Ignite: Book 2 (The Heat Series 1), page 1
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2017 ©MJ Masucci
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental. Although every precaution has been taken to verify the accuracy of the information contained herein, the author and publisher assume no responsibility for any errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for damages that may result from the use of information contained within.
All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Cover Art by Kellie Dennis at Book Cover by Design
This book is dedicated to my husband, Lawrence. Without his love and support, this work would not have been possible. Thank you, my love.
I would also like to thank my dear cousin, Rachel. You always throw me a lifeline when I need it.
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Stale air welcomed Ava as she opened the door to her apartment in New York for the first time in four months. Her apartment was clean, though, thanks to Aunt Mavis, who had made sure to take care of her place and the cats while she was away. Her father wanted her to stay in Georgia until after Christmas, but she felt that it was time. She enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday with her family and then returned home.
While her physical injuries had healed, her emotional ones left her badly scarred. She had lost so much and all at once. During her recovery, she thought she would lose her mind sometimes. She considered her family protective before the accident, and they were ten times as bad now. She couldn’t get away soon enough. If she was naïve in the past, she was none of that now. The cruel lessons she had learned in such a short time had taught her a lot. She wasn’t so easily swayed into believing things anymore. But under the surface of that new found façade was the old Ava. She still wanted to believe that there was good and kindness in people.
She dropped her suitcase in the entryway and opened the closet to hang her coat and place her shoes. On the floor of the closet was a dark case that looked familiar. She slid it into the hallway, curious of its contents. Inside she recognized clothing, shoes, a bag of jewelry and cosmetics as the items she had left at Xander’s apartment before they left for Georgia. There was also a piece of folded yellow legal paper. A lump had formed in her throat as she pulled out the paper and slowly opened the folds. The handwriting was familiar — Xander’s.
I don’t know how you can ever forgive me for what I have done, for the pain I caused you to feel. I spent most of my life taking advantage of others for my own gain until I met you. I never knew pure love until then. You taught me how to be kind, caring, treat others with respect and most of all how to love unconditionally. I can never repay you for that. Or maybe I can.
I want you to forget me. Forget I ever came into your life. The easiest way for me to help you do that is to leave and tell no one where I am or where I’m going. I once told you that I want you for always and that will never change in my heart. I just can’t be what you deserve. Live your life to the fullest and never regret one day. I love you,
Ava slid to the floor in the entryway cradling the letter in her hands. Wet drops spattered onto the tile as her sobbing became almost uncontrollable. He was never coming back. At least before this, she thought they had a chance even if she hadn’t heard from him. This made it final. She was never going to see him again, and he was the only one she wanted.
Ava sat on her bed brooding. Her family had just left her apartment after they had dropped her off. She had finished her first of several graduation events since she recently had completed NYU Law School. She felt a great sense of accomplishment but also knew she was miserable. During the ceremony at Yankee Stadium, she remembered when she and Xander had attended a game there.
Her eyes had been drawn to the seats that they had sat in. She continued to scan the crowd looking for him, hoping that he came out of hiding to observe this milestone in her life. But she wasn’t able to locate him. Peter Wilder had told her before that he had no idea where Xander was. Xander only communicated with his family via email for the past four years.
Out of pity, several years before, Peter had given her Xander’s email address. She had sent a heartfelt email telling him how much she missed him, but she got no reply. When she emailed him again, the email bounced back to her indicating the address was invalid. He had closed the account. She had called his phone for a month after she got out of the hospital and it always went to voicemail. Eventually, the number was no longer in service.
Ava went to her room to find something more comfortable to wear. Her Uncle Daniel and Aunt Mavis were throwing her a celebratory dinner that evening in their backyard. She didn’t feel like going, but she changed her clothes and put a smile on her face. There was still one other festivity she would need to attend before all the hoopla concerning graduation was finished — the Convocation was the official hooding ceremony for graduating NYU Law students that was held in a much smaller setting than the stadium.
She wasn’t in the mood to attend any more festivities. Her cheeks were beginning to hurt from the fake smile she had fixed on her face. Her emotions were on high alert, and she was afraid she might burst into tears in front of her family. But she walked into her aunt and uncle’s home and through to the back yard, prepared to smile pretty for another few hours where her family and friends were celebrating her graduation. Rachel had wandered over to ask her what was wrong.
“You did it and should be proud. I remember when Jacob got his law degree. He was on cloud nine. Now comes the fun part, if I remember correctly, studying for the bar exam. When is it?”
Ava grimaced. “I’m going to sign up to take it in February. I have a few months to submit my application. Jacob already said he is going to drill me. I can’t wait,” she said sarcastically.
Ava’s three-year-old nephew, Mikey, came over to her and placed his sticky fingers on her knee. His face was full of marshmallow.
“Hey, little man. You’re a mess. Let’s take you into the house and get you cleaned up.” She excused herself and grasped his small hand.
“Aunt Ava, don’t wanna clean up. Want another marshmallow.”
He resisted, but she picked him up in her arms and planted kisses on his chubby cheek. Mikey’s struggles eventually ceased as she carried him into the house, washing his face and hands in the bathroom sink. He and his twin sister were the two things that could take her mind off her misery in the past few days. She wished her brother and his wife, Alicia, lived closer. She wanted to see her niece and nephew more.
Her sister Brooke had a little boy, too, who was going to be three years old in June. The twins were going to be four years old the same month a few days later. She was just two weeks shy of her twenty-eighth birthday. So much time had passed since her accident and the ending of her relationship with Xander. Well, it was Xander that ended it. She had no say in the matter, and he didn’t seem to care to discuss it.
“Wanna go back out.”
She took Mikey’s hand and followed him out to the backyard. Elizabeth, his twin, was sitting on Alicia’s lap with the same marshmallow face. Ava offered to take her inside and clean her up since Alicia was five months pregnant with her third child, but being the perfect mommy, she said she would do it. Ava went back to the corner of the yard to retrieve her glass of wine. Samantha, her best friend, came over to join her.
“How are you doing? Through being the center of attention yet?”
“Sam, I hate this. I want it done,” she said in a low voice.
“For someone who just graduated with a law degree, you’re not a happy camper. Why?”
Ava looked at her with sad eyes and took a big gulp of her wine.
“Shit, are you still thinking of him? It’s been almost four years. He is not coming back. You need to move on already. If he cared, he would have been back by now, especially on this occasion.”
Ava knew she was right, but she couldn’t stop thinking about him. She rubbed at the ring hidden under her shirt that Xander had given her for the first weekend they spent away together. Her melancholy mood was interrupted when her family called her to cut her graduation cake. Though she didn’t feel up to it, she wanted to make her family happy. She put on another fake smile and cut slices from the large sheet cake for everyone.
She was exhausted, and the mosquitoes were beginning to bite this late spring evening. After a little more of the party, she announced she was going home to get some sleep. Her brother offered to escort her, but she didn’t want company; she just wanted to be alone. She said her goodbyes and caught a cab to her apartment. The front desk was empty when she arrived in her lobby. She pressed the elevator button and waited.
“Miss Keene?” She turned to see Jeffrey at the front desk holding a long white florist’s box out to her.
“This came for you earlier.”
She took the box, wondering who could have sent her flowers. The clear window at the top of the box was obscured by a piece of paper, and she could not see the flowers, so she would have to wait until she got upstairs.
She entered her apartment and placed everything on the side table in the entry. Kicking off her shoes, she was greeted by her cats, Boomer and Riley. They rubbed against her legs and almost tripped her while she made her way to the kitchen with the box.
Upon opening it, she was shocked and placed her hand over her mouth. Nestled in green florist’s paper were a dozen long stemmed lavender roses. She clawed at the card taped to the side of the box. The script writing was distinct, and she would have known it anywhere -one line, no signature.
I want you for always
Ava sank to the floor cradling the box of roses in her arms, tears welling in her eyes. Somewhere in Manhattan was Xander. She just knew it. Was he at the graduation? Has he been watching me? She wanted to call the Wilder’s. If he was anywhere, he would be there. She picked up her cell phone and dialed the number then thought better of it and hit the end button.
She didn’t want to disturb them. Gabby Wilder had not been well the past month since being diagnosed with Lyme disease. It was already nearing 9:00 PM and they might be asleep, as they tried to keep the house quiet so she could rest as much as possible. She would call tomorrow and find out if he was there.
She found a suitable vase and put the flowers in it, inhaling their sweet fragrance as she did. She had a notion and took a pair of scissors out of the drawer. Ava clipped one of the roses off just below the flower and brought it to her bookshelf.
She removed her hardbound copy of Crime and Punishment from the shelf. She hadn’t touched this book in several years and forgot how heavy it was. Ava flipped through the pages looking for a suitable place to dry the flower when she came upon another lavender rose. She removed it carefully so as not to disturb the dried petals. This was from the first roses that Xander had sent her. She remembered when she had picked them up from the front desk, expecting them to be from her current boyfriend at the time, Liam, but instead they had been from Xander.
Back then, she was curious as to why he had chosen lavender. When she looked up the color’s meaning, it had said love at first sight as well as enchantment. A couple of weeks later, Liam was out of the picture, and Xander had taken his place. She was happy back then.
Now she was on the cusp of her career as an attorney, and she was extremely unhappy. Even four years later she had not gotten over him. She had not kissed or slept with another man since they separated. Each time someone asked her out (and there were many), she declined. She found herself comparing them to Xander.
Why had he sent her flowers with that particular phrase on the card?
If he truly loved her and wanted her, then why didn’t he show himself? She placed the old rose back between the pages and found a spot for the new rose. She had no idea why she was bothering to press roses from a man that wanted nothing to do with her, but she felt compelled to do it.
The next day, Ava sat in the Beacon Theater during the Convocation ceremony. This would probably be the last exercise of her academic life. She had no intention of attending anymore school at least for awhile, if at all. Once the ceremony was concluded, she met her family after the ceremony and they went out to lunch.
Alicia, Michael, and her father were leaving the next day to fly back to Georgia. They struck up a conversation that she barely heard. Her mind was elsewhere, on Xander. She wanted to call the Wilder’s but couldn’t as she had to be at the theater early that morning. This left her no time to call until after she got home from lunch.
“Ava, are you listening to me?”
She snapped out of her fog and looked at her father. “I’m sorry, what were you asking?”
“Are you going back to work next week or taking some time off?”
Ava finished the bite of food she was chewing. “Uncle Daniel said I could take next week off, but I’m not sure I will do it. I’m taking two weeks in June off to volunteer for Kids Afloat.”
Ever since Xander had introduced her to the Kids Afloat charity, she had either made a donation, volunteered for a couple of weeks at their camp during the summer or both. This year she had donated and was volunteering to help at the camp. She looked forward to attending the camp in the Adirondacks in upstate New York. The accommodations weren’t the greatest, but she enjoyed spending time with the children and lending a helpi
“Don’t worry; I will come down for my niece’s and nephews’ birthdays. I wouldn’t miss that for the world.”
Fortunately, the twins and Brooke’s son, William, all had birthdays within four days of each other. Since William was born, they had celebrated all three of the children’s birthdays together. It was easier than having two parties with many children running everywhere.
Ava’s father usually went all out for his grandchildren, much the way he had when his children were little. There was usually a petting zoo, bouncy house, clowns, magicians, catered food and even a small carousel. They always had a lot of guests, and there were so many presents that the children couldn’t open them all in one day.
Ava tried to visit her family as often as she could. She had gotten over the horrible incident at the end of her freshman year. She found that not many people in town knew about it, but she was at the stage where she didn’t care if they did.
After her accident, she and Brooke had made peace with each other, becoming close during her recovery. Brooke had returned from Europe four years ago when Michael and Alicia got married. She had spent several hundred thousand dollars of her inheritance on partying her way through that continent. She had stayed in Georgia, though, to help Ava through her recovery and that was very strange. Brooke even drove her to physical therapy and doctor appointments.
Brooke had never liked Ava, even when she was a baby. She had spent a good majority of Ava’s childhood verbally assaulting her. After their mother had passed away, it had gotten worse.
Ava recalled that when she awoke in the hospital and if her father had left the room, Brooke would take his place. Ava remembered that her sister’s eyes were red and swollen from crying. Brooke reached out to touch her arm. It was during her recovery that Brooke had told her why she had been so mean to Ava over the years.
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