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A-Z Challenge: I is for Lila Correlli

I

Lila Correlli sat on the edge of her bed, staring at the still empty suitcase. She’d already filled two boxes with stuff she just couldn’t leave behind, and her father had taken them out to the moving van. But, she hadn’t touched her clothes yet. She should be excited. They were moving for her. For her chance at fame. But, she felt cold and almost detached from it all.

How was she supposed to move from the only place she’d ever known?

At the soft knock on her door, Lila glanced up. Her mother stood in the doorway. “Ashley and Cassie are here. You want me to send them back?”

Lila nodded, even though she was afraid she’d lose it once her two best friends came in. They’d known each other for pretty much their whole lives. Not just since they’d all started Kindergarten together ten years, almost eleven now, earlier. Their moms were friends, even Ashley and Cassie’s dads were friends. She wasn’t sure her own dad had any friends. He was too busy trying to control her life.

Cassie stepped into the room first, Ashley right behind her. And Lila realized she’d been right. The tears started to flow even as Ashley closed the door behind her. The other two girls hurried over to the bed, settling down on each side of her. They made a picture, and it almost turned her tears into laughter. Lila was about as white as white could be. Well, she’d gotten a slightly darker complexion from her father’s Italian blood. But, next to Ashley and Cassie, she was pale.

From Ashley’s blonde hair, most assumed she was the all-American girl next door. A sentiment Ashley completely hated. She’d ranted more than once how that was racist and sexist. Her dark skin didn’t come from the sun or a tanning bed, but her half-Indian father. It was Ashley’s great-grandmother who had first left India, so half might not even be accurate. On the other side of her, Cassie was even darker. Her mother was black, her father even whiter than Lila. She knew the town had given them trouble, and Cassie still dealt with some of it. And now Lila was leaving her to face it without one of her friends.

The three of them had been practically inseparable since they could walk and talk. How could she just leave?

“I can’t go,” she said, finally wiping at the tears. “Why did I think I could go?”

“You can,” Ashley said. “You have to. You know it’s a wonderful chance. And it’s one that’s not going to come for you again. You have to take it.”

“I should never have signed up for that contest. Dad pushed it. But, I should have just said no.”

“When have you ever told your Dad no about anything?” Cassie asked. “You’re like the perfect Daddy’s little girl.”

She wanted to shake her head and deny it. But, that’s what they all saw. That was the picture she presented. She let her father control everything. And this last year had been the worst, especially with him also being her math teacher at school. And then he’d caught her and Mason kissing, and it had made it all even worse.

Voices rose out in the front of the house as if on cue. Ashley glanced over at her, her lips tugging up. “Mason must be here.”

Lila pushed up off the bed and headed for her door. She knew it wasn’t only her father yelling, Mason had a fierce temper of his own. That was one reason her father said he was no good for her. Or one of his excuses anyway. The real reason, though her father never admitted it, was that Mason didn’t have any ambition to go beyond working his father’s farm. It was all he’d ever wanted, and she didn’t see the problem with that.

Her father’s voice was rising even more, and she hurried to the living room. Maybe if she wasn’t too late, she could keep him from actually throwing Mason out of the house. “I have told you to stay away, boy.”

“And you don’t have any authority over me. You’re not my teacher any more. You can’t try to flunk me again.”

“You need to learn some respect for your elders.”

Lila just barely resisted rolling her eyes, figuring somehow her dad would sense it. He had very strict ideas about respect. Mason would never be able to do enough to earn his, though. They both knew it.

“Please, Mr. Correlli.” It surprised her to hear the desperation in Mason’s voice. They’d had to sneak around just to see each other, but she’d never heard him sound like this. “You’re taking her away. At least let me say good-bye.”

“You will not take this opportunity from her. She is meant for better things than you and this town.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. But, I’ll still be here if she’s ever ready to come back.”

“You still will not be good enough for her.”

She couldn’t take anymore of this. “Dad,” Lila said, stepping out from the hallway. His face went bright red, but he turned away from them.

“Five minutes. Then, you need to finish packing.”

“Aye, aye, sir,” she muttered, and he turned back to her with a glare. She smiled at him, though, and he turned away again.

Mason pulled her out onto the porch, so they’d have at least a semblance of privacy. “I wish you didn’t have to go,” he said. “We can still-”

“Still what, Mason? I won’t be able to sneak out to your farm from Nashville. I won’t be in the halls when school starts for us to steal kisses between classes. I’m going to be recording. And then I’ll be touring.”

“We can do this long distance. You’ll be able to come back every once in a while, won’t you? You’re not leaving us for good.”

Lila crossed her arms in front of her, grasping her elbows in her opposite hands. “I don’t know, Mason. I really don’t.”

His blue eyes watered, then he blinked the wetness away and nodded. “I’ll wait for you. I know you’ll be back. You can go out and find whatever it is you need, but I’ll still be here. I’ll always be here, Lila. I’ll always be yours.”

Mason might just be a farmboy like her Dad always said, but he was the sweetest one she’d ever known. “It might be a long time, Mason.”

He gave her that crooked smile that might have been the reason she’d first fallen for him. “That’s why I said always. Good luck in Nashville, Lila. I know you’ll do great. You deserve everything you’ll get there.”

She watched him turn and hop down the steps then climb into his truck. He’d just gotten his license and inherited his dad’s old pickup. Her father wouldn’t let her ride with him, though. He’d said he’d wait for her, but this felt like it’d be their final good-bye. She couldn’t take it anymore and turned back into the house. She still had to finish packing.

Note: Young love. Too bad it can’t last. Or can it? You can actually read the rest of Lila and Mason’s story in First Choice, Second Chance.

Note2: Yes, I know Lila doesn’t start with I. Had to get a little creative, and she does have an I in her name.

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A-Z Challenge: A is for Alex Connelly

A

Alex stepped out of the truck, pushing the hat back on his head. He’d been hoping to get back to the ranch sometime, but this hadn’t quite been the circumstances he’d wanted. “Man, I’m sorry-”

Alex held his hand up to stop the man who had picked him up from the airport. “You’ve already said it, Bryan. None of it is your fault, either. You don’t have to say it again.”

“I’m still sorry, whether you feel I need to be or not.”

Alex nodded his acknowledgment of that. “I was surprised to see you at the airport. You on leave still?”

Bryan sent him a sideways glance as they headed for the porch. “I’m out. I thought your…someone would have told you.”

Pain lanced through his chest at Bryan’s quick correction. “It’s okay, you can say it. You don’t need to walk on eggshells around me.” He was a damn Marine. If he couldn’t even handle someone mentioning his parents’ deaths, he certainly shouldn’t be trusted to carry out his duties. “And what do you mean you’re out? I thought you were going career.”

He gave a little shrug. “Mom and Sarah needed me here more than the Rangers did. I chose not to re-enlist after Dad died. It’s only been a few months, and your dad…” This time he could sense Bryan’s own grief in the way he trailed off. “He offered me a job here again. He let Mom and Sarah stay in the cabin even after Dad’s funeral, so I figured it was as good a place as any.”

“I didn’t realize. I mean, I knew about your father. I sent my condolences. But, no one told me you got out.”

“You’ve been a bit busy the last few months,” Bryan said wryly. “I imagine your folks had more important things to discuss when they could actually get through to you than their newest ranch hand.”

That didn’t feel right. “You’re more than that. You’ve been here since I was twelve. I thought of you as a big brother, or at least my friend.”

Bryan just gave a little shrug as if he wasn’t quite comfortable with that sentiment. “What about you? You going to stay in after this?”

“I just started my second term. I can’t just leave. And my sister’s been on her own for years. She doesn’t need me to take care of her. I can leave the ranch in the hands of the ranch’s foreman. I can’t just leave my brothers, though, not for longer than it takes to get things settled here.”

The door swung open before Bryan could respond to that. “I was wondering if you boys were ever going to get in here.”

Alex’s breath caught at the woman who stood in the doorway. Her brown hair  fell in a straight line, and there was a brightness in her green eyes that he found it hard to look away from. This couldn’t be–

“Sarah,” Bryan said. “Now’s not the time to be a brat. Alex just got home, and he has some decisions to make.”

She turned her smile on Alex. “Come on inside. I’ve been talking to your sister. We’ll do whatever we can to help.”

God. He’d come home to bury his parents, and he was lusting after Bryan’s baby sister. This was not good. Not good at all.

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Alex is a side character from my BC Security series. He’s he business partner of Casey Brannigan, the main character in the first book. They also served together in the Marine Corps. By the time that story happens, they’re both out of the Corps, have started their business, and Alex and Sarah are married with a daughter. But, this is how they met.

 

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