Excerpt Book Three

Escape to Alaska Trilogy

Excerpt from Book Three

NEVER A BRIDE

Chapter 1

Debbie Daniels gazed across the living room toward the leather sofa. “What the hell is going on here?” she yelled.

Her fiancé of eight months, Dennis Baker, and their next door neighbor unlocked lips and tore their bodies apart.

“What are you doing home so soon?” gasped Dennis, chest heaving from his extra-curricular activity on the couch.

Sheila Watson reached for a pale-blue silk blouse on the sofa back and attempted to cover her bare breasts. “You told me Debbie wouldn’t be home until five o’clock,” she snarled, glaring daggers at her co-conspirator.

Dennis grabbed his jeans off the floor and shuffled sideways on the sofa in an attempt to distance himself from the woman he’d been caught cheating with. “You’d better go home, Sheila,” he whispered.

“You’d better get your story straight next time. Why didn’t we just meet at my house, as usual?” Sheila slipped into her white lace panties and grabbed a pair of white denim jeans off the floor. She donned the rest of her clothes and strode out the front door without another word.

Debbie gaped at the woman’s departing back. No apology for sleeping with her friend’s fiancé, no attempted explanation for her despicable behavior, not even a guilty expression on her cheating face. How could Debbie have considered that bitch her friend?

“Is this how you spend your days? Sleeping with the neighbors while I’m at work?” demanded Debbie. When she’d arrived home, eager to share her news, she heard a familiar ballad by Seal playing on the CD player in the living room and assumed Dennis was writing a steamy sex scene in his latest crime novel. She’d tip-toed into the room expecting to find him seated at his corner desk, nose buried in his laptop, where she usually found him after her own busy workday. A movement had caught her eye and she glanced toward the sofa to discover Dennis in the middle of a sex scene all right.

“Babe, let me explain.”

“Don’t even start with some lame excuse. I don’t want to hear it!” shouted Debbie, as her anger flared. “I just caught you having sex with that slut. Obviously, you have no respect for me, for what I thought we had together.”

“There’s no excuse for my behavior.”

“I’m surprised I didn’t find the two of you in our bed!” Her contempt for him crowded out all thoughts from her mind, including the reason she arrived home early.

“I’m a bastard for treating you like this,” admitted Dennis.

“We agree on that. You’re a cheating, lying, sneaky, conniving bastard, and there is no explaining what you’ve done,” she spat, retracing her steps to the kitchen.

“There is an explanation, but you won’t like it.” Dennis followed her, hopping on one foot as he attempted to pull his jeans up and then fasten them.

“Oh, really?” scoffed Debbie.  

Dennis dragged his hands through his shoulder-length blond hair and met her eyes. “I do love you, you know…” he began.

She waved away his meaningless words. “Well, you have a lousy way of showing it.”

“Babe, I didn’t set out to hurt you. I love you, in my own way.” Dennis crossed the floor, wisely not reaching out a hand or touching her. “It’s just…I’m not in love with you. We were high school sweethearts; we’ve become a habit. When Sheila moved next door six months ago, I couldn’t keep my eyes or my hands off her. It’s not just a casual fling; I’m in love with her. I’ve been wracking my brain for weeks now, trying to figure out a way to break the engagement without hurting you. I just couldn’t find…”

“Consider. It. Broken.” Debbie glared at him, arms crossed.

Dennis’s face masked whatever emotion he was feeling, and Debbie considered the possibility he wasn’t capable of emotions. Did he even remotely regret treating her so badly? He hadn’t apologized, just attempted to justify what he’d done. I’m not in love with you. No additional words were necessary. Her entire body felt numb, lifeless. How did she not see what Dennis and Sheila were doing right under her nose for weeks, maybe months?

“I’ve heard enough.” She grabbed her purse, stumbled out the kitchen door, headed down the sidewalk, and climbed into her car.

Through a veil of tears, Debbie stuck the key in the ignition and started her Honda. For the next few minutes, she drove aimlessly, sobbing uncontrollably with tears streaming down her face. Finally, she realized she’d cause an accident if she didn’t pull over and calm down. She stopped beside a community park and turned off the ignition.

Debbie’s tears continued falling and she buried her head in her hands. So much for having the best day of her life. After her pal, Jeannie Wilson, formerly Jeannie St. James, resigned and moved to Alaska last year, Debbie replaced Jeannie as executive legal secretary to the junior partner at the Chicago law firm, Donahue, Charles and Bennett. Early this morning, Mr. Bennett called her into his office and surprised her with a substantial raise for a job well done. At three o’clock, he stopped by her desk and insisted she head home early. While she rode the elevator from the executive floor to the ground level, Debbie planned a special dinner to surprise Dennis, hoping he’d consider setting a wedding date, finally, since her increased income could go toward the expense.

Well, she’d gained a pay raise and lost her fiancé. Was losing Dennis a great loss? Her heart felt like he’d stomped on it, but she should feel grateful to be rid of the cheating ass. She brushed at the tears that refused to stop coming. Were they cleansing her soul? He wasn’t in love with her. He’d fallen in love with someone else. She would accept it, eventually. But for now, he’d broken her heart, and her entire future had been thrown into chaos.

She couldn’t share the house with Dennis anymore. Where would she live? The women at the office were all married, except for her, and she had no girlfriends that she could share an apartment with.

Cassidy Edwards and Jeannie Wilson lived thousands of miles away, both happily married in Anchorage. How she wished even one of them still lived in Chicago. She’d jump at the chance to share an apartment with either one of them.

Just then her cell phone rang. Probably Dennis, she thought, but she checked the caller I.D. anyway.

Evening Garden Nursing Home.

Her grandmother had resided there for several years but officially had been diagnosed only a few months ago with Alzheimer’s disease. She turned ninety-two last week. According to the nurses, she hadn’t a clue as to who the people were that brought the lovely cake for her. Debbie doubted Granny even realized it was her birthday.

“Hello,” she answered, fingers crossed that her grandmother hadn’t done something too terrible this time. While her antics never turned destructive in nature, she kept the staff on their toes and the other residents entertained.

“Ms. Daniels. This is Mrs. Simpson.”

“Hello, Mrs. Simpson. What has Granny done this time?”

A long pause followed her question.

“Ms. Daniels. I’m sorry to tell you…your grandmother died about ten minutes ago. It appeared she suffered a stroke or perhaps an episode with her heart. We respected the ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ instructions she provided years ago. She passed quickly and without pain as far as her attendant could tell. Just slipped away.”

A sob escaped Debbie’s lips.

“I’m so sorry, dear. I know how close you two were. Please accept my sincere condolences.” The nursing home director sounded almost in tears herself.

“Thank you, Mrs. Simpson. I appreciate your kindness. Granny had become one of your favorite residents, and I’m sure you’re a little sad, too.”

“You’re right. I’ll certainly miss our Doris. Such a lovely person, always had a smile for everybody whether she knew them or not.” Mrs. Simpson sniffled.

“I’ll be right there. I’d appreciate a few minutes to say my goodbyes before you call the funeral home, if that’s okay?” inquired Debbie.

“Certainly, my dear. Doris left explicit written instructions that we should notify you first. And the others would be told of her passing at your discretion.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Simpson. You know I don’t get along with my aunts and uncles. Well, except for Aunt Emmy. At least she’s tolerable. And she has dealt with the lawyers who handle Granny’s financial affairs admirably.”

“Your grandmother favored you since she raised you after your mother’s untimely passing.”

“None of my aunts or uncles stepped up and took me in after Mom overdosed when I was ten. They never approved of Mom’s lifestyle—drugs, booze, single parent who contracted AIDS. But I don’t think that justifies turning your back on a family member in need.”

“I don’t either, dear. But every family has its issues. I’m just so thankful your grandmother did such a splendid job of raising you. You’re a remarkable young woman.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Simpson.” Debbie dug a tissue out of her purse and wiped her tears. “I’ll see you shortly.”

While she drove across the city to the nursing home, Debbie contemplated her future. She’d never formed many female friendships, preferring the life of a loner. She could hear her grandmother’s voice in her head: Debbie, you are your own best friend. Since high school Dennis had become her entire universe, and look how well that ended. Now, she had nothing—no Dennis, no Granny. She did hold a job that she loved, but work wasn’t everything in life. She pulled into the Evening Garden visitor parking lot, turned off the ignition, and leaned back against the seat.

For a minute or two, she closed her eyes and contemplated the biggest decision of her life. Finally, she opened her eyes, yanked her cell phone out of her purse, punched in the familiar number, and waited for the call to connect.

“Hello.” Jeannie Wilson answered on the second ring.

“Hi, it’s Debbie.” She took a deep breath, wiped away the last traces of her tears with her hand. “Granny passed away awhile ago. I just parked outside the nursing home. I’m going inside to say goodbye.”

“Oh, Debbie. I’m so sorry.”

Debbie heard the sincerity in her friend’s voice. “This hasn’t been the best day. Well, actually it started out wonderful. Mr. Bennett appreciated the job I’ve been doing since replacing you as his secretary at the law firm. He gave me a huge raise.”

“Congratulations. I know how hard you work, and you certainly deserve it. But your granny passing today is unfortunate.”

“She’d just turned ninety-two and her health wasn’t the best. I expected it in a way. How often have I been summoned by the staff, believing her time had come? And then she’d rally and live for another year.” Debbie smiled at the memory of her granny’s feistiness. “The angels called her number today, but I’ll miss her so very much.”

“Did you call because you need me in Chicago to help you get through her death?”

“Heavens no, Jeannie. But I appreciate you thinking of me.” Debbie sighed. “Aunt Emmy is Granny’s executor, and she’ll handle everything. I’m not even going to the funeral. Once I say goodbye at the nursing home, that’s it. I’ll call Aunt Emmy and then Granny’s children can fight over her funeral arrangements and her estate and her money. Fight over everything like they always do. I’ve washed my hands of them years ago. Just knowing how much Granny loved me is enough.”

“You shouldn’t be alone, Deb. I’m so thankful you have Dennis at a time like this.”

Debbie suppressed a sob. With everything bad happening at once, hiding her emotions from others while she dealt with it all almost became too much to endure. “I planned a nice dinner with Dennis, hoping we could set a wedding date. Instead, I caught him having sex with our neighbor on the sofa when I came home early today. I thought we were friends. I can’t believe they’d betray me like that. The engagement is off.”

“Oh, Debbie. That’s terrible! And your Granny passing, too. I wish we lived closer. Cassidy and I should be there for you, to hold your hand and provide a shoulder to cry on.”

That’s exactly what she needed, thought Debbie. Her eyes welled, and soon she couldn’t hold back her emotions. Tears slid down her cheeks onto her burnt-orange silk blouse as she sobbed aloud.

“Debbie, are you okay?” asked Jeannie, urgently.

“Yes. I’ll get through this. Don’t worry about me.” Debbie lied. She was anything but okay. Maybe she should just move to Alaska, too.

Sure, she loved her job. But if Jeannie found work as a legal executive assistant in Anchorage, what stopped her from doing the same? Mr. Bennett would be disappointed, might even refuse to provide her with a reference. She’d give him two weeks’ notice, of course. Live in a hotel if necessary until she left for the North.

Was she brave enough to just leave everything familiar behind?

Having her friends’ support would help her survive the breakup and Granny’s death, and eventually get her life back on track. But for someone who felt content spending their days at work and their nights sitting home watching TV or reading a book, occasionally eating out or catching a movie with her fiancé, this move seemed comparable to man’s first steps on the moon.

And she had no idea what might await her in Alaska.

Cassidy and Jeannie had overcome the issues in Chicago which drove them to relocate in the first place. And as a bonus they’d both found their Mr. Right. Another relationship was the last thing on earth that interested Debbie. If she never hooked up with another man as long as she lived, it would be too soon.

The thought of living near Cassidy and Jeannie again tempted her immensely. Could she step out of her comfort zone and do this? Of course, never laying eyes on Dennis again cinched the decision. She just prayed she was doing the right thing. Only time would tell.

“Jeannie.” Debbie took a deep breath. “Could you please start looking for a small apartment or a roommate for me? I’m moving to Anchorage!”

“I know a person who is looking for someone exactly like you. I can’t wait until you arrive,” said Jeannie. “Don’t worry, Deb, Cassidy and I will help you sort things out.”

“Um, about this someone…” Debbie frowned. Jeannie had already cut the connection.

Darn it! Was this someone male or female? She recalled the night Jeannie arrived in Anchorage and agreed to platonically share an apartment with the man who eventually became her husband. For some reason, while Jeannie spoke so excitedly, the image of a man popped into Debbie’s head. What was this person looking for anyway? A roommate? An employee? A relationship? Like the latter would happen. Maybe she should just call Jeannie back and tell her she’d changed her mind. Or at the very least inquire if Jeannie meant a male or a female.

Chicken, she taunted herself.

“Alaska, here I come.”

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