Charity Case Series

A Sneak Peek at Manic Monday!

Eager for a sneak peek at Manic Monday!? Well, we’re happy to help make this a Monday to remember so we’re giving you the first two chapters to read until release this Thursday!

Don’t forget to pre-order your copy for the special release price of $2.99! Amazon will be a live release and we’ll honor that price for a few days.

And if you haven’t already downloaded and read your FREE copy of the prequel, Clean Slate, what are you waiting for!? You can grab it here.

 

    Chapter One

 

Victoria

My hand slams down on my alarm, but instead of shutting the bloody thing off, the screaming banshee slides off my nightstand and drops to the floor. I peek out one eye and the immediate sight of the clutter of clothing and boxes in the makeshift bedroom makes me want to squeeze it shut again. The piercing sound of my alarm still rattles inside my head as its cacophony continues from the floor. My palm continually slaps the wood, hoping to make contact with the cord so that I can yank the damn thing up and shut it off.
“Mom?” my daughter Jade calls out to me.
I swivel my head in the direction of her voice and there she stands in her poop emoji pajamas with my alarm poised in her hands like she’s offering me a gift.
“Turn it off,” I groan and bring the pillow over my head.
Her small feet pad along the hardwood floors, squeaking right at the edge of my bed. The pillow gets plucked from my grasp, and seconds later the overhead light flickers on, blinding me temporarily.
“You’re going to be late.” My mom’s voice adds to the mix from down the hall.
I dream of being woken up by some suave foreign man who doesn’t speak a lick of English, while he uses his soft, roaming hands and sprinkles kisses over my flesh to stir me into consciousness. Instead, I get my seven-year-old daughter and my mom to orchestrate my Monday morning trip to Crazyville.
Jade turns off the alarm and sets it down on the nightstand. “It’s seven,” she says in a completely unalarmed tone.
“What?” I sit up, chip crumbs falling to the rumpled sheets.
“Eating in bed again?” She giggles, and I snatch her up by her waist pulling her onto the bed with me, using my fingers as an instrument to torture her. Torture by tickle.
“Mom, no!” She laughs and squirms.
“It’s only six-fifteen.”
She wiggles enough to slide away and I release her because I’m later than I usually am, but it’s Monday and since I made a deal with Jade that every Sunday is our day, it meant a late night of studying after she went to bed.
“I’ll turn on the shower.” She walks out of the room and straight into the small bathroom of our three-bedroom bungalow—the house I grew up in. Jade now sleeps in my old bedroom, while I’m shacked up in my mom’s old sewing room. She doesn’t sew much these days, anyway.
“Thanks, and then—”
“I know. Brush my teeth, get dressed, and comb my hair.”
I smile at my independent daughter even though it causes a familiar tug on my heart. She should have had the luxury of having a mom who picks out her clothes and does fancy hairstyles with ribbon and curls before school. A mom who wakes her up with the smell of bacon and pancakes and freshly squeezed orange juice. A dad who pulls her mom in close to say goodbye and promises to be at her soccer practice as he kisses the top of her head.
Instead, she’s got a dad who didn’t blink when I told him we were moving back to Chicago and leaving him in Los Angeles. A mom who gave up her own education only to pursue her degree later in life while she’s working a full-time job. A mom who moved her halfway across the country, leaving behind the beach and sunny weather for concrete and dreary rain-filled days.
To her credit, my tough girl never gave me a guilt trip when I sat her down and explained that Grandma needed us. She packed her boxes and hid the tears. I guess people are right when they say she’s the spitting image of me.
I get up from the bed, staring at my phone to make sure my new boss, Hannah, hasn’t sent me anything urgent. It’s not something she expects me to do. But it’s been a hard transition from my last boss, Jagger Kale, who expected an answer to any question whenever he asked it. Old habits die hard.
Setting it down, I grab my robe and head out of the cocoon of soft sheets, warm blankets, and quiet space to start my week.
Forty-five minutes later, my heels click on my mom’s linoleum kitchen floor.
My to-go cup of coffee is placed next to my purse and my computer bag, while Jade is shoveling Lucky Charms into her mouth, leaving her banana untouched. My mom is still in her pajamas reading the paper mindlessly nodding and agreeing with Jade on the latest second-grade drama at her new school.
“Then Brian told Peter that he liked Valerie and—”
“Whoa,” I stop her, sliding my arms into my jacket. “Like? You’re talking about friendship, right?”
Jade rolls her eyes and I glance over my shoulder because surely, she’s not rolling her eyes at me.
“Mom,” she sighs.
My mom curls the corner of the newspaper to eye me over her reading glasses.
“You shouldn’t be liking any boys.”
“I don’t.” Jade notices me getting ready, stands, takes her bowl to the sink and grabs her jacket.
I hold out her backpack for her and she slides her arms through it.
“Good because—”
“Boys only detour you from obtaining your dreams. Make your own path for yourself before you allow others to walk beside you,” she says in a deadpan voice beyond her years.
“Sorry.” I bend down and kiss her cheek. “It’s the truth though,” I whisper.
Again, the paper peels back, my mom’s face showing her displeasure over what I’m teaching her granddaughter.
Jade wraps her arms around my mom’s neck, pressing her lips to her cheek. “Love you, Grandma.”
My mom pats her arm. “Love you, bug, I’ll be outside at school’s end.” Then she lowers her voice and whispers. I could probably dictate her secret conversation with Jade. She’s telling her to open her heart and see the possibilities this wonderful life has to offer.
It’s a crock of shit that I used to believe, and it landed me right where I am.
“Thanks, Mom. You sure you’re good to meet Jade after school because—”
“I’m good.” Her eyes sternly warn me to let the topic go.
My mom might be a softy when it comes to love, but she doesn’t allow others to question her ability.
Following Jade’s lead, I bend down and kiss my mom’s cheek. “Love you. Call me if you need me.”
“Uh-huh.” She continues to read the paper. “Have a good day.”
We grab our stuff and head out the door, so I can walk Jade the three blocks to school. We don’t finish walking one block before Jade asks a question that has me wanting to come to an abrupt stop if I weren’t already so late.
“What kind of dad is Daddy?”
“Kind?”
Jade jumps from sidewalk square to sidewalk square. “Yeah, like he used to be Weekend Dad because I only saw him on the weekend.”
“Where did you hear that expression?” Damn Google. My seven-year-old daughter thinks she’s seventeen.
She shakes her head adamantly. “Nowhere.”
I shoot her a look with my chin down, eyes wide. Basically, the stern mother look.
“Promise.” She holds out her pinky. “Swear.”
I pinky swear with her. Knowing my daughter would have crumpled like a cheap suit if she was lying.
“Your dad is just your dad. He’ll come and visit, maybe we’ll go back and visit him from time-to-time. He might not be able to come every weekend, but that’s what’s so great about technology.”
I say this even though the dipshit has only Skyped with her four times in the past two months. Whatever, I’m being the bigger person here.
“Yeah, but at school, Valerie says her dad is the Date Night Dad. Every Wednesday he picks her up from school and they go to dinner and a movie. He always has a present for her.”
“That’s nice.” My heart clenches over the fact that she doesn’t, and likely never will, have that type of relationship with her father.
She says nothing.
I knew this move would be hard on her. Miles away from a dad who never really put her first to begin with, his eye set on making partner at his firm and nothing else.
“Maybe my dad is a Sometime Dad?”
The line of cars on the road ready to drop off their children signals we’re nearing the school. The giggles of children mix with the hollering of mom’s I love yous. Teachers are ushering kids in through the front doors when we approach, but I stop Jade and bend down to her level.
“Jade,” I say, squeezing her shoulder. “Your daddy misses you and I know sometimes he works too much to call, but always know, he’s thinking of you. You’re his little girl.”
She nods. “I get it. He wants to be successful and make a lot of money because Nana and Papa didn’t have a lot.”
I ignore the spark of anger inside me. Pete needs to watch what he tells her. Money is not everything in life. No one gives a shit what your bank account balance is when you die.
“He just wants to make sure you have everything you want.” I tuck a strand of her brown hair behind her ear.
I don’t add in that he also wants a new sports car for himself, the condo on the beach, and all the other material things that attract the women whose biggest goal is to score a rich husband.
“He said he sent me a present.” Her eyes light up and I really hope she receives it this time around.
“See, he’s always thinking of you.” I open my arms and she rushes in squeezing my neck.
“Love you, bug,” I whisper in her ear.
“Love you, Mommy.”
We part ways and she skips ahead of me. “So, Sometime Daddy then?” she asks.
Should’ve known I couldn’t deter her from defining her daddy’s role in her life. She’s persistent.
“I’d prefer just Daddy, but…”
“Yeah, I’ll tell the kids I have a Sometime Daddy.”
We reach the steps of St. Patrick Catholic School, the buzz of early morning in full force. Two familiar moms stand at the bottom of the staircase sipping their coffees and having their usual morning chat about every other parent’s incompetence in the school.
“Victoria,” Darcie coos, pushing her long blonde hair over her shoulder. “Jade,” she says my daughter’s name like she’s been bouncing on the balls of her feet all morning to see her.
“Darcie. Georgia.” I bend down and tighten Jade’s ponytail, smoothing out the wispy unruly hairs. “Have a great day. Grandma will be here after school.”
“Okay. Love you, Mommy.” She gives me a looser hug than she did moments ago and before I’m standing upright again, she’s with a red-haired girl talking nonstop as the two venture up the stairs.
“Have a great day, ladies.” I turn to leave and head to the train station.
“Oh, Vikki,” Darcie says. I knew it would be asking too much to sneak away.
I smack on my court smile. The smile I had permanently fixed on my face when my ex and I were going through the divorce. The Stepford creepy-wife one that says I’m content and even-keeled, when really, it’s like World War Z in my head.
“Victoria,” I clarify for the five-hundredth time since we moved here.
“As you know, the carnival is a month away and since you missed the parent meeting, we signed you up to run an event.”
I stare blankly at her. Mostly because I will lose my shit and that will not help Jade with this transition. We need St. Pats. It’s the closest school to my house and it’s a good one.
“What event would that be?” I ask with the patience I can only assume I honed well while I was working for my old boss, Jagger Kale.
When exactly is this carnival? I don’t even know if I’m available. And a carnival? Seriously, get a new idea. It’s not the eighties.
“Your choice,” queen bee says. “Just make sure there’s no food involved. All food has to be inspected before coming in. We don’t want anything that could endanger the children. That should be easy for you, right?”
Again, I stare blankly at her, trying to compose myself before I grab her Starbucks cup and squeeze it until it soaks her ridiculous khaki belted jacket.
Hello, if I was a stay-at-home-mom and had all this time on my hands, I’d be sporting the ‘I’m on my way to the gym outfit’ when in reality I’m going home to lay on my couch And the only reason I’d be wearing yoga pants is because they won’t impede the pound of chocolate I’m going to consume. Ladies shouldn’t be ashamed of the bonbon stereotype. Everyone knows a mom’s real work is from six to eight in the morning and three to nine at night.
“Great, I’ll arrange something,” I say with a smile and a nod, then turn to step away before I tell her what I really think of her signing me up for something without my consent.
Like a flash of lightning in the sky, the sight of the smiling man leading a little boy up toward the school stuns me. I stop and stare, my mind blank.
I don’t think about the Sometime Daddy dilemma, or getting to work on time, or the carnival event I have to plan. Instead, I try to figure out how many years it’s been since I last saw Reed Warner.

Chapter Two

“Who is that?” Georgia whispers to Darcie behind me.
I turn and face them again. I’m surprised because I figured these two knew everyone at this school.
They already knew my name and Jade’s on our first day. Scary as shit, let me tell you.
“I have no idea, but I need to find out.” She sips her drink.
If I were among friends, I’d have made some smart-ass joke about their teenage behavior, but I’m just as enamored by this man.
His blue suit jacket is stretched across his broad shoulders with the front open, so I can see his taut waist with a crisp white linen shirt tucked in and a polka dot tie laying around his neck undone. The tips of his dark strands look damp and to top it off, a scruffy beard adorns his chiseled jawline. He’s not completely put together, as though he was running late and had to rush out the door.
He stops at the top of the stairs, says something to Principal Weddle that makes him laugh, gives the boy a hug, and then a fist bump. The boy smiles from ear to ear and heads inside.
Weekend Dad.
“Is he Henry’s dad?” Darcie poises it more like a question. “I thought…”
She’s cut short when he approaches us. I’m a good five steps away, but his blue-eyed gaze meets mine first before moving to Darcie and Georgia.
“Hi, I’m Reed. Can one of you lovely ladies let me know what time school is finished?”
Again, his intense gaze finds me. Does he remember me, too?
“Um.” I swallow down the extra coating of saliva in my mouth.
“Three-o-five,” Darcie says, tilting her head as though she’s trying to figure him out. “Tell me—”
“Thanks a lot. See you, ladies.” He tips his head to them. “Victoria, nice to see you again. I’m late, but we should catch up.” He doesn’t wait for a reply and climbs back into the Uber waiting by the curb.
Funny, but no staff member is screaming at him to get out of the way.
“Did he really just leave when I was mid-sentence?” Darcie asks Georgia.
“That he did,” she confirms, hiding a smirk I bet is begging to show itself.
I step away, not bothering to say good-bye because well, my thoughts are elsewhere.
It all comes back to me in a cyclone of competing thoughts. Reed Warner. The best man at my wedding. Jesus, who put him in a Weird Science machine and popped out Chicago’s most beautiful man?
“He must be the dad. One of those weekend dads.” Darcie’s phrase makes me stop for a second at the edge of the sidewalk.
Reed is a dad? To a kid Jade’s age? Then again, I don’t think he and Pete kept in touch for long after we moved to Los Angeles. A million scenarios bounce around in my head. Is the boy a result of a one-night stand? Is he married? Does he split custody with the boy’s mother?
The questions keep coming the entire train ride into downtown. I try not to think about him, but he’s on my mind more than the strawberry rhubarb pie I passed over at the grocery store yesterday. And just like the pie, indulging might feel good in the moment, but afterward, I’d only feel regret.

***

Opening the glass door to my newest place of employment, I rush over to the ringing phone, removing my jacket as I sit down and answer it at the same time.
“Good morning, thank you for calling the RISE Foundation, this is Victoria, how can I help you?”
“For starters, you can get your ass on a plane back to Los Angeles.”
Jagger Kale—my old boss.
I smile. “You got me this job,” I say, leaning back in my chair and glancing at the clock. “Honeymoon over already?”
“First off, I got you that job because I’m awesome. Second, how do you know I didn’t just nail Quinn and now she’s passed out next to me in post-cunnilingus bliss?”
I don’t encourage his crass mouth with a laugh, even if I’m smiling.
“Thank you again,” I say with genuine gratitude.
For Jagger to hook me up with Hannah when I was leaving his company in Los Angeles shows what a good guy he is. Yes, he can be arrogant and egotistical and probably too self-involved, but there’s just something about him that makes it difficult not to like him anyway.
“How’s the new assistant?” I ask.
“He sucks. He gives me attitude.”
“I gave you attitude.”
“Not the same thing.”
I miss him, too, though I’d never admit it. We had a good thing going in Los Angeles. Jagger was my first boss post-divorce and I teetered on that line where he had good reason to fire me more than once at the beginning. I was cynical and hated all men. Until he got his shit together and reunited with Quinn, he was the epitome of everything I hated. I knew he’d prove the stereotype wrong.
“I’m just staring out at the ocean from my deck. How’s Chicago? I sent you a stock of Vitamin D.” He chuckles.
There’s some noise behind him and his hand muffles the receiver. I swear there are kissing noises.
“Victoria,” he says matter of factly.
“Leave the woman alone. Hi, Victoria.” Quinn’s singsong voice tells me she’s living her real-life fairy tale.
“Hey, Quinn.”
“Hold up, I’m putting you on speaker,” Jagger says.
A second later, the sound of crashing waves is the backdrop to our conversation. I miss the ocean. The warm weather, sand between my toes and the sun made me a happier version of myself.
“How is Jade doing?” Quinn asks. “Adjusting?”
Plates and cups clatter in the background and I’m guessing they’re putting out breakfast on the deck.
“She is.” I turn on my computer because Hannah could come through the door at any moment. “So, you’re not sick of your new husband yet?” I ask in jest.
Quinn giggles and then I hear her squeal followed by kissing noises once again.
Stab me in the heart, why don’t you? Between school and work and Jade and my mom, the most tongue action I’ve gotten lately is from my mom’s cat, Moe.
“Well, I hate to interrupt, oh that’s right, you called me.”
“Sorry,” Quinn says with a soft chuckle. “We’re still in that can’t keep our hands off each other phase.”
“No apologies necessary. I’ll just go back to daydreaming about your latest hero and wishing someone like him enters my life.”
She laughs. “You liked Van, huh?”
Quinn’s a romance novelist and I’m lucky enough to get all her books pre-release.
“How could anyone not?” My stomach clenches remembering the hot moment when he cornered her against the wall, the urgent kisses and sultry lovemaking.
“Is he based on me, too?” Jagger asks.
I laugh.
“No, babe,” Quinn says.
“You’re imagining what other guys would do to you?”
Quinn laughs now. “I’m not the heroine. It’s fiction, babe. You know…not real.”
“Even so, tell me what Van does, I bet I rock your world tenfold,” Jagger says with his usual cocky arrogance.
“Good luck with that.” I type in my password on the computer and click open my email.
“Right here on this table.” Jagger’s voice is faint like he’s walked away from the phone, signaling my cue to hang up.
“Okay you two, thanks for calling to check up on me. Gotta go. Talk soon.”
I press end as Quinn tries to say goodbye and based on her giggling I’m guessing that Jagger’s probably undressing her.
The silence of the office still feels strange to me having gone from a company of hundreds to an office with three to five people in it, depending on the day.
Jagger’s friend, Hannah Crowley, a multi-millionaire in her own right, decided to start a foundation to empower young girls. Knowing I had to relocate due to my mom’s declining health, Jagger scored me an office assistant position with her charity. It is less responsibility than I’m used to having, but I work daily with two amazing women and at this point in my life I couldn’t ask for a better place to be.
I’m responding to a few emails when the glass door swings open and the louder of my two co-workers rushes over and collapses in the chair across from me.
“Holy hell, did you hear what happened last night?” Chelsea asks.