Savannah’s Song: Chapter 5

After registering Chloe for day care, Savannah had said nothing else to Max about the whole thing. Barely sleeping that night, she tossed and turned, worried that she’d just sealed her relationship’s fate. When morning came, she waited until Max left to bring Chloe to the day care, her frazzled nerves sizzling under the hot sun. She took the T home alone, and the silence was deafening.

The apartment seemed smaller without Chloe. Savannah sat on the warm couch, the TV off, a full cup of cold coffee in her hands. Biting her lip, she shifted position. Maybe it was time to get up. Without Chloe, though, she didn’t know what to do. No small hands tugged at her shirt. No chatter filled the empty spaces between her thoughts.

“It’s for the best,” she reminded herself. The ache in her heart didn’t seem so convinced.

She needed to put her free time to better use. She had never gone through anyone else’s things before. Even when she tidied up, she merely organized. Max didn’t seem bothered by it, and she could probably throw away his old ATM receipts and scribbled lyrics, but it felt wrong. It felt even more wrong to purposely dig through his belongings.

Perhaps trying to talk to him again would yield better results, especially if she straight-up asked him what was going on. Or he would yell at her some more. Maybe he would even get aggressive. The Max she fell in love with wasn’t violent, but she hardly knew who he was anymore. That Max hadn’t kept secrets, either.

His nightstand was the obvious place to start. Kneeling in front of it, she pulled on the top drawer. As if refusing to betray him, the drawer stuck fast. She yanked harder. Papers crushed against each other. She gave the nightstand a flat look, wondering when it had gotten so full.

Putting all of her strength into it, she wrenched the drawer open. A stack of papers slid into her lap. She gathered them in a rush, then hesitated. If she was going to snoop, she should go all the way.

She fanned the papers out on the floor, eyes skimming each page. Most of them were drawings by Chloe. In the bottom corner of each one, she recognized the date in her own handwriting. She grinned. There was an obvious evolution to each piece. Chloe was getting good, for a little kid. She just might take after her.

“We don’t share any DNA,” she reminded herself in Spanish. There was no way that Chloe would ever be like her. It was probably for the best. She hoped that Chloe would grow to be honest and direct, less of a coward than she was, sleuthing through her boyfriend’s drawers for answers.

The first stack of papers contained nothing else of interest. She put it to the side and reached in for another. The receipts she found were mundane, things like Big Gulp purchases and groceries. One had a phone number scrawled on it, but when she examined it closer, she remembered that it belonged to the cell phone they shared. Neither of them had been able to memorize it when they first moved to Boston, after canceling their individual, more expensive plans.

She put the papers back where she found them. Perhaps there was nothing else to find.

Or, she surmised, she was looking in the wrong place.

She returned to the living room, went to the desk, and woke up the laptop. A twinge of guilt twisted through her as she navigated to Max’s email. His password was easy to guess. Scrolling through the messages, she skimmed the subject lines. Much of it was spam. The rest were from her—reminders to pick up milk after work—or from the other members of South of Forever.

She slumped back in the chair. So far, her search had turned up nothing useful. She started to shut the computer down when a thought occurred to her.

If Max was cheating on her while he was supposedly at work, the best way to find out was to watch the studio.

She snorted, shaking her head. The idea was preposterous, and yet, it made sense. She might be turning into the obsessive, stalker girlfriend.

Rubbing at her face, she told herself that she needed to stop. Whatever was going on would reveal itself in due time. Things like that always came out, she reminded herself. Her abuela liked to say that secrets were like farts.

Savannah wished that she and her own mother were so close. Maybe, when things calmed down a bit and she had a better idea of where she would be living, she could invite her parents and older sister to visit, to try to make amends. There was no point in contacting them if Max was about to break up with her. If that happened, she would have to go back to Connecticut. Though she hated the idea of crawling back to her parents, there was no alternative.

She had nowhere else to go.

Wrenching her thoughts back into the present, she left the computer on the desk and grabbed her keys.

She wasn’t sure how much she could observe in the two hours she had before the art show began. Still, she hopped onto the T and took it over to the studio. More than ever before, she relied on her own two legs since moving to Boston. The city had a romantic, alive feel to it that no other city she ever visited had possessed.

There were plenty of cities all throughout the United States that fostered careers in the business. Something drew her and Max to Boston, though, and that had to count. They couldn’t really be at the end of their relationship. They had to grow old together, first, she mused.

Stepping off the T, she headed toward the studio. The scent of burnt coffee from a nearby stand pressed down on her. Dread pitted in her stomach. Her mind reeled. The muscles in her shoulders tensed with each step.

Stopping outside the building that housed The Den, she paused. For the first time in her life, she wished that she was a smoker. Then, at least, she would have something to do, rather than standing outside idly.

She stared at the entrance and debated whether to go inside. Doing so would put her at risk of being seen. There wasn’t much she could observe outside, though. Hoping that she wasn’t about to make yet another mistake, she slipped inside the entrance to the stage. Before heading up the stairs, she glanced around to make sure that no one from the band was around. The coast clear, she bounded up two steps at a time. When she got to the landing, she paused.

Her heart thudded in her chest.

Other musicians occupied the hall. She ducked back into the stairwell. She couldn’t tell if anyone from South of Forever was out there. If they saw her, she would have a lot to explain. Drawing a shallow breath, she crept back into the hall. Her eyes darted from face to face. None of the musicians looked familiar.

Her own heavy breathing echoed in her ears.

The room adjacent to South of Forever’s, she remembered, had a one-way window into their recording booth. It was mainly for videography purposes. Now and then, The Den was used as a space to film music videos. More than likely, the room stood empty at the moment. She tiptoed toward it as if the door was about to burst open. Putting a hand on the knob, she paused for a second. It could be locked. Muttering a silent plea, she twisted the doorknob. It turned easily. She pushed the door open.

Darkness greeted her. Letting out a sigh of relief, she eased into the room. Her heart continued to pound, her mouth dry. She used her tank top to dry her sweaty palms, then walked toward the window.

No one occupied the booth at the moment, but the door was open. She saw Jett head to head with Koty as they pored over a notebook that was full, she assumed, of lyrics for their EP. Perry leaned against the couch, an arm slung over the back, his fingers brushing against Poppy’s hair. She scooted away from him, her chest rising and falling as she sighed.

Griff joined Jett and Koty. Though Savannah couldn’t hear him or read his lips, his body language and hand gestures told her enough. Poor Perry wasn’t getting the message that Poppy was off limits.

Her view was only a fraction of the room, and it didn’t include Max. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the window. Spying on him was stupid, especially if she couldn’t see him.

Opening her eyes, she took a step away from the window when movement caught her eye. Max sat on the other side of the couch. Poppy turned toward him, more out of gratitude, Savannah suspected, than actual want of conversation. The booking manager’s body language was purely professional, and Max didn’t seem interested in her, either—at least, not on a physical level. He looked as if he was going to drop, though.

Dark circles wove around his bloodshot eyes like stage makeup. He pushed his hair out of his face, and Savannah made a mental note to trim those locks later. He had a notebook balanced on his lap where he scribbled something down every so often. Savannah couldn’t tell whether he was taking notes on what Poppy was saying or not. He didn’t seem to be paying attention to her, other than a polite nod every few sentences.

Deciding that she had seen enough, Savannah turned away. Max was at work, where he was supposed to be. She needed to get to the gallery, or everything that she had done to get Chloe into day care would be for nothing.

Suspicion still tugged at her, though. If he wasn’t cheating, she needed to find out what was going on.

* * *

Savannah took the T to Seven Deadly Brushes, the painting tucked under her arm. Her nerves popped and sizzled, a frazzled mess under her skin. Even with the air conditioning on the T, her hair plastered to her forehead. She looked down at her sneakers and shorts, debating whether she was underdressed for the occasion. She suddenly wished that she had thought to call her father. Despite their lack of communication, she probably could have talked him into sending her the money to order a dress with overnight shipping. Begging for their help might be a little like cheating at adulthood. Her shorts would have to do.

Before she knew it, she stood in front of the gallery. She smoothed her hair and, taking a deep breath, forced herself to go inside.

She glanced around. Zachary hadn’t told her where to go once she got there. Eyes scanning the art on the walls, she noticed all of the paintings were Latina-themed. She searched for a blank space to hang hers. There was nothing available.

As she turned to go, a hand caught her arm. She gasped as she met Zachary’s eyes. “Well, hello there.” She held out her free hand.

Instead of shaking hands, he leaned forward and kissed her cheek, his warm lips lingering. It had been a long time since someone greeted her with a kiss. His scent teased her nostrils. It was a combination of, perhaps, whatever cologne he wore and his own natural scent—spicy, matching the heat of his lips. “Glad you came,” he said. His lightweight, button-down shirt clung to corded muscles.

She indicated the full lobby. “These people are all here for your show?”

“No, beautiful. They’re all here for you.” He lifted a hand and directed her gaze to an easel standing alone in the center of the clean, brightly lit lobby.

She lifted an eyebrow at him. “What’s that?”

“That,” Zachary said, “is where we’re displaying your piece.” His eyes gazed into hers. Warmth shot down into her pelvis. Her grip tightened on her painting.

“Whoa. There’s no way I can do that.” She avoided his eyes. If she looked into them too long, she feared, she would be sucked in.

He put his hand lightly on the small of her back and steered her toward the easel. “This is my gallery, and I can feature whoever I want.” He lifted the painting from her grasp and began peeling off the paper it was wrapped in. “Ladies and gentlemen.” His voice boomed above the chatter. “Welcome to Seven Deadly Brushes, where you can view and buy Latina art and, if you’re feeling crazy, get inked.”

Polite laughter rippled through the group, though no one seemed particularly interested in getting a spontaneous tattoo.

Setting her painting on the easel, Zachary stepped to the side. “Please welcome our featured artist, Savannah Santos.” The way her name rolled off his tongue made her slightly dizzy. Applause undulated through the crowd, and people pressed closer. Leaning down, Zachary whispered in Savannah’s ear. “I have to go mingle now. This is going to sell. Just stand here and chat with people. I guarantee, you’ll walk out of here with money.” He gave her another kiss and sauntered away, raising an arm in greeting to someone she couldn’t see.

Though she wanted to wrap her arms around herself, she made her hands hang limply at her side. She tried to look inviting, though she had no idea how she was supposed to do that.

“That’s beautiful.” A woman in her forties stepped closer. She pointed at the painting. “How long did it take you to paint?”

Savannah glanced at the filigreed skull eyes and the pouting lips. She returned her gaze to the woman. She thought of Chloe, of the tiny hand that was currently missing from hers. Guilt pulsed through her, but she shoved it down. She could feel guilty later. “A couple days.”

“Amazing.” The woman nudged the slightly older man who escorted her.

He nodded. His gaze drifted across the room. “Ah! Let’s go look at that one.” He led the woman away, but she winked at Savannah over his shoulder.

“You might want to start tracking your time.” A thin woman in her early thirties stood at Savannah’s elbow. She wore purple lipstick, a stark contrast to her dark skin. Her long black hair was piled in a bun, and she spoke with a light Mexican accent.

Savannah turned toward her, switching into Spanish. “¿Por qué?

“Altagracia,” the woman said, pointing to herself. She leaned in and air kissed Savannah. “I did that one over there.” She pointed to a black and white painting of a woman dancing in traditional Campeche dress, long red skirt fanning out around her.

Savannah gasped. “She’s beautiful.” She started toward the painting, a hand outstretched. She air traced the long, flat nose and round, dark eyes, picturing how the woman in the painting would look tattooed on her shoulder. Altagracia drew her back.

“To answer your question, it helps you price things better. Stick by this.” She touched Savannah’s painting. “It’s going to sell fast.” Altagracia nodded toward the crowd milling around.

Everyone kept saying that. She wanted to believe it. Savannah bounced on the balls of her feet. Anticipation thrummed through her. The second that she could get away, she was going to check out the rest of the artists. Glancing at the rest of the paintings, it seemed as if she had fallen into her own personal heaven.

“It’s true.” Altagracia patted her hand and ambled away, her black skirt swirling about her ankles as she moved.

Most people passed by, giving Savannah a smile or nod. There was no mistaking the interest in their eyes, though. She had no idea that Boston had such an affluent Latina culture. She supposed that it made sense, though. The people fleeing conditions in South and Latin American countries wanted to get as far away as possible. For a moment, she wondered how many of the artists in the room were legal American citizens. She decided that it didn’t matter. They were safe from the violent gangs, and that was all that she needed to concern herself with. She had enough worries on her list.

Still, the thought of children and their families fleeing such violence often weighed heavily on her. A young man stood in the corner in front of a scene painted on cardboard with acrylic. In the painting, a teenager lay on the ground, blood gushing from a gunshot wound in his chest, hand outstretched. In the shadows, his shooters walked away without a second glance.

The artist didn’t look a day over seventeen. With his dark skin and haunted eyes, he could easily be a refugee. The painting was probably based on a real event. She made a mental note to figure out a way to ask him without sounding insensitive. She spent so much time wrapped up in her own problems that she often forgot about the suffering in the rest of the world.

“This is gorgeous. How much is this one?”

Turning, Savannah came face to face with a man wearing a shabby suit. Glasses sat askew on top of his head, and crow’s-feet etched the corners of his eyes. She held out a hand and introduced herself.

“Derek Galloway, songwriting professor at Berklee.” He shook hands with her, his grip cool but firm. “I walked in, and your piece drew me right over.” His voice was gentle, soothing in a grandfatherly way. “I try to bring color to my office, to inspire my students. I have to have this. How much is it?”

Her mouth opened, then closed. She gasped a sharp laugh. “How much is it?” she repeated. She looked around for Altagracia, but didn’t see her. “Excuse me, one moment.” She slipped away, eyes scanning the crowd for a familiar face. Her heart pounded in her chest. Someone wanted to buy her painting.

She found Zachary first. He stood talking with a man in a crisp suit. When he saw Savannah, he put an arm around her and drew her into the conversation. “Here she is, my star artist.” He introduced the other man as an art acquisitions manager for a local museum, but Savannah barely heard his name.

“Can I steal you for a second?” She hoped that the other man wouldn’t be offended.

“Of course.” Zachary led her to a less crowded spot, a hall that appeared to connect the lobby and gallery to the tattoo parlor. “What’s up? Is everything okay?” His eyebrows knit in concern.

“Someone wants to buy my painting.” She tugged at the hem of her shorts.

“Didn’t I tell you?” Zachary hugged her with one arm, and she was once more enveloped in the heat of his scent.

She backed away. “I don’t know how much to ask for, though.”

“Ah.” He drew her farther into the hall. The voices from the lobby drifted away slightly. “Here’s my advice. You don’t want to lose them by going too high, but you don’t want to cheat yourself, either. Let them make you an offer.”

Her brow furrowed. “What if they go too low?”

Zachary snorted. “Trust me, they won’t.” He indicated the well-dressed crowd. Her glance flicked to Professor Galloway, though, eyes roving over his worn suit. He ambled toward the young man with the painting of the dying youth.

“The tragedy of this one!” Professor Galloway lifted his arms.

“Just let them make you an offer, okay?” Zachary released her and sauntered back toward the crowd. Her knees wobbled in his wake.

Tilting her head back, she closed her eyes. She needed to get a grip. It didn’t matter how chiseled his chin was, how warm his eyes were, or how solid his body appeared. But, apparently, it mattered to her body. She wished he would stop touching her. Collecting herself, she walked back into the fray.

An elderly woman with her long white hair woven into a braid tottered toward Savannah. She leaned on a cane. “Are you the artist of the two sugar skulls?” she asked in Spanish.

Savannah nodded.

“How much do you want for it?” The woman limped back toward the painting. “I want to give it to my granddaughter.”

For a moment, Savannah thought of telling her that she could have it for free. The woman’s braid reminded her of her own abuela. But she could use the money toward fall and winter clothing for Chloe. She took a deep breath. “It’s up for negotiation,” she said, keeping her voice light. Her heart thundered in her chest.

“How about a thousand?” The old woman’s eyes glinted.

Savannah’s own eyes widened. “As in, a thousand dollars?”

“Or $1,500?” The woman swung her braid over her shoulder. It trailed down her back. Gnarled hands gripped her cane.

Savannah shook her head. “No, a thousand is fine.” Her voice came out in a squeak.

“Sold. I’ll go see Zachary.” The woman tottered away. “Don’t you go double-crossing me, selling to anyone else while I turtle my way over there,” she called over her shoulder.

Savannah looked for something to lean against. Her legs felt like jelly. She wanted to laugh. Blinking in disbelief, she glanced around the room. The youth in the corner shook hands with Professor Galloway. It was a firm sold handshake. Altagracia threw another number at the art museum’s acquisitions manager. He nodded. All around her, the other artists haggled with buyers. She watched as various forms of signs went up on paintings, marking them as sold. She wished she had thought to bring her own.

A short time later, she walked out of the gallery with $850 in her pocket. Humming to herself, she hopped onto the T. She couldn’t wait to tell Max.

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.

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Savannah’s Song: Chapter 4

The front door opened and Max shuffled in, hair disheveled. Her fingers twitched with the desire to run her hands through that hair, to try to tame it. Part of her wanted to know why he was home from his paper route later than usual, though.

Shoving her questions down, she wiggled the phone at him. “Guess who just called me?” Her lips broke into a wide grin.

Lifting a shoulder, he ambled past her toward the coffee pot on the counter.

Grabbing Chloe’s breakfast, she moved to the side so he could make his coffee. Savannah put the fruit and waffles in front of the little girl and practically danced to the refrigerator. “I submitted one of my paintings to a gallery.” She leaned toward Max, hands clasped, ready for his reaction.

He measured coffee grounds, his back to her.

Face falling, she inched closer until she stood next to him. “Did you hear me, papi?”

“So?” He turned the coffee pot on and reached for a mug amidst the dishes drying in the drain.

“I got in.” She waited for understanding to dawn on his face. It didn’t. Rocking back on her heels, she mumbled in Spanish to herself about how men were so oblivious to everything. “They’re going to sell it, for money. My art is being displayed to people!” There. Sometimes, she had to break things down for him. Men and women truly lived on different planets.

He gave her a nod and headed for the refrigerator.

“That’s it?” She lurched into his path. “You’re not going to congratulate me?”

His eyebrows knit together. “Why?”

She shook her head and moved to the side. “Never mind.” As he opened the refrigerator door and grabbed the half and half, she tried again, from a different angle. “Mira, the showing’s gonna be early in the day. I kinda have to show up. I was thinking, maybe we could enroll Chloe in a day care. Maybe I could start painting again, a couple hours a day.”

Max slowly turned to look at her. The half-gallon of creamer slipped from his grasp. It crashed to the floor, splashing against the cabinets and Savannah’s feet. “Day care?”

Grabbing the dish towel, she knelt to sop up the mess. “Yeah. Probably just one of the ones where they socialize, you know? Not one of the accredited ones.” She steeled herself for the argument. She knew they couldn’t afford childcare for the whole day, but if she could bring Chloe just a couple of times a week, it would be the perfect compromise.

“Are you serious?” He crossed his arms.

He glared down at her. She grimaced. “Do you want me to say I was kidding?” Meeting his eyes, she smiled. “Just think about it. I know we don’t have the money, but—”

“You want to just dump my kid with strangers?” His words cut into her like shrapnel. At the table, Chloe burst into tears at her father’s sharp tone. Max never yelled.

Lifting Chloe from her seat, Savannah rocked her back and forth. She shot Max a glare. “It’ll only be a few hours a week. Besides, the interaction with other kids her age will be good for her.”

Will be?” Max’s hands balled into fists.

Ignoring him, Savannah brought Chloe into the living room. The little girl’s favorite cartoons were on. Reaching for the remote, Savannah turned the volume up. Max followed her, though, and she sighed. So much for drawing attention away from their fight.

“You’re not putting my kid into some kind of baby farm.” He pointed a finger at her.

Taking a deep breath, she moved back into the kitchen, hoping that he’d follow. He stomped behind her, and when she turned, he looked even bigger than usual. Huffing, he reminded her of the Hulk. She took a step back, eyes darting for a way around him—just in case. Lifting a hand, she searched for a way to calm him down. “I’m just trying to make us all happy.”

“So you’re not happy?” He bristled and appeared to grow another few inches.

She rubbed her temples. “That’s not what I’m saying.” Glancing at the clock, she tried to change the subject. “Aren’t you going to be late?”

Max looked at the clock, too. Deflating, he nodded. “I had to cover someone else’s route on top of mine, and I got lost.” Stepping over the still-wet spot on the floor, he grabbed the pot of coffee and poured it into a thermos. Spinning away from her, he moved into the living room. He kissed Chloe’s forehead. She looked up at him, cheeks still wet. He turned away. Without another word, he left.

Blinking back tears, Savannah sank to the floor. The Max she knew rarely even raised his voice. If Chloe did something he didn’t like, he merely redirected her. She had never seen him angry, never been afraid of him. She pressed a hand to her lips. Both of her hands shook. Forcing her shaking legs to still, she stood. She needed to figure out what was going on with him. There was no way she could live in a home with so much negative energy swirling around.

Her gaze landed on the cell phone on the counter. She bit her lip. Arguing with Max was one thing. Going behind his back was another thing entirely. Though she would never let him run her life like she was some kind of Stepford robot, she hated to break his trust. When it came down to it, he had a certain parenting style, and she usually didn’t try to undermine him or work against him in any way. He relied on her to take care of his daughter.

She sighed. Missing the gallery wouldn’t kill her, but it would probably hurt her chances of selling the painting. It wasn’t as if she didn’t trust the little girl to behave. No matter how good she normally was, though, Chloe was only four. She had her moments. It could be embarrassing.

She reached for the phone. All she had to do was email Zachary. She could figure out the rest later.

Hands shaking, she opened up the email application. She started to type out a message, then deleted it.

She couldn’t do it, even if it meant giving up her dream. Chloe and Max were her dream instead. They had to be.

She put the phone down on the table and made herself walk away.

In the living room, Chloe sat in front of the television.

“Hey, baby girl, let’s go to the park. Come on, let’s get you dressed.”

Chloe ignored her, her eyes fixated on the screen.

Savannah chewed on the inside of her cheek. “Chloe.” She made her voice slightly sterner and marched across the living room. “Come on, cutie.” Even as Savannah plucked her from the floor, Chloe’s eyes remained on her cartoon.

Pausing, Savannah watched the characters. There didn’t seem to be a plot, and the things they said hardly made sense. When they did say something logical, it was completely inappropriate for a four-year-old.

She put Chloe down, her mind made up.

In several long strides, she was back in the kitchen. She retrieved the phone from the counter and opened the email app again. Taking a deep breath, she sent Zachary a simple message: I’ll be there. Then, closing her eyes and hoping she wouldn’t regret it, she pressed send.

When she opened her eyes, she wished she could take it back. She could only move forward, though.

Squaring her shoulders, she went into her and Max’s bedroom. Throwing open the closet door, she searched for the box that contained all of their personal records. Max hadn’t done much to organize anything back in Waterbury. When they moved to Boston, the first thing she did was bring order to the mess.

She found the box underneath a box of winter clothing. She hoped she wouldn’t regret her next move.

She tucked Chloe’s folder underneath her arm and pushed everything else back into the closet.

“There’s no going back, girl,” she told herself in Spanish. Her grandmother would say that she needed to give it to God. Savannah couldn’t remember ever believing in a higher power, but she could believe in herself. Still, she whispered the phrase her abuela often used. “Vaya con dios.” She suspected that her abuela was actually referencing an old Western, but Savannah liked to think she had been as pious as she always claimed to be.

She dressed quickly then, in the living room, tugged clothing onto Chloe.

“Wanna go to school?” she asked Chloe.

The little girl’s eyes lit up. “School? Like, where you play?”

“Basically.” Savannah held out her hand. “Come on. Let’s go sign you up.” She just hoped that, when the time came to explain, Max would understand.

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4

Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.

Kindle · iBooks · Nook · Kobo · More

Or one-click buy for your Kindle:


Savannah’s Song: Chapter 3

A groan rippled across the apartment. Savannah sat at the desk in the living room, her chin cupped in her hand. A yawn escaped her lips as she strained to listen for further movement. When no other sound reached her ears, she decided that it was probably just the building settling—or her imagination. With Chloe finally in bed and Max still at work, the house felt eerily silent. Plus, the late hour didn’t help.

She focused on the computer again. A web page displaying samples of logo designs sat open on the screen. She scrolled through, studying each piece. She figured that if she looked at enough examples, she would eventually come up with an idea for South of Forever’s logo. So far, all she had accomplished was keeping one eye open while her body grew more exhausted.

Instead of taking a nap, Chloe had spent an hour throwing a tantrum on the living room floor. Gazing at the screen with bleary eyes, Savannah resisted the urge to look up parenting blogs. Whatever was making Chloe boycott naps was probably normal. Besides, she needed to focus.

She eyed the kitchen through the pass-through and chewed the inside of her cheek. Maybe a cup of cocoa would energize her enough to get through the next couple of hours. Pushing back her chair, she padded into the kitchen and retrieved a pan from a cabinet. Within a few minutes, the scent of cocoa permeated the air. She poured it into a tall mug.

Carrying her drink back into the living room, she switched on a lamp. Max didn’t need to come into a dark house.

She set the mug down on the desk next to the computer and slid back into her seat. As she sat, something poked her bottom. Frowning, she lifted up and examined the chair. No stray screws protruded from the fabric. She slid a hand along the fabric of her shorts. Her fingers brushed something. Shaking her head at herself, she dipped her fingers into her pocket and withdrew the crumpled business card.

Smoothing it out, she leaned closer to read the small text. Her heart fluttered in her chest as she replayed her meeting with Zachary. She reached for the keyboard to look up Seven Deadly Brushes. From what the business card said, it seemed as though Zachary’s tattoo shop was also a gallery.

The home page proclaimed that they were taking submissions for their gallery. She wondered if Zachary actually had any staff, or if “they” stood for just him. Maybe he was hiring. She scrolled through the page, skimming the entry requirements. All someone had to do was email a photo of the painting they wanted to include in the exhibit. There wasn’t even an entry fee. She could submit one of her skull paintings.

Rolling her eyes at herself, she shook her head. She had no business submitting her work to any gallery. Nowhere near professional level, she would only be disappointed when she was rejected—or when she didn’t hear back from the gallery at all.

Still, her fingers itched to peel off the paper she had wrapped her paintings in. Something had to be worth submitting. Even if she never heard back, she had to try.

Shrugging, she reached for the cell phone that she and Max shared, then darted into their bedroom.

She slid open the closet door and pulled out a large wrapped canvas. Her fingers danced back and forth as she unwrapped the painting. By the time she finished, sweat beaded her hairline. Without air conditioning, the apartment was hot—and she’d just been drinking cocoa.

Three sugar skulls painted in vibrant pink, green, and purple stared back at her, surrounded by bright orange marigolds. She moved the phone around until the entire painting was in the frame. Then, before she could think about what she was doing, she pressed the button to take the picture.

She re-wrapped the painting and slid it back into its place behind her and Max’s clothing. A sigh escaped her lips. Her fingers twitched with the urge to pull out the last canvas she had worked on—a painting of Max that she had yet to finish.

Tapping a key, she woke up the computer, then connected the phone into the USB port. When the screen popped up asking if she would like to import the photo, she clicked yes and went back to Seven Deadly Brushes’s website.

Filling out their form, she uploaded the photo. Then, before she could change her mind, she pressed the send button. It zipped off into cyberspace to Zachary’s inbox. She wiped her sweaty palms on her T-shirt.

“And then right to his trash,” she muttered. Unplugging the phone, she deleted the photo. Her eyes swept toward the time on the display. Grimacing, she shut down the computer. She had spent far too much time on the gallery’s website. Steam no longer rose from her mug of cocoa. It was just as well.

She wondered what life would be like if she had finished college and started her own freelance design business. While she had never considered graphic design, she could have fallen in love with it, if she had given herself the chance. Instead, she had wasted her art history and English courses sketching rather than taking notes. She had seen the college’s required courses as a waste of time and wanted to spend more time on her actual major, and had paid the price.

Taking a deep breath, she walked back to her bedroom and closed the door behind her. It was time to stop dwelling in the past, especially when she had such a beautiful family. Given some time, maybe she could talk Max into having a baby of their own. Even though he didn’t make much money, they were relatively settled. Chloe would love being a big sister.

She pulled off her clothes and tossed them into the hamper. A satisfied sigh escaped her as the satin sheets enveloped her naked body.

The front door swung open, the creak groaning across the apartment. Max moved through the short hallway and into the living room. Imagining him weaving around their furniture, she propped her chin in her hands and prepared herself.

The door to their bedroom inched open. Max eased inside, probably because he thought she was already asleep.

“Hey,” she whispered.

Light from the street spilled into the room from between the blinds. As Max’s eyes adjusted to the dim room, his mouth dropped open. She rolled onto her side, exposing her breasts. He yanked his shirt over his head as he crossed the room. Kicking off his shoes, he joined her in bed.

The scent of his cologne hit her a second before his lips crushed to hers, his fingers tangling in her hair. Using his free hand, he cupped her breast, thumb roving over her nipple until it hardened. His other hand moved to stroke the back of her neck. She gasped, and he took advantage of the opportunity. His tongue flicked into her mouth, caressing hers. She pressed her body against his, feeling his erection against her thigh. Fingers trailed his chest, pausing at the waistband of his jeans. He kissed her harder.

She unbuttoned his jeans and dipped her hands into his boxers. She stroked the velvety skin of his head, drawing him out of his pants. He exhaled sharply into her ear, and her skin tingled. Finally, the moment she had been waiting so long for was about to arrive. Scooting to the side, she pulled him toward her with one hand. With her other hand, she helped him shed his pants. He kicked them off.

Grinning, she pressed him against her. His teeth nibbled at her earlobe. His fingers stroked the back of her head, tangling in her hair again. The slight pull only turned her on more. She arched her hips and thrust until he was inside of her. Adrenaline shot through her body, erasing the long day and her worries. Moving against him, she put her hands on his shoulders, and frowned.

He balanced on an elbow, eyes closed. For a moment, she thought he may just be savoring the moment. When his eyes remained closed, though, she stopped moving. He sagged to the side, slumping into a pile of pillows. Her jaw dropped. He had never fallen asleep during sex. Despite their recent dry spell, they joked all the time that it was their favorite pastime. Savannah turned onto her side and poked him hard in the chest. A soft snore rippled from his nostrils.

Shaking her head, she scooted down, intending to entice him into further activities. She cupped him in her hand, then frowned. He was already going soft.

Gritting her teeth, she glanced at the time. It was just as well. She needed to be up soon with Chloe, and he needed to rise early to deliver more newspapers. Curling up on her side next to him, she kissed his cheek, the stubble on his face prickly against her lips. The beard was new, too. She closed her eyes and waited for sleep to come.

It didn’t.

Thoughts swirled through the darkness, diving into her mind. Perhaps he wasn’t interested anymore. Maybe, she supposed, there really was someone else. Poppy hadn’t seemed interested, but he still technically had time after practice for a quickie with someone else.

Savannah’s eyes flew open.

If that was the case, she should hardly be worrying about designing something for his band. He didn’t deserve it.

Hugging a pillow to her chest, she turned away from him, tears slipping from her eyes.

* * *

Sunlight streamed into the kitchen. Chloe stared through the pass-through, transfixed by her cartoon in the living room. Standing at the counter, Savannah sliced a banana, arranging it next to Chloe’s mini waffles. If all the kid was going to eat was carbs and sugar, she was going to sneak something healthy into her diet.

As she dropped the knife into the sink, the cell phone vibrated against the counter. She didn’t recognize the phone number. She almost let it go to voicemail—she didn’t want to waste their minutes on a telemarketer—when she realized that it was a Boston area code. Her heart skipped a beat.

Taking the call, she pressed the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

“Is this Savannah Santos?” a smooth, masculine voice asked. He sounded familiar.

Her jaw dropped. Her mind went blank as she realized who she was talking to.


Shaking her head at herself, she gathered her thoughts. “Yes,” she said. “This is Savannah.”

He chuckled. “Good, because I was going to be embarrassed if I called the wrong person.”

She laughed, too, though she wasn’t sure why.

“I think we met in the grocery store yesterday,” he continued.

His confidence only sped up her heart rate. “Sorry,” she feigned. “I meet lots of guys when I’m shopping for milk. Which one are you again?”

“I’m the one who’s going to make you a lot of money.” He paused. Heat enveloped her face. The phone nearly slipped out of her grasp. She wiped her hands on her pajamas. “I like your submission,” Zachary said.

“Oh?” She leaned against the counter, urging her heart to stop its galloping.

“It’s amazing. The color, the detail—I think it would be a great fit for Seven Brushes and what I’m trying to do. And I’m going to sell it for you, get your name out there.”

“You’re awfully certain of that, papi.” The term of endearment flew out of her mouth before she realized it. Clearing her throat, she forced her next words to come out quickly. “How can you sell it?”

“All you need to do, baby girl, is show up. I’m opening the exhibit at noon tomorrow. Just come, bring some business cards, if you have them. If you don’t, you’re going to be kicking yourself.”

She barely heard him. There was no way that she could go to a gallery smack in the middle of the day—not with Chloe underfoot. For a four-year-old, Max’s daughter was really well-behaved, but a gallery was no place for her.

“So I’ll see you tomorrow?” Zachary asked.

Hesitating, Savannah glanced at Chloe. She could probably figure out something. “Totally,” she said finally. She considered her options. “I mean, would it be okay to hang the painting and leave, if all else fails?”

“Of course.” The smile in his voice shot heat into her pelvis. He switched to Spanish. “It’s your painting, Savannah. I’m just here to help you succeed.” The way the words rolled off his tongue made her sag against the counter.

She had to get herself under control. Just because she was sexually deprived didn’t give her an excuse to go all loose-limbed whenever he spoke. She cleared her throat and forced herself to respond in English. “I’ll email you.” Her voice came out husky, thick with lust. Heat blazed across her cheeks. She turned on the faucet in the kitchen sink and grabbed a towel.

“I’m going to sell that painting within the first hour, Savannah,” he said.

She wet the towel and pressed it to the back of her neck. “Sure.” She nodded, her resolve strengthening. “I’ll see you there.” Then she hung up before he could say anything else—or entice her any further. She dropped the phone and leaned over the counter, the dish towel cold against the back of her neck. She needed to get a grip. She also needed to get laid, and soon.

Her mind flashed to the night before. It wasn’t like Max to fall asleep like that, she thought, but she would turn it around. She had to.

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4

Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.

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Savannah’s Song: Chapter 2

Stepping into the studio, Savannah guided Chloe to the sofa, without taking her eyes from Max and the new girl. She released Chloe’s hand and barely noticed as the preschooler climbed onto the couch. Eyes narrowed, she watched Max touch the woman’s arm lightly, a smile playing on his lips.

The men’s voices were a babble, drowning out Max’s conversation. But Savannah had learned to read lips along with her friends in middle school, when talking in class resulted in detention.

The young woman’s eyes never left Max’s. Savannah easily made out her next words: “It’ll definitely be a pleasure working with all of you.”

She gritted her teeth and started toward them.

Perry squeezed between Max and the beautiful woman. “Poppy, if you’re free after this, I’d love to take you to a great bar for a drink.”

“She doesn’t even look old enough to drink,” Savannah muttered.

“You can’t afford to take yourself out, never mind her,” Griff told Perry.

Poppy played with a stray strand of curly hair, full lips glistening with lip gloss.

Jett joined Savannah. “Isn’t it amazing, how men can be distracted so easily?”

Savannah nodded. “Who the hell hired her?” Her voice was nearly a growl.

Jett sighed. “I did.”

Poppy untangled herself from the group of men. “Excuse me, gentlemen, but I’ve got a list of shows that I’ve already booked for you.” She winked at Jett as she strode toward the couch. She clutched a binder to her chest. “I actually do have some shows booked, if you’re interested.” Her brown eyes met Jett’s again.

Savannah tightened her grip on the cooler and took a step away from the couch. A pang twisted her heart as she glanced at Max. She wished she could work with him in the studio. Jett got to work with Koty. Though Savannah sensed that Jett had initially tried to keep Koty at arm’s length, they now spent their days writing songs together and practicing harmonies. With no musical inclination, though, there was nothing Savannah could contribute to the band.

“Wait.” Jett tapped her shoulder, holding up a finger to Poppy. Savannah spun to face her, blinking her thoughts away. “I actually wanted to ask you something.”

Savannah followed her across the room. The table was cluttered with notebooks and sheet music. “What’s up?”

Jett slid her hands into the pockets of her jeans. “We’re almost done recording the EP. Your boyfriend’s been harassing me to just upload it somewhere, rather than trying to get a record deal first.” She nodded toward Max. “He even offered to handle everything. I have no idea how to do any of that stuff.” Jett shrugged, a sheepish grin playing on her lips.

A strand of hair escaped Savannah’s side braid. She tucked it behind an ear. “You want me to talk him down?” Max hadn’t mentioned anything. If he was that excited about the EP, he should have shared it with her. Something was definitely going on with him.

Jett waved a hand. “Nah. I think it’s great. He’s got a lot of energy.”

Savannah’s eyebrow shot up. The Max that she knew dragged himself around the apartment, alternating between ignoring her and snapping at her. If he wasn’t acting that way at work, then he definitely had a problem with her. Dropping the cooler onto the table, she started to turn away. She needed to collect Chloe and go home, figure out what she was going to do.

Jett caught her by the arm. “Any chance I can harangue you into designing a logo for us, and the cover of the EP? I’ll pay you,” she added quickly. “Eventually.”

Savannah’s mouth dropped open. “Oh.” Mind racing, she glanced at the group of men. Max and Koty sat at the mixing board, while Chloe bounced around her father trying to get his attention.

“I know it’s kind of last minute,” Jett continued, “but I’ve seen your work, and I think you’re fucking amazing.”

Fingers pulling at the hem of her shirt, Savannah struggled for a graceful way to decline. “I’ve never really designed anything for the internet.”

“You’d be great,” Jett said. “I know you can do it.”

Before she could say anything else, Poppy appeared at Jett’s elbow.

“Are you free to talk about the shows now?” Poppy asked. She held out the open binder.

Nodding, Jett sat at the table and indicated for Poppy to do the same.

“I started with a show here at The Den,” Poppy said. “I’ve got a distributor who can have CDs of the EP made in a few weeks, just in time for the first show.”

Savannah cringed. She would need a lot more time to draw up a logo and make the cover, especially if she was going to have to learn Photoshop.

Joy unfurled across Jett’s face, though, something Savannah had never seen from her. “Yes!” She pumped a fist in the air. “I knew I hired you for a reason.” She hugged Poppy with one arm.

Eyes wide, Savannah tucked the cooler under her arm and turned away. If she was going to work on the project, she needed to get started that afternoon. She wasn’t sure she wanted to, though. If Max was planning on breaking up with her, there was no point.

Chloe sat at Max’s feet, her lips twisted into a pout. He still hadn’t so much as acknowledged her. It was flat-out weird. Maybe his problem wasn’t just with Savannah. Maybe he was tired of playing house, period. The Max she knew lived for his daughter. Before she met him, he had been raising her alone.

Frowning, Savannah crossed the room. She tapped his shoulder. “Hey, Daddy, someone’s here to see you.”

Max swiveled in his seat. He flicked an annoyed glance at Savannah, then scooped Chloe into a hug.

Though Savannah’s heart leapt at the sight of him with his daughter, she wished that he would put his arms around her. She wondered what his deal was. He was acting so weird.

But Max released Chloe quickly, his attention already drifting back to the mixing board. The little girl’s shoulders drooped, a whine escaping her lips.

Savannah swatted at the back of Max’s head. “Your daughter misses you.” She shook her head, wondering how Max could so easily dismiss them.

It was as if he didn’t hear her. He slipped on headphones.

Koty glanced at Savannah, his eyebrows furrowed in concern. “Let’s take a quick break.” He jumped up from his seat and ambled toward the table where Jett and Poppy still sat.

Savannah held out the cooler to Max. “I made you lunch.” Even though she had done nothing wrong, she needed to make up with him.

Max glanced at the proffered peace offering. “Thanks.” He accepted the cooler and leaned in to kiss her. His warm lips met hers. His mouth moved against hers, his skin soft and warm. Tingles shot through her body, and she inhaled a sharp breath. Maybe he was merely distracted, overwhelmed with work. Dimples appeared in her cheeks. She would find a way to unwind him when he got home, that was for sure.

He pulled away and, nodding, turned back to the mixing board.

Holding her hand out to Chloe, she ducked out of the studio, back into the cool hallway. For a moment, she rested against the wall, her head tilted back. Her heart thumped in her chest, her body still reacting to the kiss and her doubts. Forcing her breathing to slow, she closed her eyes for a moment. The hushed whisper of cool air pumping through the vents eased her frazzled nerves. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

“Na Na.” Chloe wriggled out of her grasp.

She opened her eyes. Sometimes, she wondered if Chloe was trying to say her name or call her Mama. She refused to take that title, even if Nicole—Max’s ex-girlfriend and Chloe’s mother—didn’t deserve it. She couldn’t remember the last time Nicole had seen her daughter. “Yes, nena?”

“Let’s go!” Chloe walked toward the stairs and pointed down.

Savannah took her hand and let the little girl lead the way back outside. Her thoughts swirled frantically. Maybe she had made a huge mistake in accepting Jett’s proposal. Aside from being rusty, she had dropped out of college before ever cracking Photoshop open. She had no idea how to use it for her old assignments, never mind create a logo.

It was nice that Jett believed in her, but if she couldn’t deliver, she might really mess things up for Max. The last thing she wanted to do was lose his respect.

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4

Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.

Kindle · iBooks · Nook · Kobo · More

Or one-click buy for your Kindle:


Savannah’s Song: Chapter 1

“Arms up,” Savannah said, tickling Chloe’s belly. The four-year-old giggled as her arms shot into the air, begging for Savannah to tickle her armpits. Grinning, Savannah wriggled her fingers into Chloe’s skin. The toddler shrieked with laughter, nearly falling to the floor. Savannah caught her and, in one swift motion, peeled off her pajamas. This had been their ritual for the last two years—for almost as long as she’d known Chloe. She sighed. Chloe wouldn’t want to wear footed jammies much longer.

A door squeaked open on the other side of the apartment. “Daddy’s home,” she told Chloe. “Hurry!” She tugged an undershirt over Chloe’s head, then helped her into a romper and sweater. The floor groaned under Max’s feet as he crossed the apartment while Savannah maneuvered Chloe’s feet into socks and sneakers. The grocery store would be cold inside, their only access to air conditioning all summer.

Max entered Chloe’s bedroom, his delivery bag still slung over his shoulder. He brushed hair out of eyes punctuated by dark circles and gave Savannah a nod. “Gonna take a shower.”

“Wait.” She stood, brushing dried soap from her bare legs. She had shaved for the first time in days, specifically so she could wear shorts. Spring in Boston had seesawed between cool rain and warm rain. She was ready for summer. Crossing the room, she stood on tiptoes and pressed a kiss to his lips. “I figured I would drop you off at the studio, and we’d take the car to go get some groceries.” She struggled to remember the last time she had left the house that week.

Even though it would be nice to drive for a change, the Taurus wasn’t the same as her BMW. Selling it had been the only way they could afford the move from Connecticut to Boston.

Max ran a hand through his hair. “This early?” He nodded toward the yellow clock on Chloe’s wall. In complete contrast to her pink and purple bedroom in Connecticut, Chloe had asked for yellow when they moved in. “Don’t you think it’s a little early to be dragging Chloe out?” His voice was rough. He stepped away from Savannah.

Frowning, she closed the distance between them. “It’s not that early.” She lifted a hand toward the clock. It was a little after seven.

“If you need the car for later, I can just take the Red Line.” He spun away from her and into the bathroom. The door slammed shut.

Biting her lip, Savannah turned back to Chloe. The little girl watched Savannah, blue eyes wide. “Daddy’s cranky when he’s tired, huh?” Savannah scooped Chloe from the floor and carried her through the apartment. She hesitated in the living room, eyeing the fabric fraying from their couch. Shoulders slumping, she made her way to the kitchen.

“I want waffles,” Chloe told her.

Savannah put her in her booster seat. “No kidding.” She opened the freezer and withdrew the box of store-brand waffles. Pausing, she tapped her finger against her chin, staring at the bread on top of the refrigerator. She could surprise Max with something to eat at the studio. He certainly seemed like he could use it—along with a good night’s sleep.

As Chloe’s waffles popped out of the toaster, Max jogged through the hall. “See you later.” He stopped only long enough to kiss his daughter on the forehead, then swung the front door open and disappeared from view.

“Thanks for the kiss.” Savannah kept her voice low. Max needed more than some rest. Maybe, her mind whispered, he was so tired because he was spending all his free time with another girl. She shoved the thought away and grabbed sandwich meat, mayonnaise, and maple syrup from the refrigerator. She plopped a plate of waffles and the syrup in front of Chloe.

The little girl grabbed the bottle with two hands and squeezed.

“Okay, that’s enough.” Savannah plucked it from her grasp. “Good job.” She kissed Chloe’s cheek and returned to making Max’s sandwich. If she surprised him with some lunch and his daughter, he might be in a better mood later when he got home. As long as it had been since she last shaved, it had been even longer since they had sex.

Boston had been her idea. It was supposed to be an adventure, an opportunity for Max to pursue a career in music. Instead, he came home late from band practice every night and grabbed maybe two hours of sleep before he got up to deliver newspapers. Perhaps they got too hot and heavy too fast, Savannah thought. Her slim, brown fingers flew as she packed the sandwich into a small cooler. Dancing two steps from the counter, she returned to the refrigerator and pressed the button for ice. Even though their Dorchester apartment was one of the cheapest in Boston, it was still expensive. At least they had ice on demand, she mused.

When she turned around, her eyes met Chloe’s. The little girl held out her empty plate. “I want more waffles.”

Savannah snorted. “And I want my BMW back.” She kept her voice light and playful. It wasn’t as if Chloe knew what a BMW was, or why they sold the luxury car Savannah’s parents had given her and kept Max’s beater. She slid another waffle into the toaster and leaned against the counter. Things wouldn’t be so bad if Max wasn’t snapping at her all the time. She was starting to feel like a nanny rather than his girlfriend. A bitter laugh escaped her lips. Even when she had been Chloe’s nanny, Max had never treated her so badly. She was starting to worry that she had made a huge mistake.

* * *

Goosebumps rose on Savannah’s skin. Air conditioning swirled about her bare arms and legs. She clenched the handle of the shopping cart and quickened her pace through the freezer aisle.

Holding a box of cereal, Chloe seemed not to notice the subzero temperature of the grocery store. She traced the character’s face with a small finger. Savannah grinned, stepping away long enough to grab a package of mini waffles from one of the freezers.

“I swear, they make you go through the freezer section last just to torture you.” Savannah glanced down at her list. She almost had everything they needed. She was getting to be a champion at grocery shopping. She pushed Chloe out of the frozen foods section, hurrying toward the warmer bakery.

Chloe stretched her arm out, fingers smudging the glass of a freezer door as they passed. Letting out a squawk, she turned and pointed, her eyes locked.

Savannah followed her gaze to the ice cream and popsicles in the case. Her lips formed an O. She laughed. Before she could stop herself, she found herself saying the same thing her mother used to say to her in Spanish. “Ay, dios mio.” Chloe watched her, an eyebrow raised. “Lo siento, nena. Food stamps don’t cover extras.”

“What does ‘lo siento’ mean?” Chloe’s feet kicked against the cart.

Savannah pushed the cart into the bakery, practically running past the cupcakes. Her lips twisted into a frown. For all of Savannah’s efforts, Chloe wasn’t picking up much Spanish. “It means sorry.” She supposed she only had Max to blame. If he tried to learn Spanish and spoke it in front of Chloe, too, his daughter would pick it up much faster. She glanced down at Chloe. “You might as well be my daughter,” she mumbled in Spanish.

Chloe pressed her lips against the bar of the cart.

“Chin up.” Savannah turned away to examine the reduced loaves of bread.

“I’m bored.” Chloe resumed kicking her heels against the metal.

Savannah withheld a snort. Her back still to Chloe, she squeezed a loaf and turned it upside down. Squinting at it for mold, she righted it again.

“Your daughter is beautiful,” a deep voice murmured in Spanish.

Turning, Savannah nearly dropped the bread. The guy beside her stood at least a foot taller than her. Muscles bulged in his arms. A light beard covered his face. He was handsome in a rugged way, with a slightly crooked hairline. She pegged him in his thirties, judging by the occasional gray hair that she picked out in the florescent lighting. Despite the grays, he was a young thirty, she decided.

He held out a hand. “Zachary Acevedo.” Warm brown eyes met hers.

Swallowing hard, she shook his hand. “Savannah Santos.” She gestured to Chloe. “She’s beautiful, but she’s not mine.” The Spanish rolled off her tongue easily, wrapping around her heart like a long lost lover. It felt good to converse with someone in her mother tongue.

Zachary stooped until he was at Chloe’s eye level. “Hi, there.” He wiggled his fingers.

Chloe watched him with dubious eyes.

“She’s shy.” Savannah switched to English as smoothly as he had. Nodding to the basket he carried, she said, “I’m guessing you don’t have any kids.” Only a bachelor would shop at a grocery store for body wash and protein powder.

He shook his head. “Not yet.” His eyes roved over her body, and she didn’t miss them stopping at her sleeve of tattoos. Though somewhat covered by her chambray shirt, the bright dots and filigrees of her Día de los Muertos sugar skulls screamed to be noticed. Though they were benign in nature, most people mistook them for something sinister. Zachary only nodded at them. “Nice ink.”

Licking her lips, she blinked. “Thanks.” She gave his tattooed arms a quick once over, wondering what lay beneath his T-shirt and shorts. A squid’s tentacles wrapped his forearm and stretched up, coiling around his bicep.

“If you ever want more work done, I’ve got a shop not far from here.” Digging into his back pocket, he plucked out a wallet and handed her a business card. When his skin touched hers, she drew back as if she had been shocked. He seemed not to notice.

“Thanks.” She tucked the card into her own back pocket. Heart pounding, she gave Chloe a nod. “Well, I’ve got to get going. This one won’t sit still for much longer.” Nodding toward Chloe, she threw him a wink and turned away. As she hurried toward the checkout, she wondered if winking could be considering flirting. She grimaced, then shook her head. Even if she was flirting, there was no harm in it.

Urging the cart into a line, she felt the card as if it were burning a hole in her shorts. It would be amazing to get another tattoo. Chloe’s arm stretched toward the candy in the checkout line. Automatically, Savannah guided her hand away. She missed being around artists and, she thought with a pang, she missed painting. She couldn’t remember the last time she had picked up a brush.

She glanced down at Chloe and pressed a kiss to the little girl’s head. She wouldn’t trade her sort-of-daughter for anything in the world, though. Even if art was no longer her life, she served a larger purpose. Her mother once said that raising children was the best gift one could receive.

The last person she should be thinking about was her mother, she chastised herself. Her parents didn’t appreciate art or tattoos. Though they spoke Spanish, they didn’t appreciate her mother’s Mexican heritage or her father’s Puerto Rican lineage—not the way she did.

Remembering her mission to bring Max lunch, Savannah paid for her groceries and rushed Chloe out to the Taurus. She tossed the non-perishable food into the trunk and put the milk and eggs on the backseat next to Chloe’s booster. Strapping the toddler in, she wiggled her fingers into Chloe’s ribs. The little girl giggled, gazing adoringly at Savannah.

Those moments, Savannah mused as she got behind the wheel, made everything she had given up worth it. She sped away from the grocery store and headed toward the apartment. She was still learning her way around Boston and rarely left the Dorchester area. Between her and Max, they had one cell phone, and it wasn’t sophisticated enough for GPS. It didn’t even take decent pictures. Slowing, she pressed her lips together, trying to remember the way. If she felt like risking her life, she could jump onto I-93. Snorting, she glanced at Chloe in the rearview mirror. The little girl played with a stuffed animal she had left in the car—her current favorite. Aside from when she and Max first moved to Boston, she had avoided the highway completely.

But Boston was perpetually in rush hour, its streets clogged with pedestrians. Taking the highway would shave precious minutes off her commute. “Now or never, girl,” she told herself. Then, she swung the car onto the on ramp.

Traffic flowed, and she let out a sigh of relief. She made it to the apartment in record time, zipping upstairs with Chloe on one hip and the milk and eggs in her other hand. As soon as the perishable food was in the refrigerator, she tugged Chloe toward the stairs. The little girl’s shorter legs slowed her down, though. Feeling a bit guilty, Savannah scooped her up and raced toward the bottom.

“Why are we going so fast?” Chloe glanced down with wide eyes.

“Do you want to surprise Daddy?” Rounding the corner, Savannah burst out into the parking lot and sunshine.

Chloe pressed her lips together, considering.

“Seriously?” Savannah asked as she tucked her back into her booster seat. “We’re gonna bring Daddy some lunch.” She realized that she could have saved herself from packing the cooler if she had just left the sandwich in the refrigerator and grabbed it on her way back out. Sighing, she moved the cooler from the trunk to the passenger seat and jumped back into the car.

Her heart pounded as she sped toward the studio. She had been there so many times since South of Forever had moved their headquarters from Malden Street a few weeks ago that she didn’t need to think about it. Plus, most of the locals knew where to find The Den Stage & Studio. Once upon a time, it had been a premier recording facility for big-time artists. Lucky for South of Forever, the studio was struggling and had offered them a cheap rate.

Savannah pulled into a parallel spot in front of the studio, its large sign declaring the upcoming weekend’s events. It may not be a popular recording studio anymore, she mused as she lifted Chloe from her booster seat, but it was still a great place to catch a concert. Someday, when she and Max could afford a babysitter, she would have to take him to a show there.

“Can I walk now?” Chloe rolled her eyes.

“Totally.” Though Savannah was in a hurry, Chloe was four—much too heavy for hauling around long distances.

Pushing through the double doors, Savannah turned right and climbed the staircase that led to the studios. Air conditioning whispered across her skin, and she shivered.

Looping the strap of the cooler around her arm, she slowed as she reached the top of the stairs, waiting for Chloe to catch up. Savannah led Chloe to the left of the staircase. She crossed the hall to the door with South of Forever’s name on it.

Knocking on the door in case someone stood just inside, she eased it open.

No one occupied the recording booth. Instead, the guys clustered in a tight knot. The lead singer of South of Forever, Jett Costa, stood at the other side of the small room, an amused expression on her face. Dark hair tumbled over her shoulders. Despite the heat outside, she wore leggings and knee-high boots that Savannah was positive were real leather.

Following her gaze, Savannah’s eyes shot to the cluster of men. She recognized Perry instantly because of the dreads swinging from his head as he flung them over a shoulder. He laughed at something, his guffaw as deep as his skin tone. With his goatee and full lips, he was someone she would have been attracted to, had she not already been with Max.

She picked out Max just as easily. He and Perry were the only band members with dark skin, though her boyfriend was pale in comparison to his bandmate. Max nudged Perry and said something only the other man could hear.

Savannah’s eyes traveled to Jett’s boyfriend. Koty’s blue eyes sparkled, his black hair looking almost red under the studio lights. Secretly, she wondered if anyone else found it weird that the Koty Jackson of ESX was in South of Forever. Though Savannah had never gone through a boy band phase, her older sister Gabriela had been hooked on ESX.

Griff, the band’s drummer and Jett’s right-hand man, cleared his throat. He ran his fingers through sandy hair, then put his hand on the shoulder of the woman standing in the midst of the tangle of men. His eyes crinkled as she said something. All three men leaned in closer to hear her better.

Savannah’s cheeks blazed. The woman looked younger than her, by at least a couple of years. She was probably still in college, Savannah guessed, if even a day past seventeen. As the men fawned over her, she tossed curly hair over her shoulder. Ebony skin shone under the light, supple and velvety. Bright eyes sparkled as Griff touched her shoulder, and she glanced at Max.

Standing in the doorway, Savannah watched as her boyfriend winked at the other woman.

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4

Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.

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#TeaserTuesday: The Worst One


“I thought you were one of the good ones,” she said, “but it turns out I was wrong. You’re the worst one of them all.”

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Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.

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Diving Into Him: Chapter 5

After a quick stop at home to grab her guitar, Jett arrived at the studio. She climbed the steps three at a time. When she inserted her key into the lock, the studio doorknob twisted easily. Biting down on her lower lip, she nudged the door open.

Piano music floated through the air, light and haunting. She paused in the doorway. Koty sat at the studio’s grand piano, back bent. He leaned over the keys, fingers splayed, dancing with the stroke of each note. His voice floated to her through the air, strengthened by the light accompaniment of the piano.

“And I can’t even cry, because you were never mine,” he sang.

Recognition flowed through her. She had scribbled those lyrics down on a scrap of paper, unable to do anything else with them. She hadn’t even showed him.

Koty wore headphones, a notebook balanced on his lap. He held a pen between two fingers, playing with one hand.

“And I can’t even cry,” he sang, slower, drawing out the notes. His voice was husky, resonating through the small space. He repeated the line over a four-note piano melody, singing at a higher note. His voice sent shivers down Jett’s spine.

Heart twisting in her chest, she shook her head. It was ironic that he was working on that song—two lines that came to her one night when she couldn’t sleep. It was one of the first nights they spent in Boston, in a hotel room with two beds. She had stared into the darkness across the divide between them, wishing things were different.

Koty had never been hers, though. She had used him as a rebound when Phillip died. Then she’d chosen her old band over whatever it was they’d had.

Swallowing the lump in her throat, she leaned against the doorframe as he launched into the two lines again. He dropped his voice even lower, testing out different levels and throwing in nonsense lyrics. His free hand never stopped scribbling notes.

She needed to let him go. He deserved better than the hot mess that she was. Blinking her sooty lashes against her olive skin, she decided to stop pining for him. It would be easier said than done, of course, but she had to at least try.

Crossing the space between them, she sat on the piano bench next to him. She slipped on a pair of headphones and dropped in, playing a harmony with his melody. He glanced over at her. He removed his headphones, letting them dangle around his neck. Sitting that close to him, she could smell his sweat and deodorant—or maybe it was cologne. He smelled amazing, a blend of cool and spicy. His smile sent a tingle through her body. Heat bloomed low in her belly.

She needed to focus. She nodded at the notebook in his lap. “Any luck?”

“Sorry for taking off.” His blue eyes bore into hers.

She blinked. “What?”

“I know that you don’t need a guard dog.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I guess I just got used to it being you and me against the world.” He blushed.

She couldn’t take her eyes from his. She felt herself lean toward him. Her heart swelled, warmth washing over her. He might deserve better, but she wished that she could have him.

Ducking his head, he leaned down. His lips brushed hers. Her breath caught in her throat. As her eyes fluttered closed, the door to the studio banged open. She jerked away from Koty.

Max stood in the doorway, chest heaving. “Am I late?” he asked.

Jett hoped the guilt she felt wasn’t evident on her face. “No.” She sighed.

“Chloe wouldn’t stop crying when I tried to leave, so I thought I might be late.”

She glanced at Max as he entered the studio. Pushing his hair back from his face, he looked from Jett to Koty. She had no idea whether she should try to distract him from what he had almost seen, or if she should tell him that he was perfectly on time.

Perry strode in behind Max, hands jammed into his pockets, and his bass strapped to his back in a soft case. He wore earbuds. His head bopped to the music. Brushing past Max, he strutted deeper into the room. “I’m here,” he purred. He plucked his earbuds from his ears and gave Koty a nod. The nod he gave Jett held a deeper meaning. Heat laced his eyes.

Max cleared his throat. “Are you in the band, too?” He held his hand out to Perry. “I’m Max Batista, keyboards.”

Raising an eyebrow, Perry stared at Max. “Where’s your keyboard?”

Max’s mouth dropped open.

“You didn’t bring your equipment?” Perry snickered. “This is a professional band, you know.”

Jett cleared her throat. “Thank you for coming, gentlemen.” She wanted to look at Koty, to see what he thought, but she was afraid that what she might see in his face would have nothing to do with the band. Standing from the piano bench, she jerked a thumb toward the large instrument. “Max can use that.”

“We were just working on a piano-driven song,” Koty added from beside her.

Without turning her head, she could feel the heat from his body. She took a step back.

“Still.” Perry sniffed. “What kind of musician travels without his instrument?”

“I didn’t think I’d need it tonight.” Max shrugged. “Plus, with Chloe screaming, I was mostly focusing on getting out of the house.”

Perry crossed his arms. “Have you ever even been in a band?”

Max’s eyebrows furrowed. “Who are you?”

Jett opened her mouth, then shut it, unsure whether she should play referee or let them get it out of their system.

“I’m Perry Armstrong. I just finished touring with King Riley—you’ve probably heard of them.” Perry swung his bass down from his back and knelt on the floor, unpacking the instrument.

“I’ve seen some posters,” Max said. He crossed his arms. “Do you only play their tours?”

Perry blushed, his cheeks turning bright red under his dark skin. “I recorded their first album with them.” He gritted his teeth, glaring at Max.

Lifting her hands, Jett tried to change the subject. “Let’s get started, guys.”

Both men ignored her. “Only their first album?” Max cocked his head. “Why aren’t you working on their second album?”

“Why don’t you run back to your little high school band?” Perry stood. He towered over Max.

Max held the other man’s gaze. “What are you trying to say?”

Perry jerked a thumb toward Koty. “I’m saying,” he said, pointing another finger at Max, “that neither of you belong here.”

“Whoa,” Koty said. He crossed the space between him and Perry. “How do you figure?”

Perry snorted. “You used to sing in a boy band.”

Eyes wide, Max turned toward Koty. He gaped at him. “Wait, what?”

Jett stomped her foot on the hardwood floor. Their heads all snapped in her direction. “We have three weeks to write and practice four or five songs. We don’t have time for this testosterone shit.”

“Can’t we just use some Perpetual Smile songs?” Max nodded toward the piano. “I can figure out the melody for a few more.”

Perry muttered something under his breath. He plugged his bass into the studio’s amplifier, shaking his head.

Jett ignored him. “No, Max.” She inhaled slowly through her nose. She had picked these men. She needed to remember that they weren’t her first picks, and needed some conditioning. “Simon 1056 owns the rights to Perpetual Smile’s music. I’ll probably never get those songs back.” Koty’s arm brushed hers. She flinched. Shooting him a look, she moved away. Her boots clicked against the floor as she paced. “We have a drummer, but he’s on the West Coast at the moment. He won’t be able to join us right away. We’ll have to start writing without percussion.”

“That doesn’t matter.” Perry smirked. “All of King Riley’s songs are piano driven.”

Gritting her teeth, Jett looked him in the eye. “I don’t care what King Riley does. We are South of Forever, and we’re going to do things our own way.”

“You mean your way?” Perry gave her wide, innocent eyes.

Her fingers curled. Glancing at the door, she resisted the urge to walk out. Instead, she addressed the others. “Do any of you have any songs written or started?”

“Everything I wrote belongs to King Riley.” Perry sighed, drawing it out. “And by ‘everything,’ I mean all of their songs to date.”

Jett lifted her eyes toward the ceiling. She probably should have researched Perry before seeking him out, she surmised. She would have bet her last cigarette he’d been thrown out of the band. She needed to work with what she had, though. She turned to Max. “What about you?”

His cheeks flushed. “I have something,” he stammered.

“Want to share?”

He shook his head quickly.

She sighed.

“Why don’t we keep going with what we were just working on?” Koty asked. He stood next to her again.

She pressed her feet into the floor, resisting the urge to move away from him. If the other men noticed that Koty was practically chasing her around the room, they might think that something was going on. She needed to not repeat her mistakes. There would be no dating within South of Forever. “We’re starting from scratch,” she announced, as if she hadn’t heard him. “Let’s pick a theme for our first song.” She wished that Phillip was still alive. He had been a genius at writing songs on a whim. Stuffing the ache in her heart away, she reached for Koty’s notebook.

Moving to Boston was her fresh start, not a relocated pity party.

“Let’s start strong,” Perry said, “and write a song about sexual frustration.” He wiggled his eyebrows at Jett.

“That would be easy for you, wouldn’t it?” She gave him a smirk. “Let’s make it bass-driven. Give me a strong line.” Pride thrummed through her. Poising a pen over a fresh page in the notebook, she nodded to Perry. Maybe starting with nothing wouldn’t be so hard after all.

“No way,” Max said. “It should be a piano-driven song.”

“Why don’t you shut up?” Perry strapped his bass on. “At least until you have more songwriting experience.”

Jett watched as Max’s jaw worked. He gritted his teeth, his eyes narrowed.

“Piano can be sexy,” Max said. He turned to Jett. His eyes pleaded with her. “I can work something that’s deep and slow.”

Lips parting, she started to tell him that it might work. Perry was the more experienced songwriter, though. Besides, Max looked more like a kid who wanted to impress his new friends than someone itching to play a melody. She closed her eyes. Maybe she had made a huge mistake.

Jett might be sober, but she can’t kick her addiction to Koty.

Diving Into Him, Book 1 in the South of Forever series, is now available.

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#TeaserTuesday: Far Too Much Damage


She touched her lips, debating whether their relationship was even salvageable. She had done far too much damage. They both had.

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Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.

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Liz’s Ultimate Post-Booktrope Self-Publishing Guide

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

With Booktrope closing its doors and so many authors scrambling to figure out what to do now, I thought I’d share some resources for those interested in self-publishing. Before I signed with Booktrope, I was a self-published author. I published a previously published award-winning short story on the Kindle in 2011. When I first started out, I had no idea what I was doing. Since then, I’ve learned a few things that I hope my fellow orphaned authors will find useful.

I’ll be updating this post as I think of more resources. If I’ve missed anything, feel free to post a comment and ask a question or suggest something!

To self-publish your book, all you really need is a properly formatted .doc or ePub file and a high quality book cover image. There are many guides online for ebook formatting (Amazon, Smashwords, and Lulu all have them available on their websites), so I’m not going to get into the technical details here. But if you can write a novel in a Word document, you’re definitely capable of formatting your ebook.

You can upload your ebook directly to Kindle (via Kindle Direct Publishing, also known as KDP), iBooks (via the iTunes Producer app, available only for Mac users), Nook (via NookPress), and Kobo (via Kobo Writing Life). All you need is to sign up for a free account and you’re on your way.

There are also several ebook distributors: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Lulu, to name a few. These allow you to publish to all of the major ebook retailers I mentioned above, plus a few more, all with one push of a button. If you’re new to self-publishing and feeling completely overwhelmed, using a distributor may be a good option for you. More experienced self-published authors may prefer to go direct when possible.

Each of the distributors has their own advantages and disadvantages. Lulu, for example, allows you to split royalties with others, so may be an option for authors and creative team members who want to continue sharing royalties. Personally, my favorite is Draft2Digital (D2D). Their user interface is gorgeous, and it’s really easy to upload an ebook with them. They also allow you to create a beautiful table of contents. Smashwords, on the other hand, can be kind of a pain when you’re trying to upload files—although they do offer some perks when it comes to the iBooks store.

Speaking of ebook files, there are a few ways you can create your own.

Like I mentioned above, you can format an ebook in a Word doc using a guide from one of the retailers or distributors. (You can also do a Google search for ebook formatting guides.) You can use a tool such as Instascribe (online tool) or Vellum (Mac app) to make gorgeous ebooks without much technical knowledge. Or you can hire someone to do the formatting for you.

If possible, I recommend learning how to format, because it’s a very handy skill to have.

Once you have a formatted .doc or ePub file, you’re ready to roll. Each retailer has its own wizard for setting up your book, so I won’t get too into detail here. But to sell at any retailer, you will need to submit:

  • ebook file (.doc or ePub)
  • ebook cover (.jpg or .jpeg)
  • book blurb
  • keywords
  • category
  • pricing

Some retailers also require you to submit your author bio, while others allow you to set up a dedicated author profile.

Book blurb writing is an art, but you’ve probably already got one from your publishing process with Booktrope. Your book manager may have included you in the keyword and category brainstorming process when she put together your PFS, but if not, no worries. This KDP help topic on categories and keywords should get you going. I find it’s helpful to keep all of my books’ categories and keywords in a spreadsheet so that I’m submitting the same ones across the board. If you find that the ones you’re using aren’t successful, you can always tweak them later.

Finally, you’ll need to set the pricing. This is another one of those things that will be an ongoing experiment. You may want to go with the same price that Booktrope put on your book, or you may want to try another price. Personally, I use a formula to help me decide each book’s price point.

  • Short story: $0.00 or $0.99
  • Novelette: $0.99
  • Novella: $2.99
  • Novel: $3.99, $4.99, $5.99
  • Series box set: $7.99, $8.99, $9.99

Many indies find that pricing a single book over $5.99 actually hurts their sales. Depending on the genre, though, you can price higher or lower than the industry average. For example, erotica short stories often sell best at $2.99. For best results, take some time searching Amazon for other books in your genre and noting the most common price point. Chances are, that’s your book’s sweet spot.

A note on sales and promotions: If you think you might run sales in the future, it’s best to price your book accordingly. For example, if you want to run a $0.99 promo, it wouldn’t make sense to make your book’s regular price $1.99. That’s not much of a deal for your readers.

Speaking of $1.99, research conducted by self-published authors tends to show that $1.99 is a dead zone for most books. Books just don’t seem to sell at $1.99. Also, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in sales between books priced at $3.99 or $4.99. Your mileage may vary, though. You’ll have to run your own experiments to see what works best for your books, genre, and readers.

Here are a few resources that are invaluable for indie authors:

  • Kboards Writers’ Cafe: This is a little forum where self-published, trad-published, and hybrid authors come to talk shop, share tips, and cheer each other on. Chances are, if you have a question about something, someone here will know the answer.
  • Lindsay Buroker’s blog: Indie author Lindsay has been immensely successful with her books and frequently shares marketing tips.
  • Self-Publishing Podcast: Johnny, Sean, and Dave are three more veterans in the indie author community. In their podcast, they talk shop, writing, and marketing, as well as interview other successful indie authors.
  • Rocking Self-Publishing: Simon interviews indie authors every week and they share their successes, failures, and strategies.
  • The Creative Penn: Superstar indie author Joanna shares self-publishing resources and also has a podcast where she shares her latest projects and interviews other indie authors.
  • Wayne Stinnett: Wayne shares a wealth of knowledge on his blog from his own experiments.

A note on marketing: Once your books are live, your work is far from done. You’re going to have to put constant effort into marketing in order to gain visibility in ebook stores. Booktrope was heavy on social media, but that’s far from the beginning. Personally I found that investing most of my time into writing my next book was much more productive than spending hours on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I strongly recommend setting up an email list. You can start one for free using MailChimp, and both AWeber and Constant Contact offer 30-day trials. I don’t suggest using any other email list service, as these three are CAN-SPAM friendly and won’t get you blacklisted.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to work closely with another author or group of authors in your genre. You can cross-promote each other, cheer each other on, and lean on each other when you need a shoulder to cry on. Shout out to my work wife J.C. Hannigan, critique partner Molli Moran, and the lovely Rebecca Paula. These three ladies are my home team, not to mention the countless other authors I keep in touch with. Even if you “only” have one writer friend, that relationship is invaluable as you both navigate the ever changing waters of the publishing industry. Stick together, bounce book and marketing ideas off each other, and you’ve got a fighting chance.

A note on print books: You may notice that I didn’t cover self-publishing your book as a paperback in this post. This is because it’s not really something I like doing myself. I have a lot of trouble with formatting, so usually hire this service out. There are many guides and templates for self-publishing a paperback, though. Just give it a whirl on Google and see what you can come up with.

Finally, don’t give up. Stubbornness is the main quality of every successful author. Remember that you’re in this for the long haul. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Keep at it and you’ll already be more successful than most. I see a lot of Booktrope orphans throwing in the towel and that makes me really sad. You can do this!

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to get back to you. Keep in mind that I’m working around the clock to get my own books squared away, so I might not be able to answer very quickly.

Thanks for reading! Please share this with a friend if you found it helpful.

If you’d like to tip me for this article, please buy me a coffee or buy one of my books!

Update, May 30th, 2016: Thank you all so much for the lovely feedback! For more tutorials and help, please visit my story studio at