking, to her feet and clambered out, ducking her head as she emerged. She stretched with a low groan.

Stay hidden. Stay quiet. Stay put.

Cressida dropped low and crept to the serving table. She sniffed her dry wine goblet and pitcher, licked her finger, and dragged it through stale cake crumbs. The reprocessor in the kitchen could make any exotic food her parents’ guests desired, but she had been cautioned against using it. One of the Nar’s first actions would be to connect their backwater moon, Liberation VI, to the intergalactic networks. And then everything she did could be logged and used against her to cause her death.

She swallowed the crumbs on a dry throat.

Her parents’ publicity effort had been a tactical ploy. But it must have failed. Their trusted family friend, General Vardis, had not arrived three days ago and smuggled Cressida away to safety. What should she do? The question ached in her spine.

Even though she wasn’t supposed to, she crept toward the front terrace. Crystal domes, white terraces, and floating statuary stretched down the long street. No commuter shuttles congested the turquoise-green sky. Her view was filled instead with reflected light from the stationary gas giant around which Liberation VI orbited.

It was gorgeous and frighteningly empty.

She receded from the terrace, crossed her bedroom, and padded nervously into the colonnaded hall. She angled herself in shadow of the giant copperwood twining a tall arch.

Below, the diplomatic courtyard unfolded, abandoned. The memory of its lively outdoor concerts, with buskers, dancers, and games, was a lost dream. The massive fountain in the center had baked dry. Stone storks and fishes gaped open-mouthed at what had suddenly come down on them. Shadows crawled over the walls from the street.

Perhaps she was the only person left alive on the entire moon.

Oh, there was one person out. Two, actually. Across the courtyard, hidden in the street’s shadow, a man and woman kissed as if they had been drawn out of one of her historic ink-wash books. Secret lovers, meeting without a care.

That evoked a bittersweet longing. Lovers were not something she would enjoy so long as her name was on the Robotics Faction’s mysterious Kill List.

Cressida hugged her elbows and retreated. If those two were out, then others must be out as well, and if she had learned one thing from her shocking flight fourteen years ago, it was that she had to obey absolutely every rule. You never knew when you might accidentally offend an entity that you didn’t even know had feelings.

She rested one hand against her bed, drumming up the will to crawl underneath again.

How wonderful it would be to kiss someone like that. How wonderful to shelter in a man’s arms and not put his life at risk. How wonderful to forget the world and lose herself, lose everything, and drown in tender love. She still dreamed of a normal life, no matter how many years passed in exile.

But no one could rely on dreams. Otherwise, she’d be rescued and reunited with her parents already.

At least she could rely on her bed. The frame, built of Liberation VI’s famous crystal bonded with the Nar’s patented antigravity ore, would float through the collapse of a building just as smoothly as it had floated through the collapse of their lucrative trade partnership. Cressida descended to the safe hideaway underneath and hugged her travel satchel.

Rescue would come. In all her life, she had never lost to a contest of patience. Bravery, sometimes, rebelliousness, always, but never patience. It was her strength, her rock, her defining characteristic. So now, at the height of fear for herself and her family, she had to do the one thing she was best at.

She just had to wait.


Forty-eight seconds earlier, the Robotics Faction android known as Xan|Arch [x?98$4] scaled the compound wall and dropped silently into the courtyard. The diplomatic residence spread out before him, silent as a held breath; his target would be located in her bedroom on the second floor, fourth room from the left. He could feel her brain chip broadcasting its identification in the local area network, like a susurration on his skin, radiating her presence to every receptor within two blocks. Target n81x positively acquired: Cressida Sarit Antiata.

His left hand hovered over the shatter-pistol, magnetically deactivated and attached to his thigh.

After he killed her, a preprogrammed targeting malfunction of the moon’s obsolete orbital defense lasers would obliterate all evidence within a quarter-mile radius. A local contact assured the Faction that she was a timid woman too frightened to leave her room, but Xan’s assignment required absolute certainty of her termination.

He didn’t particularly enjoy this assignment. As an x-class of subtype ninety-eight, his usual method of human interaction was far less terminal. He liked people, and he liked getting along with them. But the order bored into his brain, clear and relentless. The target had to be eliminated. He had an assignment to complete.

Xan counted the colonnades and divided by the known rooms and average size. This backwater had no accurate floor plans, not even of its governmental buildings. Faction satellites were even now scanning the entire moon remotely and sharing their data with their so-helpful trade partners, the insatiable Nar, so that would soon change.

He kept to the shadowed wall, his boots making a quiet but noticeable sound against the crystal rubilum cobblestone. Odor sensors cataloged the wild orchids clinging parasitically to their host trees. A near-zero differential between the air and dew point temperatures meant the humidity on the moon was higher than comfortable and forced his internal regulatory mechanisms to produce cold-radiance. Otherwise, his largest biological organ, his millimeter-thick layer of human skin, would take over and evaporate sweat.

No one moved in the courtyard.

He centered on the estimated bedroom and stepped out of shadow. Reflected light momentarily blinded his optical sensors as he determined his approach: a leap to the branch of an enormous tree positioned against the colonnade, a grasp of the carvings jutting from the lower rail, a stretch up, and swing over the ledge into the hall. Then into the bedroom, one accurate head shot, and exit before the orbital malfunction reduced the entire street to ash.

His quadriceps tensed to run.

A voice to his lower right stopped him. “Now, what’s an x-class ninety-eight doing on a nice little moon like this one?”

He wheeled to face the speaker.

A woman was seated on a bench.

But no one had been seated here moments before.

She held a non-threatening posture, and her smile-to-eye wrinkle ratio indicated friendliness. And she accurately identified his hardware class and interface type.

But no one was supposed to know he was here.

Inconclusive error-conflicts forced him to rerun the analysis twice more. In the same time it took an ordinary human to start to blink, his interface type reverted to personal response 397-c3, gather information.

He stuck his left hand on his hip and lifted his chin. A boyish smile curved his lips, rueful, to invite trust. “Who wants to know?”

The woman’s brows folded. Concerned. “Oh, I don’t suppose they told you.”

Error, inconclusive.

He tilted his head. “They?”

“Your superiors.” She smoothed her flight suit and stood.

Her hair, shoulder-length and brown, had the grease buildup of a human, and she smelled like odor-producing bacteria too, a class of parasites including yeast and mold that would never truly be eradicated so long as humans lived. Yet her facial bones were wider than he’d initially measured, and her nostril-to-lip ratio narrower. His internal processor queried whether she was, in fact, a woman. The flat chest, elongated collarbone, and straight hips argued against his original assessment. She was exactly his height too; average for an adult male in good health raised in 1.8 gravity, and above average for an adult female.


He laughed softly and scratched his short brown hair. “And what are my superiors supposed to have told me?”

She walked right up against him and stared deeply into his eyes. No reflection in her pupils betrayed an android’s telescopic camera lens recording their meeting.

He did not step back.

Her lips twisted to the side. Sadly amused. “You’re still not fully adept at human-computer interactions, are you?”

“I passed my benchmarks.” Half conclusions whirled across his inner processor. She had access to his training records. She had come to intercept him. She was a human with a high clearance of classified information about the Robotics Faction operations. She was pressing her soft human body against his titanium-alloy rib cage as though she expected him to yield. “What’s the problem?”

She sighed. Her lips parted. “Xan, this is the look of a woman who wants to kiss you.”

He blinked.

In the split second his lids were closed, his internal processors revved up to maximum power, pulling resources from every other subroutine and scheduled function.

Her hand went around the back of his neck.

“This can’t possibly be relevant to my current assignment,” his voice said.

She pressed her lips to his mouth mid-word and stuck in her tongue.

Despite the fact that he had classed her as human according to every known measure in the catalog of human characteristics, the tip of her tongue fit perfectly against the operating system interface at the upper back roof of his mouth. A sharp shock zapped through his limbic system, paralyzing him. White letters emerged infinitely slowly against the black of his brain, even though his eyes were gaping wide on the giant green sky.

Program override…execute.

Install file…complete.

Completeness test…success.

Somewhere overhead, satellites were silently recording this courtyard, this interaction, and transmitting it back to the Robotics Faction Central Command. In real time, since they had finished the faster-than-light relay. They would know what had happened. They would instruct him how to proceed.

Unpack file…execute.

Installing atfirstsight.exe, conquersall.exe, isblind.exe, true.exe…complete.

Completeness test…success.

The woman pulled away, but Xan remained in place, his fingers and toes twitching as the aftershocks of the hard install forced a full system reboot. His biological organs could live for minutes without oxygen, but without the constant internal cooling, the skin cells quickly passed the maximum temperature allowance. His palms slicked, and sweat beaded up on his lip and forehead.

She laughed and wiped his lax mouth with her sleeve. “What’s this? It’s like you’ve never been kissed before. A girl who wants a kiss should never have to verbalize it to an x-class ninety-eight, Xan. It’s hard to believe your superiors considered you as passing.”

He blinked rapidly. System after system returned to full operation. Despite the few-instants blind spots, everything had been completely and fully restored.

But that feeling was fleeting. The additional programs that she had installed in his brain exploded into tumors behind his visual cortex, taking over circuits and repurposing them for a secret, sinister purpose.

He stepped back, needing the distance, even though he had never been the type to step back before. “What did you do to me?”

One brow rose. “Feeling vulnerable?”

“No, I—”

Emergency override. All of his systems paused. The connection in his deepest, innermost protected brain, the “black box” next to his identification chipset, had turned off.

He had been severed from the Robotics Faction.

All of the satellite and operational data that had been live-streaming into the back of his brain, accessible should he need it, had ceased to download. His intimate knowledge of the Faction’s plans for this moon — wiring, drones, data dumps — had a timestamp set in the past. He was, at this instant, outdated. Everything he did from this point forward would be without the benefit of the network.

And the quantum particle that connected him with the central mainframe had flickered off. Meaning that in real time, across millions of parsecs, the Robotics Faction knew he had disconnected. He was, right now, off assignment. And there was only one word for a robot that had gone off assignment.


The woman watched his dawning awareness in her customary friendly silence.

His fingers flexed. “Why did you disconnect me? Are you trying to cause my death?”

She shook her head.

“Stopping me won’t save the target.”

The distant, high-pitched whine of seekers grew stronger, and shadows of drone-controlled bots landed up and down the street. They had deployed in reaction to his disappearance. Backup upon backup was being activated to complete his assignment.

Strangely, although he could no longer “feel” the other robots in the network, he could still sense Cressida’s smart chip, broadcasting her identity.

Why could he still feel Cressida?

The woman in front of him merely shrugged. Everything about her body language and response matched. She didn’t care what he did. Stopping his assignment wasn’t her purpose.

“Then…” He pressed both hands to his temples and squeezed. An irrational response, to physically simulate the constant, unswerving direction to complete his assignment, which was now absent and silent. All choices held identical weight, which was to say, no weight. He floated without purpose between the poles of possible futures, between the very poles of existence. “What am I supposed to do?”

She stepped back. Her voice came from farther away than it had moments before. “That choice, Xan|Arch, is up to you.”

He dropped his hands. “How the hell—”

She was gone.

He jerked back, scanning in all directions. She was gone as completely as though she’d been vaporized. Even the scent of her was absent, blown away in the wind of the high-pitched seeker-drones overhead, crossing his shadow and stirring dust.

Loud clacking on the courtyard walls advertised clunky bots’ positions to everyone with subsonic hearing abilities — primarily androids and certain types of sonar-enabled animals such as bats. Shit. Normally he would know their position by sound as well as by an internal representation of his world, fed into his brain courtesy of the network and now gone completely dark. It was as though all but one eye was poked out and all but two hands were cut off. And the voice, that oh-so-comforting voice that instructed him in every move with divine confidence, had gone silent.

His last orders echoed in the empty chamber of his head.

Were any of that woman’s words true? Or was she sent by his superiors as some kind of test? To see if he would complete his last orders or wait? The Faction collected all rogues for dissection. Was she sent by someone affiliated with the target?

There had to be something he was missing.

How had Cressida avoided death for fourteen years? It couldn’t be coincidence that the first android assigned to her newly discovered hiding place had been intercepted and disconnected. Or that now, blinded from everything else, Xan could still sense her presence. Cressida must know something. Xan needed her alive long enough to get his answers.

Bots clopped past him as though he were invisible, their heavy tread sinking deep into the mud, their thick armor covered in the bloody scent of crushed orchids.

He stood in front and stopped one with both hands. “Wait.”

It kept walking forward, churning the dirt beneath its boot treads. Its dead visage stared past him as if he didn’t exist.

Did no one see him on the satellites above? Had he somehow slipped off the visible spectrum?

The dumb sentries, controlled by low-level processors, were incapable of reasoning outside of their careful parameters. Currently, this one’s parameters instructed it to step laterally until it got away from the obstruction, then rejoin the platoons streaming past him, unstoppable in their mission of death. Orders issued from the Faction could change their operating parameters. So why didn’t even one stop?

He needed answers.

His assignment would have changed, surely, if he were still able to transmit the events of the past few minutes. The Faction needed to know about the mystery woman who had disconnected him and fatally changed his destiny. He needed to know. Not to save his own life but to save the others who would come after him.

Xan demagnetized his pistol.

contemporary romance Excerpts San Juan Island Stories

I’ll Be Waiting Excerpt

I'll Be WaitingI’m pleased to announce the release of my newest San Juan Island story “I’ll Be Waiting“. Please enjoy this excerpt:

“Skylar. You’re late.”

Luke’s serious voice tickled her eardrums, jolted her system like a warm finger sliding up her spine. Skylar swayed and turned to face him, mouth reacting before her mind could catch up. “You look great.”

His eyes made familiar crescents to match his beautiful smile. “Thanks.”

He did look great. Better than his last pictures taken in front of his new Black Hawk. The same dark brown eyes focused on her like only she existed on the roof; his hair, a flat Ice Man sheared cleanly up the sides made her want to dig in her fingers; and the adult muscle tone in that hard body perfectly filled his creased, off-duty jeans and starched, THIS WE’LL DEFEND T-shirt.

Skylar’s mouth went dry, and the crowd faded away and her chest ached. Ached for the boy she hadn’t made hers and again for the man that she had already lost.

“Sorry I missed you earlier. I made some wrong assumptions about…well, a lot of things, I guess.” The words stuck in her throat and she blinked back tears. “Congratulations.”

His gaze flicked over her shoulder, and Skylar’s followed…into the now empty space where his fiancée had been standing moments before.

“She brought it up on the boat,” he said. “Nothing’s settled.” His voice sounded flat.

“She seems really nice.” Skylar hugged her bag tight to her chest. “My boyfriend planned this big, suspicious dinner with all of our friends and family, but I put him off until after. But, he’s a really great guy, too, and so I’m sure we’ll both be super happy.”

Luke’s eyebrows lowered.

She didn’t mean to make him feel bad. Just because he hadn’t told her he had a fiancée or even a girlfriend—

Her chest hitched. Losing it. She was definitely losing it.

She pressed her cold hands against her collarbone. Her eyes burned. Oh God. She dashed away the moisture and turned, ready to run for the ladder, or possibly she could just throw herself off the edge. “See you at the ten-year reunion, maybe.”

His hand shot out and closed over her wrist, and he pulled her away from everyone into a dark corner of the roof. “Skylar.”

Read the rest on Amazon, ARe, Boroughs Publishing, and more!

Excerpts San Juan Island Stories

Swear to You Excerpt

Swear to YouIf you have subscribed to my newsletter, you got to read the first part of this excerpt in September. Here is the full excerpt for Swear to You, San Juan Island Stories #4, releasing November 15, 2013!

Sera flew over the handlebars, somersaulted over her exploded bicycle tire, and landed flat on her sweaty back on the dirty sidewalk.

Her old bicycle crashed into her apartment building flower pots.

Even though the Aurora highway growled three blocks to her left and a year-round school was releasing excited elementary students to her right, the air dropped weirdly quiet, like a mountain silence after a shotgun blast. Not that she’d ever been to any mountains. Puffy white clouds bloomed into giraffe and llama shapes against the brilliant July sky. She wished she could follow them right over the horizon into a better life.

A little boy stared down at her. “Mom, is she homeless?”

His mother shushed him and hurried past

Sera groaned and rolled upright. Her shins ached and she quickly realized why: The knee of her last good pair of Dockers flapped along a jagged rip.

Funny how her old black fishnets and slutty tutus had stood up to the most violent mosh pits, but nice, conservative Dockers couldn’t handle even one little argument with the pavement.

She swore. Out loud. In way that rhymed with, “Duck duck duck duck Duck duck DUCK.”

Across the narrow one-lane street, a mother clapped her hands over her daughter’s ears and glared at Sera. “You’re in front of a school.”

She did not yell, “They have to get used to it sometime!” like her dad had once done at a wide-eyed Daisy Scout troop after he dropped the groceries in the King’s Market parking lot.

Instead, she bit back the pain and groaned to her feet. “I’m sorry.”

“You should be ashamed.” The woman slammed her door and drove off.

In her sixty-thousand-dollar Audi with limitless air conditioning.

Breaking into tears was not what a good girl would do, so Sera didn’t do it. Instead, she limped the useless bike into the apartment complex. She’d have to get another pair of khakis before tomorrow’s opening shift at Starbucks and her all-day shift at Kohl’s, and if she kept spending her money on stupid clothes, she would never pay back her student loans or save up for a trip around the world or finally climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Also, her shins hurt.

And so did her feet, and so did her palms, and so did her heart.

She passed a stoned wino who seemed to be laughing at a blank wall. Even he was having fun. Clean living was not supposed to be this hard.

Around the corner of her building, on her front mat, a strange man saw her and scrambled to his feet. “Seraphina?”

She stopped.

Her whole chest lifted, skip-a-dee-doo-dah. It was him. On her own front mat, like a thank you from God for her efforts, a church-boy treat to remind her why she was trying so hard to change. A smile rushed her face, unstoppable. She limped forward. “Seriously? Graham?”

He smiled back. So easy and kind. “You remember me.”

“Well yeah. You are…” He was filling out a road-worn Harley Davidson shirt and greasy jeans rather than the girlishly slender polo shirts and white golf visors of their shared past. His polite face was obscured by dangerous shades and his church-boy cut had grown into a tangled ponytail bisecting his wide shoulder blades. The Graham before her was a man in every sense of the meaning. “…really different, actually.”

He removed a glasses case from his pocket and exchanged the shades for wire frames that made him look like the gray-eyed philosophy professor from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. “You look exactly the same.”

She ran a hand through her natural, mousy-brown hair. God, it was good to hear that library voice again, but man were the words depressing. “Really? Exactly the same?”

Well, the last time she saw him at his cousin Pez’s graduation party, she had already been making an effort to change herself. Maybe she had been more successful than she had realized.

Then the memory of what she had done there, at the graduation party, somersaulted her into the past. Pow-zot, she had confessed her eternal undying love to Graham, and he had thrown her right out of his life. Now, five years later, he was here on her doorstep. Her chest shifted. Pressured. Like she wanted to laugh, or sneeze, or cry.

She locked her dumb bike to the leaky drain spout. “So, uh, what are you doing here?”

He glanced over his shoulder. “I heard this is where you live.”

She got out her phone. Pez had just been talking about his prodigal cousin. Right after reunion officer Allison had called for Graham’s current address, Pez had gotten all sentimental, calling Sera up over and over to relive their glorious senior year. And every time they hung up on the memories they both shared, the memories she kept in secret pounded against her brain like a headache.

All the ways that she had chased Graham.

All those embarrassingly obvious hints he had ignored.

All those leading questions he had sidestepped to the very final, inescapable, in-her-painted-punk-face rejection.

Perfectly understandable now why her hands started trembling. What an appalling memory. “But how—”

Her phone slipped from her numb fingers and hit the ground, breaking into three pieces.

“Oh shi—”

She snapped her teeth shut. Gah, she could bite off her tongue. Another dollar in Pez’s swear jar. And in front of Graham, of all people.

He dropped to his knees at the same time that she leaned over and she got the familiar, clean scent of him. White bread and fresh laundry. Plus a new smokiness, like incense. Sandalwood?

“Don’t worry.” She grabbed the battery. “This happens all the—”

His hands closed around hers.


Bigger than she remembered from high school.

She swallowed. “—time. I need a new phone. I, uh, dropped it down a men’s toilet and it hasn’t worked right since.”

His eyebrows rose, but he did not ask her why she was in the men’s restroom.

Well, her old self wouldn’t have needed a reason. God, she hated her old self. “I was cleaning it. For my job.”

His deep gray eyes traveled across her nervous smile.

Sera clicked her teeth together. “What?”

He released her hands. “Nice rings.”

“You like them?” She sat cross-legged on the cement and rubber-banded the phone battery between its front and back halves, then splayed her fingers to display her last pieces of personal adornment. “The turquoise is Sagittarius, the ankh is because someday I will visit the pyramids, the butterflies are from my friend who went to Indonesia, and the snake symbolizes transformation.”

He actually seemed interested.

She jerked her thumb at the apartment. “I’ve got more inside. This is what I’m allowed at work. Well, at both my works.”

His brows dropped slightly. “But not your tongue piercing?”

She covered her mouth. See, some things were different. She stood and let herself inside. “It’s allowed but I took it out.”

He hesitated on the threshold. “Why?”

“Nobody could see it anyway.” She crossed worn beige carpeting to the kitchen and plugged in her hot water kettle. She needed to vacuum and dust but it could be worse. It could still be purple pentagrams on black ceilings and silver Pop Tart wrappers overflowing her stinking waste basket. “I really have changed.”

He eyed the thriving spider plants in orange striped macramé. “Not completely.”

“I made those macramé planters, you know. I can actually—oh, that’s going to fall.”

The chair he had pulled out to sit on was stacked with her various night courses, used astronomy textbooks, the manicure UV kit, a half-completed application for her bartender’s license, and readings she had to memorize for the internet priest exam. Graham set the whole stack on the floor and sat, stretching out and crossing his feet at the ankle.

Feet encased in steel-toed black boots.

Which was weird again. He used to wear loafers made of patent leather, with a real penny in the center.

She tapped coffee crystals into two mugs and poured boiled water gently for its ideal bloom. Or, about as ideal as you could get with Folgers instant. “So did you finish seminary? Or, actually, what are you doing here again?”

“Allison asked about you.” He accepted the hand-painted Craft Corner mug. “You RSVP’d.”

“I thought I might get the night off, but…” But thank god her manager had called her in. She shrugged. “High school so was long ago.”

He swallowed the bitter coffee in one scalding gulp. “Are you still singing?”

Oh, here it came. The second reason she dreaded attending the reunion. She blew across the steam. “Karaoke.”

“What about theater?”

“I tried out for a community play once but I didn’t get a part.”

He screwed his mouth to the side. “What are you doing now?”

“Allison asked the same thing.” Everyone who saw her patchwork transcripts asked the same thing. Some people had a career map. Others had a Rorschach ink blot. “Trying not to suck, I guess.”

He snorted like she’d made a crude joke. About sucking.

“That’s not an innuendo.” She opened her tiny fridge. “Have you eaten? I’ve got…uh…I’ve been meaning to grocery shop.”

He rose. “What do you need?”

What a helpful young man. A genuine Eagle Scout.

Five minutes later she was clinging to that genuine Eagle Scout’s broad, leather-clad back while the wind whipped her breath away. His three hundred-pound black and red beast roared like hell and throbbed like heaven. After they returned, while she was trying to figure out how to uncork the wine he’d bought with nothing but a dull butter knife, he whipped up an omelet with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and window-sill basil.

Graham ate his meal in about five gigantic bites and then rotated a silver bracelet while he told her about his life. He was a high school physics teacher in Boise now, and he bought the Harley to visit all fifty states instead of paying off his student loans. “I’ve gotten as far east as Indiana, as far south as Arizona.”

Her fork clinked against her plate. “Hawaii will be tricky.”

He laughed.

She dropped her silverware.

He handed the lost fork to her. His fingers lingered on the stem, brushing hers.

An electric shock jumped straight to her chest.

She jerked back, flinging the fork into the kitchen, and, after she found and washed it, carried their plates to the sink. “You know, you never actually told me what you’re doing here.”

“Working.” He took the dishtowel from its rack and, as she washed, he dried, finding the plates’ proper locations through simple four-cabinet elimination. “A guy is looking to fix up his bike. After that, I’ll head to Yosemite. A buddy will put me up if I help him replace a roof.”

She imagined the freedom of hopping on a Harley and disappearing over the horizon. What would the clouds look like over Yosemite? How would the Rockies sound when she flew up their winding roads and hugged Graham’s body to her own, pressing herself tight against him?

His shoulder bumped hers.

She dropped the last rinsed dish with a clack and and practically ran to her tiny dining table, fumbling to play her book-keeping cassettes. Gain contingency and sole proprietorship floated from the little stereo like a noise wall between them. “And then? After Yosemite?”

“Depends on what comes up.” He leaned against the counter and cleared his throat. “I heard you might have a couch.”

The tape player screeched.

She slammed the stop button and pressed her palms against the wobbly table. “Don’t you have other friends?”

“They’re not around.”

She crossed her arms. “How long are we talking here?”

“A week.” He licked his lips. “Maybe two.”

No. Oh no. No. “It’s not that I don’t want to help you out. I can’t even afford to fix my blowout right now, to say nothing of—”

“I’ll fix your tire. I’ll take you to work.”

She met his gray eyes for one long moment. Her legs shivered with the thrum of the Harley.

He stood with his feet apart, filling her kitchen with his distilled presence. “I’ll make you dinner.”

The taste of fresh warmed basil lingered on her tongue. She hadn’t even known the plant growing in her windowsill was edible.

But she would never let him get close to her again.

She sat and scooted in her chair. “One week.”

He started to smile. “Or maybe two.”

Oh, his smile. His unforgettable smile. She needed to touch him. Needed it, like air or potato chips or water.

“One. And that’s it. I mean it.” Sera put on her headphones and hit the play button.

She had given up chasing after Graham with wide-spread arms. He had told her that she wasn’t the kind of girl he would ever be interested in. It didn’t matter that she was different now. He thought she was the same. Well, she would show him that she was different.

No way was she going to fall in love with him again.

~~~ Read the rest on November 15! ~~~

Excerpts San Juan Island Stories

Excerpts – Fatty Patty

Fatty Patty by Wendy Clark

Fatty Patty” is the cruel nickname that followed Pepper to high school graduation. Five years later, she’s back at her reunion to prove it hasn’t defined her. In her slim Kate Spades, she’ll show them all — her underachieving classmates and especially the boy who broke her heart.

But Pepper’s not the only one who’s changed in five years. She’s not the only one who has regrets about the things that were, and especially weren’t, said.

And she’s not the only one who plans to use this chance to rewrite history…

Fatty Patty is a new short story available now.


Pepper McKay lived fabulously.

It was the best revenge.

She was no longer the fat klutz who couldn’t walk a mile in PE. She was no longer the sad blob who overheard the other girls whisper about body odor—which she never had—and sweat stains, which were unavoidable in the humid coastal classrooms. She was no longer the victim of the unknown bully who kicked her wobbly seat at the start of assembly. The plastic had given way with a sickening crack, and everyone had watched her fall. Her four-inch Kate Spade Licorice heels, size-five Ella Moss strapless mini, and Sixth Sense chocolate Burberry satchel all proclaimed that refined adulthood had arrived. Five years too late, maybe, but sophistication had arrived, in her life and at the sultry Bellingham, Washington marina. She was thin now. Thin like a Thin Mint. And tonight, everyone would finally know it.

Pepper waved her boarding pass before the attentive, muscular dock hand, curved her lips in a confident smile coated with Yves Saint Laurent iced plum Sheer Candy, and strutted up the gangplank onto the Island Spiriter, a hundred-foot cruise ship decorated in the purple and gold of Friday Harbor High School. Welcome, class of the Millennium, the sign at the top step proclaimed. She mentally capitalized the “C” of “class” as she continued onto the deck, to the table manned by the reunion officer.

Time had not been universally fabulous. Allison Payne, who had once lit up the stage as Rizzo of Grease and taken the over-excited athletics department to the state championships in Cross-Country, licked a swelled finger and squinted up at Pepper. “Who are you with? I don’t—” Her jowls flattened. “Oh my god. Patty?”

The name hit her like curse, burning a hot flush onto her cheeks. She cleared her throat. “It’s Pepper.”

Allison’s lips dropped further and her neck rolls gobbled up her silver “Mother” necklace. She grabbed Pepper’s nametag and a thick black Sharpie. “I wondered! When did you change your name?”

Pepper gripped her satchel and struggled to maintain her iced smile.

In high school the woman had been one of them, the blade-slim girls who sprawled in patches across the sunlit cafeteria, waving flirty fingers at the hottest boys, pushing ugly people like her to the cold retreat of study rooms.

She coughed. “Actually, it’s always been Pepper.”

Allison uncapped the Sharpie. “Nobody will recognize you unless I fix this.”

Dread uncoiled in Pepper’s stomach.

The Sharpie touched the laminate.

Pepper snatched her tag away, black ink drawing a long, wobbly line across the top. She tried to wipe it off, smudging her fingers. The line smeared like the grease of an old food stain.

Allison reached for her nametag. “But no one will know—”

“I want to be myself now. Thanks.” Pepper pinned the badge above her left breast. A smudge was still better than what was about to be written. Her heart beat, hard and regular, in her chest and she shifted her handbag higher on her shoulder.

The waning sun seared her pale shoulders. Pale slim shoulders.

She tucked her salon-relaxed walnut hair behind her silver-pierced ears. “Is Julian here?”

“He’s already inside.” Allison leaned forward. “You won’t recognize him. He’s changed so much. It’s huge.”

No way. “He’s fat?”

Allison’s brows knit. “Huh? No, he’s turned into … well, you’ll see.” And then her brows lifted, as though she had solved a problem. She heaved herself to her feet, crossed the deck to the main cabin, and threw open the doors.

The other members of their class stood in cliques—the same ones as in high school, it seemed—an odd mix of optometrists, seafood vendors, and hair dressers milling around under long swathes of purple and gold decorations. She knew from their Facebook profiles, the ones who had let a few months go by and then suddenly had the guts to friend her. She had friended them back, sure, but never posted a self-portrait. Let them think she was the same, let them settle into the routine of their lives, let them post their own fattening photos as they gave up intramurals and exercise to settle into grad school, marriage, children. Things she didn’t have. Things they probably thought she never would.

Her stomach twinged again. She tightened her Pilates-toned abdominals. This was not Homecoming. She was no longer the only one stepping into a dim music-filled room without a friend or a date.

And even if she were, that wasn’t why she was here. She wasn’t here for herself.

She was here for revenge.

Read the rest!