Cherry Girl (Blackstone Affair)

BOOK: Cherry Girl (Blackstone Affair)
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Cherry Girl

 

 

A Blackstone Affair Novel

 

Raine Miller

 

 

R
M
R

Raine Miller Romance©

This book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.  Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of author’s rights.  Purchase only authorized editions.

 

The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:  Land Rover; Range Rover; London Underground; London 2012 Olympic Games; Jimi Hendrix; Bombay Sapphire; Djarum Black;  J. Hendrix –
Wind Cries Mary
; Amazon Kindle; Lily Munster; Dr. Marten’s; Chuck Taylor; UGG; Dolce & Gabbana; Guinness ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2013 by Raine Miller.  All rights reserved.

Published by Raine Miller Romance©

Cover Design by Marya Heiman

 
Strong Image Editing
   
http://www.strongimageediting.com/

 

 

Cover Image

Author Name: Cristina Cappelletti

©
Dandyshadowplay – 2013

http://www.dandyshadowplay.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

 

For my D who keeps me honest.

 

 

Blossoms are scattered by the wind and the wind cares nothing,

but
the blossoms of the heart no wind can touch.

 

-Yoshida Kenko, 14
th
century Japan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

Cherry Girl
is a book I never planned to write.  When the main characters were set down in my first Blackstone Affair book—
Naked
—I never dreamed that Neil and Elaina would ever have a complete novel and book of their own.  Theirs is an amazing and beautiful love story that pulls at the heart, so I am very grateful to be able to share it with you.

Creating the characters in my books is one of the greatest gifts a writer can own.  I have also been blessed with the support of friends and colleagues in the writing community who help me in ways that can’t really be measured.  I do know that I couldn’t have created this story with
out the help of so many people to whom I am greatly indebted.

So,
THANK YOU, my wonderful friends, for helping
Cherry Girl
to be born.

M
y SC’s Katie Ashley and Rebecca Lilley, I love you for the amazing and brilliant women that you are.  Here’s to our triad, and that it never changes. xxoo

To my beloved street team at
The Blackstone Affair Fan Page
, this book wouldn’t even be a book if not for you.  Luna, Franzi, Jena, Brandi, Karen, Martha, Jen G., for reading and pimping the books endlessly with your beautiful memes and collages that bring life to the fan page every single day.  To Becca Manual at
Bibliophile Productions
for her generous talents with movie editing software in creating the beautiful book trailer for
Cherry Girl
.

T
o the madly talented Marya Heiman at
Strong Image Editing
for this amazing cover that still makes me want to weep for how beautiful it is.  To Cristina Cappelletti who generously sold the photo rights to me for this book.  (She is also the beautiful girl with the gorgeous cherry blossom tattoo on her shoulder.)  Sometimes serendipity comes into play, and finding her photograph was one of those times.

To my darling Marion at
Making Manuscripts
for her support and gentle wisdom in helping me to get the book into shape.  You are a priceless gem, darling.

To
Cris at
Book Avenue Review
for formatting this beast for me.  I love you and miss your hugs already.

To Trish at
The Occasionalist
for organizing all of the fabulous events I get to travel to and meet the amazing fans that read my books.

And finally, to my family
at
Casa de Miller
for loving and supporting me no matter how crazy things get in our lives.

Love.

Nothing but love and respect for all of you.

xxoo
Raine

 

 

 

 

 

Part One

 

Elain
a

 

 

 

People who are meant to be together will find their way back to each other.

Th
ere may be detours along the way, but they are never truly lost.

 

                                                                                  Author Unknown~

 

 

1

 

 

I remember the very first time I ever saw him.
  That first moment our paths crossed.  The memory is branded into my head with indelible clarity.  As clear as fine crystal with bright sunlight shining through it.

I was ten
years old when my brother Ian brought him home for dinner.  He sat across from me at our family table.  I probably looked like a total idiot gawking at him, but he didn’t seem to mind my staring.  Good thing, because even then I couldn’t take my eyes away.  Neil was beautiful to me when I laid my child’s eyes upon him for the first time.  Purely and simply beautiful.

It didn’
t matter that he was seven years older and totally uninterested in a gangly little girl with braces on her teeth who was definitely
not
anything close to beautiful.

H
e winked at me when he caught me sneaking a peek over a bite of Mum’s delicious buns.  I remember that gesture of his made me feel strange inside, like everything was squished together and turned to mush.  Feeling shy and self-conscious, I tried to come to grips with the knowledge that I had met the boy I had every intention of marrying someday.

Yes, it’s true.  I fell in love with Neil
McManus when I was a child.  I am sure of how I felt, just as I am sure the feelings didn’t go both ways.  I watched him go through plenty of girlfriends over the years, too. What I don’t remember is if he said anything to me that very first time we met.  I do know he looked my mother in the eye with respect, and thanked her for the delicious dinner.  That impressed me, even then.  Even in my ten-year-old mind, I could read in him the deep appreciation he had for what Mum had easily offered to a guest in our home.  I could tell that Neil was not accustomed to cozy dinners at the family table.  He appreciated something I took for granted every day.  He was just a young friend my brother had dragged home from God knows where, and from whatever trouble they’d been deep into, but he became something more than that from the very beginning.  At least, for me he did.

Neil showed up for dinner quite often after that
first meeting.  Some days it felt like he was my new brother who’d just moved in with us.  Other times, he’d show up after a few weeks’ absence, wearing a hollow look in his dark, dark eyes.  His home life was shit, apparently.  No mum, just a dad of some sort who didn’t care about him.  My dad wasn’t around a great deal either, but it wasn’t because he didn’t want us, it was because he travelled a lot for his job.  I missed my father, of course, so I suppose it was natural for me to connect with an older male figure that was always nice to me, and didn’t act like I carried the plague.

Neil called me
Cherry Girl
due to the colour of my hair.  I’d have to agree with him on that.  My hair was pretty much the colour of one of those dark cherries—nearly black with an undertone of deep red running through it.  Neil told me my hair was very beautiful, and that small gesture was enough for my self-confidence to blossom.  I took his compliment and ran with it.

I remember
when he touched my hair for the first time, too.  The memory is as perfect as day it happened and I couldn’t forget if I wanted to.  Because it was also the first time he rescued me…

 

****

 

The cricket field stretched out to meet the forest edge a fair distance back.  When I was eleven, on a summery Sunday afternoon, I had been sitting on the fence watching the local team play cricket.  Neil and Ian were there too.  I’d seen them strolling through talking to girls and other friends they knew.  I was content to watch the match from my perch on the fence and blend into the background.  The warm day brought out the crowd and space had become a premium, I guess.  When a noisy, obnoxious group came through, being so small, I just got swallowed up in the melee that resulted.

A
disputed call by the official started the ruckus.  Then a fight broke out in front of me with two blokes pounding into each other, with no regard for who they might include with their misfires.  I didn’t duck out of the way fast enough, and was shanked by a fist that relieved me of my front-row fence spot. And right onto my left forearm, which managed to find a large rock to land on.  Lucky me.

I heard the crack of bone, felt the pain, saw the brutal blows of the two brawlers, and smelled the beer that’d been sp
rayed about when the first punch was thrown.

I clutched my arm and tried to breathe, crying through the pain, sure that nobody would ever see me, let alone help me out.

I was wrong though.

The sweetest sound was Neil’s voice in my ear saying, “I’ve got you, Cherry Girl, and you’re going to be just fine.”

“My arm hurts,” I told him through the tears.

“I know, darlin’.”

“I heard a noise…like something snapped.  Does that mean it’s broken?” I wailed.

He picked me up and shouted something to my brother, the anger in his expression darkening his eyes to a frightening black as he eyeballed the
two who’d caused my injury.  I wouldn’t want to be either one of those idiot blokes, confirmed by what I found out a day later.

Neil stroked my hair and sat with me until the doctor could cast my arm.  And then when he actual
ly set the bone.  The bone setting hurt, but the gentle reassurance and soft touch of Neil’s hand on my hair almost made it cancel out.  “Look at me, Cherry.  Keep your eyes on me,” he’d said with a smile, his hand moving slowly down my head over and over.

The next day, Neil
brought some visitors by my house. Armed with humility and the telltale evidence of a second round of beatings courtesy of Ian and Neil, the two fools responsible for my broken arm arrived with flowers and apologies for me, and my panicked mum.  My dad had a go ‘round as well with them when he returned home from his business trip.  Poor bastards didn’t stand a chance, and it was safe to say they were scared straight onto a much more righteous path after that.

Neil’s actions
with me in my time of need cemented his place in our family for good.  He basically became a second son to my parents and everyone seemed to understand and settle into this knowledge.  I had to accept that Mum and Dad loved Neil too…which meant I had to share him with everyone in my family.

I wouldn’t even let my best friend
sign my cast until Neil did first.  My knight in shining armor.

Back t
hen.

When I was four
teen, and he was twenty-one, he joined the army and went away to fight for Britain.  Mum and Dad had a goodbye party for him, and I remember how it seemed totally normal that we threw the going-away celebration for him and not his own family.  Not that they had ever shown an ounce of interest that we’d seen expressed.  It made me sad to realize that I could not recall even a single conversation where Neil ever spoke about anything personal in all the time he was around our family.  The information I did know about him had always come from my brother, Ian.

The
Morrison family had claimed Neil McManus for their own, and that was simply the way it was going to be.

When it was time to say
our goodbyes I got shy, struggling with the words I wanted to say, but knew didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of forming on my lips.  I didn’t want Neil to leave without a proper send-off, but I was also totally self-conscious like any young girl would be with an adult man she adored and thought walked on water.  I also waited until his girlfriend Cora had gone to the loo.  I didn’t care for Cora much at all and surely wouldn’t have her fouling up my coveted goodbye to Neil.  I wasn’t stupid, just at a disadvantage.

“So, Cherry Girl, don’t go falling off any fences
or getting into the middle of a bunch of sodding idiots brawling while I’m away, all right?”  His dark eyes twinkled with teasing so that I couldn’t help but return a smile as they swallowed me up.

“I won’t.”

“I’ll have a hard time cracking heads all the way here from over in Afghanistan.”

I looked
at the floor and gulped down the lump that had suddenly formed in my throat.  “Nobody will bother with me.  They never do,” I said.

He dipped his head to find my eyes, waiting for me to look up.  “I think that’s about
to change, Cherry.  You’re growing far too pretty for your own good.  The blokes are going to be all over you and they’d better be nice.  Ian’s got strict instructions to keep the crowds of arseholes at bay and make sure I’m regularly updated.”

I blushed to the roots of my hair and gathered the courage to give him my gift.  “
I made you something.”  I handed the small packet to him and waited while he opened it, his big hands moving the tissue paper carefully aside.  “It’s a bracelet,” I blurted, “for luck…to keep you safe.”  I held up my own wrist.  “I made one for me too.  It has the infinity symbol and two good luck owls…I’ll say a prayer for you every day and this will help me to remember,” I trailed off, feeling shy again.  “Be really careful over there, Neil, I want you to come back.”

He brushed over the
black-braided leather with the charms I’d added and smiled before looking up at me.  “I will,” he said in a whisper.  The expression Neil wore was different this time.  Something I’d never seen from him before, at least not directed at me personally.  His eyes seemed like they could be a little watery too.  We were definitely having a moment.

He
brought a hand up to my cheek and held it there for a moment.  “Thank you.”  He slipped the bracelet onto his wrist and tightened it. “I’m going to miss you very much, Cherry…and I’ll wear this, and be the luckiest bloke in the British Army.” He held his wrist up to show my bracelet before wrapping me into a hug with his big arms.

“I’m going to miss you too, Neil.
” 
And, I love you.
I breathed in the smell of him and held onto it, hoping he
would
return safely someday, that the war would not take him away from us forever.

I felt his soft lips against the side of my temple and got the squishy feeling in my insides again.  I didn’t want to pull away, but the awkwardness of my young emotions bouncing all over the place made me self-conscious.

“Don’t you
ever
change, Cherry Girl.  Stay just how you are right now.  You’re utterly perfect.”

Those were Neil’s final words to me before he left to be a soldier.

BOOK: Cherry Girl (Blackstone Affair)
9.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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