What did I do last Saturday night?
I wasn’t at martini night…
I wasn’t on the couch watching Outlander…
I read a passage from Colors of Us at Lady Jane’s Salon!
What’s Lady Jane’s Salon? I’m glad you asked!
Here’s a blurb from Lady Jane’s Salon NYC…
Founded in February 2009 by romance authors Hope Tarr, Leanna Renee Hieber, Maya Rodale, and book blogger, Ron Hogan, Lady Jane’s Salon® is New York City’s first–and only–monthly romance fiction reading series. The Salon takes great pride in having hosted such luminaries of romance fiction as Eloisa James, Suzanne Brockmann, and Marjorie M. Liu while also encouraging debut and mid-list authors to “be our guest.” Past and present guest authors represent the full spectrum of the diverse and ever-evolving romance genre from traditional historical and contemporary romances to novels that cross over to science fiction and futuristic, fantasy and steampunk, inspirational and GLBT romance, to name but a few.
My reading took place at a Lady Jane’s Salon® satellite location in a lovely french cafe in Silver Spring, MD.
Pictured from left to right: Merry Bond, me , Ellen Butler, Kastil Eavenshade, P.A. DePaul and Miguelina Perez (Lady Jane's hostess and organizer)
Many thanks to Miguelina Perez, fellow featured authors of the night, and the lovely ladies from local RWA chapters who were in attendance. It was a truly fabulous night.
After considering a few different scenes for the reading, I decided on this pivotal dark moment from Colors of Us…
Max’s words unearthed feelings he’d shoved into the far corners of his mind. Hunter paced the bar like a caged animal all morning until Alex sent him out to run errands. He jumped at the chance to get away from the bar for a while and work off some of his nervous energy. McAvery’s had been his salvation after the accident, but lately, it felt like a prison. It was time to finally move on and away from the city. Too many memories taunted him at every turn. A gust of early autumn wind blew against his face. A fresh start would do him well.
Hunter returned from the bank and corner produce market. Placing the bag of lemons and limes on the bar, he signaled to Mikey. “Put those in the fridge, would you?” he asked.
“Yeah. Hold on, you got a phone message from—” Mikey held up the scrap of paper and squinted. “Max. But she sounded like a chick with a cigar.”
“Maxie?” Hunter furrowed his eyes and grabbed the message. “Did she say why she called?” She never called him. His skin prickled at the back of his neck.
“Nah, but she left her number. Said to call her right away.”
Hunter leaned over the bar, picked up the receiver, and dialed the number Mikey had written on the scrap of paper. One ring after another sounded in his ear as dread dug a hole in his stomach. Finally she answered.
“Where’ve you been? I tried your cell.”
“Left it home. What’s going on?”
“It’s your friend Michelle. She came back this afternoon. Been here for a while, and there’s something not right with her. You need to get down here.”
“I’ll be right there.” Hunter hung up. “Watch the bar. I gotta run out. Tell Alex I’ll be back soon,” Hunter barked at Mikey as he raced out the door, picking up his pace from a fast walk to a jog.
Pushing open the door, his eyes fell on Max behind the desk. “What’s up? Where’s Michelle?” He followed Max’s gaze to the corner of the gym. Michelle’s hair was dark with sweat and stuck to her cheeks and neck. She pummeled the heavy bag with a succession of hard punches. The wires of white ear buds dangled from her ears, reminding him of the way she zoned out when she painted. “What’s the matter? She looks like she’s just focused on a hard workout.”
Max shook her head. “It’s more than that. I stepped behind the bag to check if she was okay. She just looked right through me. She’s in a zone, but a dark one. I’ve seen that look before. Something’s going on. What do you know about her?”
“I know she’s afraid of everything. Her fear rules her life. She won’t take a bus or the subway. Won’t even leave her apartment when it’s dark. I told you I brought her here to teach her self-defense. I’d hoped it would help.”
“Hunter, look at her. She’s punching that bag so hard her knuckles are bleeding. Go to her. Help her.”
As he drew closer, deep bass beats filled the air around her. He didn’t know Yo-Yo Ma’s music, but he’d bet a round of drinks at the bar she wasn’t listening to it. It sounded like some type of hard garage rock. She seemed unaware of his presence. His gaze washed over her reddened face as sweat dripped over her empty eyes.
“Fuck him. I should’ve fought. I should’ve fought back,” she muttered through labored breath.
Hunter stepped behind the bag and waved his hand in front of her eyes. No reaction. “Michelle.” He pulled the earbud wires from her ears.
Stopping for a moment, she curled her fingers into tight fists and continued with an onslaught of punches as though her life depended on her fight.
“Michelle. That’s enough, sweetheart. Stop.” He grabbed her wrists.
“No! I should’ve. I should’ve fought. Back. My fault. It was all my fault.” Her chest rose and fell as sobs wracked her body.
“Shh. Shh. Breathe, it’s okay.”
Closing her eyes, she continued to fight him.
He let go of his grasp and accepted her punches to his chest and arms. Cupping her face with his palm, he brushed the hair from her eyes with his other hand. “Open your eyes, honey. You can do it.”
Open your eyes, honey. You can do it. Visions of the night he said those exact words flashed into his head. He stared at the blood from her knuckles and saw Isabel’s blood rushing from her head and soaking the T-shirt he used to try to stop it. No. Not now. He began to shake. Dropping to his knees, he took Michelle to the floor with him.
He wrapped his arms around her and rocked her on his lap. “You’ll be okay. You have to be okay.”
You’ll be okay. You have to be okay. Isabel’s broken body flashed through his mind. Her limbs were tangled like a rag doll. He refused to look and kept his eyes focused on her face. Gathering her onto his lap, he rocked her broken body. Open your eyes, honey. You can do it.
Her eyelashes flutter and her gaze met his. “Hunter?”
“Don’t worry, I have you.” He brushed away the sweat-soaked strands of hair covering her eyes. Her smile melted his heart. Without thinking, he bent his head and lightly brushed his lips over hers. The salty taste of sweat mixed with tears exploded on his lips. He needed more. Cradling her head in the crook of his arm, he pulled her close and coaxed her mouth open with his tongue.
Her hands snaked around his neck and her fingertips raked through his hair. She parted her lips, accepting his tongue as a soft moan filled his mouth.
He pulled away, cupped her chin in his palm and swiped the pad of his thumb over her bottom lip. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that,” he whispered.
“It’s okay. I wanted you to.” She smiled.
He studied her face for a moment and helped her to stand. “Let’s sit on the bench over there, and I’ll find some first aid supplies and cold water.” Sliding his arm around her waist, he helped her sit before grabbing the first aid box and a couple of water bottles from Max at the front desk. “She’s okay,” he said unconvincingly.
Max’s gaze traveled from him to Michelle. “You sure?”
“She has to be,” he said quietly and returned to Michelle, approaching as she examined her hands.
“I can’t believe I did this to myself.” She wiggled her fingers. Three knuckles on both hands were oozing with blood.
“Let’s take these off first.” He slowly unwound the hand wraps and inspected the damaged knuckles. “You really did a job on your hands. Want to tell me what happened?”
“I don’t know.” She averted her eyes.
He gave her hands a small squeeze and her gaze returned to meet his. “You were talking about fighting back. Was it about the attack?”
Michelle looked down and nodded.
“What the hell happened to you?”
She shook her head.
His hands slid over her shoulders. “Hey, you can tell me. Please.”
Michelle’s gaze slowly met his. Wet lashes formed triangles as she blinked away tears. She took a deep breath. “Two years ago, I stayed on campus after my senior year to take a class I missed and needed for graduation. Everyone had moved out, but they let me stay to finish my class. This guy, a football player, had the same deal. We went out a few times before, but his drinking was out of control, and I told him I didn’t want to see him anymore. One of the last nights there, he saw me at a club and tried to dance with me. He was all over me and reeked of alcohol. I told him to leave me alone, and I left. He showed up at my room that night. I don’t even know how he got into the building.” Michelle hissed as he dabbed the broken skin.
“Sorry, go on.”
“He came to my door, acting all sweet. I opened the door just a crack, and he forced his way in.” She sucked in a breath as though she were fighting for her last. “I told him to leave, but he kept saying I wanted him, I wanted it. I told him no. I. Said. No. But he didn’t listen.” She turned her face, and tears streamed down her cheeks, landing on his hands as he cleaned her wounds. “A security guard making his rounds heard the door hit the wall when he forced himself in. He pulled the guy off me before he could do anything.”
Hunter stopped what he was doing and swore under his breath. “Fucker. Was he punished for what he did?”
“He did some jail time for assault. I had to go to court and face him. Know what he said to the judge?” Michelle’s shoulders slumped, and she averted her eyes to the ground. “He said I wanted it, otherwise I would’ve fought harder.”
“Yeah. Nice, right? The sad part about it is I believed it for a long time. I mean, why didn’t I fight back harder?” She shook her head and a lock of hair fell into her eyes. He tucked it behind her ear with his fingers and cupped her cheek, regaining her gaze.
A weak laugh escaped from her mouth. “I told you I was a fucked-up mess. But here’s the thing. I spent the last couple of years hiding and avoiding because I didn’t think I could protect myself. But something clicked today. An energy coursed through me, and I couldn’t stop it. It just came pouring out.” She pointed to the heavy bag. “I felt strong. For the first time, I have a little bit of my old self back.” She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “I have you to thank for that.”
Hunter carefully dabbed first aid cream onto the cleaned wounds and wrapped each one with a bandage. A battle raged inside him, twisting his stomach into a jagged ball. Who was he kidding—he could clean her wounds and apply a bandage, but he couldn’t be what she needed. He’d disappoint her in the end. He couldn’t save her, just like he couldn’t save Isabel. “You have nothing to thank me for. You did it all. I only showed you how.” He brushed her bandaged knuckles lightly with his thumbs.
“These should heal in a few days. A week, tops. No boxing for you until then.”
She held her hands in front of her face and wiggled her fingers. “I’m going to hit the little girls’ room.”
Hunter’s gaze followed her as she disappeared into the women’s locker room. Scrubbing his hand along his face, he gathered the first aid kit supplies and walked slowly to the front desk. Placing the kit on the desk, he avoided eye contact with Max, who knew him better than he knew himself. “Tell her I had to leave.”
“Hunter. Wait,” Max’s stern voice called as he swung open the door and took a few deep breaths before breaking into a fast jog.
His head spun. Images of Isabel floated in and out of his mind’s eye. She trusted him and he let her down. He’d do the same to Michelle. Fuck. Why didn’t he die instead of Isabel? It was a question he asked himself often. Death would’ve been easier than the prison of guilt he lived in. He escaped sometimes, but it always lurked in the shadows.