Well, this will be the last blog I post here until the end of November. Many of you know I do nanowrimo in November, so I'm on the hook to write 50000 words (or more) on a novel this month. My goal is to finish "Spark of a Hero" so I can release it either late in December or early in January.
To that end, I thought I'd share with you the first time we see Collier James in Fresh Ice because, well, Collier winds up being the hero in "Spark of a Hero."
So, enjoy, and I'll see you all in December! (By the way, please enjoy past blogs or you can always buy my books by clicking here. That should pass your time nicely!
Izzy opened her eyes and reached for her cell phone. Five Thirty? It’s five thirty in the afternoon? I slept all day?
She pushed back the covers, welcoming the invigorating chill her deep freeze settings on the room AC gave her. A quick shower further brought her back to life. She studied her reflection in the mirror as she blow dried her hair. Something’s different about me.
I look hopeful.
It’s the lottery ticket. That and the first real sleep I’ve gotten since Jason died. I’m not worried about money so much.
It’s more than that.
Quinn Murray’s face flashed through her mind. Those beautiful eyes.
Izzy turned off the blow drier and smiled at her reflection. “And about three hundred women screaming his name. Let’s move back to reality, shall we?”
Izzy blinked at her reflection. “That’s right. I’m talking out loud to myself now. Clearly I need something to eat.”
Her first step into the steamy Nashville afternoon ended any illusions she had about keeping her hair tidy. How many mornings did my mother straighten my hair with that vicious iron? She shook her head, feeling her hair curl in the humidity. I sort of liked it curly.
She walked downtown, and found herself standing in front of Second Chance’s. In the softening daylight, the place seemed entirely too quiet, so unlike the night before when the building throbbed with music, and an energy Izzy ached to feel again. Stepping inside the dimly lit building did little to convince her Chance’s was open, until she saw a sparse collection of patrons sitting at various tables near the bar upstairs.
The ambiance of the place perfectly suited Izzy. She climbed the stairs, replaying the glance she shared with Quinn, wondering what the connection was between her husband’s funeral and a packed bar a thousand miles away.
She took a seat at the bar, and surveyed the place more closely. The scattered customers, as diverse as they looked to a casual glance, all had one thing in common; they were all doing something that looked work related. At one table, a woman sifted through stacks of manila files. At another a man read a book about software design. In a far corner, Izzy saw two college students, one tutoring the other. In the darkened booth across from her…
Collier. Collier James.
It can’t be.
Izzy studied the man as closely as she could without drawing attention to herself. His sandy brown hair was shoulder length and his shoulders were far broader than she remembered, but as he looked up from his stack of papers to signal the waitress, there was no mistaking his cheerful features or steel gray eyes.
Collier’s father, Izzy’s skating coach, paired them when they were very young. Collier wanted little to do with the world of skating, and it didn’t take long before he convinced his father that skating wasn’t for him. While his father paired Izzy with another boy, Collier spent his days blissfully reading books, playing his guitar, and eating whatever he wanted to eat. How much did I envy him those long autumn afternoons when he’d take a backpack of books to the tree house in his yard, and just eat cookies, drink chocolate milk, and read until his father came home from coaching me through eight hours of compulsory figures?
Now here she was ten feet away from her best friend. She ached to call his name. But the cold hand of reality stopped her as the bartender approached and asked what she wanted to drink.
“A glass of pinot noir, please,” she murmured without looking away from Collier, “and a glass of ice.”
If the bartender thought her order odd, he didn’t let on to her.
Nineteen years earlier Collier was the first person who knew she and Jason slept together. His reaction, she remembered, was the first step on the long fall from grace.
The bartender set two glasses in front of her. Izzy put an ice cube in the wine glass, and took a sip. The deep red wine could not stop the flood of memories tugging at her heart.
The last time I saw Collier, he was furious. I’d never seen him that way.
“You did what?” Even now, in a bar a lifetime away from that morning in Coach’s office, the tremor of anger in his voice was vivid.
“I slept with Jason. Two nights ago. He said it would prove we loved each other and make our performance that much better.”
Collier’s normally peaceful face was a hot shade of red then. “So you just did it?
Izzy, he’s old…he’s almost twice your age!”
Izzy, he’s old…he’s almost twice your age!”
“He’s my partner.”
“What does that have to do with it?”
“Jason says all partners sleep with each other. He did with that Serena.”
“Oh yeah, take Jason’s experience with Serena as the guide.”
Izzy had been confused by the whole conversation. “What’s your deal? This will help us, don’t you see? It’ll make us better!”
“No, it won’t. It won’t make you a better skating pair. It won’t make you anything other than yet another teen girl who gives in to a slimy old bastard.”
Izzy remembered, with shame, her petulant pout. “So what do you care?”
“Because I love you.”
I didn’t know anything about love or relationships then. I may not now. “I love you too. You’re my best friend.”
“I’m not talking about friends. I love you. I love you the way you think you love Jason.”
He was the only one to call me Izzy back then. And he only did it when he really wanted to talk to me about something secret.
I should have known how serious he was. I didn’t. I was so young. I had no idea how much it hurt him. I was such a stupid, egotistical child.
“Who said I loved Jason?”
“Well, if you don’t, then you’re a whore.”
I threw a skate guard at him for that. “Collier Braden James! You take that back.”
“Take it back? What do you think people are going to say when they hear about this? You’re sixteen. He’s thirty.”
“Whatever. You just gave yourself away. For what?”
“To make myself a better skater! To win!”
Collier grabbed her by the shoulders then, and shook her lightly. “It’s not all about skating! Some day skating is going to be gone, and you’ll be left with this one decision, this one stupid, bad decision, and it will be all you have.”
How could he have known so much? He was only eighteen. But he knew exactly what would happen.
Collier walked out then, walked out of the room and out of her life. He moved away to live with an aunt, so he could go to school in Memphis. Jason hustled her out of Nashville. Sipping her wine Izzy wondered for the millionth time how different her life might have been had she stayed in Nashville, had she not slept with Jason, had she loved Collier back.
Had I been able to make different choices, would I still be sitting here right now?
She turned on her stool and stared at the nicked up bar. I disappointed so many people and damaged so many lives because of what I did. She drained her wine glass and set it on the bar. I’m not ready to face any of it until I have the right words.
She slipped off the bar stool, catching the heel of her sandal on a rung of the stool. The end result was her lying on the floor, and Collier looking down at her with a mix of amusement and concern.
“Miss, are you…” Collier squinted for a beat, looking confused. “Izzy? Izzy Landry?” He helped her up. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“I-I was having a glass of wine. Waiting for some friends.” That’s it. Be as lame as you possibly can. “They are late.”
“Well look at you,” he held took a step back and studied her. “The years have been kind to you Izzy, that’s for certain. Won’t you join me until your friends arrive?” He pointed to his booth.
“I…sure.” Smooth, Izzy. Good job.
He sat across from Izzy and studied her for a moment. “So where’s Jason?”
“Dead.” Izzy hoped Collier heard more emotion that she put into the single word. She doubted it, however. “He-there was an accident this spring.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” His voice was soft, comforting, like she remembered. But there was something in his eyes, something less than sympathetic. “I mean, I am sorry for your loss.”
“He was-,” Collier tapped his fingers on the stack of spiral notebooks in front of him. He seemed to be unable to find the right words. “It’s been a long time.”
This could not be more awkward. “It has. So, how’s Coach?”
“Also dead. Had a stroke a couple years ago.”
In spite of herself, Izzy laughed out loud. She shook her head, but was unable to stop laughing. “I’m so sorry, Collier.” She took a deep breath. “I’m so sorry, that was so wrong of me to laugh.”
Collier’s smile was warm. “Take heart. We haven’t seen each other in forever, and we open with a dead husband and father. We can only go up from here.”
“One would seriously hope anyway.”
Collier picked up a pen and toyed with it. “So what brings you to Nashville?”
Despite her misgivings, Izzy answered truthfully. “My daughter, Jenna. She’s moving in to Vanderbilt this weekend. She got a volleyball scholarship.” Izzy watched Collier count in his head. “Yes, the rumors were true. You were right…about pretty much everything back then.”
As if she’d spoken some magic words, Collier’s interest in his pen vaporized and he fixed his eyes on her. “Don’t say that. Don’t tell me that.”
Izzy took a deep breath. “Well, you were. I don’t regret Jenna. She’s wonderful. But,” she took a drink of her wine. Change the subject. “But everything else was a long time ago.”
“It was.” Collier’s voice was soft, gentle, but his tight expression didn’t ease.
Seriously, change the subject. “So what’s with all the notebooks?”
The intense light in his eyes faded. Collier relaxed and smiled. “I’m a bit of a songwriter now.”
“Really? That’s great. I knew you’d do something creative.”
“Well, writing, you know, is sort of therapeutic.” He waved his hand at the stack of spiral notebooks. “I can pour my soul out and solve all sorts of problems through my songs, and get paid a little in the process.”
“So what kind of music do you write?”
Collier shrugged. “I’m what you’d call a traveling minstrel.”
“I’m not sure I know what that means.”
Collier reached into his messenger bag and pulled out a CD. “I’m in a group that travels around and sings at Renaissance Fairs and things like that. Old sailing songs, drinking songs, whatever sounds right for the whole Renaissance thing.”
Izzy took the CD from his hand and studied it. “That sounds sort of cool.”
“It pays the bills, and we have fun. On our down time we get to play cover songs and some original stuff at places like this. Chance,” he nodded toward the bar, “lets us play all the time. Maybe you saw us last night?”
The hopeful tone in Collier’s voice tugged at Izzy’s heart. “I’m sorry. I must have missed you. I was here later in the evening.” She handed the CD back to him.
“No, keep it.”
An uncomfortable silence fell between them. Too many years, too much to talk about and neither of us knows how to start.
“I did see that Quinn guy get up on stage. What’s his deal?”
A shadow passed over Collier’s face. “I suppose you would wonder about him. Every woman does.”
What could he possibly have against Quinn Murray?
“The guy’s a complete hound. There aren’t many women in this town who don’t have his paw prints somewhere on their person.”
“Oh, okay. I was just wondering, because…”
“Because he’s hot?”
Izzy laughed out loud and this time the tension between them thawed. “Col, this is so great catching up with you. I can’t believe I just wandered in here and here you are. I could talk to you all night!”
“Don’t you have friends you’re waiting for?”
Friends? What…oh, right. “No, don’t worry about that. I-I’ll just…oh whatever.” She giggled.
“I have an idea.” Collier laid some bills on the table. “My band’s got a gig out of town tomorrow night, and I have to leave in the morning, but the night is ours. How about coming to dinner with me, Miss Izzy…Masters?”
“Marks. Izzy Marks.”
“Ah. Miss Izzy Marks come on. An evening of good food, and recalling good times. Are you up to the challenge?”
Izzy took his hand and stood. “I believe I am.”
Collier draped his arm over her shoulders as they left Second Chance’s.
Quinn wasn’t surprised to find himself standing in the lower foyer of Second Chance’s. What surprised him was the cozy couple leaving as he entered.
Was that Isabella? Was that Isabella Landry leaving with a man?
Who was that guy? That looked like that sad singer from last night.
A wave of jealousy washed over him. For a heartbeat, he considered following them. Thinking the better of it, he climbed the stairs. I’ve got her on the brain. That was probably nobody. I’m seeing things.
A strong Scotch would take care of that.
But a good strong Scotch would create a lot more problems than just seeing someone who looks like Isabella Landry.
“Hey, Chance. How are ya?”
“Quinn!” Chance greeted him with an energy that made Quinn nervous. “My favorite on stage performer of the week!”
“Let’s not get nuts, Chance.”
“Did you see the steaming hot women crawling all over the place?”
“Every one of them in need of a decade or so of aging.”
“You clearly weren’t looking upstairs. Those college co-eds brought their mothers. Quinn, they brought their mothers and the mothers were hot, too!”
Oh I looked upstairs. I only saw one woman that mattered.
“Just pour me that swill you call ginger ale, and let me watch the game.”
“Suit yourself. There was one I think was really in to you. Couldn’t take her eyes off you, like she was glued to you or something.” Chance pointed to the spot where Isabella Landry stood two nights earlier.
“Yeah, you big dumb idiot! I came up here looking for that very woman that night! You told me you had no idea what I was talking about.”
“Oh quit sulking. Look, that same woman, she was just in here.” Chance nodded toward the corner booth. “She was sitting right there, not five minutes ago. I’m surprised you didn’t bump into her on the stairs.”
I probably did. “Was she with anyone?”
“Not when she came in. Ordered the weirdest thing. Glass of red wine and a glass of ice.” Chance shook his head. “Yankees…what are you gonna do?”
Quinn remembered her accent, only lightly laced with a hint of Nashville. She would sound Northern to everyone down here.
“But she and the singer guy, the one you hate, had a conversation and then left.”
“They left together? You’re sure?”
Quinn drained the ginger ale wishing he could drink the image of Isabella with the folk singer out of his brain. Why would I think she didn’t have friends? She’s a grown woman. It’s not like she’s been frozen in time. Not really.
But did it have to be that guy?
His cell phone buzzed. Serena.
“It’s weird, having dinner with me, isn’t it?”
Izzy looked up from her plate of lasagna. “Not as weird as you thinking I could eat this much food.”
Collier smiled over the rim of his wine glass. “Yes, one thing about the attractions of the Old Spaghetti Factory is that they’re good for boosting those who look like they could use a good meal.”
“Are you saying I’m too thin?”
Collier broke off a buttery piece of garlic bread and handed it to her. “Not if you’re in training for an Iron Man competition or something.”
Izzy took the bread and sank her teeth into the buttery, garlicky delight. “I guess, over the years, I worked out a lot. I liked running. I had a membership to the gym. I like weight lifting, if you can believe that.”
Collier reached over the table. “Put up your arm. Oh yeah, that is one massive gun you have.” Collier cleared his throat, sat back and smiled. “You have a lot of questions.”
“How would you know that?” Collier always read me better than anyone else.
“Well, it’s written all over your face.”
“That’s spaghetti sauce.” She wiped her mouth with a linen napkin and took a sip of wine. “But you’re right. I have questions.”
“So do I, but ladies first. Fire away.”
She studied him. In the half light of the restaurant, the years dropped away from his face. “Why folk singing?”
“Oh that’s easy. While you and Dad were spending endless hours on sit spins and figures, I was in my tree house listening to folk music, writing folk music, and dreaming of the day I could wander the earth singing folk music to middle-aged housewives who put on corsets once a year and truly, in their heart of hearts, believe they should have been born during the Renaissance era because it was so darn romantic.”
Izzy smiled. “And there’s nothing more to it than that?”
Collier shook his head. “Not really. I didn’t want a complicated life. I don’t mind singing about drama, but I didn’t want any real part of it.” He paused for a beat. “I’m sorry. I probably shouldn’t have said that.”
Izzy recognized the shadow darkening his features. He’s talking about me.
“You made the right choice.”
The naked honesty of her words hung between them, a cold cloud over the warm glow of reunion.
“Hey, I think another glass of wine would be a good thing.” Collier waved to the waiter.
Izzy bit her lip. Don’t talk about it. Keep it hidden. “No.”
“No, I mean, yes another glass of wine would be very nice. But no, you shouldn’t feel like you have to apologize. You made the right choice.”
“I had choices to make. You never had any to make on your own.”
Izzy shook her head. “I made one choice, and it brought me all the drama I could handle for a short time, and then nothing. Now I’m back in the middle of drama, probably.”
The waiter filled their glasses and Izzy talked for the next ten minutes, sharing her worries about the future, her hopes for Jenna. She told Collier about the emptied bank accounts, and how there was no insurance money. As he paid the bill, she told him about the lottery ticket, and her decision to move to Nashville. “And then, today, there you were. Like a sign or something.”
“There I was.” Collier’s voice was distant as he folded the credit card receipt and put it in his pocket. “Would you like to take a stroll along the river or something?”
“Sure.” Izzy stood a little too quickly and stumbled.
Collier caught her and grinned. “So you’re still ‘Dizzy Izzy’ aren’t you?”
She smiled and accepted his arm for extra balance. Collier opened the door and the hot, sticky air of the Nashville night swathed her in a comfortable mental fog.
Adele’s grating voice jolted Izzy. “Oh, hi guys.”
“I thought you were too sick to help the girls move today.”
Izzy flushed, hating the imperious look on Adele’s face. “I am...I was. When I woke up, I decided to go for a walk. I ran into Collier, who is an old friend.”
“An old friend. Yes, I’m sure he is.”
“Adele…” Sean’s voice held a warning note.
“Yes, I’m very sure. Tell me, Collier…is it? What do you do?”
“Collier is a musician.” Oh just pour gasoline on the flames.
“A homeless one, from the looks of things,” Adele huffed.
“Very pleased to meet you, Miss Adele,” Collier bowed low in an exaggerated show of manners.
“Would I have heard any of your stuff?”
“Shut up Sean!” Adele whirled on her husband like a viper. “We are talking to Izzy about this new old friend she’s found who raised her from her sick bed and took her out for dinner and…a few drinks it looks like.”
“You do not need to be insulting.” Izzy’s eyes stung with furious tears.
“And you do not need to lie to me. If you wanted to spend the day with street people, that’s your choice.”
“Excuse me, ma’am?” Collier spoke in a soft, heavily Southern voice, “I really do prefer ‘traveling minstrel’ if you don’t mind? And if you don’t mind, I think your husband was taking you to dinner and I was escorting Miss Izzy back to her hotel. Good night.” He gripped Izzy’s arm and ushered her away from a stunned Adele.
Once out of site of the restaurant, Izzy giggled. “I can’t believe you! No one talks to Adele like that and lives to tell.”
“That woman does not like you at all. Who is she?”
“She’s family. She’s Jason’s big sister. You know, the protective big sister who believes with all her heart that I ruined her baby brother’s golden dreams.”
“I see.” Collier put a protective arm around her shoulders. “And you and she, what, live close to each other?”
“You could say that. If I go back to Wisconsin tomorrow I’ll be living with her.” Izzy made a face. “If I had the lottery money right now, there would be no question. I’d just stay here.” She made a worse face. “I hate to think of the big wicked scene that would get out of her, though.”
Collier’s laughter was gentle, much like the one armed hug he gave her. “May I say something about you moving here?”
“If you want.”
“Here, sit on this bench.” Collier pointed to a bench on the walk way.
Izzy sat and stared at the moonlight shining on the Cumberland River. “It’s beautiful here, isn’t it? I’d forgotten how pretty the river is at night.”
Collier knelt in front of her. “Izzy, I’d like you to stay in Nashville.”
His earnest manner surprised her. “Okay.” She was uncertain about what to say further.
“I’d like you to move back, because, in a way, for me, you never left.” Collier slid next to her on the bench. “You’ve always been right here.” He put a hand over his heart.
The expression on his face took her back to the last time she saw Collier, and Izzy was suddenly uncomfortable. “Col…”
“No, let me just say this, and then you can walk right back out of my life for another couple of decades and I’ll be okay. But this meeting, this weird random meeting, I can’t let this moment pass by without telling you everything.”
“Okay.” Izzy really didn’t like the intense light in his eyes, but she was unable to look away.
“Izzy, that night I left, I was shattered. I thought for sure I would never be able to put together the pieces again. And then, this song came to me. I started writing it. I wrote about lost love. I was an idiot kid, but all this stuff just poured out of me. And in the end, I had a whole stack of shattering love songs no one wanted, until I ran into some guys who wanted to round out a folk album with something other than another sailing song. Suddenly I’m making women cry at Renaissance Fairs, like I’m really a talented poet.”
“Oh, but Collier, you are!”
“No, I had a broken heart I carried around with me for nearly twenty years. I’ve written songs for ten albums. Every single one was about a girl I knew, a girl I loved, every one of them a sad song, something that would guarantee sympathy and big tips at the fair. But I always wondered, deep down, I always wondered if I would ever be able to write a happy love song, something joyful, about you.”
He put a finger to her lips. “I knew the night I left you would never be happy with Jason. There was just too much wrong. But Izzy, in my heart, I knew if you and I could just find each other again, I could make you happy. And now here you are, and that idiot kid inside me can’t help hoping I get the chance to at least try.”
Izzy was speechless. They sat, for several moments, staring at the river as other couples strolled past.
“Please say something.” His voice was still, nearly a whisper.
Izzy wiped a tear from her eye and smiled. “Collier, I think that’s the most beautiful thing anyone has ever said to me.”
“So you’ll stay here in Nashville?”
Izzy shook her head. “Col, I don’t know if I’m ready for anything, you know, romantic. I think my reality might not live up to your expectations.”
The smile on Collier’s face was faint, but sweet. “I don’t expect anything. I just needed to tell you how I feel, and you can do whatever you want with that information. You have no idea, how long I’ve carried that around.” He looked over her shoulder to the lights of the Old Spaghetti Factory. “But if I could persuade you at all, if moving in with that woman is your reality, how bad could moving back to Nashville be?”
“Okay, okay Col, you’ve sold me.” She laughed at the stars as he swept her into his arms and spun in a full circle. Dizzy when he set her on her feet, Izzy gripped his arm. “Okay. I think I need to go home now. I have a lot to figure out before tomorrow.”
“What’s to figure out?”
“What I’m going to say to Adele.”
Collier grimaced. “You want back up? I can bail on the guys for a day or two.”
She put a hand on his arm. “No this I have to do on my own. I have a lot to do on my own.” She flagged down a cab. “I will be here when you get back.”
“Promise?” The single word dripped with hope and uncertainty.
“I’m not going to lie. That woman scares me a little.” He opened the cab door for her. “Wait.” He pulled a card out of his wallet. “These are all my numbers. Call me, for anything.”
“Thanks.” She hugged him, reveling in the feeling of home she had in his arms. “Col, I’m so glad we ran in to each other.”
“Ironically, at Second Chance’s.” He smiled, and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “I have a good feeling. You might just find the life you deserve here.”
With you? Izzy stopped the train of thought. Romance is the last thing on my mind. Learning to stand on my own two feet for the first time ever, that’s my focus.
Collier closed the cab door. She gave the cabbie the address of her hotel, and glanced out the back window. He waved at her. She waved back. Then again, maybe there is a happy ending here for me.
Quinn wandered the river walk, as he did many nights after being with Serena. It was rare, while the clubs pumped out all genres of music and liquor, anyone else would be out. Tonight, especially, he enjoyed the solitude.
There was something about the river, the way it was always moving, but was always there, that comforted him. Tonight, with the moonlight dancing on it like broken stars, Quinn wished he could lose himself in the shining ripples of water. She left Chance’s with the sad signer. She’s probably known him forever, and, she’ll fall in love with him.
Why didn’t I try harder to find her the other night? Why didn’t I fight through that crowd? It was my chance, and I blew it.
He jammed his hands deep in his pockets. Really, what hope did I have? I mean, come on. She’s Isabella Landry. Sure, time has passed. But she is who she is. She still has people here who know her, and probably love her. For all I know, she made this trip to meet with him.
Her face flashed through his mind. The spotlight on her face, and her…looking at him. No, there was something there. There was a connection.
Why am I going over this? I was the focal point of everyone in the place, and she was probably just trying to figure out why I looked familiar. She probably realized I was the idiot at her husband’s funeral, and then she put me out of her mind. There’s no use trying to make that moment more than it was.
Ahead of him, a cab pulled to the curb, and a woman paused at the door. It’s her.
The man she was with said something to her. Then he kissed her on the forehead. She got in the cab and rolled past Quinn, who stared at the retreating cab until the tail lights turned out of his view.
He kissed on the forehead and put her in a cab? That’s not quite the passion that would bring a woman back to the South.
Too bad for you, Singer Guy.