Peace in the Storm - Seven Steps - ebook

A vacation was just what Lisa Matthews needed.After spending the past five years picking up the broken pieces of her life, Lisa is finally ready to move one. Flanked by her best friend Trish, Lisa arrives in Jamaica ready to meet new people, swim in the ocean, and finally forget about the brown eyes that have haunted her for the last five years. But the past has a strange way of showing up when you least expect it.Chance is working on the deal of a lifetime.After spending the last ten years growing his fortune into the billions, workaholic Chance Gionatti is forced to take an unwanted, week long vacation. No work phone, no email, nothing. On the first day of the worst vacation of his life, the one woman he's been trying to forget for the last five years literally falls into his arms, and just like that, his world changes.A doomed boat tour.When a devious tour guide drops them on a strange island, Chance and Lisa must find a way to work together despite their past. Can they survive the monstrosities that have taken up residence on the mysterious island? Will they allow their past to consume them, or will they finally find a way to be each other's Peace in the Storm?

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Peace In The Storm

Seven Steps

Peace In The Storm

Copyright ©2016 by Seven Steps

All rights reserved by the author.

Peace in the Storm is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locals, or persons, living or dead, is wholly coincidental.

No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, recording, by information storage and retrieval or photocopied, without permission in writing from Seven Steps.

Proudly Published in the United States of America

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Also by Seven Steps

Social Media


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38


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Further Reading: The Boyfriend Agreement

Also By Seven Steps

About the Author

Also by Seven Steps

Science Fiction Romances 

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The Fall of Arees – Venus Rising Book 2 

The Martian King – Venus Rising Book 3 

Night of the Broken Moon (Venus Rising Companion Short Stories) 

The Escape (A Venus Rising Prequel) 

Time Bomb – Dimensions Book 1 

Free Fall – Dimensions Book 2 

Collision Course – Dimensions Book 3

Saving Nadir – Dimensions Book 4

Leilu – Dimensions Origins Book 1 

Phineas – Dimensions Origins Book 2 

Taklin – Dimensions Origins Book 3

Fire in the Sky


Contemporary Romance 

The Last Rock King 

Peace in the Storm 

The Beginning of Forever

The Boyfriend Agreement

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Facebook Readers Group: Seven Steps Readers Group


EMAIL: [email protected]


To my beautiful husband.

You are my gold and my light.

Chapter 1


“Lisa Willow Matthews, will you marry me?”

I looked into Henry Evan’s gray-blue eyes and knew the answer immediately.

Absolutely not.

Surrounded by friends—mostly his—and family—also mostly his— I took in a shallow breath and tried to calm my pounding heart. Henry was an accountant at a prestigious law firm. He was financially responsible, loving, kind, smart, handsome, and well mannered; everything I should’ve been looking for.

And yet my heart screamed the words that I dreaded saying out loud: You don’t love him.

My gaze touched on a set of gray-blues across the room that matched Henry’s. His mother, Martha, gave me a slight nod, urging me to say the words that would set the room aflame with cheers. I gave her my most dazzling smile, wordlessly sending her reassuring lies.


Henry gave my hand a gentle squeeze, his eyes filling with confusion, question, and concern. I looked down to where his hands held mine.

This isn’t right. Say no. This isn’t right.

My heart raced and, though I knew it was a bad idea, I looked into his eyes. For the first time since we met I let my guard down. My walls dropped completely, forcing him to see the woman I really was.

A liar.



His eyes scanned my soul before widening in understanding. I shuddered to think what that meant.

What will you do now, Henry?

Something inside of me broke as I saw his brows squeeze together. He was such a good guy. I wish I didn’t have to hurt him.

Although I was not in love with Henry, I did love him. He’d been my best friend for the last year of my life. We even did that thing where we talked without words. I almost heard his voice in my head now; saw the message in his eyes.

He looked at me.

He looked at the floor.

His gaze met mine again and he nodded.

I let out the barest of breaths, thanking God that Henry understood, even while my insides turned to mud.

I’m a terrible person. I deserve to be embarrassed, screamed at, and laid low. I don’t deserve your kindness, not after this.

With one last look at Henry, and an imperceptible nod of thanks, I let out a low moan, closed my eyes, allowed my knees to buckle, and slammed to the floor.


Our limo ride back to the hotel was supposed to be filled with happiness, joy, and passion. I should have been kissing my fiancé and looking forward to my new life. Instead, we stared out of our separate windows as the space between us filled with frosty silence.

When we pulled in front of my condo I looked down at my hands. This was supposed to be a special day, and I ruined it.

I ruin everything.

“Can I ask you a question?” Henry whispered. His gaze swung to me, and I burned beneath it. His gray-blue eyes looked dimmer now, his normally ruddy skin paler. The pain in his face was clear, and I shamed under it.

“Anything,” I said, turning my body toward him. I would be open and honest with him now. He deserved as much. In the last year, I’d wanted for nothing. He’d spoiled me beyond belief with gifts, his time, attention, and love. If I could paint a picture of the perfect boyfriend, I would use Henry’s handsome face as my guide. But no matter how hard I tried, something held me back from giving my heart to this perfect man.

No, not something.


In that moment, looking into Henry’s sad face and seeing how his heart was breaking, I wanted nothing more than to take Chance Gionatti’s neck and shake it.

“When did you know?” he asked.

“Know what?” My stomach clenched, bracing for the big blowup that was sure to come. After my fainting act at the restaurant he’d practically carried me out of there and put me into the limo. He deserved to scream at me now. In some ways, I needed him to.

“When did you know you didn’t love me?”

My gut reaction was to put my head in my hands. To hide the way my caramel skin reddened under his inquisition. I ignored it and looked back at him, hoping he could see how sorry and miserable I was.

I shrugged. A coward’s cop out.

I’m lower than dirt.

“I don’t know,” I replied.

Another cop out.

“Did you ever love me?” His eyes held a shred of hope, and I was about to stomp on it.

I hope Chance is choking on a steak somewhere.

“Henry, you were so good to me this last year. Better than I deserved. And I tried, believe me, I did. I wanted so badly to let go and love you, but—”

“But you’re still in love with him.”

Sadness burned up my chest, forming a lump in my throat. I looked down at my hands again, no longer able to look at the angel sitting across from me.

“Goodbye, Lisa,” he said, turning his focus back out of the dark window, dismissing me.

“What will you say to—”

“I’ll handle it.”

A hot tear slicked its way down my cheek. I felt like crawling in a hole.

Something inside of me wanted to reach out and take his hand, to tell him that everything would be okay. Instead, I opened the limo door and stepped out into the cool night. As soon as the door shut, the limo sped off, taking with it the man who’d treated me like a queen for the last year of my life.

My one shot at happiness.

I cursed Chance Gionatti with every fiber of my being as I climbed the stairs to my condo and opened the door.

I flipped on the light switch in the cramped hallway and hung my heavy jacket on the coat hook shaped like an elephant’s tail.

Slipping out of my heels, I trudged down the short, dark hallway making a beeline to my room. There was no need for lights. After five years, I knew every nook and cranny of this place. From the book shelves lined with paperback romance novels, to the bookcase stuffed with textbooks on every topic from ancient literature to criminal law. I passed my living room with its worn silver couches, colorful heavy throw blankets, and white furry rug. My kitchen, though small, was organized to perfection. I had no den, no dining room, no patio, not even a yard, just a four-room condo at the end of a row of identical condos. It was small enough for one person and that suited me just fine. I needed to feel snug wherever I was, and this apartment was as snugly as they came.

I finally reached my bedroom and pulled the string of an old-style lamp sitting on the desk near my bed. Colored light filtered through the rose-colored lamp shade. On most days, the pretty light made me smile. On this night, it reminded me of how colorless my world had become.

Not bothering to strip off my dress, I laid in bed and stared out of the window. The trees waved in the wind as small snowflakes dotted the brown bark, giving them snowy coats they’d wear for the season. 

I wrapped my body around a pillow and pulled up to my chin the quilt my grandmother made me before she died. Each heavy piece of patchwork was carefully laid out and stitched together with loving care. On most nights, it was too warm to sleep under. Tonight, my body felt as if it were frozen. The coldness of my past rose in my mind, tormenting me with thoughts of his warm hugs, heated kisses, brown eyes flecked with green. I swore I smelled his vanilla scented aftershave.

He haunted me. My own personal ghost sent to this world to taunt me. To remind me of what I once had—of what I’d walked away from.

I squeezed the pillow tighter against me and allowed my thoughts to torture me, to rake me across hot coals of loneliness and regret. When I finally fell asleep, the sun was rising in the east, and I swore I saw a pair of brown eyes looking back at me.

Chapter 2


Six Months Later

St. John’s Luxury Resort certainly earned its name. White marble floors, gold chandeliers, and heavy button backed couches gave the resort’s lobby an expensive look. Enormous windows were left uncovered, allowing in a flood of Jamaican sunshine. A shiny redwood check-in desk ran the length of one wall.

A set of coal black eyes scanned me from head to toe as I stepped into the lobby. The eyes were attached to a tall, well-built man who looked to be in his early forties. His eggshell colored linen shirt swayed in the ice-cold air conditioning as my best friend Trish and I approached the front desk.

If I were to describe Jamaica in one word, it would be HOT. A wet heat that reminded me of sitting in a steaming bathtub. Wanting nothing more than to change into my bathing suit and plant myself beach side, I hurried my steps.

“Welcome to St. John’s Luxury Resort,” the man said, his accent melodic and inviting. It instantly put me at ease. “May I please have your names?”

“Lisa Matthews and Patricia Rivera,” I replied.

I looked at my best friend to smile at her, but her gaze was glued to something near the elevator. One of the staff stood with a stack of clean white towels in his hand, waiting for the elevator to arrive. He was slim, tall, and wore the same eggshell colored linen shirt as the man behind the check-in desk. Though he didn’t seem to notice her, Trish practically drooled over him. Nothing new. Trish had an appreciation for the male species, and even I had to admit that elevator man was handsome.

The man behind the desk cleared his throat, causing me to look back at him. Ten minutes later, Trish and I were in the elevator making our way to rooms 202 and 203.

“This place is awesome,” Trish said, dancing a little to the soft reggae music that played in the elevator.

Birds were carved into the gold-plated walls, and I ran my fingertips over the beaks and wings. “It’s beautiful.”

The elevator dinged and we stepped out into a beautiful sky blue hallway that ended in a balcony overlooking the ocean. The clouds beyond the balcony were shaped a bit like elephants. That buoyed my mood. I loved elephants. I’d collected every carving, statue, plush, and refrigerator magnet for most of my life.

Our sandals smacked against the white marble floor as we approached our rooms. When she got to hers, Trish turned to me, a searing glare in her eyes.

“Okay. Operation Don’t Be Miserable is in full effect,” she sang, rubbing her palms together. Trish had been insisting on this trip ever since Henry and I broke up. It’d taken me six months to say yes. Now, with the beautiful view and the sound of the ocean in the distance, I wondered why I’d fought her so hard. Jamaica was gorgeous. I already felt calmer, more at peace. I should have done this six months ago, though I didn’t tell her that.

“We paid a lot of money to get here,” she said. “I don’t want you moping around like some puppy that lost its favorite chew toy. It’s been six months since you and Henry broke things off, and five years since that other thing.” I swallowed a groan before it could escape my throat. It had indeed been five years since Chance and I divorced. We tried not to talk about me and Chance anymore, calling the entire situation that other thing.

“You need to get out,” she continued. “Meet new people. And by people, I mean men.”

I chuckled at that, which made Trish slip me a knowing smile.

“Now, we’re going to put on our bikinis, have some drinks, lay out on the beach, and meet some guys, agreed?”

I nodded once. “Agreed.”

She opened her arms and I fell into them, even though she was a full foot shorter than me. I breathed in her coconut scented suntan lotion and, for the first time in a long time, didn’t tear up. Yes, I was single, but I still had my girl. Trish was the only person in the world I could count on, that I could be truly open with. I was strong because she’d been there to support me until I could get my footing. Her shoulders collected my tear drops. Her ears held my laughter and my secrets. From her mouth fell words of wisdom and sometimes tough love. She stuck by me through the best of times and the worst. For that I could never repay her.

“Go get dressed,” she said, jerking her chin toward my hotel door. “I’ll meet you back here in half an hour.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s right.” She put on her best Southern accent, forcing a giggle out of me that I didn’t know I had. “Perk up, or else I’ll put my strap to you!”

Where would I be without my girl?


I felt like I was drowning in hot air, and I loved it!

The sun beat down on us from above while the white sand burned our feet below. If there was a heaven, I hoped it felt like St. John’s beach. Pulling the straw hat over my eyes, I took in a deep breath through my nose and blew it out through my mouth, just like my therapist showed me.

Calm, girl. Just stay calm.

Between the soft laps of the water against the shore and the birds that called overhead, this was the most peaceful I’d felt in a long time. Since Chance and I split up my life felt like one big storm swirling around me, dragging all my happiness down into the depths of the ocean. Sure, on the outside I was okay. To the untrained eye, however, I was living my dream. I was the director of the Brooklyn Public Library system in New York City. With thirty public libraries in the borough, this was no small feat. I had also become an accomplished romance author with nearly fifteen books under my belt. Money had stopped becoming an obstacle to me five years ago between my job, my writing career, and Chance’s generous alimony checks.

Chance Gionatti.

My jaw clenched and I took in a few more deep breaths to relax the tension that had formed between my shoulder blades at the thought of my ex-husband.

Suddenly, something hard hit my belly before bouncing off. It didn’t knock the wind out of me, but didn’t exactly tickle either.

Pushing myself up onto my elbows, I snatched off my hat and glared in the direction of the assailant.

A youngish boy no more than twenty, with white board shorts and bare feet, waved his arms at me, his face pulled into a mixture of embarrassment and surprise.

He jogged toward me while his friend in black board shorts retrieved the ball.

“I’m so sorry, ma’am.”

Ma’am? I’m not that old.

“It’s okay.”

“The ball just got out of hand.” His tanned face turned redder by the second. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m sorry. I really am.”

“Don’t apologize too much.” Trish’s voice came from my left. “If you didn’t throw something at her, I would have.”

The boy shot an odd look to my best friend, her tawny skin darkening to a light bronze in the sun, before running back to wherever he came from. I spied a group of teens by a volleyball net further down the beach. Somebody must’ve really smacked the ball to get it way up here.

“Picking up the young bucks now?” Trish asked, handing me a yellow frosted wide rimmed drink while she sipped her own.

“Yeah, right.” I plunged my straw into the icy drink a few times before taking a sip. It burned down the back of my throat, making my eyes water. “What’s in this?” I asked, squeezing my eyes closed, and then opening them again.

“I don’t know. I told him to take the strongest stuff they had and add ice to it.” She took a long pull of her drink.

So did I. My sinuses turned to fire but, somehow, I loved the feeling. Burning was good. It took my mind off things. Chance things.

Trish took another draw of her drink, sauntered to her beach chair, and collapsed into it. “You’re going to have to carry me back to the room after this.”

“But who’s going to carry me?” I asked, eying my own glass. A quarter of it was already gone. I sank into my beach chair determined to finish the rest. “So what’s on the itinerary for tonight?” I asked, licking the sweet drink from my lips. It tasted like cranberry and lemon, bringing a smile to my face. Trish knew I adored cranberry, just as I knew she adored strawberries and coconuts.

“We’ll sleep this off first.” She held her drink to the sky, lowered it, and then took another sip. It was nearly half gone. “Then dinner. I even told them it was your birthday, so you get free ice cream.”

I chuckled and a little of the drink came up my nose, adding to the burn.

“Then I’m going to give you a Dead Man’s drink, get my camera, and take plenty of pictures.”

“What’s a Dead Man’s drink?” I asked, holding my nose against the alcoholic fire that seemed to burn through my nostrils.

“It’s a drink that’s three feet tall. They say that if you can finish it, you’re a dead man.”

“Great.” The burning in my nose ended and I took another pull. “If only the board of directors could see me now, drunk on a beach planning to give myself alcohol poisoning.”

She threw up her hands and grinned. A classic Trish move. “Girl, what they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em.”

We shared a laugh before finishing off our drinks.

“Thanks, Trish,” I said. “For making me come here. It’s beautiful.”

“Don’t mention it. That’s what friends are for.”

“I don’t mean to be so miserable all the time. It’s just hard.” The world began to tilt, but my mouth kept going. “I miss him so much.”

“I know, girl.” She held out her hand to me and we clasped fingers between our beach chairs.

“Sometimes I just wish I could forget he ever existed.”

I watched my friend squeeze her eyes shut, as if she felt my pain. In that moment, I loved her with everything I had in me. She understood. She’d been there with me through thick and thin.

What would I have done without her?

The alcohol took hold of me, making my head spin. I sat back in my chair, put my sunhat over my eyes, and let the gentle lapping of the ocean waves carry me off to sleep.

The last thing I felt was Trish’s hand gripping mine. The last thing I saw were brown eyes flecked in green.

The eyes that visited me in my dreams.

The eyes that had hurt me to my core.

By God, how I missed those eyes.

Chapter 3


What was in that drink?

It had taken a nap, a round of puking, a few aspirin, and a cup of coffee before I had the energy to see straight enough to strut into the Captain’s Bar for dinner. With Trish on my arm, the two of us turned heads with every step. We’d taken over an hour to get ready. Trish said we were man-hunting, but really, I wanted to look sexy tonight. And if a man agreed, so be it.

Trish wore her eight inch open-toed heels, a bright yellow mini skirt, and a white tank top. With her heels on she stood almost eye-to-eye with me. I decided on a more nautical theme with flat white sandals and a military style navy blue shirtdress. We let our naturally curly hair hang loose around our shoulders, each of us going through an entire bottle of gel, so it wouldn’t frizz.

A tall, skinny girl in a white dress escorted us to our table.

Above us, candles atop black wrought iron candelabras filled the room with a soft glow. With its plastered walls and wood slatted floors, the restaurant reminded me of an old Spanish castle. I half expected pirates to appear, equipped with beards and gold teeth.

We sat at our table and picked up the menus.

The television behind the bar momentarily distracted me. A beautiful, dark skinned news anchor with a pixie cut was talking about an unusual cold snap that would affect the island.

There’d be no night swimming on this vacation.

I let out a puff of air and turned back to Trish. “That drink was strong.”

“That was just the pre-show. Wait until you try the Dead Man.”

“I am not trying the Dead Man.”

“You have no choice. I already ordered it.”

The waiter came back to our table and offered us complimentary oysters. I waved mine away. Trish accepted the offer. When he brought them back to the table, she sucked down four of them.

My stomach turned over as I watched her eat. I hated oysters. “You know,” I said. “For a respectable business woman, you sure do make some poor decisions.”

“I make fun decisions. Like my decision to fill you with so much alcohol that you have no choice but to enjoy yourself. Is it working?”

“So far?” I paused, grinned at her, and then shook my head. “A little.”

Truth be told, I was beginning to have fun. Naps on the beach, getting dolled up with my best pal, eating fantastic meals at upscale restaurants, seeing the ocean from my hotel room. And best of all, I hadn’t thought of Chance since this afternoon. Granted, I was blacked out for a while, but still. Small victories.

“Girl, by the end of this trip, you won’t even remember his name. Trust me. We are going to have the time of our lives!”

I took a deep breath and let it out again. I will have a good time, I promised myself.

It was my first real vacation in ten years and I was spending it on a beautiful island with my best friend. We would meet guys, drink ourselves silly, and enjoy ourselves, and what’s more, I would not give another thought to Chance Gionatti.

Shaking the tension from my shoulders, I focused on the menu. We placed our order and talked. Trish raved about getting her new kids fashion line off the ground and I spoke about my new novel. She went on about patterns, seasons, and fabrics, while I spoke about plot points, character traits, and formatting. She talked about the last guy she’d dated and I stayed quiet over my absolute lack of a love life.

We ate our dinners and drank our wine. We laughed and flirted with the waiter, and listened to the conversations that flowed around us. For the second time today I felt like my soul was at peace.

I breathed.

My heart beat steady and strong.

I smiled.

Hope flared in me that it was possible I could be happy again. I deserved to be happy. I, Lisa Willow Matthews, was worth happiness.

By the time the three-foot tall green drink came out, I was ready to face the world. All eyes in the restaurant turned to me as they wheeled the drink to my table, but I was too tipsy to feel embarrassed. The glass was shaped like a giant skull, and the drink sloshed a bit as the waiters lifted it from the little trolley it was on, and placed it on the table.

“This is insane!” Trish cried out.

“You ordered it.”

“You left me unsupervised!” Throwing caution to the wind, I hiked up my dress and climbed onto my chair.

Someone in the restaurant chanted, “Chug.” A moment later the rest of the restaurant joined in.

The waiter handed me a three-and-a-half-foot long straw, which I dropped into the skull shaped glass.

I took a sip.

Then another.

After less than a minute, the room began to blur.

“Um, miss?”

I felt the heat of the waiter standing behind me.

The drink tasted sweet, like every fruit in the place was shoved into a blender, drenched in sugar, and drowned in whisky. It went down smooth the first time, but every time I burped it burned my throat. I took another long pull before looking down and realizing that I hadn’t even made a dent in it. The drink still sloshed around the rim. Meanwhile, I was beginning to feel like I was knocking on death’s door.


Ignoring the waiter, I sucked on the straw like my life depended on it. The food in my gut churned and protested. The room spun faster. The chair began to tilt.


I took one more pull from the drink before I was suddenly airborne. The chair had somehow slipped away, and I was free falling to the ground.

And then, I was not.

The world around me turned into a tilt-a-whirl. My mouth began to water. I was sure that I was going to vomit.

This was a bad idea.

And then it was there. The buzz of electricity that flowed through me whenever he was near. That vanilla scent. Those brown eyes flecked with green.


My dinner, my wine, and my Dead Man drink flew up my throat, soaking into his shirt and pants. A brief sense of satisfaction flowed throw me.

Then he said my name. “Lisa?”

Chapter 4


One Hour Earlier

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The biggest merger of my life was only two weeks away. I should’ve been obsessing over every detail of the deal, hammering out contracts, making phone calls, and sending vaguely threatening emails. Instead, my business partner decided to lock me out of my email account. I could still hear his voice in my head when I asked him why.

Take a vacation, Gionatti, he’d said. You’ve been working too hard. Everything’s in place, and I want you fresh and focused for the merger next week.

I put my cell phone face down on the table to stop myself from hurling it against the nearest wall of Captain’s Bar.

A vacation? What was I supposed to do on a vacation? I hadn’t taken a vacation in years. And even if I did, I wouldn’t want to go alone. What kind of person goes on vacation alone?

Throwing back another shot of gin and tonic, I allowed my gaze to scan the room. The place was actually pretty nice, with linen table cloths and low lights, but I couldn’t help feeling like a loser for being there by myself.

A vision of a pretty blonde rolled through my head. Sarah Meyers, my latest soon-to-be ex-girlfriend. We met at a charity art gala a few months ago and hit it off. Well, kinda. She was a great girl, but something in our relationship was missing. A spark. A real connection, maybe. Based on the we need to talk text I got from her this morning, I guess she felt it too. Everyone on the planet knew that we need to talk was code for it’s over. She might as well have said, it’s not you, it’s me or I just need to find myself. But if I was honest with myself—which the gin and tonic assured me that I was—there was only one emotion I felt at Sarah's imminent departure: relief. No weepy breakups. No threats to go to the tabloids. No pregnancy hoaxes. If I was lucky, she’d get impatient and break up with me via text.

Still, I couldn’t blame Sarah for our breakup. I never invested in our relationship. I couldn’t seem to invest myself in any relationship since, well, her.

I thought that if I didn’t think her name she’d stop haunting me. It worked half the time. The other half just felt like I was holding my breath.

I shook two fingers at the waitress. This would be my fourth gin and tonic. I should’ve probably eaten something, but getting drunk in a nice restaurant while I felt sorry for myself seemed more appropriate.

The waitress placed a napkin on the table before sitting my foggy glass on top of it. She left without saying a word.

Great. Even she thinks I'm a loser for being here alone.

I tipped the cool glass back, draining its contents in one gulp, when suddenly goose bumps raced up and down my back like icy fingers.

What was in that drink?

To my left, the face that went with the name I’d been trying not to think about appeared.

My fantasy turned to flesh.

My heart pumped wildly in my chest, as if it was trying to pop out and run to its other half. I couldn't rip my eyes from my new and improved ex-wife. Her body, once comfortably soft, was now toned. Her hair, once perpetually restrained in a bun, was now loose and free.

What is she doing here?

My gaze followed her to her table, unable to see anything else.

Why is she here and, more importantly, who is she here with? Is she with another man?

The thought made me want to smash my fist into something. The utter violence that it stirred in me was surprising and, yet, not.

I forced my gaze away from my obsession long enough to see who she was with and spied the golden hair and bronzed skin of her best friend Trish. The tension in my shoulders loosened. The most Trish would do was get her drunk. Not too much harm there. In fact, I’d planned on doing the same thing myself.

Assured that she wasn’t here with another man, I looked back at the beautiful woman with wild raven curls and caramel skin. The woman who’d given me the best of times and the worst.

Lisa. My Lisa.

Crap! I thought her name.

With that one word the memories of our past threatened to break the damn I’d worked so hard to hide them behind. If those walls broke, there would be no repairing them.

I became so caught up in my battle between not remembering our past and staring holes through Lisa's dress that I nearly missed her climbing onto her chair.

My feet quickly moved toward her without my mind signing off on the deal.

The chair swayed beneath her, and I moved a bit closer.

She’s going to topple off the chair. Where’s Trish? Shouldn’t she be helping her?

The waiter stood off to one side, watching the scene unfold with thinly veiled humor. He half-heartedly called to her a few times.

“Miss? Miss?”

Idiot. Why isn't he doing something?

Trish and I locked eyes a split second before the chair sharply swiveled to the left, and the woman who’d walked out of my life five years ago fell into my arms.

My lungs immediately felt as if they’d collapsed.

She looked up at me.

My heart burned. The immediate need to crush her to me overpowered my thoughts. The damn broke, flooding me with memories. I breathed in her scent. Sunflowers.

God, I missed that smell.

“Lisa.” Her name escaped my mouth in a whisper. It felt good to finally say it out loud. Like a great and troubling secret that had finally come to light.

She looked up at me then, really looked at me. Her wide brown eyes filled with horror. They began to water. Suddenly, her stomach violently exploded, shooting the vilest of liquid all over my shirt and pants. Then, she passed out cold.

Hello to you, too.

I gritted my teeth against the foul smell that soaked through me. Vomit had slipped into my boxer-briefs, making me cringe. It reached into my five-hundred-dollar leather loafers, sloshing around my toes.

I’d never been so disgusted.

I’d never been so at peace.

Not really sure where I was going, I turned on my heels and headed from the restaurant. I only knew that Lisa was back in my arms and wanted so very badly to keep her there. By the time I reached the lobby, Trish had caught up to us, her mouth gaped open like a fish out of water.

Kind of funny actually.

“Chance, what are you doing here?”

My worry for Lisa’s safety instantly turned to anger at Trish for allowing this to happen. I leveled her with the iciest of gazes, the look reserved for only the most incompetent interns at my firm.

“Watching my wife get alcohol poisoning.”

Trish’s hands went to her hips, her chin set against me. “She’s not your wife anymore, remember?”

Point taken.

“That’s not the point. Were you trying to get her to drink herself to death?”

“It was a fun night that got a little out of hand.”

“That’s putting it mildly. Where’s her room?”

“Why? You’re not taking her up there!”

“Then you carry her.” I held my ex-wife’s unconscious body out to Trish who, in turn, rolled her eyes before surging forward to the elevator.

I didn't even try to hide my victorious smirk.

Game. Set. Match.

The elevator doors opened and we stepped inside.

“What are you doing here, Chance?”

“My business partner told me to take a vacation, so here I am.”

“Forced to take a vacation?  That sounds about right. Still working yourself to death?”

“I see that your personality hasn’t improved,” I said back. “I assume you’re still single?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “As single as you will always be, Chance.”

The elevator dinged as it hit the second floor, cutting off my next sentence.

The fact that Trish still hated me was not surprising. The fact that I kinda hated her back was not surprising either. She was one of those, “I don’t need a man,” sort of women. A real feminist, though inside I wondered if she was as lonely as me.

We stepped out and walked across the hall to what I presumed was Lisa’s door. Trish swiped Lisa’s key through the reader built into the door and led me into the cool room.