This kind of ridiculousness is embarassing to write and post.  😀   – Tiff

October 25 – Your chapter PDF

October 25th

Maria spent the next couple of days avoiding Cade. He called, and she told him that she had work to get done. She did, but everything seemed to be going so fast, and she needed to pull back. She also needed to finish a few projects so she could get paid and buy groceries. Her refrigerator was getting low on bread and cheese. She had spent the last bit in her account on taking Cade out.

It had been worth it. Maria smiled, looking at the painting that he had given her. It was hanging over the window in her studio that faced Cade’s house. She loved that painting and everything he had put into it. She loved Cade. Flaws and all, she loved that man. Maria smiled, saving her current project and preparing to open another one. She would finalize it in the morning and then get paid.

Maria knew she could ask Jaden and Charise for help, but they had an agreement. They would live with Maria rent-free until they had enough in savings to buy a house. They had to listen to Maria and learn how to manage their money and stay on a budget. She would cover their food too as long as they cooked for her. Maria was good at sticking to a budget. The only reason she was having any financial problems was because of Bryce. She was trying to pay as much as possible month to month to get rid of the debt.

Bryce’s appearance had hurt her ability to work. She was having problems concentrating because she had to remain vigilant. She kept the silver necklace in one pocket and the taser in the other at all times. She slept with the chain wrapped around her wrist at night and the taser under her pillow. She had also moved the sword Cade had gifted her beneath her bed where she could get to it if she needed it. There were jingle bells scattered all over the underside of her bed. There were more around the base of the bed. If anyone tried to get to it first, they would be heard. She put bells on her doors and scattered them around the room and on the floor in random places. She was prepared, and she wasn’t getting a lot of sleep.

Tomorrow she was going to invite Cade over to spend the afternoon napping. She had a feeling he would be agreeable to it out in one of the hammocks in the backyard. She wanted to be near him. But the conversation with his mother had made her feel uncomfortable. She needed time to think about what she wanted.
Maria still didn’t know.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade sat at his desk, hard at work. His focus had drifted over the last few weeks, and he had slacked off. He wasn’t behind in any projects. He had a lot of wiggle room, but he was behind on the schedule he had set for himself. He could afford to lighten his workload, and he had begun doing that. Maria was now in his plans, at least for the next week, and lack of sleep was taking its toll.

Love. Cade looked out his window at Maria’s studio. The blinds were drawn like they always were. Love messed up everything it touched. He had spent decades with this belief. It led to chaos all around him, and now he was in the middle of that chaos. And it was beginning to hurt him.

Fickle humans. Cade sighed, returning to his work. Love. It was dangerous. It was going to get him killed. Maria had no idea what she was doing to him. She was torturing him with her indecision. Her past could literally kill him. And what was he doing? He was pining for her right now.

Maria was avoiding him, and he knew it. Had he been that bad? Cade was missing those sweet kisses. They were the only ones he had ever had in his entire life, and he treasured each one. He longed to be near her, talking in person instead of the phone, but he was respectful. If she wanted distance, she could have it. She did not belong to him as much as he felt he belonged to her. That was her choice to make.

Cade knew his mother had said something to her that had scared her away. That woman didn’t have any sense. She had to say what was on her mind, no matter how

uncomfortable it made others. Cade might take after her in that area when something absolutely needed to be said. But he had enough sense to not say things that would harm the fragile relationship he had with Maria.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Cade stared at the screen as the thoughts invaded. His only hope in life had been to someday find his match. Someone who would immediately love him because they were meant to be. That’s how Lycean relationships were supposed to go.

There were times when Cade had wondered if he was so unattractive that even that force couldn’t direct a woman to him. There were many Lyceans and Atlanteans around him that should have been compatible. There had to be a reason he was alone.

He had crushes in the past when he was much younger. Lyceans could choose to have or not have a relationship outside of the norm. They could have relationships like any other human. They would be just as faithful to their choice. That was how they were. Lyceans loved by nature. But even choosing someone had been denied. His status didn’t matter. No one looked his way or responded to him. He was their king, and that was it.

Cade could have ordered whatever woman he wanted to be with him, but it would not have been real. There was a time when he had considered doing that. He wanted what everyone else around him had. He had found a girl he desperately wanted to be his. She was an Atlantean. She had the loveliest tan skin, brown eyes, and brilliant red hair. But she had rejected him in such a way that it had left permanent emotional scars. Those old wounds were being pried open by Maria.

What Cade had with Maria was completely different from anything he had felt before. He was afraid of rejection at any time. It would hurt much more if she turned him away.

Maria was all-consuming and challenging. So challenging. He knew she cared about him but wasn’t sure how much or how far it would go. Maybe he had already ruined it all by having panic attacks around her and being his stupid self. That was who he was. His birthday always made him off-kilter.

She had asked him if he was courting her, and his answer should have been more than enough to get an answer from her. Maria was still indecisive. If it had been a normal relationship, Cade would have done what everyone in the world did to show love and affection. He would have showered her with gifts and attention. Something told him that would not be a good idea. That jerk Bryce had been there. He had destroyed and manipulated Maria. Bryce had corrupted the very things that were meant to build trust. And he had hurt her.

Cade’s lips turned up in a snarl, and he kicked at the underside of his table. Bryce had hurt Maria. He had beaten the woman that Cade cared most about, and he was going to try to hurt her again. Bryce’s goal was to take her in every way conceivable, and it brought a searing heat through Cade. He stared at his desk and let it pass over and envelop him. Pure self-righteous anger told him he had every right to protect Maria in any way possible.

The emotion was suddenly replaced by a cold feeling. Removing Bryce from their lives would change everything. But then strong, independent Maria might decide she didn’t need Cade at all. She would be free of Bryce and free to live her life without fear, possibly back where she had come from. Maria would be happier with someone else. She might be using him right now for his protection.

Cade sighed and leaned back into his chair with his thoughts. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Why couldn’t he be allowed to love someone and be loved back like it was SUPPOSED TO BE? Why was this so complicated? Why- Cade caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye. He immediately sat up in his chair.

Maria had finally opened the blinds in her studio. She saw Cade and began lifting them, opening her windows up like his were. She smiled and waved, and all the negative thoughts in Cade’s head vanished as music filled his mind. “I’m a Believer” burst through his head. Cade smiled back and waved, scooting his chair closer to the cabinets that lined the wall. What did this woman do to him? One look and she had full control of him.

Cade watched curiously as Maria lifted all the blinds. His mind was blank of anything that didn’t involve Maria. She obviously wasn’t mad at him or anything. Maybe she did have a lot of work to get done and wasn’t making excuses. Cade got up and spun his chair out of the way. He began a very foolish display of dancing, pretending he was dancing with her to the music singing in his soul.

-=-=-=-=-

On a whim, Maria went to the window beneath Cade’s painting and peeked through the blinds. She had wanted to discretely see if she could get a glimpse of him in his studio. She tended to ignore the windows in her studio, but something drew her to look. She had been startled to see him in full view with every window in his studio open.

He was close enough that Maria could see the anger and worry on his face. Their houses were not that far apart. Their mirror image layouts brought their studios close together. He looked so sad to Maria, and she had an idea why. They had begun a relationship and had crossed over from being neighbors to being friends. From there, it was becoming something else. They held hands. They touched, and they kissed, and once that connection had been made, it only had two directions.

Maria immediately felt guilty. The look on his face was her fault. She had withdrawn out of doubt even though she knew she loved him. It was scary. But then she saw his face. She lifted the blind, and Cade jumped the moment she did. She began raising all the blinds to do the same thing he had done. Maria smiled and waved at him, hoping it would be a sign that everything was okay between them.

Then Cade got up and began dancing. It was the most ridiculous thing Maria had ever seen, but it was also sweet. She watched him for a few minutes with a smile on her face. The words from “I’m a Believer” began inexplicably playing in her mind in time with his movements. Then she realized that he was actually singing the song! That’s why it was in her head

Maria kicked off her slippers and climbed on top of her window cabinets to join him. It was so stupidly fun to do. She wanted him to see that she knew what he was doing. She completely forgot she was only in a nightshirt, something which did not go unnoticed by Cade.

-=-=-=-=-

Cade almost crashed into his computer desk at the distraction. Maria was dancing on top of her cabinets in only a nightshirt. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life. The nightshirt went down mid-thigh and was covered in what appeared to be Star Wars droids. She was singing along with him! Cade lost all sense of coordination. His face turned bright red, and he tried to keep doing what he was doing, but wow. He had not expected this at all!

And then the mental image that plagued many men his age flashed through his head. Maria dressed up as Slave Leia. He shook his head, banishing that image away as fast as it appeared. No! NO! The slave part he was completely uninterested in, but the rest of it kept bouncing through his mind. He tried to focus on singing and dancing, but Maria was doing a far better job of it.

Cade was relieved when Maria finally stopped singing and dancing. She sat down on top of the cabinets to catch her breath. He wasn’t sure how long he could restrain himself from leaving his house and running over to hers. The temptation was strong, but it was late.

She leaned against the glass and smiled at him. Cade sat in his chair and smiled back.