Friday, July 31, 2015
Enjoy the following excerpt from romance contest winning author Donan Berg's first romance novel. He promised the first chapter, but as you read you'll find it continues into Chapter Two. If you don't tell, we won't. You can reward our error by visiting www.smashwords.com/books/view/553245 . There's a longer sample there. How far it goes, we don't know. You can discover. If you enjoy, write a review.
One Paper Heart
DOTDON Books are published by
DOTDON Personalized Services
514 17th Street
PO Box 1302
Moline IL 61266-1302
Author e-mail: email@example.com
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015908571
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner and DOTDON Books, Moline, IL, except for brief quotation in a review.
This is a work of fiction. The places, characters, and events represent the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is unintentional and purely coincidental.
Cover by James GoOnWrite.com
Copyright ©2015 Donan B. McAuley
ISBN 13: 978-1-941244-09-8 (E-book)
ISBN 10: 1941244092
ISBN 13: 978-1-941244-10-4 (Paper)
ISBN 10: 1941244106
First U.S. Edition: August 2015
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To lovers, now and forever.
There is a heart of muscle and blood.
There is a heart that guides our soul.
There is a heart of yearning and peace.
There is a heart we search ever for.
May the full benefit of all be yours.
Express your love, and pray for
all who have or will sacrifice
to keep this world safe.
The romantic flames of Alicia Danielson’s sweet dreams flared into conscious panic. A sliver of red light from the triple ones on her digital alarm clock oriented Alicia to her bedroom door. Two coughs of acrid smoke convinced her to abandon her search for a robe. On hands-and-knees, she crawled toward her three-room Minneapolis apartment’s hallway exit. Sweat drips and the fear of being burned alive snowballed to spur her determination. Yesterday’s funk of dying a twenty-six-year-old spinster laminated by a budding hysteria.
A raspy third cough tore at the raw lining of her constricted throat. When her heartbeat amplified the faint hallway doorknob jangle, she willed her butt not to rest on her heels and lurched her shoulders forward. Smoke curled and swirled past her ears.
Unable to hold her breath and lessened the pain of her smoke-irritated lungs, she whispered, “Dam. Hoover Dam.” For twenty-three years since age three, she’d deleted the “n” and disguised the profane word “damn” by pairing it with real concrete dams. While at first it was to avoid her mother’s soap bar inside her mouth, her quirk blossomed into moments of schoolyard pride. If challenged, her dog-eared atlas proved her prowess to name each and every United States dam. For those itty-bitty dams without names in Minnesota’s Hennepin County, she’d rattle off the numbers of highways leading to and across them. It grew to be a crutch to relieve stress.
When her forehead banged the metal hallway door, she shouted as loud as she could, “Help.” Grand Coulee Dam. “Help me.”
Alicia flinched. She sucked the twinge from three right-hand fingertips. “Where are you?” Alicia’s throat ached. “I’m here.” The door’s hot doorknob confirmed that flames, prepared to sear human flesh, lurked inches away. Intensified gray-blackish smoke seeped under her high-rise’s tenth floor door. Sirens outside blared. With each blast, Alicia cursed the ditzy blonde rental agent who pooh-poohed fire emergencies to extol the virtue that higher floors muffled late night street noise.
Alicia rejected all worry about makeup. Neither she nor any other woman needed lipstick at two in the morning for firemen in Darth Vader masks. Her three spaced shrieks inflamed her vocal cords. I’m doomed. Fire engine ladders never extend higher than the seventh floor.
The medical examiner won’t care. With her chest sliced and peeled back, her god-enhanced bar-coded breast assets would wiggle as a synchronized dancing pair on a stainless steel audition tray while her toes dripped water droplets from the corpse washing spray.
Alicia flattened her torso to the floor to breathe in the coolest heated air. Her teary eyes burned. Don’t be hysterical. Gather your wits. Slow your emotions. Lock and Dam No. 4, flow south Ol’ Man River.
A thunderous crash on the other side of the hallway door bounced the floor beneath her body.
“Have the police checked this floor?” The muffled gruff voice goose-bumped her skin.
Looters? Alicia held her breath. A second crash flung her rearward. Smoke billowed.
A gloved hand forced her lower jaw into her upper lip and then the pressure subsided.
Alicia screamed. She shuddered as a sprayed callused hand compressed her cheeks. Alien prickled-skin fingers rubbed as if to probe and scrub the innermost recesses of her skin’s pores. Her paralyzed vocal cords unable to squeak. Her left instep painfully scraped her threshold’s hard lip. Strong powerful hands squeezed her waist.
Alicia wished she could’ve gazed into her rescuer’s heavenly eyes to be smitten forever. His Neil Armstrong bubble helmet temporarily denied her all opportunity.
Muscular arms clutched her tight to connected hoses and the oxygen tank strapped to her rescuer’s chest. They dashed to chilly air beneath a street lamppost. A thin blanket warmed her boobs indented by metal tank edges and braided-hose connectors. She expected the crenated depressions to disappear in two weeks if no scars lasted.
Alicia loved her new South Minneapolis third floor apartment. Macho alpha fireman hero Joel energized her life with her first real dates in two years. True to her Mom’s admonition to save herself for marriage, Alicia’s dates began and ended outdoors, in daylight, to avoid all suggestion of physical contact encouraged by darkness. Her and Joel’s dating length broke her previous longevity record.
It had been a year since her fire escape and Joel’s inspection of her new building before she signed the lease had set her mind at ease. What Joel couldn’t prevent was her loss of her third grade teacher employment nor offer her a solid lead to an elementary vacancy.
Alone in her bedroom, she stretched her fingers above her Dell keyboard to invigorate blood flow. Coy with Joel, she labored in secret to revise her romance novella after a New York City literary agent had scribbled in the margins of her thirty-second rejection letter the first encouraging professional words she ever received. Her fictional fireman, christened Joseph and nicknamed Joe, lived happily ever after with the damsel he rescued from an East End warehouse fire. Alicia prayed the novella would garner the recognition necessary to jump-start acceptance of her full length novel, “A Search Fulfilled.”
Atop her frilly bedspread, Alicia’s cell phone chirped and vibrated.
Alicia’s slipper heels propelled her and the computer desk chair rearward. The chair’s rollers caught her elongated floral-patterned blue nightgown hem. Without last year’s protruding stomach fat, she grabbed flannel and jerked her chair sideways to free her hem.
“Claiborne Lock and Dam, Alabama,” she whispered. The shrill chirps stopped; she pressed redial to connect with her Mom. “Yesss, Mom.” How many times did she have to repeat herself? “I’m applying for a new teaching position. No, Mom. I haven’t given up. Sure, I’ll be home Sunday for dinner.” Alicia bit her tongue. “No, Aunt Agnes shouldn’t bring her card-playing friend’s visiting nephew. Love you, too.”
Connecticut Dam. Mansfield Hollow Dam. Her quirk soothed Alicia’s frustration.
She sighed. Her irritation with Mom had ebbed since her twenty-first birthday. Deep down Alicia realized an embedded uncontrollable grandmother DNA gene governed her mother’s actions. Her diminutive aunt last Christmas nearly burst the blood vessels on Mom’s forehead by asking Alicia if she’d ever visited Le Adult Toys on East Jervis, off East Hennepin Avenue. Mom’s icy glare, and near faint, distracted Aunt Agnes from Alicia’s failure to answer.
With her novella revision fresh in her mind, there wasn’t time to brood about Mom’s latest matchmaking attempt. Mom would never relent. Alicia would bet all the calories in a Dunkin Donut glazed donut dozen, a favorite she’d given up with her diet, that Mom had cajoled Aunt Agnes to bring the nephew.
With her blond hair air-dried from an earlier shower, Alicia hustled to slip into a brown peasant dress and sandals. Joel would ring the lobby buzzer within the hour. She loved his attention, his sweetness. To protect her diet from the salty French fries Joel craved, she’d filled a picnic basket with tuna fish sandwiches and cut vegetables.
Alicia answered the buzzer. “You’re early. I’ll be right down.”
Neither Joel’s puffy gray eyes nor his brief lobby hug lingered. The smoky scent of burnt wood did. Her stomach turned over, over, and over, almost in sync with the fire engine lights she imagined and repressed. A year, and her fire fear never completely vanished.
“I’ll carry that.” Joel’s muscular right arm reached for her picnic basket. “Lake Minnetonka here we come.”
As they turned the apartment building’s north corner for the parking lot, late morning sun beads twinkled on the complex’s swimming pool surface and wherever splashed water collected on the its terra cotta deck. The pool’s ambiance didn’t excite her. Her agreement to Lake Minnetonka saved her from packing the black Lane Bryant one-piece bathing suit since discarded.
Within minutes they were in luck. No picnic table, but a clean grassy knoll dappled with shade beneath a fifty-foot oak. Alicia straightened the Army blanket’s corner after Joel snapped it and allowed it to float to the ground.
“Let’s take a walk,” Alicia suggested.
Joel’s droopy eyelids struggled to maintain the narrowest of slits. “Sorry. Little tired. Fought a four-alarmer into the wee hours.”
While she begrudged his audacity, she accepted his apology. Alicia extracted her portable radio from her picnic basket. As she spun the dial, bits of music, most jumbled, permeated the air until she lit upon easy-listening.
Propped against the oak, Joel muttered, “If you don’t mind, I’ll eat in a few minutes.” He rolled onto his left side.
Alicia bit her lower lip. Her open Harlequin paperback lay upside down beside her. To onlookers, she and Joel appeared to be an old married couple. Like her physician asking her to estimate her pain on a scale of one to ten, she rated her loneliness at ninety-nine. She aimlessly watched two pairs of parading mallards splash into the lake. Nature created romance. How could she write romance if only despair floated through her system?
“Whatcha doing?” Alicia tried to smile through her question.
“Twins baseball is on ‘CCO.”
Alicia squelched her anger as he switched the dial from music to sports, not her thing. During the between inning commercials she expected at least limited conversation. Didn’t happen. In the secret chambers of her heart, where her pride reigned, rational thought of six months of dates with Joel dissolved into emotional nothingness. When Joel snored, she stared at him lying on his back, eyes closed. To be polite, she nibbled on a tuna fish sandwich rather than chance disturbing him with repeated crisp celery bites.
His lips moved. Alicia leaned forward and couldn’t decipher his words until he muttered he’d have her sweaty, pinned against the tree. He didn’t spelled out “have” and Alicia chose to play it safe and not challenge her assault imagery or the word’s definition. She loathed to be a prop to Joel’s ego.
When the nearby church bell chimed three times, she jostled Joel’s shoulders twice. She pointed out the lengthened sun rays and suggested they leave. She entered her apartment with a still heavy picnic basket and the tingle of a lingering kiss on her cheek.
Twice in the next two weeks, Alicia declined Joel’s date requests. His third week telephone calls she let ring without answering.