Tag: new year

Why New Years Are Special

happy-new-year-1097521_640Happy New Year!

New Year’s Day seems to be one of those holidays that people overlook. Sure, it’s a day off work for many of us, but other than that, it’s pretty much bowl games and hangover cures.

Not for me.

There is no other holiday better suited for wishing a happy one to not just family and friends, but to everyone we meet.

The best part about a new year is that it applies to everyone. It’s not a religious holiday. It’s not even a national holiday. This is the only holiday that every single person in the world marks. It’s the best time of year to focus on our similarities rather than our differences. And couldn’t we all benefit from more things that bring us together rather than divide us?

Pepperoni and onions in sauce. Photo via B. Smith.

For my family, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are marked with tradition. We attend a vigil mass for the Solemnity of Mary on New Year’s Eve, followed by pepperoni sandwiches (thick cut pepperoni and sliced onions slowly simmered in tomato sauce until the onions are tender and the onions and meat have flavored the sauce) for dinner. When my kids were young, the pepperoni was a bit spicy for them, so we added hotdogs to the tradition. At midnight, after a toast with Asti Spumante (and several phone calls to family) we eat bagna cauda (tuna and anchovies simmered in olive oil and butter… with copious amounts of garlic) with bread and veggies. After a late night, we get up and tear down all the Christmas decorations. (Yes, I know it’s still the Christmas season in the church, but that’s what we do.) Then we watch football until the traditional dinner of pork roast in sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, green beans, and applesauce. Again we toast in the new year, and then we wind down with Christmas cookies, tiramisu, and coffee. Any cookies left will become a cookie torte the next day.

Tradition is so important to us.

beach

Not tradition, but not a bad way to spend a holiday, either.

And this year we barely managed half of what we usually do. We were just coming back from a week at the beach (also not part of our usual tradition, but it was my in-laws’ 50th anniversary, so we took the party south), and the drive took a lot out of us. Bagna cauda and undecorating didn’t happen until the 2nd. Tiramisu and torte didn’t happen at all. And I fell asleep during football, so I guess that was a wash, too.

But that’s okay.

The most important part of tradition isn’t what the activity is, but who you do the activity with.

We weren’t with extended family this year. Haven’t been for several years, actually, as we just live too far away now and school and work resume right after the holiday. But we were with each other. And while our activities shifted or just didn’t happen at all, we were together. And that’s what matters most.

So if you know me, you know family time is important to me. And if you know my writing, you know family and tradition are important to my characters. Out and About just released in December, with more family drama for the Kellers. Book three of the series is already in process. Mind Control will be coming out a few months from now, with more Italian tradition from the Notaros and the Brotherhood. I’m so excited about both of these series, and I hope you are, too. I’m pretty sure the Kellers enjoyed a cocktail party with a few close friends and the Notaros and the Brotherhood definitely had pepperoni sandwiches and bagna cauda. Now they are all ready to see what 2016 will bring.

I’m ready, too. I’m looking forward to all the possibilities 2016 offers. So, I’m happy to wish you all—heck, I’m wishing the entire world—a happy, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous new year.

Do you have any expectations for 2016? Let’s talk about it below.

What About You?

Happy Holidays!Another year has passed. Where did the time go?

When I was young and heard older generations make similar statements, I thought they were nuts. The year took forever to pass back to my favorite holiday season.

Now that I’m older, I totally get it.

Time ticks by, every second the tiniest fraction faster than the last. If I make it to my grandmother’s age—God willing—I’ll blink and the day or week or month will have passed. I need to remember to stop rushing to meet deadlines and wash laundry and cook dinner. Instead, I need to start savoring each moment before it’s gone. I’ll never have this much time again; might as well make these seconds worth as much as I can. I want to laugh with my son before he leaves for college. Shop with my daughter while she still (somewhat) values my opinion. Enjoy my husband before we’re too old to even take a stroll together. Appreciate coffee with friends and dinners with family. Yes, I want to savor these sweet moments.

This year was the proverbial rollercoaster. I lost dear loved ones, but our family also grew—through birth and marriage. We’ve weathered our share of illnesses, accidents, and injuries, but we’re all relatively healthy (and I can’t complain about that). I left wonderful friends at a job I loved (albeit a job that was killing me) to work on my own (alone at home) as a full-time writer and editor.

Which brings me to the reason for my post.

readers' favorite awardThis was my most productive year yet. I released two novels (Bleeding Heart and Out and About) and two short stories (“Malevolent Whispers” and “Footprints in the Snow“) in collections with other writers. I received a 5-star review for Type and Cross from Readers’ Favorite. I even managed to do a writers’ talk at a local library and discuss my body of work with the patrons there. That was fun. Now, I didn’t quite manage to post once a week like I did last year, but I did write several guest posts for other sites (you can grab the links here) and host other writers here, as well. As much as I enjoy talking to you all, it pleases me greatly to introduce you to fellow artists who you might not otherwise ever find on your own. All this while editing more manuscripts than I ever did in prior years (for a full list of work I’ve edited, visit my editing page) and while taking courses to help me better navigate the ever-changing world of publishing. Like I said, this was my most productive year yet.

But this wasn’t the pinnacle.

love set in stone

One of four novels promised next year.
Coming Spring 2016.

Next year I’ll be even busier. I’ve committed to releasing four novels, a novella, and probably a couple more short stories in anthologies. I’ve also promised myself to post once a week (until the end of the year, when I close down for the holidays), including all twelve First Friday Fiction Features. I want to write more reviews, which means reading more, and I’d really love to amp up my marketing efforts. I’m telling you all this because (1) you are the reason I’m working so hard and (2) you can help hold me accountable.

Yes, you are the reason I do this. I write because I have stories to tell, but I publish because readers like you enjoy my words and ask for more. (click to tweet) And the more you can correspond with me and tell me what you want from me, the better I’ll be able to provide you with the content you crave and deserve. So consider writing that Amazon review. Sign up for my newsletter. Join other like-minded readers at my Facebook group, Staci Troilo’s Novel Idea. Follow me on Goodreads. Heck, send me smoke signals if you want. Just keep in touch. I love to hear from you.

So, I’m winding down my site for the year, and I’m trying to remember to follow the list but enjoy the journey. I just shared my work resolutions with you. Now all I have to do is thank each and every single one of you for your support. I couldn’t do this without you.

And I want to remind you to enjoy your journey, too. Savor these moments; they are fleeting. (click to tweet)

One last thing before I go. I wish you all a fabulous end of December and start of the new year. See you then!


Now, for the title of this post… What about you? What did you do this year that surprised you? What do you intend to accomplish next year? Who do you really want to thank? Why not share in the comments?

Why You Shouldn’t Make a New Year’s Resolution

2015 new yearHappy New Year, everyone. I hope your 2015 is off to a happy, healthy, and productive start.

My last post was in December and was kind of a State of the Union address. Well, the part of the address that states where I’d been and what I’d accomplished. The part of the address that talks about where I’m going and what my new goals are should likely be today. It would include the ubiquitous New Year’s Resolutions.

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m not making any this year. And I don’t think you should, either.

I’m not trying to tell you what to do. If you do/did make any resolutions, I really hope you hit your goals. But I’m going to tell you why I didn’t, and why I probably won’t ever again.

See, people have a fascination with beginnings. We have a tendency to wait until Monday (the beginning of the week) to start anything new. And if it doesn’t work out on Wednesday, we scrap the whole plan until Monday rolls around again. Starting over on Monday, again and again, is defeating on several levels.

  1. It gives us a crutch to rely on.
    If we know we have another beginning coming up, we can scrap our resolution and wait until the next beginning.
  2. It gives the bad habit more of a foothold in our lives.
    Instead of getting right back to our resolution when we falter, we wait until Monday. That just means the behavior we’re trying to modify gets several more days in our lives—instead of just one moment of weakness—and gets more of a hold over us. It also causes more damage to us, because we have those negative effects working on us instead of being immediately suppressed.
  3. Experiencing several defeats makes us fail at other things.
    When we try and fail several times, on some level we start to believe we aren’t ever going to be able to meet our goals. Failing at this one endeavor could cause us to fail on other levels, simply because we’ve taught ourselves that we don’t have what it takes to follow through.
  4. Not following through breaks our spirits.
    Not only do we teach ourselves to fail at other things, we get frustrated and depressed. We can’t understand why we aren’t able to reach our goals, and because of the failure, our opinions of ourselves plummet.

Mondays aren’t the only beginning, though. The new year is the biggest beginning we have. All of our goals are magnified. And so are our failures.

This problem is compounded when we make not just one resolution, but several. (Click to Tweet this idea.)

The new year is our Big Beginning. We spend the end of December evaluating our lives, and we always find things we aren’t happy with. Things we want to change:

  • weight (diet, exercise)
  • health (quit smoking, drinking)
  • appearance (complete image overhaul)
  • employment (get promotion, find new job)
  • home (redecorate, move)
  • car (upgrade for luxury features)
  • future prospects (continue education, save more money, decrease debt)
  • downtime (cut TV, enjoy weekends, relax, vacation)
  • charity (volunteer, donate)

In addition to the problems listed above, the evaluations of our lives lead us to not want to take on one of these issues, but several. If we struggle to initiate a single change on any random Monday, how can we ever hope to make multiple—huge—changes in January? It’s already a difficult time of year. We’re just coming off a holiday season, and our barren rooms without decorations seem stark and sad. We’re entering a stretch of weeks where we have no holiday breaks to look forward to. And (at least in this part of the world) we have nothing but short bleak days, long dark nights, and bitter winter weather to deal with. This is the worst time to try to make any change, let alone many changes… many BIG changes.

Finally, it should be noted that change shouldn’t be dependent on the day of the week or the time of the year.

If we need to make a change, we should do it. Anytime. Not because it’s Monday or January, but because we want to be better people. We’re far more likely to reach a goal if we are motivated by desire rather than time. (Click to Tweet this idea.)

So maybe I shouldn’t tell you not to make any resolutions. Maybe, instead, I should tell you to make them for the right reasons. And if you slip up, don’t wait for a predetermined beginning to start over. Make your own beginning. Right away.

For Writers:
Do you have any resolutions for writing this year? Complete a novel? Get a publishing contract? I wish you the best of luck. If you have any suggestions or progress you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.

For Everyone:
If you made a resolution, I wish you all the best. If you want to talk about it, leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Laci and Del: Oh, For A Wonderful Life

It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.

The Laci and Del Saga was an experiment in serial fiction, where I wrote 12 stories in 12 months throughout 2014. I hope you enjoyed reading the selections as much as I enjoyed writing them. This is part 12 of 12, when the saga comes to a close and we learn their fates. So, without further ado, I give you part 12.

Laci and Del: Oh, For A Wonderful Life

a wonderful lifeLaci trimmed her tree and decked her halls, shopped the sales and wrapped her gifts, baked her cookies and listened to carols. So she didn’t sing along this year. At least she didn’t brood in silence. She even attempted a Yule log. Sure, it looked more like a Yule lump, but she tried.

None of it mattered. The Christmas Spirit eluded her.

When Christmas day came, she went to church and prayed to God to take her pain away, but either her prayer went unheard or unanswered. Del was permanently gone from her life, and her heart wasn’t broken—it was shattered.

Usually she went to her parents’ right after church, but she wasn’t up for the festivities. Instead, she went home. And cried as she watched It’s a Wonderful Life over and over again. Clarence got his wings. George learned how important he was to everyone.

Laci got more depressed and learned how important alcohol would be to getting through the holidays.

Too bad she’d already finished all the liquor in her apartment. Maybe she’d overindulge at her folks’. She could always spend the night. Or call a cab.

She’d waited as long as she could, but before Clarence got his wings the third time, she could delay no longer. She bundled up and headed to Christmas dinner.

tudor in snowTwo blocks from her parents’ home, she pulled her car over and stared at a Tudor home with a large yard. She’d always loved that house, ever since she was a little girl. It had been for sale for almost a year, and she had entertained the idea of buying it when she and Del were dating. Someone had beat her to it, though. Lights were on inside it, and the sign had been removed from the yard. Another dream out of her reach.

She sighed, put the car in drive, and went to Christmas dinner. It was every bit as dreadful as she’d expected. Her cousin Clara spent the whole meal fused to her fiancé. They looked like a two-headed monster. Laci waited for Clara to climb into Kyle’s lap, but thank God she stayed plastered to his side. Still…

It nauseated Laci.

Alcohol be damned. There wasn’t enough liquor in her dad’s entire bar to make her stay there any longer. While Clara cuddled with Kyle and her mother and Aunt Rose started getting cookies out, Laci slipped her coat on, grabbed a bottle of rum, tucked it under her jacket, and headed outside.

“Aren’t you even going to stay and open presents?”

She turned around to see her father had followed her out to the sidewalk. He had on slippers and no coat, and his face was already turning pink in the frigid air.

“Dad, what are you doing? You’re going to get sick, and Mom will blame me. Get back inside.”

“I will if you will.”

“I can’t, Dad. It’s all just too much.”

He closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her. Instead of the warmth she needed, she just felt chilled. Snow flurries fell and clung to his thinning hair and cable knit sweater. He felt smaller to her than the hero of her youth. He was no longer her knight in shining armor, able to slay her demons and save her day. She had found a new hero, and she’d lost him. Hell, she’d driven him away. Blinking back tears, she patted her father’s back and pulled out of his arms.

“You need to go in. And I just have to go.”

“What about leftovers? Or a dish of cookies? Take something home with you.”

She pulled out the rum she’d pilfered and wiggled the bottle at him. Then she kissed him on the cheek. “Goodbye, Dad.” She turned and headed for her car.

“Will we at least see you for your birthday?”

Pain was a hot poker searing through the center of her heart. Last year on her birthday, just after the clock chimed the new year,  she and Del reconciled. Her future was promising, bright. Suffering through this birthday without him would be torturous. She didn’t know if she could bear it.

Instead of making a promise to her father that she couldn’t keep, she got in her car, waved at him, and drove away.

Back at her apartment, she curled up on her couch with the remote control, a box of tissues, and the bottle of rum. She didn’t even bother with a glass. Sometime during her George Bailey marathon, she fell asleep, surrounded by tear-soaked wadded up Kleenex and a half-empty bottle of Bacardi.

* * *

Laci’s company shut down the week between Christmas and New Year, and she always loved having that time off. Until this year.

This year, every day was an endless litany of phone calls and emails checking on her and inviting her out to cheer her up. By the second day, she’d buried her laptop under snail mail and turned her phone to silent. She’d allow herself a few more days of wallowing, but she’d be damned if she’d start the new year miserable. Determined to get out of her funk and attend the annual New Year’s Eve party at Kelly’s house, she dug a scarlet sequined cocktail dress out of the back of her closet. It still had the tags on it; she’d never been daring enough to wear it before. She hung it on her closet door and stared at it every day, trying to get the courage to go through with it.

manicureOn the thirty-first, she got up, downed a huge steaming mug of black coffee, and headed out. A manicure, pedicure, and hair appointment later, she was back at her apartment, staring at her dress.

She still had eight hours to talk herself out of going.

Or into going.

She tried reading a book, watching a movie, listening to music. Nothing relaxed her. She tried catching up on emails. She deleted several from Del—unopened. Finally, she opted to soak in the tub, making sure to keep her hair well above water level.

Not even lavender-scented bubbles settled her nerves.

At eight o’clock, the time when the party officially started, she got out of the tub.

At nine o’clock, she applied her makeup.

At ten o’clock, when even the late-comers had shown up at the party, she started to get dressed.

At eleven o’clock, she stood in her bedroom, dressed to kill. And sick to her stomach.

“I’ll never get a cab this late,” she said to the empty room. “No point in even trying.”

She glanced in the mirror and had to acknowledge she was the world’s worst liar. Her poker face consisted of trembling lips and watery eyes. She turned away from the mirror and took a deep breath.

Her gaze landed on her jewelry box, and she crossed the room to it. Pulling open the top drawer, she took out a stunning diamond necklace. The one Del had given her so long ago.

The one he’d recognized on her last year when he found her on Kelly’s patio.

It was exactly what she needed to complete the outfit. In fact, when she bought the dress, she said that very thing in the dressing room.

She always thought she’d have a ring to match, but it wasn’t to be.

She blinked back tears, fastened the diamond strand around her neck, and walked back to the mirror.

It looked perfect.

And felt terrible.

She stood in front of her mirror, staring at her reflection. Memories flooded back to her, crushing, debilitating. Her breath came in shallow gasps and her heart drummed a staccato beat in her ears. Every blink, every breath, every heart beat… Del. His smile, his laugh. His arms around her, his lips on hers. Holidays and vacations. Games and movies. Everywhere she looked, every sound she heard… Delany.

The buzz of her doorbell broke into her thoughts. She tried to ignore it, but her uninvited guest was persistent. It was probably her parents, making sure she was okay. Resigned to a tedious conversation, she stomped to the door and flung it open.

Del stood there, leaning against her door frame.

Words failed her.

“Can I come in?” he asked.

She shook her head, blinked hard, and swallowed. “What are you doing here?”

“You weren’t at Kelly’s.”

“I wasn’t at Kelly’s because I didn’t feel like a party tonight.”

“Then why are you dressed for one?”

She sighed. “I was in the mood earlier. Now I’m not.” She faked a cough. “I’m not feeling well.”

He raised an eyebrow and his lips twitched like he was suppressing a smile. “I see.” He pushed her door open and entered her apartment. “Well, I guess I’ll stay here and take care of you.”

She closed the door and followed him into the living room. “That’s not necessary.”

“I insist.”

She sighed. “Shouldn’t you be out west somewhere?”

“Why?” He sat down.

“Why?” Her voice raised in both pitch and decibel. “Why? Because you live there!”

“Says who?”

“Delany.” She fisted her hands, put one against her forehead and rested the other on her hip. “I don’t have the energy for this.”

“So sit. I told you I’d take care of you.”

She lowered her arms and stared at him. “What do you want?”

He patted the couch cushion beside him. “Please come here. I need to talk to you.”

Sighing, she gave up and crossed to him. She stared down at him before finally sitting… on the opposite side of the sofa.

He got up and moved over to sit beside her. Taking her hand in his—and taking a deep breath—he stared into her eyes.

His proximity was more than she could stand, and she started to rise. But he held on to her, and she was forced to remain seated.

“Lace, I’ve practiced this I don’t know how many times. But the words seem inadequate now. So let me just tell you, I don’t accept what you said to me in October. I tried, because I thought it was what you wanted, but I can’t. I love you.”

“It doesn’t matter, Del. It’s not enough.”

“It does matter.” He rubbed his thumb across her knuckles, and she felt the all-too-familiar tingles shoot up her arm.

“Laci, I tried it before. I tried it again the last two months. I can’t do it. I can’t live without you in my life.”

The words she always wanted to hear. From the man she wanted to hear it from. And it wasn’t enough.

She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “I’m sorry, Del. Two months is a long time. I’ve moved on.”

“That’s why you’re home alone on New Year’s Eve dressed for a party and wearing the necklace I gave you.”

She blinked, but didn’t answer him. Couldn’t.

“You’re missing something, though.” He scrutinized her from head to toe.

Laci squirmed under his gaze. She patted her hair and smoothed her dress.

“No. It’s not your hair or your dress. Those are stunning. It’s your fingers.”

“I just had a manicure!” She held out her hands and stared at her fingernails. None was rough or chipped. When she looked back up at him, he was on one knee in front of her.

diamond ringReaching into his pocket, he pulled out a tiny black box and opened it. A brilliant diamond sat nestled in the satin interior of the box. Intricate facets reflected the soft light in the room.

“Marry me, Laci.”

Those were the words she’d always wanted to hear. From the man she wanted to hear it from. And she wanted it to be enough, but knew it wasn’t. Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Del, why are you doing this?”

“Because I love you.”

She sobbed, tried to compose herself. But it was no use. “I’m sorry. I can’t. I don’t want to be in a long-distance relationship, and I simply can’t uproot my life and move across the country.”

He took her hand. “Who asked you to?”

“You did. You are. Again.”

He shook his head. “No, Laci. No, I’m not.”

“Then how will we make this work?”

“The same way we have been.”

She sniffled. “Don’t lie to me.”

He sat back on his heel. “I’m not. Why would you think that?”

“I saw you. On Thanksgiving. Getting into a cab with all your stuff.”

Again he shook his head. “You know, you jump to conclusions more than anyone I know. I’ve been calling you for weeks, but you never answered or returned my calls.”

Her breath caught in her throat. She hardly dared ask, but she had to know. She whispered, “Didn’t the new job work out?”

“My new job is great. I have more free time and more money.”

“Oh.” She looked away.

“It’s downtown.”

She looked back at him. “What?”

“I told you. You just assume things when you don’t know the facts. I never took the west coast job. I took a job right here, in town.”

“But I saw you…”

“You did see me. But you jumped to the wrong conclusion. Again. I moved. I wanted a house. In the suburbs. For us.”

“What?”

“You know that two-story Tudor two blocks from your folks? The one you love? I bought it.”

She raised trembling fingers to her lips. Could it be true? “What?”

“I couldn’t leave, not without you. I spent the first month away from you packing and the second fixing up the house. But I called you every day.”

“I deleted your messages. I couldn’t stand to hear your voice knowing you were gone.”

“But I’m right here. And I’m asking… was it all for nothing? Do you not want me anymore? Or will you marry me?”

She smiled, then laughed through the tears. “Yes. Yes!”

He took her hand and slid the ring on her finger. “There. Now your outfit’s complete.”

She threw her arms around him, and he hugged her tight. “I love you, Laci.”

Pulling back, she rested her forehead against his. “I love you, too, Del.”

“One more thing.”

She looked at him. “What?”

He nodded to the clock. It was five after twelve.

“Happy birthday.”

She looked at her ring, a glinting promise of a long future with the man she loved.

It was indeed a happy birthday. It was going to be a wonderful life.

First Friday Fiction Feature – Laci and Del: Second Chance?

It’s the first Friday of the month. You know what that means… it’s time for another installment of short fiction. (You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features, by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.)

This year I’m doing something different. Instead of twelve months of different stories, I’m trying out some serial work this year. So there will be twelve consecutive pieces released starting with this one: “Laci and Del: Second Chance?”

Laci and Del: Second Chance?

2014 Laci glanced around the room, her gaze flitting from the people to the door and back. Panic clawed through her insides as desperately as she wanted to claw at each figure blocking her way. She had no means of escape. She’d waited too long. What fifteen minutes earlier had been a navigatable maze of clusters of party guests, standing like islands in a sea she could have traveled, somehow had morphed into one massive throng she had no hope of wading through. The door might as well be in another country. She’d never make it.

Sighing, she turned around and unlatched the patio door. Cracking it open just enough to squeeze through it, she slipped outside and closed the door behind her. Immediately she was hit in the face with the bracing cold of winter.

“Damn, it’s freezing out here!” She wrapped her arms around herself and watched as her breath dissipated into the night. She briefly entertained the idea of going back inside, but shook the idea off before even turning around. The countdown had begun. Even through the heavy door she could hear them all chanting, “Fifty-seven… Fifty-six… Fifty-five…”

Less than a minute, and she could put another horrid year behind her.

And start another one.

She rubbed her arms harder and tried to blink back the tears that were threatening to fall, tried not to imagine every single person in there sharing a warm kiss at midnight… while she stood on the patio. Alone. In the cold.

“Thirty-two… Thirty-one…”

The voices had grown louder, and Laci realized the door had opened. Wiping her eyes and clearing her throat, she mustered the last ounces of courage and dignity she possessed and turned toward her unwanted intruder. “I’m sorry. Would you mind terribly? I’d like to be alone.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

He was backlit by the lights from inside the house, but she didn’t need to see his face to know who he was. She’d know his voice, his body, anywhere.

“Delany?”

“Only you and my mother ever call me that.”

She cleared her throat. “Del. What are you doing here?”

“Something I didn’t think I’d ever do again.”

“Three… Two… One…”

As shouts of “Happy New Year” and the beginning notes of “Auld Lang Syne” rang out from inside the house, Del crossed to Laci and kissed her.

There was no forewarning. No preamble. He didn’t stroke her cheek first or brush her hair back from her face.

There was just Del. And the kiss.

And the disappearance of her whole miserable world for a blissful moment.

When he released her, the people inside were about done cheering. The strains of the song were fading away. The tears had dried on her cheeks.

And her heart rate was nowhere near normal.

“And what, might I ask, am I supposed to make of that?” she managed to get out in a steady voice.

“I’ve been watching you all night.”

“You’ve been watching me all night? What are you, now? A stalker or something?” She clutched at where a collar should be, but all she found was a necklace. A beautiful diamond necklace he’d bought her, highlighted by her upswept hair and the low-cut bodice of her cocktail dress. She tried to cover it with her fingers, but she saw the look of recognition on his face. Why did she have to choose that piece—of all pieces—to wear that night? Thankfully, he didn’t comment on it.

“We’re both still friends with the same people. We’re bound to end up in the same place at the same time. But after how things ended…”

She lowered one of her arms and studied his face.

He shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t know if you were ready to talk. So I stayed on the opposite side of the room all night. I was trying to be polite and give you space.”

She sniffed.

“Anyway, I figured you would leave before midnight. I know how you feel about not having anyone to kiss when the ball drops, especially given it’s not just the new year, but your birthday too, so when—”

“You remember my birthday?”

His eyebrows shot up. “What kind of person do you think I am? Of course I remember your birthday.”

She relaxed enough that she dropped her hand away from her throat and started rubbing her arms again. Since Del had walked onto the patio, she hadn’t felt anything but heat. The cold was starting to hit her again, though. As well as some old feelings she hadn’t buried as deep as she had thought.

“Come here,” he said.

Before she could object, she was nestled in his arms, tucked against his firm, warm chest.

“Laci, I know things got all messed up before. I don’t want to revisit the past. This is a new year. For you and for everyone.” He pulled back a little bit and looked down at her. “I’d like to give us another try.”

She couldn’t meet his gaze, so she tucked her head back against his chest and held on tightly to him. “I don’t know, Delany. It took me a long time to move on. I don’t want to go through something like that again.”

“That’s how you know it’s worth fighting for. Because we were so hard to walk away from. Come on, Laci. What have you got to lose?”

Laci thought about the year since they had broken up and the men she hadn’t been able to date. There had been something wrong with absolutely everyone who’d asked her out—too tall, too nerdy, too creepy, too involved with work, too interested in fantasy football—so she’d politely declined all her offers until the offers had stopped coming. Yes, she realized her reasons were ridiculous. Well, maybe not the creepy guy, but all the other ones. But obviously her social calendar was in need of some CPR.

But wasn’t Del the reason it flat-lined to begin with?

She had a lot to lose. He couldn’t possibly understand. Was he worth the risk?

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