Immersed book 6 in the r.., p.1

Immersed: Book 6 in The Ripple Effect Romance Series (A Ripple Effect Romance Novella), page 1

 

Immersed: Book 6 in The Ripple Effect Romance Series (A Ripple Effect Romance Novella)
 


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Immersed: Book 6 in The Ripple Effect Romance Series (A Ripple Effect Romance Novella)


  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Copyright

  The Ripple Effect Romance Series

  Other Works by Jennifer Griffith

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Author’s Note

  Acknowledgements

  About Jennifer Griffith

  About Book One

  Home Matters, Chapter One

  Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Griffith

  All rights reserved.

  This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever, whether by graphic, visual, electronic, film, microfilm, tape recording, or any other means, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief passages embodied in critical reviews and articles.

  Ebook Edition

  Published by HEA Publishing

  The Ripple Effect Romance Series

  Like a pebble tossed into calm water,

  a simple act can ripple outward

  and have a far-reaching effect on those we meet

  perhaps setting a life on a different course—

  one filled with excitement, adventure, and sometimes even love.

  Other Works by Jennifer Griffith

  The Art Jumper

  Super Daisy!

  Big in Japan

  Chocolate and Conversation

  Hopeless Crush

  For Gary

  I’ll always be immersed in you

  Three Years Ago

  Strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” wafted over the turf at Folsom Field, the football stadium at Colorado University in Boulder. This was it, the day she’d waited and worked for over the past years—her degree would be firmly in her hand. Lisette Pannebaker, Master of Business Administration. Her smile even made her eyes scrunch.

  Dad’s dress shirt would’ve popped buttons, had he been here to see her.

  But it wasn’t just the degree. Chances were that tonight she’d have something else in hand. Or, rather, on her hand. She’d seen the little navy velvet box on Justin’s coffee table—he’d left it in plain sight when she came by to drop off dinner for him last night—and she’d nearly fainted from heart palpitations last week when he’d dragged her past windows sparkling with diamonds and asked whether she thought round cut or brilliant cut had more fire.

  Brilliant cut, of course.

  Ah, Justin Fox. She sighed for his blond crew cut, his square jaw. Mrs. Justin Fox. It fit. Lisette Pannebaker, student, no more. Now she’d be Mrs. Justin Fox, Master of Business Administration. All these new titles were suddenly being applied to her in quick succession.

  My, how life did change. Lisette balanced her way across the lawn, the spikes of her pumps stabbing into the grass with each step she took. Now, where would the last name “P” be seated in the folding chairs?

  Things with Justin had come on so fast. She’d fallen hard for him instantly—but she always seemed to fall in love fast, so it was no surprise. His great hair, those blue eyes, his quick answer for everything. He drew her in. And when he took her ring shopping, it swept her even further off her feet. It didn’t bother her much that in the two months they’d dated he hadn’t once mentioned marriage or kids or family. In a way, she loved that he took for granted she would just fall for him without question.

  A confident guy. She liked a confident guy.

  Lisette found the “P” section and scooted toward seat 135, her assigned location. The tassel from her mortar board kept bouncing against her cheek, tickling her nose. It’d be nice to sit down, move things forward, get to the fun part of the day when she and Mom and Aunt Corky could all sit down at The Black Cat for lunch, so cozy, with Justin at Lisette’s side. After meeting Justin at last, Mom would fawn over him, Aunt Corky would grill him, he’d give his quick quips. Lisette would laugh at his jokes, then after Mom and Corky left, he’d kiss her awhile then open that velvet box with the brilliant cut diamond and pop the question.

  Perfect. What a perfect day this was going to be.

  May engagement. She’d always dreamed of a May engagement.

  The daydream floated her through the keynote speaker, the presentation of the diplomas, and the throwing of the mortar boards. Soon Justin would be on one knee, looking up into her eyes. It’d be sweet to hear him say those three words for the first time as he offered himself as her husband. When she got to that part of the daydream, a squeal almost escaped her, silly as it may have been.

  Her eyes scanned the crowd of graduates for him, but with everyone similarly dressed, he was tough to spot. He’d been ahead of her in the lineup—F is for Fox, P is for Pannebaker. She couldn’t spot him or his crew cut, despite his height.

  “Sweetheart.” Lisette’s mom’s voice floated over the crowd. “We’re so proud of you.” Mom pressed her way through the graduates and their fans to embrace her, followed by Aunt Corky with a warm hug. “I’m proud of you but can’t wait to meet this Justin guy. Where is he?” Mom said.

  “Somewhere around here.” Lisette shot a look at Corky, short for Corsica, who stifled a laugh at her sister-in-law’s broken record-ness. Aunt Corky held out a small gift bag for Lisette, but before she could reach for it, a young man—not Justin—interrupted them.

  “Lisette?”

  “Yes?”

  “Um, I don’t know if you’ll remember me. Luke? From International Studies?” His eyes searched hers, earnest and wide. She didn’t remember seeing him, but she’d been pretty caught up in Justin, so… “I just, um, wanted to say congratulations, and to ask, since you’re available now, you know, um, would you like to go see a movie or something sometime? Or a play? I bet you like the theater. Or concerts. Right?”

  Huh? Available now? She’d never been less available. She was about to become completely unavailable as soon as she became Mrs. Justin Fox, for heaven’s sake. He must mean now that classes were over and done with.

  Lisette took his hand, gave it a squeeze. He was super sweet. “Oh, Luke. That is so nice of you, and I’m truly flattered. I wish I could, honestly. Thank you so much for asking.”

  He smiled back, a little dazed for a second, but then realized she’d said no, and his face fell. “That’s a no. Wait, right?”

  She just nodded. “Congratulations on your degree. I wish you all the best.” She gave him a peck on the cheek and let him go before she turned back to her mom and aunt. It really was nice of him to think of asking her out. She’d seen that look a few times on guys’ faces. Much as it might pain her to refuse, she couldn’t go. Not with Justin about to propose.

  “He was cute,” Aunt Corky said as she held out the gift again. It was in a pretty bag with tissue and a velvet ribbon. “Why’d you say no? I mean, he was willing to take you anywhere and seemed nice as could be. You should give a nice guy a chance.”

  Lisette would. Totally. If she weren’t about to become Mrs. Justin Fox.

  “Hey, Liz.”

  Speak of the devil. “Justin! How are you?” Lisette double-step tiptoed across the grass to him and threw her arms around his neck. “Congratulations.”

  “Whoa. Thanks. You mean you heard already?”

 
“The ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ music just for us? Of course. We’re done. Can you believe it?”

  “Um, sure. Yeah. I mean, finally. School was such a drag.”

  Drag—that’s how Lisette pulled him along to meet her mother and Aunt Corky. “Come on. My mom’s excited to meet you.”

  “Me? Why?”

  Duh. Sometimes he could be so dense. It was something cute about him.

  “Wait just a sec.” He looked at his phone. “I need to text Sasha and tell her to meet me down here. Oh, wait. There she is.” He signaled a little redhead Lisette recognized from the campus bakery, Baby Doe’s.

  Sasha?

  Sasha came skipping toward them in a mini miniskirt and a tube top, her pierced, jeweled navel showing.

  “Hey, baby.” Justin put an arm around her. “Show this lady your finger.”

  Lisette had a moment of panic that Sasha might make a crude gesture in front of Aunt Corky and her mom. She jumped to shield them from the sight.

  “It’s a beaut, right? You were right, Liz. The brilliant cut was the one she liked best. Girls dig diamonds. At least Sasha does.” He leaned over and put a big, messy kiss on her face. “So, yeah. Thanks for being such a brick about it, congratulating me and all. I was a little worried you might be ticked off at me, since I kinda made you think I was into you and stuff. Had to do it so the professors would cut me some slack. They all thought you were hot and wouldn’t fail me if I had the teacher’s pet as my arm candy and stuff during school, right? But I can’t sail on your looks forever. Gotta be a man and stuff.”

  His logic dizzied her. As did the situation. Her ankle wobbled.

  “Well, yeah. So, thanks for all the fun study sessions. And the make-outs. Those I will probably miss. Sasha, you wouldn’t mind if I got together with Liz now and then like old times, would ya? Oh, just pranking ya. Totally.” He lifted Sasha up by her arms, and she wrapped her legs around his waist as they waddled off, kissing.

  Lisette grabbed the back of a nearby folding chair for support. It was the plastic outdoor kind, so it didn’t do much good. Her insides suddenly went hollow and echo-y.

  “Oh, no. No. Say it isn’t so.” Aunt Corky looked horrified.

  Lisette just nodded as her insides disintegrated, leaving her just a shell. Aunt Corky took Lisette by one elbow, and her mom grabbed the other. The two of them began to steer her off the football field and toward the towering set of concrete stairs they’d need to climb to exit this pit of despair.

  “Oh, sweetie.” Her mom patted her. “There are more fish in the sea. Fish with brains.”

  Lisette sniffled. But she wanted that fish. That jerkfaced fish.

  What just happened? Justin dumped her for the waitress—who he’d apparently been seeing all along, while kissing Lisette on a regular basis—effectively making Lisette “the other woman.” The hollowness from her core spread to her shoulders and hips. She knew her face couldn’t be anything but a mask of itself.

  “Justin,” she stuttered, hardly knowing what she spoke. “He took me ring shopping.” Sort of. She hadn’t tried anything on, exactly. But they’d been together looking at rings. “I know I didn’t make up this relationship.”

  Aunt Corky squeezed her arm.

  “No one dreams you made anything up, sweetie,” her mom said. “It’s a horrid shame. But I never liked him.” Mom wagged a finger in the air.

  “You never met him.” She’d still never met him. All of a sudden, Lisette saw how little she’d known the guy at all. Was he what he appeared to be now? Someone just using Lisette? Had he only seen her as a pretty face, a way to get what he wanted from the professors, a place holder? Someone to make out with while his real girlfriend was waiting tables at Baby Doe’s?

  A gaping crevasse ripped open inside her.

  “Oh, I really liked him.”

  “Only because he was a jerk,” Aunt Corky muttered.

  “What?”

  “You go for these jerks every time, Lisette.”

  “I can’t help it. The heart wants what it wants.” And she’d wanted that jerk so much. Mrs. Justin Fox. She’d never get to wear the title. Sasha the Short Waitress would.

  “Let’s pretend he doesn’t exist.” Aunt Corky picked up their pace, almost into a march. “I hereby declare that he shall henceforth no longer be named by his given name but shall be called—” She paused, shooting Lisette a prompting look.

  What? Like Voldemort? Lisette stammered a second then responded, “Jerkface.”

  “Jerkface! Down with Jerkface!” Aunt Corky hollered. Luckily, the din of the crowd prevented much carriage of the sound. Still, it was empowering. Corky was right. Justin didn’t deserve this much of her emotion. Down with Jerkface.

  “Man,” Lisette said. “I’d like to pomp his circumstance. And I hate being called Liz.”

  “Why did you let him?”

  “I—I don’t know.” So many things Lisette didn’t know. Like what she was going to do with her free time or her social life. At least she had her job set, provided her mom still agreed to front her the capital.

  Folsom Field was a crater in the earth, with the parking lot at the top of the west set of bleachers, a long climb in heels. They climbed the first flight of concrete steps out of the stadium toward the parking lot so fast Lisette’s mother insisted on a break at the first landing.

  “So, dear, change of subject,” her mom said through labored breathing. “What do you think of coming to work for your father’s company? Pannebaker Capital needs a linguist.”

  “No, Mom. Pannebaker Capital needs people to answer the phone in Mandarin.” Lisette had no intention of doing that. Not after all the effort of earning an MBA. Working at her father’s company wouldn’t even be a lateral move. It’d be regression at its most defeating. “Aunt Corky promised to help me find an office downtown next week. I’m setting up shop, getting my internet marketing started. It’s a good idea. I can make this work—I know it.”

  Mom lifted that dubious eyebrow, the one Lisette had inherited, along with her mom’s straight fair hair and eyes. From her dad, Lisette got long legs and good bone structure, much to Amanda Pannebaker’s delight. It was a way to see a remnant of her late husband, even though he’d been gone over five years.

  “What? Are you backing out on me now, Mom? We’ve talked this over. We signed a contract.” It was a contract on a dinner napkin, but it meant something. “I’m not taking the job at Pannebaker. I’m going to do this on my own, use the skills you and Dad made sure I learned.”

  Mom winced, and they started up the next long flight of steps. “Fine, fine. I did agree. It’s just I never meant for you to end up here.”

  “In Colorado? You know I love it here. We came every summer to be with Aunt Corky. It’s home, if I ever had a permanent one.” Her dad’s jobs took them all over the world when she was a kid—first in the State Department, then when he’d started Pannebaker Capital. It was how Lisette became fluent in Chinese. And Japanese and French and German and Norwegian. As a kid she’d lived in those countries and soaked them into herself like a high quality, name brand paper towel. There were other languages—Tagalog, Finnish, Spanish, Icelandic, a smattering of Welsh, one of the African click languages—but her father’s work assignments in those places had been brief. The main five, she could still dream in.

  It had been a whirlwind of a childhood.

  “I meant ‘here’ here.” Mom waved a hand down Lisette’s graduation robe and shoes. “Single, done with school, with no real prospects of marriage and family.”

  That was ill-timed salt in her just-dumped wounds. “Thanks, Mom. Can we not talk about that right now?” Her mom went to a year of college, got a job as a secretary in a government office, and at nineteen landed Dad as her husband. In Amanda Pannebaker’s universe, that was the prescribed order of things. “We were talking about my business plan—and the fact that with your generous help I’m going forward with it starting next week.” She had to give herself this forward-look
ing pep talk or she’d crumble. Justin had dumped her. In public. And someone named Luke knew about it even before Lisette did.

  They got to the top of the stairs. Lisette wasn’t looking ahead, an error because up loomed a very tall, very messy-haired graduate in thick glasses, holding his diploma and looking a little nauseated.

  “Oof!” Lisette ran smack into him, and the force of the collision bumped her backward toward the long flight of steps. “Whoa.” Her arms windmilled. She stutter-stepped backward and began to topple.

  “Ó, nei!” The guy said something weird and unintelligible, a look of horror on his face as he grabbed for her graduation robe, catching it in his grip and stopping her fall, as well as her possible concussion or death on the concrete staircase. He looked terrified as he pulled her upward to him, righting her on the top step in safety. He spoke with a heavy accent. “I’m so very sorry. Please, you will forgive me?”

  “Sure.” Lisette’s heart pounded hard in her chest, and the pulse went into her ears. That was a close call. “I should’ve seen you there.”

  She patted her dress and her arms just to make sure they were still attached. They were, and her breathing returned to normal. She looked up at the guy. He had that look in his eye she’d seen many times before—the one where the hopelessly geeky man got a glimpse of her, and his eyes shone. It didn’t matter that this guy had nice smile lines outside his thick glasses and under that messy hair. It had been a long day already.

  “Please. Let me make it up to you. I can take you to dinner, yeah?”

  No. He couldn’t.

  “Oh, that’s really kind, but I have plans.”

  He looked crestfallen, but she couldn’t do anything about that. It’s not like she could take her broken soul and entertain some stranger over dinner. Her emotional reservoir was in the red zone.

  “Oh, all right.” He swore in some Scandinavian language, a nice touch. She recognized it vaguely from junior high in Norway, the age where all the swears come out. A lot of the Scandinavian languages had strong similarities. “Good luck with your business plans.” When she gave him a double take, he added, “Fellow MBA student, laglegur andlit,” and patted his diploma. He let out his breath and rolled his eyes like he was embarrassed. His little addition meant “pretty face.” Fabulous. Even the klutzy foreign students thought of her as just another pretty face.

 
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