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E N T E R

#FunFact In the Best Interest of the Child


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E N T E R

“In the Best Interest of the Child” #WriterWednesday

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In this short excerpt from In the Best Interest of the Child, Olivia Chandler is meeting Bruce Bellamy for lunch. There is a definite attraction between the two, but both are holding back – though Bruce…not as much! Enjoy!


Having arrived fifteen minutes early, Olivia took a few minutes to visit the ladies’ room to check her hair and makeup, and wash her hands. She was glad no one else was around because every time she glanced at her reflection in the mirror, she couldn’t stop herself from grinning.

“Get a hold of yourself, Olivia Louise! It’s just lunch with a man. You’ve done this more times than you can count.”

Exhaling slowly, Olivia hung her head. Yes, lunch with a man who seems to like me. Lunch with a man I actually like even though I just met him.

Olivia groaned and leaned against the sink. She should never have agreed to this. Bruce seemed like a decent man. He didn’t need to be getting involved in the dark pit which was her life. But even if she walked out the restaurant right now, Bruce would not disappear. Courtney and Marissa were his were his family, and he was very much involved in Rena’s life.

The silly grin returned to her face. Honestly, she didn’t want him to disappear. They may never do more than have lunch, but Olivia wanted it in the worst way. She wanted to be normal and have a life without her past hanging over her like the Sword of Damocles.

Steadying herself with a couple of deep breaths, Olivia decided to stop hiding in the ladies’ room and talking to herself like a crazy person. She grabbed her handbag and went in search of her lunch date.

As Olivia approached the hostess stand, the young woman working there smiled. “Good afternoon, I’m Connie.”

Olivia returned her smile and gave her Bruce’s name.

“Yes, Ma’am. He’s already here.” Laughing, Olivia shook her head slowly.

“That man. Of course, he is.”

The hostess smiled but looked confused, not understanding the joke.

Olivia waved her hand. “It’s nothing. Lead the way.”

Olivia tried to spot Bruce as they approached the main dining room, but was caught off guard when the young hostess turned right and proceeded down a short hallway. No stranger to the Black Dragon, Olivia knew there were formal banquet rooms in the opposite direction, but she’d never been down this hallway. The hostess stopped in front of a small elevator.

“I never realized the restaurant had an elevator. I thought it was a single story building.”

Connie nodded.

“You’re right, it is.”

“Then where does this lead? You have a basement?”

Covering her mouth to hide her giggles, Connie nodded.

“We do, but trust me, you do not want to go down there. This elevator goes up to the mezzanine.” The elevator doors opened as she finished speaking, and both women stepped inside.

“Well, I didn’t know you had one of those either!”

“Few people do. The owners don’t advertise it much. It’s usually for special guests or customers who request a more… intimate setting.”

Olivia’s eyes quickly widened.

Connie gave her a knowing grin.

Intimate setting? She had no time to process the hostess’ comment. The doors opened. Connie took a step outside the elevator and motioned to the left.

“Your date is right over there.”

“Date? But this isn’t a da-…”

Connie quickly stepped back into the elevator, leaving Olivia with a wink as the doors closed.

“What am I going to do with this man?”

She only had to take three steps before she spotted Bruce. Olivia froze as her mouth gaped open.

Rising from the table, Bruce walked towards her.

Olivia still hadn’t moved, too in shock at his appearance. Gone were the weather-beaten jeans and worn Henley shirt. The thick heavy work boots? Gone too. The Bruce Bellamy standing before her was elegantly attired in a charcoal gray, two-piece Brooks Brothers suit and gray Sardegna Loafers. And he’d had a haircut. He leaned in and kissed her cheek.

“Good to see you again, Olivia.” He glanced at his watch. “And right on time. Why am I not surprised?”

Olivia still stared at him, wide-eyed.

Bruce frowned. “Olivia? Is something wrong?”

Taking a deep breath, she finally found her voice.

“Who are you? And what’s all”, she motioned up and down his body, “…this?”

His big boyish grin returned as he took her hand and led her to their table.

“I’m a successful businessman having lunch with a gorgeous, successful attorney in one of the city’s finer restaurants. I couldn’t very well show up in jeans and boots, could I?”

“Well, no…but- “

“And besides, I had to show you I could dress myself and behave appropriately in public.”

Olivia threw her hands up, laughing.

“There you are, Bruce! How nice to see you again!”

Filling their wine glasses, Bruce stopped mid-pour to keep from spilling it the laughter hit him so hard.

Laughing along with him, Olivia visibly relaxed and placed her hand on his arm.

“And just so we’re clear, Mr. Bellamy, I like you in jeans and work boots too.”

The smile he gave her nearly took her breath away. Suddenly self-conscious, Olivia placed her hands in her lap.

Bruce didn’t miss the gesture but continued pouring the wine while changing the subject.

“Would you like to look at the menu, or do you already know what you want?

“No menu needed! I definitely know what I’m having!”

He chuckled as he handed her a glass of wine, then signaled for the waiter.

“I had a feeling.”

Olivia smirked.

“Think you have me figured out already, Bellamy?”

“Not even close, beautiful one. But I do look forward to the adventure.”

She grinned at the compliment and the comment.

“Oooo! I’m an adventure!”

Bruce couldn’t help but stare at her face. The way her eyes sparkled, the genuineness of her smile. She was the same woman he met in his cousin’s driveway, but there was no sign of the sadness he saw in her eyes that day. He had long ago made peace with his own issues of abandonment, but this woman was the first woman to actually make him want to risk his heart again. Bruce was getting lost in Olivia Chandler, and he had no problem with that. His cheeks reddened as heat rose into his face when he realized the waiter and Olivia were staring at him. “I’m sorry. What?

“Where did you go, Bellamy? Are you ready to order?”

He nodded.

“Of course, but ladies first.” Olivia clasped her hands together excitedly.

“I’d like Yum Nuah salad, Tom Yung Kung with shrimp, and with steamed rice, and Pad Thai with chicken…extra spicy, please.”

Bruce’s eye widened.

Olivia frowned. “Is that too much?”

“Not at all. It just sounds like my usual meal here. But my brother goes on and on about me not trying new dishes, so I promised to try a different entrée on my next visit.” He turned to the waiter. “I’ll have the same as the lady, but instead of Pad Thai, I’ll have Phad See-ew with beef.”

After the waiter left, Bruce folded his arms and leaned towards Olivia. “So…how long have you been into Thai food? The dish names usually confound most people, but you seem to have memorized the menu.”

Olivia laughed while shaking her head.

“Only my favorite dishes. And like you, it wouldn’t hurt me to try something new.” She folded her arms on the table and leaned in his direction. “I first had Thai food during my intern days. This place wasn’t open yet, but Siriwat’s was around the corner from the courthouse.”

“And your boss always had lunch delivered to keep you working, right?”

Olivia shook her head. “It was more the boss’ wife dropping in and reprimanding him for working me so hard, and dragging me out of the office to Siriwat’s. After one visit, I was hooked.”

“Wow! The boss’ WIFE? Sounds like you made an impression.”

“Miss Dee is good people. She and Judge Dennison have always been kind to me. He’s actually the judge who assigned Rena’s case to me.”

Bruce whistled.

“He must be really confident in your abilities. I knew you were a legal shark!”

“I am not a shark! The judge just taught me to pay attention to the details, and what is not said. I’ve never forgotten that, and it’s always seen me through, especially with the difficult cases. What about you? When did your love affair with Thai food begin?”

He refilled their wine glasses, while Olivia wondered when she’d emptied her glass.

Slow down, Chandler.

“That is yet another story in my life which involves Court.”

She smiled remembering their antics.

“You two are really close, aren’t you?”

“As brothers. He seemed to be at my side during all the important moments of my life. Including my introduction to Thai food.”

They shared a chuckle.

“It wasn’t too long after Joanna, my ex-wife had left. Mom and dad had taken the kids for the weekend. I’d planned to use the time working on cars, but Court shows up, says he’s hungry and orders me to get in his truck.”

Olivia grinned.

“HE ordered YOU?”

“Never underestimate Courtney Bellamy. He may not be a big man, but he’s all muscle and heart. He’s dropped me on my ass more than a couple of times.”

She laughed aloud and he scowled. “You laugh so easily at my pain.”

This made her laugh even harder. Olivia buried her face in her hands, embarrassed as Bruce continue to stare at her.

“I’m so sorry, Bruce. I don– “

“Don’t ever apologize for laughing, Olivia.” He reached over and pulled her hands from her face.

Olivia placed one on the table, but Bruce had not released the other. She didn’t pull away.

“Or for enjoying yourself. Makes me feel good to know you’re comfortable with me.”

Still holding his gaze, Olivia slowly flipped her hand over until they were palm to palm, and squeezed.

“I’m very comfortable with you, Bruce, and yes, I am enjoying myself.”

Bruce froze. The squeeze of her hand and the sexy timbre of her voice had gone straight to his crotch. She was flirting with him and he loved it! Bruce assumed from her demeanor, Olivia would be a tad more skittish. Perhaps she truly was comfortable with him…maybe even liked him a little. He deftly adjusted himself under the table.

“But you didn’t finish telling your story about you, Courtney and Thai food.”

“Oh yeah. Well, he gets me in his truck and we drive over to Blaine. I think we’re headed to Mike’s Dugout for meatloaf and mashed potatoes, right? He pulls up to this tiny little building near downtown. I have no idea where we are because the name is not written in English. I ask tons of questions before we even get out of the truck, and Court just said, “Trust me.” I follow him inside like a big goof, and the aromas hit me in the face. It smelled like every food dream I’d ever had.”

Olivia’s brows furrowed. “Food dream?”

“Yes, food dream. Women are not the only thing men dream about.”

“Good to know.” She smirked.

He pulled a face at her and continued. “Court had only been there a couple of times himself. Of course, introduced to it by the Mighty Marissa, so we asked the owner to bring us an order of whatever it was we smelled, and keep it coming.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. I’m sure I had at least three orders of Pad Thai and Tempura vegetables.”

“What appetites!”

“The food was great, but it wasn’t just that. It was the first time I’d allowed myself to admit how I felt about Joanna walking out on the kids and me. The family knew I was hurt and upset, but Olivia, I was pissed off… and it felt good to say it. Even if she didn’t want to be with me, what kind of woman walks away from her children? Breck wasn’t even six months old! And she just… leaves.”

Olivia tightened her grip on his hand. She understood all too well how it felt to be abandoned. But she couldn’t share that with him… could she? He made it look so easy to admit his feelings. He was open and honest. No. She couldn’t tell him her story. He’d see how thoroughly damaged she really was and walk away. Olivia knew she couldn’t have Bruce in her life forever, but she greedily wanted whatever time with him she could get. Just the chance to feel normal for a little while was better than not at all.

Bruce appeared lost in his thoughts too when she spoke.

“It must be wonderful for you and Courtney to have each other to lean on. And you mentioned a brother?”

He cleared his throat.

“Actually… I have–“

Bruce was interrupted when the waiter appeared with a huge tray of hot food, followed by a co-worker with still more food. Olivia gasped.

“Bruce! What did we order?”

“Oh no, no, no! Not ‘We’… YOU. I was just following your lead, Counselor.” Glancing at the food-covered trays, he added, “And I hope you have more than a thirty-minute lunch hour.”

“That’s your defense? Blame me?”

“Only if it’s working.”

One of the waiters turned away and covered his mouth to keep from laughing.

“Olivia, you’re disturbing these gentlemen while they’re trying to work.”

Her mouth flew open. Then, she didn’t even try to stop the laughter bubbling forth. Neither did the waiters.

The couple chatted amiably as they devoured the hot and spicy food. Bruce loved that Olivia wasn’t one of those women who wouldn’t eat in front of a man, choosing to munch on lettuce and sip water instead.

Olivia couldn’t remember a time when she’d had more fun, and was so relaxed. Bruce was easy to talk to and attentive. She reveled in his admiring glances, so different from the leering, lecherous looks she learned to ignore around the courthouse. He told her about building up his business until he had the current dozen auto shops—and plans to open two more—and Olivia suggested new advertising ideas to him because the guy doing his commercials always looked sleepy.

Learning the guy was actually a supervisor at one of Bruce’s shops, and that he had taken acting lessons at the local college especially for the commercials, caused Olivia to nearly choke on her food.

“You okay?”

Bruce stood behind her, patting her back and trying not to laugh.

“I’m glad… you… find… this amusing, Bellamy,” Olivia sputtered, the coughing only made worse by her laughter.

“Here, try this.” Sliding his large hands under her upper arms, Bruce raised them straight up into the air. Within seconds, her coughing stopped. Leaning her head backward, Olivia looked up at him, frowning.

“Where did you learn that, and why did it work?”

Bruce was momentarily speechless. Staring down into her eyes as she leaned back against him tested all his resolve. He knew Olivia was special. When he dared consider his future, he saw her by his side. Bruce didn’t know how or why, and he wasn’t about to second-guess himself. He hadn’t wanted to spend more than a few hours with any one woman since Joanna left. He’d known Olivia Chandler less than a week, and he couldn’t get enough of her. Bruce hadn’t even had the pleasure of kissing Olivia, but he would wait for that too. He would do what it took to make the vision of his future a reality, but it would never happen if he followed his carnal mind in this moment. Bruce quietly exhaled, grateful for the chair separating his hardening erection from Olivia’s back.

“Just something you pick up during the journey of raising kids.”

He slowly lowered her arms, then side stepped behind Olivia to adjust himself. Clearing his throat, Bruce returned to his seat.

“You know kids… little scamps. They can turn a quiet movie night into a high-speed car ride to the emergency room in a heartbeat. Happened to me more times than I care to remember. And boys are the worst. I took Casey, my daughter, to the ER one time in eighteen years, when she had the flu and spiked a high fever. But those boys?” He shook his head. “Science experiments gone wrong, superhero stunts, bike races…no matter what they were into, an accident could… and usually did happen.”

Olivia didn’t miss the faint smile playing on his lips.

“I’m glad everyone was okay… eventually. But, you look as though you enjoyed it.”

Bruce grinned. “Every last second!”

“Sounds like they are lucky to have a dad like you.”

“No, I’m blessed to have them. My life may not have gone the way I intended, but my children saved me. Without them, I would have been just some loser guy spending way too many evenings sitting in a bar. Having them made me see what was truly important.”

Olivia nodded slowly.

“Yes, they are definitely lucky to have a dad like you.”

The slight tilt to Bruce’s head let her know he didn’t understand.

“I have no problems believing you would do anything for your children.”

She glanced away unable to hold his gaze. “There are far too many people on this planet having children and then treating them as an afterthought, or even a burden. Some even believe their young children owe THEM something.”

“I didn’t miss the fact you did not refer to these people as parents.”

“No. Bringing life into the world does not make one a parent.”

“I guess you see a lot of ugliness in your line of work.”

Olivia was still looking away, focused on a spot in her mind she couldn’t clearly see when she heard him.

“Excuse me, what?”

Looking concerned, Bruce grazed his fingers across the back of her hand.

“Where did you go?”

Embarrassed, Olivia tried to slide her hand away from his, but Bruce caught her hand in a firm, gentle grip and held on.

“I meant what I said the other day, Olivia. I’m a good listener. Anytime you want to talk, I’m available. No sermons, no judgments, not even any advice. I’ll just listen.”

He watched her slowly raise her head to look at him, and squeezed her hand as the pain he saw hit him like a punch in the gut. What haunted this beautiful, intelligent woman? She was engaging, witty and funny. She spoke with purpose and authority. But, something triggered a memory. An event? A person? Bruce wasn’t sure, but whatever it was caused Olivia’s walls to rise swift and high.

“Thank you, Bruce, I just may take you up on that.”

He smiled as he felt Olivia squeeze his hand in return. It gave him hope.

“I hope you do, Olivia. I’ll take any opportunity I can get to look into those beautiful eyes of yours.”

Before Olivia could respond, Bruce raised her hand to his lips while his eyes were still lost in hers, and kissed it gently. He didn’t miss the slight tremble in her hand nor her barely audible gasp. He was not in this alone. Olivia was affected too. Neither spoke for several seconds, both of their minds… and pulses racing.

Olivia leaned towards Bruce about to speak when the Imperial Death March from The Empire Strikes Back began to play. Bruce’s eyes widened, then he smirked. Olivia had already buried her face in her free hand, totally embarrassed.

“Guess you’re a really big Star Wars fan, huh Olivia?”

Raising her head, Olivia tried to avoid glancing in Bruce’s direction as she slipped her hand down into her bag to retrieve the offending cell phone.

He leaned in trying to glance at the screen. “Who merits such an ominous ringtone?”

Olivia’s lips twitched as she tried to decipher the text. She figured it out on the third try and her mouth fell open.

“I’m going to kill her!”

Bruce watched Olivia, amused and curious. She finally met his gaze, smiling sheepishly.

“My office manager, Margot. She can be a bit of a… pain.”

Frowning, Bruce asked, “Has she fouled up a case or upset a client?”

“Oh, no. Nothing like that. Margot’s a jewel. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

“And yet, you want to kill her? What am I missing?” He leaned in again, still trying to see the cell screen.

“As an executive assistant and office manager, she’s the best. As a friend, Margot can be over-the-top pushy.”

Recognition dawned in his eyes.

“Was that text about me?”

Olivia dragged her hand over her face. “Just kill me now.”

Bruce pumped his fist in the air.

“I’m trending with the women!”

Olivia roared with laughter. “There’s only two of us, Bellamy. I hardly call that trending.”


What readers are saying…

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“LOVED IT!! In The Best Interest of the Child by Felicia Denise is a powerhouse novel, overflowing with emotion and real life messages that quite frankly NEED to be said...My heart strings were pulled from cover to cover!”

“Fantastic debut for Felicia Denise. Incredible character study.”


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Interview with Sarina Chandler from the upcoming “Family Matters (In the Best Interest of the Child, Book 2)”


Good day, WordPress bloggers and authors! Today we welcome a very special guest to the blog—Sarina Chandler, from the upcoming Family Matters (In the Best Interest of the Child, Book 2). Sarina is the mother of Books 1 & 2 protagonist, Olivia Chandler.

SC: Excuse me?

FD: Yes, Mrs. Chandler?

SC: Well… technically, I was in book 1, too.

FD: Yes, ma’am you were. But only in a flashback or two, and you weren’t… um, yourself. I thought it best to not approach the subject.

SC: Oh, please! Now you sound like my daughter, not approaching the subject! I was crazy as a loon, out of my mind, off my rocker! It’s not as if I planned it or wanted to be committed to an institution and leave my daughter.

FD: Of course not, ma’am. I’m sorry.

SC: Please call me Sarina… and I’m the one who should be apologizing. I shouldn’t have been short with you. It’s just… I’ve missed most of Olivia’s life and a big part of my own. It angers me, I just have no one to be angry with.

FD: May I ask… when did your mind begin to clear?

SC: It’s been… about a year.

FD: What was the first thing you remembered, Sarina?

SC: *Looks down, fidgets with hands* The accident.

FD: Sarina, if this is too much for you…

SC: No, it’s fine. I’m fine. I’ve been silent for a third of my life. I need to talk, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to share that story first with my daughter. I owe her that… she deserves that.

FD: Not a problem, Sarina. Glad to hear Olivia is coming to see you.

SC: Well…

FD: Sarina?

SC: I don’t know for a fact she is coming.

FD: Pardon?

SC: I talked with Willis a few weeks ago. Willis Benson, the administrator of my husband’s estate. He and Olivia are close. I asked him to see if my daughter would visit me. But… it’s… been a few weeks now, and nothing.

FD: I’m sorry.

SC: Ugh! Stop apologizing already! Olivia and I were separated twenty-eight-years ago! I can’t expect her to make a quick decision for something like this.

FD: Why do you feel it’s such a difficult decision for her?

SC: Felicia, you know the last time I saw my daughter she was a ten-year-old. We had no other family and when I voluntarily came here… Olivia spent time in foster care. I’m told she last visited me five years ago… and I didn’t know who she was. I’m sure she has some resentment issues with me… and I can’t blame her.

FD: Is there a specific reason you want to see your daughter, Olivia, other than simply a mother missing her child?

SC: *Sighs* I need to apologize to her… for leaving her. While it wasn’t intentional or could have been changed, I still left her. Even if she never forgives me or sees me as her mother, I have to say the words.

FD: Why is that so important to you, Sarina?

SC: I had… issues with my parents. Before Ben and I married, I hated them. Afterward, I reached out to them for a fresh start but was ignored. I gave up, but if my mom had softened just a little and acted like she cared about me, I would have been there for her. It never happened. I don’t want to hide behind the walls of this place and allow Olivia to believe I don’t love her. I must try.

FD: I’m sure you will, Sarina. I’m sure you will. I hope Olivia decides to see you.

SC: So do I, Felicia.

FD: Thank you for visiting with us today, Sarina. I know it wasn’t easy.

SC: It’s easier than accepting I’ll never see my child again. She just has to come.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Child-advocate attorney Olivia Chandler has made major progress in overcoming her childhood trauma and issues with abandonment. However, her refusal to see her mother is having a negative impact on her new romance with Bruce Bellamy and everyone Olivia is close to.

Olivia enters specialized counseling for adults who suffer from childhood trauma but hinders her own progress when a major loss sends her spiraling back into the emotional comfort of the shadows in her mind.

With her sanity at risk, Olivia Chandler needs answers to break free from the traumatic stress which holds her captive, but the answers lie with the one person Olivia refuses to see.

Sarina Chandler.

Olivia Chandler’s journey continues in Family Matters (In the Best Interest of the Child, Book 2), coming August 2017.

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“Family Matters (In the Best Interest of the Child, Book 2)” by Felicia Denise #CoverReveal


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“Family Matters”

Series: In the Best Interest of the Child, Book 2

Author: Felicia Denise

Cover Design: Jenn Cunningham

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Release Date: August 2017

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Synopsis:

Olivia Chandler’s journey to wholeness continues as she enters counseling. Her therapy will not be easy, and may not be successful unless Olivia can forgive her mother. But is Sarina Chandler the only one in need of Olivia’s forgiveness?

A Halloween party brings together a surprising group of people, and Bruce introduces Olivia to his adult children. Another Bellamy has a second chance at love – if he can put his old-fashioned ways aside.

The death of someone close to Olivia has her re-thinking the value of emotional connections. She withdraws from everyone, falling back into her old habit of burying herself in work. A surprise confrontation pushes Olivia to her limits and puts her heart on the line.

Her continued avoidance of confronting Sarina Chandler pulls at the seams of Olivia’s new-found love with Bruce Bellamy. Olivia must make a decision. Save them… or surrender to her emotional demons.

Excerpt:

“Olivia Chandler? I’m Sandra Riley, Sarina’s case manager.”

The tall woman grasped Olivia’s hand into both of her own, shaking briskly. “We’re so glad you’re here today. This is a big step forward for your mother.”

“Nice to meet you, Sandra, and honestly, it’s a big step for me too.”

“Oh, I’m sure, Olivia. Any questions for me before you visit with Sarina?”

Visit with Sarina. She made it sound so cute and homey, Olivia thought.

“Does she know I planned to be here today?”

“Yes, she does. When Sarina asked about you a few weeks ago, she said she also knew you’d have little or no reason to want to see her, but she’d always hoped you come someday.””

Olivia stared at the woman blankly, not knowing how to respond to the comment.

“I’m sure this is confusing, Olivia, and now isn’t the time for me to explain all that Sarina has gone through, but please know she is fully cognizant of her aging, of you, her late husband”, Sandra paused only for a second, “she even remembers the accident. It’s everything between the accident and a few months ago that’s fuzzy for her. It’s as though a switch was flipped off in her brain that was recently turned back on.”

Olivia frowned but didn’t ask the question on the tip of her tongue.

“May I see her now?”

“Of course! Follow me.”

The case manager’s long legs covered the distance across the sitting area in no time at all, with Olivia almost scurrying to keep up with her. Margot and Randie teased Olivia about her brisk walking pace, but she had nothing on Sandra Riley! Olivia would guess Sandra to be at least six feet tall… and light on her feet.

Reaching an unmarked door in the far corner, Sandra held it open for Olivia, who walked through and found herself standing in yet another sitting room, only this one resembled the average family room. Large, comfy chairs, throw rugs and even a flat screen television graced the area.

“Welcome to Honey Ridge East, Olivia.”

“Honey Ridge East? I don’t understand.”

Sandra pointed to a bulletin board on the wall near the door they’d just come through.

“The residents here are grouped by floor, the severity of mental disorder, and the amount of care and supervision needed. The healthiest, most independent residents reside here in Honey Ridge.”

“My mother is here… in this section?”

She nodded.

Olivia tried to digest the information. Her mother was healthy? Required little or no supervision? Trying to reconcile this new Sarina with the bedridden, incoherent woman she last saw five years ago was difficult for Olivia.

“How long has she lived here?”

Sandra pursed her lips, thinking. Then she nodded.

“I’m pretty sure Sarina was here for the group’s Valentine’s Day dinner dance, so that makes it eight months.” Sandra tried not to laugh at the horrified expression on Olivia’s face.

“Don’t be shocked. We also have Easter Egg hunts and 4th of July barbecues. The residents got a big kick out of the Halloween hay rides.” Sandra leaned in towards Olivia, “ And I hear Santa will visit on Christmas Eve.”

Shaking her head, Olivia was incredulous.

“What kind of mental hospital is this? I mean, um…I thought…”

The case manager guided Olivia past the sitting area while answering.

“River Ridge Meadows is a private care, private pay, voluntary commitment facility. We’re fully licensed by the state and the federal government. Insurance isn’t accepted here, and no resident is here against their will. We currently have one hundred and sixty-one residents ranging in age from seven to eighty-six. Most are from throughout the state, but there are a few from other parts of the country, and even four from Europe. River Ridge has two permanent, board certified psychiatrists, two permanent, board certified medical doctors, six psychologists, and a nursing staff of 40 which includes licensed physical therapists.

The residents here are used to a certain way of life, and we provide that here, within reason. That’s why we also have an event planner and a social activities director on staff.”

Sandra stopped at the top end of a short hallway. “But we have all the time in the world for me to tell you about River Ridge, and even give you a tour, if you like.” She nodded towards the end of the hall. “Your mother is expecting you.”

Olivia pressed her hand against her stomach, the tiny nervous tremors threatening to morph into a full-fledged earthquake. Heat enveloped her body as the familiar tang of bile crept up the back of her throat. Closing her eyes, the nervous woman tried to will the anxiety away.

You’ve come this far, Chandler, don’t you dare freak out now!

 

~ Author Bio and Links ~

A wife, mother, daughter, sister, blogger and indie author, Felicia loves all things book-related and coffee-related. A southern girl by birth, the fifty-something, voracious reader now resides in Arizona (via Michigan and California) with her husband of thirty-three years. Their three adult children also reside in Arizona – with their dogs. Felicia frequently reminds them she is the only one of her parents’ nine children who isn’t a grandparent.

Writing has been a hobby of Felicia’s since grade school, but other than serving as editor and writing for her high school newspaper, she never publicly shared anything until the early 2000s when she began writing fan fiction. At the urging of a good friend, Felicia took on the challenge of NaNoWriMo in 2015, writing what would become her first published book, In the Best Interest of the Child, released in the fall of 2016. Her latest book, Free, a Novella, released May 30, 2017.

Sometimes serious and always sarcastic, Felicia continues her literary search for the ultimate non-alpha, non-billionaire, non-bad-boy hero with a non-sassy, non-feisty, non-bad-decision-making heroine whose relationship exemplifies true romance. Recommendations are always welcome!

 

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The Visit

River Ridge


52-Week Writing Challenge: Week 22 – Scene from current WIP. Still struggling to overcome her issues of abandonment and salvage her personal life… and sanity, attorney Olivia Chandler attempts to visit the mother she hasn’t seen in five years and who’s been a resident at a private mental facility for almost thirty years.

“Olivia Chandler? I’m Sandra Riley, Sarina’s case manager.”

The tall woman grasped Olivia’s hand into both of her own, shaking briskly. “We’re so glad you’re here today. This is a big step forward for your mother.”

“Nice to meet you, Sandra, and honestly, it’s a big step for me too.”

“Oh, I’m sure, Olivia. Any questions for me before you visit with Sarina?”

Visit with Sarina. She made it sound so cute and homey, Olivia thought.

“Does she know I planned to be here today?”

“Yes, she does. When Sarina asked about you a few weeks ago, she said she also knew you’d have little or no reason to want to see her, but she’d always hoped you come someday.””

Olivia stared at the woman blankly, not knowing how to respond to the comment.

“I’m sure this is confusing, Olivia, and now isn’t the time for me to explain all that Sarina has gone through, but please know she is fully cognizant of her aging, of you, her late husband”, Sandra paused only for a second, “she even remembers the accident. It’s everything between the accident and a few months ago that’s fuzzy for her. It’s as though a switch was flipped off in her brain that was recently turned back on.”

Olivia frowned but didn’t ask the question on the tip of her tongue.

“May I see her now?”

“Of course! Follow me.”

The case manager’s long legs covered the distance across the sitting area in no time at all, with Olivia almost scurrying to keep up with her. Margot and Randie were always teasing Olivia about her brisk walking pace, but she had nothing on Sandra Riley! Olivia would guess Sandra to be at least six feet tall… and light on her feet.

Reaching an unmarked door in the far corner, Sandra held it open for Olivia, who walked through and found herself standing in yet another sitting room, only this one resembled the average family room. Large, overstuffed chairs, throw rugs and even a flat screen television graced the area.

“Welcome to Honey Ridge East, Olivia.”

“Honey Ridge East? I don’t understand.”

Sandra pointed to a bulletin board on the wall near the door they’d just come through.

“The residents here are grouped by floor, the severity of mental disorder, and the amount of care and supervision needed. The healthiest, most independent residents reside here in Honey Ridge.”

“My mother is here…in this section?”

She nodded.

Olivia tried to digest the information. Her mother was healthy? Required little or no supervision? Trying to reconcile this new Sarina with the bedridden, incoherent woman she last saw five years ago was difficult for Olivia.

“How long has she lived here?”

Sandra pursed her lips, thinking. Then she nodded.

“I’m pretty sure Sarina was here for the group’s Valentine’s Day dinner dance, so that makes it eight months.” Sandra tried not to laugh at the horrified expression on Olivia’s face.

“Don’t be shocked. We also have Easter Egg hunts and 4th of July barbecues. Most of the residents have signed up for hayrides next week for Halloween, and…” she leaned in towards Olivia, “I heard Santa will visit on Christmas Eve.”

Shaking her head, Olivia was incredulous.

“What kind of mental hospital is this? I mean, um…I thought…”

The case manager guided Olivia past the sitting area while answering.

“River Ridge Meadows is a private care, private pay, voluntary commitment facility. We’re fully licensed by the state and the federal government. Insurance isn’t accepted here, and no resident is here against their will. We currently have one hundred and sixty-one residents ranging in age from seven to eighty-six. Most are from throughout the state, but there are a few from other parts of the country, and even four from Europe. River Ridge has two permanent, board certified psychiatrists, two permanent, board certified medical doctors, six psychologists, and a nursing staff of 40 that includes licensed physical therapists.

The residents here are used to a certain way of life, and we provide that here, within reason. That’s why we also have an event planner and a social activities director on staff.”

Sandra stopped at the top end of a short hallway. “But we have all the time in the world for me to tell you about River Ridge, and even give you a tour, if you like.” She nodded towards the end of the hall. “Your mother is expecting you.”

Olivia pressed her hand against her stomach, the tiny nervous tremors threatening to morph into a full-fledged earthquake. Heat enveloped her body as the familiar tang of bile crept up the back of her throat. Closing her eyes, the nervous woman tried to will the anxiety away.

You’ve come this far, Chandler, don’t you dare freak out now!

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“In the Best Interest of the Child” #Excerpt

Best Interest_Full_Revised

In this short excerpt from In the Best Interest of the Child, Olivia Chandler is meeting Bruce Bellamy for lunch. There is a definite attraction between the two, but both are holding back – though Bruce…not as much! Enjoy!


Having arrived fifteen minutes early, Olivia took a few minutes to visit the ladies’ room to check her hair and makeup, and wash her hands. She was glad no one else was around because every time she glanced at her reflection in the mirror, she couldn’t stop herself from grinning. “Get a hold of yourself, Olivia Louise! It’s just lunch with a man. You’ve done this more times than you can count.” Exhaling slowly, Olivia hung her head. Yes, lunch with a man who seems to like me. Lunch with a man I actually like even though I just met him. Olivia groaned and leaned against the sink. She should never have agreed to this. Bruce seemed like a decent man. He didn’t need to be getting involved in the dark pit which was her life. But even if she walked out the restaurant right now, Bruce would not disappear. Courtney and Marissa were his

Olivia groaned and leaned against the sink. She should never have agreed to this. Bruce seemed like a decent man. He didn’t need to be getting involved in the dark pit which was her life. But even if she walked out the restaurant right now, Bruce would not disappear. Courtney and Marissa were his family, and he was very much involved in Rena’s life. The silly grin returned to her face. Honestly, she didn’t want him to disappear. They may never do more than have lunch, but Olivia wanted it badly. She wanted to be normal and have a life without her past hanging over her like the Sword of Damocles. Steadying herself with a couple of deep breaths, Olivia decided to stop hiding in the ladies’ room and talking to herself like a crazy person. She grabbed her handbag and went in search of her lunch date.

As Olivia approached the hostess stand, the young woman working there smiled. “Good afternoon, I’m Connie.” Olivia returned her smile and gave her Bruce’s name. “Yes, Ma’am. He’s already here.” Laughing, Olivia shook her head slowly.

“That man. Of course, he is.” The hostess smiled but looked confused, not understanding the joke. Olivia waved her hand. “It’s nothing. Lead the way.”

Olivia tried to spot Bruce as they approached the main dining room, but was caught off guard when the young hostess turned right and proceeded down a short hallway. No stranger to the Black Dragon, Olivia knew there were formal banquet rooms in the opposite direction, but she’d never been down this hallway. The hostess stopped in front of a small elevator. “I never realized the restaurant had an elevator. I thought it was a single story building.” Connie nodded.

“You’re right, it is.”

“Then where does this lead? You have a basement?” Covering her mouth to hide her giggles, Connie nodded.

“We do, but trust me, you do not want to go down there. This elevator goes up to the mezzanine.” The elevator doors opened as she finished speaking, and both women stepped inside.

“Well, I didn’t know you had one of those either!”

“Few people do. The owners don’t advertise it much. It’s usually for special guests or customers who request a more…intimate setting.” Olivia’s eyes quickly widened. Connie gave her a knowing grin.

Intimate setting? She had no time to process the hostess’ comment. The doors opened. Connie took a step outside the elevator and motioned to the left.

“Your date is right over there.”

“Date? But this isn’t a da-…” Connie quickly stepped back into the elevator, leaving Olivia with a wink as the doors closed.

“What am I going to do with this man?” She only had to take three steps before she spotted Bruce. Olivia froze as her mouth gaped open. Rising from the table, Bruce walked towards her. Olivia still had not moved, too in shock at his appearance. Gone were the weather-beaten jeans and worn Henley shirt. The thick heavy work boots? Gone too. The Bruce Bellamy standing before her was elegantly attired in a charcoal gray, two-piece Brooks Brothers suit and gray Sardegna Loafers. And he’d had a haircut. He leaned in and kissed her cheek.

“Good to see you again, Olivia.” He glanced at his watch. “And right on time. Why am I not surprised?”

Olivia still stared at him, wide-eyed.

Bruce frowned. “Olivia? Is something wrong?”

Taking a deep breath, she finally found her voice.

“Who are you? And what’s all”, she motioned up and down his body, “…this?” His big boyish grin returned as he took her hand and led her to their table.

“I’m a successful businessman having lunch with a gorgeous, successful attorney in one of the city’s finer restaurants. I couldn’t very well show up in jeans and boots, could I?”

“Well, no…but- “

“And besides, I had to show you I could dress myself and behave appropriately in public.”

Olivia threw her hands up, laughing.

“There you are, Bruce! How nice to see you again!” Filling their wine glasses, Bruce stopped mid-pour to keep from spilling it the laughter hit him so hard.

Laughing along with him, Olivia visibly relaxed and placed her hand on his arm.

“And just so we’re clear, Mr. Bellamy, I like you in jeans and work boots too.” The smile he gave her nearly took her breath away. Suddenly self-conscious, Olivia placed her hands in her lap.

Bruce didn’t miss the gesture but continued pouring the wine while changing the subject.

“Would you like to look at the menu, or do you already know what you want?

“No menu needed! I definitely know what I’m having!”

He chuckled as he handed her a glass of wine, then signaled for the waiter.

“I had a feeling.”

Olivia smirked.

“Think you have me figured out already, Bellamy?”

“Not even close, beautiful one. But I do look forward to the adventure.”

She grinned at the compliment and the comment.

“Oooo! I’m an adventure!”

Bruce couldn’t help but stare at her face. The way her eyes sparkled, the genuineness of her smile. She was the same woman he met in his cousin’s driveway, but there was no sign of the sadness he saw in her eyes that day. He had long ago made peace with his own issues of abandonment, but this woman was the first woman to actually make him want to risk his heart again. Bruce was getting lost in Olivia Chandler, and he had no problem with that. His cheeks reddened as heat rose into his face when he realized the waiter and Olivia were staring at him. “I’m sorry. What?

“Where did you go, Bellamy? Are you ready to order?”

He nodded.

“Of course, but ladies first.” Olivia clasped her hands together excitedly.

“I’d like Yum Nuah salad, Tom Yung Kung with shrimp, and with steamed rice, and Pad Thai with chicken…extra spicy, please.” Bruce’s eye widened. Olivia frowned. “Is that too much?”

“Not at all. It just sounds like my usual meal here. But my brother goes on and on about me not trying new dishes, so I promised to try a different entrée on my next visit.” He turned to the waiter. “I’ll have the same as the lady, but instead of Pad Thai, I’ll have Phad See-ew with beef.”

After the waiter left, Bruce folded his arms and leaned towards Olivia. “So…how long have you been into Thai food? The dish names usually confound most people, but you seem to have memorized the menu.”

Olivia laughed while shaking her head.

“Only my favorite dishes. And like you, it wouldn’t hurt me to try something new.” She folded her arms on the table and leaned in his direction. “I first had Thai food during my intern days. This place wasn’t open yet, but Siriwat’s was around the corner from the courthouse.”

“And your boss always had lunch delivered to keep you working, right?”

Olivia shook her head. “It was more the boss’ wife dropping in and reprimanding him for working me so hard, and dragging me out of the office to Siriwat’s. After one visit, I was hooked.”

“Wow! The boss’ WIFE? Sounds like you made an impression.”

“Miss Dee is good people. She and Judge Dennison have always been kind to me. He’s actually the judge who assigned Rena’s case to me.”

Bruce whistled.

“He must be really confident in your abilities. I knew you were a legal shark!”

“I am not a shark! The judge just taught me to pay attention to the details, and what is not said. I’ve never forgotten that, and it’s always seen me through, especially with the difficult cases. What about you? When did your love affair with Thai food begin?”

He refilled their wine glasses, while Olivia wondered when she’d emptied her glass.

Slow down, Chandler.

“That is yet another story in my life which involves Court.”

She smiled remembering their antics.

“You two are really close, aren’t you?”

“As brothers. He seemed to be at my side during all the important moments of my life. Including my introduction to Thai food.” They shared a chuckle. “It wasn’t too long after Joanna, my ex-wife had left. Mom and dad had taken the kids for the weekend. I’d planned to use the time working on cars, but Court shows up, says he’s hungry and orders me to get in his truck.” Olivia grinned.

“HE ordered YOU?”

“Never underestimate Courtney Bellamy. He may not be a big man, but he’s all muscle and heart. He’s dropped me on my ass more than a couple of times.” She laughed aloud and he scowled. “You laugh so easily at my pain.”

This made her laugh even harder. Olivia buried her face in her hands, embarrassed as Bruce continue to stare at her.

“I’m so sorry, Bruce. I don– “

“Don’t ever apologize for laughing, Olivia.” He reached over and pulled her hands from her face.

Olivia placed one on the table, but Bruce had not released the other. She didn’t pull away.

“Or for enjoying yourself. Makes me feel good to know you’re comfortable with me.”

Still holding his gaze, Olivia slowly flipped her hand over until they were palm to palm, and squeezed.

“I’m very comfortable with you, Bruce, and yes, I am enjoying myself.”

Bruce froze. The squeeze of her hand and the sexy timbre of her voice had gone straight to his crotch. She was flirting with him and he loved it! Bruce assumed from her demeanor, Olivia would be a tad more skittish. Perhaps she truly was comfortable with him…maybe even liked him a little. He deftly adjusted himself under the table.

“But you didn’t finish telling your story about you, Courtney and Thai food.”

“Oh yeah. Well, he gets me in his truck and we drive over to Blaine. I think we’re headed to Mike’s Dugout for meatloaf and mashed potatoes, right? He pulls up to this tiny little building near downtown. I have no idea where we are because the name is not written in English. I ask tons of questions before we even get out of the truck, and Court just said, “Trust me.” I follow him inside like a big goof, and the aromas hit me in the face. It smelled like every food dream I’d ever had.”

Olivia’s brows furrowed. “Food dream?”

“Yes, food dream. Women are not the only thing men dream about.”

“Good to know.” She smirked.

He pulled a face at her and continued. “Court had only been there a couple of times himself. Of course, introduced to it by the Mighty Marissa, so we asked the owner to bring us an order of whatever it was we smelled, and keep it coming.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. I’m sure I had at least three orders of Pad Thai and Tempura vegetables.”

“What appetites!”

“The food was great, but it wasn’t just that. It was the first time I’d allowed myself to admit how I felt about Joanna walking out on the kids and me. The family knew I was hurt and upset, but Olivia, I was pissed off…and it felt good to say it. Even if she didn’t want to be with me, what kind of woman walks away from her children? Breck wasn’t even six months old! And she just…leaves.”

Olivia tightened her grip on his hand. She understood all too well how it felt to be abandoned. But she couldn’t share that with him…could she? He made it look so easy to admit his feelings. He was open and honest. No. She couldn’t tell him her story. He’d see how thoroughly damaged she really was and walk away. Olivia knew she couldn’t have Bruce in her life forever, but she greedily wanted whatever time with him she could get. Just the chance to feel normal for a little while was better than not at all.

Bruce appeared lost in his thoughts too when she spoke. “It must be wonderful for you and Courtney to have each other to lean on. And you mentioned a brother?”

He cleared his throat.

“Actually…I have–“ Bruce was interrupted when the waiter appeared with a huge tray of hot food, followed by a co-worker with still more food. Olivia gasped.

“Bruce! What did we order?”

“Oh no, no, no! Not ‘We’…YOU. I was just following your lead, Counselor.” Glancing at the food-covered trays, he added, “And I hope you have more than a thirty-minute lunch hour.”

“That’s your defense? Blame me?”

“Only if it’s working.” One of the waiters turned away and covered his mouth to keep from laughing. “Olivia, you’re disturbing these gentlemen while they’re trying to work.”

Her mouth flew open. Then, she didn’t even try to stop the laughter bubbling forth. Neither did the waiters.

The couple chatted amiably as they devoured the hot and spicy food. Bruce loved that Olivia wasn’t one of those women who wouldn’t eat in front of a man, choosing to munch on lettuce and sip water instead.

Olivia couldn’t remember a time when she’d had more fun, and was so relaxed. Bruce was easy to talk to and attentive. She reveled in his admiring glances, so different from the leering, lecherous looks she learned to ignore around the courthouse. He told her about building up his business until he had the current dozen auto shops – and plans to open two more – and Olivia suggested new advertising ideas to him because the guy doing his commercials always looked sleepy. Learning the guy was actually a supervisor at one of Bruce’s shops, and that he had taken acting lessons at the local college especially for the commercials, caused Olivia to nearly choke on her food.

“You okay?” Bruce stood behind her, patting her back and trying not to laugh.

“I’m glad…you…find…this amusing, Bellamy,” Olivia sputtered, the coughing only made worse by her laughter.

“Here, try this.” Sliding his large hands under her upper arms, Bruce raised them straight up into the air. Within seconds, her coughing stopped. Leaning her head backward, Olivia looked up at him, frowning.

“Where did you learn that, and why did it work?”

Bruce was momentarily speechless. Staring down into her eyes as she leaned back against him tested all his resolve. He knew Olivia was special. When he dared consider his future, he saw her by his side. Bruce didn’t know how or why, and he wasn’t about to second-guess himself. He hadn’t wanted to spend more than a few hours with any one woman since Joanna left. He’d known Olivia Chandler less than a week, and he couldn’t get enough of her. Bruce hadn’t even had the pleasure of kissing Olivia, but he would wait for that too. He would do what it took to make the vision of his future a reality, but it would never happen if he followed his carnal mind in this moment. Bruce quietly exhaled, grateful for the chair separating his hardening erection from Olivia’s back.

“Just something you pick up during the journey of raising kids.” He slowly lowered her arms, then side stepped behind Olivia to adjust himself. Clearing his throat, Bruce returned to his seat, sitting down extremely slowly. “You know kids…little scamps. They can turn a quiet movie night into a high-speed car ride to the emergency room in a heartbeat. Happened to me more times than I care to remember. And boys are the worst. I took Casey, my daughter, to the ER one time in eighteen years, when she had the flu and spiked a high fever. But those boys?” He shook his head. “Science experiments gone wrong, superhero stunts, bike races…no matter what they were into, an accident could…and usually did happen.”

Olivia didn’t miss the faint smile playing on his lips.

“I’m glad everyone was okay…eventually. But, you look as though you enjoyed it.”

Bruce grinned. “Every last second!”

“Sounds like they are lucky to have a dad like you.”

“No, I’m blessed to have them. My life may not have gone the way I intended, but my children saved me. Without them, I would have been just some loser guy spending way too many evenings sitting in a bar. Having them made me see what was truly important.”

Olivia nodded slowly.

“Yes, they are definitely lucky to have a dad like you.” The slight tilt to Bruce’s head let her know he didn’t understand. “I have no problems believing you would do anything for your children.” She glanced away unable to hold his gaze. “There are far too many people on this planet having children and then treating them as an afterthought, or even a burden. Some even believe their young children owe THEM something.”

“I didn’t miss the fact you did not refer to these people as parents.”

“No. Bringing life into the world does not make one a parent.”

“I guess you see a lot of ugliness in your line of work.”

Olivia was still looking away, focused on a spot in her mind she couldn’t clearly see when she heard him.

“Excuse me, what?”

Looking concerned, Bruce grazed his fingers across the back of her hand.

“Where did you go?”

Embarrassed, Olivia tried to slide her hand away from his, but Bruce gently, but firmly caught her hand and held on.

“I meant what I said the other day, Olivia. I’m a good listener. Anytime you want to talk, I’m available. No sermons, no judgments, not even any advice. I’ll just listen.” He watched her slowly raise her head to look at him, and squeezed her hand as the pain he saw hit him like a punch in the gut. What haunted this beautiful, intelligent woman? She was engaging, witty and funny. She spoke with purpose and authority. But, something triggered a memory. An event? A person? Bruce wasn’t sure, but whatever it was caused Olivia’s walls to rise swift and high.

“Thank you, Bruce, I just may take you up on that.” He smiled as he felt Olivia squeeze his hand in return. It gave him hope.

“I hope you do, Olivia. I’ll take any opportunity I can get to look into those beautiful eyes of yours.” Before Olivia could respond, Bruce raised her hand to his lips while his eyes were still lost in hers, and kissed it gently. He didn’t miss the slight tremble in her hand nor her barely audible gasp. He was not in this alone. Olivia was affected too. Neither spoke for several seconds, both of their minds…and pulses racing. Olivia leaned towards Bruce about to speak when the Imperial Death March from The Empire Strikes Back began to play. Bruce’s eyes widened, then he smirked. Olivia had already buried her face in her free hand, totally embarrassed.

“Guess you’re a really big Star Wars fan, huh Olivia?”

Raising her head, Olivia tried to avoid glancing in Bruce directions as she slipped her hand down into her bag to retrieve the offending cell phone.

He leaned in trying to glance at the screen. “Who merits such an ominous ringtone?”

Olivia’s lips twitched as she tried to decipher the text. She figured it out on the third try and her mouth fell open.

“I’m going to kill her!”

Bruce watched Olivia, amused and curious. She finally met his gaze, smiling sheepishly.

“My office manager, Margot. She can be a bit of a…pain.”

Frowning, Bruce asked, “Has she fouled up a case or upset a client?”

“Oh, no. Nothing like that. Margot’s a jewel. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

“And yet, you want to kill her? What am I missing?” He leaned in again, still trying to see the cell screen.

“As an executive assistant and office manager, she’s the best. As a friend, Margot can be over-the-top pushy.”

Recognition dawned in his eyes.

“Was that text about me?”

Olivia dragged her hand over her face. “Just kill me now.”

Bruce pumped his fist in the air.

“I’m trending with the women!”

Olivia roared with laughter. “There’s only two of us, Bellamy. I hardly call that trending.”


What readers are saying…

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“LOVED IT!! In The Best Interest of the Child by Felicia Denise is a powerhouse novel, overflowing with emotion and real life messages that quite frankly NEED to be said...My heart strings were pulled from cover to cover!”

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