Bookshelf Confessions had made a tour for Jamie's series Forgotten Castles, check out the tour here.
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A duke's Promise (to come)
Madeline Goode is devastated when her husband dies in a car accident. After moving back in with her parents with her two year old son, Max, she attempts to put the pieces of her life back together. But she didn’t plan on meeting Jake Hart, the star NBA player that she keeps bumping into at her new job as a charity coordinator for the Racers. And she certainly didn’t plan on learning that her husband’s accident may have been no accident at all. Will Jake stick around while her life gets complicated? And if she gives in to her heart, will she just be making another mistake? Rushing to the Altar may be the most daring and risky move of her life.
A sweet-faced woman was leading a line of children into the practice court where the dancers had gathered, ready to begin, when a tall, lanky man with a gray beard and mustache, eyes bugged and panicked, arms waving, stopped them.
“The show has been moved. Please, take the children back to the stadium. The children need to find their seats immediately.”
Barb stepped up to the man, questions rushing from her hot-pink lips.
Maddie just stood frozen, deer in the headlights, knowing that something really bad was about to happen. Some sixth sense told her, or maybe it was the ecstatic smile on Barb’s face, either way, Maddie could feel the weight coming toward her, about to run her down, squashed into the pavement by life again, and there wasn’t going to be a thing she could do to get out of it. No brilliant rolling to the side of the road for her. No dodging the truck coming right for her torso. No. She was about to get good and flattened.
The other dancers, faces registering different degrees of shock and awe, surged toward the man.
Barb turned to explain, breathless, eyes alight, like a cheerleader on speed, with something Maddie had long ago hoped she would never see in Barb’s eyes again—heaven help them, “Barbarian Barb” was back. “Mr. McKlesky just explained that one of the halftime acts had a bus accident on the way here and won’t be able to perform. No one was injured,” she assured them in a rush, “but they won’t make it here in time for the show.” She paused for effect, eyes wide, lifted her arms and turned her hips to one side, then announced with a dazzling smile, “Ladies, we’ve been bumped to the halftime show at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.” Seeing some of her students’ faces, she quickly added, “Now, don’t be nervous. Our routine is all of four minutes and we know it beautifully.” Her voice lowered to a growl. “We can do this.”
They had little time to debate it as Mr. McKlesky motioned them to follow the children out the door. “Ladies, ladies, please, we must get into position. Everything is very precise timing around here. Now, let’s move.”
As if an army drill sergeant had spoken, the women lined up and followed Barb out, suppressing nervous laughter as it echoed across the high-ceilinged hallways.
Maddie was careful to wait for the back of the line before moving, hoping for some miracle to save her. Maybe she would trip on the stairs and break something, she thought hysterically. Or maybe she could just slink away. Yes, that was it. She would disappear from this nightmare, run to the car and call Sasha’s cell phone, then avoid Barb for the rest of her life.
The idea had no sooner lodged into her thought processes when she was slowing down, letting the line of dancers get further and further ahead of her. Just a few more feet and she could dash down an upcoming hallway.
One of the girls coughed, causing Barb to look back and frown at them, seeing Maddie so far behind she motioned with her arm and hissed, “Come on, girls. Get a move on. This is our big break!”
Her eyes were truly feverish now.
The corner of the hall loomed and Maddie made to sidestep into it when she felt a hand clamp down on her shoulder.
“Where do you think you’re going, missy?” It was Mr. McKlesky. “No nerves now. No time for that.”
He turned her back toward the line and gave her backside a smack. She squeaked with outrage. Had he really just done that? She couldn’t believe it! She stopped and spun around to give him a piece of her mind, only to find him gone. Somehow disappeared. Turning back, fuming, she took another few steps and found herself on the floor of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the bright lights now taking on a whole new meaning.
Her skin prickled and flushed to her hairline as thousands of eyes stared at her and then she groaned as their gazes seemed to slide down from her face to the black bra. She walked in front of the rows of players’ chairs and poised at the end of the line, waiting, feeling like her backside was coming out of the leotard and wanting desperately to tug it down, but knowing she couldn’t possibly. Her mind went completely blank as she followed the dancers to the middle of the glossy yellow floor. She could almost see her reflection in it; the thought buzzed like a numb distraction, then she laughed, a brief expelled breath of hysteria.
This was a nightmare. She would wake up at any moment in a cold sweat.
She pinched her leg, felt the slight pain and nearly passed out.
Maybe God would have pity on her now and send an earthquake to open up this overly waxed wood floor and swallow her whole. Massive deaths and the carnage of falling spectators raced across her imagination. Okay, too violent just to save her pride. A small tornado, taking only her? A lightning bolt. Just a little zap to get her out of here. That would really be perfect.
No such luck. Before she knew it, Maddie was standing in the middle of the court, at the far right side and in the front—no one in front of her and no one behind her—black lace bra exposed to a bazillion fans. How could she have forgotten the dancer at the end of the line stood in front for the beginning of the dance?
Well, it had happened. The worst thing that could possibly happen to her at a public sporting event had actually come to pass, so she might as well have fun, right? After all, there were the precious children, sitting right there on the second row. They looked so eager, so sweet and excited…Maddie paused, squinting her eyes. Were those two boys talking behind their hands and pointing at her?
A giant television camera seemed to come out of nowhere and zoomed in on her as the crackling of the music started on the million-dollar sound system.
They were not broadcasting this on television, were they? Thousands of eyes just turned into millions.
She heard Barb give the count as she pasted a bright smile on her face and started moving. Slap to the right hip, slap to the left, turn, pivot, freeze, turn, pivot, freeze. Rock step to the right. Flash hands overhead. Rock back to the left. Turn and look over one shoulder.
Barb hadn’t exaggerated that the steps were ancient. It had all come back to her and really, it was kind of fun. After all, what a great story to tell Max when he got a little older.
Lemonade. Lemonade. Lemonade.
Sasha sat in the stands, eyes wide, mouth hanging open with an “oh no” coming audibly from her lips.
“Hey.” A big man leaned over into her space, causing Sasha to lean sideways and stare warningly at him. “Isn’t that your friend? That pretty gal who was sitting beside you?” His stale breath wafted over her face.
“No. It isn’t.” Sasha turned back toward Maddie, ignoring the snorting sound coming from the man, and shook her head. “She’s gonna wish I didn’t know her when this is over,” Sasha whispered.
It was over almost as soon as it had begun. Maddie had no idea how they’d done, could hardly remember even dancing as they marched off the floor and back up the stairs to the rehearsal room. It was over. She would change now and go listen to Sasha retell the whole thing until Maddie threatened to kill her. Life would go on. She would never, ever wear a black bra again, but life would go on.
Minutes later, amid the dance troupe’s excited chatter and different states of undress, Mr. McKlesky stormed into the room, face red, eyes bulging.
The girls shrieked and tried to cover themselves.
“Who’s in charge here? Who owns this monstrosity?”
When no one answered and it appeared that Barb was going to remain hidden behind the changing screen, he leapt at the one closest—Maddie.
“You…the cowering one…I should have known you would be disastrous.” Grasping her by the arm, he shook her hard, causing her neck to snap back and her shoulder to wrench. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? Do you? My career is at stake here! I’ll be fired over this! Do you know how ridiculous and horrible your team was? You’ve made me a laughing stock.”
Maddie cried out in pain and tried to pull free.
“I’ll have your heads for this. You’ll never perform again!” His murderous gaze swept the room and then lit back on Maddie. Unable to contain his rage, he shook her again.
The door opened behind them and Maddie saw a man in an expensive suit enter the room. He strode over to Mr. McKlesky, gripped the arm that was still holding onto Maddie and must have squeezed hard enough so that Mr. McKlesky abruptly let go.
“What are you doing, Frank? What are you thinking?”
Mr. McKlesky, or Frank it seemed, slowly came back to reality, looked back and forth from the nice-looking man to Maddie and then back again. “I quit,” he shouted, turning to run. “I quit!”
“This isn’t going to go away that easily, Frank. Wait for me outside the door.”
Maddie and the rest of the room watched as Frank McKlesky realized what he had done, his face dawning in degrees of horror and fear. He stumbled from the room.
The man turned to Maddie. “Are you all right? Do you need a doctor?”
Maddie’s open mouth snapped closed. She rolled her shoulder around and found it surprisingly fine. She grimaced but shook her head. “I don’t think so. I think I’m all right.”
The man led her toward a quiet corner. “I’m Jordan Tyler. I work for the Racers, and rest assured that we will take care of this. Would like me to call the police? Would you like to press charges?”
The combined events of the last hour finally took its toll on Maddie, and to her complete mortification she began to shake.
Mr. Tyler looked alarmed. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Words she hadn’t spoken to anyone since the funeral poured out to this kind and well-meaning stranger. “Okay? Do I look okay? I just danced in front of thousands of people under excruciating bright lights in this,” she looked down at her leotard, motioning with her hands toward her hips, “horrendous get-up with my underwear showing through. I thought the worst was over. Then I come back here and get accosted by a deranged man who claims that I ruined his career. I was out of practice, sure, but I’m not that bad a dancer.” To her great dismay, she started to tear up and shake in anger and frustration. “I didn’t deserve to be shaken like that.”
“Of course not.” The man took off his suit jacket and placed it around her shoulders. “He will be fired immediately. Stay here.” He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a phone. “We need to call the police.”
He dialed the number and the next half-hour was spent reliving the event over and over. Barb stayed, genuinely concerned, but she couldn’t really be of much help as she’d been hiding behind the changing screen most of the time. Several of the other women, though, had seen the whole thing and were quick to give their accounts to the police. Mr. McKlesky was found trying to leave the parking garage and taken to the police station.
When they were all gone, Mr. Tyler came back over to her and touched her gently on the shoulder. “I’m sorry you had to go through this, Mrs. Goode.”
“I’m, um, a widow. You can call me Maddie.”
He reached out to grasp her hand. “I’m so sorry. Was it recent?”
“A little over six months ago.”
“You’re so young.”
“Yes, that’s what everyone says. He was very young too.”
The man looked into her eyes for a moment, silent and searching. “I am truly sorry.”
He sounded so sincere, like he would say something better if he knew what to say. Maddie gave him a wobbly smile. “Thank you, Mr. Tyler.”
“Please, call me Jordan. I’m not quite old enough to be your father.” He smiled kindly at her. “You’ve been through a lot lately, haven’t you?” He paused, looking into Maddie’s eyes again, and then asked with sudden intent, “Do you live here in town?”
Maddie nodded. “My son, Max, and I just moved back in with my parents. I’ll get a place of my own after I find a job.”
He stared at her thoughtfully. “You need a job?”
Maddie sniffed, still cold and shaky. “Yes. I’ve been looking but there isn’t much out there that pays well.” She didn’t mention the hours spent poring over the job ads and the “How to get a Better Career” articles online.
The man nodded at her in understanding. “It can be tough to get back into the workforce. What kind of experience do you have?”
Maddie shook her head, wishing for a tissue, telling herself not to swipe her running nose against the back of her hand. “Office work. I was a regional assistant to a sales manager at one of those weight-loss places and then an office manager at a mobile-phone company. I worked so that my husband could get his MBA. And then, when I was going to go back to school, I got pregnant.”
“Any college? What’s your educational background?”
“I have a degree in communications from Ball State, before Brandon and I got married. Why are you asking me all of this?”
“Well…” He paused and stared thoughtfully at Maddie. “I can’t make any promises, but I just happen to know of a recent job opening here, with the Racers. How would you like to interview for Frank McKlesky’s job?”
Maddie sniffed again. “But I’ve only ever been in administrative assistant roles and a mom.”
“We can train you on everything you need to know. Trust me, if Frank could do the job, I think you can. I think you will be better at it, because you’ve been there. You’ve experienced tragedy, just like many of the people we help.”
“What was Frank’s job?”
“One of three foundation coordinators for the Racers. A liaison between the team and the many charities we fund.”
“That sounds…good.” It sounded amazing.
“Here’s my card.” He reached toward his jacket pocket, which was currently covering her chest.
Maddie swatted his hand away.
Jordan swallowed. “Sorry, I, uh, my business cards are in that pocket.” He pointed to Maddie’s chest.
“Oh, sorry. I forgot I was wearing your jacket. I guess I’m a little jumpy after everything.” Maddie took off the jacket and handed it back, cool air rushing over her.
Jordan reached into the pocket, scribbled his private cell phone number on it and held out the card. “Call me in the morning and we will get you scheduled for an interview. And call me sooner if you have any pain and need to get that shoulder checked out.” He gave her hand a warm squeeze. “Again, my sincerest apologies on behalf of the Racers.”
Maddie nodded, barely comprehending it all. Had she really just gotten a job interview with the Indiana Racers?
She changed back into her clothes, throwing the leotard back into the box, imagining burning it, the curling pink fabric going up in pretty flames.
Now, to find Sasha. And hope she wasn’t laughing too hard.
Rush to the Altar
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