September 11, 2014

Saving Sullivan--1st Chapter Preview

I thought I would post the first chapter of Saving Sullivan as a teaser. I think you're going to love Sullivan and Abby. They're as similar as they are different, but the question is, can two damaged people overcome their fears and learn to find trust and love in one another? 

So here we go...

Chapter One

Standing by the national departures entrance at Halifax International Airport, I take a deep breath. A skylight lets the sun shine down on my father and three older brothers—my family, my heart. 
My oldest brother, Clay, runs a hand through his cropped blond hair. He gives me a quick hug and then takes a step back. He looks so sad that I have to pull him in for another hug. 
“Shit,” he says. “I suck at goodbyes.” He kisses the top of my head and turns away, strolling to the exit doors without looking back. Of all my brothers, Clay is the softest, and he’s the one I get along with best. He doesn’t live with us anymore but we often talk on the phone and he always comes by for supper. My other brothers, Dylan and Michael, try to make light of the situation, teasing me, ruffling my hair. Their personalities are as identical as their twin faces: narrow noses, big brown eyes and full, wide toothy smiles. 
My father looks down at his feet. He’ll be lost without me like I’ll be lost without him. I worry he’ll fall apart without his baby because we have a special bond that I know he doesn’t share with my brothers. I’m his little girl, his only daughter. And I look just like my mother did when she was my age.
I drop my carry-on and all but jog to my dad. As I wrap my arms around him he lifts me up, burying his head into my shoulder. 
“I’ll miss you, kid,” he says.
“Me too. Love you, dad.”
“Keep your chin up. You can do this.”
I sigh. “But…what if you need me?”
“Sweetheart, we’ll be fine. Count on it.”
“We’ll be fine. You always take such good care of us. This is your chance to worry about you and only you, for once. Let yourself have some fun. Makes some friends.”
“Not too much fun,” Michael says. “If you know what I mean.”
My brothers have always been protective of me, and most of the time it frustrates me, but now I know I’ll miss it when they’re not there to constantly look over my shoulder and offer their two cents' worth on every single choice I make. 
I frown at Michael before Dad and I let go of one another. Dad slaps Michael on the back of the head. “Leave your sister be. She’s got more sense than the two of you put together.” 
“Ow,” Michael says, rubbing his head. 
I swallow a hard lump in my throat. I’ve always been the woman of the house, the one to make the meals and clean up after my dad and my brothers. And I’ve always been the one to look after my dad, especially after my mom died. I thought leaving home for two months would be hard on my family, but I think I underestimated how hard this will be on me. I’ve never had to live without them before and I’m not sure that I can. My family is my rock. Without them…I just won’t know what to do with myself. 

I pull my dad in for one more hug. His thick sweater smells of fresh cut grass and cigar smoke. I inhale it one more time, feeling all the comfort and safety that goes along with it. 
“That’s enough of that,” Dylan says, patting dad on his back. “She’s going to miss her plane.”
Slowly, Dad lets me go and I grab my bag and hurry into the departure zone. I can’t look back because I’ll lose my nerve if I see the look on my dad’s face, or if I have to watch another second of Clay running away with his head bowed. So I forge ahead. A woman on a mission. 
I hand my ticket to security. Alberta. Half way across the country. 
How did this happen? 
I was never supposed to leave for the summer. I had my entire summer mapped out up until a few days ago when my nursing school instructor called days before I was supposed to begin my final clinical placement. I’d secured one in my hometown, on a surgical floor in the hospital. I couldn’t have been happier. Four years of commuting to the city for school were finally over. I had the highest hopes for this placement, namely that the hospital would offer to hire me once I graduated. Then I would have been set. I could stay in Muskrat, Nova Scotia and live near my family.
But that’s not what happened. 
My instructor, Mary Powers, called me one night while my family and I sat down for supper. I cooked, as usual. I think I made meatloaf and veggies, because that’s what I always make on Tuesdays. After an epic silence, Mary drew in a breath and sighed into the phone, preparing me for what she had to say: “I have some bad news.”
Bad news. My heart sank while I braced myself. Dylan, tossed peas at me from the other side of the room, but I couldn’t even muster the strength to give him a dirty look. I assumed Mary called about my placement because the rest of my coursework for my Bachelor of Science in Nursing was done. So why else would she call me at home at night? Instructors don’t usually call their students; at least they’d never called me. What she told me made me pull up a chair and take a seat while my family exchanged worried glances. 
“An outbreak of scabies among the nurses?” My voice was so quiet it barely registered as a whisper. This had to be a joke. 
“I’m so sorry. The floor has rescinded it offer to you for this term. Management decided to restrict the floors to patients and essential personnel until they have the situation under control.”
“But…what am I going to do? I’m supposed to start my placement in three days! Is there somewhere I can go in the city?” Commuting for another ten weeks wasn’t ideal, but I was willing to do what I had to do to ensure I finished my placement and graduated on time. Ever since my mom passed the only thing I’ve ever wanted is to become a nurse, to help those who suffer, maybe help others make better choices…
If only I could have done that for my mom. 
“I’m sorry,” Mary says. “I’ve called everywhere. All of the other placements have already been secured. The city hospital has overcommitted to LPNs, RNs and military nurses. They can’t offer you a placement right now.”
“What am I supposed to do? There must be something. Anything?”
And there was. 
Banff, Alberta. 
Sigh. Don’t get me wrong. I like Alberta. It’s a great province. Beautiful. Especially the area around the Rockies, but it’s exactly 4,893 kilometres away from home—I know, Google told me—and that just doesn’t sit well with me. Not one bit. But I’m going because I have to and here I am, about to board my plane.  I swear I’m going to throw up. 
The plane is cramped and I’m sandwiched between an extra large woman eating Doritos and a bald man snoring and drooling in his sleep. Couple this with my fear of heights and my intense need to vomit and I’m in for a very uncomfortable flight. Fortunately, the nausea settles when the plane stops climbing and I can finally take a few deep breaths and relax. But then when the turbulence comes, I’m sure we’re going to crash. 
Dorito lady must sense my apprehension because she pulls a travel-sized bottle of whiskey out of her enormous purse. “It’ll fix you right up.” When she smiles at me I spy orange cheese on her front tooth. 
I look down at the whiskey, not at all tempted. Alcohol fixes nothing. I’ve witnessed this first had. “No, thank you.”
“Suit yourself.” She tips the bottle up and down the hatch it goes until the small bottle is drained. She lets out a breath and taps her chest before smiling at me, her left upper eyelid twitching like she’s trying to send me a message using Morse Code. 
My plane arrives in Toronto twenty minutes late, and I have a mere twenty minutes to make my connecting flight. I’m already sweating, and when I check the departure board I find my plane is on the other side of the airport. I break into a run, slowing only to shuck my shoes so I can run ahead with my shoes in hand. I’m barefoot and I don’t care; it's better than trying to run in new shoes. Why I ever bought the damn things is beyond me. Trying to impress, I suppose, but then I won’t impress anyone at the resort in Alberta when I arrive with slick hair and crazy body odour.  
When I get to the terminal, the door is closed. The lady at the counter smiles at me and tells me this terminal won’t be open again for another half hour. For another flight. 
No, no, no, I think, shaking my head like a mad woman. “Half hour? But my plane…I was supposed to get on a plane. Here. Now.”
I hold out my hand and she reaches out hers to take my ticket. She frowns after a moment. “I’m so sorry. But the plane door just closed. We can’t open it once it’s closed.” She shakes her head before handing me back my ticket. 
I tip my head back and close my eyes and count to five so I won’t scream out loud. This can’t be happening to me. How the hell am I supposed to get from Toronto to Banff? I certainly can’t afford to pay for a replacement ticket and I highly doubt the hotel will offer to buy me one. They’ve already invested so much money in me as it is. And I’m just a student. 
“Can I see your ticket again?” she asks.  
I hand it back to her and she taps like crazy on her keyboard. After several moments, I crane my neck over the monitor to see what she’s up to. 
“If you want to wait for a few hours, there’s another plane to Banff,” she says in a soft voice. 
I open my eyes and meet her gaze. This still doesn’t address my money issue. “I can’t pay for that.”
She laughs. “No, silly. Your flight was late so we can comp you the ticket. She lowers her voice. “And since we’re out of economy seats, I can put you in first class.”
I lower my voice, too, like we’re co-conspirators. “Really?” Does she have the power to do this? Should I ask and risk her changing her mind?
She nods. A piece of paper slides out from the printer at the right of her computer. “For you, madam.”
“Oh my gosh! I could kiss you right now!”
“You’re going to be at the terminal across the hall.” She points to the array of blue seats by a gate that reads 14C. 
I practically dive over the desk and wrap my arms around her. She laughs and pats my back. I’m probably being really inappropriate right now but where I come from, if someone does you a solid then you should at least show some gratitude. For me, that gratitude is in the form of me squeezing the air from her lungs. 
Now that I have some time to spare, I take a moment and put my shoes back on. A woman sitting in the row of seats to my left crinkles her nose as she stares down at my feet. Don’t judge me, lady. You try running in new shoes. I would have had blisters for weeks. 
I stroll across the hallway, stopping for a moment to browse the products in Bath and Beauty. I sample some of the creams, massaging lavender and mint cream into my dry, chapped hands. Then I reach up on my tiptoes and grab an Orange Lily candle. It smells divine and it’s on sale. Score. That’s a sign. So I buy it. Besides, I need a souvenir from Toronto. God knows when I’ll come back here again. After I’m done, I head to the waiting area at my terminal. There are only a few dozen people sitting around: some parents with kids, some businessmen and women, some people my age with shorts and t-shirts. I wonder if they’re doing what I’m doing. Are they headed to Banff for work or for pleasure?
My phone rings, pulling me from my thoughts and I scramble to get it before the person hangs up. It’s Clay. I smile at the sight of his number.
“Hey Clay, what’s up?”
“Just wanted to make sure you got to Toronto okay.”
I chuckle. “Yes, big brother. My flight was late, but they put me on the next one and they put me in first class.”
“Well, look at you.” There's a smile evident in his voice. “World traveller.”
“I’m still in Canada, you fool.”
“Yeah, I suppose you are. What are you doing now?”
“Just watching people.”
“You’ve always done that. Maybe you should forget about nursing, be a cop like me and Dad.”
I laugh out loud. “Because you, Dad, Dylan and Michael would be supportive of my carrying a gun and chasing down criminals.”
“Good point.” 
I never considered law enforcement. Basically for this reason. But also because of my mother…which is a different story. Still, I have a guilty obsession with watching people. I like thinking about who they are and what they’re all about. Are they married? Single? Do they have kids? Are they happy? In love? 
Today, watching people causes me to see him for the first time. 
I immediately name him Smoulder because of his hooded deep blue eyes and pouty full lips. He walks out of the handicapped washroom, following a leggy blonde who is adjusting her skirt. Her cheeks are flushed and so are his. His wavy black hair, just long enough to curl around his ears, is messed up, like a woman just grabbed a hold of it. The blonde turns right, and he turns left toward my terminal. Were they strangers? Did they have a perfect moment or a quick sweaty one? 
I almost drop my phone, my mouth hanging agape. “You’ll never guess what I just saw.” I don’t wait for a response. “Some guy just totally hooked up with a girl in the bathroom.”
“I know, right? In the middle of the day.”
“Abby, I don’t need to hear about stuff like that. It irritates me enough that you have to witness it.”
“Oh, come on. I’m not a kid anymore.” I roll my eyes.
“I know, but…do me a favour while you’re in Banff, okay?”
I clear my throat and sigh. “Okay…”
“Stay away from guys like that.”
“Of course,” I say without thinking. If I start dating, I want a relationship, not just sex. I haven’t had time for it while in nursing school and now I’m done, I kind of want to get back in the saddle, so to speak, though I don’t especially want to pursue this in Banff. I don’t need a reason to stay. At the end of the summer, I’m headed back to Nova Scotia and my family, no matter what. 
Making this promise to Clay is probably one of the easiest promises I’ll ever make.
Smoulder drops into the seat adjacent to mine. Immediately I smell a hint of his musk, along with a mix of floral perfume and some earthy cologne. I glance at him from my peripheral and shake my head. To each his own, I guess. Not a minute later, the attendant comes on the PA system to announce my plane is boarding. 
“Got to go, Clay. I’ll call you later.”
“Be safe,” he says quietly.
My cheek lifts as I smile against the phone. “You know I will.”
I hang up and approach the ticket agent. I’m one of the first people on the plane because I sit up front, which doesn’t really make sense to me because everyone has to scoot by me to get to their seats. It would make more sense for people in economy to go first, but I guess that’s part of the perks of first class. People like to be first. I suppose I get that, sort of. 
There's one seat in first class by each of the windows, and two seats in the centre—I’m in one of the centre seats. The seats are plush and the legroom is unbelievable, especially after having to squeeze myself into a coach seat on the flight to Toronto. I’m short and I still found the legroom in economy non-existent. I’m massaging the arms of the leather seat and taking in my large screen TV when my center seat neighbour joins me. Well, if it isn’t Mr. Freshly Fucked from the Handicapped Stall himself. This should make for an interesting trip. 
Maybe he’ll try to get some action at five thousand feet, too. I chuckle to myself and attract his attention, his ocean blue eyes resting square on my face. 
“Something funny?” He raises an eyebrow, but my eyes drop to his crooked smile and I feel the heat he exudes. 
Well, damn. He’s sexy.  
In an effort to collect myself, I stop laughing and clear my throat. “No. Sorry.”
The rest of the passengers file in, bumping me with their luggage and following up with apologies, which I respond to with a sweet, ‘no problem.’
Smoulder and I don’t say a word to each other until long after we’re in the air and I’ve calmed down about the altitude. As long as I don’t look out the window, I can pretend we’re still on the ground. I have my ear buds in and I’m watching a movie about ninjas. Secretly, I want to be a ninja. How freaking cool would that be? I could do it. And make those crazy noises too. Yeah, I’d rock that samurai sword. 
Smoulder is chatting with the stewardess. I’m trying my best not to notice but curiosity gets the better of me. She’s smiling and laughing, hanging on his every word—which thankfully, I can’t hear because of the movie. I’m sure he’s full of lines. Meanwhile, he’s calm, cool and collected. It’s not long before he gets up and heads for the bathroom, and she follows, glancing once over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching. 
Yes, lady, I am. 
He emerges eleven minutes later. Not bad. Hero. Not ninja style or anything, but I suppose eleven minutes would be forever to a lot of women. I roll my eyes as he stops to tuck his polo shirt in before sitting down. 
I snatch my ear buds and pull them out. I can’t help myself; I have to say something now. “Really?”
He turns to meet my smirk. “I’m sorry? Did you say something?” His lips curl into a smile, the same cheeky smile I’m sure he’s turned on many unsuspecting females—only I’m prepared for it. It would take a lot more than his smile and his chiselled cheekbones and abs to make me lose my panties for him.
“The flight attendant? Could you be anymore cliché?”
He grins. His parents must've spent a fortune of those beautiful white teeth when he was growing up. He leans in when he speaks, his voice quiet and his speech calm and thoughtful. “Well, I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And the lady in the airport? Was she a flight attendant too, or do you even know?”
He tilts his heads to the side. “My name is Sullivan. And you are?” With a wave of his hand, he motions back and forth between us. “Because I figure if we’re going to start talking about my sex life then we should at least be introduced.”
I attempt to put my ear buds back in. None of my business. My prying should annoy him, but instead he seems genuinely amused. Have to give him credit for being consistent, I suppose.
He reaches out and gently clutches my ear buds, pulling them free, his fingers lightly brushing by my ears and forcing the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. “I thought we were getting personal?”
I snatch my ear buds back and study his face: the tiny dimple in his left cheek, the slightly crooked cheeky smile and the mischievous eyes that promise to break hearts…but not mine. I have his number and no flash of his pearly whites will break me down. I just find him funny; maybe a little sad. As far as I’m concerned, guys like this are compensating for something—or a lack of something. Maybe his mother didn’t hug him as a child. 
“Okay. Let’s get personal,” I say. 
“Why were you watching me in the airport?”
I shrug. “I like to watch people. It passes the time.”
“Watch people do what?” He slowly enunciates each word. 
I groan. “Easy, tiger. No innuendo intended.” 
Crinkles form around the corners of his eyes. “I don’t know what the woman from the airport does for a living. I didn’t catch her name while she was calling out mine."  
My jaw drops and he renders me speechless. When I snap my mouth shut and clear my throat, I have to count to three to work through my thoughts. He meant to silence me, to shock me, and he effectively accomplished his mission. It irritates me that I gave him exactly what he wanted. 
“I…I knew you didn’t know her name,” I say, mostly because I don’t know what else to say, and I feel the need to say something.  
He looks at me, feigning confusion, because he and I both know he’s in the driver’s seat of this conversation.  “You seem awfully interested in my business, Miss…Wait, you haven’t even told me your name?”
“You don’t seem particularly concerned with getting names. Maybe I should remain anonymous.”
He licks his lips and leans in, whispering, “Does that mean you’re going to accompany me to the bathroom?”
I lean back, sighing. “Not in this lifetime, Romeo. I’m sure your charm works pretty consistently, but in my case, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“You prefer women?”
“What? No. I’m just not into…” I wave my hands up and down in front of him, “guys like you.”
 “Oh. I see. Well. I love a challenge.”
“You wouldn’t even make it to first base.”
“Challenge accepted.”
Although I try to stop myself for fear of encouraging him, I burst out laughing. “You’re awful, you know that?”
“That’s what people tell me.”
“At any rate, I highly doubt our paths will cross. So I think I’m safe from your charm.”
He lays his hand over mine and I pull it away, not ready for the heat or ache between my thighs that accompanies it. 
“You think I’m charming?” he asks, although I’m certain he’s well aware of the affect he has on the opposite sex. 
I suppress a groan and train my eyes forward. 
“How do you know our paths won’t cross? Banff’s not that big. Which hotel are you staying at?”
“Stone Cliff Resort.”
He rubs his chin and chuckles. I can hear the scratch of his stubble against his fingers. His grin grows from barely there to all consuming. “What a coincidence. I just happen to be going to the same resort. Must be fate.”
I swallow the uncomfortable lump in my throat. I can handle his smoulder. Besides, he’s only flirting with me right now because he's exhausted the other options; he already screwed the only attractive female attendant, and the woman on the other side of him is at least twice his age. I hope, at least for his sake, he has limits on who he’ll screw. But then again, maybe he likes grandmothers. Sometimes guys just need a hole and a sign that says, insert dick here.
“How long are you in Banff for?” he asks, licking his annoyingly kissable lips. 
“Ten weeks.” 
“I’m there for three months.  If I was a betting man—and I am—I'd bet by the end of the summer, you’ll be begging me to taste you.”
I stare him and take a deep breath. I don’t even try to argue with him. He knows who he is and what he’s capable of; I’ve only just met him, and I can't deny the charisma he oozes. Only problem is I don’t like him being so cocky about it. I’ll prove him wrong. He’ll see. I’m leaving in ten weeks, my almost-virginity intact. 
“How about we be friends instead?” I offer. 
He pretends to stab himself in the heart. “No! She put me in the friend zone.”
“Oh, come on. You and me are never going to happen, and I don’t know a single person in Banff. I mean, I don’t know you either, but you’ll be a familiar face, at least.”
“But I don’t even know your name…” He grins. 
Tricky, tricky. He’s fishing. “Abby. Abby Claire.”
We’re about to shake hands, but I frown as I look at his tanned fingers.
“Don’t worry. I washed after.” He flashes me a wink. 
“Ugh.” I debate taking his hand, but he laughs as he snatches mine, gripping it tightly. His hands are soft but strong; much bigger than my own, but then I’m barely five two and he’s pushing six feet. I can’t help but notice the fat veins along his arms, the cords of muscle. He’s not a beefcake or anything, not like he crazy works out, but maybe he’s an athlete? All the same, Mr. Smoulder is a ten. Or an eleven. How perfectly annoying. 
He scrutinizes me, rubbing his thumb along his chin. “I don’t do friends well—especially when it comes to women.”
“There’s always a first. And I’m actually really good at friends. Maybe I could teach you.”
He shakes his head, his eyes a touch amused.
“You said you like a challenge,” I say, throwing his words back in his face. 
He chuckles. “I guess I did, didn’t I?”
“There you go. I'll be your biggest challenge yet.”

He nods, a hint of a smile on his full lips. “You might just be right about that.”

End of Chapter One

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