Crimson Flames is on two blog tours right now and it’s doing fantastic. I couldn’t be more pleased with the reviews and feedback I’m getting (*thanks everyone who has read it and gotten back to me). So I wanted share with you what I’ve been working on the past couple weeks to keep you all in the loop. Crimson Groves (the prequel to Crimson Flames) was the first book I ever published and it was such an exciting endeavor to make it available for all to read it. But…with it being my first book, there were some things that always drove me crazy about it and I never got the butterflies in my stomach the way I have with UnGuarded and Crimson Flames. Truth be told, I absolutely LOVE the story of Crimson Groves, what actually bothered me was some of the sentence structure. Not grammar, as I had one of the very best editors in the world go through it with his amazing eagle eyes, but as I’ve grown as a writer, my sentences seem to flow much better, and in my opinion, that makes for much better story telling. Which is exactly what I want to give to my fans who are reading and loving my books. So, I’ve leapt back into Crimson Groves, strengthening every single sentence that drove me crazy, all the while leaving the story exactly the same. After all, at the end of the day, that’s what I believe earned the numerous 5-STAR reviews and I would never change any part of that.
So here’s a peek of the revamped chapter 1 (before editing). Stay tuned for the official re-launch around the 1st week of April 🙂
My eyes shot open wide, instantly seeing what my new body craved. A disturbing thirst grew inside me as I watched tiny droplets of blood trickle down her neck. I stared at the crimson rivulets, mouthwatering, my fangs struggling to stay confined inside. My tongue stroked across my new canines—sharp and hungry. My refusal to bite her and drink her blood had been much easier before I saw it, smelled it, felt it sticking to my taste buds like honey. Sweet, scrumptious honey made of blood.
FOR THE PAST SIX MONTHS I’d been in a really bad mood. Today was no different. I walked with an empty purpose along the streets of downtown Clermont, staring at the scuffed black tops of my Dr. Martens boots. The empty part I blamed on John and Mandy, the purpose…well that was because I was on my way to work. The tall buildings around me were older, some red brick, some gray cobblestone, and a few of them were just bland shades of white, slightly worn down from the weather. They were linked like a cut-n-paste project at school. Chunky, uneven brick pavers decorated the front of each business and cracked, distressed pieces of sidewalk filled the gaps in between. Distracted by my thoughts, I tripped over a huge dip in the walkway pushed up by a swollen tree root. I skipped twice, not so gracefully, but luckily regained my balance before falling. Thank God I wasn’t wearing heels or I would’ve just eaten the sidewalk. Some days you just can’t catch a break. Maybe I just caught one?
Letting out a deep, “woe’s me” kind of sigh, I looked up. The descending sun hung in the corner of the sky like a big round drop of spectral yellow paint, fighting to keep its place on a dusky blue canvas. A cool gust of air brushed past and my hair flew sideways, sticking to my face. Wrestling with it momentarily, I strained to see beyond the soft blond wisps, and as I turned a corner the breeze shifted gears, sweeping my long hair behind me. At least I could see where I was going now—not that it helped my state of mind.
A slightly overweight woman jogged past me wearing typical runners attire: black leggings, skin tight neon green tank, and white Nike sneakers with a black swoosh. Her copper hair, pulled in a ponytail, poked out the top of a white sun visor. A chill brushed against my arms through the paper-thin poly-cotton material of my, black button-up shirt and I wrapped my arms around my chest, rubbing my hands up and down my arms, trying to create a little heat with the friction. It was unusually cool for Florida this autumn—maybe that meant we’d actually get a real winter this year. “Yeah right,” I mumbled under my breath.
The street was getting busier, cars and trucks hurrying to beat the impending rush hour traffic. Some of the restaurants around here offered great happy hours to attract those who didn’t want to brave the streets, or that just wanted to get cheap drinks and bar bites. Even though the restaurant I worked at was upscale, they’d decided to start offering the same types of specials. My boss blamed it on the bad economy.
A group of men in suits walking in the same direction as me, but on the other side of the street, fit the profile of the mid to upper class business professionals my restaurant catered to, and I wondered if that’s where they were going. As I reached the intersection, I hit the button and waited for a signal to cross the street. Instantly, a light in the shape of a plump stick person lit up bright white. Lucky me! Could my day possibly be looking up? Nah. Letting out a heavy sigh, I stepped off the edge of the sidewalk. Suddenly a horn bleated. Tires shrieked. It was loud. So loud, I knew it was close—too close. I swung my head up in a panic only to find a red Volvo heading straight toward me.
It came to a stop just a few feet away. I gasped, fighting for breath as my pulse hammered in my head, my attention on the smoke drifting up from the tires. Then as I raised my gaze slowly, a Latino woman in the driver’s seat came into view. She looked young, barely out of her teens with a braid of long, dark hair draped over her shoulder. Her mouth gaped open, her eyes wide with panic. Swallowing hard, I tried to focus on steadying my breathing but the air seemed thin. My adrenaline was pumping as if I drank a can of rocket fuel, yet my limbs were frozen and I couldn’t move.
“Ma’am, Ma’am! Are you okay?”
Looking like she’d seen a ghost, I stared at the Latino woman through the windshield and I couldn’t help but wonder if something bad really did happen and I was having some type of out-of-body experience. Maybe she did hit me? Maybe I was a ghost?
“Ma’am!” The voice was closer and this time I registered it sounded more like a man than a woman—deep and baritone.
Slowly looking around, I saw one of the men in suits walking toward me, the wind blowing his dark hair sideways, and his suit jacket flung open. “Are you okay?” he called out, worry hardening his expression.
“Y—” I choked up, felt shaky all over. If I really were a ghost, he wouldn’t be able to see me. Right? “Yes, I’m okay,” I finally managed.
Suit man smiled as relief washed over his face. When I looked back at Latino lady she was giving me one of those “move out of my way” looks. And she was texting on her cell phone. No wonder she’d just about run a red light and hit me. Fighting the urge to flick off Latino lady, I followed behind suit man as he headed back to his group on the sidewalk.
If you’ve ever had a near-death experience, then you know how your life flashes right before your eyes. I would’ve died sad, desperate, and alone. My tombstone would’ve read, Abigail Vaughn Tate – Beloved bartender. Isn’t that just a great way to go? And I thought I was having a bad day before this. No, I won’t ask what else can go wrong. I really don’t want to know.
The Beacon was just a little farther up ahead. With a silent prayer, I pleaded with God to let it be a busy night. Busy enough to keep my mind off John…And Mandy…And my near-death rendezvous.
“Hey, Abby,” a soft voice called out as I walked in. Jamie was just out of high school, not quite eighteen, but her parents were regulars here and pretty much secured the hostess job for her.
“Hey,” I said, waving at her as I passed the hostess stand. With a brief glimpse, I noticed how nice she looked with her mousy brown hair neatly tied in a bun and the deep red dress she wore hugging her slender frame. As hostess, she was the only employee that didn’t have to wear all black, but at least I made more money.
Turning left, I moved through the bar area in the front of the restaurant. A wooden countertop stretched across the entire back wall with several barstools crowded around it, two of them holding up older men. Behind the bar, there was a mirrored wall that held every type of booze you could imagine, along with two flat-screen TVs. I headed straight behind the bar and stashed my purse in a cabinet by the floor, then stood back up, still a little shaken, and smiled at Justin, my coworker.
“Abby, it was a slow lunch shift so I’m getting cut. Tonight’s all you,” Justin smarted. He didn’t look away from the wine glass he was rinsing in a small sink beside the icemaker. His tall, thin frame towered over me, at least a foot taller than my five-foot, four-inch height, and his short hair was a color somewhere between blond and brown. He was one of the few people I still bothered to call a friend.
“Sorry, life could always be worse.” Brushing his arm as I went past him, I added, “Like getting hit by a car and killed on your way to work?” then looked back to see his reaction.
He swung a curious look at me, one eyebrow arched higher than the other. “You what?”
“Yep. I can’t believe it’s still legal to text and drive. How many more people have to die before they outlaw that?”
“Well maybe you should’ve taken one for the team.” His thin lips arched slightly upward, releasing a sly-looking smile.
“Well, it’s the perfect time for me to be a human sacrifice,” I mumbled under my breath, half hoping he didn’t hear that.
“Let me guess…you’re still pissed about John and Mandy?” spoken with a sarcastic lilt in his tone.
“Shut up,” I hissed. “I don’t want to talk about them!” Remembering we weren’t alone, I looked toward the end of the bar where the old men sat, thankful their attention was on the football game.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to piss you off.” Justin ran his fingers through his hair leaving no proof that he’d ever touched a single strand of it. “I mean, you still haven’t talked to them, right?”
I absolutely hate how Justin tries to pry into my business. He’s not much of a gossiper, thank God, but sadly (for me), he doesn’t know when to leave things alone. “No, I haven’t.”
And just as if their ears were burning, here they came, walking straight toward me. John was 5’11”—slender, brunette, hazel eyes, charming—and the sight of him still caused my heart to do somersaults. He was wearing the jeans I’d bought him for his birthday last year and an off-white polo. He grinned at me: dazzling, breathtaking. Then I glanced over at Mandy, which instantly brought me back to reality. She was just a smidgen shorter than John. Her drably ash blond hair dangled slightly below her shoulders and some kind of clip held a large hunk of it to the side. A pair of faded skinny jeans and a tight red top with spaghetti straps completed her look.
“Abby, please come talk to us,” pleaded Mandy. She wore so much makeup, I thought she was made of plastic. At least her hooker red lips matched her shirt.
“Get the hell out of here!” Trying to keep my voice down, but anger surging up like a tidal wave, I exclaimed more loudly, “Now!”
John shook his head. “Please just step outside and hear us out.”
Seeing red in my mind, I stared daggers at the man I’d once wanted to share my life with forever, blah, blah, blah. “There’s nothing to talk about,” I ground out. “Please leave now or I’ll have you both removed.”
With watery eyes, Mandy took a small step forward. “Please,” she begged. Her voice was broken, desperate, pathetic—just like her.
“Look, you guys need to leave. Now.” Justin came over next to me and slid his arm around my shoulders.
“We don’t want any trouble,” John said. “We just need five minutes with Abby. Please.”
I slowly swung my head to the right, then the left. “The answer is NO! Please leave!” Now my voice was borderline hysterical. Another quick glance around the bar confirmed the customers weren’t watching me, even though I have no doubt they could hear everything going on.
That was all it took for Mandy to start crying. I sure didn’t remember her crying this much when we were best friends. “But Abby,” she wailed, “it’s been over six months. I miss you! You need to hear our side of the story.”
“I already saw your side of the story. I don’t need to hear anything else.” A flashback of walking in on them having sex in the same bed I’d shared with John burned in my mind, and my stomach clenched as I pushed away that horrible image.
Letting me go, Justin turned on his heel and headed out of the bar area. “When I get back,” he declared over his shoulder, “the manager will be with me, and your asses will be thrown out!”
“Don’t worry about it. We’re outta here.” John’s gorgeous face crumbled a little as he took Mandy’s hand and pulled. She resisted at first. Halfway between the exit and me, Justin watched them warily, his gaze warning, challenging. John tugged again and Mandy gave up, letting my former boyfriend—her sloppy seconds—lead her out of the restaurant.
Shaking his head and looking relieved, Justin said, “What a bunch of freaking jerks! Can’t they take a hint?” He meandered back to the bar and sat down at one of the stools. “You’re better off without them, you know?” His tone was louder than I liked, but I let it slide since he just saved my ass.
“Thanks for helping me, but I really don’t want to talk about this.”
Placing his elbows on the counter, he said, “I don’t blame you. You’ve had quite a night so far.” He looked away, seemingly heavy in thought, and when he turned back with an inquisitive gaze, I knew I was in trouble. “So do you think you’ll ever listen to what they have to say?”
Tossing my hands in the air I exclaimed, “I don’t want to talk about them. Please. There’s nothing more to say.”
Justin sat there for a minute, speechless, watching me with his moon-shaped brown eyes. Then moving his arms from the counter to his lap, he said, “You look like crap. Your eyes are bloodshot, your hair’s a mess, and you never smile anymore. I can’t believe you’re letting them get to you like this. What happened to my dear sweet friend? You remember her, right?”
Now I was the speechless one. Turning around, I stared at the mirror nestled behind the wall of alcohol. My reflection gazed back at me between the Grey Goose and Kettle One vodkas and that’s when I realized Justin was right. What a sad, pathetic, lonely person I’d become. Over the last six months, I’d managed to distance myself from anyone who cared about me. Losing my boyfriend to a backstabbing best friend was too much for me mentally to handle.
“Abby,” Justin called out, and once I turned to face him, he went on with his assessment. “You need to get back out there. Start dating. Maybe act nicer to the guys hitting on you. You never know, one of them might actually be a good match for you.”
“I’m not interested in meeting anyone while I’m working. Especially not at a bar.” I rested my hands firmly on my hips.
He looked down and hesitated for a minute, and I fought the urge to be immature and storm away. Then Justin stood up and said, “Whatever you say. Anyway, I’m out of here. Oh I almost forgot your dad called earlier. I told him you wouldn’t be in until later. He said he would call back.”
I stared at Justin, feeling like he’d just slapped me across the face. He turned around and headed out of the bar. My father called? I hadn’t spoken to my father in fifteen years. What would he be calling for? He left my mother and me when I was ten, and we never heard from him again. My mother didn’t take it very well—years of depression turned into dark anger and loathing bitterness. Then one day out of nowhere, she started blaming me. “You were always such a brat! No wonder he took off. I should’ve gone with him,” were the last words she ever said to me. Shortly after that, I moved out (with my good friend Mandy) and never spoke to my mother again. I’d heard “through the grapevine” that she remarried and had two more kids. Well, I guess she finally got her perfect little family after all.
Justin’s words echoed inside my head over and over again. I couldn’t help but feel anxious over the potential call I’d be receiving. Would he really call back? What would I say? What would he say? Shaking my head, I decided to put it out of my mind. The chances of him not calling back were far greater anyways.
“Excuse me, Abby,” Mel called down to me from the end of the bar, “can I get another glass of wine?” Mel was older, in his late sixties, with plump high cheekbones, thin stringy white hair brushed sideways in an effort to conceal his growing bald spot, and, was very overweight. His pants didn’t stand a chance of containing his oversized belly.
“Sure, sweetie.” After getting a fresh wine glass from a nearby cabinet, I grabbed an open bottle of Sequoia Grove, which was our house cabernet.
Mel smiled as I set the half-filled glass on the counter in front of him. “Thanks, Hon. You’re the best.” His chubby fingers gripped the stem as he carefully swirled the contents inside allowing the wine to breathe a little before he raised it to his lips and took the first sip.
Ring ring ring—the sound of an impatient phone wailed behind me. I turned around and stared at it, unable to move.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” Mel asked.
Nodding my head, I reached for the phone and grabbed it, yanking it to my ear. “Thanks-for-calling-The-Beacon-this-is-Abby-how-can-I-help-you?” My shaky voice pushed each word out so fast they ran together, making my entire greeting sound like one long word.
“Abigail?” a deep, gruff voice spoke. “Abigail Tate?”
“Yes, this is she.” My free hand found a few strands of hair and started twirling them.
“Abigail, this is your dad, if I can even call myself that anymore.” A long pause went by and all I could do was wait for him to continue, my voice stuck on the enormous lump in my throat. “Look, I know how bad I wronged you. And I know how angry you must be, but I need you to listen to me. Abigail, you’re in danger. He’s coming to find you. Somehow, I’m not sure how, but he figured it out. He knows how special you are. You can’t let him find you. You need to lay low and—”
I didn’t give him a chance to finish talking. “I haven’t heard from you in fifteen years and finally…finally, I get a stupid phone call. But it’s not because you miss me or even because you want to apologize for walking out on me. It’s not even because you care to know what I’ve been doing with my life. You just called to tell me some crazy story because you think I’m in trouble? Oh and let me guess, my hero father is going to rescue me? You’re freaking crazy! Don’t ever call me again!”
I slammed the phone down hard on its receiver and was shocked it didn’t break. Lifting my gaze to the mirror behind the wall of alcohol, I saw Mel and my other customer turn back toward the football game. Obviously I’d just put on a show for them, but at least they were pretending not to notice a thing.
“Stupid jerk,” I breathed. I hadn’t heard from my father in so long, and the only reason he wanted to talk to me was to warn me that I was in danger. What did he mean that I was special and that he knew? Who was he talking about anyway? None of that conversation made any sense. But my dear old dad had nothing to worry about. Since my breakup with John, I’d pushed him and everyone else out of my life. There was no one left that could hurt me, and I had no desire to let anyone in my life anytime soon. Sure I was lonely, but it definitely beat being heart broken. Didn’t it?
Shaking my head in disgust, I pushed my father and that deranged phone call out of my mind and tried to refocus on my work. The dining area of the restaurant was starting to seat people and that meant drink orders for me. And since I was the only bartender working tonight, I didn’t have to split my tips in half. Yay for me! I stole one more minute to mentally pump myself up with some positive thoughts (okay, so I tried), and then started to make my way toward the service window. There were already a few drink orders waiting for me, brightening my mood a little.
Ring, ring, ring—the phone barged in, causing me to spill some of the Stoli vodka I was pouring. Dang it! I scolded myself, then set the bottle of booze on the counter and headed the few steps to the phone. My hand hesitated a moment, hovering just above it. This couldn’t be my lunatic father again. No, surely it couldn’t. “Thanks for calling The Beacon, this is Abby, how can I help you?” I was more confident this time—you could hear each individual word.
“Abigail, please do not hang up. Please. You have to listen—” A loud banging sound burst through the headset of the phone making me yank it away from my ear. It sounded like a fight had broken out, no doubt from whatever bar my father was in. He’d probably pissed off some other drunk and then said something stupid. I tried to put the phone back to my ear, but the ruckus coming from the other end was still too loud. I felt shivers crawling up and down my spine. My heart started beating faster, harder. Even though I had zero respect for my father, the thought of someone else kicking his ass left me feeling uneasy and confused.
Then there was a deafening shriek, and my father, or maybe it was some other drunk, screamed out in agony. The horrible noise reverberated over and over. A big swallow failed to get my heart out of my throat, and my hand felt clammy on the phone. After what seemed like forever, the screaming trailed off taking the other noises with it. Pressing the phone to my ear at last, I listened for my father to come back on the line, or anything else that would let me know he was okay. “Hello, are you there? Hello.”
Then, the line went completely dead.