Only THREE more days until the release of Two Hearts: Beyond Control, but I’m too excited and just can’t stand to wait. So . . . here’s your chance to read the first chapter for free and before anyone else! (Well, anyone besides my editor, proof reader, and beta readers…)
It’s a pretty long chapter, so I’m splitting it up into thirds–one for each day leading up to release day. Leave a comment below to let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy! ~CJ
Chapter 1, Countdown
The crowd thickened as couples drifted into Elevations’ grand ballroom, gathering for the evening’s main event. Some smiled and acknowledged me as they walked by, but most were too self-absorbed to bother.
My phone buzzed with an incoming text.
So, how’s the party?
I pushed away from the marble pillar that had been my companion for the past fifteen minutes and paced by the doors to the lobby, still searching for Will. Kinda fun, I guess. Better than I expected.
Kendra’s face lit up my screen within seconds.
I turned my back to the band and pressed the phone tight to my ear. “Happy new—”
“You guess?” Her voice boomed through the line. “I sure as hell hope that doesn’t mean you’re standing around, looking pathetic, while your husband’s off . . . doing whatever he does.”
I could always count on my best friend to tell me exactly what she thought, especially when it came to Will. “He’s socializing. And I don’t mind.”
Standing around, away from the crowd, spared me the embarrassment of trying to make small talk and pretending to fit in. Will knew I hated to be alone, but he continued to wander off on his own.
I stretched on my toes, craning my neck to see over the crowd. “It’s just—I don’t know where he is.”
And if he didn’t come back soon, I’d be welcoming the new year alone.
“Look, Danni, if you’re serious about fixing things with Will, you need to hunt his ass down and have your way with him. Now.”
“Okay. Fine. You’re right.” I let out a frustrated groan. “And I am serious.”
The large double doors behind me flew open. An enraged woman in a green dress stormed through, mumbling under her breath. She barreled straight into me, and her drink sloshed over the top of the glass.
“What the—” I checked the front of my expensive new dress, amazed that nothing had spilled on it. “Kendra, I gotta go.” I powered off my phone and waited for an apology.
The woman stopped. She pivoted toward me on spiky heels. Her eyes raked over me, a look of disgust on her face. “Why are you even here?” She waited as though expecting me to answer. Or vanish. When neither happened, she swiped a loose tendril of hair from her face, turned with a huff, and continued on her way.
She was right. I didn’t belong here. I didn’t even want to be here.
I sagged against the cool marble pillar, hating the way I let people unnerve me so easily. Shake it off, Danni. My head fell back. I gazed at the vaulted glass ceiling where hundreds of delicate lights were suspended, twinkling like distant stars. The tension in my shoulders gradually slid away as I got lost in the soothing beauty.
“Hey, babe. Miss me?” Will’s smooth voice floated by my ear.
I turned to lean against his solid chest. “More than you could imagine.” My smile returned now that I was back in his arms. Safe. “I was beginning to think you ditched me.”
Will gave me one of the champagne flutes he’d brought with him. I sniffed the top of the glass and gave him a puzzled look.
“Prosecco. You can’t toast with club soda, Danielle.”
I shook my head, biting back a grin. “You know I decided to stay sober tonight.”
“And I also know you’re overreacting. Come on, I promise one drink won’t hurt you.” He grabbed my hand without waiting for an answer and led me toward the dance floor where everyone else had gathered.
Wide stone archways lined two sides of the grand ballroom, separating the spacious area from several bars and intimate alcoves. We found a spot along the far side of the room, near the folding glass wall and breathtaking view of the snow-covered Pocono Mountains. During the warmer seasons, the wall opened onto a massive patio that overlooked the lake.
I caught a glimpse of our reflection in the glass and barely recognized myself. There I stood, wrapped in the arms of my adoring husband, wearing the most gorgeous dress I’d ever owned. Shimmering black fabric hung off my shoulders and clung to my body in all the right places.
I’d starved myself for weeks to fit into it. I’d even bought one of those exercise videos . . . and used it a couple of times. It was torture, but it sure did pay off.
I smiled, thinking about the sexy black lace lingerie hiding underneath that dress—a special treat for Will later. But I had to admit I’d been enjoying the way it made me feel all evening, just knowing it was there.
Will rocked our bodies to the rhythm of the music. He swept my hair to one side and skimmed his nose along the length of my neck.
“What are you up to?” I laughed.
“You smell really good tonight.” He nibbled a trail from my ear to my shoulder.
A chill ran down my arms. He was a bit drunk, but I loved that he was being playful.
“Just how much have you had to drink tonight?” I teased. Not that it really mattered since he’d arranged for us to spend the night in one of the prestigious resort’s luxurious suites.
“Don’t know. Don’t care either.” He rested his chin on my shoulder, still nuzzling my neck. “Pretty much, I guess, but . . . who’s counting?” He splayed his hand across my stomach, his thumb grazing my breast. “Now . . . tell me that you’re glad we’re here, or I may be forced to find more places to nibble.” He traced his thumb upward.
I jumped and grabbed his wrist, pulling his hand lower on my stomach. My voice was shrill as I admonished him in mock outrage, trying to keep the volume low. “Will! There are people around us.” I glanced to each side, wondering if any of them had noticed, then turned my head to kiss him. “Behave yourself, mister. I’m glad . . .” I paused, taunting him, “to be with you.”
Will’s chest shook with laughter. “Always so stubborn.” He squeezed me tighter.
The music stopped, and a buzz of excitement filled the space. Everyone cheered as Dr. VanBergen crossed the stage and took the microphone from the lead singer. He cleared his throat then began his speech, most of which I tuned out.
My mind wandered as I looked at the faces around me—celebrities, professional athletes, wealthy entrepreneurs. I didn’t know any of them, but some were easy to recognize. They were all here to celebrate the start of a new year.
Not me. Despite my resolution and my plans to see it through, tonight I would say good-bye to the life I’d dreamed of and a decade I’d have rather held on to. I shuddered just thinking about it.
Will pulled away to look at me, his brows pressed together. “You okay?”
I nodded and rested my head against his shoulder, enjoying the way he continued to trace circles on my stomach. “Dr. VanBergen’s a lot younger than I expected. How do you know him?”
“Hm? Oh, that’s VanBergen’s son—Logan. Weren’t you paying attention?” Will rolled his eyes. “Anyway, I don’t know either of them. I met Logan earlier tonight though, and he seems nice. Why?”
I shrugged one shoulder. “I was just looking around and thinking it’s a little . . . surreal, I guess. Being here. I still can’t figure out how you managed to get us on the guest list.”
He kissed my temple. “Don’t worry about it. I wanted tonight to be special for you. Turning forty doesn’t have to be a bad thing, babe.”
Ugh, that “F” word again. From my point of view, there wasn’t anything good about forty. That made it bad by default.
“Thank you.” I snuggled tighter against him.
The large screen behind the stage came to life with a view of the massive crowd gathered at New York’s Times Square.
VanBergen rambled on. “Alright, folks. It’s show time, so let me hear you!”
He barely finished his sentence before the whoops and hollers drowned him out. The countdown flashed across the screen as the ball dropped: Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . .
It was coming, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop it.
“No worries, babe. Everything’s gonna be just fine.”
© CJ Andrews 2016. All rights reserved.