Thanks to those who read and dropped me a note on the last two chapters. It means a lot to hear from you, and keeps my story going. Here is Chapter 8–I think it will answer a big question many of you have been wondering since the story was first posted. Hope you enjoy it. xo, Ani
The next day is short. And long. It’s short because I spend most of it sleeping while my mind and body grapple with the consequences of my homemade drug use. It’s long because when I finally wake up at three in the afternoon, groggy and dazed, there are still hours left before I can camp on the field and hope for sleep—and him—to find me naturally this time.
I can’t say how I spend those hours. My mind is more determined to replay every minute of last night’s terror than register any hour of today’s waiting. It dissects every detail, magnified in Technicolor and surround-sound, while the present plays in the background like muted elevator music. Every time I try to pause the rewind reel—by washing Mum’s parka, by preparing my clothes for Monday, by tending the roses and allowing the occasional thorn to prick my skin—my mind wrenches me back to the dream, reliving the path we took, his words, my reckless leap into deep rapid water, over and over and over. Perhaps my mind is trying to learn something new, or perhaps it’s entirely broken. Whatever the reason, my brain only reconnects with the present when the sun starts to dip and I have to find our old camping tent in the depths of the garden toolshed. From that moment onward, my mind and body seem to meld together, moving in tandem, focused inexorably on every preparation for the night ahead. As though survival depends on it—because it does.
I finally find the tent from our last family camping trip to Scotland. That same old ache enters the fray of my insides, but my brain is too interlocked with my body to falter. Next, I grab the bare minimum essentials for tonight: my sleeping bag, a flashlight, a change of clothes in case I end up in the river again, and a thermos for tea. But packing it all in a way that I can carry defies all my mathematical skills. And it breaks all my three cardinal rules in one fell swoop. Because I have to unpack my rucksack from America to manage to pack for my trek tonight. It’s impossible not to think of the past as I dig out my clothes that still smell of Portland, that still carry him in their fibers. Raw, utterly un-scabbed by time, the wound inside my chest rips open and for, a few moments, I can’t breathe. But The Oregoniannewspaper Reagan bought for me at the airport to honor my tradition tumbles out and restarts my lungs like James’s arms did yesterday. I flip through its carbon-printed pages, marveling at the date. June 1. Only a week ago, yet it feels a lifetime away. So much happened on that day. How did the world have room for more? But it did. Someone won the Powerball, the Timbers lost to the Sounders, and—my breath catches again—Brett Feign’s investigation made the papers: “Brett Feign, prominent local artist and owner of Feign Art Gallery prosecuted for tax evasion, fraud, and assault on an officer.” I snort. A single headline for an investigation that caused so much grief. I crumple up the paper and toss it in the waste bin, wishing I had time to light it on fire. Maybe if I survive my expedition tonight, I will. I don’t need souvenirs or reminders of that day.
The sun is lowering further now, and I manage to cram all my camping gear inside the rucksack, except the rolled-up tent which I’ll have to carry in my arms. I gulp down some canned soup, and set out on foot, locking the door behind me.
“See you soon,” I tell the cottage, hoping this is not another promise I will have to break.
The evening is balmier tonight. The fluffy clouds are lit up with sunset, like apricot rose blooms across the sky, deepening to copper in the bottom with iridescent halos on top. With a sigh, I realize they look like my favorite rose: Aeternum Romantica. The rare rose I’ve only ever seen once…when he shipped hundreds and hundreds of them from Kenya for me. The jolt of pain from the memory knocks me breathless, locking my feet. I clutch the packed tent to my chest, hugging it close. “Hydrogen! I whisper. “1.008. Helium, 4.003. Lithium, 6.94…” It doesn’t dull pain—it hasn’t been working well since the hilltop grave—but at least my breath flows again and I’m able to move. The Aeternumclouds glow brighter above. I tell myself this is a good omen, and troop ahead awkwardly under my load.
I follow the same trail along the river as last night, but this time I will take the bridge. As he meant for me to do in the dream. The nightingales start their dusk mating song, and the Aeternum clouds float across the sky. When I reach the bend in the river, a shiver runs through me, but I keep walking, noticing with relief there are no tents or tall figures around. Wherever James is, at least I don’t have to face him.
The limestone bridge is only a quarter mile further—“we’re getting closer,” he said in the dream—but I’m still huffing and sweating by the time I reach it. Its arches curve over the river straight onto the field. I cross it as quickly as I can, and finally I’m on the other side.
I stop to catch my breath for a minute while scanning the field. It’s empty, a dark bronze under the twilight sky. The grass sways in the breeze, taller on this end than by the cottage. A beech or elm tree punctuates through it here and there, like guards standing sentinel in front of some invisible gate. At the far border opposite me, the town’s lights are starting to twinkle.
“What does he want me to see here?” I mumble to myself, feeling abruptly foolish for this whole endeavor. Worse than foolish; downright mental. Yet, there is no question of me turning around. I heave the tent into my arms and start searching for a spot to camp for the night. I don’t know where he would want me but, since he’s been pointing to this field as far back as the cottage, I have to assume I should camp in that direction. So I cut through the grass parallel to the river, breathing hard again. Eventually I make it back down across from Elysium. If I squint, I can see the peaky rooftop of the cottage in the distance. There is a strong beech tree nearby, about the size of the one planted for me in the garden. That seems like another good omen, so I set up my tent under its branches with a lot more effort than it takes to understand Dad’s and Edison’s theory of crystalline structures of inorganic matter. When it’s finally erect and secure, I’m so exhausted that I plop on the grass, panting and sweating, not even bothering to crawl inside, just staring at the sky as the stars begin to cross-stitch constellations across the navy velvet canvass.
At length, my breathing slows, and the breeze dries the beads of sweat off my temples. An inky darkness drapes over every blade of grass. And reality changes with the night. Instead of quiet, the field seems brooding. Rather than near, the cottage feels too far. Instead of alone, I feel lonely. And instead of a solution, this camp feels like closure.
I stand then. This would be a good time to take out my flashlight and comb through each centimeter of this field. Search behind each tree trunk, shake down the branches. It would keep me occupied, and it would block these thoughts. But instinctively I know the search would yield nothing. Whatever I need to see here is not part of my conscience, I cannot access it while awake. No, this is subliminal, somewhere deep, interred in the subconscious recesses of the mind. And for reasons I cannot grasp, it will only reveal itself with him.
I crawl inside the tent, certain that my psyche will summon him here when it’s time. The familiar thrill starts crackling in the closed space like electricity. The cheater is stronger tonight. My conscious being recoils from it in revulsion—I hate this frisson that binds me to him like an umbilical cord. But it will be over soon. If tonight doesn’t work, on Monday, I will call a doctor. My insides resist that option too for other reasons, reasons having to do with not seeing him again, but I shove them aside. They don’t change anything.
I slide inside the sleeping bag, sipping my chamomile tea, waiting for sleep to find me. But hours pass and nothing happens—probably because I slept in so late or because I don’t have the willows’ lullaby. Every once a while, I test reality: I can push my finger against the tent’s nylon fabric without it going through. I can trace back my steps. Awake. Awake. Awake.
Then, sometime in the night, something changes. Instead of wondering when he will come, I start thinking where he is. Is he in his home nestled in the hills of Portland or at his Alone Place, sleeping outside like me? His stars are just starting as mine will be fading. And it feels like a metaphor for everything.
His voice rings out, so clear, so close. I jolt upright, expecting to see him right next to me, but the tent is empty.
“I’m outside,” he says like a caress, like an answer to my unspoken question. In an instant I’m out of the tent and onto the field, as though his words were marionette lines.
He waits for me under the silver moonlight, with those eyes that look past the world. They trace my jawline like always, as the tectonic plates shift and find that peaceful spot that belongs to me alone. He smiles my favorite lopsided smile, and the dimple I know so well forms in his cheek like a kiss.
“Thank God you’re safe!” he says with relief, and his right hand lifts a fraction as though he’s reaching for me. Instinctively I step forward into his touch, but his hand flies behind him. The abrupt motion leaves me drifting.
“I should have listened to you,” I whisper, still looking at the empty space his hand left behind.
“Don’t be sad, my love. We can try again now. I’ll keep you safe. Do you trust me?”
“Yes.” My answer is resolute and automatic.
He smiles the full-dimpled smile again, then starts striding across the field, always a step ahead of me. But even though he walks slower tonight, I never seem able to catch up to him. I notice he is leading us away from the river, in the opposite direction, toward the edge of the field that borders town. I don’t ask him where he is taking me, it doesn’t matter; I know he will lead me there in the end. Instead, I look only at him, the hair tousled from the wind, the ever-tense shoulders, wishing he would slow down so I can see his otherworldly face. As though my wish was a silent command, he looks over his shoulder, and his pace slows to a stroll.
“You’re not in a hurry tonight?” he says.
I shake my head. Another dimpled smile. “I like it better this way, too.”
He stops abruptly, gazing at me without an answer. The smile is still there but the dimple disappears. So small a pucker but it leaves a chasm open in my chest. I want to bring it back.
“I was thinking of you,” I say. “Right before…before you came.”
“Oh?” The dimple reappears.
“I was wondering where you were, where you sleep.”
“You know the answer to that one.”
I shake my head. The dimple disappears again. “I am always with you.”
I want to tell him it’s not true, that he has never slept with me, but I don’t want the dimple to go away. So I just nod, and he starts walking again. “We’re almost there,” he says, his tone a mixed note of sadness and triumph. “Just straight ahead.”
We’re almost across the field now, as the rows of gabled rooftops and chimneys loom in the lightening night. Their windows are still dark, but the overnight lights of the shops are glowing, closer and closer. Then suddenly underneath my sneakers, I hear the thump of cobblestone instead of the whish of grass. We’ve reached the town.
“Right across the street,” he says, but for the first time, lets me lead. I cross the cobbled alley to the line of ancient shuttered shops. Now what? I turn to him for direction, but he is still on the other side, looking at me with unfathomable eyes. “Three doors to your right,” he says before I can ask anything.
I count the doors—one, two, three—and there, in front of me, is a very familiar whitewashed shop, with mullioned windows and barrel pots full of evening primroses that Mum planted as a gift on the shop’s fiftieth anniversary. On the eave above, under a pool of light, hangs its sign:
Burford, Oxfordshire, OX18 4PA
“Aid—” I start to call him in confusion but as I read the words again, something astonishing happens. The letters start moving, scrambling together, bumping into each other, sliding out again, dropping off, like vectors in chaos. My eyes are frozen wide, tracing every move as the mosh pit of letters spins and rearranges itself over and over. Then, in a burst of intuition, the letters stop and new words appear before my eyes:
Solis Ice Reality
“Oh!” I gasp. The force of my realization yanks me back violently, wrenching me awake as my scream drowns a fading whisper: “Once I love, I love forever.”
The world comes into sharp, crystallized focus, but it takes me longer—longer than any other night—to get my bearings. The raw wound by my heart is throbbing, pulsing like a heartbeat of its own, making my head spin as every event, every word of those last few days in America replays under this new light. I sink on the sidewalk, gripping the cold, cobblestone for balance and leaning my head against the wall of Solstice Gallery. The letters on the eave sign are immobile, exactly as they’ve always been, but I only read the truth, the reality of what happened with the Solises. It was always Feign who turned Javier in; it was never him.
Every puzzle piece falls together now, so obvious, so simple I could only have missed it by emotion, not logic. Feign panicked when the Department of Justice came looking and found Javier’s sketches of my face. Tax evasion he could defend, but he could never risk the world learning about Javier. So he took him out by calling ICE and reporting him for stolen supplies: just another illegal immigrant thief locked up in a cell. Who would believe Javier now even if he talked? Who would care what his family would say just to save him? And who would ever know that Feign was the tipster when he could do it anonymously, just like Benetto said at Javier’s hearing? Leaving the blame open for the taking. And who else would swoop in and take it but the man who needed it so desperately? The man who needed one unforgivable reason for me to leave him because I wouldn’t have left him any other way. How neatly it all fits together now that I see: link by link, a chain reaction shackling us all together, friend, family, lover, and foe.
I don’t need to look across the street for him—for I know he is forever gone. My subconscience summoned him to help me see what I must have known all along but refused to acknowledge. It stitched together these subliminal messages from my past—innocent tidbits of data so familiar, it was automatic, instinctual that I would know them even asleep. Things like opening the front door, the familiar path along the river through Elysium, this little gallery where Mum and I would come on weekends to browse the pastoral paintings, and the well-known “Fine Art” sign which sounds so much like Feign’s gallery back in Portland that used to make me snort with its pun. My subconscience arranged it all, sliding each detail into place, while I clung to denial and anger for survival. She was not the cheater, I was. But how to make me listen? How to make me see the truth when I was blocking him at every waking moment? There was only one time when my subconscience could do that: in my dreams. And there was only one dream I would obey so fully, so irrevocably: him. So the harder I worked against the truth during the day, the more it tried to burst through at night, until now I see it with finally free, clear eyes. All my mistakes, all my wrongs. Because worse than running from England, worse than abandoning the cottage, worse still then falling in love in my last days in America, was my belief—my conviction—that the man I loved, the man I knew was a monster. Is there a more grievous crime?
And he let me believe it. Because he would rather I hate him than be with me.
I curl inward in myself, trying to withstand the violent sobs. Everyone else trusted him and tried to tell me: my own lawyer, Reagan, even Benson. “In hopes that they will lead you to the man you know, not the one you heard today.Don’t make a mistake you will both regret for life,” Benson wrote. The waves of pain drown me here, slumped on the empty sidewalk, trying to breathe. Just to breathe. Do I deserve even that much? No, I don’t, but my parents do. For a long white, I shiver under the gallery sign, forcing air in and out, hugging my torso to keep it from imploding.
But dawn comes. Lightening up the street, the shops, the empty field, making me visible. Some brain cells register that my town shouldn’t see me this way—that Mum and Dad don’t deserve that—so, shaking, still gasping for air, I start back the way he brought me. The field seems endless, like an abyss without him.
Aiden, his name breaks through now that the walls are shattered, each musical syllable a new knifepoint in my chest, but I still try to silence it. Because none of it matters it in the end: despite the truth, he still will never be with me. And despite my crimes, I still would never be with him. How can you be with someone who will go to any length, pay any price not to be with you?
Hello everyone! Happy Saturday! Got some goodies for you and hope you love them!
1. FreshFiction (yep, that awesome FreshFiction) is doing an exclusive interview with Aiden today, where he gives hints on the sequel and answers your questions. Many of you submitted questions for Aiden and we tried to answer as many as we could that wouldn’t spoil the sequel or that kept the interview within word limits. Here is a sneak peak (with Gandy as Aiden even though he’s wearing a suit, because, why not?)and you can read the full one here
Ani Keating: (plopped on a beanie bag at an undisclosed location, wearing flannel pajamas.) Hey Aiden, thank you for coming here today.
Aiden Hale: (sitting in a winged armchair, ankle over his knee, wearing torn up jeans instead of the customary charcoal suit, and glaring at Ani with wrathful eyes.) I didn’t do it for you. I’m doing it for your readers.
AK: I know, I know—you’re mad at me because of what I did in THIRTY NIGHTS. But really, don’t you think it’s best if people face their worst fears in the end?
AH: (attractive snort) No!
AK: How can you not agree with that?
AH: Very simple. Your theory is making the person I love the most in the world suffer. I have no respect for any principle or author that causes her pain.
2. FreshFiction is running a giveaway for Thirty Nights and have created an exclusive page for it. It will be up for four days. Another signed copy of Thirty Nights — get them before they run out. I’m almost out of author copies now. Enter the FreshFiction giveaway here
3. Excerpt & News:As some of you know, Samhain Publishing, my publisher has decided to close its doors. Although this saddens me because they were a great publisher, I want to assure you that NINETY DAYS – the sequel – is still on and it will still come out this year (hopefully Spring). THIRTY NIGHTS will continue to be on sale during the wind-down process, and after that, I will make sure it remains available as well. Below is a tiny excerpt from the sequel–more will follow soon.
NINETY DAYS EXCERPT
I fling my eyes open, feeling a gust of warm, cinnamon-scented breath on my neck. He’s here. He’s here. A cloud of body heat rises around me, melting all ice, fueling all fire. I turn to find him but the only thing standing out in the darkness are his sapphire eyes. They stir and brew as his trademark tectonic plates shift along with his memories.
“Aiden?” I gasp, his name whooshing like a spurt of life.
He’s here. He’s here. He holds both of his hands open, as though he is trying to show me something invisible. The sapphire light of his eyes fractures on his skin, emitting an Aurora Borealis. He does not smile but his irises darken. He leans his forehead against mine and closes his eyes.
“Be happy,” he murmurs.
Can you guess what this is? – Love you all and be back with more. xo Ani
All my love to my readers everywhere today! I can’t believe it’s Valentine’s Day already. I hope yours is filled with the best, sexiest love stories of all: our own. And to add some to that love, here are two little gifts for you: 1) A teaser for the sequel—Ninety Days; and 2) A Giveaway that I’m running with my publisher, Samhain. Two $5 Amazon gift cards, for two winners. All you have to do is tweet today and tomorrow what Aiden should get Elisa for Valentine’s Day today, and use the hashtag #thirtynights. Copy me, and voila! I will enter you to win the card so you can discover even more love stories. Enjoy playing and reading! See you soon (I’m in a wee bit of a rush because I have to finish a sequel chapter today and cook with hubby-two loves in one.)
FLIGHT (This chapter has not been edited. It may appear in a different form in the published novel)
Every airplane hurtling across the sky carries goodbyes. Some for days, some for life. Then there is mine—the unknown kind.
I stare out of the Plexiglas window into dense darkness. It’s midnight back in Portland. Did Reagan make it home safe? Is she curled up on my bed, still crying? And Javier—does he even have a bed in his jail cell? Or is he slumped on the floor, staring at darkness just like me? I leave the hardest person for last . . . him . . . Aiden Hale, I force myself to think the name. Is he awake? Or finally asleep—relieved to have me out of his life?
A burning pain—part rage, part agony—flares like a livid wound between my lungs, and I close the window shade. The businessman next to me is snoring softly. I avoid looking at his charcoal suit—so similar to Aiden’s when they hung closely with my dresses. The wound throbs again, and I gaze at the crumpled note still in my hand. Aiden’s right-hand man, Benson, scribbled it on a torn piece of paper like he was out of time.
I am breaking Mr. Hale’s rules by giving you his letters in hopes that they will lead you to the man you know, not the one you heard today.
Don’t make a mistake you will both regret for life.
I have the words memorized, but they still seem scrambled. Alone they make sense, but together they mean nothing. What does Benson know about my mistakes? About our regrets? What rules is he breaking? Why? What’s the difference between the man I know and the one I heard today?
I know the answer to that last one. Aiden Hale—the man I thought I knew, the man I loved—would have never reported Javier to the immigration police. He would have never ruined my little family. He would have never hurt someone I love. But the man he truly is—the man I saw today with finally clear eyes—did all of that, and admitted it three times.
The burning ache rages up my throat, constricting it until I can’t breathe. I loosen my scarf, searching for air. It blows in a steady gust from the airplane vent. Straight into the center of my forehead. Where Aiden’s lips rested last. Where my father’s lips rested always.
I lift my face toward the vent and draw a huge gulp of pressurized air. In, out. Hydrogen, atomic weight 1.008, helium, 4.002, lithium, 6.94—
“Miss? May I get you anything?” A hushed feminine voice murmurs next to me.
I turn to the flight attendant, trying not to look at her Union Jack scarf that reminds me of Reagan and her obsession with all things British. “Some coffee, please,” I whisper.
Her eyebrows arch—coffee is not the drink of choice at this hour—but she scurries back to the galley for the pot.
I know this is a mistake. I know I should try to sleep. It would be easier to shut down, drift into a different place, a different time. Perhaps I would be back in Portland again. On the couch with Reagan, listening to Lana Del Rey. Or in Javier’s studio, looking at his paintings. Or perhaps in a rose garden, tangled under the blooms with the Aiden I loved, not the one I discovered today.
Yes, it would be easier to sleep, but I cannot. Because if I sleep, this day will be over. If I sleep, this will be the last day in my home, the last time I saw my family, the last time I held my best friend, the last time I was in love. And when I wake up, everything I have will be yesterday. It will be the past.
Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2016 is off to a great start. Mine has been crammed with…. you guessed it, Ninety Days. But I always have a little nostalgia lingering after the holidays, and before they are completely forgotten I thought I would post this outtake from Thirty Nights.
At the time a version of this chapter was posted online, I was astonished at how many fans it had. I thought it was Christmas cravings, but the feeling withstood throughout the year. So here it is, in a final nod to the most wonderful time of the year. The beautiful cover art is courtesy of the talented Carol Sales from Beauty and the Beastly Books Blog. Enjoy and check out her blog as well for some great new recommendations!
*Mature Audiences Only*
May 22, 2015 (three days after Aiden’s Alone Place)
“I have to do some work for a couple of hours,” Aiden says after dinner, caressing my cheek. My heartbeat stutters at his martyred expression and the tone of his voice. Beneath the husky musicality, there is some hesitation. As though a part of him doesn’t want to leave me even for a short while.
But I know better now. I know the part of him that doesn’t want to leave is small—just a pinprick of light in his vast, dark depths. The rest of him would stay away from me in the blink of an eye if it meant that I was safe.
Safety has never sounded more dangerous.
“You know, work is overrated for billionaires,” I say, gripping him to me.
He smiles. “Everything is overrated about billionaires. Especially the billionaires themselves.” I’m about to start defending at least one billionaire, but he tips my face up so he can see my eyes. “Seriously, will you be okay for a while?”
The truthful answer—pathetic as it may sound—is “no”. I will miss him every minute of those bloody two hours. Two hours are long for someone who has only 22 days left. But at least I have some sneaky plans to keep me occupied.
“I’ll be great,” I answer. “You go work. I’ll hang out with Cora and call Reagan.”
The faithful V forms between his eyebrows, and he bends his seraphic face to kiss the corner of my lips. “You know, it feels long to me too,” he whispers. “But—”
“Don’t tell me the but part,” I murmur and kiss him hard. He kisses me back in his urgent, demanding way, perhaps finishing his sentence with his tongue, instead of words. When he pulls away, we are both breathless.
“I was going to say, ‘but I’ll work from the library, so I’m not very far.’” He grins at his trick, and taps my nose twice.
I try to come up with some clever response but I can’t speak from the warm bubble parachuting in my chest. I don’t have him for forever, and I may not have him even for 22 days, but I do have him tonight. And I will do my damnedest to make it a great night. A night he will remember not because of his memory, but because he wants to.
“I like that you won’t be far,” I finally manage. “And if you’re very lucky, I may even interrupt you… there’s no telling whether I’ll be wearing clothes or not.”
He laughs his carefree, waterfall laughter. “I’m rarely that lucky.” And with another kiss, he sweeps out of the kitchen, the lights flickering at his passage.
The moment I hear the library door close behind him, I sprint to Cora’s apartment for my Christmas plans. Somewhere deep in my brain, I wonder whether it really is such a good idea to celebrate the holidays early together in case my visa doesn’t come through. Is there a better way to invite bad luck than to celebrate it? I almost trip in terror but then remember Dad’s words from ages ago: luck favors those who don’t fear it.
I skid to a stop at Cora’s door and knock. She opens it immediately with a big smile.
“Isa, hi, come on in!”
Cora’s apartment is clean and all white, with punches of hot pink and royal blue. But the first thing I notice is not the color; it’s the warmth. Cora keeps her apartment at least ten degrees warmer than Aiden keeps the rest of the house. I know it’s because ever since the desert, he doesn’t like heat. Still, it is nice to have warm toes while wrapping presents.
“Here,” says Cora. “I have everything set up and ready to go.” She leads me to the corner of her living room where on a round, dining table are my Christmas ornaments, a new stocking for Aiden, and neat bundles of twinkling lights.
“Cora, you bought more lights!” I pretend to scold.
She laughs. “I couldn’t resist. This is fun for us too.” She rubs her hands together like it really is Christmas in May.
“Did Benson manage to find a tree?” I grin, sitting at the dining table and curling my legs under me.
“Oh yes, you just wait ‘til you see it—it’s beautiful. Benson’s hidden it in the back woods so Mr. Hale doesn’t see it.”
“Good idea. We can bring it all in after Aiden goes to bed. Are you sure he doesn’t suspect anything?”
“Not a thing. Benson said he was very distracted all day trying to close a deal he’s working on and yelling at Bob’s immigration team to hurry up.”
Lunatic that I’ve become, the image of the Dragon breathing fire makes me smile. But only because it’s for my benefit.
“Okay, now here are your frames and the rest of your things,” Cora says, uncovering a clear plastic bin under the table. “I’ll go clean up in the kitchen and keep an eye on Mr. Hale.”
After she leaves, I look at the universe of my treasures that I have carried with me for the last four years. They look ridiculously small—shabby even—compared to what Aiden did for me at his Alone Place. Most of the Aeternum roses are now in Denton’s lab, undergoing geraniol extraction. But some are sprinkled throughout the house, even here on Cora’s dining table.
Yes, my gifts are not much compared to his, but they are all I have. I start scrawling, cutting, gluing, and printing for almost two hours.
In a way, giving Aiden anything that belongs in a frame is silly. With his memory, he does not need pictures—he has none anywhere as far as I’ve seen. But that’s why this is important. I am noticing that although he remembers everything, he has difficulty connecting the memories in a positive way. His mind remembers moments, but his self-loathing and guilt connects them in the most savage, self-destructive way. In short, brilliant though he is, Aiden misses the forest for the trees, the frame for the photos. And with this present, maybe he will see a new way to connect the moments that have brought us together… that are making us, us.
I stare at the finished gifts—how much we have done together in such a short time! Uncovered secrets, saved dreams. It’s hard to believe—looking at all these moments—that there isn’t something better for us. That we are racing toward the end and not the beginning.
I don’t know how long I sit here—lost in the future for once, rather than the past—but eventually, a beep from iPhone jolts me back.
Cora: Mr. Hale is roaming the halls. Hurry! 🙂
I laugh at her smiley face, and sprint to Aiden’s temporary bedroom with only twenty seconds to spare. By the time I rip off my clothes and sprawl naked across the bed, he opens the door.
“There you are—” he starts but then his mouth freezes open into a perfect O. His sentient eyes widen and gaze at me so intensely that my entire skin explodes crimson. From my cheeks to my pinky toe. Still, I don’t look away. His Christmas starts tonight even if he doesn’t know it.
At length he closes his mouth, swallows hard, and speaks—his voice low and husky. “I thought you forgot me.”
I shake my head, keeping my eyes on him. “Haven’t we established that that’s impossible?”
He smiles and saunters to me, slowly. On each step, he takes off his T-shirt, and then his socks, and then his jeans. By the time he towers over me, he is only wearing his snug, grey boxers. He lies on top of me without complexities, without elaborate set-ups. Just his heated skin covering every inch of mine.
He leans close, his lips to my ear. “That’s the beauty about your memory,” he whispers. “For you, forgetting is possible.”
“Not if I don’t want to forget,” I answer and bring his mouth to mine. Still, for now, I do forget everything—the ticking clock, his demons, my Christmas plans, Cora and Benson still awake—and focus only on this moment and the way Aiden’s mouth molds with mine. His tongue dancing a slow, carnal rhythm with my own. His hot lips scorching fiery trails over my skin. His strong hands carving new paths over my breasts, my waist, my hips. And our bodies soldered together without space for anything else but each other.
In the afterstorm, we lie there, my body buzzing from within, the sound of our harsh breathing filling the air. Aiden rests his head on my chest as our lungs stabilize and slow down. I wonder vaguely if we are drifting into sleep and how special that would be—us sleeping in the same bed, legs tangled in knots, maybe fighting for the most blanket. I’d let him have it all. If he would only sleep with me.
“I like the sound of your heart,” Aiden murmurs—his voice slightly hoarse. He looks up, his eyes now the calmest of Mediterranean blue. “It calms me, like you. I listened to it on our first night… after you fell asleep.”
The heart in question starts thundering loudly—very pleased with itself. He smiles and rests his head on my chest again, listening. Every time his lips touch me or his fingertips brush my skin, my heart tries to break out of my chest. We talk now and then… about his work, about my dreams if I get my green card, about our favorite places in Portland and favorite foods. I learn that, like me, he hates TV but really likes public radio. His favorite book is Brothers Karamazov as well. He, too, loves the Portland food carts and orders take-out every Wednesday. He is an undefeated Trivial Pursuit champion—figures!—but his real interest is chess. I melt as I discover how much we have in common. More than just troubled pasts and inner pain. Even without those, we’d still fit together, simply because we were born that way. Albeit two worlds and fifteen years apart.
At length, his voice deepens and slows, as does mine. On any night, I’d stay here, hoping in vain that he’d forget about sleeping apart. But not tonight. Tonight, I have a turkey to roast. “I better let you sleep,” I finally say, caressing his cheek. “You’ve had a long day.”
His arms tighten around me, and his eyes still as though he is imagining something. But before I can ask, the tectonic plates shift and his arms loosen. “It’s safer this way,” he murmurs, kissing me one last time.
I nod, fighting the chilly emptiness that surges up my spine.
“You believe me, don’t you?” he presses as if he can sense it. “You know this is just for your safety.”
“I know,” I sigh, kissing his scar. I can’t argue with his motivation. Not to mention that if I did, he’d feel even worse about all the normal things I’ll be missing if I stay with him. Hideous thought.
“Come on, I’ll tuck you in,” I say, unraveling myself from his arms and legs. He grins and watches me as I throw the comforter over him and switch off the light.
“Sweet dreams, Elisa.”
“No dreams, Aiden.”
That’s the best wish for Aiden’s sleep—he can never trust his dreams. I listen to his low chuckle for a moment after I close the bedroom door. I love you, I think, then shuffle to his real bedroom to put on my pajamas and wait until he is fast asleep.
Benson and Cora find me in the living room about half hour later, Benson carrying a huge Douglas fir that dwarfs even him. They have already strung the lights on it—hopefully they were busy with that and didn’t hear our sexcapades.
We secure the fir in a deep pot by the piano, and plug in the lights. A soft glow illuminates the massive glass wall, casting long, cheerful shadows on the polished hardwood floor. I watch entranced as the isolation of Aiden Hale cracks a little. From Benson’s slack mouth and Cora’s misty eyes, they might be thinking the same thing.
“Thank you,” I tell them, staring at the twinkling lights woven in the branches. “I couldn’t done this without you two.”
To my surprise, Cora gives me a hug. Benson clears his throat, which I think means “don’t mention it,” and turns around to string more lights along the glass wall.
“Oh, come on, Benson,” Cora teases. “Turn around—I know you’re choking up. You’re the biggest softie there is. And I mean that literally.”
“Will you two keep down the giggles?” Benson pretends to hiss but he still doesn’t turn around. “The man sleeps with one eye open. He’ll wake up and catch us here, looking like idiots.”
The two of them razz each other as we hang the ornaments that Reagan and I have accumulated over the years. Cora and I stream a garland over the fireplace and I hang Aiden’s stocking where I’ve spelled Dragon in sparkly dust. After Benson plugs in the last string of lights and Cora fluffs the Santa pillows, we step back and look at our handiwork. It still looks like Aiden’s home, but without the loneliness. It looks cheerful, as though you’d expect laughter and old-world music from each corner.
“Isa, are you sure you don’t want me to help with the cooking?” Cora says. “I’m having too much fun. We’ve never had holidays her—” She stops abruptly as though she said one sentence too many.
But it’s too late. My body absorbs her words faster than my mind does, and a chill runs up my spine in shock. “Never?” I whisper.
Cora shakes her head, her lips pressing together as if to block any other disclosures.
“Why not?” My question sounds almost like a sob. Surely his parents must come here or Marshall or his other Marine friends… But just as I think this, I understand. Yes, his parents would want to come. As would his friends. But would Aiden let them? Would he ever risk their lives for himself? I know the answer to that one. No, he wouldn’t.
Benson and Cora watch my face as though my thoughts are written there in capital, bold letters. Neither of them says a word—perhaps worried they have already said too much.
“So… so what does he do for Christmas? For New Year’s? Is he all alone?” I whisper, my hand flying to my mouth as though it doesn’t want the words to become real. But I know they must be. Here I have been these last four years, missing my parents so much at Christmas that the pain felt like an iron hand choking me every minute until the holidays were over. But at least I had the Solises and Reagan, when just up the hill from me, surrounded in wilderness and cold glass, a man who has fought for his own land—who is better than the sum of all my best parts—sat alone, missing people that are still alive. How can he stand it? How has it not killed him for the last twelve years? Does he see the ones he loves in every twinkly light and miss them in every ticking second?
A sob builds in my chest and I shudder. What have I done by planning Christmas? Am I going to bring him pain tomorrow instead of good memories? How many years will this little whim of my fantasy cost him?
“Cora!” I choke out, hot tears welling in my eyes. “Benson! We have to take all this down. We have to get rid of it, right now. Oh, how could I have been so stupid?”
Cora and Benson flit to my side, Cora taking my hands. “Isa! No, don’t you say that,” Cora whispers urgently, squeezing my hands like Reagan does. “You’re not stupid. This is the best thing for him, sweetheart. Oh, I wish I hadn’t say anything!”
“H-h-how can it be the best thing for him?” I shudder again, trying to swallow the sobs. “Cora, he h-hurts on Christmas. No, no—we have to bring this down. ”
Cora starts to explain but at that moment, Benson’s arm comes around my shoulders—my knees buckle under the weight. “If he hurts on Christmas it’s not because of Christmas. It’s because he’s alone. But now he doesn’t have to be. Now he has you. So why take that chance from him, hmm?” Benson’s gentle eyes are crinkly at the corners, and he’s watching me like I might break.
“Yes, yes, good point Benson!” Cora nods feverishly. “Isa, sweetheart, if I had a coin for every time I wished his parents and friends didn’t listen to him and broke through that door, I’d be richer than Mr. Hale. But they can’t do that because they know their presence alone brings him pain. But with you, it’s different. He only has good memories with you. Listen to Benson. Don’t take that away from Mr. Hale without at least trying.”
I sniffle, trying to find some sense in what they’re saying but the terror of hurting him is too strong for logic. “But who am I to do this for him? I’ve known him five minutes! If his parents and friends respect his choice, who am I to presume I’ll be different and make him happy?”
Benson smiles and pats my shoulder three times—my knees buckle again on each pat. “You’re the only woman he wants. That’s gotta count for somethin’, eh?”
It does—it counts for a lot. It counts for the warmth that radiates in my chest at Benson’s words, for the weak flickering of hope that glimmers now and then, but it doesn’t count enough to cause Aiden pain even for a minute.
“Isa, sweetheart,” Cora continues with a small smile. “Every couple that has so much going against them must be meant to be together. Or else why would the universe bother?”
Because there is no such thing as universe conspiracies, I want to say. But I want to believe her words too much to argue with her.
“Don’t let them win,” she urges, sensing my weakness. “Be a little selfish!”
“Yes, exactly—be selfish on Christmas,” Benson says, shaking my shoulder and making my teeth rattle.
I smile at his enthusiasm—at their eager faces and nervous smiles. And somewhere in their words, I see their logic. There is such a thing as too much selflessness. Aiden too selfless to allow me in his life, and I too selfless to push him. Is that the trouble here?
“Come on, Isa,” Cora says in a final tone, seeing my decision before I make it. “I’ll help you with the turkey. And maybe some steak too. If there is one thing that always puts Mr. Hale in a good mood is steak.”
I smile and wipe my eyes with my sleeve. “All right, but if I see even a trace of hurt in his eyes tomorrow, I’ll call it off.”
“Makes sense,” she approves. “And you won’t see pain.” Benson nods with certainty.
“You two go to bed, I can handle this. Besides, it will be more quiet that way.” They start to argue but perhaps sense that I want to be alone. So eventually they head to their apartments, threatening to come check in on me and make sure the tree is still up. As they are about to turn the corner, I remember.
“Cora! Benson! Wait.” I take out their gifts from my purse and skip to where they are standing, rooted to the spot. “Merry Christmas!”
They stare open-mouthed as they take the small packages from me. I start feeling really foolish. “Umm, it’s not much. Just a small thank you,” I mumble.
They tear the turquoise wrapping paper, Benson struggling a little with the bow and his enormous, sausage-like fingers. Cora opens her box first.
“It’s daffodil bulbs,” I say. “We’ve been experimenting with new breeds at the lab. They’ll be purple and white because they’re crossbred with hyacinth.”
“Thank you,” she says in amazement. “I’ve never seen purple daffodils.”
“Well, they don’t exist unless you make them in a lab, but that’s why I thought you would like them. I saw you had some paper-whites in the kitchen.”
She gives me a warm smile like she thinks I am Father Christmas himself. Then she turns to Benson and jabs him in the ribs. “What did you get, Benson?”
He lifts the lid of his box and pulls out a glass jar. His forehead crumples in confusion.
“It’s thief detection powder,” I explain.
His eyes widen and his face morphs from confusion into downright ecstatic pleasure. Apparently it’s true what they say: inside every adult man—even one as enormous as Benson, there’s a tiny boy waiting for the right toy.
“No fucking… I mean, I’m sorry… no way!”
“Yes way. I always had a jar around in case someone stole supplies to make psychedelics. It will turn the hands of the thief blue and it can’t be washed, unless you have the antidote. That’s the second jar,” I point.
Benson is gaping at me like a huge guppy fish. “Are you telling me you made this yourself?”
I nod, blushing. “Maybe you can use it to catch someone if they threaten Aiden…” I trail off, whether from embarrassment or fear that someone might actually hurt Aiden, I have no idea.
But it must be clear to Benson because he steps closer to me and lowers his head until his gentle brown eyes are level with mine. “It’s my job to protect him. Don’t you ever worry about that. His only enemy is inside him.”
I nod, afraid that if I say something I’ll choke up, and I’ve had enough emotional meltdowns tonight for Cora and Benson to safely label me as clinically unstable.
After they go to bed, I stuff the turkey quietly, fiercely glad that Aiden’s house is so big and that he has exiled himself to the farthest bedroom in his effort to stay as safely away from me as possible. I also marinate some steaks and bake cookies for his stocking because apparently, he has been known to ask for them in convoluted ways, like “Not sure what the big deal is about cookies? Can you make some for my office staff, Cora? Chocolate chip are their favorite.”
By six in the morning, I am finished. The tree is trimmed, his presents are wrapped, his stocking is filled with cookies and naughty coupons, and Christmas carols are downloaded on my iTunes account. After one last glance at our very own North Pole, I tiptoe to his bedroom and inch the door open quietly.
He sleeps. On his back as though he’s lying on cold ground, and hands in loose fists over his abs like he is holding a weapon. The only sign of rest is his peaceful face. As I did on that second night together, I want nothing more than to curl next to him and kiss him awake. The craving is so strong that it propels my feet forward to the bed. Like Aurora reaching for the spindle under Maleficient’s spell. But as I stretch one single finger toward his hand, his alarm goes off. Fur Elise! The melody startles me so much that I gasp. Instantly his eyes fling open.
“Elisa! Baby, are you okay?” he demands urgently, bolting upright—all signs of sleep disappearing.
“I’m fine, I’m great—don’t worry,” I assure him, perching next to him and slithering my way into his arms.
“What’s wrong? Why are you up so early?” Still urgent, but his arms tighten around me like titanium bars.
I press my lips on his chest. “There’s nothing wrong. I came to wake you up but you distracted me with your alarm clock.”
He groans. “You came to wake me up? Elisa, I’ve told you—that’s dangerous. Do I have to lock the door at night?”
“No, no, I was going to call your name,” I improvise quickly and get back to more vital matters. “Your alarm is Fur Elise?”
He shakes his head as though he doesn’t believe me, but then lies back down with a sigh, taking me with him. He tucks me into his fragrant chest and kisses my hair. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Tell me why your alarm is Fur Elise.”
“Why wouldn’t it be? I have good memories with that melody,” he shrugs as though this should be obvious.
I can’t speak over the heart galloping in my chest. He must like me. He must. Not as much as I love him, but enough to want to wake up to my melody.
“Now tell me, why are you up at six in the morning on a Saturday? Are you worried about your green card? Did you have a bad dream?”
I press my lips on his chest. “Such a pessimist, Aiden. You’re worse than me. Why couldn’t I have a good reason to want to see you?”
A hint of the terror I felt last night flickers again but it’s too late now. He’ll see what I’ve done no matter what. “I have a surprise for you.”
His face relaxes, and the tectonic plates shift until his eyes become the clearest turquoise. “A surprise?” he smiles.
I nod, trying to calm down my pulse. He waits—probably for me to tell him what it is—but I’m having a bad case of stage freight. Maybe we should just stay here. I start kissing him, running my hands over his abs. He responds immediately.
“I like this surprise,” he murmurs against my lips and rolls me over his body so that I’m straddling him.
“Umm, it’s… in the… living room,” I breathe, barely coherent now that his lips have found a path down my throat toward my breasts.
“Oh… well… we… can…do…it…there…too,” he says between kisses. “Where… do you… want it?” He pulls back to examine my face intently as though his life depends on my answer. It’s enough for me to remember what’s happening.
“It’s not sex… well, at least not all of it.”
He smiles. “O-kay…” he draws out the word into syllables, now looking confused. “Are you sure you want me to see it? You seem a little… I don’t know… nervous.”
Too late now. Too late now. “Will you promise something before we go in there?”
The smile disappears at the serious tone of my voice. “Promise what? Elisa, what’s going on?”
“Promise me that for today, you will be selfish.” I run my fingers through his stubble and over his scar.
“Selfish? I’m … confused.” The deep V folds between his eyebrows.
“Well, for today, when you see what I have planned, I want you to be selfish. If you don’t like it, I want you to tell me right away. And if you do like it, then just enjoy it without thinking about right and wrong and all those moral principles you torture yourself with.”
The V disappears as he understands, and he smiles. “Am I that bad?”
He shakes his head. “I’m a lot more selfish than you think I am. Case in point: you being here against my better judgment. But if it means this much to you, I promise. For today, I will be selfish. Not a hard thing to do with you…,” he adds quietly, as though speaking the last sentence to himself.
“Thank you! Now come.” I hop off him and take his hand. “Come and be selfish.”
He chuckles, climbs out of bed and slides on his pajamas. Please, let him love it. Or at least don’t let him hate it.
I fix my eyes on him the moment we cross the threshold of the living room. He stops dead on his tracks, as the overhead lights start flickering. But he doesn’t seem to notice them. He just stares unblinkingly for seventeen seconds, then blinks furiously, then stares again—his mouth open, arms hanging to the sides. A full minute later, he still has not said a word, but he turns to me slowly, looking like he is seeing a real-life elf. I’m shaking in my socks. Bad idea. This was a bad idea.
“Merry Christmas?” I meant to say it as a wish but it comes out like a question.
He doesn’t answer but the tectonic plates shift furiously in his eyes.
Eventually, the plates stop, and he gazes back at the tree. He still has not closed his mouth but he treads into the living room, stopping first at the tree and the presents underneath, touching his stocking, running his hand over the garlands and the Santa pillows. It’s not until I see his laser-focused eyes that I realize he is not remembering or hurting. He is recording this with all his senses—his super-memory absorbing every last detail for life. I breathe a small sigh of relief. If he is doing that, he cannot hate it. He would have flinched once or recoiled. But instead, he looks utterly engrossed. He walks back to me where I’m standing almost prostrate from nerves.
His eyes are glowing with a bright, new light I have not seen before, and he sinks on his knees until we are face to face.
“Elisa.” He cups my cheek gently, his thumb brushing over my lips. “You’re giving me Christmas?”
I nod and swallow hard. “I thought… I thought we’ve missed out on so many years … and who knows if we ever will have the chance… so maybe we celebrate it just this once. Even if it’s silly and it’s in May. And maybe now you will have some good memories… you know, to compete with the bad ones.” I don’t why I am whispering and tearing up, but abruptly he takes me in his arms in a hold so strong, it glues me back together.
“Baby, why are you so nervous about this? I love it.” His voice is soft, but emphatic.
“You do?” I pull back to look at his face. It’s lit up, looking as carefree and happy as a real Christmas morning.
“Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Because, well, I thought you don’t celebrate Christmas. Because maybe it’s too… too painful?”
“Apparently not with you,” he answers with a true, blinding smile. “Merry Christmas, Elisa.”
“Merry Christmas, Aiden.”
I can’t stop my stupid tears. But they are happy tears. There is no pain in me at all. Only happiness and that sense of origin, of a new start. Abruptly I realize that even though I’m the one who planned Christmas, Aiden is the one giving it to me.
He kisses me on the mouth and dries my tears with his fingertips. “Seeing as how I’m supposed to be selfish today, I order you to stop crying immediately even if it’s good tears.”
“Yes, Lieutenant.” I giggle, executing a Marine salute and wiping my eyes.
“Oh, I like this obeying thing. Okay, now stand up and take off your clothes.”
“No!” I laugh, smacking his chest. “Christmas is starting in two minutes. Go sit on the couch.”
His laughter dances around the room—so beautiful that I almost start crying again. “Yes, Ma’am.” He marches to the sofa by the tree, looking at the ornaments. “Are these yours?”
“Mine and Reagan’s. I borrowed them for the day.” I take my eyes off him only long enough to start the hot chocolate.
“And the lights and the tree?”
“Cora and Benson helped me. They’re amazing, by the way.”
“Yes, they are. You must have made their year with this.” He smiles as he tries to peek into his Dragon stocking.
“Aiden, no! No peeking!” I shout and he laughs again, sauntering my way. He looks so happy—like he has no past today. I pour the now-ready hot chocolate in mugs and hand one to him, wishing I could record the sound of his laughter.
“Ready to open your presents?” I say.
He looks at them with a strong emotion on his face. My hands start sweating in nerves so I start playing Christmas carols on my iPhone. He takes it from me and hooks it to some fancy speakers, humming along to Baby, It’s Cold Outside. I wish Dean Martin would stop ruining the sound of Aiden’s voice. Then he switches on the fireplace and turns to me.
“A dance first.”
He takes my hand, and we start twirling. I can’t stop grinning. “Gosh, your lips look delicious,” he sings in my ear. I listen to his voice, marveling that we are the same wounded Elisa and Aiden that we were yesterday, and maybe that we will be tomorrow. Just a bit more selfish for what we want today.
When the song ends, we sit by the tree, and I put all my effort not to look like a quivering mass of jello.
“There are no presents here for you,” Aiden says, and his face falls.
“Yes, there are. Here he is,” I say, and put my hand on his face. “And here,” I grab his cock, who also is excited for Christmas, probably wondering about his present.
“You’re getting daring, Elisa. I like it. Okay, which should I open first?”
“This one,” I hand him the smaller box. I have to sit on my hands so I don’t bite my knuckles. I follow his gaze as he opens the box, even though I know what he is seeing. A double frame; on one side is a photo of his home and on the other, my one-way ticket to America the day he bought his house. I would have never parted with this ticket but ever since I met him, it seems I came here for him alone.
He looks at me with a strong emotion on his face, the one without name that I saw at his Alone Place.
“Is this the real ticket?” he asks, his voice low.
I nod, swallowing so that tears don’t rise to my eyes.
He looks at it again even though I know he has memorized it. His Adam’s apple rolls once in his lovely throat. “Why are you giving it to me?”
“Because this whole journey was worth it just to meet you. Even if it is only now.” I don’t tell him that the ticket was bought with the last of my parents’ money or that all these years it has lived behind their picture on my nightstand.
He leans in and kisses along my jaw to the corner of my lips. “Thank you.” His voice is new, almost humbled.
“You’re welcome. And now, you have a frame!”
He chuckles. “So I do. I think I’ll put it on my desk in the library. It will shock the hell out of Cora and Benson.”
I almost float like a helium balloon. I love you, I love you, I love you. I snap a picture of the moment lest the words break through my locked teeth. “Ready for the other?” I ask.
“Will it make me cry?”
I laugh. “I don’t think so. You’re pretty tough.”
“I don’t know. That last one almost took me out.” He reaches for the big box with a grin. I scoot next to him for this one.
“Another frame,” he muses.
“Yes. I know you don’t really need it with your memory but I thought you should see a new way of connecting things.”
He raises one eyebrow. “New connections?”
“Yes, or associations. You remember everything. But maybe there is a happy way to connect the memories.”
He tears the turquoise paper and holds out the big frame. I watch every flicker of emotion as he takes it all in.
The front page of the Oregonian the day I arrived here. Javier’s sketch of that first painting. The front page of my PowerPoint presentation. A picture of Paradox Café. Byron’s Poem scrawled on the same paper as my paintings. Our Baci quotes. The dried Centifolia rose. The receipt from Powell’s Books. A copy of the front page of Fleming’s book. Bob’s business card. The signature page of the agreement for the sale of my supplement. A dried Aeternum. A picture of him sleeping. A picture of us signing my books. A map of Burford and one of the United States…
Now that I see it, I’m embarrassed. It’s cheesy, but it’s everything we have had together.
“Explain it all to me,” he says softly.
“What is the connection you see?”
He looks suddenly lost despite his perfect recall. “Us,” he says after a moment. I tingle at the pronoun.
“Well, your arrival here all way through yesterday, judging by the dates. The journey that brought you to me?”
“Yes, that’s there. Anything else?”
He shakes his head, and my heart breaks that he does not see himself there at all.
“What do you see?” he asks before I can speak. The tectonic plates are utterly still. He has no memories for this, nothing to interfere. And for what I have to say, that’s the best I can hope for.
“I see what sets you apart from everyone else.”
He swallows hard once. “What is that?”
“You told me what makes me special—my calmness and all that—but you don’t know your own worth. I think it’s time you hear it.”
He looks like he wants to argue so I press on, my voice gaining strength on each word. “From the first time I saw you, you have saved me in one way or another. At first, I’d just have these dreams about you, and every night they made the countdown slightly livable. On our embargo, you woke me up in every sense of the word. And now you’re helping me with my green card, even with my career. You are so determined to keep me safe that you even think you should save me from yourself. But there is one thing you are saving me more from than all others.”
“What?” He looks like the question is burning him.
“My past. You were right at Bob’s. I have lived every day trying to keep my parents alive because a part of me feels guilty about moving on, and an even bigger part still cannot cope with their… death. But then you came along and are bringing out the real me. Where I had a past, now I have a future. Things that used to hurt, now hurt a little less.”
I take his hand in mine and kiss it. “Thank you!”
He looks lost, eyes drifting a thousand miles away, then back again as though he is torn by two tremendous, opposing forces. Then somehow he resolves the conflict because he smiles and gazes at me. “There are two responses to that, Elisa. But in keeping with the rules for Christmas, I’ll only give you the selfish one. I have loved every minute. Even the ones I’ve hated.”
Before I know it, I’m in his arms in one of his bionic movements. He kisses me hard, as if the strength of millions of memories is fueling him. My lips and tongue rush after his, their only goal to taste this moment for as long as he is willing to give it. I love you, my mind is singing. I love you. His lips consume me as our clothes come off. He kisses me slowly, as if each kiss should last one thousand years. And this moment becomes private, even from my own thoughts and my own words.
Around us rain pine needles, twinkling lights, and a song that for the last four years, I have not been able to listen to.
You’re all I want for Christmas. All I want my whole life through. Each day is just like Christmas. Anytime that I’m with you.
My parents wink and walk away, as their favorite carol is now mine.
Happy Holidays everyone! Here is an early gift for you: can you solve Elisa’s Riddle and find a clue about the sequel? Try your smarts against her, and see if you can figure out one of her wishes. 🙂
Here is her Letter to Santa (with the riddle) and, for extra credit, below is Aiden’s New Year’s Resolution. Can you guess what he means? An IQ of 160, an eidetic memory, a crazy author, and countless amazing readers! Piece of cake… Go!
ELISA’S LETTER TO SANTA
When my mental mum Ani (pun intended) asked me to write this, I hung up on her, using some very U.S. Marine vocabulary (I’m furious with her for other reasons). But she kept calling and calling and calling and calling (she’s truly obnoxious that way) until the musical Fur Elise ringtone that Dad installed in our old rotary phone here in Burford filled the cottage with something other than emptiness. And I suppose for that, I became oddly grateful to my mental mum, so I’m doing what she asked. Besides, it occurred to me: I’m not the only one who has ever written to an imaginary person. Stop: don’t go there!
So here are my wishes. But what would a wish list be without a wee bit of logic? Just dreams, and frankly, I don’t dream anymore (except the strange turquoise-tinted nightmares at night). That’s why there is a riddle for reading my list. If you solve it, you’ll understand a lot more than just my wishes (who cares about those anyway?).
The first letter is always strong, Like the iron sign that follows along.
But when I am thrown into the mold
The iron changes to the first hint of gold.
Yet all that strength and all that glitter
are nothing more than a weak whisper
So if you want to find the true treasure
This one little thing you must remember:
The last clue you will find
In the periodic table, group 15, first line
Mix everything together, and there the answer lies,
Clear as cloudless climes and starry skies.
Freedom for Javier
One more day with Reagan
Seeing the Solises one last time
Stopping the turquoise nightmares and the bloody knock
Thank you, Santa! Oh, and get my mental mum to finish my journey, please!
AIDEN’S NEW YEAR RESOLUTION
RIGHT FOUR WRONGS
Enjoy everyone! I will be back tomorrow and on Christmas with more goodies, including announcing the winner of the Thirty Nights Giveaway and a very special outtake! HAPPY HOLIDAYS and may the next year be filled with peace, joy, and unforgettable book boyfriends.
Happy Monday lovelies! The Amazing Leslie Alvarez, aka Miss_Read_It has put together another beautiful piece of fan art for Thirty Nights! This is one of my favorite Elisa quotes. Check it out and find her on Instagram. Thank you Leslie! Definitely starting her a Javier Gallery. Enjoy!
Happy Sunday everyone! I’m working on a little surprise for you but I couldn’t help but share this new little gem that landed in my email. FAN ART for Thirty Nights! This is from the talented Leslie Alvarez who has more goodies in store for us. 🙂 I especially love this because it blends the painting with the ticking clock! What do you guys think? Maybe I’ll create a Leslie’s Gallery with Javier on the blog. Thank you Leslie for sharing your talent with us and for your love of Thirty Nights!!
Happy Saturday everyone from an unusually-cold Portland, Oregon! Although I thought this would be a good excuse to wear those enormous faux-fur boots I convinced myself I absolutely needed, I decided it’s a better day to stay inside, decorate my tree, and write (the sequel, that is!) Until we have some more news/material to share on that one (hopefully soon), I thought I’d open up a discussion on Book Heroines. We all lose our minds over the heroes (from Mr. Darcy to Christian Grey, my list of book boyfriends is LOOOONG!) But I wonder whether part of that hold is not the heroine. Although the heroes bind us to the book, I think the heroines bring us back time and time again. Here are my thoughts on what makes for a Timeless Heroine. What do you think?
A FRIEND UNTIL THE END OF TIME: THE TIMELESS HEROINE
My husband and I have this game we play. It’s called Who Lives in Your Fantasy Neighborhood?™ His dream neighborhood consists of: Hugh Hefner, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, David Letterman, some baseball player I don’t know—you get it. My fantasy neighbors are Elizabeth Bennett, Scout Finch, Anne Shirley, Hermione Granger, Katniss Everdeen…
Notice a pattern? (Other than the very good question of how on earth my hubby and I would ever live together?) Of course you did. All my hubby’s dream neighbors are real people, and all of mine are fictional heroines. So that got me thinking: why? What is it about these heroines that transformed them from a character on page to a ‘til-death-do-us-part imaginary friend?
One possible answer is that maybe I’m just plain crazy. After all, I have all the necessary ingredients for a little bit of madness. I’m a writer. I’ve been surviving on four hours of sleep per night and some mercury-questionable tuna sandwiches. I have out-loud dialogue with the characters of my novel, and at my dream dinner table, my heroine Elisa Snow, sits to my right. Crazy, yes?
Probable. But here is another theory: these heroines feel so real to me because, despite their surreal lives, they are wonderfully, imperfectly flawed. They have fears and insecurities, just like me. They make mistakes—big mistakes—and then fix them. They grow and change, and tell me that I, too, can become better. They take care of their heroes, no matter the cost. But there is one thing they never, ever compromise: themselves. They never sell out!
Sure, they are beautiful and smart and sassy and get the swoon-worthy man of my dreams. Yet I’m never jealous—because I know they deserve him. These heroines earn their happy endings because of the way they “live.”
Take my Elisa for example. An orphan, her biggest terror in life is losing someone she loves. After both her parents died in a car crash, she packed a small suitcase and crossed the ocean from England to the U.S. Not for money, not for fame, but to escape her memories. A starving science student by day and an artist’s muse by night, Elisa has slowly built a new life. With a new family, a new little lilac home, and a new best friend. But when the U.S. government orders her to return to England, she stands to lose everything all over again.
There is only one man who can save her: Aiden Hale. Dark, complex, sexy, with a hint of danger—he has every chemical element to be addictive to the heart. But how can Elisa allow herself to love and lose a third time around? She can’t—she resists him at every turn. Until she discovers Aiden’s own torment, and then—like a true heroine—her own fears no longer matter. All that matters is saving the man she can’t help but love. But her happiness comes at a high price: to keep Aiden, she must sacrifice her new family. And to save her new family, she must lose Aiden. Which will she choose? Which morals will she trade? It’s that final decision that has earned her a penthouse in my dream neighborhood for life.
What about you? Who lives in your fantasy neighborhood? Are Aiden and Elisa are on your list? Would love to hear from you!
Good morning lovelies and Happy Post-Turkey Day! And, for my readers abroad, hope you are off to a great weekend! I wanted to share this guest post I wrote that is featured on a few blogs. 🙂 Knowing you, I think you’ll find it interesting. I wrote it to explain some of Aiden’s (and indeed, the dark hero’s) appeal to us. What do you think? Do you love tortured heroes? Would love to hear from you.
TOP 10 REASONS WHY WE LOVE A TORTURED HERO
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a pulse will fall in love with at least one tortured hero in her life. I know Jane Austen would agree, and that should be evidence enough. But if you need more convincing, here are three more incontrovertible proofs:
I am no exception. From the very first time I pictured Mr. Darcy’s arrogant brow disdaining the world, Heathcliff’s long fingers digging up a grave, and Rochester’s shaggy hair whipping at his jaw, I was a goner. And I knew then—I knew it like I knew the fast, strong, irrational pulse throbbing in my neck—that I would never stop loving the right wrong man. And that some day, somehow, I would write my own tortured hero.
And write him I did, in all his tormented beauty. Aiden Hale. His first name means fire in Gaelic, and his surname sounds like ice. Everything about him whispers, “darkness, darkness lies here…” From the icy sapphire eyes and the livid scar over his brow to his home, buried deep in a forest, and the relentless tension of his shoulders. Aiden Hale has a dark secret. And I fell hard all over again. That’s when I realized that my irrational pulse has its reasons—10 reasons to be exact—for loving tortured heroes.
The secret nobody knows. There is nothing more compelling than a secret to keep you up at night. And no one does secrets like tortured heroes. They don’t hide small, petty banalities. They hide dark, deep, stormy things that change you forever when you discover them. Tortured heroes call to a fundamental part of our psyche: curiosity. We love to learn, and to understand. And so we stand no chance against a mystery.
The face in the mirror. Tortured heroes are imperfect. They are flawed. They are scarred. They are outcasts. They screw up, over and over again. In short, they are just like us. And when we see those flaws—sometimes worse even than our own—we find companionship and understanding.
The unbroken trust. Tortured heroes don’t gain your trust easily. They make you work for it. Page after page, they ensnare you into the deepest, darkest, most intimate kernel of their being. They let you into their secret. And something sacred happens when they trust us with that. We trust them right back. We know they will never, ever let us down. And just like that, we find safety.
The unfailing hope. Hope never dies. At least not with tortured heroes. They remind us that change is possible; that no matter our flaws, we can always improve on ourselves; that no matter our wrongs, we can always find forgiveness. And that redemption is always possible.
Forbidden fruit. How many times did my mama tell me to avoid rule breakers? To stay away from boys with tattoos and motorcycles and black eyes? Probably sensible advice for real life. But not for fantasy. Because when I want to escape, it’s never with the reliable, safe boy next door. It’s always in the strong arms of an utterly forbidden, perfectly imperfect man.
Danger warning. Tortured heroes are dangerous. They tell us so themselves. Repeatedly. At first, we don’t believe them. But then a wall crumbles or a veil lifts, and we see it for the first time—that hint of danger they’ve been warning us about. Violence, possession, torment, loss, you name it. But the moment we sense that danger, adrenaline starts spiking, and we become addicted to tortured heroes for life.
Sex on fire. Antiheroes are sexy. Plain and simple. Deep gazes, husky voices, whispered words. They are bad, they are ruthless, and they’ve been around the block. They have no morals; they have principles. And they don’t just take you; they possess you, because they fear it may be their one and only chance. If that’s not sexy, I don’t know what is.
Survival of the fittest. Name a tortured hero who is not strong. I can’t do it. Because by the time we meet these heroes, they have already been through the blazes of hell. Sometimes hell looks like Aiden’s—war, torture, death. Sometimes, it looks like Mr. Darcy’s—the constraints of his social position. Whatever fire they had to walk through, tortured heroes have survived it. Who am I to stand against them?
True love. The only way to love a tortured hero is unconditionally. You accept them with all their fatal flaws. Not despite of their imperfection, but because of it. And that’s how they love you back. They don’t know how to love half-way. They either love you with their entire being, or they don’t love at all. As my Aiden says, “Once I love, I love forever.”
Protective instincts. But no matter how strong tortured heroes are, I’ve never met one that didn’t call to a protective instinct deep inside me. I want to take that vulnerable boy under all the steel layers in my arms, and guard him with my life. I will fight with best friends for my tortured heroes. I will stay up until 2:00 am, writing Top Ten posts about them. I will reincarnate them on page over and over again so they never die. I will spend sleepless nights to comfort them, and time away from my family to give them their happy ending. In short, I will protect them with my little, throbbing heart until the day I die. Because as Jane Austen would say:
They pierce my soul.
Want to read more about Aiden and his chance at redemption? Aestas Book Blog (yep, that Aestas, I’m not joking… the Goddess of Books!) had this to say about Aiden:
“If you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you’ll know that I have a weakness for tormented heroes. Don’t ask why but guys with secret pain are literally the key to my heart. And Aiden was about as tortured as they come. But I especially loved the explanation for why. Being a former soldier eidetic memory meant that he vividly and accurately remembered everything he ever read, saw, heard, tasted, experienced, and felt. Naturally given some of the more horrific memories in his past on the battlefield, this led to an extremely painful form of PTSD. And yes, while some of his behaviour could certainly be labelled extreme under normal circumstances, once you understood the reason, it made perfect sense, explained the way he was and why he held certain view points. It brought a complexity to his character that intrigued me to no end and tugged all my heart-strings.” – Aestas Cross, Aestas Book Blog.
It’s been exactly a week since Thirty Nights was released, and what a week it has been! I would like to thank every one of you who has picked up a copy, has read, and has dropped me a line or left a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and beyond. I’m pretty sure reviews are the food of authors, and without them, we starve.
So to celebrate, and to give my brain some extra food for the sequel (YEP, it’s in the works!!) I’m doing a very special giveaway exclusive only on my blog & social media. It’s the full THIRTY NIGHTS experience giveaway (picked through the sloshing Portland rain by yours truly):
A Pandora’s pure sterling silver Rose Charm
A signed Thirty Nights copy
The coolest Powell’s book bag, Books Not Bombs—perfect to tote around your treasures
A box of Baci chocolates so you can start your own collection
A bottle of rose petal potpourri from the Portland Rose Garden
A pod of solid Portland Rose perfume
A jar of extracted Oregon Rain (yep, known for its curative abilities)
A signed Powell’s bookmark
A feature of the winner on my Blog, such as your favorite things, an interview of you–anything you want (optional and only with your consent!)
Take a look at the goodies, and read below for how you enter this special, personally selected giveaway:
The Rose Charm
Baci chocolates, Portland Rose perfume, Rose Garden potpourri, Oregon Rain, Powell’s bookmark.
To enter this giveaway, it’s super-easy:
Post a review of Thirty Nights on Amazon (click here)
This giveaway will run from November 25 until DECEMBER 20—so you can hopefully get your goodies by CHRISTMAS! The winner will be announced here on my blog on December 21, 2015. Those of you who have posted a review already can just send me a link to your review and do not need to post again. And of course, we have to comply with applicable law—you can read those rules below. THANK YOU AND GOOD LUCK!!!
Official Legal Rules: You must be 18 years or older to enter the giveaway. U.S. residents only. Void where prohibited. Only one winner will be selected. Winning is a matter of chance only. Open from November 25 to December 20, 2015. Winner announced on or around December 21, 2015. Delivery date depends on delivery service provider, and is not guaranteed.
So the countdown is over, and Thirty Nights is here! Really, truly, finally here. I wanted to thank every one who has followed me in this incredible journey: from those very first few readers on fan fiction to every single one of you who has read, reviewed, emailed, messaged, and supported my story. And a ginormous thank-you and blog-hug to the following:
My wonderful editor, Tera Cuskaden Norris, for taking a chance on Thirty Nights, for her passion for a good story, and her hard work to bring you this book;
My awesome agent, Stacy Lorts, who saw the potential of this story when it was just a fairytale on my blog;
The whole Samhain team, and especially Katlyn Osborn, for all of their guidance and hard work;
My PR agency, Inkslinger PR, and the amazing, superwoman Nazarea Andrews, for curbing the insanity of the marketing and promos during the #30days countdown;
And last, because it’s the closest to my heart, my friends and my husband for all his love, patience, and support during these last two mad, beautiful years .
I couldn’t have made it without you! I hope you enjoy Thirty Nights, and know that this was all for you! I can’t wait to hear what you think. I will be waiting for your thoughts with open hearts. And no matter what you say, THANK YOU!
And now another little goodie to keep you company while reading: the Poem Soundtrack for Thirty Nights. Yep, you heard that right. And why not? A poem soundtrack makes as much sense for Thirty Nights as a playlist. 🙂 Here it is, with my favorite lines! Enjoy and see which one suits which scene and/or character… and read in the end for more info.
She Walks in Beauty, Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and light,
meets in her aspect and her eyes.
If You Were Coming in the Fall, Emily Dickinson
If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.
I Do Not Love You… Pablo Neruda
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
I Do Not Love You, Except Because I love You, Pablo Neruda
In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.
Fire and Ice, Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
I Carry Your Heart With Me, E.E. Cummings
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart).
Because She Would Ask Me Why I Loved Her, Christopher Brennan
Then seek not, sweet, the “If” and “Why”
I love you now until I die.
For I must love because I live
And life in me is what you give.
If Thou Must Love Me (Sonnet 14), Elizabeth Barrett Browning
If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only.
Sonnet 116, William Shakespeare
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark…
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Extinguish My Eyes, Rainer Maria Rilke
Extinguish my eyes, I’ll go on seeing you.
Seal my ears, I’ll go on hearing you.
and without feet, I still can come to you,
without a mouth, I still can call your name.
Sever my arms, I will still hold you,
with all my heart as with a hand.
Stop my heart, and my brain will start to beat.
And if you consume my brain with fire,
I’ll feel you burn in every drop of my blood.
Ahhhhh… I read these, and I want to give up writing because these are genius. But not yet… 🙂 I will have more goodies for you during release week, including excerpts, guest posts, Aiden POV, giveaway announcement (over 1,500 people have entered!!!!) etc. I will be back soon with more. All my love, Ani
Where did the time go? It’s the last day in our countdown! After three years and thirty days, tomorrow, Thirty Nights will be released!! For those of you who have already pre-ordered and are waiting for it to land on your Kindle, Nook, and iPads—thank you for the bottom of my heart. For those of you who have not pre-ordered yet, please give it a shot and see if you like the original Aiden and Elisa. The order links are on my home page. But whether you have ordered or not, I just wanted to say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has followed Thirty Nights throughout this journey, who has reviewed and emailed me with your thoughts and encouragement, and who has spread the word! Without you, Thirty Nights may have never happened. It’s as simple as that. Thank you!
Now, today’s goodies:
First, the official Thirty Nights Playlist. Enjoy it on Spotify as you’re reading, and see if you can guess which scenes and chapters go with which song.
Second, a special, exclusive excerpt from one of my favorite Aiden and Elisa scenes. I chose it for the last excerpt because in my mind, this was the true turning point for both of them. And for what each means to the other. Full-on trust, and full-on surrender.
He reaches inside his jacket and pulls out a tiny silver remote. A song I know—one of my favorites—floods the tent. “Amado Mio”, by Pink Martini. It’s flowing from a wireless set of speakers in the corner that I had apparently missed in my astonishment.
“May I have this dance?” he asks, holding his hand out to me.
“You tango?” I squeal. Bloody hell, I’m melting. Inert gases have more substance than I do right now.
My favorite dimple puckers on his cheek. “Since this afternoon.”
“You learned tango…in oneafternoon?” Where is my jaw? It was here somewhere, around the Aeternum.
He chuckles at my incredulous expression. “In the ninety-two minutes it took you to get ready, to be precise.”
When I open and close my mouth a few times, unable to produce sound, he smiles, tapping his temple. “There are some benefits to this beast and YouTube.”
I blink and close my mouth. “That’s just…just…” Brilliant? Stunning? No, I can only think of one word. “That’s just Aiden.”
His chuckle becomes a true laugh as he wraps his arm around my waist, pulling me into a close embrace. He starts moving. At first a slow cadencia, then the caminada, his long legs parting mine. Aiden leads in his dominant, protective way, but the real change is in me. For the first time in my life, tango does for me what tango does for women. I am not a daughter. I am not a sister. I am not a friend. I am a woman. Aiden’s woman. My leg hooks and wraps around his with a new confidence, sultry, feminine and powerful. I watch our entwined shadows on the tent’s curtains, looking very much like Mum and Dad’s when they danced. Yet, in this moment, I’m discovering a new bliss that belongs to me alone. Not to ghosts, and not to memories.
I bury my face in his chest, inhaling the Aiden-and-Aeternum scent.
And last, a small task! To support for Thirty Nights, for those of you who are excited and have been following it in this journey, please change your avatar to the Thirty Nights cover tomorrow for its release, with the French Flag colors to show our support and solidarity for the people of France and the victims. Feel free to download this, and I will circulate on my social media as well. And when you get the book, please don’t forget to leave a review!! 🙂 It makes the difference between a loved book that no one hears about and a loved book we can all share. THANK YOU everyone for all your support, your love, your commitment to this story, and your participation in this amazing journey! I will be back soon, xo Ani
An early morning in my household, as my hubby and I are volunteering at a church today. First, my thoughts and prayers to all the victims and their families in Paris. It’s heartbreaking and I’m giving all my French readers a big hug and comfort. I hope you are all safe, and that you stay strong through this. Lots of love from Portland, Oregon.
Second, to cheer you up a bit, here is one my favorite surprises we’ve prepared for you for Thirty Nights. The Book Trailer!!!!! I love, love, love, love this trailer so much. I hope you like it too. Thank you, Amanda and Samhain Publishing for creating it for me, and for all your hard word on the book! There ‘re only three days left. 🙂 I can’t thank you enough for all the support you’ve given me so far. Have a good Saturday, with all your loved ones and families near and safe!
Good morning everyone, and happy Day 7—eek, only one week left! Can’t wait for all of you to hold Thirty Nights and find Elisa and Aiden again, in both their new and old selves. But we still have a few more exciting plans for you: more excerpts, more posts, a trailer, playlists, reviews, and more interviews. Here is another one for Day 7 with Mia Hopkins—an amazing author on her own right, who burst into the romance market as the winner of the RWA Contemporary Romance Writers Stiletto Award of erotic romance, and has not stopped since. Check out our interview, and spread the word. We little debut authors are nothing without our readers. xo, Ani
HI, ANI. CAN YOU PLEASE TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK?
Would love to. Thirty Nights is the first book in the American Beauty series. It tells the love story of an orphan from England—Elisa—and a U.S. Marine with PTSD and total recall—Aiden. They meet in the eleventh hour, when in the height of the anti-immigrant movement, Elisa’s visa to live in the U.S. is denied. Determined to save Elisa from everything, including the government he once served, Aiden fights the way only he can. His only condition is for Elisa to stay away from him and his demons. But despite all the reasons why they shouldn’t be involved, the two soon realize that the biggest battle is fighting their tortured pasts. With thirty nights left, they begin a terrifying and scorching race to save themselves, and each other. But are some demons too deep, too vast to fall? In love, is surrender perhaps the best kind of fight? I’ll let the readers decide.
Your protagonist Elisa faces a difficult challenge when her visa is denied. What inspired you to create her?
Elisa—unlike all other characters I’ve written—came to me fully formed. I knew from the moment I “heard” her voice in my head who she was, what foods she liked, what made her tick. But not because she is me in any way. She incorporates some of the best traits of the most influential women in my life, and their flaws—even though she is entirely fictional.
But at the core, Elisa was “born” because I wanted a heroine who gave voice to the millions of women who have come to (or were born in) this land and fight tooth and nail for their dreams. I wanted to see what the American Dream still means: to Elisa, it means love and family.
Tell us a little bit more about Aiden. What makes him so yummy?