Accepting the Fall: Out Now!

Accepting-the-Fall-iBooksBuy Links: Amazon US | Amazon UK
Length: 61,000 words
Blurb
Confronting the past is never easy.

Cole Whitaker is happy. He has the job and boyfriend he always wanted. His heart’s in no danger of being broken, and he can’t ask for more from life. As a kindergarten teacher, he sees it all; however, one troublesome student has him reaching out to the parent, wanting to help. There’s something about Savanah that tugs at his heartstrings.

He never expected her father.

Zander Brooks hasn’t had an easy life, and he’s made some mistakes. Freshly retired from the military and working as a firefighter, Zander thought he’d left Cole in the rearview mirror. He’s not expecting him to appear in St. Petersburg, Florida, of all places, teaching his daughter’s kindergarten class. Suddenly, his biggest mistake is being shoved in his face.

This is Zander’s chance to close a door he’d never fully shut, but time with his former flame might change his mind.

 

Snippet Saturday

At the end of the day, when the children had fled the room in favor of waiting for their parents to pick them up or catching the bus, Savanah still sat at her desk. She didn’t look as if she planned on moving anytime soon. Her pointy chin was propped up by her palm, and every few seconds she sighed loudly.

Cole gingerly sat himself in the chair at the desk beside hers. His legs wouldn’t fit under, so he had to twist sideways. Savanah’s workbook was still open on her desk, and her pencil was beneath her chair. He rolled it closer with his foot and bent to retrieve it. “Is something wrong, Savanah?” She didn’t thank him for returning the pencil to the groove in the desk.

“No.” She kicked her foot into the leg of the chair and nudged her pencil off the desk at the same time.

Cole was starting to sAccepting-the-Fall-iBooksuspect Savanah’s favorite word was no. He left the pencil for now. “How come you’re not at parent pick-up?”

She dropped her chin to the desk hard, causing Cole to wince. It couldn’t have felt good, even if she didn’t so much as blink in discomfort. “Daddy’s coming in,” she said, the words mumbled as she barely moved her lips.

It took Cole a minute to parse that and the sullen expression on her face. “To talk to me?”

Savanah rolled her eyes. “Duh.”

“That’s not how you speak to adults,” he said calmly. Explaining to her that her father was supposed to call and schedule a conference ahead of time wouldn’t change anything, so he didn’t bother. At least he’d finally get to meet and chat with the man responsible for Savanah. “It’s very rude.”

“But adults do it.” She twisted a strand of her black hair around her finger, cutting off circulation and changing the pigment. When she released it, the color came rushing back.

“Your dad tells people ‘duh?’”

She shook her head, dragging her chin over the desk and sending her workbook to join the pencil on the floor. “Mommy did. She liked to yell.”

Cole’s chest did the thing where it felt like it was shrinking, squeezing him too tight. He opened his mouth, not sure exactly what he’d say but knowing he should say something, when someone knocked on the open door. Savanah swiveled to look, resignation flittering across her features. She didn’t appear at all excited. Cole didn’t know what he expected Savanah’s father to look like. He didn’t really have an image in mind as he stood, turning to face the entry.

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Meet the Crew

Ever wonder about my life outside of writing? Yes or no, here’s a glimpse of the four-legged beauties who keep me (in)sane.

From left to right: Bess, Smaug, Loki, Marc-Andre, Sidney, and Tauriel.

A famous sidekick, a dragon, a god, a goalie and a captain, and an elf. All of my babies are named after people who inspire me or fictional characters I love. How do you choose the name of your pets?

Snippet Saturday – Accepting the Fall

“Mister Whit’ker. Mister Whit’ker.” This was followed by an insistent tug on his sleeve.

Cole’s name whistled through the gap where Bobby Jenson’s two front teeth should be. He turned from where he’d been outlining the alphabet on the board and crouched to Bobby’s level, meeting his sincere blue irises. They were wide and his expression was insistent. His cheeks were red and a smudge of dirt hovered over one eyebrow. Cole had sent the class out for recess with his assistant not even five minutes ago. “Is everything all right, Bobby? Where’s Mr. Fred?”

Bobby’s lower lip wobbled. “Savanah pushed me.” Tears welled in his eyes. “I just wanted to go down the slide.” They spilled over, leaving streaks along his cheeks.

Sometimes, mostly when students like Savanah swept through his class like the Tasmanian devil, Cole wondered why he’d thought becoming a kindergarten teacher was the way to go. Little Savanah Emerson was proving in her first week at Ridgedale Elementary to be quite the bully. Bobby was the third student to come to him in tears. In a week. Was Savanah looking to set some kind of record?

“Did you tell Mr. Fred?” he asked Bobby, reaching out blindly for his desk drawer where he kept the candy stashed.

Bobby shook his head and sand flew from his hair, spraying Cole’s pants and hitting his face. He sniffled, wiping under his nose with the back of his hand.

Cole changed course, grabbing the ever present hand sanitizer from the edge of his desk. “How about we get you cleaned up, and you can do whatever you want for the rest of recess, hmm?”

Like the magic words they were, the tears vanished in reaction and Bobby bounced on his toes. “Whatever I want?”  His lisp—thanks to his many missing teeth—grew more pronounced in his excitement.

Please don’t make me regret this. Cole held the Germ X out, squirting a tiny dollop on Bobby’s hand when he extended it. “Whatever you want.” He paused. “Within reason.” Always a caveat to be added when children were involved, he’d learned.

“I can color? With all the crayons to myself?” Bobby appeared ecstatic at the prospect. It was amazing how fast kids recovered.

“Sure, buddy.” Cole stood, holding a hand out for Bobby to take if he wanted. “Let’s get you a tissue, huh? Are you hurt at all?”

“M’fine,” said Bobby, already trying to steer Cole toward the art station in the corner. Cole resisted the tugging, heading for the cabinets in which he stored everything that could possibly be needed to contain germs. Once he was sure Bobby wasn’t going to spread snot all over the art supplies, he let him loose to do as he pleased.

He needed to have a talk with Savanah—clearly the first two had done no good. He was going to have to call a parent this time. He propped the door between his and Mrs. Berkley’s room open so she could keep an eye on Bobby, and then went to find Savanah before she could do damage to anyone else.

She was on the swings alone, the seats on either side of her empty. The other kids had started to avoid her after the first day, when she’d snapped Lily Hopkins favorite My Little Pony pencil in half. Cole had been horrified—and a little impressed by her strength, though he’d never admit it aloud.

He came to a stop just out of leg range. He didn’t want to add a kick to the stomach to his day. “Savanah, can I talk to you?”

He gave her this, she was a bold child. Her dark brown gaze locked on him and the, “No,” that left her mouth was nothing short of prim. Her long braids flew out behind her as she arced into the air. Her feet were perfectly pointed like a ballerina in her flats as she flew.

Cole had a feeling his day was about to get a lot more frustrating. “Savanah, it’s not an option. I need you to stop swinging and come have a chat with me.”

She ignored him, blithely continuing to rock back and forth. She was going too fast, and moving too high, for Cole to stop the swing himself. He wanted to speak to her, not knock her onto the ground. “All right then.”

He turned and scanned the playground for Fred. He was holding one end of a jump rope, head cocked in a way that said he’d been watching Cole. Cole whistled, loud and sharp, to get everyone’s attention. He raised his voice to be heard clearly. “Mr. Fred’s going to take everyone inside, and you’ll have free time to play at whatever stations you want. If you’re well behaved and keep an inside volume, everyone will get candy at the end of the day.” He’d learned to not be above bribery in his ten years as a teacher. It worked as he’d planned, and they filed into the classroom with barely any complaints. Fred shot him a questioning look, and Cole waved him on. He didn’t have the time to explain things now.

With the playground empty of all but Savanah and he, Cole took a seat in the grass to wait her out. Five year olds had a lot of energy, but they didn’t have an unending supply. Eventually she’d have to stop. While he waited, he perused Pinterest for dinner options for that night. He had Patrick, his boyfriend, coming over. Cole wanted to impress him with his (limited) culinary ability. He liked a butternut squash and spinach tortellini dish and contemplated the possibility of successfully making zucchini meatballs. Or maybe avocado egg rolls…. From the corner of his eye, Savanah stubbornly swung on.

The only time Cole moved was to yell to Fred to let him know he would have the honor of teaching today’s lesson on lower case letters.

Eventually, Savanah’s muscles overcame her stubbornness, and the swing slowly came to a rocking halt. They eyed each other. Sweat was trickling down the sides of her pixie face. The hair around the edges was curling, frizzing out. Cole could empathize. It was so hot out, his button up was probably soaked through in places.

“Are we ready to talk?” he asked.

She didn’t move from the seat. She also didn’t answer him. Her small hands were curled around the chain of the swing.

Cole glanced to the heavens and wondered why him. “Okay. I’ll talk then.” He didn’t stand. Towering over her would get him nothing, instead he went for eye contact. “We don’t push people. Not for any reason. If you have a problem you can’t solve with words—nice ones—then you come find me or Mr. Fred. It doesn’t matter what the problem is, how big or small. We never lay a hand on someone else. You wouldn’t want them pushing you, would you? It wouldn’t make you feel good. Don’t do to someone else what you wouldn’t want done to you, yeah?”

Her blank stare was all he received. Savanah had a hell of a poker face for a kid her age.

Cole sighed. “Come on. I’m done lecturing you.” He stood, dusting his khakis off and hoping the back wasn’t grass stained.

Savanah slid from the swing, her legs trembling under her weight for a moment. She straightened, and then walked toward him, coming to stop by his side. Her dark gaze took him in, assessing. He waited patiently, after all, what was a few minutes more?

“You’re not my daddy,” she said. The first words she’d spoken to him all day.

“I’m not.” He was starting to have a very low opinion of whoever was. “I’d like to meet him, though.” He had some strong words to share with the man.

Her long black lashes fluttered as she blinked. She had such a solemn countenance. “You won’t. He’s always workin’. He doesn’t have the time.”

Suspecting he already knew the answer, Cole asked, “And your mom?”

Little shoulders, clad in the standard maroon school uniform, shrugged. “She left.”

“She left” could mean a lot of things. Cole didn’t focus on that. He was starting to get a blurry image of what might be going on here. He’d like to say it wasn’t common, but he’d been around long enough to have seen the story play out in a thousand different ways. “Would you want to talk to someone about stuff?”

Her nose wrinkled. “You?”

She didn’t need to sound so skeptical. Cole was a great listener, thanks very much. “No. Not me. Someone who talks to people professionally.” The school had a counselor, and Savanah might really benefit from seeing her. Cole wasn’t equipped to deal with these kinds of problems on his own.

“If I think about it, will I not be in trouble?” Out came the innocent “who me” expression.

“Yeah, no.” Cole held in his smile. It wouldn’t be appropriate. “You’re going to the front office to tell them why you thought pushing another student was a good idea.”

Snippet Saturday: Marc’s the Spot

November 2014

For two months, Lucas had been looking forward to this game. They were in Arizona, playing against the Hares, and he had a hot date—win or lose—with the Hares’ red panda goalie, Marc. For someone he’d never taken the time to notice before, he was noticing him now. Couldn’t stop thinking about him, in fact. Lucas had an itch, and no matter who he scratched it with, it wasn’t as good as Marc scratching it.

“I’d like to do this again.”

That was what Marc had said to him after they won Worlds. It was obvious neither of them knew what “this” was, but Lucas wasn’t about to argue. He wasn’t going to fight the undeniable chemistry between them. He’d been around long enough to know he should take what he could get, while he could get it.

And Marc, with his big amber eyes and his twin dimples framing the sexiest mouth Lucas had ever seen, was more than willing to give. Hell, it wasn’t like he got nothing from Lucas either. He could still perfectly picture the look on Marc’s face when he came, his plump, blowjob-swollen lips parted, his cheeks flushed dark, the color spreading to the tips of his ears, down his neck, the way his pupils dilated, black swallowing amber.

It was an image he’d used to get off more than a couple of times since that night.

He’d like to see it again. And again. And again…

He shook his head and pushed all that to the back of his mind. First and foremost, he had a game to get ready for. Everything else came later. Second on the list of his priorities. The first of which was to win.

Jake Cullen, Cully as he was known to his teammates, shouldered him, knocking Lucas lightly into the boards. “Spaced out, much?” he asked. “I said your name three times. You missed my spin-o-rama.”

Lucas grinned, mentally shrugging off everything that wasn’t here and now related. “Got bored watching you is all,” he said. He laughed and skated away before Cully could retaliate. The wolf shifter had been working hard on his fancy moves, and the best the team could figure was he was trying to impress someone. Wolves got weird when they were looking for mates.

They were in the middle of game-day practice, trying to get a feel for the foreign rink. They hadn’t played there since last season, and every time seemed different. Probably because the guys on the Hares tended to always be a new mix. Marc, Chandler Kipling, Chris Wentz… those guys were steady for the Hares, but they were a team looking to make it to the playoffs. They’d been trading players a lot, bringing in new blood and trying to acquire veterans with a good reputation. Not that the Aces didn’t do that. All hockey teams did. The sigh of relief that swept through the league when the trade deadline hit was audible worldwide. It was the one thing Lucas hated about the game. And since he was a solitary shifter, he couldn’t imagine how his more pack-oriented teammates felt. He’d had several friends end up on the opposite side of the country thanks to a trade, and it never got easier.

James Bordeaux, a fellow defenseman and the one Lucas was most often paired with, hooked Lucas’s stick from his hands, sending it clattering to the ice as he passed. He tended to be frisky on game days, energy level ramping up. He drove Lucas crazy. But maybe that was because his inner jaguar knew he’d be eating James’s meerkat form in the wild. He doubted it, though. James was the team chirper, constantly egging on anyone that came within hearing range. Knowing better than to encourage him, Lucas picked up his stick and got in line to practice his one-timers.

Practice ended following a few rounds of scrimmaging, and then, once they were cleaned up, they all got on the bus and returned to the hotel for pregame naps—every hockey player’s favorite part of the day. Several of the more pack-oriented shifters filed into the same room, planning on switching forms and conking out together. Lucas’s roommate, Ryan Williams, was a fellow cat shifter. A clouded leopard to be precise.

Neither of them had any desire to cuddle before a game.

They went to their separate beds, Lucas shifting and Ryan stretching out in human form, and they didn’t stir till their obnoxious, loud-as-all-hell alarms started screaming at them. Lucas always felt like a trick was being played on him, and he’d only been asleep for five minutes or so. He wouldn’t put it past his teammates to pull that kind of thing.

Yawning, he arched his back, lazily flicking his tail in the air behind him. He always managed a better stretch in his animal form, all his muscles bunching and flexing in a graceful movement.

Ryan turned off their alarms. “You got a text, bro,” he said sleepily, mouth stretching around the words. “From a Marc.” Lucas swung around in time to see him double take, confusion spreading across his face. “Marc, like Marc Lacroix? The goalie for the Hares? Since when are you two pals?”

Lucas shifted midleap from the bed, landing lightly on two feet instead of four. He held his hand out for the phone. “We played together at Worlds. He’s a nice guy.” Ryan had been there for a short time, but the US team had been disqualified early on. By Team Canada, of course. Marc had shut down a couple of attempts by Ryan.

Pale green eyes gazed at him skeptically, but Ryan handed it over. “Look at you being all friendly and shit,” he said.

Lucas rolled his. “Go get dressed. I don’t want you hogging the bathroom when I need it.”

“Yes, Dad,” snarked Ryan, adding a salute to the words to set the tone. He brought his knees up obnoxiously high as he marched toward the bathroom.

From years of experience, Lucas knew to ignore him. It was a recurring theme with many members of his team. He waited till the bathroom door had been shut to read Marc’s message. Normally I’d say good game, but I want you to lose tonight. So I guess I’m going to wish you a mediocre game.

Unable to hold it back, Lucas smiled and giggled. Which, he never giggled. If anyone caught him doing so, it would ruin his image as the tough guy. He couldn’t have that happening. He didn’t know what it was about Marc that charmed him this way, set him off-balance. He felt twice as ridiculous when it took him ten minutes to come up with a response. Especially when the only thing he could think of was a lame Hope you have a mediocre game too, loser.

Yeah, Lucas knew what he was doing…not.

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Life and Writing

So I know I’m a sporadic poster, and man do I wish I wasn’t. I constantly tell myself today’s going to be the day I sit down and write that blog post… and then I don’t. As I type this, I’m currently working on what will be my first self-published novel, Learning to Fall. It’s in the editing stages, which we all know is the funnest part (not).

So what does editing look like in the Harding house? Well, it’s something like this….

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Snippet Saturday: To Arizona

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Beside him he can hear Chandler parroting the standard thing all captains say. “We played a good, hard game. We can do better, but tonight was a good night overall.”

And then they ask him about Dustin.

“Charleston’s taking some time to adjust. He’s a good player, but I think he could be better with this team behind him.”

It’s a nicer answer than Dustin could have hoped for. Very media friendly.

“Has he got a team nickname yet?”

“He’s our Buttercup,” says Chandler, grinning so big it’s damn near blinding.

Dustin makes his excuses and flees for the shower before they can descend on him and ask him what he thinks about the name. His thoughts on it are nothing that can be shared with the public.

He comes out after the media has left and ignores the knowing looks from his teammates. Marc flicks him with his towel as he walks by. “We’re going out to Chiller’s. You’re coming. We’ve got to get you acquainted with the gems of Phoenix.”

“There’s this thing called jet lag,” he says, and they all start talking over him about how they’re experts and they know just what he needs to do. Of all the things to make him laugh with this team for the first time, it’s that. When he sees Chandler, he doesn’t understand the pleased look on his face.

It’s still there when he slides into the booth next to Dustin at the bar. He hands him a beer. “Drink up, Buttercup.”

“Why do you keep calling me that?” he asks.

“Because every time I look at you, I think ‘chin up, Buttercup.’ Maybe stop looking like we’re about to eat you, and we’ll give you a new name.”

“I don’t look at you like you’re about to eat me.” Inexplicably, once he hears the words aloud, his face flushes red. The heat to his cheeks is near instantaneous.

Chandler smirks, leaning in far too close. He bares his teeth. His canines are wickedly pointy. Dustin thinks they might all be real, rather than dentures from a long hockey career.

“Would that make you look any happier?”

His breath noticeably hitches. The tips of his ears join the rapidly heating party.

Chandler comes impossibly closer. Dustin feels like all his air is trapped in his lungs. “If it’ll put a smile on your face….”

His beer sloshes over the side of the glass he sets it down so hard. “Bathroom,” he says. “I’ve got to pee. Sorry.” It’s a weak excuse, and Chandler sees right through it, but he backs away and doesn’t follow him. He slumps against the wall once he’s in the restrooms and covers his face. Fuckity fuck. His gorgeous captain whom he hates and can’t stop fighting with on the ice wants to sleep with him. All but propositioned him.

He inhales shakily.

It’s not a good idea. Just because his dick is on board doesn’t mean it will end well. Chandler may be handsome and hunky, and his muscles might literally be the stuff of dreams, but he’s a cocky asshole. He’s a bulldozer on the ice. He gave Dustin a dumbass nickname. He’s not the type of person Dustin should get involved with.

He crosses to the sink and turns the tap on cold. He splashes his face. His cheeks are red in the mirror and hot to the touch. Now his eyelashes are dripping. He can barely tell where his pupil meets his iris, the brown has darkened so much—something that happens on rare occasions. His lips are chapped from the cold air of the rink. He licks them, absently chewing at his fat bottom one.

As much as he would like to, he can’t spend the rest of the night hiding out in the restroom.

Drying his face, he takes a deep breath and ventures out. He hopes he doesn’t look like he had to go splash water on his face to cool down. Chandler’s at the bar, so he squeezes between Marc and Joki. When Joki’s not a tiger, he’s a towering six foot four and surprisingly skinny. It’s all muscle, but when compared to his height, it doesn’t look as big as it should. He’s so graceful on the ice, Dustin thinks he could have been a figure skater. He’s currently talking to David about something that’s leading him to use grand sweeping gestures while he spouts out sentence after sentence in Finnish.

They’re not bad guys. If Chandler’s managed to get a team that’s so put together and close, maybe he isn’t all bad.

Dustin’s still not going to sleep with him.

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