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Finding Purgatory – Cover Reveal and Summary

February 6, 2015
Finding Purgatory

Hello, my dear ones. It’s that time again. I wrote another book, and I’m here to talk to you about it.

Actually, Finding Purgatory is the first original fiction book I wrote–well, the first I finished. I’ve been through a long journey, discovering the difference between what I want as an author and what the realities of the publishing business are.

At the end of the day, while I am proud of all my work, Finding Purgatory holds a special place in my heart, and I’m finally ready to share it with you.

Cover design by the talented Jada D’Lee Designs

Summary:

Bang!

In one short moment, Ani Novak’s life is turned upside down. Her beautiful family is destroyed and she is left completely alone. With an unnamed desire, she seeks out the little sister she had walked away from when she was nineteen.

Tori Kane is barely eighteen, jaded, and reluctantly in need of her sister’s help. While Ani is in the position to financially support her sister, the one thing Tori really needs money can’t buy and Ani no longer knows how to give—trust.

Neither of them expected paradise, but they want more than the hell their lives have become. There has to be a middle ground between heaven and hell where they can just be.

More news to come soon. I’m really excited about this one, guys. Can’t wait to see what you think.

One To Tell The Grandkids Free For Two Days

October 12, 2014

One To Tell The GrandkidsHello, lovelies. My latest novel, One to Tell The Grandkids, is available for free on Amazon for the next two days. Take a gander, if you will.

Friendly reminder that for self-published authors, your word of mouth is everything. If you enjoy the book, or heck, even if you don’t, leave a quick review on Amazon, Goodreads, or send a shout out on Twitter. It doesn’t take much time, and it means the world.

Thanks and enjoy.

Duplicity Promotion

July 29, 2014

To celebrate the release of One To Tell The Grandkids, I’ve put Duplicity up for free for the next five days. Enjoy!
Buy One to Tell The Grandkids on Amazon.

One To Tell The GrandkidsSince she was a teenager, Taryn Sato skirted the edge of disastrous decisions. When she found herself pregnant after a one night stand with a complete stranger, she knew she was giving her family an opportunity to say “I told you so.”

Caleb Ryder was more of a big brother than best friend to Slate McKenzie. When Slate found out he was going to be a father, Caleb promised to be there for him. Though Caleb was the type of man to learn from his mistakes, history threatened to repeat itself in the form of Slate’s baby’s mother, Taryn.

A story about finding love when you aren’t looking and finding your place when your family tree is really a forest.

Duplicity by Kristina M. SanchezGet Duplicity for Free on Amazon.

In Lilith Callicotte’s profession, being able to indulge in a little fantasy was a plus.Not much that came out of her pretty little mouth was real, but then again, what did her rich, playboy clientele care about truth? Lilith made lying more than an art – it was her life. But as lies often go, it only took one client asking too many questions for everything to unravel.

One To Tell The Grandkids Available for Purchase

July 28, 2014

One To Tell The GrandkidsIt’s here!

My new novel, One To Tell The Grandkids by Kristina M. Sanchez is available for Kindle on Amazon. It’s a full length novel available for $2.99.

If you’re signed up on Goodreads, you can visit the One To Tell The Grandkids Goodreads page here.

To celebrate the release, my novella Duplicity will be  available for free beginning tomorrow, July 29th for five days.

I hope you like them! Thank you so much for your support.

One To Tell The Grandkids Cover Reveal

July 24, 2014

One To Tell The GrandkidsI just got my second draft back from the copy editor. That means we’re in the final stretch here. I’m excited.

I’d like to share with you the gorgeous cover I commissioned from the talented AngstyG. She also did the cover for my debut novella Duplicity.

So here it is. Let me know what you think! I’ll be back with more news when the book is available.

One To Tell The Grandkids – New First Chapter

July 16, 2014

Look, I’ll be the first one to tell you that when it comes to self-publishing, I don’t know what I’m doing. I get way too excited, and I want to share these things with you before I probably should. I’m definitely not good at the business of books.

But that being said, I’m still excited to share my work with you. One To Tell The Grandkids is on second round edits, and it should be ready in the beginning of August. I’m planning on offering it for $2.99 on Amazon. You’ll hear more when I know more.

Here’s the new first chapter. See you soon!

Taryn Sato did makeup for dead people.

It seemed wrong to say she loved her job. Death wasn’t an easy thing to deal with. Then again, death was as inevitable as life, and why shouldn’t she take pride in what she did. Maybe it was, for her, a way to normalize the most abnormal event in her life. Everybody died, and not everyone had lived a long, full life when they did it. Those were the breaks. Dead people didn’t bother her. Dead bodies didn’t make her squeamish or sad.

Today was different. The bay of a mortuary smelled like rotting fruit–cloyingly sweet in that way that settled like a moldy plum swallowed whole and stuck in her throat. Typically it only took a few minutes shallow breathing before she was accustomed to the scent. Today, though, she gagged on it. Whatever breakfast she managed get down came right back. Today the idea of working on a dead body, this dead body in particular, was trying.

Taryn leaned on the bathroom sink for a few more minutes after she’d washed the sheen of sweat off her clammy skin. She needed a steady hand for her work, and she was trembling too badly.

“It’s not you,” she said to the corpse a few minutes later when she was finally setting out her array of makeup. “I have no problem with you being dead and all. I don’t discriminate that way.” She flashed the unmoving body a grin as she took out the bottles and brushes she needed.

Typically, Taryn had no problem with nudity either. Many of the corpses she worked on hadn’t been dressed for their funerals yet. It made the same sense it made in real life; she didn’t want to get makeup on their beautiful clothes. The corpse on her slab was female, and unlike the hundreds of previously alive humans she had worked on before, she looked at this one. More specifically, her gaze lingered on the body’s belly.

The woman had died shortly after giving birth to a healthy son. Her stomach still held a semblance of that bulbous pregnancy shape but the skin was wilted and wrinkled instead of proud and firm.

Taryn cleared her throat and got to business. She didn’t have to put makeup anywhere but the woman’s face, after all. “Sorry. It’s really not you, but what are the odds? Dying in childbirth is something that only happens in history books and third world countries, not here in the modern world. But here you are, dead in childbirth and I just found out yesterday I’m pregnant.”

The last two words knocked the breath out of Taryn. It was the first time she’d said the words out loud, and it was crazy how they choked her. It didn’t help that her heart had leapt to her throat and was pounding hard. She had to swallow several times and breathe in through her nose until she calmed again.

“It’s only human that the idea shakes me up, right?” Taryn asked the corpse as she went back to laying foundation. “It happened to you; it could happen to me, and then what? This is a mess.” She offered the dead woman a smile. “Not you. You’ve got great skin. You’re going to look beautiful.”

Taryn picked up a few shades of blush, considering carefully before she decided. “I’m not going to presume to know your story. Maybe you wanted this.” She gestured at the woman’s belly. “Maybe you didn’t. We all have our stories, and I’m not the kind of person who believes every pregnancy is wonderful. Obviously this one didn’t end too well for you. Still, word around the office is your son is safe with his father. I can’t help but put myself in your shoes. If this were to happen to me…

“Well, I guess I should start at the beginning.” She took a deep breath. Admitting her idiocy even to a dead woman wasn’t going to be easy. “See, about six weeks ago, I went clubbing with a friend in L.A. I was having a rough time. I had a huge blowout with my then roommates. Long story short, I’m renting my apartment on my own now. Anyway, my friend took me out. Melanie, she’s never really understood why I don’t drink. I’m not an alcoholic, after all. But I’m a stupid drunk. I know this about myself.”

Taryn checked the photo that the family had provided, looking to see if the woman had worn eyeshadow in life. “I got cocky. Last time I was irresponsible with alcohol, I was still a teenager. I got to figuring it was the teenage part that made all the bad choices. I’m twenty-six now. It would be different, right?”

She nodded at the woman, because even a corpse could see what was coming next. “Yeah. Wrong, obviously. I woke up in a stranger’s bed. And of course, because I was on a roll, I got the heck out of there without getting his name. Ugh.” Taryn sat back and wiped away a sheen of perspiration from her brow. She shook her head, looking to the corpse for sympathy. “So now I’m pregnant, and if I have this baby, there’s going to be nothing I can tell him about his father other than he went to a bar once on a Saturday night.”

The corpse had no comment on the situation, and Taryn laughed at herself. “You’re taking this so well. You shouldn’t give me false hope like that. I know better. My parents are going to give me that look. I hate that look. You know the one.

“That’s a definite pro in the not keeping it category. They never have to know if there’s nothing to tell them about. There are a lot of pros in that category right now.

“I’m sorry.” Taryn reached for a pale peach lipstick and painted it on the woman with even strokes. “It’s probably a disrespectful thing for me to talk about with you. You probably wanted your baby, planned and hoped for your pregnancy, and look how that turned out for you. I haven’t even thought about kids.  Not really. Looks like I better start thinking.”

She sighed and straightened up, her hands on her hips as she inspected her work so far. “But you know what? Today isn’t about me. Why don’t you tell me about your baby’s daddy?”

~0~

“Maybe it’s a false positive. It could be stress.”

Taryn had finally told Melanie and her other best friend Robin. They were doing their best to comfort her with little success.

“You think I’m that lucky?” Hanging her head, Taryn groaned. “How did this happen?”

Mel snickered. “I’ll tell you how. One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.”

Despite herself, Taryn grinned.

“Is it really such a bad thing to happen?” Robin asked, his tone gentle. “I think you could do it, Tare. You’ve got a decent job. You have us.” He paused. “And your family.”

“My family. They’re going to love saying ‘I told you so’. Sure it’s a decade later than they expected, but my brother always said I was going to be a fuck up.”

“You haven’t-”

“Don’t sugarcoat this, Rob.” Taryn rarely drank because she knew what happened when she did. She liked drinking too much, and had never mastered the art of cutting herself off at pleasantly tipsy. Her stopping point was blackout drunk. Drunks weren’t known for making the best life decisions.

Despite her embarrassment at waking up next to a naked stranger, the empty condom wrappers littered about the room had given her some relief. The situation she found herself in now begged the question, if he’d managed to put a baby in her, what else could he have left behind?

She got up again and began to pace. “You realize I don’t even know the guy’s name? Hell, I don’t even remember what he looked like. How am I supposed to find him?”

Mel made a face. “You have absolutely nothing on him? Not a first name? A first letter even?”

“You were there too. You said you saw me with him. Do you remember him?”

“I was surrounded by my own pretty, and I wasn’t all that sober myself.”

Taryn flopped back on the couch and folded her hands over her stomach. She stared up at the ceiling and tried to call back the memories she’d pushed away with vehemence a month before. “I remember…long brown hair. It was soft. Like rose petal soft. Almost too soft to be a man’s.”

“Well, great. We can go around Los Angeles feeling guys’ hair. Count me in.” Rob chuckled when Taryn stuck her tongue out at him. “No birthmarks or hairy moles you can recall? We need something distinguishing.”

Taryn snapped her fingers. “Oh, that’s right. He had a tattoo. Maybe more than one.” There was something important about tattoos, something that was right on the edge of her memory.

Rob raised an eyebrow. “Tattoos? For you? I thought you didn’t like guys with tats.”

“Right, because as we’ve established, I was thinking very clearly that night.”

“Tattoos are good, and not just because they’re sexy. Now we have a little more to work with.  Do you remember any details about the tat?  Anything that stands out to you at all?”

“Yeah. He had a tattoo of a road. It was along his left hip with the word ‘wander’ down the middle.”  Her cheeks heated when she remembered licking along that trail … and then farther down.

“Well, he gets points for originality,” Rob said. “At least it wasn’t anything cliché. So now we have soft brown hair and a distinguishing tattoo. And really? No hint of a name?”

Taryn began to list masculine names in her head. None of them fit. It was an uncommon name.  ”I think his name was like a stone.”

“Rocky?” Mel threw mock punches in the air as if she were the boxer once played by Sylvester Stallone.

Taryn laughed. “Definitely not.”

“You remember the tattoo. Think about that. Try to hear what he was saying to you when you saw it. What you said to him,” Rob said.

Taryn closed her eyes.

“Oh! He works at a tattoo parlor.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.” She blushed, remembering his hands on her body and his whispered offer to do her ink if she ever wanted it.

“That we can work with,” Mel said. “Any idea where?”

“Um,” Taryn said as another whispered memory came back to her. “He said he worked close to the bar we were at—within walking distance. That’s got to narrow it down some, right?”

Melanie pulled out her cell phone and began tapping. “It looks like there are five tattoo shops within a couple miles of the bar. We can go to each one until we find this stone guy with the lame hip tattoo.”

Taryn brightened until she remembered why she’d been doing her damnedest to forget this guy for the last month. “And then what do I say?  Hi, remember me?  Congratulations, you’re going to be a father. Yeah, I can see that going over really well. He’s going to hate me. Oh, God. I can’t do this.”

“Who cares what this guy thinks, we—”

“I can’t have a baby with a complete stranger. My genetics already suck, but I went and mixed them up with some random guy? What if we can’t find him? Then I spend this kid’s life wondering if it’s a time bomb? I can’t raise this kid alone. I can’t do it. There are too many variables, and I don’t want to go through all that alone.”

“Breathe.” Rob rubbed her back.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse here.” Mel took her hand and squeezed. “Taryn, this is a surprise. This isn’t something you wanted. If you don’t want to keep it, it ends here. Rob and I will never tell anyone.”

“You have us any way you slice this cake. You’re not alone.” Rob hesitated a beat before he went on. “I know your family can be tough, but they’d be there for you, wouldn’t they?”

Taryn wrung her hands. “They would be there. They would love the baby, but I’d be a disappointment forever.” She frowned. “I guess I’m already a disappointment anyway, right? Mike will be pleased. You know there’s nothing he likes better than saying I told you so.”

“Screw them,” Melanie said. “If they’re dicks about it, screw them. You want to do this thing, you can make your own family. We’ll be a patchwork quilt family—a little piece of all of us to bring this kid up right.”

Taryn’s lips quirked up. “You want to be this kid’s aunt, is that what you’re saying?”

“Heck yeah. Rob and I could rock the aunt and uncle thing. Think about it. We’ll cover shopping because we’re going to do it anyway, and you hate it. You already call us in every crisis over your blood family. Why not?”

“Patchwork quilt family, huh?” She sat up straighter and picked at a frayed thread on her jeans. “If I keep the kid, I have to tell the dad. What does Baby Daddy get to add to the quilt?”

“Best case scenario? You and Baby Daddy are made for each other, and this is all kismet,” Rob said.

“Yeah, right. That sounds like my life.”

“He brings his own patches,” Mel said. “And we all get to figure out how we fit to make a whole quilt of beautiful, haphazard pieces.”

Rob laughed. “That was poetic and strange coming from you.”

“Hey, man. Babies are a beautiful thing. New life beginning, new hope, all that. You know me. I’m the only one I know more unromantic than Taryn, and I still get the warm fuzzies for babies. I don’t know. I think it’s a cool idea that I could be part of what makes this kid who it is, even if it’s a small part.”

“Crap. That means I’m going to be a huge part,” Taryn muttered. “You want me to be someone’s Mommy? That’s insane.”

“This isn’t about what I want, Tare. We can’t make this choice for you. All I’m saying is it could be really cool.”

Taryn rubbed her temples as though she could massage away the traffic jam of thoughts in her head. She breathed in deep and back out. Her friends sat beside her in silence for a few minutes, lending their support as they promised. She pressed her tongue against the roof of her mouth before the words tumbled away from her. “Okay, but calling the baby ‘it’ creeps me out. We can call it Patch for now.”

Robin fist pumped and Melanie grinned.

One To Tell The Grandkids – First Two Chapters

June 11, 2014

Hello, everyone!

I’d like to offer the first two chapters of my new book so you can have a chance to meet Taryn, Caleb, and Slate. These chapters are offered to you pre-edits, so you may see some changes when the finished product arrives.

Let me know what you think, and check this space to find out more about when the book will be released. I hope to be solidifying a cover soon.

Thanks!

Chapter 1: Whoops

“Taryn Elizabeth Sato, stop your groaning.” Robin Barone, one of Taryn’s two best friends, jiggled the handle of the bathroom door, trying to get in. “Your parents are not going to kill you for getting knocked up. You’re twenty-six, not sixteen.”

“Fine. I’m going to kill me for being this stupid.” At least the typical teenage mother got knocked up by her boyfriend. Taryn had been kicking herself every day for the last month about going home with a random stranger. Just as she was getting over the embarrassment—bam. Two pink lines. Taryn glared at the pregnancy test on the counter like she used to glare at her Algebra tests in high school, as though she could will the results away before she had to tell her parents.

“Honey, come on out of there. I can’t hold you if you’re behind a locked door.”

“Yeah. Hold on.” She dragged herself up off the bathroom floor and came face to face with her mirror twin. “Idiot.” With a sigh, she opened the door to face her friend. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared down at his shoes.

He clucked. “Oh, Tare. It’s going to be okay, baby girl.” He rubbed her shoulders. Taryn closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around his waist. She leaned her cheek on his chest, feeling better when she was tucked up under his chin. He swayed them back and forth. “You’re going to be okay. We’re going to take care of you.”

~0~

Robin went into caretaker mode. Taryn’s mysterious, draining stomach flu had been what tipped them off to the possibility she might be pregnant. Robin tucked her into bed for a nap, and by the time she was awake again, the third of their trio, Melanie Devonshire, was in her living room being dressed down.

“Shut up, Rob. Like it was my responsibility to stop her from doing anything. She’s a big girl.”

“Friends are supposed to look out for each other.”

“That’s what I did.” From where she was in the hallway, Taryn could see Melanie looked as disgruntled and guilty as she sounded. “You know how stressed out she was. There’s nothing wrong with a good lay.”

“She was drunk off her ass, Mel. You don’t let your friend wander off with a complete stranger when she’s that drunk.”

“She didn’t seem that drunk. She was having a good time for once. The guy was really into her.”

Robin scoffed. “Yeah. Obviously. You should have-”

“Cut it out, Rob.” Taryn stepped into the living room. “Mel’s right. I’m a big girl, and I shouldn’t need a babysitter.”

Mel offered her a sheepish smile. “Well, you’ll probably need one soon, eh?”

“I guess so.” Queasy with that thought, Taryn sat on the couch before her legs could betray her. Her friends followed suit and sat on either side of her.

“Maybe it’s a false positive. It could be stress,” Melanie said.

“You think I’m that lucky?” Hanging her head, Taryn groaned. “How did this happen?”

Mel snickered, though not unkindly. “I’ll tell you how. One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.”

Despite herself, Taryn grinned.

“Is it really such a bad thing to happen?” Robin asked, his tone gentle. “I think you could do it, Tare. You’ve got a decent job. You have us.” He paused. “And your family.”

“My family. They’re going to love saying ‘I told you so’. Sure it’s a decade later than they expected, but my brother always said I was going to be a fuck up.”

“You haven’t-” Robin began to say, but she cut him off.

“Don’t sugarcoat this.” Taryn rarely drank because she knew what happened when she did. She liked drinking too much, and had never mastered the art of cutting herself off at pleasantly tipsy. Her stopping point was blackout drunk. Drunks weren’t known for making the best life decisions.

Despite her embarrassment at waking up next to a naked stranger, the empty condom wrappers littered about the room had given her some relief. The situation she found herself in now begged the question, if he’d managed to put a baby in her, what else could he have left behind?

She got up again and began to pace. “You realize I don’t even know the guy’s name? Hell, I don’t even remember what he looked like. How am I supposed to find him?”

Melanie made a face. “You have absolutely nothing on him? Not a first name? A first letter even?”

“You were there too. You said you saw me with him. Do you remember him?”

“I was surrounded by my own pretty, and I wasn’t all that sober myself.”

Taryn flopped back on the couch and folded her hands over her stomach. She stared up at the ceiling and tried to call back the memories she’d pushed away with vehemence a month before. “I remember… long brown hair. It was soft. Like rose petal soft. Almost too soft to be a man’s.”

“Well, great. We can go around Los Angeles feeling guys’ hair. Count me in.” Robin chuckled when Taryn stuck her tongue out at him. “No birthmarks or hairy moles you can recall? We need something distinguishing.”

Taryn snapped her fingers. “Oh, that’s right. He had a tattoo. Maybe more than one.” There was something important about tattoos, something that was right on the edge of her memory.

Robin raised an eyebrow. “Tattoos? For you? I thought you didn’t like guys with tats.”

“Right, because as we’ve established, I was thinking very clearly that night.”

“Tattoos are good, and not just because they’re sexy. Now we have a little more to work with.  Do you remember any details about the tat?  Anything that stands out to you at all?”

“Yes, actually. He had a tattoo of a road. It was along his left hip with the word ‘wander’ down the middle.’”  Her cheeks heated when she remembered licking along that trail … and then farther down.

“Well, he gets points for originality,” Robin said. “At least it wasn’t anything cliché. So now we have soft brown hair and a distinguishing tattoo. And really? No hint of a name?”

Taryn began to list masculine names in her head. None of them fit. She thought it was uncommon, and it had reminded her of rocks.  ”I think his name was like a stone.”

“Rocky?” Melanie threw mock punches in the air as if she were the boxer once played by Sylvester Stallone.

Taryn laughed. “Definitely not.”

“You remember the tattoo. Think about that. Try to hear what he was saying to you when you saw it. What you said to him,” Robin said.

Taryn closed her eyes.

That tattoo. It had struck her off guard how hot she thought it was, the way it hugged his hip. As Robin noted, tattoos never did anything for her, but that night, or that tattoo, or that man… something had clicked.

I want one,” she remembered saying.

Hotness, you let me work on you, and you can have anything you want.”

“Oh! He works at a tattoo parlor.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“That we can work with,” Melanie said. Then her lips tugged downward. “Wait. No. There have got to be hundreds of places in L.A..”

“No, no,” Taryn said as another whispered memory came back to her. “He said he worked close to the bar we were at—within walking distance. That’s got to narrow it down some, right?”

Melanie pulled out her cell phone and began tapping. “It looks like there are five tattoo shops within a couple miles of the bar. We can go to each one until we find this stone guy with the lame hip tattoo.”

Taryn brightened until she remembered why she’d been doing her damnedest to forget this guy for the last month. “And then what do I say?  Hi, remember me?  Congratulations, you’re going to be a father. Yeah, I can see that going over really well. He’s going to hate me. Oh, God. I can’t do this.”

“Who cares what this guy thinks, Tare, we-”

“I can’t have a baby with a complete stranger, Mel. My genetics already suck, but I went and mixed them up with some random guy? What if we can’t find him? Then I spend this kid’s life wondering if it’s a time bomb? I can’t raise this kid alone. I can’t do it. There are too many variables, and I don’t want to go through all that alone.”

“Breathe.” Robin rubbed her back.

“We’re putting the cart before the horse here.” Melanie took her hand and squeezed. “Taryn, this is a surprise. This isn’t something you wanted. If you don’t want to keep it, it ends here. Rob and I will never tell anyone.”

“You have us any way you slice this cake. You’re not alone.” Rob hesitated a beat before he went on. “I know your family can be tough, but they’d be there for you, wouldn’t they?”

Taryn wrung her hands. “They would be there. They would love the baby, but I’d be a disappointment forever.” She frowned. “I guess I’m already a disappointment anyway, right? Mike will be pleased. You know there’s nothing he likes better than saying I told you so.”

“Screw them,” Melanie said. “If they’re dicks about it, screw them. You want to do this thing, you can make your own family. We’ll be a patchwork quilt family—a little piece of all of us to bring this kid up right.”

Taryn’s lips quirked up. “You want to be this kid’s aunt, is that what you’re saying?”

“Heck yeah. I could rock the aunt. Me and Rob both. Think about it. We’ll cover shopping because we’re going to do it anyway, and you hate it. You already call us in every crisis over your blood family. Why not?”

“Patchwork quilt family, huh?” She sat up straighter and picked at a frayed thread on her jeans. “If I keep the kid, I have to tell the dad. What does Baby Daddy get to add to the quilt?”

“Best case scenario? You and Baby Daddy are made for each other, and this is all kismet,” Robin said.

“Yeah, right. That sounds like my life.”

“He brings his own patches,” Melanie said. “And we all get to figure out how we fit to make a whole quilt of beautiful, haphazard pieces.”

Robin laughed. “That was poetic and strange coming from you.”

“Hey, man. Babies are a beautiful thing. New life beginning, new hope, all that. You know me. I’m the only one I know more unromantic than Taryn, and I still get the warm fuzzies for babies. I don’t know. I think it’s a cool idea that I could be part of what makes this kid who it is, even if it’s a small part.”

“Crap. That means I’m going to be a huge part,” Taryn muttered. “You want me to be someone’s Mommy? That’s insane.”

“This isn’t about what I want, Tare. We can’t make this choice for you. All I’m saying is it could be really cool.”

Taryn rubbed her temples as though she could massage away the traffic jam of thoughts in her head. She breathed in deep and back out. Her friends sat beside her in silence for a few minutes, lending their support as they promised. She pressed her tongue against the roof of her mouth before the words tumbled away from her. “Okay, but calling the baby ‘it’ creeps me out. We can call it Patch for now.”

Robin fist pumped and Melanie grinned.

Chapter 2: Surprise

“Hey, hey, hey. I can’t have you clean cut, old guys with no visible tattoos hanging around. It’s bad for business.”

Caleb Ryder looked over his e-reader at his friend. Slate’s stern expression broke into a grin, and he pulled Caleb up out of his seat into a back slapping hug. “Didn’t expect to see you today.”

“Eh, I was driving Oni nuts. Can you get lunch?”

“Yeah, sure. Give me a few minutes though.” Slate moved behind the counter. “I have a client coming in at two, and I need to have this sketch ready.”

“Take your time. I have my book.”

Slate retreated to the counter with his sketchbook. For a while, the only sound was buzz of the tattoo guns and the muted conversation of the other artists and their clients.

Caleb looked up when the bell above the door jangled. A man with streaked blue and black hair looked in, glancing around at everyone in the shop as though he was looking for somebody.

“Be right with you,” Slate said without looking up from his work.

The stranger seemed bemused by Slate’s lack of attention, and Caleb felt the need to speak on his friend’s behalf. “When he gets inspiration, he has to get it down quickly or it would be lost.”

The stranger grinned. “Oh, I get it. This is important stuff.” He pulled up his shirt to show off an intricate tattoo along his side. “I’m not in any rush.”

“That’s great work,” Caleb said.

“It goes without saying I can do better, of course.” Slate still didn’t look up from his work, but he smirked.

The stranger wandered over to the counter. “Let’s see what you got.” Slate tilted his sketchbook in the stranger’s direction. The other man whistled. “Wow. That’s truly fantastic.”

Caleb hid his own smile when Slate finally looked up to find the stranger was leaning into his bubble space. Their faces were mere inches apart, and the man was Slate’s kind of handsome.

“You’re very talented,” he said. Caleb didn’t miss that his tone had taken on a hint of suggestion.

Slate noticed, as evidenced by the way his blank look turned into his most charming grin. “Thank you. This is for a client, but…” He flipped back a few pages and pointed at another drawing. “This one I’m working on for me.” He rested one arm on the counter, near the stranger’s, and pulled up his sleeve. “I was thinking right here.” He ran a finger along his upper arm.

Caleb shook his head and looked back to his book. It wasn’t an accident Slate had found an excuse to show off his arms. He didn’t have much in the way of muscles, but the tattoos on his upper arms were stunning, his own version of flexing. Caleb glanced out of the corner of his eye to see if the stranger had taken the bait. Sure enough, the man ran the pad of his finger over Slate’s arm, tracing the edge of the tattoo there. “I think it would work well with what you have,” he said.

Slate winked and shifted to lean both his elbows on the counter. “Now that you’ve helped me, how can I help you?”

The stranger blinked and straightened up as though he’d just remembered he’d come in with a purpose.”With what you could do, I wish I was looking for ink, but I’m actually looking for someone. This is an odd question, okay, so bear with me. Is there anyone here with a name like a stone? Onyx maybe? Jade?”

Caleb put his e-reader down.

Slate raised an eyebrow. “Slate?”

“Slate would work. Where can I find Slate?”

“Well, you’re looking at him.” He pointed to himself. “Slayton McKenzie.”

The man’s posture went stiff, and he took a step back from the counter. When he spoke again, his tone wasn’t at all flirtatious. “Do you have a tattoo just here?” He pointed to his left hip. “A trail or a path?”

Caleb’s protective instinct flared. He had the urge to step between Slate and this guy. Nothing good was going to come of this conversation.

“This tattoo?” Slate lifted his shirt and pulled the side of his pants down to reveal the tattoo on his hip.

“Of course. Of course it has to be you.” The stranger shook his head.

“I’m sorry, but what are we talking about here? Do we know each other?”

“No. Not you and I, anyway.”

Before they could continue the conversation, the bell at the front door jangled again, and a young woman stepped inside. Caleb meant to only glance at her, but as he did, her eyes met his. Their gaze lingered several beats longer than was polite before she looked at the stranger. “Robin?”

Robin moved to her side and took her hand. “I think we found him, Taryn.”

The look Taryn gave Slate was appraising, and if she had not gone shock-pale, Caleb might have been irritated on his friend’s behalf.

“This is Slate,” Robin said.

“Slate!” The woman slapped a palm to her forehead. “Yes. Of course. Slate.”

“Okay,” Slate mumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. “What the heck is going on? You two obviously know me, but I have no idea who either of you are.”

“Oh, man. Okay. Time to face the music.” The woman looked as though she was going to be sick. Robin obviously thought so too as he wrapped a supportive arm around her waist. She gave him a shaky nod. “I got this, Rob. Give us a second, yeah?”

“Are you sure?”

She didn’t look sure, but she nodded.

For a moment, Caleb was sure Robin was going to argue, but he hugged her instead. “I’ll go get Mel. We’ll be here, okay?”

“Thanks.”

The silence that followed was awkward. Even the other artists seemed to have piped down. The buzzing tattoo guns made for eerie background music. Caleb was on the edge of his seat, his mind flipping through various scenarios. This woman didn’t have any paperwork with her, so she probably wasn’t from the courts.

“Lady, you’re killing me,” Slate said. His smile was weak, and Caleb could see he was trying not to fidget.

“I’m really sorry.” She looked him over again. “You really don’t remember me at all?” The tone of her voice was pleading. “It was a bar, The 21st a few blocks from here? I mean, it was five weeks and two days ago?”

Caleb started at the name of his bar, but Slate banged his fist on the counter. “Shirley Tipsy!”

She closed her eyes. “That’s how you remember me?” She sighed. “My name is Taryn.”

Now that he had identified her, Slate was his usual smiling self. “Oh, man, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again. What happened to you?  I woke up the next day and you were just… gone.”

Caleb was beginning to catch on. A few weeks before, he was supposed to go out with Slate, but he’d gotten held up. Slate had a one night stand with a woman he could only remember as Shirley Tipsy—she’d ordered many dirty Shirley Temples—and now she had tracked him down despite the look on her face that told him she would rather be anywhere else.

“It wasn’t one of my finest moments,” she said, reaching one hand up to twirl a finger through her hair in a nervous gesture. She glanced at Caleb and back to Slate. “Do you think we could go somewhere private? Outside at least?”

Slate’s smile fell and he narrowed his eyes in suspicion. Wait. Why are you here? What’s so important you need to speak to me in private?”

“I really think we should be alone.”

“Ah, fuck.” Slate looked pissed. “I’m clean, lady. You didn’t get it from me, okay?”

Caleb smacked his hand against his forehead. “Christ, Slate.”

Taryn’s head snapped up. “Wait, what?”

“I’ve never had a disease, so you didn’t get it from me.” He tugged his hair out of its ponytail in restless irritation. “Great, there goes my clean record.”

“Slate,” Caleb said, but it was far too late.

“Are you kidding me?” Taryn’s face had gone from pale to flushed red with anger. “I’m not diseased, you arrogant asshole. I’m pregnant.”

Under other circumstances, the look on Slate’s face would have been priceless. He stumbled back a handful of steps. “I… what?”

“I said I’m pregnant. Yes, it’s yours. Yes, I’m sure.”

“That’s not p-”

Before Slate could make a bad situation worse, Caleb grabbed him by the arm and yanked him. “Shut up. Now.” He turned to Taryn. “I’m sorry. My friend here has a very bad case of foot-in-mouth disease. He’s not an asshole. I promise.”

“Right,” Taryn huffed.

“You’re upset.”

“You think?”

“Half an hour. Give us half an hour to regroup, and then everyone can speak like rational adults. There’s a Vietnamese restaurant one block that way. Give us half an hour, and we’ll meet you there.”

“We?”

“Assumption on my part. Bring your friend with you. It just seems like the kind of situation you both need support for, right?”

Taryn glared. Caleb got the distinct feeling she would have argued, except her eyes brimmed with tears. She looked away quickly. “Sure. Fine. Whatever. Vietnamese food. Half an hour. I’ll be there.”

The second she was gone, Slate let all his breath out in a whoosh. He gripped Caleb’s arm and began muttering under his breath. “Oh, man. Oh, man. Oh, man.”

“Come on.” Caleb started leading him to the door Taryn had just exited.

“Oh, man. Where are we… what…”

“Just follow me, Slate.”

~0~

Caleb dragged Slate to his bar, and sat him on a barstool. Almost twenty minutes had passed, and Slate still hadn’t touched the shot the bartender, Oni, had set in front of him at Caleb’s request. Instead he sat with his head in his arms on the bar. “I’m in trouble. Oh, man. I’m in so much trouble.”

Oni eyed Caleb for an explanation. “What he means to say is he got a girl, a woman, in trouble.”

“Got her in trouble?” Oni’s eyes bulged. “As in you knocked her up?”

Slate groaned.

“Come on. Get up. That’s a bar, not a pillow.” Caleb patted his friend on the back. “Talk to me.”

“It was a dick thing to say to her,” Slate said as he lifted his head.

“Yeah, but that’s pretty much the least of your problems right now.” He shook his head. “You really have the best taste in hook-ups, don’t you? The kind of people you-”

“Hey.” Slate’s eyes narrowed. “Shut your mouth, okay? Whatever happened that night, she seemed like a nice girl. Either way, she’s going to be my kid’s mother, so show some respect.”

At his own words, Slate paled and he slumped again. “Oh, man. What am I going to do?”

“You know I have to ask this, but are you sure you want to take her word it’s yours?”

“I’m not going to be that prick who insists it has to be someone else. I was a moron that night. We both were. Yeah, I’m not naive. I know she could be trying to pull one over on me, but I’m not going to be the one to suggest that. I’ll keep my eyes open, and if something doesn’t add up, I’ll deal with it then. But really, I just can’t figure why she would lie about it. Why choose me? I’m no one. I’m not rich.”

“Oh, good. Your rational self seems to have kicked in.”

“Yeah. Crap, how did this happen?”

“Looks like you should have spent more time paying attention in Sex Ed instead of giggling when the teacher was trying to teach a class of freshmen how to use a condom properly.”

“I did, too. I giggled my ass off in that class.”

“I know. Are you calm enough now to think before you speak? That woman, Taryn, is probably pissed and scared.”

Slate grabbed the glass in front of him and shot it back. He waved Oni over. “Can I have another?”

“Uh, no. No other shot,” Caleb said. “You’re going to need a clear head for this one.”

“You’re coming with me, right? I can’t do this on my own. I need to borrow some of your calm, or I’m going to freak right out on her again.”

He looked so much younger than he was and scared. Slate had always brought out a protective side of Caleb, and it had never been stronger than it was right then. “Of course I’ll go with you. I said I would.”

Slate sighed in relief. “Thank you.”