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Authors: Brinda Berry

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Chasing Luck

BOOK: Chasing Luck
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Chasing Luck
A Serendipity Novel
Brinda Berry
Sweet Biscuit Publishing LLC
Table of Contents

C
opyright Warning

EBooks are not transferable. They cannot be sold, shared, or given away. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is a crime punishable by law. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded to or downloaded from file sharing sites, or distributed in any other way via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000 (http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/).

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are fictitious or have been used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real in any way. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental.

Published By Sweet Biscuit Publishing LLC

Edited by Lacey Thacker

Cover Design by Regina Wamba

Chasing Luck

All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

First electronic publication: May 2014

ISBN: 978-0-9916320-2-2

Acknowledgements

T
here isn’t
a way to properly thank the friends who support me as an author. I hope they know how tough this would be without them.

Thank you to my critique partners: Jennifer Windrow, Jennifer Savalli, Abbie Roads, Kelly Crawley, Kathleen Groger, and Christina Delay. My respect for you is endless.

Dear Margie Lawson…I credit you with bringing these ladies into my writing life. I also love you for your red pen. Truly. This book came to life on your writing couch.

A special thanks goes out to Audrey Estes, Kristi Cheatham, and Mandy Dismang. You ladies deserve shiny medals for your honesty and tact regarding parts of the book you loved and parts you didn’t.

Thank you Lacey Thacker for tireless editing. You decimated an obscene number of “thats” in the book. You also do an exceptional job of seeing the forest
and
the trees.

Thank you Regina Wamba from Mae I Design for creating a cover that is awesomely perfect.

As always, I thank my family for loving and supporting me.

About Author Brinda Berry

N
ew Adult Novels

Chasing Luck (A Serendipity Novel)

Y
oung Adult Novels

The Waiting Booth (Whispering Woods #1)

Whisper of Memory (Whispering Woods #2)

Watcher of Worlds (Whispering Woods #3)

Wild at Heart II (An Anthology)

Lore: Tales of Myth and Legend Retold (An Anthology)

F
or release news
, subscribe at http://bit.ly/Brinda_Berry

Prologue
Malerie

I
t’s
bizarre how one crazy psycho can break a heart and mind into an unforgiving pile of pieces.

No superglue solution for the aftermath of tragedy.

Mom's law office was usually the most boring place ever for a seven-year-old. I'll never forget the wail of a shrill alarm pulsing through the twenty-five-story building, kicking my heart into a race with my rapid breathing. I looked at my mom and covered my ears at the hateful sound. She glanced up from her paperwork and grabbed the desk phone. Mom closed her eyes, irritated. We were only supposed to be at her office for ten minutes. She'd said fifteen at the most.

Red lights blinked in time with the screech of the alarm. She shook her head, rose, held out her hand. I placed my hand in hers while looking at her perfectly lipsticked mouth. She was tall today in her high, spiky heels. I studied her moving lips, but I couldn't hear anything over the screeching and voices.

She bent, placed her lips to my ear. "Fire alarm. Come on."

"Okay." I yelled. I giggled when she playfully swatted my behind. We had a fire alarm just last week at school. Jenny Millard got into trouble for letting the class hamster out of its cage so it wouldn't die in a fire.

In the hallway, people flurried past us. They darted out of offices quickly, holding purses and briefcases. A man at the end of the corridor yelled. He motioned like a crossing guard on high speed, but I couldn't tell what he was saying until we reached the end. As we walked down the hall, I looked through the glass interior walls at the remaining people inside each office—rule breakers who didn't follow directions.

I hoped they got in trouble. People who didn't follow rules deserved to get in trouble.

"Stay calm. This is not a drill. Exit now. Leave your things and take the stairs." Mom's boss yelled louder than the alarm. I watched him run a hand over his hair and down his neck. He tugged on his necktie until he pulled it loose.

Mom squeezed my hand a little tighter. She smiled down at me, reassuring with her lips, but her eyes had me worried. Someone yelled, "Bomb." People began running, crowding, jamming. We reached the elevator. The man said to take the stairs, but people didn't listen. They were crowding into the already full elevator. I knew how to follow directions from school. Had these grownups been in my class, they would know how to walk in a “calm and collected fashion,” as Mrs. Wallace said. Mom and I were walking to the stairs when a loud crash sounded and the building shook. A picture slid down the wall beside the elevator and crashed to the floor. Glass spidered into a web on the surface of the image.

People screamed near me. I knew this wasn't like the school drill. This not-a-drill was scary. Mom squeezed my hand hard and that made me want to cry. I dropped my new Hello Kitty purse. Colored pencils and candy spilled out and rolled. I bent down to retrieve it but Mom pulled me up with a jerk.

"Malerie!" My mother yelled in a tone she rarely used. A tone she'd used when I'd almost stepped in front of a car. A tone from the day when I'd used the kitchen knife to cut a rope. A tone that made my throat tighten.

A big man stepped on my chocolate-covered candies and his foot rolled on a pencil; he wobbled to balance himself before he too spilled onto the floor.

My eyes filled with tears. My purse would be dirty now. I would come back for it later. I almost tripped as my mother moved into a crowd of bodies at a doorway leading to the stairwell. I tried to hold on, but the tall people were shoving and squishing me. She held my wrist so hard I could feel her rings biting into the skin on my arm. I tried to twist toward her, but the people were too big. I couldn't see my mom. My face pressed into the back of a man wearing tan pants and a brown belt.

Then the pressure on my wrist was gone. Gone forever.

1
Malerie
Eleven Years Later


H
ow she looks
to the stars, each and every night. Praying for a love returned, a wish granted, a nightmare ended. How she dreams it with all her might.” ~ Jelly Bean Queen

E
ighteen birthday candles
does not a bonfire make. If I had a bonfire, I'd burn the fatal acceptance letter from MIT. Bring on the matches.
Burn, baby, burn.

I sit across from Uncle JT in Alessandro's Restaurant thinking pyro thoughts about the letter in my hand. The letter threatens to ruin the life I've carefully protected. A life where I rarely leave home and always, always know the plan. Plans are important for people like me. I know who I'll see, where I'll be, so I can be sure I have limited exposure to any danger.

I don't
do
adventure.

"You can't force me to go to college a thousand miles away." My voice strains like a sapling about to snap in a hundred-mile-an-hour wind.

"Then why did you apply?" JT takes a sip of red wine and relaxes into his you're-being-unreasonable smile.

"You asked me to apply."

"And the problem is?"

"I thought I'd have a better chance of marrying the lead singer of Jelly Bean Queen than getting accepted into MIT."

His brows bunch together. "I don't know about this singer, but I
do
know you can go to the best school for computer science. You'll be fine. It's natural to be nervous." JT reads the cell phone he's hidden to the left of his plate.

But I won't go. He's dead wrong.

I chew the inside of my mouth and beg him with my eyes to understand. "You know I want to go to college. But I can live at home. Technology is crazy-good these days. I can attend classes online for a computer science degree and never leave home."

He doesn't even look up.

He types something into his Blackberry.

I squirm in my seat, willing him to look at me. "It's a dangerous world. That's why I've been homeschooled. Right? I'll be safer right here. And won't you miss me?" I fight the urge to jump out of my seat, grab the cell phone, and fling it across the room.

"Um hmm." JT listens to a voicemail.

"You do know MIT is made up of programmers who build sexbots."

He doesn't make eye contact and I study how much gray streaks his hair. It's something I haven't noticed before today.

"They test the sexbots on freshmen virgins."

He looks up with the phone at his ear, his attention caught. "What about freshmen?"

"Nothing." He's not listening because he thinks this deal is sealed. An elderly man sits at the next table in my direct line of vision and stares as only the elderly and babies can, bold and curious. Unblinking and unapologetic. I don't want to feel sorry for him at his table for one, napkin tucked into his shirt collar and leaning forward in eavesdrop mode.

Uncle JT and I eat at Alessandro's Restaurant every Sunday night. It isn't the type where wait staff surround the table and deliver birthday wishes in a rowdy sing-along. Here, the waiters deliver $500 bottles of wine to customers with too much money and too little sense.

I'm not legal for the wine, but I'm old enough to be embarrassed over the cake.

"We'll talk about this later," he says without looking at me and moves his thumbs over the Blackberry keypad.

"Excuse me. Going to the ladies room." My voice is steady, but I'm trying hard not to cry. He makes eye contact for a second, nods, and returns to his phone. I swear that phone's my nemesis.

The restrooms are at the far end of the restaurant. I ignore the waiter watching me weave around tables. I thought JT understood what a big deal the college thing is going to be. I try to be normal, but we both know I'm not and never will be. He's accepted that for all these years, so why is he pushing me out now? Living at home is the most logical solution. It's not like I get in his way.

I'm lost in thought when I round the corner to the restrooms and plow into a body. A phone crashes to the tile floor and a guy takes a step back.

"Oh, so sorry." I grimace. "Really sorry." I bend to grab the phone that's slid across the corridor and now sits at the door of the men's room. I also see a large envelope on the floor.

The restroom door opens and a person barrels into my bent head, knocking me flat on my behind. The sensation of being pushed sends me into a paralysis. An explosion of irrational fear invades every cell of my body, and I recognize it immediately.
I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay.
I squeeze my eyes shut to block out anything but the mantra.

Hey, there's a kid in there. We've got a survivor. She's alive.
The voices in my head are loud, but I mentally chant harder.
I'll be okay.

I'm sprawled against the wall with the stranger's cell phone in one hand. Hands grab my arms to help me stand. I jerk my arms from them in a quick, panicky motion I can't control.

"Please don't touch me." I take a deep breath. "I'm fine."

I get up off the floor with one hand on the wall and feel the heat on my face, the temperature of hot asphalt.

The older man who exited the men's room gives me the she-must-be-on-drugs look, mumbles apologies, and walks off. The younger guy stands unmoving, staring at me.

"Are you all right?" he asks.

"You should watch where you're lurking. That's dangerous. To stand there." I try to slow my breathing and refuse to take his extended hand. My back hits the wall and I run out of space.

"Lurk?" One corner of his mouth tips up.

I take in his smile and narrow my eyes. He thinks it's funny? My heart is still racing from his touch.

"Yeah, lurk." I take a step and he grabs my arm.

"Can I have my phone?" The other corner of his mouth joins the party and it's a full-on grin. Dimples appear and they're not the cute, little innocent boy kind.

My stomach flutters like a moth caught in a jar.

His gaze sweeps down my body. Those twin dimples of danger match eyes that I swear can see through my clothes.

And I almost melt into a pool of girly goo
. Jerk. Totally gorgeous-beyond-words jerk.

I shove the phone into his hand, and he releases me. When I make it into the restroom, I press my hands against the counter and stare at myself in the gold, gilded mirror. I expect my tan face to look pale, shaken, freaked. But I look normal. The outside me never matches the inside me. I look confident, from my smooth dark hair to my perfect red dress.

Good.
Running into someone doesn't qualify as an earth-shattering and traumatic experience.
Get a grip.

A few minutes later, I return to the table and JT is still working on his phone. When he does lift his gaze, he motions at the cake in front of me.

There's no way I'm telling him what just happened because he'll tell me it's the very reason I should go away to college. He'll argue that I need to be socializing with other people.

The waiter appears out of nowhere to light the candles. "Happy Birthday," he says, giving me this look he must think is sexy before he disappears to wait on the next table. I suppress an eye-roll.

Eighteen candles on a small cake make for quite a spectacle. Not as suitable as a bonfire for letter burning but it would do the job.

I lean forward, ready to blow out the candles.

"Make a wish," JT demands in his no-argument CEO voice.

I shift uneasily. "No wish." I've already told him my wish—a safe life where I continue going to school at home.

"Malerie Toombs." He makes a
tsk
ing sound and reaches over to pull the cake back. "You will not blow those out without a wish. Don't you want your wish to come true?"

"Since when is Mr. Practical so superstitious?" I close my eyes and lean toward the cake. I'm tired of worrying about college and can't bear to hear all the reasons why I'll love living away from home. Diversion is necessary. I think of what he hopes I'll say. "I wish you'd bring back the guy who carried in my cake." This wish makes him smile. He wants me to act like girls my age.

"Not a chance. He's too old for you. And he gave you that look." His eyes twinkle.

"What look?"

"The look. The one that said, 'I'd like to get that girl alone and—'"

"Stop." I hold up my hand.

"’—bang her.’" He gives me a knowing look, like he's passed some rite of hipness.

I cringe and scrunch my nose. "Oh, wow. You did not just say bang."

"I know lots of phrases for your generation. I've watched Jersey Shore."

"Ugh," I groan, closing my eyes. "Please don't think a reality show sets the standard for the rest of us. Definitely not." Although JT's acted as my guardian for the last eleven years, he still manages to surprise me.

He chuckles and I can tell he's pleased he shocked me. "Do you think I don't know what goes on in a young man's head? When I was eighteen, I had the same sex-tracked mind as that waiter."

I'm scrambling to change the subject. Fast. Before he decides to tell me stories of all night frat parties and practical jokes and the greatness of college life. "I really think that guy is pitifully ugly. Poor thing." I smirk at JT's raised brow that screams liar at me. The waiter has a beautiful face and long, lean swimmer's build. He's a walking magazine ad. "Can I finally have that present you've been guarding?"

He shuffles his feet and the bag scrapes against the tile floor. "Let's have the cake first. This gift is very special. It's something I've saved for this day and I want to take my time explaining it to you."

I hold my long hair back and blow out the candles in a wide-sweeping, exaggerated effort. "There. Happy?"

He nods, a satisfied got-my-way smile lighting up his face before he hands me a serving knife.

I have just given JT the first slice of cake and am licking icing from one finger when I realize that someone stands to my right. I push my empty water glass over and don't lift my gaze. I'm positive that eye contact with the waiter will tempt JT to say something embarrassing.

"So glad you could make it. Have a seat." JT stands and signals to the empty chair.

Someone moves behind me. A guy shakes hands with JT and sits in the chair to my right.

"Ace, I'd like to introduce my niece, Malerie," JT says.

It's my birthday dinner and now I'll have to listen to their hideously boring work-related topics that'll make me want to stab myself with a butter knife.

A slow death by cutlery.

I plaster on my civil smile and turn to look at the man before pressing my lips together, preventing my mouth from falling open into an unflattering gape. I stare up at him, confused, unable to move or breathe. My heart picks up speed in way that usually occurs on the second mile of a run.

It's the guy I ran into near the restrooms. The one who thought it was funny I was so frazzled.

This guy isn't JT's usual business associate and he’s far too young to be a slave to corporate America. He isn’t wearing the boring suit with obligatory red power tie.

I've let my gaze travel down every inch of his body and … he's noticed this because he's not blind.

Embarrassing.

He's staring at me like he can actually hear the blood rushing in firehose-volume to my heart.

"Hi Malerie. Nice to meet you. Have we run into each other before?" His eyes light with mischief.

"Um … hi. Well… I…" I wonder if I look as tongue-tied as I feel. Not that I'm trying to impress him. After I did the flailing face-plant, he has to think my head is one vast wasteland.

"Nice to meet you, too." Thankfully, his attention moves to JT before I can babble myself into the awkward girl hall of fame.

BOOK: Chasing Luck
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