Sample Chapter

SYNOPSIS:

Over the weeks following her disappearance and the discovery of a long-silenced secret, the yellow brick road to Sophia Cavall’s happiness becomes littered with minefields.

Enter Oliver Black and his irresistible persona. He’s strong, caring, and doesn’t question her need for freedom. Sophie is Oliver’s feminine equal—the lioness in his lion lifestyle. She is his eyes and ears, and has his heart in her pocket. They have enough passion to paint the town red with love and a lurking, dangerous rival fears their union is a problem.

The price of fame and a high-profile relationship collides as the media spins a yarn to boost their ratings. Before they know it, the romance begins to falter. Can the two reconcile their opposing views before it is too late or will they lose the greatest love they’ve ever known? A devil of a choice is in order.

The odds are stacked against Sophie and Oliver in this second installment of the Diamond in the Rough series. What is the truth? Who is the real enemy? There’s no two ways about it—ready or not, he will come.

Please note that this is a sample chapter intended for preview purposes only.


Chapter One

Happily Ever Aftermath

TO GET AWAY from it all, Oliver and Sophie head to his waterfront home in Haliburton, Ontario’s Kennisis Lake. It’s a two-story dream cottage with walls of windows sitting on a private bay, ideal for swimming, fishing, and divine sunsets. Boat, helicopter, or walking are the only ways to reach the house. Boreal forests surrounding the lake are dressed in harvest colors of green, gold, and bits of red in a celebration of nature’s brilliance. The air, the ground, and every leaf bursts with autumn tones, and the water is vast and placid within its border of grasses and towering pines.

Trees show us how it’s done.

Allow things to change. Let go of what is dead.

No attachments. No pain.

Nothing lasts forever.

You live. You die.

Fall is a time of great transformation as nature prepares for the harshness of winter. Just the same, for the past two weeks, Sophie has been attempting to heal and become stronger for the day she has to go back and face the world.

Her mind has been playing tricks on her, wreaking havoc, showing her images of John Henry Bridges’s face and various scenes from the ordeal. Funny turns, she calls them, but they’re actually panic attacks. And all she does about it is shake her head, as if the action alone can make things right again. It’s misery, gloom, and wretchedness robbing her of clarity. She knows she’s not in control of her own thinking. Every morning, rain or shine, she bolts like a gazelle fleeing from a lion through the woods until her body aches and all she can feel is the pull of her muscles. We’re always running. Running out of money. Running into the ex. Running out of time. Sophie’s been exercising, not for strength and endurance, but to run as fast and as far as her body will allow.

Oliver says nothing, but he’s noticed a difference in her personality. On the surface, she’s the same girl he fell head-over-heels with. Yet, she’s become someone else completely—a woman of incredible grit. She’s there in body, but changed inside. Oliver helps her through the change, and that’s more than Sophie lets anyone else do. She’s withdrawn into her head, and he knows this because he’s seen her go through enough disasters to recognize her patterns. Each day she tells him a little bit more about what it felt like to be caged in a room without sunlight for days, about her nightmares and fears. Some nights, Oliver refuses to sleep, wanting to just look at her and make sure she’s there in bed with him, and not really still locked up in that storage unit. He caves eventually, when exhaustion gets in the way. Then his own nightmares wake him, and his relief at seeing her resting curled up on her side with the blanket pulled up to her nose comfort him back to sleep.

Sleep escaping them both again late one night, Oliver suggests they go for a walk. They set out to the floating dock, lounge in Adirondack chairs overlooking the soundless water, and tilt their heads back to the radiant white loop in the sky. Sitting under a canopy of stars so bright and seemingly near, it feels like you can reach out and grab them. Oliver muses about stellar evolution. He turns to his side and looks at Sophie. The glow of the moon half illuminates her face.

“You know how stars die?” he says, pensive.

Sophie doesn’t realize he’s looking at her until he speaks. “What?”

“Supernova,” he explains.

Sophie is so far removed from her own personality that Oliver thinks she’s using up all her willpower to keep from tumbling to the ground or showing any indication of weakness. Whatever it is, whatever happens, Sophie is calm. She’s stubborn like that—gloriously, delightfully stubborn—and can keep up the act until the end of things if she wants to. Even though Sophie is determined to make the best of it, Oliver fears she’ll explode like a radiator cap under pressure at some point.

“Massive stars die when they have exhausted their burning fuel,” he says, “and the result is a stellar blast that briefly outshines an entire galaxy.”

“You’ve been watching too much Discovery Channel,” she jokes, returning her gaze to the sky.

“Actually, it was Cosmos on Fox. But give it some thought, stars give out large amounts of energy, and burn and gleam with their diamond brilliance and then…then, nothing.”

Sophie has no clue what hocus-pocus this man is talking about most of the time, or how his mind operates. But it’s wonderful the way he gets her thinking about life.

“When a star dies, it shoots cosmic dust across the universe, and the remains are scattered all over, creating new stars, new solar systems. We are all formed from this rich elemental material. This is our life. This chair. This lake. You. Me.”

“Stardust,” she says, voice low.

“Exactly.”

“So a star died and gave me life, is that what you’re saying?” She glances at him, her eyebrows raised in disbelief. “How tragic.”

“Well, yes. You live because stars died; it’s that simple. It’s not tragic; it’s science. And I wouldn’t just look at it that way. There’s always a different way to see things.”

“How would you look at it, then?”

“There are almost seven billion, billion, billion atoms inside the human body, yes?”

“Uh…huh…” Who even knows the answer to that? Not her, that’s for sure.

“And almost all atoms are formed in atom forges. Otherwise known as stars.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is, Sophie, the stars of long ago are physically a part of us. So, perhaps a millennia ago, someone may have wished upon a star that you are made of.”

Sophie looks at him, his face silhouetted under the radiance of the moon, his eyes the palest blue, and even though the night partially dims his features, she still sees him in a positive light. She moves to sit on his lap, her back against his chest, his chin on her shoulder, his arms around her.

That night, they sit and talk for hours about nothing and everything until the sun comes up.

AS USUAL, THE morning is spent somewhere in the forest of Haliburton. Sophie runs like an Olympic champion wearing only a long-sleeved t-shirt, running tights, and a pair of trainers. Five miles on the trail. That’s the plan. But plans change, don’t they? Four miles down, Sophie deliberately runs off course.

She can hear him racing behind her. Here we go, she thinks. She’s The Road Runner in disguise right before he says, “Meep, Meep” and disappears in a cloud of dust. She pushes herself farther though she’s dizzy, wearing out, and her skin burns from the air of a polar vortex more evil than Stalin. Yes, it’s the Stalin of cold.

Adrenaline shoots to her legs and her feet are flying. A runner’s high, that’s what it is. Euphoria swirling around her, Sophie looks back to see how close he is. She can’t stop. She will run until it hurts, and when it does, run harder. Faster. She turns to look over her shoulder again and trips over a rock, sprawling into a puddle of mud and whacking her head on a stone as she hits the ground.

Sophie groans and closes her eyes, too annoyed with herself. She can feel her legs still pulsating with the sensation of running and her feet are screaming in pain. Her whole body aches badly. Like a giddy hog, she wallows in the mud, nature’s home-brewed Play-Doh. The soupy clay soaks through her clothes. She’s entranced by the sensation. It’s glorious. There’s just something about the woods—the smell of earth, blue jays calling, squirrels up trunks, trees like green umbrellas. New York is home, but it smells like garbage. It’s a concrete jungle of workaholics, overpriced pastrami sandwiches, and rotten fish stenches.

Leaves crunch under footsteps. He’s approaching fast. When Sophie opens her eyes, he is looming over her as she lounges on a pool of manure-like brown paste.

All she can do is laugh. Hysterically. Her heart is still pounding and she feels like she’s breathing in broken glass, but she laughs. It feels good to have fun.

Oliver is outraged and out of breath. “Why are you laughing?”

She looks up at him. “I’m getting faster.”

“Sure, faster, but not any less impulsive. I told you to stay on the trail. I know you’re defiant by nature, but these are dangerous woods. Don’t do it again.”

“Dude, you need to relax,” she says, carefully sitting upright. She wipes a blob of mud from her cheek.

“Dude? Since when do you call me dude?”

“You don’t like dude?”

“Are you feeling all right or did that blow to the head do some real damage? I’m thinking concussion.”

“Fine. I’ll call you homey.”

“Definite concussion.”

“Why are you being such a buzz kill? It isn’t exactly Lord of the Flies around here.”

“No, no,” he retorts quickly. “It’s not Lord of the Flies. It’s Lost meets The Village. The film, not the novel.”

She frowns a little at that. “I haven’t seen that movie. Is it any good?”

“Focus, Sophie. My point is that the forest is crawling with bears and wolves and other wild animals I don’t think would mind having a snack.”

“Ah, right. I’d make a hell of a burrito, don’t you think? Or maybe a hard-shell taco. Would bears be into that?”

“Sweetheart, if you’re going to be anyone’s anything, it’s going to be mine.”

“See? You got my back. Nothing to worry about. I’m good.”

He stares down at her caked head to toe with mud and shakes his head.

“I knew you’d say no to running off the trail. But how else am I going to progress if I run on the same surface all the time?”

He rubs his face with his hands. “Soph, it’s fine that you want to switch up your routine. But why do you have to be reckless about it?”

Sophie holds her arms out to him like a five-year-old wanting to be carried.

He sighs and bends over his knees. He grabs her hand and slides an arm around her waist to pull her up. Irrepressibly playful, Sophie pounces on him like a wild cat, straddling her arms and legs around his neck and hips. She cackles as he grumbles and tries to stay upright.

“Please get off,” he demands politely with his hands in the air to show that he’s serious. “Now.”

At his reaction, she chokes out a laugh. “Don’t be such a grumpy Gus. It’s just mud, baby.” She draws a happy face on his cheek with mud.

He shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath, as if trying not to lose his temper. “Get off me.”

“No can do. Sorry.”

He tries to wiggle her loose, reminding her how much stronger he is. It’s like trying to hang onto a wet bar of soap. How easy it is for him to move her however he wants, except, feet coated with mud have no stability. Oliver slips on the murky puddle, sending them both flying to the ground in one quick swoop.

Heads thrown back, chests heaving, both stare skyward. He rolls to hover over her and as his gaze meets hers, electricity sparks, sending their mouths to curve up at the ends. Both are on a serious high from their run. And when you’re covered in mud, sometimes all you can do is laugh.

“Damn it, Sophie.”

She only smiles at him, because nothing can dim this amusing moment. It’s obvious she adores him.

“You are one crazy woman, you know that?” He puts his arm around her and pulls her to his chest.

She looks into his eyes. “You bet I—”

Oliver covers her lips with his and they kiss deeply before she can finish telling him something he already knows.

Copyright © 2015 Elisa Marie Hopkins. All rights reserved.