Readers: The Unrelenting Passion Series is a collection of romance stories featuring M/F, M/M, and everything in between because love has no boundaries.
This series can be read as standalone stories.
The book is not for anyone under the age of 18.
The cadence of his voice was the same, although the timbre was more profound.
It's been twenty-four years since I last saw Declan, and a lot has changed in that time—except my love for him. But he made his choice all those years ago, a decision that didn't include me, and now he's back, asking for a second chance.
There's so much he doesn't know about me. What I've been through over the years. What I'm dealing with today. If I let him in, I'm risking so much more than heartbreak, but my racing pulse and trembling body betray me.
Release date: November 2, 2022
Publisher: Rynn Royale
Print pages: 224
Content advisory: Not for anyone under 18.
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Nothing soothed the soul like chicken soup. I chose the easy method of making a pot of hearty soup by buying a rotisserie chicken from the deli. The herbs and spices add so much flavor. I don’t think my mother would agree, but I discovered I prefer my shortcut. Now off to get the vegetables.
I pushed my squeaky cart down the aisle and kicked myself for not switching it out when I had the opportunity. But, at least there was ample warning I was coming around the corner.
“Excuse me,” I apologized for bumping into the cart of an older gentleman. “We should have mirrors on these things.”
He laughed. “Or horns.”
I moved along, gathering items I needed as I made my way to the produce section. The best chicken soup starts with good old-fashioned chicken stock, parsley, bay leaves, wilted carrots, and celery. Then simmer for no less than an hour. Once the broth was infused with the flavors, I removed the herbs before adding fresh vegetables and the chicken.
My mother explained it was her secret to the most delicious soups I had ever eaten. But if I were a betting woman, which I am not, I’d say it was her homemade egg noodles that made hers special. I could not get enough of my mom’s noodles to satisfy my craving. Of course, she taught me how to make those, assuring me my soups were right up there with hers.
Goosebumps ran up my arms. I recognized the cadence of his voice, even though the timbre was much more profound. Did I pretend I was not the person he knew me to be? I swallowed before turning to look at him.
“Yes.” I drew on my acting skills and sounded nonchalant.
“It is you.” The man I hadn’t seen in twenty-four years pulled me into a bear hug.
Did I hug him back or leave my arms dangling by my side? I guess my arms had their own mind because I hugged him back. His body was so warm and muscular. He obviously hit the weights often.
“How have you been?” And no, I didn’t really want to know anything about the past twenty-four years. I was merely trying to be polite.
“Not bad. And you?
“The same.” In reality, my life was in turmoil. However, no one needed to know that.
We were now blocking other shoppers, so I maneuvered my cart out of the way. Or maybe I was trying to escape this man. My heart went pitter-patter, and I silently scolded it, willing it to stop swooning over Declan Ranger. I had no luck getting away because he followed me.
“You think we can catch up over lunch? It’s been almost a quarter of a century. A lot has happened in our lives.”
“It has been a while. Although between work and my son, I have no time to spare.”
I know, rude, but I didn’t want to reminisce about our pasts. But unfortunately, I now had to deal with this uncharted change in my life which I had no choice but to face.
“Clearly, not today, of course, but maybe in a week or two?” Declan added.
There was so much hope in Declan’s voice, but I could not give him that.
Probably not,” I declined.
“Oh, you’re married?” His statement was a question. He looked at my left hand as he spoke.
“No, not married. Just busy.” I folded my arms in front of me to hide my trembling hands.
“Well, if you change your mind,” he reached into his wallet, “here’s my business card.”
I looked at the card. “This is your business?”
“It is.” He smiled, accentuating the laugh lines surrounding his eyes.
“Why does it not surprise me?” It read: Ranger Pyrotechnics, Inc. For the Thrill of it All. I let out a chuckle. Declan had a thing for explosions.
“It is what I went into the military to do, so as a civilian, I decided to share my skills.”
“I need to finish shopping.” I tucked the card into the side pocket of my purse. “I’ll get in touch with you when I’m free.” Like that was ever going to happen.
“Julia?” Declan paused. “Let me take you out. We need to clear the air between us.”
“There is nothing to clear up. What’s done is done. That was a very long time ago.”
“It was, but I can feel by how tense you are that it still bothers you.”
“Aren’t you perceptive?” I really needed to get away from this man.
“If you don’t call, I’ll come knocking at your door.” Declan tried to threaten me, which made me laugh.
“Is that supposed to scare me? Big bad man tracking me down to do what, exactly?”
“Take you to dinner.” Damn his smile. “I’ll see you on Saturday, say at seven? We’ll go to our favorite pizza parlor.”
“That place changed owners ten years ago. It’s not the same vibe or recipe.” Damn him. He stirred up fond memories, now flooding my mind. Such as the make-out corner. We thought no one could see us until the owner cleared his throat and told us to come up for air. I laughed again.
“What’s so funny?”
“I just remembered that time old mister Tomkin told us to come up for air. I was so embarrassed.”
“Oh yeah, I remember his warning that the next time he caught us, he’d only allow us to order pizza to go.”
“And every time I went there after that, he had one eye on me. I was uncomfortable, but damn, his pizza was so good.”
“Sorry, that was my fault. You just have, I mean, had the most kissable lips.”
“Knock that off, Dec. Those days are gone and forgotten.” I started to walk away. Damn this man for making me feel again.
“See ya Saturday,” he called.
See me Saturday? The man did not know where I lived, and I made sure no one else did either.
I paid for my groceries and surveyed the parking lot to search for Declan. He was nowhere to be found, so I drove home, checking my rearview mirror the entire time.
Time had not diminished Julia’s beauty. In fact, I’d say she was more beautiful than the day I left for boot camp.
I was a young man who wanted more out of life than working at a gas station, so with no money for college, I enlisted in the Army. The first few years kicked my ass. And not physically. I missed my friends and family, but most of all, I missed my girl. I never thought I would get homesick, but I did. Especially when news got back to me that Julia had moved on.
She was told by me not to wait and to go live her life. I guess she listened because her letters stopped arriving, and all I took with me was her graduation picture, which remained safely hidden in my wallet.
I’ve heard the saying if you set someone free and it’s meant to be, they will come back. She never did, and I was crushed. I tried to move on and dated the flavor of the week. Nothing worked. No one came close to what Julia and I had.
When you’ve had the best woman in your life, you cannot replace her with someone else. There is no substitution, so I gave up trying years ago and was a sworn bachelor. That seemed to work and feel right. It may have pissed some women off, but I was upfront from the beginning. My heart would never belong to them. My dick, maybe, but my heart never got involved. It was locked down tight. It’s how I survived.
It was no coincidence I ran into Julia. I paid a lot of money to have a PI locate her and dig up anything that would tell me if she was married. I would not interfere with her life if she were in a relationship. I am a lot of things, but a home wrecker is not one of them.
The intel I was given informed me she had changed her last name but never married. That seemed odd to me. Or maybe the information was wrong. Whatever the reason, I was guaranteed she was not hitched to anyone, or at least not legally.
I did what I did best; unbeknownst to Julia, I somewhat ambushed her. That sounds worse than it is. I just needed to see if I still had unrelenting feelings for her. Or were my memories purely fantasy?
Our brain’s sentimental side always thinks things are better than they actually are, so we fall back to what is familiar. I wanted to test that theory out.
Surprisingly, Julia still took my breath away, as she always had. Standing next to her felt right. How did I leave this woman thinking I could ever survive without her?
I drove the hour and a half home with a mixed playlist of my favorite songs blaring. Or I should say the songs that reminded me of Julia. I pulled into my garage and sat in my car, listening with my eyes closed. I saw Julia, her free spirit at seventeen. Those were easier times when we weren’t scarred by life.
I entered my house through the kitchen door. I stopped dead in my tracks. “What are you doing here?” My tone was a little harsher than necessary. It was my fault for not taking back my key.
“Making you dinner,” Geneva answered, standing at the stove. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“I see that. What I mean is, why? I ended—” I choked on the words. “I told you I couldn’t see you anymore.”
“Yes, I remember. But that doesn’t mean I stopped caring about you.” She kept stirring what appeared to be spaghetti sauce.
I knew the game she was playing, and I didn’t feel like joining in tonight. “Seriously, give me back my key.” I stuck my hand out.
“Really?” She reached into her pocket and tossed it to me. “You never asked for it back, so I figured you were just taking a break. I know how moody you get.”
“Geneva, I’m sorry, but you need to leave.” Although the aroma filling my house made my mouth water, I didn’t want to encourage Geneva or send mixed signals. I broke off whatever relationship we had when the PI found Julia.
“Well, you got my number, but I’m not waiting forever for you.” She grabbed her purse and left.
Damn dick, always getting me into trouble. I pulled a noodle from the boiling water to test it. Al dente. I preferred my noodles to be a little softer. A few more minutes before they’d be perfect.
I retrieved my phone from my front pocket and tapped on my photo app, clicking on the picture I took of Julia today. I felt like a stalker, but I couldn’t help myself. She was radiant. And really, who knows if I’ll ever see her again?
I’d pursue her, but it was apparent she was not happy to see me. She stiffened at my voice and kept at least four feet between us. Well, after she hugged me back, she stepped away. I swear I thought she would bolt if I gave her a chance.
I plated the food Geneva made, feeling a little guilty that I had kicked her out. However, she had no right to let herself into my home without talking to me first. Plus, I required time alone to organize my thoughts, and she was a distraction I did not need or desire.
I figured once I saw Julia in the flesh, I could move on, maybe let myself love again. But that plan backfired as I sputtered along in life. Feeling her warm body against mine did things to me. It made my mind spin in every direction but where it needed to be at the moment, and that was work.
I had to force her out of my thoughts and focus on the big job I had coming up. As Julia remembered. I got such a thrill blowing up things.
The plan for this evening was dinner, news, and bed. Okay, I lied. Dinner and news, then check to see if the PI sent me anything pertinent to help me win back my girl.
I paced around my kitchen, trying to get Declan off my mind. I had things to do and only myself to depend on. And making a gigantic pot of soup so I could portion it out and freeze it for later was priority one.
I turned on the radio, hoping that would get my mind off of Declan. Music always was my balm. I danced my way to the pots and pans cabinet before pulling out the largest pot I owned. It was time to cook.
While my broth simmered, I curled up with a book and let my mind focus on fiction. My own life was not something I wanted to ponder. Pushing everything aside, I allowed the story to take me away. Some people liked bubble baths with candles. I just needed a good book.
I was riveted by the story about love, loss, and hope. There was always hope. Just as I was about to swipe to the next page, there was a soft knock at my door.
I looked through the peephole. Oh, how cute. The little girl next door was teetering back and forth, holding boxes in her arms. I opened the door, and she started her sales pitch. “Hi, Miss Blane. I am selling cookies. So, would you like a box?”
“Of course, sweetie, give me one of each.”
“Really?” Her eyes crinkled as she smiled.
“Yes. I only get to buy these delicious cookies once a year, so I need several boxes, and I can never decide which is my favorite, so I’ll take one of each.” And that was the truth.
“Thank you.” She skipped down the steps. “If you need more, let me know.”
“I will.” I carried my boxes into the kitchen. Cookies with milk were exactly what I was craving. I opened the package of peanut butter delectables. Healthy eating be damned.
The moment I sat down and picked up my book, there was another knock, but I recognized this one and waited for him to enter using his key.
“Hey, mom.” Calder strolled in like he owned the place.
“Hi. Cookie?” I held up the small plate, offering them to Cal.
Calder grabbed one. “I thought I’d swing by on my way home and see if you’d care to join me for dinner, but I smell the chicken soup. How long before it’s ready?”
“Two hours. I haven’t even added the veggies yet.”
“Oh. I have to leave for work by then.”
“I’ll drop off some when I’m in the city next week.”
“It won’t keep that long.” He frowned.
“Well, you can make it, you know. It’s simple.” I nudge his arm. “Seriously, I’m going to freeze some, so I’ll drop it off to you.” That earned me a smile. I saw the sadness in my son’s eyes. He could never hide when he was upset. “Something on your mind?”
“No. I’m on my way home from Santa Cruz and took a detour here since I haven’t seen you in weeks. I was worried.”
“No need to worry. I’m fine. Just working a lot, storing up hours for another mini-vacation.”
“Devon told me to tell you hi, and give you a hug.” Calder leaned over and hugged me.
“My trip to Vegas was interesting.”
“Devon confided in me, and I didn’t handle it well at first. But we’re good now.”
“Care to share what he told you, or is it private?”
“When you stopped by my apartment, did you notice anything?”
“Only how embarrassed he was as he scrambled to cover himself. Other than that, no.” I laughed. More at myself because I knew better than to just walk in without knocking first.
“Didn’t notice his tattoo, then?”
“Nope, where is it?”
“On his left ring finger.” Calder paused before meeting my eyes.
“And? Does that mean he is married?”
“He was in a committed relationship, and his partner was shot in the head.”
I gasped. “Oh, baby, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“The issue is his boyfriend is brain dead but alive. So, I need to learn to share my bed with his first love. How the hell do I do that?”
“The fact he thought you needed to know should help you understand how he feels about you. He would never divulge that information if he didn’t feel a spark.”
I wanted to dig for more information, but I also needed to let my son figure out what this meant to him on his own. Of course, I will always listen, but it’s not my place to tell him how to navigate a relationship. One that I can see means a lot to him.
“Seriously, Mom, am I crazy for falling for a man whose heart belongs to another?” Calder was asking for my insight.
“How long ago did this happen?” I needed to gauge where Devon was in his grieving because the heart never forgets its true love.
“Three years. And he said he wants to be with me if I could accept his emotional baggage.”
“Well, my advice is, don’t rush anything. Take it one day at a time and see what develops between you two.”
Calder grabbed another cookie. “Thanks. I just needed to talk to someone about this. I’ll see how things go.”
“Just don’t give all of yourself. Instead, build brick by brick.”
“I will. I’m not rushing into anything. I am forever cautious now.”
As Calder drove off, I watched out the window. My boy made me proud every day. It wasn’t easy raising him as a single mother, but it was rewarding now that I saw what type of man he had become. He loved with all his heart. And I knew he would make a great husband when he found the right man.
I finished making my soup after Calder left. I hoped it would hold me over for a few weeks.
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