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My Beloved Past

By Anne Marie Citro


Published by Anne Marie Citro at Smashwords.

Copyright 2018 Anne Marie Citro

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for the recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Editing by: C&D Editing

Cover created by: Ravenne Villanueva

ravennedesign@gmail.com


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and events portrayed in this book either are from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, establishments, events, or location is purely coincidental and not intended by the author. Please do not take offence to the content as it is fiction.


Trademarks: This book identifies product names and services known to be trademarks, registered trademarks, or service marks of their respective holders. The authors acknowledge the trademarked status in this work of fiction. The publication and use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.


This book contains mature content not suitable for readers under the age of 18. This book contains content with strong language, violence, and sexual situations. All parties portrayed in sexual situations are over the age of 18.


Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Chapter 1: Wonder Woman

Chapter 2: Lying While Falling

Chapter 3: Shattered Kitten

Chapter 4: Sasquatch in Heels

Chapter 5: Trusting Bear

Chapter 6: You’re on My Side

Chapter 7: Love Spaghetti More

Chapter 8: Jason

Chapter 9: Shit List

Chapter 10: Puppeteer

Chapter 11: Once Upon a Time

Chapter 12: Madonna Syndrome

Chapter 13: Six Markers

Chapter 14: Pain of a Heart Attack

Chapter 15: Smuggling Motts Clamato Juice

Chapter 16: Whip It Out

Chapter 17: Hot Bum

Chapter 18: Old Baboon

Chapter 19: Working for The Mob

Chapter 20: Can’t Be Friends

Chapter 21: Perfect Match

Chapter 22: If I Were in Your Shoes

Chapter 23: Probability of Chance

Chapter 24: Loved That Much

Chapter 25: Fight for Survival

Epilogue

Thank You

Acknowledgements

Sneak Peek

Sista’s Series


Under Her Wings

Lyrics Heart & Soul

Thicker Than Blood

Breaking Down My Walls


Dedication


To my sister-in-law, Sandra


For the first time since I started writing, I named a character after someone I know. Sandra, I chose your name because you are an inspiration to me. I admire and respect how you opened your heart and your arms to a daughter not born to you. You made all the difference in her life. She sings your praises as an adult because you never made her feel like she wasn’t one hundred percent yours. You respected her mom; therefore, respecting her right to every part of her family.

We all have opportunities to make someone’s life better, but we often don’t. I have watched you embrace, nurture, and love a little girl whose life you changed, just like the character I named after you.

Unconditional love is rare and beautiful, just like you!


Chapter 1

Wonder Woman


Jake sat at his usual bench in Huron Park, closing the notes he had been studying on his tablet to look at the time. Six forty-five a.m. She would be here any minute now.

Right on cue, the tall brunette veered around the corner and entered the park, jogging like she did every morning.

Today she was wearing the mid-calf black running pants with a diagonal neon pink stripe running from her full hips to her knees. She also had on a pink sports bra that peeked out from under the black, skin-tight tank she wore.

The woman was tall, maybe five-eight or nine. Her long, luscious, deep-brown hair was pulled up into a high ponytail that bounced from side to side with every step she took. Her skin was a flawless bronze. She had high cheekbones, beautifully shaped dark eyebrows, and full, kissable lips.

Jake had recently seen Wonder Woman on Netflix and swore she was Gal Gadot’s identical twin. He would bet his last dollar she had dark brown eyes. Even covered in sweat, she was incredibly sexy. Actually, she was probably more so because that just led his mind to other activities in which she could be sweating.

Jake was waiting for one of his young employees. It was something he had started doing a month ago when he couldn’t sleep. That had been the first day he had seen the gorgeous jogger.

Every day, he saw the same people at the same time walking past him. Before coming to this park, Jake had no idea how habitual people were.

Right on time, an older couple, both probably in their seventies and both with canes, had walked by at six twenty-five a.m. He had to give it to them for trying to keep fit in their golden years. They were followed at six-thirty by an Asian man, who swung his arms back and forth, propelling his next step. Crossing his path at six thirty-three was a middle-aged woman who reminded him of his mom. Her hips looked like they swayed to the music she listened to on her headphones.

Then there were the dog walkers. Jake loved dogs and had a beautiful, big golden lab named Bear that he often brought to the leash-free part of the park.

At six thirty-five, an older woman passed by with two overweight sausage dogs whose bellies surely dragged on the ground. Jake had never seen dachshund hounds with long, scraggly hair. They looked like little woolly mammoths, and sounded like them, too, snorting as they walked. He often chuckled as the trio passed him.

At six-forty was a small blond man, probably of Eastern European descent and approximately thirty years old. He couldn’t be any more than five-foot-four, but his dog was enormous—a black Cane Corso Italian Mastiff that looked like it was on steroids, the ears and tail cropped. As the dog owner walked past each day, Jake could see the dog’s huge testicles. He often wondered if the man had chosen not to neuter the dog because he was over-compensating for his own small wiener. Jake was sure the dog could do some serious damage.

Zara had run her regular ten kilometres and could see the finish line. She hated running, but every morning, she started at five-fifteen, warming up by walking to the park—she lived just behind the park in a basement apartment of a beautiful home. She began and ended her run in the park, using the walk back home to cool down. She wasn’t smart enough at five in the morning to talk herself out it. The mind games people played.

Step by step, she counted down, anxious to be done with the god-awful task.

She never got runner’s euphoria—the state runners claimed they experienced, with a reduced feeling of pain and loss of time. It was supposed to be when your mind separated from your body. Bullshit! Zara thought they were all liars.

She measured time by the songs from her phone’s playlist. If she made it to the finish line by the time “Flatliner” by Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley started to play, she rewarded herself by line dancing the way Dakota had taught her.

Shaking her body for all it was worth, she was sure she looked like she was having an epileptic seizure. Thank God she ran before most of the world was awake. There was only one person in the park, and he couldn’t see her since he was over by the tennis courts, always on his phone with his baseball cap pointing downwards as he focused, probably on Facebook.

If she pushed the final stretch, she would make it.

Jake heard the theme song from Wonder Woman in his mind as she rounded the corner, just passing the big dog. The dog lunged at the beautiful woman, causing her to falter in her steps. Fucking idiot shouldn’t be allowed to walk a dog he can’t control.

Wonder Woman regained her footing, shaking her head in a pissed-off motion as she continued onward. Meanwhile, the owner was trying to reprimand the dog, when it yanked free of his grip, running after the woman.

Everything moved in slow motion as Jake watched the dog dig his front paws into the ground, not allowing anything to get between him and Wonder Woman.

As Jake flew off the bench, he screamed for the woman to run. The music must have been too loud, though, because she didn’t react.

Jake screamed louder, waving his hands in the air as he ran towards his pickup truck. Finally getting her attention, he pointed behind her as the snarling dog closed in. At the same moment, he could hear the owner screaming, “Goliath, stop! Goliath, heel!”

Turning, seeing the dog on her heels, Zara screamed, then started sprinting. Her heart jumped into her throat, knowing she couldn’t outrun the devil dog hot on her heels.

“LOOK OUT! RUN!” Jake continued to scream as he grabbed a shovel out of the bed of the truck, then ran towards the woman.

The dog lunged, his front paws landing on the small of her back and propelling her forward. His weight caused Zara’s right foot to kick into her left, and then she was flying, hearing the snap of the dog’s jaw as she flew out of his reach.

Hands outstretched, instinctually trying to save herself from a face-plant, she met the unforgiving pavement as it scraped off the tender skin on her hands and forearms.

She screamed in pain and fear.

God help her, the dog was going to rip her apart.

Jake watched as Wonder Woman rolled out of reach while the dog snarled, skidding to a halt and turning back to his prey. He was maybe five feet away, shovel raised, when the dog exposed his teeth and attacked.

Zara curled her body inwards, covering her head with her bloody hands. She screamed when the first bite sank into her upper arm, ripping the tender flesh. The pain was excruciating. Then she felt the warmth of her blood as her flesh tore further before the dog let go.

Zara screeched in agonizing pain as she heard the growl of intent before the dog quickly moved his paws up her body to get a better shot at her screaming face.

Tucking her body into a tighter ball, she felt his teeth at the base of her skull. She tightened her shoulder muscles as searing pain again lashed through her body, the dog’s sharp teeth penetrating the muscle to the bone.

Zara finally got runner’s euphoria as her mind separated from her body.

Convinced she was going to die, she had so many regrets. How could a woman at twenty-six years old die with so many things left undone and unsaid?

Jason! She would miss thoughts of Jason the most. I’m sorry, Jason. Please forgive me.

Zara was brought out of her despair by a menacing shout, followed by the whistle of wind, before a bone-crunching sound filtered into her brain. Then there was the sound of a painful howl as bones snapped.

The dog yelped, but he was undeterred by his injuries, turning its ferocious temper to the person who had hit him. It snarled at the newcomer, spittle and blood flying as it shook the pain off. In the blink of an eye, the dog then lunged off Zara, straight for Jake’s arm, latching on as the shovel collided with the dog’s flank.

Through his adrenaline rush, Jake heard the owner screaming to stop. He wasn’t sure if the guy was yelling at him, the dog, or them both. Whatever the case, Jake used inhuman strength as he wielded the shovel, ready for the next blow.

The dog yelped with pain as the shovel connected with its hind leg. Then its body followed the trajectory of the shovel, ripping the skin in Jake’s forearm.

“Fuck!” Jake screamed, turning to see the dog was trying to get up, but it couldn’t put any weight on its hind leg. It continued yelping in pain as the owner ran to his dog.

Ignoring the hellhound, Jake knelt next to Wonder Woman, who was crying loudly as the blood flowed freely from her wounds, her arms still tightly clasped around her head.

“I’m sorry, Jason,” Jake heard her chanting. It must have been her boyfriend because he didn’t see a ring. And he knew, as beautiful as she was, she would surely have a man in her life.

“Miss, it’s okay.” Looking up to confirm the dog’s owner had the dog contained, he then looked back down, realizing he needed to call 9-1-1.

He quickly looked for his phone, but he must have dropped it by the bench. Instead, he grabbed the woman’s phone, attached to an arm band.

“What’s your code?” he asked quickly, seeing he couldn’t use her phone without one.

The beautiful woman didn’t seem to hear.

Just as he was about to ask again, he heard his name being called and lifted his head. It was his employee, Christopher, running with all his might to get to Jake and the woman.

“Call 9-1-1!” Jake yelled.

The boy halted, digging his phone out of his front pocket. As soon as he dialed, he proceeded to the horrific scene.

As Jake heard the boy talking to the operator, he grabbed the base of his work shirt and whipped it over his head before ripping it down the centre.

Christopher bent down. “What do you need?” Jake could hear the panic in the young kid’s voice.

Jake ripped a piece off his shirt, then grabbed the woman’s arm, throwing the kid the other half and telling him, “Rip this into strips and hand them to me.”

At Jake’s touch, Zara screamed and tried to yank her arm away, terrified the dog had her again. “No! Please, no more.”

“Easy, sweetheart. I’m not going to hurt you. You’re safe now.” As he said it, he lifted his head and, unbelievably, saw the coward struggling with the beast, trying to sneak away.

“Christopher, call 9-1-1 again and ask for the police,” he snapped. “Tell them the asshole is trying to sneak away. Follow him. Go!”

Christopher jumped up, doing his boss’s bidding, as Jake bent back down and started tying a tourniquet. The woman shrieked in pain.

“I’m sorry. I don’t want to cause you more pain, but I have to stop the bleeding.”

Zara had her eyes scrunched closed in pain, rocking while crying.

“You’re going to be fine. I promise.” Jake tied off what he could on her forearm, then concentrated on her shoulder and the back of her head. He took the rest of the fabric and pressed it tightly to the other two wounds.

To get government grants to help young entrepreneurs open businesses, it was required they have WHIMIS and first-aid training. Jake took the commitment seriously, knowing workplace accidents happened all the time. He just never imagined his skills would be used on Wonder Woman.

This was not how Jake envisioned meeting her.

The woman’s whimpers were heartbreaking. Where is the damn ambulance? Jake could feel and see her blood sopping through his torn-up T-shirt.

In the distance, he finally heard sirens getting closer by the second. Thankfully, at this time of day, there wouldn’t be any traffic.

A cop car came barrelling down the road first. Not thirty seconds behind it was the ambulance. Jake sighed with relief.

The cop came to a screeching halt a few feet from the couple, jumping out of his car while talking into his radio.

“Ambulance is right behind me. What happened?” the officer asked.

Without lifting his head, he told him, “Dog attack. The owner tried taking off. I sent my employee to follow him.”

“Okay. I heard the call on my radio. One of our guys is almost there.”

At that moment, the woman turned her head slightly and finally opened her eyes.

Time stood still as Jake’s heart leapt. She had the eyes that had haunted his past. The eyes that would always remind him of the famous National Geographic cover of the twelve-year-old Pakistani girl with the captivating green eyes surrounded with indigo. Then there was Wonder Woman’s dark hair and bronzed skin that reminded him of Charlize. Could it be her?

“Charlize?”

“Zara?”

Both men spoke at the same time.

“Caden?” the woman cried out.

Jake’s heart pounded so loudly he nearly missed the paramedic calling the woman’s name. Zara? It wasn’t the girl he had dreamed of forever and lost so many years ago. How could anyone else in the world share such unique-coloured eyes? Jake had been so sure it was her.

The other paramedic gestured to the girl. “You know her?”

“Yeah, she’s one of my wife’s Caesar buddies.”

Jake was confused. What was a Caesar buddy?

Concerned for Caden’s friend, the paramedic replied, “Damn, yeah, the maid of honour. I remember her from your wedding.”

Caden bent down to take her pulse. “Don’t worry, doll; we’ll take good care of you.” Taking his stethoscope, he raised it to her chest.

“Sir, you’re injured. Let me help you,” the other paramedic addressed Jake. “Let the police officer put pressure on the wounds until Caden gets her vitals.”

Brushing him off, Jake said, “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me. Help her.”

Caden saw Zara’s colour was pale and her body was shaking, so he gave her a shot for the pain and to deal with the trauma. “Zara, honey, I need you to tell me what happened?”

Zara was crying, and Jake didn’t think she heard the paramedic, so he started to respond. “She was attacked …”

Looking up with empathetic eyes, Caden said, “Thank you, sir, but I need her to answer. She needs to stay focused to help with the shock.” Turning back to one of his wife’s closest friends, he asked, “Zara, sweetheart, what happened?”

The other paramedic gently guided Jake’s hand off her wounds and took over as the cop grabbed Jake’s good elbow and guided him up to a standing position.

“Let them do their job. You can tell me everything that happened,” the cop said as he led Jake towards his car, guiding him to sit inside with his legs resting outside.

Jake held the cloth the cop had given him against his bloody arm as he told the officer the entire story. The cop then spoke into his radio, asking if the others had apprehended the dog’s owner. Dispatch relayed they had and were waiting for Animal Control.

Jake breathed a sigh of relief knowing the man and dog would get punished for what they had done to the woman. Zara, not Charlize.

The paramedics had just loaded Zara onto a gurney when the older one approached him with bandages. “Sir, we are only five minutes from the hospital. Instead of waiting for another ambulance, we’ve been given clearance to bring you both in. Can you walk to the ambulance and we’ll dress your wound before we take off?”

Jake followed the man to the ambulance as the two men lifted the gurney into the vehicle. Caden continued to work on Zara as the other one wrapped Jake’s torn arm with a makeshift bandage.

Patched up for now, Jake jumped into the empty seat the paramedic had gestured to as Caden continued to talk to Zara. The pain medicine must have taken effect because she was no longer hysterical.

“Caden, will you call Dakota when we get to the hospital and tell her to call my mom?” Zara asked with a shaky voice. “And make sure she calls work and tells them I can’t make the meeting with Lincoln’s social worker today. They can reschedule for tomorrow. And I don’t want everyone coming. I’ll be out as soon as they patch me up. Besides, they won’t let them all come into the emergency room, so tell them I’ll just call them later.”

Caden chuckled, knowing she couldn’t be in shock anymore, since she was doing what she did best—organizing.

“Are you done? It goes without saying, I will make sure your family and the sistas know. But, sweetheart, let’s get through the next couple hours. Then you can organize everything and everyone.”

Jake heard Caden’s humour as he teased the woman. He couldn’t believe for that split-second he had thought he had found the girl from his past, only to have it snatched before the memories could all come flooding back.

Charlize …

When they pulled into the hospital, the duo was taken into side-by-side curtained cubicles. The nurses washed and flushed the wounds in preparation for the doctor’s examination.

Caden stayed with Zara while the policeman joined Jake. He pulled out his notepad and asked for Jake’s ID, saying, “The owner has been charged with the Occupier’s Liability Act, which refers to an assault resulting in bleeding, bone breakage, sprains, scratches, or bruising.”

Listening, Jake reached into his pocket for his wallet, realizing it was missing. “Shit, my ID’s in my truck, and my tablet and phone are on a park bench.”

“Don’t worry; I’ll send another officer to retrieve it. What kind of truck?”

“It has my logo—Lawn and Order. Shit, I hope no one steals my truck or tablet. I have all my work stuff on it.”

“Don’t worry,” the cop said as he turned and walked out of the cubicle, talking into the radio pinned to his vest.

“When was your last tetanus shot?” Jake heard the doctor ask Wonder Woman.

“Five years ago.” She sounded so much better than she had just an hour ago.

The doctor must have been examining her wounds as he spoke because Jake heard her cry out in pain.

“Sorry, but I have to examine the depth of the bites. You’re going to go for an X-ray to see if there are any broken bones. The police informed me that they are checking to find out if the dog had its rabies shot. If it hasn’t, we’ll have to give you a rabies injection today, and then you will go to the family doctor in seven days, and again at fourteen days for follow-up injections. We will also have to give you a rabies immune globulin injection.”

“I hate needles,” Zara declared, panic filling her voice. “I heard you have to give it in the stomach. Is that true?”

The doctor tried not to show his amusement. “No, Miss, we haven’t done that since the eighties. Long before you were born. It’s given in the arm. There can be side effects, but let’s not cross that bridge until we must. Hopefully, the owner was responsible and got his shots.”

“Great. That’s reassuring.”

“We should know in a few hours. There will be records with the veterinarian, but we still do blood work on the dog to confirm it was effective. In the meantime, we have a plastic surgeon coming in from downtown Toronto to look at your wounds and stitch you up.”

“You don’t have any surgeons here?” Zara asked, completely confused.

Smirking, the doctor said, “Apparently, someone important called the hospital to say they were arranging for the top plastic surgeon to be brought in for you.” He lifted his eyebrows, wondering who Zara was.

Zara quizzically looked over at Caden.

Lifting his arms up in defeat, Caden said, “Ryder answered the phone when I called Francesca. My money is on him, unless one of the girls called Edward. You know how he freaked out when nobody told him about Francesca’s accident. But my money’s still on Ryder.”

Zara’s eyes bugged out. “Shit! Get on that phone right now and make sure it isn’t Edward. Calm him down. I’ll be fine. I don’t want him coming here. I have too much work to do, and I don’t want him bossing me around like he did Dakota.”

Caden pulled out his phone and searched for Edward’s number. Before he raised the phone to his ear, though, Zara continued.

“And you need to get back to work, please. Don’t feel like you have to stay with me. My mom will be here soon.”

With a snicker, Caden assured her, “Doll, you were my last call. My shift ended at seven, so don’t worry about me. Besides, Dakota went to pick up your mom. She was worried about her driving. I’m here for the long haul.” He raised his hand, interrupting her as he said hello into the phone, then got up as Edward started screaming.

Jake smiled to himself. Wonder Woman was going to be all right. She seemed to have more than enough people looking after her. Obviously, she was wealthy if they were bringing in a top plastic surgeon. Way out of his league, but he had known that just by the look of her.

The girl brought him back to eleven years ago, when he first met Charlize.

Chapter 2

Lying While Falling

Eleven Years Earlier…


Jake wondered how he had allowed his buddies to drag his tired ass to a bar that played classic rock that somehow rolled into new country. Unbelievable! However, his friends had said the country chicks were hot with their tight jeans and low-slung tanks. They had told him getting laid would lessen his continuously sour mood. He knew no amount of tail would help because he was too damn tired to get it up.

He took a sip of his warming beer, thinking this wasn’t going to help tomorrow, when he had to be up at the crack of dawn to finish a job he hadn’t been able to complete today.

Mr. Taylor was pissed, and that didn’t bode well for him. The condo association Mr. Taylor managed had asked for apricot begonias, and he had planted one hundred fifty salmon-coloured ones. Really? Like there was a big difference between apricot and salmon. Fuck! The conversation was still fresh in his memory.

I put my neck on the line for you, Jake. There was a lot of reputable companies bidding for this job. You’re twenty years old, for Christ’s sake. I saw something of myself in you, so I gave you a chance. But those goddamn flowers aren’t the right colour, and you have to fix it before noon tomorrow. The committee is doing their final walk-through, and everything has to be perfect, including those flowers. Don’t let me down, son.”

Yes, sir, it’ll be perfect.”

I hope so.”

With that, Mr. Taylor left Jake standing by the bed of flowers that he had just spent two days planting.

Frustrated beyond belief, he had called his mom at work and explained the situation. His mom was his saving grace. She had faked an illness, left work, and spent the day searching all the nurseries within a hundred-kilometre radius for apricot-coloured flowers. God bless her soul, she had found them an hour and twenty minutes away. She had then driven to the condo site and switched out her car for his old pickup truck and went to get them. Meanwhile, Jake had taken out all the plants until he was using the light of his cell phone to see and finish.

Jake had started his own landscaping business the day after he had finished high school. His mom, Leanne, had wanted him to continue his education, but Jake had spent the last four years working part-time for a landscaping company and wanted nothing more than to begin living his dream. He had compromised with her by taking online classes. He just hadn’t known how damn hard it would be juggling a career and college.

Lawn and Order was the name Leanne had come up with after watching a TV show one night. Jake had laughed when she had presented the name. He had been searching for the perfect name, but every one he had come up with was either taken or lame. His mom had hit the jackpot. She was the most amazing person he knew.

Leanne hadn’t had an easy life. After a bad childhood spent with an alcoholic mother, she had married her high school sweetheart after finding out she was pregnant. Jake’s dad, Bruce, hadn’t been ready to be a father and had walked out one day, never to return. Therefore, Leanne had been both mother and father to him.

She had struggled day to day, but Jake had never wanted for anything. She surrounded him with love, was Jake’s hero, and he had promised himself that one day, he would make her life easier—the day his business became successful.

For the first time tonight, Jake heard a song he was familiar with. Thank Christ it was a rock song, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison. Smiling to himself, the irony of the words wasn’t lost on Jake. It lightened his spirits.

The dance floor cleared, and the bar became jammed with all the country chicks who had stopped line dancing. He smirked as he realized how smart the owner really was. During the country songs, all the chicks were on the floor, while the guys drank beer after beer, watching the girls. Switching to rock, the bar was then flooded as the girls refueled. The owner was a bloody genius! The bills never stopped exchanging hands.

“Told ya you’d like it, Jay!” Steven, his oldest friend, said. The guys had called him Jay since childhood. He wasn’t even sure how it began. “Look at the rocker chicks over there.” Steven pointed to four girls across the dance floor who were singing loud and proud. They were obviously loaded.

The blonde chick bent backwards to sing a high note, while the most gorgeous chick he had ever laid eyes on stood there, howling at her friend’s rendition. She had long, curly hair and a body to die for. She was small in the tits department, but her ass was what dreams were made of. Especially wet dreams. She was dressed more conservatively than most of the girls, yet Jake could still see her figure. She wore low-waisted jeans that cupped that fine ass, and a feminine, off-the-shoulder, flowing white blouse that showed off her flat belly.

“Dude, you’re going to burn a hole right through her jeans if you keep staring at her ass like that,” Collin said with a shoulder nudge.

Still in awe, Jake replied, “She looks like an angel created her face and the devil created her body. Damn!”

As Collin and Steve laughed at their new version of a not-so-uptight friend, “Fat Bottom Girls” by Queen came on. The girl who had Jake in a trance grabbed two of the girls closest to her and started dragging them onto the dance floor. Jake couldn’t stop staring.

Zara, feeling eyes upon her, turned as she swung her curvy hips from side to side. There was a group of guys smiling at them. She watched as they ripped at the tall, good-looking one, and then he put his beer down and started down the stairs towards her, his friends in his wake.

“Oh, my God, Andi, there’re a bunch of guys heading our way. What do we do?”

“Calm down. Don’t you dare blow our cover. Act cool. Remember, you’re supposed to be Charlize.”

Zara’s heart was pounding as she danced, arms thrown up, shaking her Shakira-certified hips.

She and her friends were underage, drinking in a bar—the legal drinking age was nineteen. If anyone found out that the group was a bunch of fifteen-year-olds, they would get charged with underage drinking. If their dads found out, though, they would be dead before the police could arrest them.

The girls had heard about this bar from their older siblings. It had taken them three weeks to plan this adventure.

Zara had taken her sister, Charlize’s, old driver’s licence out of the garbage when her new one had arrived. It was still valid for six more weeks. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect with three weeks left of summer.

The cute guy from the bar startled her when he bent down and whispered in her ear, “This is going to sound like such a pick-up line, but you have the nicest ass my eyes have ever had the pleasure of viewing. Not only that, you have excellent taste in music. May I join you?”

Zara laughed, turning to see the other guys talking to her friends. “I don’t own the dance floor; you can dance wherever you want.”

Jake was speechless when she raised her eyelashes and looked into his eyes. Two minutes ago, he would have sworn there was nothing better than her ass. Her eyes, though, were just as stunning. He had seen eyes like hers before, but he couldn’t figure out where.

While he searched his memory, his dead-tired dick came to life, enthralled by the most beautiful girl he had ever met. Then it hit him like a stone falling off a cliff.

She had the same eyes from the National Geographic magazine his mother had kept. The girl on the cover was from the India, Pakistan, or somewhere like that, and the photographer had snapped the picture of the obviously pissed off young girl. Jake had looked at the picture, wondering what the girl would have looked like if she smiled. Now he knew.

“Hello?” Zara said as she waved a hand in front of his face. “You’re staring.”

Jake gave his head a shake as Collin slapped his back. “Sorry, ladies, Jay’s had a bad week at work.”

Zara was taken aback. The guy worked. He didn’t attend school like she did, or university. He must be older than she had thought.

They were so out of their element.

Steph had convinced them that they all looked older with their made-up faces and high heels. She had assured them that they could pull it off if they all remained sober enough not to get caught.

Regaining his compose, Jake said, “Hi, I’m Ja—”

“Jay, yeah, I heard.” Zara laughed at his equal discomfort. “I’m Charlize. Nice to meet you.”

As their introductions finished, the song came to an end and a new, slower song, “Dream Come True” by Frozen Ghost, started to play.

Zara looked around, figuring it was time to leave the dance floor. “Nice to meet you, Jay.”

Reaching out, he grabbed her arm. “Please dance with me?”

Zara felt like she had been electrocuted as she stared at his hand on her arm.

Jake automatically dropped his hand, also feeling the spark. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to grab you.” He ran his hands through his long, shaggy hair. “I just . . .… would really like to dance with you.”

“Okay, sure.” Zara was beyond flattered that such a mature guy was interested her.

Jake enclosed the beautiful girl in his arms. She felt amazing. His dick went to full-mast. Not wanting her to feel it, he shifted his hips back a bit as he pulled her upper body closer.

“So, where you from, Charlize? By the way, a beautiful name for a beautiful woman.”

Feeling like the biggest liar in the world, she rambled, “Well, I was born in Tanzania and moved to Toronto when I was five. My father is originally from Portugal, and my mother is from Australia. I guess I’m from all over. What about you?”

If her looks and clothes didn’t prove she was out of his league, the fact that her family travelled confirmed she came from money. Jake had only ever been to Disney World. His mom and he had driven to Florida and rented a small motel room for five days. It might not have been fancy, but it was the most fun they had ever had together. Jake kept a picture of the two of them with Mickey and Minnie tucked in the mirror of his dresser.

Jake laughed at her rambling. “I meant, are you from around here?”

Zara’s face flushed. “Oh, sorry, I can’t believe I’m so stupid.”

Her honesty was refreshing.

Looking into her bewitching eyes, Jake said, “You’re the farthest thing from stupid. You accepted my invitation to dance, so I think you’re pretty damn smart. And your background is as unique as your name.” He smiled at her blush. “I was born and raised in Toronto. Canadian through and through. Do you live here?”

“Umm, yeah, sort of. I live in Mississauga.” He was so cute she had a hard time concentrating.

“Do you go to school there?”

Zara stopped dead in her tracks. Had he figured out she was in high school?

Jake picked up on her body language and tried to backpedal. “Sorry, I’m not a stalker. Just curious if you went to the University of Toronto, Mississauga campus.”

Relief swept through her entire body. “No, no. I’m sorry. I didn’t think you were going to stalk me. I was just surprised you knew I was in university.”

A beautiful smile lit up his face. “I told you I thought you were smart, so it makes sense that you’re in university.”

“Yeah, I’m going to Western University in London. Second year,” she lied sheepishly. She was going directly to Hell. “What do you do, Jay?”

Jake would have to remind himself to tell her Jay was his nickname. He was so having sex with her, and when he did, he wanted her to yell Jake, not Jay.

Being insecure about his newly developing business, he didn’t delve into his career choice. “I just started a new job. In fact, I have to be at work at sunrise.”

Eyes opened wide, she exclaimed, “But tomorrow is Saturday! Your boss must be a real jerk if he’s making you work on the weekends and that early.”

Amused, he teased, “Yeah, he’s a real son of a bitch. Works me like a dog and the pay is shit. But I’m learning, and that’s more important.”

The couple danced a couple more songs, chatting away. Then they moved to the bar, where Jake bought a couple of beers for them before they headed out to the patio to cool off.

Zara couldn’t stand the taste of beer, but she didn’t want this guy to think she was a kid, so she gagged it down one small sip at a time.

Jake took out a cigarette and offered her one.

“No, thanks. I don’t smoke.”

“Me neither, most of the time, but this week has been the week from hell. It’s this or get drunk, and that wouldn’t help me tomorrow morning.”

“Then let me light it for you.” Zara bent for the lighter, but he captured her hand and pulled her closer, wrapping his other hand around her head and turning it slightly. Then he kissed her, making Zara softly moan against his lips.

Jake was in heaven. His bad week melted away as he licked the seam of her lips. Having little experience, Zara opened just a little. That was all the leeway Jake needed as he pushed his tongue into her mouth and tasted the nectar of the gods.

When Zara tensed at the forcefulness of his actions, Jake picked up on it and instantly softened his attack. The guys were right; he needed to get laid. But this girl wasn’t some quick lay. Charlize deserved to be treated like a princess.

The beautiful girl in his arms softened as they continued to kiss, oblivious to everyone around them, until they were interrupted by Zara’s friends.

“We have been looking everywhere for you. That’s so not cool. You scared us shitless.”

Breaking apart, embarrassed at being called out and for acting irresponsible, Zara wiped her lips. Her cheeks had razor burn from Jake rubbing his face along her soft cheeks while catching his breath.

“I take full responsibility. I invited Charlize out here to cool off, and I guess we lost track of time,” Jake instantly defended her. “I’m sorry. Don’t be mad at your friend. Blame me.”

Andi stepped forwards. “It’s okay. We didn’t mean to sound like bitches. It’s just, we were worried. Our cab is here. We have to get going.”

Jake panicked. “Can you give us two minutes? I swear I will walk her out. I just want a minute to say goodbye.”

Two out of the three girls looked sufficiently swooned, while one looked pissed.

“I promise, not a second more.”

“Okay, two minutes. Let’s go, girls,” Andi jumped in, thrilled for her best friend.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Jake hurriedly asked for her number. Zara panicked. Nothing good could come from this, but she really wanted to see him again.

“My parents are super strict.”

The panic of not seeing her again had him offering up a solution. “Fair enough, but I do want to see you again. If I give you my number, do you promise on your friends’ lives you’ll call me? Give me your phone, and I will put my number in.”

Zara giggled like the teenager she was. “Yes, I promise on my friends’ lives.” She pulled her phone out of her wrist clutch, then realized she couldn’t give him her phone because it said, Zara’s Phone. “Just tell me your number and I will put it in.”

Grinning, he teased, “Don’t trust me? I swear, Charlize, I would never do anything to hurt you. Now, hurry. I want a quick kiss goodbye to tide me over until I see you again.”

Jake told her his number, and as soon as she closed her case, he pulled her close. He went full force, knowing this would be the last kiss until they met again.

Zara eventually pulled back, hearing a honk as the car came around the back. Her friends opened the window, urging her to hurry.

Jake didn’t give her a chance to catch her breath as he swept her through the gate to the parking lot. He walked her to the cab door, then yanked her closer for one more kiss as the girls giggled. Jake then guided Zara into the seat and reminded her to call as he shut the door.

As he walked back through the door of the bar, happier than he had been in forever, the girls jumped on Zara.

“Holy shit! Was he checking your tonsils?” Kayla asked.

“Shut up. I think I’m in love.”

Andi snickered, a little drunk. “I think he’s in loooovvve with you.”

Kayla, whose feathers were ruffled at the attention Zara had received, peevishly said, “I think he’s in love with Charlize, not Zara.”

“Psh, he’s in love with the girl, not the name. Jealous much?”

Kayla’s face scrunched up in disgust. “No, I’m not jealous. I just hope we get home before my parents, or we’re in so much trouble.”

That comment sobered up all the girls as they quietly watched the clock in the cab all the way back to Kayla’s house.

There was a rush of breaths when they saw her parents’ car wasn’t in the driveway. They rushed inside, running to each bathroom to take off their makeup and get into their pajamas.

***

Jake waited two days for Charlize’s call. By Monday, he had all but given up. His foul mood was in full-swing by the time he told his two-man crew to break for lunch.

They had just started eating their lunch when Jake’s phone rang. Still bent out of shape, he abruptly answered, “Hello? How can I help you?”

“Uh, hi. I think I have the wrong number. Sorry.”

Jake’s heart sped up. It was Charlize.

“No, wait. Charlize? It’s me, Jay.”

His two employees raised their eyes and stopped eating. Seeing their interest, Jake got up and walked to the front yard.

“I was afraid you weren’t going to call.”

“Sorry, Jay, like I said, my parents are very strict. I know it’s stupid at my age, but it’s just the way it is. That’s one of the reasons I’m calling. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get together.”

Zara was torn between wanting desperately to see Jay and feeling guilty for lying to him. It had taken the four hours since her parents had left for work to build up the courage to tell him. She was sure no man his age would indulge her restrictions.

“Wait, Charlize. Give me a chance. I really want to see you again. Please. I’ll make it work. We can keep this a secret, I swear. I really like you.” He took a deep breath. “Let’s meet tonight.”

Zara bit the inside of her cheek, a nervous habit she had struggled with her whole life. If she did meet him tonight, her cheek would be raw and gross, so she released it.

“I like you, too, Jay. Let me see if Andi will cover for me. I’ll call you back.”

“Promise?” Jake felt unsure. If he let her go, would she really call back?

Zara giggled at the desperation in his voice, her heart fluttering. “I promise. I’ll call you back as soon as I talk to Andi.”

Jake felt instant relief. “Okay, babe, call me back soon.”

With a smile on his face and a happy disposition, he returned to work.

An hour later, Zara called back and told him to meet her at the theatre close to her house.

Jake arrived fifteen minutes early and stood out front. He watched as a big Lexus with tinted windows pulled up. He saw Andi get out of the back, then watched as Charlize opened the passenger door. This chick was so out of his league.

“Aren’t you going to give your dear old dad a kiss goodbye?” he heard her father say.

“Daddy, you’re embarrassing me.”

“I don’t care. You’re my baby, and never too old to kiss your dad.”

Zara rolled her eyes. She had seen Jay standing there and was so humiliated. At this point, she wanted to shut the door and disappear. But, if she didn’t appease her dad, he would never let her go.

Bending back into the car, she brushed a kiss over his cheek. “Okay, can I go now?”

Laughing, her dad pulled her closer, making her lose her balance. “You, my little kitten, will be my baby till the day you die, so get used to it. I love you.”

Zara rolled her eyes at him. She loved her dad and knew she was the apple of his eye. If Jay wasn’t standing there, she would have jumped into his arms. “I love you too, Daddy.”

Just as she was about to close the door, her dad yelled, “Remember, your curfew is at eleven.”

Zara mumbled under her breath, “Take me now, God,” as she waved goodbye to her dad. She then turned around to see a big, shit-eating grin on Jay’s face. She flushed as heat consumed her.

“Are you ready, Kitten?” Jay asked on a laugh as he approached.

Zara’s shoulders dropped.

“I’m only kidding, Charlize. Relax. The man obviously adores you. I wish my father felt that way about me.” He mumbled the last part. “Now, what movie do you want to see?”

Zara gave herself a little pep talk. Act mature.

“Andi is meeting a friend to go to the movies. I thought we could go to one of the restaurants over there and talk.” Zara indicated the row of chain restaurants.

Jake’s eyes lit up. “That sounds great. Andi can join us when she’s done.” Turning to Andi, he told her, “I really appreciate you helping us out.”

“No problem. Anything for my friend.” Andi beamed. “I will see you guys after the movie.”

As Andi walked away, Jake stepped up and grabbed Zara’s hand. “Let’s go, babe. I’m dying to get to know you. But first, I want a kiss.”

Zara tucked her chin in, looking apprehensive. “Someone might see, and it could get back to my dad.” She glanced around. “Let’s go to the parking lot, where it’s more private.”

Charlize had said her parents were strict, but they must be really over the top for her to be so nervous. Nevertheless, if this was the only way he could get to know her, he was all in.

“You’re right. I wasn’t thinking. Sorry, I’m not used to hiding.”

Zara’s stomach plummeted at the realization that this guy was used to being with someone his own age, not a kid. What was she doing? It was bad enough she had lied about her age and name, but now she was dragging him down to her level.

“Listen, I totally understand if this is weird. Not many guys want to hang out with a girl who has such a protective father.” She felt crushed at what she was about to do. “This was a mistake. I’m just going to catch up with Andi.”

Jake stopped her at his truck and grabbed her hip, directing her to him. “Charlize, I was only joking. Chill. I would go to any lengths to be able to spend even a few minutes with you. I really like you.” He leaned down and pushed her long, curly hair away from her face. Cupping the back of her head, he brought her in for a kiss.

Their mouths melded, the argument forgotten.

After a few minutes, he released her lips, and when he looked into her eyes, everything seemed right in the world. She really did have the most amazing eyes.

He grabbed her hand, then led them toward the restaurant with a patio.

The waitress asked to see ID when they ordered a screwdriver for her and a beer for him. He glanced at her licence quickly as the waitress passed it back, taking note that her birthday was six weeks away and they were born in the same year.

For two and a half hours, the couple laughed and chatted while holding hands. Jake steered away from talking about his job after seeing her father’s Lexus and talked about the rest of his life. Meanwhile, Zara told him about her family and her life. She was reluctant to talk about school, saying she had to work really hard for her marks and studied constantly. She explained she didn’t have a lot of time to socialize because of her schoolwork.

When Jake asked what she wanted to do with her life, Zara told him that she had no set course and was still trying to figure it out. That wasn’t a lie. She really had no idea where her life was going, except she would be starting grade ten in a few weeks.

Andi joined them after the movie and, after fifteen minutes, they decided to leave to get Zara home by curfew. After dropping off Andi, Zara insisted he stop a couple blocks from her house. It was a nice neighbourhood and, for the first time, Jake was embarrassed he and his mom lived in an apartment. His residence was not even remotely in Zara’s tax bracket.

As they started kissing, Zara felt his hand wander to her breasts. She froze, never having experienced something like this. Jake noticed and pulled back.

“You’re a virgin, aren’t you?”

Zara looked down in humiliation.

Jake lifted her chin, but she still wouldn’t lift her eyes.

“Charlize?”

Lifting her tear-filled eyes, she knew what was coming. Why had she ever agreed to seeing him again?

“I’m glad,” he said, surprising her. “It’s like you were waiting for me. I want you, but we’ll go slow, I promise. I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I have never said this to anyone before, but I think I’m already falling in love with you.”

Zara’s heart faltered. She couldn’t believe he felt the same way.

“Me too.”

Just as the words fell out of her mouth, his phone beeped.

“Eleven. You better get going. I don’t want you to get in trouble. Call me tomorrow, and text me when you’re safely inside.” With that, Jake got out of the truck and opened her door, helping her out. He hugged her tightly and pecked her lips as he gently guided her towards the houses.

Could this guy get any better?

Turning, she blew him a kiss. “Thanks, Jay. I had a great time.” She then ran up the street, disappearing into the darkness.

Jake jumped into his truck and drove slowly past, trying to figure out which large house was hers. Ten minutes later, he received a text.

Home. I’m falling fast! :)

Jake didn’t dare respond the way he wanted to. Instead, he sent a message only she would get.

Falling further! :)

Chapter 3

Shattered Kitten


Weeks after the attack, Zara was riddled with guilt. She had never gotten the chance to thank the man who had saved her life.

By the time the plastic surgeon had finished sewing her up, she finally remembered the heroic man. When she found out he had already been released, she’d been disappointed. Zara had contacted the police officer to ask for the man’s information, but the officer was not allowed to give out a witness’s information. He had apologized and said it was out of his hands. She thought about going to the park to find the good Samaritan, but she was too afraid to go on her own. Faced with a dead end, she focused solely on her work.

Zara had finally made a decision in her later teenage years that she wanted to spend her life teaching children. She went to university and majored in children with exceptionality. She did one of her practicums at Reach Within Centre for individuals with multiple disabilities and knew that was where she wanted to work. Upon getting her degree, she applied and got her first job there.

After two years of teaching, she realized the school lacked a guidance counsellor to help the more vulnerable sector with family issues. Therefore, she made a proposal and presented it to the administration. They loved it, but unfortunately, there was no funding, so they had to turn her down.

After Ryder completed his sentence at the centre, he made a philanthropist donation. The large sum allowed the administration to reopen the proposal and granted Zara the new position. For seven weeks, she had been working day and night to facilitate and implement her ideas. She had finally moved into her dream job.

Reach Within Centre was also where she had met her closet friends. Each one had a different job at the centre. Every Friday, at their local pub, they had bonded over their favourite alcoholic drink, Caesars. The girls had developed a friendship closer than sisters. As the group got bigger, with husbands and boyfriends being added to the mix, they had moved their Caesar Fridays to the girls’ homes, alternating each week.

As Zara was driving to Taya’s for drinks, she thought about how much some of her friends had endured over the last few years. Instead of those trials pulling them away from each other, they had become closer.

Gabriella, one of her girlfriends, had witnessed her entire family being killed. She disappeared after a few years, unable to cope with the loss. The Caesar buddies had searched long and hard, but eventually had to give up. Then Gabriella had resurfaced in Scotland after meeting Liam, who had brought her back to life. Liam worked for the military and was the bodyguard to the youngest prince of England, Edward.

Zara still had issues trying to come to terms with being friends with someone so legendary. The more she got to know Edward, though, the more she realized he was just a normal person who wore a crown. Edward and his fiancée, Gillian, had also become part of her Caesar buddies. Edward was their sista-mister and had quickly become the overly protective big brother to all the girls.

Francesca, aka Frankie, was married to Ryder. He was a unique character, standing about six-and-a-half-feet tall. They were all shocked to learn Ryder was also the reclusive drummer of the famous rock band Fornication. He fell head over heels in love with Frankie while doing community service hours at the centre. Zara smiled to herself, thinking anyone who met Frankie fell in love with her.

Getting out of her car, she continued to think of her friends. Dakota had just married Caden. He was the paramedic who had shown up the day Zara had been attacked. Dakota and Caden had been to hell and back, but came out on top. Zara had been lucky enough to stand up for her friend when she had finally gotten her happy ending.

She and Jocelyn were the only remaining single girls. The husbands were always trying to set them up with their friends, hoping it would curtail their wives’ once-a-month visits to a club or bar.

The guys hated it so much, they followed the ladies. Acting protective and basically ruining any chance of her and Jocelyn meeting some scumbag, as the husbands always referred to other men. As much as Zara loved the guys, they could be a little overbearing.

Entering Taya and Levi’s apartment had her assessing the newest honeymooners. Taya had always been a lost soul, claiming she would never fall in love. As it turned out, she had been in love with Levi since childhood. Knowing the horrors Taya had lived through, Zara couldn’t be any happier for her friend.

After getting a drink, Zara told the group how she hadn’t been running since the attack, too terrified. She had no interest in joining a gym, either. She used running to work out all her problems. Now Zara was lost without that outlet.

“I’ll run with you,” Levi offered, making another round of Caesars. It was a requirement that all the husbands learn to make the perfect Caesar for the ladies.

She smiled, humbled by his kind offer. “I start at five-fifteen. It’s still dark outside. Think about it; do you really want to leave Taya in a warm bed to run with a scaredy-cat at five a.m.?”

“I exercise her so hard at night, she won’t even know I’m gone.”

“Levi! No one needs to hear that!” Jocelyn said, giving him the finger.

He smirked. “You don’t hear any of the married girls outraged, so I guess I’m not alone.”

Jocelyn rolled her eyes in disgust. “You’re such a pig.”

“No, Jocelyn, the Shaman at Dakota’s wedding said I was a virile lion. Taya’s the piglet!” He laughed at his own joke, along with the rest of the males in the room. Unfortunately, he missed his tiny bride sneaking up behind him.

Taya jumped on his back, locking her legs around his waist as she put him in a headlock until he cried uncle.

All the girls were consumed with laughter.


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