Morning Song is probably my favorite of all my books to date. I think, because I learned so much writing it. It required extensive research on different topics, for example, the day to day life of a war correspondent as well as best ways to help the healing of a victim of sexual abuse, especially children. In doing the research I developed a better understanding of how life is internally for those brave souls out there dodging bullets and relentlessly sliding to first base for a home run of those incredible photos we see on our news and documentaries. And through it all, the loneliness such jobs must entail, the never-ending danger, and knowing that those back at home can never understand. Any of it, really. And at the end of it all, they must hope still for that special, dreamed-of romantic love, the One that ends the lifelong search for Soul Mate. How lovely when it happens. Read about it here, in Morning Song, available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2DRfd
CHAPTER ONE: AT FIRST SIGHT
Zipping around heavy San Francisco traffic in her cherry-red Volvo S90, Kathryn pulled up to the curb, blissfully unaware that a potentially life-altering meeting was just minutes away.
Thus does life intrude into our routines, reaching out to tip our worlds on end, giving us what we most need. Not that we always accept what we need.
For Kathryn, one of those invisible defining moments hovered around her, a door about to open. A possibility.
She reached into the back seat, lifted a hefty manuscript box and, carrying it carefully under her arm, stepped out of the car onto the sidewalk, the fabric of her pale gold autumn dress fluttering around a pair of exquisite legs made more so by a pair of Badgley Mischka heels. High.
A cool wind ruffled her hair, announcing the arrival of autumn, and she snuggled further into the soft collar of her beige cashmere jacket. She quickly checked her coat for dog hair, since her German Shepherd, Udo, was often with her in the car, leaving remnants of his furry person.
Anyone watching her would have admired the graceful movement and slender figure of Kathryn Bond, famous author and romance writer—known under her nom de plume, Kathryn Acton Rice. That this woman had a nice fat bank account was evident not only from the vehicle she’ d stepped out of, but her air of apparent confidence.
Her long, flowing, curly gray-blonde hair, which she sometimes wore braided, partly wound around her head and partly down, was today loose and fluffy around her shoulders. Gray eyes framed by long blonde lashes, for as a child she’ d been blonde, made her appear calm and thoughtful, hiding the panic she often felt and struggled with. English rose skin, a long, graceful neck and a dignified way of carrying herself, completed the false image of a strong, self-assured woman devoid of self-doubt or uncertainty.
Anyone watching her would never have guessed at the world of anxiety she lived with, the years of therapy as she’ d slowly drawn closer to a normal lifestyle. Huge portions of her life had been spent creating illusory worlds of romance for others, worlds she had never been able to create for herself. Kathryn lived in a world of dreams, imaginary hero figures, the invention of true love, always for others.
But now and then, it had to be said, she’ d let her guard down and allowed her dreams to include herself— herself and a wonderful man, someone tall and strong and kind, full of worldly wisdom and knowledge of life. The archetypically ideal male partner.
She wandered for a few minutes through the building’ s downstairs mall and into a small gift shop where she’ d seen, on a previous visit, the perfect birthday gift for her assistant, Leslie. Leslie loved horses, dreamed of one day owning a ranch.
And there it was, in the front window, the honey-colored stallion she’ d seen before, rearing up, challenging the world. The small elegant statue had caught her eye on a previous visit to her literary agent, whose office was upstairs in the building.
Just the thing.
She asked the clerk to gift wrap it, drawing her suede wallet out of a tawny-colored handbag.
When Kathryn spent time with her agent, Caroline Moore, she liked to appear soft and romantic. To match the subject of her books. After all, what spoke of romance more than delicate colors?
But her coral-hued heels and stylish coat didn’t fool Caroline. She knew this particular client inside out and knew she spent her days in flats and a pair of jeans, an old sweater. For most of her time was spent in front of a computer screen, dreaming, imagining, typing. Kathryn Bond’ s imagination was a license to print money.
Not that she considered herself better than anyone else. For the secret she carried every waking moment had taught her that she was merely one of life’ s survivors, nothing more nor less.
Caroline was one of the few who knew her secret. At the tender age of fifteen, Kathryn had been home alone one day and been taken by surprise. Three young men, on a crime spree of home invasions, happened to choose a pleasant bungalow near the ocean in a respectable California town, and Kathryn’ s life had turned upside down in a single afternoon.
When her parents returned home from work, they’ d found her tied up and gagged in the attic, naked and injured, unable to even cry. She’ d huddled there, her arms tied behind her, her eyes wide and staring at things her mom and dad couldn’ t see, shivering with cold, her lovely, youthful, athletic body stained with blood—her own blood—and covered in bruises. One dark bruise scarred her face, promising weeks of ugly reminders of the horrific attack.
Kathryn’ s normal, happy, healthy life had changed direction that day, never to return to its promising, bright path, a path that might have led to Olympic glory as a runner. Her life of high promise seemed to have come to an end, never to return.
As time went on, and different therapists did their best for her, she was able to incorporate proper self-care into her life routines. But those dreams of Olympic glory had died before they’ d even begun.
Then, finally, she’ d found her niche. Discovered in herself a flair for story telling. Romance. Idyllic relationships. The stuff of a girl’ s dreams. And only in those dreams did the young woman ever find the thrill of a strong pair of arms around her, of sweet lips claiming her own.
Now, as she stepped into the elevator to the fourth floor and her agent’ s office, seventeen years had passed as she had moved on from counselor to counselor, slowly getting better, reclaiming a good life. But the conflict between the terrifying scent of a male body close to hers, and the heart-stopping thrill of a lover gathering her into his arms, that conflict had never healed.
So she became incredibly wealthy before her thirtieth birthday, and now it was seventeen years later and she had never been kissed.
No one would ever have guessed at any of that, looking at this poised, lovely businesswoman rising to the fourth floor of what was known as a literary building, a building full of agents and screen bosses and all the other accompanying professions and services that went with creation of Story for public consumption.
Strolling into the busy office, she smiled at Lora, the receptionist.
Lora, both young and young at heart, was always happy to see the author of some of the best romance written in today’ s world. Lora had her own share of dreams.
“ Kathryn, there’ s someone in with Caroline right now, but he won’ t be long, they’ re almost finished. Sit down, I’ ll bring you some coffee.”
Glad to sit and relax for a few minutes, Kath crossed her long legs and leaned back in the armchair. She always liked this chair, it was brown leather, somewhat overstuffed, and tended to embrace snugly whoever sat in it, offering a sensation of true rest.
Lora carefully placed a little coffee tray on a table beside her. She moved around the white coffee mug and a cream and sugar bowl so Kathryn could help herself.
“Want some cookies? I brought in some hermits. Caroline loves them. I put lots of walnuts and raisins in. I’ ll grab a couple.” Without waiting for an answer she disappeared through into the break room and emerged with a small plate in her hand, bringing along the delicious aroma of a mom’s kitchen.
Suddenly Caroline’ s office door opened and a tall, attractive man strolled out into the waiting room, turning his head back to toss a friendly parting shot to his agent.
Good looking, casual dress, red hair and beard, blazing dark blue eyes, thought Kathryn as she summed him up automatically, in the way that romance writers do.
Looks Irish or Scottish, she added to herself silently.Smiling first at Lora and then turning to Kathryn, he nodded and strode past to the exit door.
Their eyes briefly locked and Kathryn felt a hit of instant connection.
As the stranger disappeared into the corridor, the door closing behind him, Kath turned to Lora and had to ask, “ Who is that, Lora?”
“ That’s Eric Emerson. You’ve seen him on the news channels. He reports from war zones all over the world. One of those guys. You know, they run around the world with a bunch of heavy cameras around their neck.”
Then she added, “He’s divorced, by the way. His wife got lonely while he was in faraway places taking pictures. She left, went home to mom, took half his assets. There was some stuff in the paper about it, gossip column stuff. I think he has a reputation for avoiding relationships now. It’s too bad. He’ s a nice guy, I think.”
Feeling a prickle of tension, the tension that always came with a close encounter of the male kind, Kath recognized something unusual in her core being—a flicker of real interest, a kind of hunger. Yes, that was it. Hunger.
She felt herself grow a little pink, and a flush of anxiety instantly spread.
But Kathryn had been there many times, and she controlled her breathing, calmed herself, came back to center, as she’ d been thoroughly taught by professionals.
She was fine.
She hoped never to see him again, whoever he was. That kind of trouble, she didn’t need. The sanctity of her office, her computer, her lovely home and her loyal, protective staff, all provided the safety she needed to go out and face the world, knowing she would return to that safe place within hours.
Lora, unaware of this invisible conflict going on right in front of her, shrugged her shoulders up excitedly and smiled, squeezing her eyes shut.
“ Isn’t he gorgeous, Kathryn? Come on, admit it. He’ s a warrior hero. Tall, strong and handsome.”
She sighed, and turned back to her work, the temporary diversion at an end.
Caroline stepped from her office and extended her arm out, inviting Kath into her sanctuary.
“ Lora, would you mind bringing those cookies in here? I can’t walk away from a plate of your hermits.” Caroline smiled.
Kathryn lifted her coffee mug and stepped into her agent’s office, but her mind was elsewhere, although she smiled and offered the usual greeting as she settled into a guest chair. Her mind was on the direct look those blue eyes had used to rake over her face and body, smoothly, almost undetectably, the instant, skilled assessment of a seasoned reporter. Had that look held a note of interest more than the usual? She wondered.
But there was no time to reflect on the passing glance of a stranger as she got into the serious business of discussing her upcoming book.
“ I recall you were invited to talk to a creative writing class at the college, Kath. Are you looking forward to that? I know you like being around young people.”
Caroline, her buxom figure clad in an outrageous red outfit that accentuated her plentiful curves, was always interested in Kathryn’ s life. She kept a watchful eye on her friend. Her friend who had been through so much at such a tender age.
“ Yes, in fact, I’m going up there tonight, it’s just a small class, all adults, and I’m interested to see these people who work all day and study story telling at night. It’s like a bug you catch, Caroline, the story-telling thing. Hard to shake once you’ve caught it! I admire them. They’re making more of their lives. I’m happy to offer any help I can.”
“ How are you enjoying the new ride? Volvo S90. Pretty cool.”
“ I do love a nice car, I must admit, Caroline. But most of the time I just use the Buick, it’s old, but good and solid. The staff like it for running around in. But coming to the city, it’s nice to have the Volvo. Makes me feel young and sporty.”
“ I’m glad it inspires you, Kath. Anything that helps you write these great stories is worth having.”
The drive home was tiring, the traffic heavy, but she got out of the dress-up outfit and into a robe, swallowed half of an egg salad sandwich left in the fridge by her kitchen queen, Linda, and felt refreshed and raring to go.
Udo trotted into the kitchen, tail wagging, grinning all over his face as he discovered his momma was home. Raising his head, he politely nodded up toward the counter, where, he knew, a delicious cold roast chicken was sitting, awaiting Linda’s culinary magic. His doggy eyebrows lifted and wiggled a suggestion.
Laughing, Kathryn carefully tore off two strips of meat and fed him from her hand, petting his silky head and murmuring love sounds, then sent him outside to patrol the yard.
She knew Linda would have something fabulous worked up in a wok or whatever by the time she got home from the night school class. She’d be ready for a good meal.
She climbed happily into her usual jeans and baggy sweater and a pair of Nikes, pulled her hair up into a ponytail, and looked at herself in the mirror. She looked like a student, and that was the effect she wanted. Fitting in was important. The author at work. She grabbed her wallet and keys, stuffed them in her jacket pocket and headed out.
She pulled into the college’s darkening parking lot, choosing a spot near the back doors of the building. Her new car was precious and she didn’t want anything untoward happening to it.
Entering the staff room a bit early, she stood still in shock. The big red-haired guy from Caroline’ s office stood rinsing out a coffee mug in the small sink. He turned his head, smiled at her, but as he recognized her, his eyes went cool.
“ Hi again. Imagine running into you here. Twice in the same day. We didn’t get to speak there in the office. My name is Eric.” Very pleasant. Very distant. He politely cocked his head toward her. Her turn.
She flushed and cursed at the anxiety that tangled inside her, and forced herself to smile and reply, “ Kathryn Bond. Romance author. I’m Kathryn Acton Rice, that’ s my pen name. I’m just talking to a night class. And you?”
He gazed thoughtfully at
her, as though identifying her instant stress.
She knew that was impossible.
“I’m a reporter, just gave a little talk to a journalism class. I do that now and then. A kind of giving back thing. They don’t pay me, except I like talking to the students, which is a kind of payment I guess.”
She agreed, “Yes, it’s nice isn’t it? Makes me feel young again, being around these, well, young adults.”
He smiled. Nice teeth. Nice curly, soft looking red beard. His eyes swiftly assessed her. “You certainly look young in that outfit. Suits you. Well, I’d best get on, I always seem to be behind the eight ball, trying to catch up. Nice to talk to you.”
And then he was gone. Leaving behind the slight scent of a male cologne, and also something else. The scent of a man. A real man.
For a moment, Kathryn stood and closed her eyes, breathing in what was left of his presence.
She sighed. No doubt about it, she was a romantic. And she loved men—on paper. Or the screen.
She ducked her head, her long ponytail brushing her shoulders, and stuck her hands into her jacket pockets. Stood there, organizing her feelings as she always did after a close encounter with the opposite sex.
Part of her liked being near them, but she was still scared. Probably always would be.
Right now, she had a class to talk to.
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