A note from the author:
For first time readers of any of my work, this is a sequel and not made to be a stand-alone story. For that reason, I encourage you to read the first book in what will be the "Happily Never After" Trilogy. ;) The first book is called There is no Prince Charming. The first few chapters are posted in my list of stories and links to my eBook can be found there as well.
For those of you who have been reading my work for a while and to those of you who have actually bought my eBook, I want to give you a huge THANK YOU! I am so excited to finally be getting another story out to you guys. When I'm feeling down, I go back through some of your reviews and it really pumps me up again. I hope you all enjoy this one as much as you loved There is no Prince Charming.
I would appreciate your thoughts on this chapter, I'm not sure if I'm starting out strong enough or if I'm rambling. Tell me what you think.
Lorianna's painfully beautiful face crinkled into a sneer as she loomed over me; a plum-wine stain beginning to bloom like blood on the princess' white gown.
Confusion surrounded me; as I looked around, I realized that I was dressed in a servant's uniform and sprawled on the ground next to a now empty goblet.
My brows furrowed as I tried to figure out why this all seemed so familiar and then I heard the laughter. There was a crowd surrounding us and all of them were looking at me.
"Take Jennifer away!" Lorianna purred in sick satisfaction as two guards broke through the crowd to seize me.
"No! No, I didn't do it!" I yelled as they each grabbed onto one arm and hoisted me easily off the ground.
The princess' ice blue gaze followed me as the guards literally dragged me away, my shoes scrapping the floor and all.
"It wasn't me!" I begged, my fear growing at the thought of what Lorianna would have them do to me.
Then the guards halted and before me stood Gray, my Gray! His face was full of concern and my fear seemed to vanish at just the sight of him.
"Oh thank God! Gray!" I gasped.
However, he wasn't looking at me. In fact, his gaze was trained just over my shoulder and he didn't even spare me a glance as he walked by. The guards holding me (bless their little hearts) decided that I really needed to see this and so they turned me around to watch.
"Are you alright?" Gray asked Lorianna, taking her slender hand in his.
What the Hell?! I thought angrily. "Is SHE alright?!" I asked incredibly as my stomach turned sour.
Lorianna, of course, pouted prettily and allowed him to pull her into his arms. "I'm fine...just a bit shaken up." She spoke dramatically, like a bad actor in a badly written play.
I opened my mouth to scream that she wasn't the one being carted away like some criminal when the guards decided to continue dragging me away.
"No! Wait!" However, no one was paying attention to me; the crowd watched the Princess with adoration in their eyes.
I'm going to be sick!
Gray tucked a golden lock of hair behind Lorianna's ear and I felt like I was going to blow chunks. Then he pressed his forehead to hers and the room went silent, as if to punctuate his words, "I love you".
I shot up in bed, clutching my pounding heart. What a nightmare!
With a look at my clock on my nightstand, I groaned to find that it was only 4AM.
I scrubbed a hand over my face, trying to shake off the remains of the dream. For some reason, I had been dreaming about Delbrook more often lately. It had been almost three months since my... return, and still those dreams haunted me.
With a great sigh, I swung my legs out of bed and tried to wrestle my messy hair into something that resembled a bun; I knew there was no use trying to go back to sleep, it never came after a dream like that.
With a tired shuffle, I flipped the light on, squinting at the assault on my eyes. If I'm not going to sleep, I might as well clean.
Before Delbrook, I might have filled my sleepless hours with some romantic novel or another; however, since my return, just the thought of picking one up made me shudder.
Maybe being sucked into a romance novel has something to do with it, I thought sarcastically. On the other hand, perhaps it was the fact that I was now in the beginnings of an amazing relationship and didn't need to fill my mind with imaginary love.
I grabbed a scrubber and went to work on the tub as my mind wandered. The thought that Delbrook had all been a dream still haunted me; was I some sort of skitzo who made up the entire thing in my mind?
Since my time back, I had visited a plethora of doctors, had MRI's, CAT scans, the whole workup and it had all come back normal...aside from the fact that I didn't drink enough water.
It left me unnerved to have no logical explanation as to what happened to me. So instead of let it stress me, I tried to chalk it up as one of life's mysteries; a mystery that I had never shared with anyone, not even Maggie!
A life in a locked down facility with padded rooms did not fit in my plan for the future and that's exactly where I would be if I had spilled the beans.
Carrying around a secret this big was definitely a burden. No wonder I'm always dreaming about Delbrook!
Could it all be a dream? However, that didn't explain the Delbrook citizen lookalikes running around New York; they were all real flesh-and-blood people that I had never met before my time in the book, I was certain.
Nevertheless, that was all they were, lookalikes.
In the beginning, I had thought I truly had found Gray. That somehow our love had sucked him out of the book with me. That maybe fate wasn't actually cold hearted and ripped me from my love just as soon as I found him.
That night at Barry's was the turning point for me; Maggie dragged me to her boyfriend's birthday bash and that's where Gray became so real, even though it wasn't actually Gray.
After my initial shock of finding Gray, I found out that his name was actually Ben Knight. (The irony that I had thought of Gray as my knight in shining armor didn't escape me.)
Ben offered to buy me a drink to make up for what was actually my clumsiness.
The whole time, I was speechless to see Gray, not Gray, so close and REAL!
Ben looked so much like him, it was astounding and my heart immediately made the connection, no questions asked…not that I could blame the poor thing.
Maybe I was still distraught from being ripped from Gray or maybe there was something about Ben that drew me, either way, our "drink" turned into a date the next night, and the night after that and we had hardly been apart since.
Though they could nearly be twins, the more I got to know Ben, the more I realized he was different.
He was thoughtful; through all my bouts of depression about being away from Delbrook, he allowed me time to heal without questioning too deeply. I knew I couldn't tell him everything that I had gone through.
Where Gray was almost frustratingly reserved and hard, Ben was much more open; especially about the way he felt about me. It turns out, our connection was not one sided.
A smile graced my lips as I turned my scrubbing to the shower walls.
Sometimes, when he was around me, I would completely forget about Delbrook and for once be happy to be living in the moment.
Ben was strong in his own right, whereas Gray had to be strong for what little family he had left.
I'll admit, at first it felt as though I was cheating on Gray (or at least the memory of him); however, with no proof that Delbrook even existed, I had to come to a place where I figured perhaps I had needed Gray for a time. I had needed a hard man in order to break me out of my bitter shell. I had needed him to teach me that I deserved more than what I was settling for. He taught me that I was desirable and that I could be strong for myself; those were lessons I swore never to take for granted.
Though I found myself longing for Gray sometimes, I found myself quickly falling for Ben (much faster than I should be). He looked at me with his hazel eyes just the way Gray used to; it never failed to turn my knees to jelly and make me feel as if I were the only one in the room.
Ben had a way of pulling a smile from me with merely a glance. He made me happy. So, why did I still have guilt about Gray? Why did I continue to dream about Delbrook?
Turning from the tub, I decided I needed a change of scenery and maybe that would change the depressing turn my thoughts had taken.
As I loaded the dishwasher, I puzzled over the only thing that really kept me questioning Delbrook. When Ben and I had met at the party, he said that I looked familiar.
How can that be? I wondered. With careful questioning, I discovered that he had no recollection of a place named Delbrook (he only knew it as his best friends last name) and he didn't have a sister named Andrea. I knew for certain that I had never seen Gray or Ben before I got sucked into that book, so how could Ben later claim that he felt as though he'd known me for years?
There had been a few times that I had slipped and called Ben, Gray; he never answered the name and I'd give him the excuse that he reminded me of someone I once knew.
However, Ben wasn't the only one from the book who was different; Maggie's boyfriend, Noah Delbrook, aka Derek of Delbrook, was night and day difference to the raging Derek who had tried multiple times to kill me for "kidnapping" his true love Mary.
Noah was actually...nice and sometimes he was pretty funny. He did, however, still have the same intensity about the woman he loved; only this time his heart was attached to my best friend. And...I was okay with that.
I found myself almost growing more comfortable with him, almost. He too had never been to a place called Delbrook, though he found it amusing that such a place could exist since it was his last name. He also didn't know anyone by the name of Gray, or Demetrie for that matter.
Noah was not an exact replica of Derek either. It made sense that when we had first met, I would make the connection; after all, they both had blue eyes to contrast their dark hair as well as a ridiculously large build. Noah, however, had a crooked nose from having it broken in sports. He wasn't as tall as I remembered Derek being and he didn't have the hardened look of a soldier.
The coincidence was too close for my liking; however, with no one to question, it would remain just that, a coincidence.
I'd spent some time researching doppelgangers, wondering if that was what was going on. No matter what my theories were, there would never be a way to prove any of it. These sort of things only happened in sci-fi movies and there were no facts to go off.
I set up the dishwasher and pulled out my kettle, hoping that tea would soothe my mind. I made the same dizzying circles almost daily.
Ben and I had been dating since the first night we met and our connection was electric. I had never been the type of girl to dive head first…actually it was safe to say that I was always the exact opposite; but, with Ben, it just felt right. Perhaps I was a bit impulsive when I gave him a key to my apartment a few weeks ago, I didn't care; I wanted him around.
He'd been gone for a few days for work. He was a firefighter and it was his shift to stay in the firehouse. I always missed him when he was gone and worried (because that's what I did best), but as he explained his training and told me stories about the different fires that he'd fought, I felt my confidence in him grow. Besides, he looked scrumptious in his firefighting uniform.
He'd even taken me along to work and introduced me as his girlfriend, which made my heart flutter at just the thought. It was another comfort to learn that the other men he worked with were pretty cool and had each other's backs.
It amazed me to think we'd only been together for a few months. It was as if we'd known each other for our entire lives.
I miss him, I thought as I waited for the water to boil. I especially missed him when I dreamed of Delbrook. My dream had not been as serious as a few I'd had before, one that frequented my nights was the war that I had disappeared right in the middle of.
What I wouldn't give to know if my friends are okay. Andrea, Beck, Claire...Gray.
Yet another thing I had no answer for. The book that started it all was in another language. I'd "Googled" it, asked around and even visited a linguist at the university. All he could tell me was that it was mostly gibberish. Another dead end, so I had safely tucked the book at the bottom of my underwear drawer for the time being.
The kettle whistled, jostling me from my thoughts. Pouring myself a cup, I ended up curling up on the couch, dragging my laptop with me and powering it on.
When I had a night like is, I eventually ended up searching the web for some kind of answers...any answers at all.
So far, all I'd found was that a man in Connecticut swears up and down that he found some sort of portal to a time-space continuum. The same man had published a book about being abducted by aliens a few years later.
I also discovered that there was no such place in the entire world, all through history, called Delbrook. Therefore, there was no information on a war that happened there.
Nevertheless, I opened a search window and typed in "Romance books about Delbrook".
After about twenty minutes of only finding every romance novel with the word "Brook" in the title, I gave up on that avenue.
New search: "Magical necklaces".
Popular jewelers' from all over the world claimed, "Have a magical evening that she will never forget. Buy our blahdy blah blah necklace".
Growling in frustration, I closed that search. Rapping my nails against the keys, I tried to rack my brain for an idea.
New search: "Missing persons, Mary". I knew this would lead to nowhere. I had never even met the lady.
Finally closing my laptop, I downed my now tepid cup of tea and curled up on the couch.
I laid there for a long time, my mind a constant loop of questions and as the sun started to light the room, I finally fell asleep.
Something gently nuzzled my neck, drawing me too soon from my blissful sleep.
"Why are you sleeping on the couch?" a deliciously deep voice rolled over me in waves.
Without opening my eyes, a smile bloomed on my lips. "I couldn't sleep."
"I noticed," he chuckled.
Now I cracked my brown eye to look at him from beneath my lashes, attempting a playful glare. "You only say that because the apartment is clean."
A sexy half grin graced his handsomely tanned face, before a more serious glint overtook his gaze. "Are you alright?"
I nodded and stretched. Right in the middle of my luxurious stretch, I felt his lips against mine, sending pleasant tingles through me while causing my heart to slam against my ribcage.
Will he ever stop affecting me like this? I wondered. Before I could return the kiss, he pulled away. "Mm, I missed you," his voice rumbled.
"I know," I joked.
With a sly grin, he dropped his duffel and grabbed for me. With surprising speed for someone who had just woken up, I darted off the couch. I was just about to taunt him for being too slow when I got a look at the clock hanging on my living room wall.
With a curse, I darted into my room, our fun forgotten. "I have a meeting in twenty minutes!" I called over my shoulder as I threw open my closet, chiding myself for not setting an alarm.
"Good thing I came home early," he answered from what sounded like the kitchen. Sure enough, moments later, the smell of coffee wafted through my small apartment.
"Ten points for Ben," I muttered as I threw on some slacks and dashed for the bathroom.
Right on cue, my cell buzzed.
"Maggie," I breathed as I loaded my toothbrush with paste.
"Where are you? Meeting starts in fifteen!"
"I kno," I blubbered around my toothbrush. "I woke ub lat."
"Are you drunk?" she asked incredibly.
"Hold on." I spit and rinsed. "I'm getting ready and am out the door in two seconds. I'll tell you about it later." With that, I hung up and ran back into my room, nearly colliding into Ben, who was holding a hot thermos of coffee.
He caught me easily, reminding me of how exactly we'd first met and of all the times I'd run into Gray during my time in Delbrook.
I took the thermos, offering him a peck on the lips and then scoured the room for my missing shoe, shoving Delbrook to the back of my mind. I dropped to my knees to look under the bed when Ben cleared his throat. I glanced up, rear in the air, to find him dangling the long lost twin to my other shoe that was already on my foot.
"Please, by all means, remain as you are. I'm quite fond of this view," he teased.
I glared and blushed slightly as I stood and reached for my shoe, which he held just out of reach, capturing my chin with his free hand and my mouth with his.
Had I the choice, I would have stayed like this for the rest of the day; however, the clock was ticking.
Still, I lingered; he was a phenomenal kisser and every time, without fail, I was dumbfounded. It wasn't fair.
When he finally released me, my brain was a foggy pile of mush.
It didn't help that he flashed me that sexy smile again, "You should skip work."
"Work?" I murmured, and then finally snapped out of it. "Work! I gotta go!" I snatched my shoe and put it on while hopping down the hall, the thermos in the nook of my arm as I grabbed my purse. "Thanks for the coffee, I'll see you later!"
Neither of us had said the "L" word yet. I knew he was waiting for me to be more comfortable with the idea. Needless to say, I was still pretty awkward with the whole relationship thing. That didn't stop me from wanting to make sure this love was real and not some sick replacement for the Gray-sized hole left behind in my heart.
Ben was more than a rebound; I knew that, but did I love him? I mean truly love him?
Right now, I didn't have time to think about that, I had a meeting to sprint to.
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