We’ve almost reached launch day for Whispering Hearts! I love this book so much. Rachel and Garrett have become very dear to me. I almost feel bad for everything I put them through. But it’s a writer’s job to challenge her characters.
To celebrate their story, I’ve written two short pieces about the first time Rachel and Garrett actually meet. This happened several years before the events of Wandering Soul and Whispering Hearts.
I was sure to keep these tame, but you should know that the book itself is sizzling hot. You have been warned!
All Hallow’s Eve…
Copyright © 2015 Cassandra Chandler
Summer Park, Florida —Several Years Ago
Jazz had outdone herself. Garrett stepped into the crowded ballroom at the Orange Grove Inn, looking around at the amazing decorations. A couple of witches on broomsticks flew overhead, a cloud of bats following them. Ghosts and ghouls clung to the banisters of the landing that wrapped around the place. All of the sculptures were made out of paper from the look of things, making it both a party and a gallery showing.
A huge full moon hung in the center of the ballroom, thin paper catching the light from the chandelier above to make it glow with a soft light.
Damn. There went his costume.
He was dressed in one of his finer suits, a dark charcoal gray that he hoped made him look a little mysterious. If anyone asked what he was supposed to be, he planned to say he was a werewolf. The punch line was that there wasn’t a full moon that night.
He looked at the giant paper moon again. Hopefully, no one would ask.
All he had to do was locate Jazz, let her know he’d put in an appearance, and be on his way. He could be home with his feet up, sitting in his favorite recliner and sipping a beer in two hours.
He spotted the bar and headed over, thinking he could at least enjoy a beer during his search. The bartender was busy talking to another hotel staff member. Garrett took the opportunity to snag a bottle while they were distracted. Maybe the night wouldn’t be that bad after all.
He turned back toward the crowd. So many people. He’d had his fill of parties already that week. He scanned the sea of bobbing heads, looking for Jazz, but didn’t see her. Sticking to the edges of the room, he made his way to a set of stairs that led to the landing above, hoping to get a better view. Even from up there, he didn’t have any luck.
The air shifted, warm and lightly scented with gardenia. Fresh air. He headed in that direction, wanting to get away from the chill of the AC. A set of double doors led onto a dark balcony. Perfect.
The door creaked as he opened it. He stepped outside and closed it behind him. A woman was standing at the stone railing, still as a statue.
“Oh, excuse me,” he said.
She was tall, her figure hugged by a dark suit that reminded him of his own. Her hair was pulled up on top of her head. She didn’t turn around when he stepped outside. Didn’t even acknowledge his presence.
“I didn’t know anybody else was out here.”
She still didn’t respond. He started to grow concerned. A second floor balcony wasn’t a great place to jump from, but he’d seen people try worse ways of ending themselves. He walked over to her slowly, watching for any sign that he might be setting her off. He relaxed a tiny bit when she let him get within arm’s reach, but remained ready to grab her.
“Ma’am? Are you all right?”
She sighed as she turned to him. His heart started to thud in his chest.
Rachel Montgomery. He’d never seen her from this close. He’d wanted to, even tried a few times, but she had a knack for disappearing right when he thought he was about to reach her. They’d only made eye contact from across crowds or worse—clusters of tables where it would be way too awkward for him to get up and walk through the room to introduce himself.
He’d still considered it a time or two.
Now they were alone together on a dark balcony, close enough to touch.
He’d always thought she was gorgeous. He upgraded his assessment to stunning. Honey-blonde hair and pale blue eyes. He’d managed to get close enough to catch that in the past, though under circumstances where they couldn’t speak.
A couple of times she’d rolled her eyes at him across the distance—communicating without words a sentiment they seemed to share. Neither of them liked the fundraisers they were socially obligated to attend. He was pretty sure, anyway.
And she was tall. Taller than he’d thought, even. She must be wearing sky-high heels. He’d never been so close to a woman’s face while standing toe-to-toe. Close enough to lean forward and kiss.
She cleared her throat, snapping him out of his train of thought.
“Hello,” she said.
He felt himself smile. He had wanted to introduce himself to her so many times before. Now that he had a chance to talk to her, he wasn’t sure what to say.
“You’re Rachel Montgomery.”
“Yes. That’s me.”
She laughed. Her smile could light him up from across a room. From this close, it was like being struck by lightning.
When he could finally speak, he said, “I’m Garrett Wolfstrom.”
“Right. Dr. Wolfstrom. It’s good to meet you.”
He quickly moved his beer to his left hand when she extended her right. He was not going to miss the opportunity to touch her. He’d imagined this moment too many times to let it slip away.
Her skin was cool, her grip surprisingly strong. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. His stomach was doing flip-flops of the sort he hadn’t felt since he’d been a teenager chatting up a girl.
She was staring at his lips—almost like she was thinking about kissing him too. Her eyes locked on his, and for a moment, he felt as if the rest of the world disappeared, leaving just the two of them.
Then she let out a laugh and pulled her hand away. The world came back into sharp, harsh focus. Love at first sight was a ridiculous notion. They’d never even spoken. And what? He thought they’d fall into each other’s arms the first time they were close enough to touch?
He had spent too much time daydreaming about the mysterious woman who always caught his eye—imagined a connection too strong to be real. But something was there. This was his chance to explore it.
“I didn’t know you would be here,” she said.
“Neither did I. There was a last minute shift change at the hospital.”
If he had known she would be at the party, he would’ve put in for a shift change himself. He said a silent thanks to the universe for helping him out.
“I see.” Her tone had become distanced and professional. “Are you enjoying the party?”
He shrugged. “Sure.”
“That’s not very convincing.”
He could feel her trying to put distance between them. He scrambled for a topic they had in common, something to draw her back again.
“I’ve reached my quota on socializing this week after that fundraising dinner that dragged on for five hours.”
Rachel laughed. “They really needed a better planner for that one.”
“Yeah. I just stepped out here to get some fresh air.”
Damn. He was intruding. She wanted a moment to herself, and he was too busy trying to ingratiate himself with her to notice.
“Well, you were here first. I don’t mean to trouble you.”
Before he could head to the door, she reached out and grabbed his arm. He froze, not sure what to do until she spoke again.
His heart started to pound. If she wanted him to stay, he would stay. Ridiculous time-frame or not, he had never felt such a deep connection with anyone before. He wanted to know what it meant—if she felt it too. The way she was staring at him, holding his gaze, he had to wonder…
She cleared her throat again and let go of his arm. “It’s a big balcony. And there aren’t many other places you can get away from the crowds and not outright leave the party. Unless you’re ready to go.”
He didn’t miss the wistfulness in her tone. He wasn’t sure if she wanted to talk to him or just wanted someone to talk to in general.
“I was planning to stay for a little while. I haven’t checked in with Jazz yet, and I want her to see that I showed up.”
“She wasn’t expecting you.”
It was nice of Rachel to give him an out, but Jazz was more savvy than that. She would find out that Garrett had suddenly been given the night off. He didn’t know how she’d do it, but he knew it would happen. And if he didn’t show up to her party when his other plans had been cancelled, she’d be upset with him. If Jazz was only his art broker, it wouldn’t be an issue. But over the years, they’d become friends.
“She has a way of knowing what’s going on in town. She’d never let me hear the end of it if I bailed. I’m scared enough that I phoned in my costume.”
Rachel looked him up and down. “I hesitate to guess what you’re supposed to be.”
“I had no idea werewolves had such good senses of fashion.”
He straightened his tie, beaming under the compliment. “Not all do.”
She laughed and shook her head. “Did you spend the whole day shaving for this event? Filing down your fangs and claws?”
“Didn’t have to.” He grinned, hoping she’d be amused at his joke. “It’s not a full moon.”
She burst out in laughter. Real, earthy laughter. She almost doubled over from it.
After a bit, she quieted down. That thousand-watt smile beamed at him.
“That’s very clever, Dr. Wolfstrom.” She emphasized the first half of his unusual surname.
“That’s where I got the idea.”
He must be grinning like a fool. He took a sip of his beer to try to tone down his own smile, then leaned against the railing. She mirrored his posture.
“I have to ask, where did you get that beer?” she asked.
“Swiped it from behind the bar while the bartender was restocking. They’re really partying hard in there.”
She nodded. “I noticed. We’ve already had to send one reveler home in a cab.”
“I’m glad you’re taking care of people. We just dealt with a bad car accident in the ER.”
Her face fell. A haunted look entered her eyes as she stared through him. Maybe she had known someone who was involved. He might have stepped in it bad.
After a moment, he said, “You okay?”
“What? Yeah.” She shook her head and let out a short bark of a laugh. “It’s just… Halloween is already creepy enough. I don’t like thinking about that kind of thing.”
Welcome to my world.
“I’ll let you in on a secret.” He leaned a little closer. “Neither do I.”
Garrett hated nights like those in the ER. Summer Park wasn’t a big town, but he worked in the most advanced hospital in a large area. A lot of accidents were funneled to them. He had seen things that…he didn’t want to think about.
He took another swig of his beer, then realized that Rachel’s hands were empty.
“You don’t have a drink. Can I get you something?”
“I’m fine, thanks.”
This time, when she laughed it sounded more genuine.
“You don’t have to play the Southern Gentleman with me,” she said.
That went against a lifetime of conditioning. If she was going to let him off the hook, the least he could do was the same for her.
“Fair enough,” he said. “In that case, you don’t have to be a Southern Belle.”
“Oh thank God.”
She slouched against the rail, her perfect posture falling away. Garrett let out a laugh and she smiled at him, then stood straight again. But not too straight.
She regarded him silently for a moment, then said, “Actually, I think I’ve changed my mind.”
Was she sending him away? The thought that she preferred solitude to his company hurt more than it should. He had daydreamed about talking with her, built a whole fantasy around her without even realizing it until now. He thought those stolen moments—even shared across huge rooms—had meant…something.
Maybe it meant he needed to get out more.
She gestured to his beer. “You don’t have to get me anything, but do you mind sharing?”
Sharing? Hell yeah.
He was still in the game. He felt himself grin as he handed her the bottle.
“Not a bit.”
Maybe he was setting himself up for disappointment. There was no way she could live up to his daydreams. Then again, the chemistry he’d already experienced with her was nothing short of amazing. He had a feeling when it came to Rachel Montgomery the reality would be beyond his imaginings.
He sure as hell couldn’t wait to find out.
Back when Garrett worked at the ER, he kept his hair short and shaved every day. I have to say, I prefer the scruffier, long-haired look he wears in Whispering Hearts.
And don’t forget to start off the series with Wandering Soul! Because who doesn’t want to see the Phantom of the Opera get a happy ending in modern times?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and see your reviews 😀
Best wishes to you all and Happy New Year!