In light of the recent health crisis and the plethora of people looking for a little distraction from life as we now know it, I’ve decided to do my part to entertain the masses a bit by publishing my rough draft musings of a Steel Journeys prequel I’ve been working on! I will try to publish a new bit every few days, depending on my work schedule, but please know that as a nurse working in a busy inner-city hospital during this unprecedented global healthcare crisis, my writing time is often limited by the demands of my job.
Feel free to comment on your likes, dislikes, and thoughts in general on the story. The more engagement and interaction, the more motivated I will be to keep writing the story! And goodness knows I too could use the distraction of creativity to keep my sanity!
I have several “story starts” in my WIP arsenal, and will post a few different “types” of stories over the next few days, and just let you all decide which story catches fire for you, what you like or don’t care for, and which ones you want me to keep working on!
Remember – This is for entertainment! It’s a rough draft and you’re getting it straight from my brain, so please focus your comments on storyline, not grammar or the occasional typo. so please – for your peace of mind and mine – silence your inner editor and enjoy!!
PS – As a bonus, starting today for the next five days you can get the entire first book in the Steel Journeys series for free!! For those who haven’t read Steel Journeys this Origins story is a prequel to the free book below. The free promotion ends on March 28th! Enjoy!
As a first post, I’ve chosen Steel Journeys Origins Part 1! Here it is:
“Eric asked me to move in with him.” Abby sipped some sparkling water and glanced across the table at her sister’s third cocktail, which was half gone. They were seated on the covered patio of a small, upscale French bistro.
“You’re kidding?” Lauren’s head shot up. “That’s great! I mean, it is great…isn’t it?”
“What did you tell him?”
“I haven’t given him an answer yet.”
“Do you love him?”
“We get along really well. He makes me laugh. But, honestly, I’m just not sure. Seems like a big step.” Abby fiddled with her napkin and swirled the water in her glass.
“Well, for whatever it’s worth, you guys are good together. I like that he’s different from…other people you’ve dated. Maybe that’s a good thing. I’m just saying—”
“Save your breath.” Abby cut the conversation right there.
“Hey, I thought he was good in bed?” Lauren changed tack.
Abby shook her head. “He is, but it’s kind of like…sleeping with your best friend.”
“I thought that was the point. To be friends first, then let it progress from there. It’s supposed to be a comfortable process.”
“Ok, but it’s like—too comfortable if that makes any sense?” Abby shrugged, unsure how best to explain the nagging doubts that were wiggling around inside her heart the last few weeks.
“There’s no passion! I mean, I really love hanging out with him and we’re super compatible and we hardly ever fight.”
Lauren started counting on her fingers. “Let’s see. Good sex, compatibility, great person to just hang out with…I fail to see the problem here.”
“It feels like we’re already an old married couple. Even in bed.”
Lauren got quiet. She sat back in her chair and nodded slowly. “I guess I just got excited that maybe you were finally moving on.”
Abby scrunched up her forehead in disgust. “I moved on a long time ago, Lauren.”
“That’s debatable,” Lauren spoke the words into her glass as she took another sip.
“Hey now, Miss Can’t-Hold-Her-Liquor” Abby scolded. “Do I need to take you home now?”
Lauren ignored the jab and changed the subject. “Speaking of which…thanks for picking me up in something larger than a motorcycle.” Lauren raised her cocktail glass and waved it around as if it were a white truce flag rather than a white Russian.
“You’re welcome.” Abby raised her glass in return. “What kind of a person wouldn’t take their baby sister out on her thirtieth birthday? Feel free to have another if you want. I’m sure Jake won’t mind carrying you in.”
“Thirty. Can you believe I’m thirty? Do I look old?” Lauren pulled at the skin on her face to see if it was still elastic enough to bounce back.
“Stop doing that. You look gorgeous, now get over yourself.” Abby looked around at the other people seated on the patio. Calistoga was a small town in Northern California, known for its spas and mud baths and wineries. It may have been built on agriculture, but it was maintained on tourism.
Even though she’d lived there her whole life, at any given time there were more strangers hanging around than people she knew. It was the kind of town that acknowledged their need for the tourists that fed their businesses, but sort of resented them at that same time. Everyone she knew served the tourist industry in one way or another, including her current boyfriend, Eric, who was a chef at one of the newer local restaurants.
“That’s easy for you to say,” Lauren replied. “Your skin is amazing and you barely wash your face.”
“Yeah, but I’ll get my wrinkles and my gray hair before you will remember?” Abby winked. “You’ll always be younger than me.”
“Good point.” Lauren seemed satisfied with that. “I’m still going to book another mud bath this week though.” She continued to pull at her face and pat the underside of her chin as if she could tuck it up out of the way.
Lauren had always been a little vain. Maybe it was all the barbie dolls her mother bought them growing up. She made sure that Lauren, a very pretty child from day one, was exposed to all the beauty tips and makeup and body treatments their high-end town could dish out. Janine Steel never gave a thought to raising her daughters with a progressive attitude toward gender neutrality or sexual identity, and it had always rubbed Abby the wrong way.
Abby was never interested in dolls or makeup. She cared deeply for the environment, and it extended quite naturally to caring very much what she put in, and on her body. Hers was a natural, girl-next-door beauty, and when it came right down to it, she preferred a gentle, natural soap, a little sunscreen, and some lip gloss and that was about it. Her curves were normal and female and she preferred not to obsess over them.
She had worked at one of the spas in town for several years, but it was harder than she thought. So many people came and went, most of them stressed-out by a hurry-up lifestyle and looking for a little peace, some tranquility, and a few days of total pampering. Desperate for relief, they often spent insane amounts of money on products, classes, and retreats, hoping to be equipped with the weapons and strategies they needed to continue the fight against aging and oxidative stress. There was nothing wrong with this, in Abby’s mind. It just seemed like an awful lot of work.
Instead, she adopted the opposite approach. Never one to sit still for a mud wrap or even a facial, she never fully embraced the typical spa lifestyle, with one exception. She absolutely adored the mineral baths. In fact, everywhere she traveled, if there was a hot spring or mineral bath nearby, she made it a part of her itinerary.
Besides, Abby’s primary form of stress reduction turned out to be wildly different from most of the women she knew. When it came to blowing off steam, she preferred the wind in her face and the hum of a hot engine between her legs. The motorcycle thing had nothing to do with rebellion, and everything to do with Trevor. It was him that got her started. Him that taught her the joy and freedom of being on the back of a bike. Once that spark caught fire, there had been no stopping it.
Lauren took another sip of her cocktail. “If I have another one of these, I might just drag you to a strip club.”
“In a town of five thousand people? Good luck with that.” Abby sneered.
“We could drive down to the city!” Lauren’s face brightened.
“You hate the city.” Abby laughed. They had grown up less than two hours north of San Francisco and Abby could count on one hand the number of times Lauren went down to the city with her. Almost all of them had been for shopping and never once had they been to a strip club.
“I don’t hate it. It’s just so…busy.”
“Exactly my point. I think you’d be better off going home and asking Jake to strip for you, ‘cause that’s about as close as you’re going to get to a Chippendale’s show tonight!”
Jake and Lauren became friends in middle school, dated all through high school, and had been married for about eight years. They had two adorable little girls. Emily was five and Becca was seven. Jake was a good guy, but he was fairly conservative when it came to most everything, so it was doubtful he’d be willing to put on a show for her, even if she was drunk and willing.
“Hey!” Lauren pointed her finger at her sister. “I happen to like this little town—even without Chippendale’s.”
“I know you do. I just—forget it.”
“Don’t do that. What were you going to say?”
“I’m just not like you, Lauren! I want to see the world!”
“It’s that travel agency job. It has you focused on all the places you haven’t been, rather than the one place you’ve always been.”
“Exactly! Now how is that a bad thing?”
“You’re already always traveling. You’ve been all over the country on a motorcycle. Isn’t that good enough?”
It wasn’t good enough, but it was hard to explain that to Lauren. “Haven’t you ever heard dad talk about all the places he visited in the navy? Japan, Australia, Singapore…don’t you ever want to see those places?”
Lauren shrugged. “I mean, maybe. Like if I won a trip or something. But not just because, no.”
Abby’s phone rang. It was Jake. Why would Jake be calling her instead of Lauren?
“Abby, I’m outside the restaurant. You and Lauren need to come outside.” Jake’s voice was shaking.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Just do it Abby. I need you to bring her out here.”
“Please don’t ask me questions right now. I don’t want to make a scene.”
Make a scene? What was he talking about?
“Who was that?” Lauren wanted to know.
“It was Jake.” Abby’s face contorted. “He needs us to go outside—now.”
“He what?” Lauren’s face lit up. “Do you think it’s a birthday surprise? What are you two planning?” She narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
“I promise you. I’m not planning anything.” Abby rooted around in her pocket and found some cash. “He sounded upset.”
“Upset?” Lauren sobered almost instantaneously. “Do you think something’s wrong with the kids?” She stood quickly and her chair scraped against the patio floor. She wobbled a bit and Abby grabbed her arm.
“Slow down. I’m sure everything is fine.”
“Why didn’t he just come in then?”
They gathered their things and Abby had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. She tossed her cash on the table just in case.
“I don’t know, but I don’t want them to think we’re walking out without paying.”
They exited the restaurant to find Jake on a bench outside with his head in his hands. Lauren rushed him and nearly fell into his lap. “Baby? What’s wrong? Is it the kids?”
He looked up at them with tears in his eyes and shook his head. Lauren started to cry. She didn’t even know what was wrong, but seeing him like that was too much for her after three drinks.
Whatever it was, this wasn’t going to be easy. Lauren was the kind of kid who cried when a bird fell out of its nest, and she was more than just emotional when their first dog Buster died. She barely ate for a week. She brought her lunch out and sat by the tree where they buried it and talked to him every day, then left her sandwich there for him to eat. She even put a blanket around the tree so he wouldn’t get cold.
By the look on Jake’s face, this was going to be worse than Buster.
Abby’s mind searched for answers even while she waited for him to speak. She went through her mental list of people close to them. If it wasn’t the kids, then who could it—
“I got a call from my friend Dave. Highway patrol.” Jake wiped his eyes but they immediately teared again. “Your parents. They were in an accident.”
Lauren clamped a hand over her mouth and dropped to her knees in front of him. “Are they ok?”
The look on Jake’s face told Abby everything she needed to know. He wouldn’t answer Lauren’s question, but not because he didn’t know the answer. All he said was “We have to go to the hospital now.”
Sure enough, as if on cue, Abby’s phone rang again, this time from an unknown number. She answered tentatively. “Hello?”
“This is she.”
“This is Grace Daly. I’m a representative from St. Helena Hospital. I’m afraid there’s been an accident, and you were listed as the person to call. Are your parents Peter and Janine Steel?”
“We’re going to need you to come down to the hospital right away. Is that a possibility for you?”
“Yes. Can you tell me what this is about?” Her voice sounded hollow, even in her own ears.
“We would prefer to talk to you in person, when you arrive. How soon can you be here?”
She did the mental math. “Um. Fifteen minutes?”
“Good. Come to the emergency room and I’ll meet you there.”
Drive carefully. Abby wondered why that choice of words. She hung up the phone and repeated Jake’s words. “We have to go to the hospital now.”
“What the hell is going on?” Lauren grabbed Jake’s face in both of her hands. “Tell me what happened!”
Jake pulled himself together and helped Lauren up. “They had to use the jaws of life to get them out. They were both transported to St. Helena. That’s all I know.”
Turns out that wasn’t all he knew, but Abby wouldn’t learn that until after the funeral.
She drove them all in silence, Jake sitting in the back seat holding Lauren as she sobbed into his chest. When they got to the hospital a woman in her late forties, who introduced herself as Grace Daly met them as promised at the entrance to the emergency room. She was joined by a tall, dark-haired man wearing scrubs. Grace asked her to follow them, and they assumed they were being brought back to see their parents, but instead they were ushered into a small room with a couch, two comfortable chairs and low lighting.
“This is the bad news room.” Lauren blurted loudly, before they could even shut the door. “Why are we in the bad news room?” Her face was white.
“Sit down, please—” the tall man instructed. Jake kept his arm around Lauren’s shoulders and lowered her gently onto the couch.
Abby braced herself for what was sure to be the worst possible case scenario. One of them must be dead. She secretly hoped it was her mother, then immediately chastised herself for even thinking that. Still, the truth was that life without her father would be particularly unbearable if it meant having to deal with just her. Dad had always been the buffer between the two of them. She shook the thoughts from her head. Pull yourself together Abby!
She watched Grace slowly and discreetly slide a box of tissues toward Lauren who, to be fair, was the most likely to fall apart. The woman gestured for Abby to sit as well, right about the time she realized that she couldn’t feel her arms or her legs. She took a seat next to Lauren and the couch felt like it was floating somewhere above the ground, suspended in an animation that was being played out in slow motion. She watched Grace smile sympathetically, and the tall man took a deep breath.
“I’m Dr. O’Reilly. I was the first to examine your parents when they were brought in. It was a very bad accident. They hit a tree head on, but I’m sorry to tell you that they both seem to have died on impact.”
The words spun in circles in Abby’s mind. Somewhere in the distance she could hear Lauren screaming and crying, suddenly inconsolable and clawing at Jake’s chest. He was crying as well. Abby looked over at them, then made eye contact with Dr. O’Reilly. He was a handsome man with dark hair and kind eyes. Her thoughts were jumbled. It didn’t make any sense. They were both…dead?