ETWG First Chapter Book Awards: Secrets of the Heart by Dana Wayne

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Secrets of the Heart by Dana Wayne is a Finalist in the Romance Category of Published Books for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

Emotionally scarred by personal tragedy, Tori Morgan needs to get away from Houston and figure out what to do with her life. Seeking refuge and time to think, she accepts a position at a remote ranch in Montana. Firmly convinced love happens once in a lifetime, she resigns herself to being alone.

Her new boss is the first complication in her plan. Mesmerized by his voice on the phone, she anticipates their first meeting with a mixture of anticipation and dread.

And rightfully so. Six feet four inches of man capped off with a potent sexuality that makes clear thinking difficult, Wade McBride wreaks havoc on her emotions from the start. To make matters worse, she discovers she must pretend to be his fiancée for the sake of her new patient.

Wade needed a nurse for his mother but got more than he bargained for in Tori. She was a breath of fresh air in world full of crap. Pretending to be in love with her seemed like a good idea at the time. The plan started out easy enough, even as they try to ignore the instant, heady desire percolating between them, unaware of danger watching from the shadows.

The test kiss changed everything.

Once was not enough for Wade. Every inch of him craved more. But it isn’t real, it’s pretend. Right?

Tori is convinced his mouth should be registered as a lethal weapon. His kisses are electric, his voice seductive. Her body begs for his touch…but is she ready for this? Will she ever be ready?

They dance around the elephant in the room until they have to face the facts…what happens when make believe becomes real?

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Award Winning Chapter

They died two years ago today.

         Tori didn’t need the calendar to remember the date. Her heart ticked away the hours one anguished beat at a time then stuttered and skipped each September fourth at 7:01 p.m.; the day her husband and seven year old son were murdered.

Dana Wayne
Dana Wayne

She sucked in a lungful of air and forced back the tears threatening to crush her resolve.

No more tears. Time to move forward.

Tori stared at the half-packed suitcase on the bed, each item new and symbolic of her mission to start fresh. She was certain her best friend since forever would understand and support her decision. Obviously not the case.

“Oh my God, Tori! Have you lost your mind?” Sasha paced in front of the closet, fingers pressed to her temples. “I am so not believing this!”

Her reaction mirrored the one from Tori’s family last night. Going to Montana was one thing, keeping it secret until the night before she left was a lot to accept. Apparently.

Hands on her hips, voice rife with tension, Sassy – personifying her nickname – raved on. “I mean, really, what do you even know about this guy?” She crossed her arms, right foot tapping out a staccato. “How do you know he’s not some wacko serial killer or if he even has a sick mother?”

She didn’t give Tori time to take a breath much less respond.

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell your best friend in the whole world about this hare-brained idea weeks ago instead of the day before you leave.”

“You know why.” Tori held up her hand. “You’re worried, Sassy, I get it. But I have to do this.” She placed folded pants in the suitcase and walked back to the closet, staring at the unfamiliar items hanging there. “The past two years have been a never-ending nightmare.” She wrapped her arms around herself and struggled to remain calm. “Joey died in my arms.” Tori blew out a breath. “I didn’t know a human could endure that much pain and live. I never thought their killers would go free, but they did and I survived that, too.” Her voice dropped to a soft whisper. “I’m just existing, Sassy. I’m not living anymore.”

“Rico is still out there. You know you’re a loose end he wants tied up.”

“I talked with Captain Lockhart last week and Rico hasn’t been seen in months. Word is he took his drug plans elsewhere. Maybe even as far as Canada.” She turned back to the closet and pulled a blouse from its hanger, folded it, shook it out, then refolded it. “When Joey and Eddie died, a big part of me died, too.” She took a breath and tried to speak without crying. “I know I can never get that back. But this job will give me a chance to…re-group, get grounded again.”

“But Montana?” Sassy stood in front her. “It’s colder ‘n hell there and snows like a gazillion feet a year! What if you need to go to town or get sick or hurt?”

Tori threw the blouse on the bed. “I can’t stay here any longer!” She trembled with the effort it took to control the pain that had defined her life the last two years. Eyes blurring with unshed tears, she blinked several times, sucking air through clenched teeth. “Everywhere I go, everyone I see is a constant reminder of all I’ve lost. And my family, Sassy…they’re smothering me.”

“They love you. We all do.”

She gripped her friends’ shoulders. “Then please. For my sake, try to understand. I lost a big piece of myself that day and lose a little more each day I stay here.”

Several seconds passed before Sassy placed her hands over Tori’s and squeezed. “All right. But promise you’ll call if you need anything, anything at all.”

“I promise. Now, are you going to help me pack or what?”

“Fine. I’ll help, but I want the whole story, start to finish. How the hell did you get hooked up with some cowboy from Montana?”

Tori released a long held breath. “It’s not a big deal.” She picked up the discarded blouse and refolded it. “Ted Freeman, Chief of Staff at Memorial?”

“Oh yeah, the yummy one that looks like Richard Gere.”

“He has this friend in Butte who knew about a family, the McBrides’, that wanted a live-in nurse for his elderly mother. Terminal cancer. Pretty advanced.”

“They don’t have nurses in Montana?”

She ignored the sarcastic comment. “He mentioned it to Ted who mentioned it to me in passing. I asked for more information, made a few calls.” Tori shrugged. “And off I go.”

Though not that simple, the explanation seemed to satisfy Sasha. True, she insisted on a background check and made a few discreet inquiries herself but not until she’d accepted the position. Tori realized significant steps had to take place if she were to have any chance at normal again. This was a significant step. A little rash maybe, but significant, so, no second guessing it now.

It was an ideal solution for her current state of mind. She would live in the McBride home and care for Mr. McBride’s sister and mother, receive an acceptable salary, a private room and meals. Most of all, she’d be free from constant reminders of her loss and well-meaning friends and family – namely her mother – now determined to fix her up with someone.

But she lacked the motivation, and, though loath to admit it, the confidence, to pursue another relationship. Eddie was her first love, and her only lover. Hell, she’d never even kissed another man – not like that – and even the thought of doing so now made her palms sweat and her heart race.

I’m a thirty-three year old coward.

“Hello in there?” Sasha tapped the side of her head. “Anybody home?”

Tori blinked. “Huh?”

“Answer me.”

“I’m sorry, my mind was wandering. What did you ask?”

She heaved an exasperated sniff. “I said tell me about this McBride fella. What does he look like, is he married? And I want the good stuff, too, not whatever sugar-coated version you gave your parents.”

Tori hesitated.

Sasha poked her shoulder with her index finger. “Out with it. What are you hiding?”

“Nothing.” She studied the closet’s contents without seeing them. “There isn’t much to tell. He runs a ranch. His brother was the sheriff before he and his wife were killed three months ago.” She took a sweater and studied it. “That’s about it.”

“And you never met ‘em?”

“Uh-uh, just spoke with him on the phone. Got most of my information from his sister, Sheila. She had some sort of accident, too and needs PT.”

“Okay then, what does he sound like? Old? Sexy? Gay?”

“You’re incorrigible.”

“Well?”

“I guess…hell, I don’t know.” She swapped the sweater for blouse. “It’s hard to describe.” Liar. You know exactly how it sounds; a deep baritone with a huskiness to it that flows through you like fine wine, raises gooseflesh on your arms, leaving you off-balance, a strange tingling sensation racing through you. She placed a hand at her throat and tried to breathe normally as guilt over such forbidden feelings overwhelmed her. If just the sound of his voice on the phone has such an effect on me, what on earth will happen when I meet him?

“Dammit! You’re not listening again.”

The declaration, complete with a heavy sigh, pulled Tori from those disturbing thoughts. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”

Sasha rolled her eyes and made no attempt to hide her frustration. “I said, give it to me.”

“Give what?”

“I know good and well you at least got a picture of him before sashaying across the country to meet him, so gimmee.”

She looked away, said nothing.

Her best friend held out her hand and snapped her fingers. “Hand it over, girl. I wanna see the man who could persuade my reasonably intelligent – “

Reasonably intelligent?”

Sasha cocked her head to the side, one delicately arched brow raised.

“Point made.”

“As I was saying, persuade my reasonably intelligent best friend to hightail it to Montana in the dead of winter.” She wiggled her fingers and grinned. “I can’t wait to see ‘im.”

Tori glanced at the outstretched hand and reached for her purse. She didn’t bother to glance at the photo as she passed it over; didn’t need to. Her mind’s eye provided a vivid picture. Wind-blown ebony hair, streaks of grey at the temples. Strong, defined cheekbones anchored by heavy brows. Sky blue eyes framed by killer lashes. And his mouth. Oh God. What was it about his mouth that intrigued her so?

Full lips parted in a sexy smile that lit up his face and made her breath catch. She gave herself a mental shake and tried to focus on the task at hand.

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