Welcome to my blog! Fortuna my first romantic comedy released today from Clean Reads Publishing. I'll be having a Facebook release party with prizes on Feb. 1 at https://www.facebook.com/events/964354846977004/ I really hope everyone will come.
Today I'm just celebrating a new release. I'll share the whole first chapter of Fortuna right here. If you like it, I hope you'll read the book and post a review on Amazon, etc. To an author, reviews count.
The dressing room door opened with what sounded like the opening salvo of the Civil War in the silent room. Aimee Sherwood jumped and banged her knee on the table in front of her. “Ouch, that hurt!” She shoved her blonde hair away from her heart-shaped face and glared at the man who stood in the doorway.
From his seat on the massage table, her fiancé, Rocky Stone, and yeah, wasn’t that just a great old stage name, patted her arm. “Don’t worry, hon. It’ll soon be over.”
“I told you, don’t call me hon!”
Rocky’s manager, Rich Stewart, shut the door behind him and strolled over to them. “What’s wrong with the two of you? Rocky, you look as nervous as a man at a baby shower.” He guffawed, showing nicotine-stained teeth to Aimee.
“Everything’s wrong,” she snapped. Why did this idiot always bray like a mule at what he considered his witty repartee? “It smells like dirty feet in here, and I hate the gray paint. The entire auditorium looks dingy. Besides that, this is the nastiest dressing room I’ve ever seen. I don’t like ‘no disqualification’ matches either.”
Rocky reproved her with a look. “She’s just worried about Cade hitting me with the chair.”
Rich’s lips thinned. Not that they weren’t thin enough already. The man was a lipless wonder. “This is the Los Angeles Wrestling Association, Aimee. LAWA teaches the guys how to do the moves without hurting themselves. You have no reason to worry.” He sighed. “We’ve talked about this before.”
Aimee didn’t deign to answer. Thin Lips Rich was good at his job. Thanks to his guidance Rocky stood on the threshold of becoming a LAWA legend. So, who cared? She didn’t like Rich anyway. He was too smooth. Too oily. Too self-centered. The list went on, but she was sick of it. Him too, for that matter. If she had her way she’d bash him with a chair and see how he liked it. Rocky had shown her a few wrestling moves that hurt, no matter what anyone said.
Rich glanced at his watch. “Get your bagpipes. It’s time.”
Oh, yeah. The bagpipes. She’d endured a million torments as Rocky learned to play them. Her head hurt just thinking about it. Rocky planned to play the bagpipes for the crowd before the match. She scowled as he stuck a tall, black hat on his head. Even though she hated to admit it, it was a good idea. LAWA was all about flamboyant personalities.
Rocky grabbed the pipes, and Aimee followed him down the long, gray hall that ran from the dressing room to the wrestling ring. She could hear Cade McCoy, Rocky’s opponent, taunting the audience. Boos, hisses, and jeers punctuated everything he said.
As they appeared in the doorway leading into the arena, speakers blasted Rocky’s theme song as the announcer roared, “Ladies and gentlemen, Rocky Stone is in the building!”
Spotlights blinded Aimee when they hit her. Rocky gave her a masterful kiss as dry ice sent fog roiling around them. With Rocky striding out in front, she and Thin Lips Rich followed, waving to the crowd and clapping the entire time. Rich spread the ropes apart for her and Rocky to enter the ring.
She strutted around, throwing kisses and motioning for the audience to stand up. The crowd went crazy when a wild swirl of bagpipe music filled the arena. They loved Rocky’s show. Clapping in unison, they cheered, “Rock-y. Rock-y. Rock-y.”
With the focus off her, Aimee relaxed a little. Thank goodness nobody’s staring at me now. I hate the outfits Rocky wants me to wear. ‘Your clothes are a part of my stage personality,’ he said. He wants me to look like a party girl.
She glared at the dress. It was made of spandex covered in electric blue sequins and was so short it was dangerous to sit down. Not only that, her boobs would probably fall out of the bodice any time now. The horrible dress had been designed to push up the assets.
Cade McCoy, whose hair was a greasy-looking, dirty blonde that reached his shoulders, threw off his hat and black leather vest and shouted something to Rocky, who ignored him. The barrage of noise intensified as Cade flexed his muscles at the screaming fans. Aimee clapped her hands to her ears to protect them even though it would annoy Rich. She’d be deaf before this debacle finally ended.
Her part was finished for the moment. She glared at Cade, kissed Rocky, and took Rich’s arm as he escorted her from the ring, taking care not to catch her stiletto heels in the ropes. The heels had blue sequins on them too.
The next fifteen minutes were pure purgatory. She held her breath when Cade put Rocky in a headlock and punched his face. He released Rocky and gave him a kick in the butt that sent him sprawling. Rocky seemed dazed by the punches.
Before he could get to his feet, Cade slipped under the bottom rope and shoved one of the timekeepers from his chair. He grabbed the chair and took it into the ring with him. As the crowd roared and screamed, he smashed Rocky from behind with the chair.
Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.
Cade paraded around the ring, jeering at the audience and gloating over Rocky’s fall. Rocky should have gotten to his feet by now, but he hadn’t moved a muscle. Cade strutted across the ring and kicked his leg. Hard. Rocky didn’t move.
Aimee didn’t realize she had gotten to her feet and was moving until she bumped into the ring. “Rocky, get up,” she screamed, her voice reverberating around the now strangely silent arena.
The referee hustled over to Rocky. He took the precaution of motioning Cade back, even though Cade had moved away and wasn’t even close to Rocky. Bending over, he touched Rocky’s shoulder and said something Aimee couldn’t hear. He barked an order to the timekeeper, who picked up a radio.
Two paramedics, exuding competence and authority, rushed to the ring with a stretcher. They put Rocky in a neck brace and carefully loaded him onto the stretcher. As they trotted out of the arena, Rocky’s arm fell from where it lay on his chest. It looked so loose and floppy that Aimee screamed again. She ran behind the paramedics with tears and mascara streaming down her cheeks.
“Is it safe to sit up yet?” Rocky whispered, his voice barely audible over the sound of the ambulance siren.
Aimee slapped him.
“Oww, what was that for?”
“Because I hate you.”
“We’re clear,” the ambulance driver called.
Rocky sat up and rubbed his cheek. “Chill, Aimee. We’re gonna be fine.”
“I don’t see how,” she retorted. “Lie back down.”
The driver, a federal marshal who’d said his name was Dave, glared at Aimee in the rearview mirror. “There’s no call to hit him, ma’am. None of this is his fault.”
“Watch the road! I’d like to know whose fault it is,” Aimee said with her best sneer, the one she’d copied from her cousin Ruby. “Who went where he wasn’t supposed to and found out that Brady Porter, one of the best known promoters in LAWA, was running a drug ring?”
Rocky shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “I only wanted some towels.”
“You got a lot more than towels, didn’t you?” Aimee took deep breaths to calm herself and blew out hard. What was wrong with everyone? Didn’t they know what a precarious situation Rocky had landed them in?
Dave glowered into the mirror. “You should be glad Rocky was willing to testify in court. Thanks to him that scum Brady Porter is off the streets.”
For an answer, Aimee pounded Rocky’s pillow, missing his head by inches. “Oh, yeah. I should be glad my fiancé had to fake his own death and enter the witness protection program. I especially should be glad that if I want to marry him, I’ll have to disappear too.”
“Life’s not a beach. Get over it. ”Dave’s unoriginal, snarky answer did nothing to quell her anger. “ At least you have the option of keeping your identity if you choose.”
“Why, you …”
Dave’s loud voice overrode hers. “I see the hospital. Look panicked, ma’am, if you can.”
Wonder what would happen if she slugged good ole Dave? No, she couldn’t do that. He was a federal agent after all. She sat on her hands to avoid temptation. Did no one understand her predicament? If she wanted to marry Rocky, she had to give up her life and go into hiding with him. Not that her job with Rocky was anything to brag on, but giving up her family was another matter altogether. How could anyone be expected to do that?
The ambulance screeched to a halt outside the emergency room door. Since she felt so bad, it wasn’t much trouble to look miserable and scared. She grabbed Rocky’s hand and ran beside the stretcher as they entered the hospital, a hulking structure whose dark, ominous appearance made her heart race. Her blue spangled heels almost threw her down when the stretcher made a sharp right turn, but she managed to stay on her feet.
The ER was ready for them. Federal marshals dressed as nurses and doctors swarmed around the stretcher and whisked Rocky away while good ole Dave clamped down on her arm and refused to let her follow. All scripted of course.
Dave dragged her into a waiting room and shoved her into a green plastic chair a bit harder than Aimee felt he had to. He smirked at her over his shoulder as he left the room. His part in this charade was over. She sat in that hard chair with her heart in her throat for twenty minutes before Rich got there. To his credit, he did look worried about Rocky. “How is he?”
“They haven’t told me anything.”
“I’ll see what I can find out,” Rich promised.
Aimee bit her lip as grim amusement bordering on hysteria threatened to make her laugh. Even Rocky’s manager was in the dark. Just as she expected, Rich returned a few minutes later with nothing to report. Another ten minutes crawled by before a marshal dressed in scrubs appeared in the doorway.
Aimee jumped up, noting that her knees really were quivering. One more part to play before this charade ended. “That’s me.”
“Come with me, please.”
Rich grabbed Aimee’s arm. “Hang on. I’m Mr. Stone’s manager. His condition concerns me too.”
The ‘doctor’ put on a sad face. It wouldn’t have surprised her to see tears in his eyes; he was that good. Maybe he should be an actor instead of a marshal. They were in California, right? She forced herself to focus on his words.
“I’m sorry, but there was nothing we could do, ma’am. When the chair hit him, it broke his neck. My guess is that he was dead before he even hit the floor.”
Aimee ‘fainted’ in front of Rich and two reporters, who had just entered the waiting room.
“Thank you for coming. I know Rocky would appreciate it.”
Aimee moved Rocky’s wrestling buddy, Bam Bam Logan, down the receiving line at the funeral home and greeted the next mourner. “Thank you for coming. I know Rocky would appreciate it.”
Rocky’s parents had insisted that a formal receiving line be set up so they could personally speak to all of his friends and acquaintances. They knew Rocky wasn’t dead, but emotion had overcome Rocky’s mother anyway. She knew she wouldn’t see much of her baby in the future. The poor woman hadn’t stopped crying for an hour now.
Personally, Aimee felt like screaming, not crying. She knew that the closed coffin sitting under those red roses was just a sham. Rocky had already been spirited away by the FBI.
“Thank you for coming. I know Rocky would appreciate it.” Would this line never end? How many people were in the stinking LAWA anyway? That’s where most of the mourners came from.
A tremendous sneeze caught her by surprise. Uh oh. Someone must have sent lilies to the funeral home. She searched the multitude of floral offerings positioned around the room for the culprit. For some obscure reason she was allergic to lilies.
She abandoned her fruitless task when Cade McCoy entered the room. This didn’t look like the same man she’d seen in the ring kicking Rocky around. He had cut his hair, which was definitely clean today. It looked like he had shaved too. The bristly stubble that was a part of his stage persona was noticeably absent. How strange. I never noticed that his eyes are green. Well, maybe not green. Maybe gray. Yeah, they’re greenish-gray. Pretty. In fact, he’s a nice looking man. Good shoulders and a classically handsome face, about as tall as Rocky. Hmm. About six-one or six-two maybe, but Rocky has dark hair and heavier shoulders. His features are more rugged than Cade’s too.
Cade had even dressed in a suit for the funeral. Its expensive-looking, pale gray material matched his eyes and gave him an air of command she liked much better than greasy hair, a hat, and a leather vest.
She’d say one thing for him. Like good old Dave the federal marshal, Cade was a natural actor. He looked devastated, even though he knew Rocky was alive. The FBI hadn’t wanted Cade to know about their plan, but Rocky had refused to lay such a guilt trip on a friend.
Amusement filled Aimee and briefly lightened her mood. The public never imagined that even though they snarled and cursed each other during a match the wrestlers were friends outside the ring.
Cade hesitated at the door before approaching her. His head bowed and his shoulders slumped. “Aimee, I . . . I can’t tell you how . . . how sorry I am. If it’s any . . . any comfort to you, my wrestling days are over. I can’t ever go back into the ring after . . . after . . . Rocky.”
Yeah, he was a great actor. Cade had been planning to retire in December anyway. He’d made enough money to buy a farm and raise horses, which was what he really wanted to do with his life. What would she do if the situation were real? How would she react to Cade? Inspiration struck and Aimee touched her tissue to her eyes. “Th . . . thank you for coming.” She let herself burst into tears and ran from the room. Guess she was an okay actress herself.
She hid in the restroom for as long as she thought she could. As she approached the door that would take her back to the hallway, she caught sight of herself in a long, full-length mirror. Good grief, she looked awful in black, so pale and sad-looking. No wonder everyone had been kind to her. They probably thought her heart was broken. Of course, they had a pink light at the head and foot of the casket, even though there was no corpse needing a bit of color in its face. That probably gave her a little pink wash and made her look better.
She turned sideways to look at herself. People with skin as white and translucent as hers should wear something colorful. With her blue eyes and blonde hair, fuchsia or a nice blue looked perfect. Pink was good too. Fumbling in her purse, she located a tube of lipstick. Maybe it would help.
She applied the lipstick and rubbed her lips together. Yes, definitely better.
Drawing a deep breath, she left her sanctuary and started back to the receiving line and the empty coffin. She hadn’t taken two steps when someone called her name. Oh. My. Goodness! It’s Gabe Porter. Gabe was the older brother of Brady Porter, the guy whose drug ring had landed her and Rocky in this predicament. The FBI thought Gabe was involved as well, but so far they couldn’t prove it.
I bet he’s the ringleader. Nobody could look as much like a reptile as he does and still be an innocent man. She shivered and wrapped her arms around her middle. Gabe had a hooked nose and strange, yellowish skin. His eyes were flat and cold. If eyes were indeed a window to the soul, Gabe didn’t have one. Okay, that was a cliché, but in Gabe’s case it was spot on.
He reached for her hand and shook it before pulling her against him. “Please accept my condolences, Aimee. This must be a dreadful time for you.”
Aimee tried to tactfully pull away from him. Besides the fact that she didn’t want to touch him, his heavy cologne stifled her. He let her go, but he kept hold of her hand. Yuck. Could his hand be any clammier? “Thank you for coming. I know Rocky would appreciate it.”
He nodded as if her answer pleased him. “I hesitated to come here, even though I did want to pay my respects. Some people in LAWA think I was involved in Brady’s drug ring.”
Aimee swallowed hard. “Surely not. No one will blame you for what your brother did.”
Her heart pounded, her blood raced. She still remembered what good ole Dave the marshal had said. ‘The trial is over so there’s no reason to fear you’re going to testify against them, not that you knew anything anyway, but if Rocky is alive they might hurt you to get back at him. That’s another reason why he has to fake his death.’
As Gabe finally released her hand, she saw him staring at her engagement ring, an antique Rocky had won in a poker game. It was so unusual, translated ugly, that it attracted a lot of attention. The big center stone as well as the smaller, surrounding stones were rose-cut diamonds that didn’t sparkle the way more modern cuts did. It wasn’t the prettiest ring she’d ever seen, but the elaborately carved shank was okay.
“You’re a kind woman, Aimee. I hope everyone will be as understanding as you are.” Gabe smoothed his hair back as if it had been rumpled, which it hadn’t. Did he oil it to make it look so shiny and wet? “What about you?” he asked. “What will you do now?”
Aimee shrugged. “I’m going to visit my parents for a few weeks. After that, I don’t know. There’s nothing to keep me here, so I won’t be coming back to Los Angeles.”
“That’s right.” He blinked his reptilian eyes. “Your parents live in Maryland, don’t they? Baltimore I believe it is.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
And I don’t ever want to know how he knew that.
Gabe glanced toward the room where the empty coffin sat. Aimee looked too and saw Bam Bam Logan approaching them with a scowl on his face. She remembered the harsh words Bam Bam had thrown around after Brady Porter was arrested. “I’d better get going,” Gabe said. He patted her back and rushed from the room with his black jacket billowing behind him like the cape of a super villain in a comic book. Two of his hired tough guys followed on his heels.
Sighing, she glanced at her watch, a nice Swiss job that Rocky had given her for their six-month anniversary. Thirty minutes and it’s all over. I can stand it for thirty more minutes. She arranged her features in a sad expression and rejoined Rocky’s parents in the receiving line.