It's excerpt day! The following is from my new novel, A Chance for Sparks, coming this Spring!
James squinted, taking a moment to truly look at her.
Beryl's black hair was tugged into a tight ponytail. She'd shielded her figure in a snow white sweater, black leggings and ankle boots. The sleeves were tugged past her wrist, hiding every inch of skin, even her fingertips. Her arms were folded tight. Her balance kept shifting. Her striking eyes, in the rare moments they rose to meet his, looked more bruised-violet than true blue.
He'd seen other students addled during finals week, but none who looked like this.
He didn't have time to do anything tonight beyond studying. He knew that. The book in his hands seemed to shout at him—your test is tomorrow! This is no time for distractions!
James shut the book.
“Beryl, I know I haven't seen you in awhile,” his gaze met hers again, “but I could use a glimpse of the sky, and a bite to eat. Do you want to get some fresh air with me?”
He watched Beryl take a tight breath. “Outside?”
“Yeah, that's the fresh part.”
There was a long pause before her reply. She looked behind her, toward the library door and the dark street beyond it. He was bracing himself for rejection when he heard her whisper, “I'd love to.”
James stood slowly. It looked like any quick action might spook her. Worry continued to nag at him.
“Yes." Beryl nodded. "I could use a break with a friend. Only...I do have one request.”
He swung his heavy backpack onto his shoulder. “Anything.”
Beryl's gaze was cautious as it met his again. “Can I pay?”
The university library, which skirted the edge of Soho, was a stone's throw from a red brick bistro. The scent of warm cheese and flash-fried onions clouded the air as they neared the restaurant.
They had other options: halfway down the block was a fancier restaurant with a sign in elegant French. James gestured to both.
“Your pick the restaurant," he said. "You're footing the bill.”
A cold wind was sweeping down the street. Cold slipped through the weave of her sweater. She didn't want anything French, elegant or expensive. She shivered and drew her arms closer, nodding to the nearer bistro.
“Have you tried this place?”
“Not yet.” James squinted, studying the painted marquee. “Looks good. You mind getting your hands dirty?”
Her fingers curled into her sweater. The garment was a lamb white, chenille cowl neck. It was only fit for dry cleaning. She knew he was right, the pub would be messy. It really wouldn't be practical to...
Beryl couldn't bear much more of this worry. Term papers, pop quizzes, drawing portfolios, frayed hems, hot tears, the weight of Micklyn's love, the fire in his temper, the flood of fear she felt over what he might do to himself without her, the numbing fright of what he might do to her if she left, her trail of bruises, the length of her sweater sleeves...
Her head was screaming with worry.
She felt herself jump. James was watching her. His mouth had flattened to a frown. Had the fabric of her cowl-neck sweater drooped? What if the marks were showing? Had he noticed the swelling in her lower lip? She'd iced it for an hour this morning hoping no one would see.
Shame crept up her cheeks in the form of a rosy blush.
She brushed past him, reached for the door and yanked hard.
Beryl hadn't expected to cross state lines by walking through the door. A powder-blue Kentucky flag hung atop the crowded bar. There was an electric outline of a mustang horse hanging against one red brick wall. The bar top was ragged, exposed wood. The air smelled of fries. Each booth was accessorized with a trio of condiments: ketchup, mustard, hot sauce. Bluegrass strummed through the speakers. Most of the small, round tables had patrons.
“Looks a little bit country,” murmured James, tipping off his baseball cap. His long fingers pushed through his brown hair. “You sure you want to eat here?”
She'd dined at every exclusive restaurant in Manhattan with Micklyn: the Ritz Carlton, and the Four Seasons, Fiddler on the Green, the Rainbow Room. She wanted to be a girl who could eat in a place like this. James Talbot was a country boy. He instantly looked at ease here.
“Yes," Beryl said firmly. "I'm certain.”
“Evening.” A round-cheeked waitress with a sleeve tattoo greeted them. “Welcome to the Corn-Skillet. You need a table for two?”
James rubbed his cheek. “Yeah, there's just two of us.”
They were seated at a small table that abutted one brick wall. The portion of the table nearest to the wall had a red leather booth for seating. The opposite side of the table had two rickety chairs.
“You can take the booth,” James announced to Beryl, planting himself in one chair.
“If you want, I can move your place mats around?” offered the waitress. “The booths are cozy. Sometimes couples like to squeeze together.”
The color dripped from Beryl's face.
“No. I'm fine where I am,” James said, settling his backpack at his feet. Beryl slid silently into the booth.
The waitress tapped her pencil against her notepad. “You see the menus? There's food printed on both sides. Today's special is fried chicken, and hickory-smoked pork. The cornbread on the plate between you is yours to enjoy. If you want anything from the bar, I'll need to card you. Otherwise, we have a nice selection of sodas, including a fine New York root beer.”
“Soda's fine for me, thank you,” said Beryl.
“Right.” James nodded, picking up his menu. “I'll have the same.”
“Two sodas, coming up,” said the waitress. “Take your time with the menu, I'm not in a rush.”
Beryl ducked her head. A warm static built in the air whenever she was around James. She wondered if she shouldn't have said yes to his offer, or if they should have just walked until they found a corner hotdog stand. Here, she thought they felt exposed. Micklyn had a fleet of friends, and those friends had active social lives. What if one of them saw her with James?
James was handsome, a baseball player, and well known in certain circles. Even if he was just a friend, anyone might see them together and assume--
She set her menu down, her tense fingers tucking into her sleeves.
“Beryl,” James said, “I feel obliged to say something.”
Her mouth pressed tight. The action stung.
“This isn't a date.” He leaned forward. “It's just a chance to get out of the library. If you want to open up your books, do a little studying, it won't bother me. In fact, I'm planning on doing the same.”
His eyes were a blend of copper and forest green. That gaze was so calm, and honest. There wasn't a drop of tension in him. Slowly, she felt her own fear ease out of her.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
He reached for his backpack, unzipping it. “I have a bear of a test tomorrow, so frankly I'm all for studying.”
“So do I.” She unlatched her own bag, pulling out her books. “What's your test on?”
“Garment patterns, draping and cutting.”
He cast a casual glance at the layer of papers she spread on the table. Each one had a cross-section of measurements and pattern drafts. The edge of his mouth crooked up. “Maybe I've been staring at a math book for too long, but that looks like geometry.”
A smile drifted over her mouth. “They're patterns and measurements.”
“Math with textiles?”
“Oh, no.” She laughed, her nose scrunching playfully. “You'd never have gotten me in the classroom calling it that. Math?”
He grinned. “Want to see something? Check out this calculator.”
He dug into his backpack, sliding it out. It was a large, hefty block.
Her lips pursed. “It looks like you could program a satellite with that.”
“Nope, this is just for graphing.”
“May I see your notes?”
“Sure.” He spun his spiral bound notebook her way.
Beryl's fingers skimmed the page. His handwriting was spare and precise. The complex page of hand-written equations seemed as foreign to her as hieroglyphics.
Still, there was something lovely about the harmony in the lines and numbers. She didn't understand the patterns, but she saw beauty there nonetheless.
“This looks like artwork,” she whispered. “What does it mean?”
“Primer notes.” His head ducked down until it was level with hers. “If you're deciphering the electromagnetic field of a three-dimensional object, in this case a sphere, these are the formulas you need, using some known factors.”
Her dark blue gaze shifted back to him. “This might be a fool's question, but why would you ever need to worry about electromagnetic spheres?”
“There's no such thing as a foolish question. Take the sun, right?” His voice softened.“That's a sphere with a charge.”
“Baseball on the moon again?”
His laugh was soft. So was his smile. “Something like that.”
“So,” the waitress sidled back to their table, “what'll it be for you two?”
Both looked up.
The waitress grinned playfully.
Copyright © 2017 Ella Dement
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
If you enjoyed the abridged excerpt above, feel free to leave a comment!
It's always exciting to share new work. I always feel butterflies when I get near to my release date. There are more butterflies, however, for A Chance for Sparks than for my other pending projects. This is probably because of the seriousness of the subject that runs through the novel. I write romance. This is a romance series from a Christian/Catholic perspective. I was clear that the Chances series would be a romance, but writing Beryl's journey from abuse victim to abuse survivor required delicacy and sensitivity for her emotional journey. I wanted to get it just right. Every other author I know could edit until the end of time. There comes a time, however, when you have to call a project done and release it into the world. I look forward to sharing A Chance for Sparks with an audience soon!
Reception for my shorter romantic novella A Chance for Moonlight (you can purchase it here: A Chance for Moonlight) was overwhelmingly positive. The feedback I received requested one thing: more of Beryl and James. I've chosen to shape forthcoming Chances novels around James and Beryl's relationship. A Chance for Sparks serves as a prequel novel, preceding the events in A Chance for Moonlight. The forthcoming novel, A Chance for Vows will be the sequel.
I have many other projects in the works, but I would love reading any comments about the above novel excerpt.