I’m super excited to announce that Nine Days Ever After, the fourth book in the Katie Collins romance serial, is now available on Kindle. Even more exciting, Book 3, Before The Nine Days, is now available in hard copy!
I’ve attached the first chapter of Book 4, Nine Days Ever After, below for your reading enjoyment.
Nine Days Ever After
“Having kids sucks,” Katie commented to her best friend Mara as she prepared lunch on the countertop of her little bungalow in the small town of Chelsea, Michigan. Behind her, Stavros sat on the floor screaming because he’d toppled over in his toddling. Her dog Peanut stood barking incessantly to alert her to Stavros’s tumble. Beside her in a highchair little six-month-old Cia screamed. The other family dog, Butter, nudged Katie’s leg, trying to get Katie to pet her.
“Dude, you can’t say that about your own kids.”
Katie bowed her head and placed her hands over her ears. “Ugh, just make it stop. I can’t stand it. Make them all just leave me alone.”
Mara walked over and picked up little Stavros to console him. “Shhh,” she said as she bounced him gently. Stavros nestled his head of loose brown curls into her neck and wrapped his tiny arms around her neck as his sobs eventually slowed. “So cute,” she mouthed to her best friend as she pointed to the toddler in her arms.
Katie took her hands off of her ears and mumbled, “Yeah, when he’s quiet.”
She looked at the remaining screaming child. “And what do you want?” She lifted the six-month-old little girl out of the high chair, helped her rest her legs on the high chair tray, and peeked into her diaper. “Well, it’s not that.” She released the edge of the diaper and pulled the tiny sundress back down over the baby’s butt. “That leaves food.” She tried to lighten the mood and wiggled the baby as she spoke. “Are you hungry?” The baby continued to cry. “Do you want a boob? Do you want a boob?” she repeated.
“Dude, don’t say ‘boob’ to your infant.”
Katie rolled her eyes and took the baby into the living room so she could sit in a comfortable chair while she breastfed. “And I’m just about over this whole breastfeeding thing. It’s time to start weaning her to formula. Geez, I feel like I haven’t been able to go anywhere for more than a few hours for two years.”
Mara plopped down next to her in a chair, still carrying the sniffling little boy on her shoulder. “Well, you really haven’t. Things have changed. You’re a parent now.”
Katie pulled her shirt up, undid her bra, and moved the baby to her breast. Instantly the screaming stopped. “Oh, thank God,” she sighed in relief. She flipped on the TV and let The Ellen Show play as Ellen spoke about some band she would have appearing on her show after the break.
Katie looked at her friend, the baby still on her shoulder. “Thanks for that.”
“I swear, I just can’t handle the lack of sleep and the constant screaming.”
“I guess you should have thought about that before you had kids,” Mara admonished.
“Yeah, like I planned it.”
Mara tilted her head in understanding. “Good point.”
Katie continued to vent. “I never wanted to be a parent in the first place. It just wasn’t part of my plan.” She exhaled a deep breath. “Hell, I didn’t even think I’d ever get married.”
“Married by surprise,” Mara teased.
“Exactly.” She looked at Mara in confidence as the baby continued to suckle. “Please don’t think I’m a terrible person for saying this, but I hate this.”
Katie swallowed. “I hate my life.” Mara had looked at her friend in horror before she continued. “I hate never sleeping. I hate all of the screaming. I hate jeopardizing the quality of work I’m doing because I’m juggling two screamers.” She continued her rant. “I hate not having a flat stomach, I hate having stretch marks, and I hate being married.”
“Katie, you don’t mean that.”
“Yes, I do,” she followed up stubbornly, tears escaping from her eyes. “I hate this. I just want to be single and in love again. I want to be able to travel somewhere at the drop of a hat. I want to be successful in my business.” She looked down at the baby whose eyes were drooping closed as she fought to stay awake. “I mean they’re kind of cute when they’re asleep, but did I mention I miss being single?”
“And in love,” Mara finished. “Aren’t you in love anymore?”
Katie shrugged. “I don’t feel like it.” More tears ran down her cheeks. “It’s like we’re just partners in a business. The business of keeping two kids from screaming.” The tears slowed a moment as she looked at her friend. “And we both work really hard at it, but it’s just not – not – ˮ she searched for the right word before finishing. “It’s not fun.” She looked at her friend and finished with an emphatic, “At all.”
Mara smiled. “I don’t think it’s supposed to be fun all the time.”
The Ellen Show returned from its commercial break, and she sat interviewing the lead singer of Current, a band that had several Top 40 hits.
Katie looked back at her friend. “It’s not fun ever. Not for one minute.” She leaned closer as if to confide. “And we never have sex anymore.”
Katie looked back at the TV. “Like, twice since Cia’s been born.” She glanced down at the baby again that had easily fallen asleep. She pulled her from her breast and rehooked her bra before continuing. “And it was speed sex.”
“Yeah, like it was a race.”
“Ooh,” Mara commented sympathetically. “Ouch.”
“Where is Costas, your supermodel husband, anyway?”
Katie looked back to the TV. “Getting groceries. He should be home soon.”
Mara nodded as Ellen’s voice overcame their conversation. “So I understand you’ve got a new hit on your hands, and on The Ellen Show is the first time you’re playing it for anyone.”
“That’s right,” the lead singer of Current commented, “you will be the first, Ellen, and we love you.”
“Well, I love you too, Spike,” she patted his hand reassuringly, and Katie and Mara chuckled as they watched. “So, tell me, is there any particular inspiration or story behind this song?”
Spike smirked. “Actually, our keyboard player wrote it, so you might want to ask him.”
The camera pulled back so the TV viewers could see the other band members sitting in the chairs next to Spike.
“And which one of you is the keyboard player?” Ellen asked the group.
A man with loose, dark curls and graying sideburns shyly raised his hand. Katie squinted her eyes to see him more clearly. He looked a little familiar but…
“Hi, Mr. Keyboard player,” Ellen joked. “Do you have a name?”
The man smiled shyly as he answered, “Justin Daniels.”
Katie and Mara drew in gasps at the same moment, their eyes large as they looked from the TV to each other and back to the TV as Ellen continued.
“Hi, Justin Daniels. So you wrote the song you’re going to perform today.”
“And sing, luv, he’s going to sing on stage for the first time too,” Spike interrupted proudly.
“Wow, for the first time,” Ellen picked up. “Are ya any good at it?”
Justin shrugged shyly, grinning from ear to ear. “I hope so.”
“Well, me too, Justin,” she continued. “So what was your inspiration for this song?”
Katie and Mara sat staring on in wide-eyed disbelief as the handsome man replied. “It’s called “First Girl, Right Girl,” Justin began, “and it’s kind of talking to the first girl I ever loved.”
“Well, that makes sense,” Ellen joked dryly.
He chuckled at her remark, and Katie felt her heart leap as she watched on.
“So how old were you when you met this first girl that you ever loved?”
“I was nineteen and in high school.”
“Nineteen and in high school,” Ellen joked again. “That’s kind of old for high school. Were you held back?”
The audience laughed, and Katie didn’t like it.
“Actually, I got into some trouble with the wrong crowd and was held back a year.”
“Ah, that’s tough,” Ellen commented. “And how old was this girl?”
“Seventeen. She was seventeen.”
“And what ever happened to her? Did you two get married and live happily ever after?”
Justin’s face clouded over. “No. No, we didn’t,” he responded slowly. “My dad got transferred at work right after my senior year, and I wrote for a while but never heard back.” He glanced down at his feet. “I never saw her again, but I never forgot her.”
“Wow, that’s kinda sad,” Ellen continued sympathetically.
“So you’re going to sing about it for us today, right?”
The crowd let out cheers of encouragement and applause as Justin nodded and the band stood.
Ellen clapped and stood too. “Woo! Let’s hear it for Current! Maybe First Girl, Right Girl will be out there listening. Woo! Current!” she continued as the audience applauded while the group moved to the stage and their respective instruments.
Katie’s stomach was in a knot. What was happening? She’d gone from complaining about how miserable her life was to flashing back to her youth and her first love. Her first love and the man she’d thought she was going to marry. Too shocked to speak, Katie and Mara glanced silently at each other, eyes still big, and then back to the TV as Justin settled in behind a grand piano that was center stage and began to play.
Katie watched in silent shock as he hummed along to the tune he played before the words came.
“There was a broken girl I saw, a girl that had lost it all. She needed my protection, and I needed her affection.” His fingers danced across the keyboard as he continued. “You came out of the blue, and I walked to school with you. You held my hand and helped me understand. When my life was so wrong, you made me feel like I belonged.”
As he began the chorus, the rest of the band joined in. “You were my first girl, my right girl, ooh, my love of my life girl. I never got to tell you I loved you. I had to leave you behind, but you’ll always live on in my mind as my first girl, my right girl, ooh, my love of my life girl.”
He looked down at his hands as they moved easily over the keys. Every old feeling that Katie had tried so hard to forget came rushing back as he looked up and continued to sing the next verse.
“You were my first kiss, there wasn’t anything with you I’d miss. ‘Sparks’ became our word, and your voice is all I ever heard. You lost your parents before prom, I was there ever on. I know they watched us from above, watched us learn how to love. Against my will I was pulled away, there was so much left to say.” He played on. “So much left to say.”
“Holy crap,” Katie commented to Mara as Justin went into the chorus again.
“Shh,” he’s not done, she dismissed again.
Justin looked up, flipping the loose, dark curls out of his face as he began the last verse. “You haunt my nights, you are my dreams. My life is not as it seems. There’s a hole in my heart since we were torn apart. Come back to me, fulfill my need. There’s something left to say. I promise, I won’t go away.” His fingers played on before he echoed, “I won’t go away,” and then continued into the final chorus as the rest of the band joined him.
Katie, Mara, and the audience sat mesmerized by the story in his song until he was done.
“Wow,” Katie whispered when the song was finished and she sat unable to move.
“Wow,” Mara echoed, also unable to move. They stared at the TV as the studio audience went wild and Ellen congratulated them on their next hit.
Katie looked at her friend. “I guess those piano lessons really paid off.”
The front screen door slammed, and Costas walked in, his hands loaded with plastic bags of groceries. He stood at the door and took in the scene in front of him before striding across the room in his fitted jeans and gray T-shirt to Katie. “How is my beautiful family?” He leaned and kissed her forehead, but neither Katie nor Mara could respond and only looked at him as if they’d just seen a ghost.
(End of Chapter 1 of Nine Days Ever After.)