Everything and everyone Tara Isamu ever loved, she lost under tragic or violent circumstances. Left alone to deal with the aftermath of date rape as a teenager, Tara felt destined to a life of solitude. Her heart couldn’t take any more risks.
There is just one problem with that plan; his name is Aidan O’Brien. He loved her once, and he finds that years apart – and losses of his own – haven’t changed a thing. Aidan makes it his mission to remind Tara of the joyful, talented dancer she once was. He’ll do anything to set her free of her troubled past so that her heart can dance again. He believes they can conquer the world together. But can he convince her of that?
In the United States, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate communities on how to prevent it. Sexual violence is a major public health, human rights and social justice issue. We need everyone’s help to end it. Thank you for getting involved. Your purchase of this book will assist in the prevention of sexual violence and date rape.
During 2015, I will be donating 15% of my profits generated from the sales of this book to RAINN, a national charity dedicated to stopping sexual assault and abuse. Find out more here.
Read Chapter 1:
Mindy, the nearly seven year old foster daughter of my best friend Kiera, is making it her mission to cheer me up. She refuses to allow me to be a wallflower, the role in which I’m most comfortable. “Are you sure you don’t want to dance? It’s real fun. I bet my daddy will dance with you. He’s a really great dancer,” Mindy offers enthusiastically.I freeze as her words lance my heart, yet my soul yearns to dance as the bass thumps through the speakers and I feel the rhythm deep in my bones. I study the crowd of people pressed together on the dance floor and I shudder. “I’m sorry, Mindy. I don’t know how to dance, so I guess I’ll have to sit this one out.” I shrug nonchalantly as I answer her, but I can’t quite square my gaze with hers.
Mindy scowls and narrows her gaze as she examines me from the top of my head to the tips of my freshly painted toenails. “Miss Tara?” she prompts.
“Mm-hmm?” I reply, trying not to squirm under her perusal.
“Um, you know that I can pretty much tell if a grown up is trying to trick me?” she asks.
I nod—primarily because my ability to speak seems to have taken an intermission.“So, why bother to fib about a silly thing? I think you’re a dancer because your feet look funny, just like the dancers that came to my school from the Portland Ballet Company. Plus, you kicked your tae kwon do teacher in the teeth when he said, ‘You punch like a girl and should wear a tutu.’ I don’t get why you would lie about dancing, but whatever,” Mindy says, shaking her head and shrugging.
I feel like she has punched me in the stomach. I never meant to hurt Mouse in a million years. I feel lower than a caterpillar. I glance back at the dance floor. Donda is dancing with the bartender that she’s been flirting with all night as she takes a break from being the DJ. By all appearances, she has been very effective as they are dancing so close together that you’d be hard pressed to fit a single sheet of paper between them. I pale as I watch the handsome bartender grab Donda’s waist and grind his hips into her backside. I draw in a harsh, startled breath while I try to find my voice to call for help. Suddenly, Donda looks over her shoulder, gives him a wink, and kisses the underside of his jaw.
See, Tara? Donda wanted that. Not all contact is bad. Pull it together, I mentally command myself.
“Are you okay, Miss Tara?” queries Mindy anxiously. “You’re shaking. Should I go get Miss Kiera?”
“No, I’m fine,” I insist. “Maybe I just need to eat something.”
“Can we dance after we eat?” Mindy asks.I slowly look around at this amazing reception unfolding around me. I want this level of perfect for me and maybe, someday, I’ll be able to believe in perfect again. Sadly, today is not that day.
I grasp Mindy’s hands and squeeze them lightly as I whisper hoarsely, “I’m sorry, Mindy Mouse. I’d love to dance, but I just can’t.”
Movement at the edge at of the dance floor catches my eye, I look up to see a look of sadness cross the face of the man walking up to the piano. Astonishingly, he winks and signs “bullshit” before he sits down at the piano and starts to play.
Bullshit? Who is this guy and what did he mean by that? As I watch him play, I try to figure out if I know him. I’m pretty sure I don’t, but there is something oddly familiar about those moss-green eyes.
Suddenly, I feel the urge to be anywhere but here. “Mindy, do you want to go get some more cake?” I ask, a little too brightly.“Sure thing!” Mindy exclaims. “I want some more of Miss Heather’s food, too. She cooks too good to make food on a truck. It’s silly. She should have a restaurant with fancy tablecloths and napkins.”
As Mindy chatters on about her favorite foods and what kind of restaurant she would own if she were a grown-up, I can’t help but think about what that piano player said. How could he possibly know about my dancing ability? It’s a weird thing for a stranger to comment on. He acts like he knows me. There’s something oddly disconcerting yet thrilling about that.
Mindy scampers off to play with her cousin, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I’m fighting a primal urge to simply escape out the back door. Weddings never get any easier for me. I was hoping that this one might not be as hard. Kiera is one of my very best friends. Heather, my co-maid of honor, is equally close. Together, we’ve formed the Girlfriend Posse. Once you’re in, you’re in forever. We have each other’s backs at all times. This explains why I’m wearing a shiny new dress when I’d rather run naked in the snow. Admittedly, it’s a nice dress and Kiera and Mindy, her newly adopted daughter, tried very hard to choose one that minimizes my discomfort. There are some things that go beyond the cut of a dress.There are precisely two people on the planet that can convince me to wear a dress. Now that Mindy’s in my life, I guess there are now three people on the planet that have that honor. Since Kiera and Jeff expanded their family, mine has grown exponentially as well. I consider Mindy, or as I affectionately call her ‘Mouse’ to be my kindred spirit and honorary niece. Mindy is an exceptionally bright kid who has a very old soul. Someday, I’m certain that I’ll be wearing a dress for her day too.
Kiera’s husband, Jeff, has become the brother that everyone wishes they could claim. We click surprisingly well because we share a tendency to be reserved and shy around strangers. But much to his credit, he hasn’t monopolized Kiera’s time to the exclusion of her friends. Instead, he has assimilated himself into our world, as bizarre as the shenanigans of the Girlfriend Posse can become. Even Jeff’s mom, Gwendolyn, and sister, Donda, have become honorary members of our ever-growing group. So, it’s no surprise that Jeff and Kiera’s circle of friends intersected to throw them this amazing wedding.As I look around Kiera and Jeff’s wedding reception, I see reminders of her fairytale love story. Every personal touch, no matter how innocuous, speaks to the incredible depth of their relationship.
Every person involved in the wedding has contributed their own special touches that make this wedding incredibly personal to Kiera and Jeff. You would never guess that this wedding didn’t take a couple of years to plan.
It seems that everyone is intent on honoring as many small but meaningful traditions as possible. Even Mindy got in on the act by making hand drawn invitations to the wedding. Gwendolyn, who is an extraordinarily talented florist, made bouquets based on words that Kiera and Jeff used to describe each other. Denny, Kiera’s father, gave the couple a set of engagement rings that were family heirlooms.
Heather also seems to have missed nothing; she paid tribute to her best friend’s love with a beautiful lace and pearl encrusted wedding cake that she made herself. She even made edible flowers out of sugar that mirrored the first bouquet of flowers Jeff ever gave Kiera.As a chef, Heather is meticulous when it comes to food. She insists on small peach slices and a dash of freshly grated cinnamon to grace each glass of ice tea, and the hors d’oeuvres must be at a precise temperature. Heather’s amazing culinary skills are on full display; everything I’ve tasted so far is amazing.
Since cooking is not my thing, I made gift bags for all the guests. I started with personalized Dove chocolate bars. To honor the special places and memories involved in their courtship, I also included a gift certificate to Panera’s and two boxes of Tic-Tacs. I tied them all with hand-braided ribbon. Although I don’t have much experience in the craft department, I have to admit these didn’t turn out half bad.
As I survey everyone’s hard work and hear Jeff and Kiera’s effusive praise, a profound sense of melancholy and loss settles over me like a thick fog on a rainy morning. Yes, this is all pretty much perfect. I step back into the shadows under the eaves and wrap my arms around myself as I try to remember the last time I believed in perfect. The sad thing is that even though it’s currently all around me, begging to lap it up like a thirsty kitten licking cream, I just can’t let myself believe.A sense of utter isolation overtakes me as I watch Jeff cradle Kiera gently against his chest in an agonizingly sensual first dance to Bryan Adam’s Heaven. Couples seem to have broken out like a virus. Even Heather, who usually keeps men at a very polite distance with her good humor, is tucked in very neatly under Tyler’s chin, with her cheek resting on his broad chest. She seems oblivious to his large hand splayed across her lower back and hip, but then I notice Heather flush as Tyler murmurs something in her ear and gives her hip a squeeze—perhaps not as oblivious as I first thought.
Denny and Gwendolyn are dancing a very traditional waltz. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that Denny has seen the inside of an Arthur Murray dance studio a day or two in his life. He is holding his own with the socialite and, interestingly, showing more than just a polite interest in the soon-to-be-former Mrs. Buckhold, who appears to be thriving under his attentive care.Jeff’s sister, Donda, is twirling a very contented, squealing Becca in her arms. Apparently, the key to keeping Princess Peanut happy is to have brightly colored hair and dangly earrings. Even Mindy has found herself a dance partner in Jeff’s nephew. As I study Gabriel’s body language, I am surprised to find that although he seems nervous, he is not an unwilling participant. He has the stiff, gangly movements of a preteen, but the affable, confident—, yet shy charm of his uncle. It is clear by the way that Mindy hangs on his every word that she is drawn to him like a hummingbird to nectar.
As the newlywed’s first dance ends, they transition into the father-daughter dance. Denny walks behind Kiera and he puts his arms around her shoulders. When Heartland’s I Loved Her First begins to play, they begin to sway in time to the music, in their own adaptive dance. Jeff walks over to the sidelines and collects Mindy. He grins down at her and places her feet on the top of his, as he carefully navigates her through her first ever father-daughter dance.The sight is too much for me as vivid visions come clattering back into my consciousness of a time, a lifetime ago, where perfect once lived. The sudden assault on my system is overpowering and I end up pulling some weirdly complex yoga/dance hybrid move to plop my butt onto the deck, as quickly as I can, before I pass out. Memories play in my mind like a psychedelic slide show. My heart clutches as I remember standing on my Daddy’s feet as we danced, me in my pink tights and purple tutu with silver sparkles, in the living room of our walk-up apartment. I still remember my mom putting up my long black hair in a small bun and securing them with my Hello Kitty barrettes. Those vignettes are my last memories of perfect. Shortly after that, perfect vanished from my life to be replaced by waves of unending pain that shredded my soul.
I draw my knees up to my chest, fold my arms over my knees and bury my head with a heavy sigh, as tears slide down my cheeks. As I try to repair my wall of silence and polite distance from the world, I feel a butterfly-light touch on the top of my head. I jerk my head up, alarmed to be caught off guard.
“It’s okay, Miss Tara,” assures Mindy as she meets my startled expression with a somber look. “I just came over to see what broked your heart today. You look really bummed again. I still think you should dance with Mr. Jeff.”Her uncannily accurate reading of my current mood gives me a taste of what people always say after they’ve had an encounter with me. It makes me wonder if Mindy and I share more than just a tragic past. “Thanks for checking on me, Mindy Mouse,” I reply, wiping my face carefully with a cocktail napkin, trying not to lay waste to any more of my artfully applied makeup. “I’m sure your daddy’s a great dancer, but I’m fine. Weddings just make me sad.”
I glance across the dance floor on the patio and I notice the piano player studying me with great interest. Hmm, maybe weddings aren’t so bad after all.
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I always find it difficult to introduce myself. I never quite know where to start. Do I use the traditional chronological approach and tell you that I was born in Los Angeles, but through a strange series of events that could fill a couple of novels all on their own, I ended up with a new adoptive family when I was almost five and I grew up in Springfield, Oregon. I didn’t venture too far from home when I chose to go to Western Oregon University (formerly known as Western Oregon State College). After toying with the idea of being an Art major, I eventually was persuaded to pursue a more versatile degree. I chose to major in Psychology and minor in Business.
It’s at this point that my introduction process becomes complicated. Do I talk about my personal or my professional accomplishments next? It is almost impossible for me to separate them; they are inexorably linked The summer of my sophomore year, I met my “happily ever after.” Without his loving support, I would not have been able to accomplish a fraction of what we’ve tackled together. At first it wasn’t easy to recognize him as “the one” since he came disguised in green polyester pants and a white snap-up cowboy shirt. At twenty-one, I wasn’t expecting to find my prince charming at all. But, he was tenacious—asking me to marry him on the first night we met and informing me that he planned to be the father of my children. Understandably, I laughed. But, he won me over with his charm and big heart and he has had the last laugh. We recently celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary. One of the things I love the most about my husband is that he really doesn’t seem to notice that I have severe cerebral palsy and use a huge power wheelchair. For reasons that escape me, he still thinks I am the sexiest woman alive even after I had two children and have all the scars to show for it.
I gave birth to my first son while I was still an undergraduate student. I remember frantically trying to finish my Creative Writing paper with one hand while nursing him. In those days, my husband worked the graveyard shift. I don’t recommend this arrangement if your child has colic. However, I did survive and went on to graduate. I worked in a series of social service jobs, but I sensed I needed more letters after my name if anyone was going to take me seriously. So, without even the smallest flinch, my husband supported my decision to start law school when my son entered the first grade. He made incredible sacrifices to allow me to be successful. He drove me to school and slept in the law library so that he could work the graveyard shift and ate endless packages of top ramen while he kept the household running. As a result, I was able to focus on school and graduated in the top 15% of my class at Willamette Law School with both a Doctorate Degree in Jurisprudence and a certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution. I worked primarily in the field of Civil Rights Law and Disability Law. I put my career on hold to have another child, my precious miracle after many years of secondary infertility and recurrent loss; I do not have a private practice, although I actively volunteer within the legal field.
Ahh, the children. I know this is supposed to be all about me, but will you please indulge me a moment to be a proud mom? My oldest son is now 25 and he is probably wishing I had chosen a really clever pen-name right about now. He recently graduated from a really great small liberal arts college with degrees in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Philosophy. After serving in AmeriCorps, he was accepted into medical school where he is studying Osteopathy. As you can tell, he is wickedly smart. Yet, he is also kind and extremely funny--if you like your humor on the dry side—even though he can be shy.
My youngest child is in many ways the opposite of his brother. There isn’t an audience he doesn’t want to entertain. This makes for some interesting trips to the grocery store. He is not such a big fan of school, choosing to focus on his ambition of becoming the best video blogger on the planet. It’s a pretty lofty goal, considering that he is ten. Both boys enjoy helping me with my hobbies of cooking and cake decorating. The ten year old makes a mean loaf of banana bread, if I do say so myself. I also have three “children” of the canine persuasion with very large personalities. Two of them were rescued from the Humane Society.
I have always devoured books with a passion. From Judy Blume--who taught me all the really important lessons about being a teenager, to my Nancy Drew books that gave me permission to be “the smart girl”, I read almost anything I can get my hands on. It would almost be easier (although very rude) for me to tell you who I don’t like rather than to single out just a few (I have over 3,000 books). Linda Kage has been a huge influence on me. I have a few folks including Christie Walker Bos, K. A. Tucker, Robin Carr, Marie Force, Kristen Ashley, Shiloh Walker, Brenda Jackson, Karen Rose and that are auto-buys for me. Yet, I feel a bit limiting my list because there are so many other authors, well known and otherwise, that I am equally passionate about.
Reading has opened worlds to me that I could have never dreamed of. I hope it does the same for you.
Because love matters, differences don’t,