The tables had turned at the Branson family dinners. For years the focus had been on Sydney, worrying about her state of mind and the stalker no one could catch. Now the spotlight had turned to me.
My family would never pry into my life, but the heaviness around the dinner table was thick. I remembered how Sydney would escape these dinners by quickly eating her food then moving into the kitchen to help Mom with the cleanup. I chose to have a different approach to the family’s loud silence. I simply sat quietly with an asshole attitude written all over my face, daring them to bring up any subject that would piss me off. I welcomed the fight.
Why didn’t I just stop coming?
“Sydney, your cell is ringing,” Mom called from across the kitchen.
Sydney jumped up and skidded across the kitchen floor to get her phone out of her bag. “Hello?”
Our meal continued as normal until we heard Sydney shouting Shannon’s name in surprise. Then all eyes went to her.
We watched her moving around the room with one hand holding her phone to her ear, while she covered her other ear to block out the noise, which there wasn’t any because everyone else was frozen in place, trying to listen. Meanwhile, I chose to ignore the whole thing, reaching for the roasted chicken marinated in buttermilk, crusted in cornflakes, and baked to a perfect golden crisp.
The only reason I knew those ingredients was because it was my favorite meal that Mom made. I had noticed most of our family dinners recently had consisted of my favorite meals.
Everyone’s eyes went between Sydney and me as I made my plate. They were most likely shocked that I wasn’t acknowledging the phone call. Why would I? She had moved on, not looking back. A courtesy call was all it was, and at the request of Liz.
“Are you not curious about what Shannon has to say?” Mom whispered, not to disturb everyone else who was eavesdropping.
My dad watched me as I answered, shocking my mom with my response.
“Nope. Don’t care.” With no emotion, I dug into my chicken as though it was my last meal.
Sydney swiped her phone to end the call and put it back in her bag before returning to the table with a confused look on her face.
Everyone was waiting to hear what Shannon had said.
“That was Shannon,” Sydney said as she sat down next to Jaxon, her face unreadable.
I knew what I was feeling, though, and it was not happiness.
“What did she say?” Jaxon asked as though he didn’t know a thing, putting his arm around her chair and trying to give the illusion that he was honestly engrossed in what she had to say.
“She really didn’t say anything. Just that she’s fine and not to worry. She wouldn’t tell me where she was, though.”
That wasn’t sitting well with Sydney, nor the rest of the family. My parents had a ton of questions that they started firing off. Of course Liz, Logan, and Jaxon said nothing, allowing my parents to ask. They just sat there quietly with no expressions on their faces, probably afraid it would give them away.
“I just don’t get it, Mom. Why would she leave like that? Why would she lie about going to school? I feel bad. Shannon blames herself for everything that happened to me.”
“I don’t think Shannon is thinking that,” Liz quickly spoke up. “She’s probably worried that, if she was around, it would be a reminder to you of the trouble Danny caused you, and that it would take you longer to heal and get back on your feet.”
“But that’s crazy. She’s a victim as much as I am. We all are, really. We all trusted him.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“Shannon is no victim. She has always looked out for herself. Thought only of herself and continues to. She used all of us. She ran when things got hot, just like her folks. Don’t waste your time worrying about that tramp. She has moved on to the next sucker.”
“Holden!” Mom scolded me, but she had no idea what I had seen the previous weekend.
Dependable Crown Princess of Cordova, Gwen, is dreading the day she gives up her life for her country. With the day of coronation looming, Gwen decides to make a bucket list of crazy things she wants to do before the big day. Taking her list, she travels to Las Vegas, a place where no one will question wild behavior and she can be just another normal person on vacation in sin city. Enlisting the help of Alex, a notorious entitled playboy, she finds herself checking off more than just the items on the list. Is she willing to risk it all and take a chance at falling in love?
Fiercely independent Alex, the black sheep of his family, was raised in the hotel business. Breaking out on his own, he built a successful Resort and Casino on the strip in Las Vegas. When Gwen asks for Alex’s help on completing her list of ‘bad girl’ activities he readily accepts. Who else knows how to let loose but the Billionaire Playboy himself. But as he starts helping her with the list, he begins to realize that this Princess might be worth trading in his bad boy image.
Escape. A single word. A tempting path. And out of Gwen’s reach. She strode across the balcony of the royal palace, her hands clenched at her sides. There had to be some way for her to escape the peering eyes, the criticism.
Her troubled gaze drifted over the idyllic scenery of Arens, capital of Cordova, her beloved country. The beautiful greenery that melted into the shoreline usually brought calm and serenity. Not today. Even the light, earthy scent of heather, the flowers influenced by neighboring Germany, didn’t lighten her mood. Pulling her arms tight across her chest, she continued to trace the length of the balcony with quick steps.
“Your pacing is making me nauseous.”
Gwen brought her steps to an abrupt halt and glared at her brother resting so casually against the stone balustrade.
She listened as the thump of Samuel’s cast hit the tiled floors, following her inside. He slumped into the chair across from her, grinning at her obvious frustration. She knew she acted childish, but better in front of her closest brother than her aide or, God forbid, the media.
“A noose, Gwendolyn? Really? Don’t you think you’re being a bit dramatic? Duty to the crown, duty to the country. Hail Cordova.” Sarcasm dripped off each word. Samuel hefted his casted foot and plunked it down onto the desk, knocking off a silver picture frame.
Gwen retrieved the framed picture from the floor, some of her tension ebbing from her slender body. Five laughing children smiled back at her through the glass. Her older brother, Jonathan, stood in the back with a toothy grin, golden hair gleaming in the afternoon sun. Only ten years old in the picture, but the weight of the country already pressed down on his shoulders. Gwen’s seven years held no worries, her head thrown back in mid-laughter as she watched her five-year-old twin brothers, Samuel and Arthur, dangle from the tree above. Her youngest sister, Petra, swaddled in her mother’s arm, wild red hair peeking from the blanket.
The picture snapped outside the doors of the palace, exactly one month before her mother suddenly took the crown. What a difference it made in her life, her mother transitioning to Queen of Cordova after losing their dear grandmother to cancer.
Kathleen Samuels knew the moment she picked up a Sweet Valley High book that happily ever after endings were the only books to read. She began writing in junior high school, determined to become an author someday. After college, she became a teacher for children with disabilities, still writing in her spare time. Joining Romance Writers of America in 2011 focused her efforts and she created The Royals of Cordova series. Kathleen is a collector of everything based on the Cinderella story and truly believes she will find her Prince Charming one day. Until then, she will write about them in her books. Kathleen makes her home in Southern California with her two college age children and little Tibetan Spaniel, Jack.
Enter Kathleen’s Giveaway:
George Washington Township, New Jersey has been relatively quiet ever since it was turned upside down following a high profile kidnapping. During the lull in excitement Detective Claire Goodnite has enjoyed being in the love bubble with the sexy SAIC Wesley O’Connell.
Never fully believing that she was capable of a committed relationship—with Wes or with anyone—leaves Claire feeling undeserving of the elusive happily ever after. She has never let herself enjoy what was within her grasp . . .
Until a string of murdered women dressed and posed like sleeping dolls shakes the very foundation of everything Claire thought she knew. Particularly when the only connection to be found between the three victims is the man who finally stole her heart for keeps, Wes.
But it’s like she always said, she’s bad at love.
Jennifer is a thirty something lover of words, all words: the written, the spoken, the sung (even poorly), the sweet, the funny, and even the four letter variety. She is a native of San Diego, California where she grew up reading the Brownings and Rebecca with her mother and Clifford and the Dog who Glowed in the Dark with her dad, much to her mother’s dismay.
10 years ago, she was swept off her feet by her very own sailor. Today, they are happily married and the parents of a 8 year old and 6 year old twins. She can often be found in East Texas on the soccer fields, drawing with her children, or reading. Jennifer is convinced that if she puts her fitbit on one of the dogs, she might finally make her step goals. She loves a great romance, an alpha hero, and lots and lots of laughter.