Writing isn't a stagnant calling. As a writer, you work constantly to improve your craft. Perfecting a story again and again. Sometimes you revisit an older story you love and re-polish it, using what you have learned since you wrote it. That's what this is.
Mac Caldwell and Callie Richards have been favorite characters of mine since I wrote their first book. They appear in all the books in the Now and Forever series --probably because I loved hearing from them. When I finished the final book in the series, I cried, because that was the last I'd hear from them.
I became inspired to use what I've learned to improve their stories. I'm in the process of re-editing Now and Forever 1, a Love Story. Then I will do The Book of Danny.
There are five books in the series and two prequels. Can you tell how much I loved the people at Kensington University in Willow Falls?
As I fix the language, I'm heartened by the fact that they still live as well -rounded characters in a compelling story. The re-editied book will come out in a week or two. In the meantime, I'd like to share the beginning if their story, polished up to shine anew. I hope you enjoy it.
Callie put the check for $15,000, half of all the money she had in the world, on the counter of the bursar’s office. Kyle, her fiancé who had been killed in Iraq, had left her the money. Her palms sweated, her eyebrows knitted in a frown. She hoped to do well enough to remain in the Masters of Education program at Kensington State University through the first year and earn a scholarship to pay for the second. She needed to win this gamble to get her life back on track.
The pretty brunette ambled out the door of the square, brick administration building. Nestled in the heart of the sleepy little town of Willow Falls in upstate New York, Kensington State prided itself on first-rate education amidst a friendly atmosphere. Callie turned the corner and plopped down on the thick grass. Sitting cross-legged, she leaned back against a tree and thought about her last day with Kyle.
Thanksgiving. He and Callie had been invited to celebrate with his friend, John Weston, and his family. While the turkey cooked, some of the men played touch football. Callie had slipped away to the guest room for a nap. Kyle had joined her. It had been their last day together before he’d been deployed for the last time.
Callie had undressed quietly and gotten under the covers while had he stripped down to his boxers and T-shirt. Kyle pulled the covers down slowly.
“Kitten, don’t be shy. I want to remember every inch of you,” he said, first placing his hand gently her cheek then leaning over and kissing her softly.
The air around Kyle had crackled with his energy. He had moved his hands slowly over her body, caressing every hill and valley with his fingertips. She had moaned when he kissed her breasts. He touched her inner thigh and moved his hand up, to stroke her core, as her growing need took over.
“Kyle…” she breathed while his lips and hands had ramped her up to a fever pitch. Finally, he had pushed up on his knees, entered her and brought them to completion. Afterward, they had snuggled in each other’s arms. Callie had rested her head on his shoulder, drinking in his masculine scent and the smooth feel of his skin. She had slipped her arm across his chest, tightening it, as if a firm grip could keep him there with her forever.
With great hope and expectation, she gazed at the modest engagement ring still resting on her finger. She smiled at the memory of the night he proposed. A man of action, Kyle had been tongue-tied at the time, awkward and shy with words of love. Stumbling around, unable to express his feelings, he had simply grabbed her hand and jammed the ring on her finger.
His fingers had tangled in her long hair as he pulled her closer.
“Remember, you promised to come back,” she said.
“I’ll love you forever, Callie. I’ll be back to make you my wife and then we can do this every night,” he said, kissing her.
After this last dangerous tour of duty, they had planned to marry, settle safely on a base somewhere and begin her dream –living with him as husband and wife. Though he had promised her he would come back, it was a promise he couldn’t keep.
Callie recalled the Weston’s guest room, the last place she and Kyle had made love and spent the night together. The memory of the small lily flower pattern of the wallpaper and the scent of pot pourri in a dish on the old-fashioned oak dresser tumbled through her brain, mixing with the feel of Kyle’s skin, his cheek needing a shave, his soft lips tempting her, coaxing her to give herself to him passionately again.
During their last night, Callie had awakened at four. Kyle had been scheduled to leave at eight. She had put her shyness aside and turned to him, waking him with a passionate kiss. He had rubbed sleep out of his eyes, turned to her and raised his eyebrows.
She had nodded, running her hand down his strong chest, gazing at his body.
The look of surprise when she had touched him followed by his wicked grin had indicated his delight at her uncharacteristic boldness. He had stared at her with a look of true love shining through his eyes, before he had turned toward her and ignited her fire.
After her release, Callie had buried her face in his neck and cried softly. Kyle stroked her hair, and teared up, too. Though they had never spoken about the possibility that he wouldn’t return, it hung in the air between them like a gray mist, a shadow.
“Kitten, no matter what happens, I’ll love you to eternity.”
“Don’t say that! Don’t say that. Say you’ll be home. Be with me. I need you so much.”
“You know I will. We’ll be together forever.”
At the end of his tour, he had been killed. His death had devastated Callie. Days had blended together going on endlessly with no meaning. Getting out of bed had challenged her strength every day. She had mourned him for two years, never forgetting their nirvana both in and out of the bedroom. At twenty-six, Kyle no longer existed and despite the ache in her heart, she had tried to move on, alone, but determined.
Pushing to her feet, Callie strolled through the campus, ending up on a bench under a Linden tree. She watched small groups of students buzz about, rushing around to get their schedules, settle into dorms and make new friends.
She hoped to find peace in the beauty of Willow Falls a whistle stop town of 5,000, and the campus with its stately trees, well-kept buildings, and manicured lawns. She counted on jumpstarting her life with the new surroundings and a new goal. She slipped the ring off her finger and tucked it safely in her purse. Time to move on.
* * * *
From his office window, Mac Caldwell looked down on the main quad and the growing activity. He brushed his dark hair out of his eyes. He was tall and lean, built more for sports than academia.
Mac evaluated his life. With another school year beginning, what was he beginning? The students Mac saw from his window looked hopeful, anxious and single-minded. But what about him? Mac had made some poor choices in the past. He had married the pretty but vacant woman he accidentally impregnated and was now divorced. He had fathered a beautiful toddler, Jason, he adored but only saw on weekends. Loneliness ate away at Mac. He wanted a family, not this disjointed arrangement. After his divorce, Mac had buried his pain and focused on getting ahead. It had paid off when he was made an undergraduate dean.
Two years later, success wasn’t enough. At thirty-four years old, he wanted a woman in his life, but the right woman, someone he not only wanted to sleep with, but wanted to wake up with, too. He had stayed away from co-eds. Tempting as they could be, they were big trouble for an administrator. He paced in front of the window, then perched one hip on the sill and stared out at the new crop of students milling about.
He spied Callie sitting by herself on a bench in the quad. He admired her shoulder length chestnut hair blowing in the breeze and her blue sundress revealing an alluring figure. Mac got closer to the glass. He couldn’t see her perfectly, but enough to know she wasn’t familiar. The other students rushing around were in groups, or at least pairs. This young woman sat alone. He watched as she walked toward the administration building, his gaze drawn to the graceful motion of her body, the gentle sway of her hips.
He checked his watch. Another two hours before the end of the workday. He sighed and returned to his desk. A pile of papers on the right, indicating problems that needed his attention, called to him. So did the memory of that brown-haired girl. He picked up a memo from the president, forcing his mind to get back to work.
Unable to concentrate, his mind wandered. Even if he’d made up his mind to find someone, where would he go? The strip club was out. Did he expect her to pop out of a vase, like a genie? A smile tugged at his lips. If that was going to happen, could he make a request? That got him thinking. If he could put in an order for a woman, like he did for a burger – medium well, no onions, cheddar cheese – what would he ask for?
Of course, intelligence would be number one, but what would this dream girl look like? He leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the wastepaper basket. He pushed to his feet and ambled over to the window again, but the pretty girl on the bench was gone.
“Her,” he said aloud to no one. The sound of his voice startled him. Yes, she might look like the girl on the bench. Hell, he could do worse, a lot worse. His mind shifted gears from his imaginary perfect woman to the mystery girl from the bench. Questions arose. Who was she? His intercom interrupted his reverie.
“Mac, I’ve got some schedule changes for next month,” Jonesy, his secretary said.
“Fine. Put them on the calendar and send me an email.”
“Don’t you want to know?”
“Not now. I’m, uh, working on a problem and I need to concentrate.”
“Oh, of course. Sorry to bother you. I’ll get them off first thing tomorrow.”
“Fine. Thanks, Jonesy.”
He chuckled at his innocent lie. No, he didn’t want to think about schedule changes, he wanted to think about her, let his mind wander in a fantasy land for a few minutes. His phone rang, it was Eliza, the other undergrad dean and a long-time friend of his.
“Can I schedule an interview with you tomorrow for a student?”
“Sure. What’s the deal?”
“I’ve got to run. Can we talk tomorrow? I’ll ask Jonesy to squeeze him in.”
“Of course,” he said, glancing at his watch. “Good night.”
“You, too,” she said before hanging up.
It was five thirty. He put on his suit jacket, straightened his tie and opened the door. Another night of nowhere to go, nothing in the house to eat. He shrugged. Eating out wasted money, but he hated eating alone.
“Doc’s Diner it is,” he said to aloud to himself as he descended the stairs to the street. The diner had become his home. A comfortable place just clean enough to pass inspection, but not fancy enough to need a necktie for, the joint appealed to the restless dean. He turned to the left and headed into town.