Micnight Angel Kindle cover

Angelfire II Quartet, Book 2: Midnight Angel by Karen Wiesner

Return to Karen Wiesner’s award-winning Angelfire Trilogy, where you can read the stories of those secondary characters–and some new faces–in an all-new spin-off quartet. Timeless couples seek out the unconditional love and healing of an angel and the scorching heat of unending passion.

 There are no scars like those inflicted in childhood, and no love like your first. Timeless couples Diane Hoffmann and Mikey Lund, Roxanne Hart and Jamie Dubois, Cherish Stephenson and Ty Foxx, and Sapphire Stephenson and William Decker seek out the unconditional love and healing of an angel and the scorching heat of unending passion.

 

Micnight Angel Kindle coverThere are no scars like those inflicted in childhood, and no love like your first. Timeless couples Diane Hoffmann and Mikey Lund, Roxanne Hart and Jamie Dubois, Cherish Stephenson and Ty Foxx, and Sapphire Stephenson and William Decker seek out the unconditional love and healing of an angel and the scorching heat of unending passion.

Roxanne Hart has endured a jet-set life as a model, living at the height of fashion and luxury, traveling from one end of the globe to the other. She’s allowed the world and those close to her to believe she indulges in as many superficial romances as she wants to hide the truth. But she’s never been satisfied by any of it. The only relationship that haunts her was borne out of a bet and should have been uncommitted and forgettable. Even years after it ended, it’s anything but. The love of her life was like a midnight angel–there and then gone, reality within a dream, every fear realized or the ultimate wish come true.

Jamie “Doobs” Dubois panicked and wrecked the best thing that ever happened to him when Rox told him she loved him during their short, intense interlude as lovers. He’s been a vagabond and rogue all his life, just like his father, and the only siren he’s heeded is that of the water, where he lives on his father’s small yacht and makes his living running charters. Unfortunately, Rox wasn’t the first person he loved that he’d run away from. His deep-seated guilt and transient self-worth have kept him from meeting the son he and a girlfriend conceived when they were just kids themselves. But the realities of shattered love, loneliness, and ultimately death make him see how short life really is and how little is gained by hiding and never reaching for what you want most of all.

Learning that she has cancer, Rox’s priorities shift from everything she has in life to everything she doesn’t. Even as she becomes sicker, she’s determined to do all the things she’s always wanted to so she can say at the end that she has no regrets…like letting herself love her midnight angel, even with the more-than-a-little-likely chance that she’ll lose everything.

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GENRE: Contemporary Romance     ISBN: 978-1-925191-10-3    ASIN: B00U07GNK4     Word Count: 74, 285

Prologue

 

“I love you.”

The words had reverberated around his head since Rox had whispered them in his cabin on the Fair Young Maiden. She’d woken him early to make love and he’d been all but collapsed when she leaned over the bed, kissed his shoulder…and strangled him with her unexpected words before she floated away like a stray dream. Just a dream. A perfect dream of my midnight angel. She couldn’t have said those words–the very ones she knows best would make me run blind.

Since that pivotal event, Jamie Dubois hadn’t stopped to think about what he was doing. He’d made his plans with utmost focus. He’d acknowledged first that he wouldn’t be able to break up with Rox if they were together at the time. He’d want her too much to do what needed to be done. Sure, he’d considered cheating on her just to be done with it. But how would she know about it? Without the evidence, she wouldn’t accept it. The rumors about his infidelity were constant–he had that kind of reputation. But she’d laughed them all off because there’d been no evidence to support the validity of the rumors. She’d been secure in the knowledge that he was hooked, and rightly so.

So if he pretended to cheat on her, he’d be right back where he started from…where he never should have let himself go in the first place. Because the thought of cheating on her had brought something out of him he was still reeling from acknowledging as much as he was from her unprecedented words before departing that morning. I’m not capable of being with another woman anymore. She’s all I want, all I’ll ever want again.

His chest tightened like a steel band was compressing it whenever he considered the ramifications of that shocking sentiment. He’d vowed to never stick with one woman longer than a few dates. He had solid reasons for making that vow, too, ones that hadn’t changed. So what business did he have getting obsessed with Rox and for so long? The almost six months they’d been together had been the best of his life. Until it was too late, he hadn’t realized he was in trouble. No, he’d been too damn happy to think about anything but more of the same for as long as he could get it from her.

Maybe what registered as the worst part was that what they’d shared hadn’t been all about sex for him, as if had been with every single one of the countless other women he’d been with in his twenty-eight years. How could it be simple with Roxanne Hart? They’d known each other nearly all their lives. They’d been best friends for most of that time. They’d had each other’s backs in every sense of the word. He’d relied on her, opened up to her, more than anyone else in the world, and he wanted her to feel the same way about him. He believed she did.

But his libido had gotten him in trouble again. Even as he’d counted her his one true soul-mate for most of his life, she was the sexiest best friend ever. He’d wanted her sexually all the time they’d been friends–and he’d never failed to try to get some from her. She’d laughed him off.

Until that damn bet–a bet I only agreed to because I knew our friendship means more than anything else to her, as it does to me, and I figured a few months of the hottest sex imaginable couldn’t hurt our unshatterable friendship. What actually happened: My soul-mate became my lover, and I’ve never felt more complete and satisfied in my life. I never wanted it to end.

Hell, why did she have to say those taboo words? Why did she have to penetrate a perfect fantasy with reality?

At some point, a plan formed in his brain and it would do the trick, unfortunately. He would make the scenario look like he’d cheated on her with her roommate and close friend, Diane Hoffman, someone Rox was so protective of, she’d go ballistic when she found out. He had to end this the way he should have long ago, but, in the penthouse apartment Roxanne and Diane shared, all he could hear was the sound of the clock ticking so loud, it might as well have been a bomb. Counting down to my destruction. What am I doing? Maybe I should re-think this…

“It’s over. I still can’t believe it,” he’d told Diane to get in the door, and she’d been so shocked, she’d ushered him inside and let him talk his stream of pre-planned bulls*t. That Diane had a crush on him–despite all the years she’d been in a committed relationship with some dude she worked with who traveled all the time–was something he’d known from the first meet with her in college and every single time afterward. She never quite looked him in the eyes, got all shy when he caught her staring at him like a star-struck fan, and he was about to take advantage of the fact that she never seemed able to think straight in his presence.

“She seemed so happy. I just…I can’t believe it,” Diane said, looking bewildered and a little ditzy. “But she’s never been in a serious relationship. She wouldn’t get serious–” Abruptly, she shut up by clapping her hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry, Jamie. I didn’t mean…” Her eyes were wide with horror at seemingly betraying her dearest friend.

“Did she tell you that?” he asked, knowing damn well Rox hadn’t said anything of the kind. Not after she’d said “I love you”.

His gaze went to the clock-bomb in the living room again and he heard the elevator ding in the distance. It was time. Time to seduce Diane, the easy way he’d known how to since practically birth.

“Over,” he said softly, while Diane’s eyes opened even wider. He leaned closer, touched his mouth to hers, and she was so paralyzed with shock, she couldn’t say or do anything to stop him. He’d timed this so perfectly, luckily he didn’t need to continue for long. The front door opened and there was Roxanne, witnessing the whole thing just as he’d intended for her to.

Everything should have moved fast then, but he was stuck in a timeless moment, realizing he hadn’t had any intentions for the past almost six months. During that time, his relationship with Roxanne had become something so much more than he’d ever intended, considered, consciously or unconsciously wanted. He’d been consumed with her–everything, every part. She was so potent, his every waking and sleeping thought had come down to her. Whether they were laughing, talking about anything and everything, fighting like cats and dogs, or making soul-deep love to the exclusion of the rest of the world, she’d become his whole life.

I’ve been living for her. Until she spoke the words–the only words that could have broken this spell I’ve been under–I’ve been oblivious to the reality of how far down I’ve fallen from my own resolute decision to go through life never letting myself become tied down to anyone or anything, whether to a career or a woman. My parents’ relationship taught me that commitment was a four-letter word, one that led straight to hell, and had to be avoided at any cost.

True to his vow, Jamie had graduated college footloose and fancy free with a Masters’ degree in the liberal arts, same as Rox had, though she’d taken hers with honors. He’d enjoyed bouts as a musician, a songwriter, a masseuse, a mechanic, a magician, a mason, the manager of a magazine for a short time, an interim math teacher, and even a minister. And those were only the “M” listings of things he’d done in his life. He’d never held a job down for longer than a few years–in every case except as a rock star, never longer than a handful of months. He’d gotten bored and restless in every area he’d dabbled. Roxanne had never bothered to hide her distaste for his inability “to commit to anything longer than it took to finish a tube of toothpaste”. They’d fought about that more than anything else.

Now I’ve been sharing my toothpaste. With Roxanne. During all this time I’ve been obsessed, we’ve fought more than we ever have in our lives together, in-between intense bouts of loving. And I never wanted it to end. I don’t want it to end even now. What have I done?

The glass-bottle moment he was trapped in shattered at the sight of Roxanne at the door, staring in shock at them. With a cry of dismay, Diane jumped away from him. In the silence destined not to last, Jamie saw his future stretched out in front of him, barren and lonely and miserable without Roxanne. Vow or no vow, he didn’t have a choice about this. He couldn’t live without Roxanne Hart. That was all. Nothing else mattered to him. But he recalled her words that led to their bet: “It’s all or nothing from this moment on.” He’d agreed to her conditions, not caring about anything but getting what he wanted.

I got more than I thought I wanted. Our relationship was nuclear from start to finish. What a way to go.

She stalked across the room with an expression on her face that all but decimated him. Her strength was clearly fueled by extreme adrenaline as she pushed him out the door and down the hall to the elevator, where she shoved him inside. “I won,” she said triumphantly, her hazel-green eyes like fire.

“Won?” he managed, flabbergasted by her attitude. She wasn’t acting like she was mad now. More like she’s bragging. Because she knew this was going to happen.

“The bet. The bet that got us into this whole thing. The bet six months ago. Actually, to be exact, it was five months and twenty-nine days ago.”

She actually smiled at him, confusing him even more. But his brain went to work, remembering they’d been at some boring party, and every other woman there paled compared to her. He’d come on to her, wrapping his arms around her waist, pushing aside the shiny, waist-length mane of hair (it’d been blond then, though sometimes other shades) that had been part of what made her one of the most beautiful woman in the world. Literally. She’d been modeling since college.

“What are you doing, Dubois?” she’d asked that night, shaking her head but not dislodging him while he kissed her neck.

“Coming on to you. What does it look like?”

“Not interested in being a casualty,” she’d said breezily. She’d been fighting off his attempts to seduce her for most of their lives. Their friends believed he’d succeeded, too–that they’d shared an on-again, off-again sexual relationship. Neither of them had dislodged the assumption. But, up until five months and twenty-nine days ago, that’d never been the case. Not even once. “Our friendship is too important. Isn’t it to you?”

“Doesn’t have to be that way. We can be friends and lovers. No one has to get hurt.”

She’d shaken her head. “Monogamy, Jamie. You and I both know you’re not capable of that. You can’t go a full six months staying faithful to one woman.”

“I can. I can with you.” He’d been desperate to convince her. But he hadn’t been thinking about monogamy. He’d been thinking about seventy-two straight hours of transcendentally mind-blowing sex. Finally having this gorgeous, perfect body belong to him, even if not permanently. He’d told himself he hadn’t wanted permanent anyway.

She’d all but laughed in his face when she’d turned to him. “I bet we wouldn’t make it past the weekend, and you know it.”

He’d yanked her close to him until not an inch separated them. “I’ll take that bet, Hart. Put your money where your mouth is. Take the bet. Make both our dreams come true.”

She easily could have laughed again, but she’d looked confused instead. “Let’s get this straight: You’ll willingly enter a monogamous relationship with me. You do know what the meaning of that is, don’t you? Monogamy? As in, the practice or condition of having a single sexual partner during a long period of time? No touching anyone else, not even looking at another woman? Committed. Long-term.”

“You’ll satisfy me completely, baby. I know it.”

“You understand if you cheat, we stop being lovers. For all time. If you cheat, our friendship is over, too. Because I refuse to have anything but the dictionary definition of monogamy with you. It’s all or nothing from this moment on between us, Jamie. Either we’re friends and lovers, or we’re nothing.” She’d taken a deep breath. “I don’t give it six months.”

Maybe if he’d been in a sober state of mind, he would have considered that he’d never seen this confident woman look more nervous than she did at this moment.

“That’s the bet then. We can make this last six months. We both get everything we want. Deal?”

She’d shaken his hand, whispering, “Deal.”

Everything he’d fantasized about for most of his life had come true that night. He hadn’t considered he’d get bored, feel strangled and bail, but that certainty had been there in the back of his mind nevertheless. She had to know it, too. Yet she’d gone through with their bet. Risked their friendship on a wager. He’d wondered occasionally why she’d done it, but he stopped caring. About her reasons. About the bet in general. Each time they were together, he’d understood the appeal of the ball and chain. He hadn’t looked at a single other woman, hadn’t cared to. Oddly, he’d found he was insanely jealous of all the attention she got from the males she inevitably and without fail attracted everywhere they went. Never before had he wanted a woman to belong exclusively to him, the way he did her.

She had belonged to him. That was the headiest part.

She planned this from the start, Jamie realized, staggering inside the elevator. If they stayed together anywhere near the six months of that stupid bet, she must have figured she’d test him at five months and twenty-nine days. She’d tell him she loved him, anticipating his reaction from start to finish as if she’d written him a script. Those soft, whispered words this morning had slipped beneath his vulnerable defenses, after she’d loved him until he was all but boneless. She’s said the only words that would wake him up and send him panicking–doing exactly what she’d known he would in reaction to them.

“You knew what I’d do when you said that this morning,” he said, his mouth so dry, he could hardly get the words out.

She shrugged, her smile lethal. “I knew you’d do something like it.”

She never trusted me. She knew I’d forget to ask a million times why she went through with our bet, knowing it would destroy our friendship, that I’d disappoint her in the end. “God… Rox, I panicked. I–”

He started to reach for her, as natural as breath, the way it’d been between them for almost six perfect months. But she backed away shaking her head and showing a vulnerability that went against her cold and calculated plan. “No, Jamie, I knew you’d do something like this, but it never occurred to me you’d involved Diane. Diane! Seriously? She’s fragile as glass. How dare you involve her in this?”

He closed his eyes, wondering how it was he’d never considered how stupid this plan was until it was too late. “Nothing happened,” he offered, knowing his defense wasn’t the point. He’d only needed Roxanne to see a kiss that never would have gone any further. Diane had been the means to an end, and he knew that was unforgiveable in Roxanne’s mind. She treated Diane like she was fragile as glass. Jamie wasn’t convinced she actually was.

Roxanne Hart, stubborn and as unyielding as a diamond, will never forgive. She’ll never forget this…

But he had to try and again he reached for her. “Listen to me, baby, I was reeling when you said those words.”

“‘I love you’? Yes, the most violent, dangerous words on the planet.”

He couldn’t help it. He flinched when she spoke the three words again, but he also accepted that he’d never wanted to hear them from someone, never wanted so badly for this particular someone to mean them.

“I was reacting in shock. That’s all I’ve been doing since you said that, Rox.”

“You must have been pretty damn sure of what you had to do to get me out of your life, Jamie. Think about that.”

“No.”

“Yes. The past few months have been the best of my life.”

“Mine, too.”

“No. This wasn’t real for you. This wasn’t anything more than some blind fog. You haven’t changed at all. For me…I haven’t changed either. Not in all these years, not since I was kid, growing up with my aunt. You know best what bothered me most about her. It’s because of the way she lived her life that I knew I could never give myself to anyone–not even superficially. Yeah, I know that’s not my reputation. Sex meant nothing to me, ever. I didn’t want it. I didn’t have sexual needs until we were together. I was a virgin our first time–I didn’t bleed because you were too aggressive, like you assumed. It’s because I was a virgin. I wanted everyone to think the opposite of what’s true. That I was a prowler like you. I planned it that way. I didn’t want anyone to know the truth.”

Jamie wasn’t in any state of mind to understand the complex thing she was talking about, yet his first thought was, Especially me? You didn’t want anyone to know the truth about your reputation? Especially me?

And then nothing made sense. Roxanne did have a reputation for being as much of a prowler as Jamie had been all his life. For the first time, he considered that it didn’t make any sense for her to be sexually loose. She’d spent her life adamant that she wouldn’t end up like the aunt who raised her. If Jamie had heard it once, he’d heard it a billion times how Aaliyah had pretended to be in love every ten minutes to justify her voracious sexual appetite.

Did Roxanne set up the impression she was sleeping around all the time so I wouldn’t know our friendship wasn’t just friendship for her? Why? Why in hell would she do that?

But the answer to that question came as easily as breathing. Because I’m too immature, too unwilling to give anything of myself but whatever I require to get what I need at the moment. I’m too scarred by my parents’ insane marriage and divorce. Rox knew our relationship would never be about her–it was always about me. She knew me better than I know myself. She protected herself as long as she could.

That conclusion led to all kinds of new questions. She’d been the one to set the condition of their bet: All or nothing. Friends and lovers, or nothing, forever. Why make that rule with him? If Roxanne didn’t love him the way she’d claimed that morning and had only said the words to jar him out of the blind fog he was in, only said them to win the bet…

No, that’s not logical. The only way those words this morning make sense is if they’re true. She really does love me. Maybe she always has. And she didn’t want me to know it because she knew I could never do “all or nothing”. She risked our friendship for love, but she had to realize the whole time I would screw it up. That’s all I’m capable of.

“I kept thinking maybe someday you’d grow up, Jamie, and realize you felt the same about me. But seeing your reaction… Tonight’s the last straw. You never had any reason to make that life-vow, you know. You think freedom is happiness, but it’s the opposite. You think anyone or anything holding you down will bring you pain. The kind of pleasure you’re seeking won’t last and it’ll make you empty eventually. The only things that could save you were the very things you’ve run away from all your life: love and loyalty. I’ve given you both. You don’t want either. I should have known that, but I didn’t want to believe it.”

Instinctively, Jamie tensed, waiting to hear her tell him he was wasting his life instead of exploring it fully, the way he always claimed he was doing to justify being a vagabond.

“I saw your reaction this morning, tonight, and just now, Jamie. You got exactly what you wanted. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s the story of your life. I hope it was worth it.”

Roxanne Hart loves me. She has for far longer and in deeper ways than I’ve ever let myself consider. She’s given me everything. What did she get out of this beyond being right about me? I’m not sure she considers that a victory.

“It’s not worth it, babe. I reacted. I was stupid. But I have changed. You changed me. I don’t want this to end. I want to be your lover, but if you don’t allow that…don’t withhold your friendship, Rox. We’ve been best friends all our lives. That’s too precious to lose. You wouldn’t let that go.”

She was shaking her head even as he stepped into her personal space and attempted to slip under her defenses. He kissed her and, for a long minute, he thought she’d allow it. That she’d give in the way she had without fail during these perfect moments they’d had together.

He recognized the instant she stopped giving in. She wouldn’t forgive him. He’d crossed the line that seemed so black and white now but never had been before. I risked our friendship–I didn’t consider that iron bond capable of being broken, but she warned me. I can’t say she didn’t warn me.

“I love you, Roxanne.” Funny how those words didn’t choke or strangle him, the way he’d always assumed they would–in word and deed. They felt real, right. Too little, too late. “I don’t know why I didn’t realize it until now, but I’ve loved you all along. When you said them, I woke up to the truth. Isn’t that what you wanted? That’s why you said them this morning, isn’t it? Say them again. Now. I won’t push you away. I’ll never let you go again.”

“So easy to say that now, isn’t it, Jamie? Because you don’t want it to end. But give it five minutes. You’ll change your mind. You’ll want out. And where will that leave me? No. I gave you the condition and you accepted it then. All or nothing. You chose nothing.”

He clenched his hands as she turned away from him. What was pride? An impediment to getting her back. He felt desperate to do that, even if it meant using her feelings to do it. “You love me,” he said loudly. “You said it yourself, Rox. Was that what the bet was about? Is that why you went to the same college I did? Because you wanted to keep our friendship going? Because it meant something to you? Because you love me and you have practically all our lives?”

How unfair those words are. To her, the one person I’ve counted on to be there for me as long as I can remember. She’s always been loyal to me, always been there for me when I need a friend. Need more. She takes care of me. She makes the world right when everything looks like s*t, everything but her. She’s all that matters. And everything will change now.

“Even if I did love you, Jamie, now I hate you just as much.”

“I’ve changed. I can change.”

“So can chameleons.”

“I have changed. Tell me you haven’t seen it. Everyone we know has seen it. Give me a chance.”

“I did. I gave you a chance. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to take that risk? Because deep down I’ve never doubted you would do this and that our friendship would end. I knew once I gave myself to you, it would be all or nothing for me. I took a risk and lost everything in order to give you a chance to prove me wrong. Now I can’t go back because this will always, always be between us. Enjoy your freedom.”

He didn’t miss the tears in her eyes or the fact that the best thing that had ever happened to him was now lost to him just when he’d realized she was the heart and soul of his life.

What’s left beyond emptiness I no longer know how to fill?


One

 

Four years later

 

“The cancer is back.”

Roxanne looked at her doctor, feeling every ounce of the effusively upbeat ignorance that’d been her chosen mindset at the beginning of this day drain from her. Regardless of the symptoms she’d passed off as little more than the flu and her imminent period, she’d believed this visit would be no different from the others since she’d undergone radical trachelectomy surgery last July. Dr. Benson will have good news for me, she’d told herself over and over until she believed it.

“But everything was fine when I was here last. I was still in remission.”

Dr. Benson took a deep breath, her face filled with the sympathy Roxanne had learned to hate. “You said you’ve been feeling fine since you were last in. Are you sure?”

So easy to lie. Lately, I even find it easy to lie to myself. “How can I not be sure? Of course I’m sure.”

“You haven’t felt ill in any way?”

Roxanne averted her gaze, saying defensively. “I had the flu. It went away. And I’m getting my period. I always feel crappy just before I get it. You know that.” Back in March of last year, she’d come in for her annual pap. Other than flu that came and went, in various degrees of severity, and her period being bothersome in its heaviness and pain infliction, she’d had no symptoms. But those were my cancer symptoms then… Dr. Benson is saying those were the telltale symptoms that it’s back now.

“When was this? Recently?”

Roxanne nodded, fixing her gaze on the large windows behind her doctor. The sun was shining as brightly as it’d been the day of her surgery, and she’d reminded herself constantly then that she was going to beat this thing. Cancer wouldn’t kill her. She would kill it. She was doing what she had to in order to ensure that she could get pregnant in the future. In the process, the cancer would go away and would never darken her door again.

“Roxanne, we discussed before how radical trachelectomy surgery wasn’t the treatment option I recommended. Even with this option to retain your reproductive abilities, the chances you’ll get preg–”

“There was a chance!” Roxanne insisted sharply. “There was no way I would kill any chance at all with a hysterectomy.” But I tried. I tried as often as I could to get pregnant after the surgery. Why didn’t I try more? The answer wasn’t long in coming. I only went when Jamie was alone, when no one else would see me slipping in, when he could tell himself in the morning that he’d been dreaming because I was always long gone after I slid into bed with him in the dark of his cabin and we made love as if…

But it couldn’t be about that between us anymore. I went in, did what I had to, and got out. I couldn’t risk going through the horror again, having everything I ever dreamed of happening, seeing the spark of hope that I could have what I spent most of my life wanting. Jamie wasn’t an option…but he was my only option. I should have gone through with it more often. Because, even if we weren’t together the way I always longed for, I could have had a child if I’d gone more often, during my most fertile times. His child. As always, that thought burned her as fiercely as acid. She pushed the scarred memories away.

I could have chosen someone else… William. But how could I ever do that to him? Not after he was there the times I lost everything, wanted nothing more than the pain to end in death… No. I went back and forth with my choices, and that’s why I was so careful and selective about when I went to Jamie. But now… It’s too late again. It’s all over.

God, I can’t be right back where I started from, with fewer options.

“Having a radical hysterectomy, combined with chemotherapy, may be your only option now, Roxanne.”

“There must be another way…so I can have a baby someday. So we don’t have to rule that out so summarily.” Roxanne’s words felt old, as if she’d uttered the very same ten billion times before. She didn’t even have to think about them to voice them. The desperation inside her was screaming as shrilly as a fire alarm.

“Roxanne, your medical history is against you, and you’ve known this from the start. You have no other options.”

Death. Is that an option preferable to resigning myself to a future of never having a child of my own, never having the love I was destined to lose from the off? Yes, death has always been my choice. More often than not, I stayed alive for those I love instead of for myself.

“Aren’t you the one always saying just because my mother and aunt died of cervical cancer doesn’t mean I will?” Roxanne asked in a whisper.

“Be that as it may, we need to get started on your treatment right away. The cancer is back. If it’s advanced beyond the stage you were in before your surgery, there’s no time to wait.”

Dr. Benson’s voice faded into the background as Roxanne faced the hysterectomy her doctor had advised six months ago as the safest option. “There’s still hope,” Roxanne had said over and over, just as she was saying now. But a radical hysterectomy? My life decided. No child. No legacy. No one to love with every ounce of my being. No one to love me the same way. Sickness. Horrifying poisoning with chemotherapy. Then death. Those are my choices. Not a choice. A sentence.

“I’m going to schedule your follow-up appointment, Roxanne. For now, go home, tell your friends and loved ones, and come to grips with this. The sooner we get started, the better chance you’ll have.”

Roxanne didn’t remember leaving her doctor’s office, dropping onto an empty bench outside. She couldn’t function, and she closed her eyes, contradictorily warmed by the brilliant sunshine and so cold, she couldn’t stop shivering. All her regrets rose up inside her, starting with the most recent ones. She’d tried to make her agent happy lately, and she’d thrown herself back into her modeling career as soon as she’d recovered sufficiently from the surgery. She had a lot to make up for in that regard.

From the start of her career in college, she’d gotten a reputation for not following the rules, whether written in stone or unspoken. When she’d purposely skipped what would have undoubtedly been the most important show of her career–the Christian Dior Haute Couture show in Paris, which would have catapulted her into supermodel status–in order to have the surgery that she’d believed fervently would not only save her life but ensure her reproductive capabilities, her agent had been beyond furious with her. Sure, she’d been negligent and uncaring about the whole scene before that, in Patricia’s all-knowing opinion, making decisions on a whim, but this had been the height of her rebellion.

Roxanne had shrugged off her concerns. She’d done what she had to in order to keep her friends in the dark. They had a tendency to hover and worry, and she hadn’t wanted them to do either. Besides, she expected to survive, and why tell them and ensure they wouldn’t give her a moment’s peace? Before her recovery from surgery, she’d also shaved her head in preparation for the chemotherapy Dr. Benson had said she may need to endure if the surgery wasn’t completely successfully. Luckily, that hadn’t been necessary, yet her shaved head posed a problem. Unfortunately, her whole career as a model, she’d refused to wear wigs. Why would she? She had the kind of hair most models would kill for. If she had, though, maybe no one would have questioned her wearing one. By shaving her head and forcing herself to wear a wig, she’d hoped that if she ever did have to undergo chemo, her friends would believe any lie she told about why she was wearing a wig. Instead, the wig had worried them even more.

Reaching up, Roxanne felt the shoulder-length hair that’d grown back in during the past six months. After almost a lifetime of waist-length hair, the stylish bob hairstyle with long bangs made her want to cry each time she looked in the mirror. Her hair had been her crown. She’d been wearing so many wigs lately because the magazines and photographers wanted her to have her old hair.

“Having a radical hysterectomy, combined with chemotherapy, may be your only option now.”

Even this much hair would soon be gone again. But now my friends won’t be surprised that I’m wearing wigs all the time–for modeling, I’ll tell them.

I don’t care about modeling anymore. I’ve never really cared about it. It was something to do, something to pay the bills. And, after the surgery, it seemed like I would live again, that my life would be worthwhile, so why not continue? I thought I had time. Time to make amends. There is no more time, no future. All I have are my friends…and regrets. 

Bent over her knees, Roxanne closed her eyes, and Jamie’s face filled her with agonizing memories. If only he didn’t know her so well, know all the secrets that had tormented her all her life with a mother who didn’t love her enough to keep her, and an aunt who’d tried to love her and couldn’t, no matter how hard Roxanne tried to make her. I thought Jamie loved me the way no one else could. Why did I believe he could change? Why did I let myself trust that our friendship, if nothing else, meant something to him? When it ended the way I should have realized it had to…if only I hadn’t mis–

Her cell phone rang, making her jump. Breathing hard from the startle, she pulled the device out of the zip-pocket of her leather jacket. Diane’s picture was on her screen.

All that matters now are my friends. Their happiness. And Diane is finally ecstatically happy with Mikey Lund, another of my closest friends. Maybe I can give myself some credit for just the right amount of matchmaking there. Barely five months after I pushed them together, they’re married and expecting their first child. I don’t have to worry about either of them anymore.

Roxanne forced herself to straighten and put a smile on her face as she answered the call. Diane and Mikey had been calling her almost non-stop lately, worried about her because she hadn’t been in touch with them much as she tried to rebuild her career for God only knew the reason.

Without defense, she took her friend’s scolding. “Where are you, Roxanne? Are you okay? We’ve been calling and calling and you never answer your phone anymore.”

“My agent’s required appropriate penance for my screw-up last July. So I’ve been working a lot all around the world. I’m sorry I haven’t called you back.”

“That’s all that’s going on?” Diane asked suspiciously. “You’re okay? You’re really okay?”

I’m going to die. I’m only thirty-two. I’ve done nothing with my life. What do I have to show for myself? “I’m fine. You never need to worry about me, babe. You know I can take care of myself.” Diane wasn’t the type to push because she couldn’t deny how well Roxanne took care of herself. “So what’s going on there?”

“Nothing. Except it’s New Year’s Eve and we always spend it together. Everyone all together.”

Diane and Mikey, Darlene and Jace, Savvy and Brett, Cherish, and him.

“Savvy and Brett are hosting this year.”

It’d become something of a tradition–since their majority were now married with families–for one of them to host while they chose one “babysitter” who refrained from drinking to watch all the kids.

The silence stretched as Roxanne forced herself to think about Jamie the way she’d tried so hard not to since he hurt her beyond repair, beyond recovery. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, Jamie had undergone a complete life transformation during the five months and twenty-nine days they were together, and he had even more since their break-up. Though he’d eventually fallen back into his old sexual addictions that included sleeping with as many different women as he could, as often as he could, without a shred of commitment to even one of them, he hadn’t given up on telling her he loved her and wanted to be with her alone during their brief sexual encounters over the years. How could she believe it, beyond that Jamie Dubois didn’t say he loved anyone–not even his father and mother or any of his closest friends? He’d spent a lifetime removing the word “love” from his vocabulary. Yet he couldn’t stop saying the words to her in the last four years whenever she slipped in and out of his bed like a midnight angel, or whenever he cornered her at a mutual friend’s. For that reason alone, she avoided their friends in order to avoid him.

Though asking was unnecessary, she did anyway. “Will he be there, Diane?” She’d found saying his name difficult since their break-up, but now the anger and pain behind her emphasis felt thin and not quite real anymore. I’m not asking this time so I can avoid seeing him at Brett and Savvy’s. I’m asking so I can see him there.

“Oh, Roxanne, I’ve been trying to call and tell you, but I couldn’t get hold of you. Honestly, I didn’t know if you’d really want to know this.”

“What? What’s going on?” she asked in alarm, feeling the mirror devastation she’d experienced after Dr. Benson had said “The cancer is back”. Not Jamie, please God, nothing bad with Jamie…

“Jamie’s dad died a few days ago. He’s been devastated and we haven’t seen him much. Jamie never leaves the Fair Young Maiden.”

Roxanne opened her mouth, unable to hold back the gasp of shock. Jamie’s father, Abel Brown… What is his real name again? Jamie’s mom started calling him Abel Brown long ago, and not as a compliment, but somehow the name stuck and everyone calls him that now. Who can remember his real name anymore?

“Oh, where am I goin’ to sleep tonight? sez Abel Brown the sailor. You can sleep upon a mat, cried the fair young maiden.”

Daniel. Daniel Dubois. And Violet started calling her sailor man Abel Brown because of the sea shanty about the young sailor relentlessly trying to share the bed of every fair young maiden. Violet called him that because Abel spent his life sleeping with every woman he could seduce, regardless of having a wife. He and Jamie were cut from the same cloth.

Roxanne had known Abel as long as she’d known Jamie himself. She loved him as a father figure she’d never had, not really. She’d never known her own father–presumably some one-night stand her mother had indulged in and never seen again. Abel never treated her like a daughter, of course. He was too much of a rogue to do that. Though he was far too old for her and knew she’d never be interested in him, he’d flirted with her constantly every single time they were together. Roxanne had laughed off his completely unserious “in love with you, darlin'” laments. But the fact was, he loved her. She loved him. Even after she and Jamie broke up, she’d continued to see his father whenever Jamie wasn’t around. She’d made a point of only visiting Jamie in the middle of the night when Abel was out of sight and wouldn’t catch her. She’d never wanted to disappoint him, let alone give him false hope.

“What happened?” Roxanne asked almost too softly to be heard. “I can’t believe it.”

“Something with his heart,” Diane said. “Sudden. Not something long-term.”

Abel, dead. Jamie had been close to both of his parents, even though a part of him would never forgive either of them for destroying his perceptions of love and commitment during their tumultuous marriage. He would be devastated by this. He and his dad had shared a grumpy-never-share-your-feelings relationship. Abel had been hard on his son after he lost Roxanne, because of his “drifter” path in life (despite all the years the two of them had been working together on Abel’s fishing boat), but they’d been fiercely loyal to each other. They wouldn’t hear of anyone else insulting the other.

“When’s the funeral?”

“Next Friday.”

Roxanne took a deep breath. Regardless of what was happening in her life, she would have to go to that funeral. Violet would never forgive her if she didn’t. Abel and Violet had divorced when Jamie was only fifteen, but their violent fights had stopped with their sundering. In an odd way that Violet’s new husband was forever jealous about, maybe rightly so, the two had become even closer.

I have to go to the funeral. How can I not? And I have to go for Jamie. He’ll be so lost without his dad. Maybe I shouldn’t care about that, but I can’t help it. He needs me.

“Can I call you later, Diane? I…I wonder if Violet called me and maybe I should call her.” She couldn’t admit to Diane what she was about to do–if she could get herself to go through with it.

“Sure,” Diane said in wonder. “Call me later, okay? I mean it. Are you coming to Savvy and Brett’s tonight?”

Roxanne nodded though her friend couldn’t see her. “I think so. And I will call soon. I promise.”

As soon as she hung up, her phone rang again. This time her bodyguard whom she’d known since college and been aware of his infatuation with her at least that long, William, was calling. “You ready to go?” he asked when she answered.

Roxanne tensed the way she did so often with this man. More than anything, she wanted to tell him to go and have a nice life–without her. But she knew that would devastate him. He’d been alone all his life, the newborn son of a drug addict who hadn’t cared about anyone, not even herself or her child. The few times he’d talked about his upbringing, he’d dismissed his feelings about any of it with the words, “You can’t lose something you never had to begin with.” Translation: You can’t get hurt by something you haven’t invested anything in.

She’d met William at Columbia University, and though he’d dropped out after the first year because he couldn’t afford it, their friendship had continued. Eventually, when her modeling career took off enough to warrant the job, he’d become her personal bodyguard. He didn’t have any other friends, no family, and Roxanne knew of no women he could call lover, girlfriend, let alone wife in all the time they’d known each other.

Jamie and William had hated each other at first sight–because of her, no doubt about it. But the fact that William considered her the only person in his life who mattered had been both a blessing and a curse for her. She wanted to take care of him–who wouldn’t? He was a grown man, but he’d felt so little love in his life, anyone would want to show him how much he mattered. Unfortunately, their friendship was just enough proof to him that someday maybe he could convince her to love him the way he loved her. Without Jamie, maybe she could have, too.

Her career was important to more than just her agent, and Roxanne realized that more often than ever now. If she wasn’t a model, William wouldn’t consider taking money from her. Countless times, he’d said he only wanted to take care of her; didn’t want to be paid for that. This despite the fact that she hadn’t told him anything about the cancer, even during the time of her surgery. She’d been asking him to drop her off a few blocks from the hospital–on a completely different street so he couldn’t make the connection to where she was really going–but she’d begun to think he suspected more than he’d let on.

“I’ll meet you in the place you dropped me off.”

She got up and walked there, not surprised to see he was already there waiting for her–maybe had never left to begin with when he dropped her off.

Forcing a smile, she slipped into the passenger’s seat of the car, finitely aware that if he ever did find out the truth, he would feel responsible for whatever the outcome was. She didn’t want that.

“You okay?” he asked, his deeply tanned, handsome face covered with the same colored hair that covered his head in a close buzz cut that heightened his masculinity. He was six-four and worked out six days a week to keep himself in shape to be her bodyguard. As a bodyguard, he had no equal, and frequently she’d had other models inquire about whether he was for hire. Though she suspected his looks had a lot to do with that, he’d protected her aggressively in her career–not allowing the paparazzi to destroy her privacy anywhere she went, especially when she was home in New York.

“I’m fine. Any bloodhounds?” she asked of the reporters that’d been sniffing around more than ever since her bad-girl stint, shrugging off the Christian Dior event last July.

“I took care of it.”

Roxanne nodded, trying to avoid William’s beautiful, beseeching eyes. They were like lasers sometimes and she worried he could see right inside her mind with them.

“What do you wanna do now?”

Her internal struggle warred for longer than was wise, and she could feel William’s tension mounting in the silence. Finally, she said softly, “The Fair Young Maiden.” Abel’s prized yacht. She turned to see William’s expression alter from worry to passionate, insane hatred.

“Don’t lecture, William,” she murmured. “His dad just died.”

“Yeah, I heard.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It was in the paper.”

“You know I don’t read the paper,” she said, wishing he’d just do what he always did–whatever she wanted, whatever she needed.

“What? And now you have to be there for him when he was never there for you. He knocked you–”

“William, just don’t…”

She shook her head, unable to continue. When she turned to the passenger window, he fell silent, no doubt fell into worry about her for another reason this time. But he started the car and pulled out into traffic.

“What are you doing for New Year’s?” she asked when they neared the pier close to Abel’s yacht, knowing her upbeat tone came off sounding tinny.

William shrugged, the way she expected. He didn’t care about things like that. If he couldn’t be with her, he’d either be alone or down at Knuckleheads, the obnoxious biker bar he spent most of his time when he wasn’t with her. His penchant for being at the top of his form was in constant conflict with the drunks he always seemed to be sleeping off when she called him and he refused to consider an impediment to being there for her.

“It’s New Year’s Eve. We’re all going to Brett and Savvy’s. Why not come?” Roxanne had been trying since college to get William as a “regular” in their group, but, since meeting Jamie, he’d refused to do more than make occasional appearances–and all of those only if Jamie wasn’t around. “And before you say anything about Jamie, Diane says he hasn’t left the boat since it happened.”

William sighed. “I’ll consider it. You go ahead. I’ll stick around here until you’re ready.”

“No. William, you go ahead. I’ll call you later. Maybe I’ll see you at Brett’s?”

He didn’t speak, and she knew he wanted to warn her against what she was about to do. Roxanne couldn’t help herself. She kissed his cheek, not lingering but pulling back to say, “William, please, there is something you can do for me. Go out. Get laid. Forget about this self-enforced responsibility you feel toward me. I want you to be happy.”

The one thing she didn’t say that they both knew she was thinking was, “Because I’ll never be the woman to make you happy. As long as you’re in my life, you never will be either. Let go of hope on that count.” But he would only do the opposite. Because ‘no other woman’ wasn’t the one he wanted, he would hold out hope for that unjustified, foolish reason.

Roxanne forced herself to get out of the car and walk down to the pier toward the slip where the Fair Young Maiden was docked. She didn’t look back, but she knew William would stay here until he could no longer see her, until he considered why she was here–to be with Jamie, his rival and arch enemy. Then he would leave. Go to Knuckleheads. He would probably show up at Brett and Savvy’s already half blitzed. If Jamie wasn’t there, he would slow down at her request. If Jamie was there,…oh, God.

Why am I here? What am I doing or hoping to do?

She didn’t have an answer. Abel was dead. I might be dead soon. Why does this–where Jamie is sure to be, where I know he’ll be after losing his dad–seem like the only place left for me to go?