Cover Design: The Final Wrap
Photo: Wander Aguiar
Models: Colton Benson
So, maybe he solved cases with a precision not seen since Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. It didn’t matter. The guy was a grade A prick.
And killing him was the best decision I ever made—until it wasn’t.
It was supposed to be a good move for me—a way of showing that I wasn’t one to back down.
I never imagined it would cause such a visceral reaction…among my readers.
I didn’t get it. He was barely tolerable most of the time and his death opened the door for a new detective—maybe one who had her act together.
I never would’ve guessed that he’d show up on my doorstep, begging for a second chance, or that he’d look even better than I ever imagined. Characters die and everyone moves on—that’s the way it works. Sometimes it’s even necessary for the story to progress.
When the hate mail gives way to something more sinister, Jake insists that he’s just the man to handle the case. He vows to keep me safe in exchange for his life.
The problem isn’t resurrecting him.
No, my problem is much worse.
How do I stop myself from falling in love with a fictional character?
After getting dressed in record time, Jake had wanted to know my schedule for a typical day. When I mentioned that I wrote at a local coffee shop a couple of times a week, his eyes lit up. I was relieved that I’d left out the fact that I worked at a salon in the afternoons and evenings because there was not a chance in hell of me letting him tag along there.
We pulled into the parking lot and Jake turned to me. He studied me for a second, giving a slight head shake at my you’ve got to be kitten me right meow, t-shirt. “This is the place?” He looked through the windshield at the Cold Brews Co. sign and then back at me. “It looks like a bar.”
“No, their specialty is cold brew coffees—look, is this a good idea?”
Translation: Is this safe?
He nodded. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”
The thought that someone, besides Bootsy and Aaris, wanted to keep me safe did weird things to my heart, even if it was coming from Jake. I fought the urge to pump my fist in the air while laughing like a lunatic.
“After all, you’re my meal ticket. If you get dead, I can’t get back home,” he finished with a pouty smirk.
Oh good, the limbic rage was back. I’d been worried it was gone forever once the handcuffs were off.
“Why do you do that with your mouth?” I snapped, as I unbuckled and climbed down to the pavement.
“Do what? He pursed his lips again.
“That! You’re doing it again.”
At his blank expression, I forced my own lips into a duck pose as he held the coffee shop door open for me. “Like this.”
“Why are you doing that to your face? Stop. People are staring.” He hissed, glancing around.
“You look like that all the time.”
“Good Morning, Hayden,” my favorite barista, Damien, called over the espresso machine as the door jingled above our heads, announcing our arrival. “The usual?”
I immediately softened my expression, trying to channel the joy and tranquility that tried to flee when Jake entered a room. “Yeah, that’ll be perfect. Thanks, Damien. How’d Paul do on his test?”
He poured steamed milk into a paper cup for a to-go order with a dramatic eye roll. “Nailed it. Like he does everything else. I just have to talk him off the ledge every time though. How’d I end up the motivator in this relationship? I swear.”
“Because you’re a positive person and deserving of all the good things life has to offer,” I reminded him as I selected a bottled water from the refrigerated case
“I just come here a couple of times a week, but know everyone’s life story,” Jake quietly taunted at my back, his body inches from mine. A shudder worked its way down to my toes as the scent of campfire and pine flooded my nostrils.
Were there notes of citrus layered in there? No, I was definitely detecting hints of clean laundry that had been dried on a clothesline mixed with something.
Gah, what was it?
I wanted to lean back and rest my head against his chest while looking up at him adoringly. Just like I’d witnessed the younger couples that frequented this place do on more than one occasion. But this time, it’d be me experiencing something other than abject disappointment.
Me and my very own tree.
And I’d climb that redwood every day.
Just doing my part to save the earth, kids.
I was struck with the image of massive hands on my hips, pinning me in place. I’d just bet that his fingers would curl in possessively, marking me as his to anyone who dared to look. The cold air blasted around bottles of juice and water, yet inside, I was sweltering.
His proximity was messing with my brain waves. I straightened with a shaky exhale and carried my water over to the register, doing my best to ignore my flushed cheeks and the giant I came in with.
Damien added a heart to the foam and handed me my caffè mocha before noticing Jake. “Hey, you brought a friend,” he exclaimed in his typical sing-song.
I shook my head. “We just came in at the same time. I don’t know this man.”
I wasn’t just imagining all the ways I’d like him to defile me in front of the poor beverage case, either, in case you were wondering.
“Are you sure you don’t want to get to know him?” He stage-whispered, raising his eyebrows up and down suggestively as he snagged me a cinnamon roll from the case.
“Oh, no. I’ve got quite enough excitement in my life.”
Damien gave Jake another once over. “If you say so. I personally think when excitement comes packaged like that, you thank the universe and don’t ask questions. But, that’s just me. How’s Bootsy doing? Is she still loving her holistic food?”
“Yes. It has made such a difference with her…”
Shit, what was it supposed to do?
“Poops?” I offered hesitantly just as Damien suggested, “Her coat?”
He frowned. “It shouldn’t have changed her bowel habits. My girls didn’t seem to be any different. Maybe check with the company—”
I waved my hand. “Oh, no I meant that she was much more ‘regular,’ if you know what I mean. Poor thing, uh, couldn’t get the job done before. This food has really taken in her interconnectedness with her, um, environment. She’s living her best holistic life now.”
I made the mistake of looking over at Jake. He stood at the counter with wide eyes and a what the fuck are you talking about expression on his face.
• Confession: I never actually bought the cat food that Damien recommended. I went to the pet store with every intention of purchasing the all-natural, chock full of vitamins and omegas, and completely grain-free canned cat food until I saw the price. At six bucks a tin, I decided that I would just let Bootsy continue her unwholesome lifestyle. Unfortunately, Damien asked about it the very next time I was in, and instead of coming clean, I told a little white lie. He’d just made it seem like letting your fur baby eat anything else was bad pet parenting. And, it wasn’t like he would ever know. He wasn’t going to show up to my apartment, demanding to see the contents of Bootsy’s litter box.
Damien nodded. “Well, let me know if you need anything else for her. Oh, have you noticed how much more connected she is spiritually to you now? I swear, I recommend it to everyone.”
I avoided Jake’s penetrating stare as I paid before patting the front pocket of my backpack. “Definitely. So… Zen. Well, I better get to it.”
“Same. I’ll come by and check on you in a bit.”
I stuck the bottle of water in the side pocket of my bag, juggling the cinnamon roll and mocha as I made my way to the wooden table near the back. It was the only table with an outlet that was out of direct sunlight.
Next to it was an old wooden hutch that held cream and sugar. I found that it was the best seat in the house for eavesdropping, which was a win-win for an author in need of a story.
I loved everything about coming here. From the exposed brick walls and ceiling beams to the vintage signs and old produce case turned bookshelf, it was the perfect place to let my creativity flow.
Jake solved his first case here. Incidentally, he also fell off a balcony at this very table. It held a special place in my heart.
“I’m going to sit on the other side of the room,” Jake said in a low voice. Instinctively, I turned to where his voice came from just in time to see him add sugar to his coffee.
“No, don’t turn around. You and I aren’t having a conversation.”
He was going to add precisely two and a half raw sugars, keeping the other half in his pocket for his next caffeine fix. When I heard the distinct sound of paper being folded, a victorious smirk spread across my face. God, I loved being right.
“Why are you smiling?” He kept his back to me, so it appeared as if he was having a conversation with the various creamers.
“I’m not.” My grin widened.
He sighed, “You are. I can see your reflection in the carafe. What about this investigation is funny to you? See, someone shoots up my door, I’m not laughing. Then again, I’m not trying to have a spiritual intervention with my cat.”
My smile faded, and I turned all of my attention into retrieving my laptop from the backpack at my feet. “You’re just so—” What was he? “Predictable. Everything you do is exactly the way I wrote it. Sometimes, I’m even convinced that I know what you’re going to do next before you do.”
I saw him reach for a stirrer in the reflection of my laptop screen. Judging by how vigorously he was using it, I’d gotten under his skin.
“You’re probably right,” he finally conceded. “You are, after all, operating on an entirely different plane than the rest of the world. I’ll be across the room; try to act normal.”
I bit the inside of my cheek. “And how am I supposed to do that when you’re watching me from across the room?”
“Just write the book, Hayden. Don’t worry about who’s coming or going. Let me handle that. Tap your finger twice against the table if you understand.”
I did, feeling like a secret agent in a summer blockbuster.
With villains at every turn, there was only one woman capable of saving the world. All she needed was her trusty laptop and some caffeine—
“Hayden, I just needed you to tap twice. You can stop now.” He snagged a newspaper off an empty table and tucked it under his arm before moving toward a table near the front. From there, he’d be able to see everyone coming and going.
I took a bite of my cinnamon roll and cracked my knuckles before pulling up my manuscript.
Alright, Laura. Let’s solve a mystery…
Laura stood, shoulder to shoulder, with some of the city’s most upstanding citizens. It was unfathomable to think that any one of them could’ve been responsible for the body lying in the street, but her instincts told her that was exactly the case.
My mind went blank, and I began distractedly counting each pulse of the cursor. I was simply rehashing what I’d already covered. In all honesty, I had no idea what to do with Laura. Jake had pointed out her implied elderliness more than once and now I couldn’t help but picture her as some blue-haired granny with a cane.
How was she supposed to solve a murder?
Plus, by mentioning her husband early on, I’d destroyed any chance of adding a love interest for friction. It was shit.
I tried again.
Laura stepped away from the crowd and searched for… a way out of this story. She’d gotten roped into playing the main character after the author killed off the other one. Laura didn’t want to be next.
Laura was fucking everything up.
Jake caught my eye and frowned from over the newspaper. Obviously, he was enjoying the drivel I was spewing out about as much as I was.
I took a long drink of coffee, but the caffeine only confirmed what I already knew. I needed a new main character. Someone who was younger. Female. Maybe she’d been exposed to law enforcement by a former boyfriend or family member. Just enough that she’d know her way around a crime scene—oh my god.
My legs caught the edge of the table as I quickly stood up, rattling the plate containing my half eaten cinnamon roll. I just needed to act discreet.
Jake had the paper up again, reading, so I couldn’t signal for Plan A, which was for him to meet me in the bathroom. I was going to have to go with Plan B. I walked over behind his table and looked out the large glass garage door that they opened during the summer months.
Realizing I still hadn’t grabbed his attention, I stretched my arms overhead and yawned loudly.
“Hayden, what the hell are you doing?” He asked, without lowering the paper.
“I have a question,” I said, much louder than anticipated. I tried again, this time lowering my voice. “I have a question. About the book.”
When he remained quiet, I continued. “I think you’re right about Laura—oh man, what a beautiful day it is! Sorry, I thought that person was coming over here. We gotta stay discreet, right? So, I’m starting to think that maybe she’s not the right character. I was wondering if maybe—”
Jake dropped the newspaper and pushed his chair back away from the table, the legs scraping loudly against the concrete floor.
Good. We were going to discuss this like real people and not spies. Although I really felt like I was starting to get the hang of it.
“Our cover’s completely blown. I’ll be out in the truck.” I followed his gaze over to the counter where Damien was waving slyly at me.
I returned it and turned back in time to see Jake disappear through the front door.
“Decided you were in the mood for some excitement, after all?” Damien carried a damp cloth in his hand, but he wasn’t here to wipe down the table. He was here for the dirt.
“Um, well, I tried. Got shot down. Better luck next time, I guess.” I kept sneaking furtive glances toward the parking lot, hoping to catch a glimpse of my surly detective.
Well, not mine, mine.
“He’s kind of a pretty boy, isn’t he?” Damien asked.
I nodded. “Yep. It wouldn’t have worked out. Bootsy’s the most high maintenance thing in my life. I don’t have room for another. Would you mind boxing up my cinnamon roll and getting me a to-go cup? I’m just not feeling my muse this morning.”
It was supposed to be part of the cover, but I realized that there was no scenario where Jake suddenly developed feelings for me. He’d said just as much before we came in.
Damien brought me my food items as I packed up the laptop, consoling me with promises of what he’d do to Jake’s drink if he ever bothered showing up again. By the time I made it outside, the air had turned cooler and clouds darkened the sky. I walked around to the back parking lot.
“I think they saw us come in together,” Jake said, by way of greeting, as I struggled to climb up into the truck with full hands
“Oh, hey. Hello. I’m doing great, thanks for asking, Jake.”
He leaned across the seat and took both the coffee and the cinnamon roll from my hands before helping me up. “Hi, Hayden. This will come as a bit of a shock to you, but you stick out like a sore thumb.”
I snapped the seat belt into the buckle. “I do not! I was inconspicuous.”
He put the truck in reverse just as the first drops of rain began to fall on the windshield. “You were about as inconspicuous as a beer vendor at an AA meeting. And what the fuck was that cat food conversation?”
“You told me to be myself!” I bit out.
“Yeah,” he agreed before merging into traffic. “That was a mistake.”
“You coming back to life was a mistake,” I muttered to the passenger side window.
He prodded. “C’mon, Hayden. Surely you know that this operation failed miserably?”
Why couldn’t he have been hideous? At least then the exterior would’ve matched the interior.
“Any good stalker worth their salt is gonna stake out the parking lot. So, probably. Maybe. Alright, fine. Yes. There’s a very good chance that if someone was watching, they probably saw us together. It’s mostly my fault.”
“Mostly?” Jake asked, with a quirked brow.
“Yeah, I wasn’t thinking this morning and I put on my oil spray.”
He stopped at a red light and turned toward me. “You put on oil spray.” His speech was slow and measured like I’d suddenly stopped speaking English. “What does that mean exactly?”
“Oh, I’m an empath, so if I don’t use my spray every morning, I am drained by lunch. You know, it gets way too people-y out there.”
Instead of agreeing, Jake signaled and pulled into a gas station. “Hayden, I didn’t understand two words of what you just said. What the fuck is an empath and how does oil spray factor into this investigation?”
Seriously? What planet was he living on that he didn’t know about oils and empaths?
“My spray repels negative energy, so it’s a protective measure. It blocks any energy attacks and keeps me running on a full tank. It’s vital when I’m in writing mode.”
His eyebrows lifted. “So, let me get this straight; the spray kept the stalker away?”
“Not exactly,” I admitted with a sigh. “I have my crystals too. I swear, I didn’t even think about it being a problem. It’s just a habit to keep them in my purse. I mean, it’s not like I typically go out in search of negativity.”
He shook his head. “So, the crystals and sprays keep you safe from the bad people?”
“Yes,” I nodded happily. “And, with the work that you do, you could really benefit from it. I’d start small. Maybe keep some black tourmaline in your truck and house. Oh, amethyst would be a good one for you; they work as both a protector and a stress reliever. It’d definitely make things more bearable for you at work. Hematite’s another—”
“Sweetheart, there’s not enough oils and crystals in the world to make some people bearable. Do you catch what I’m saying?”
I opened my mouth to respond, but only managed a growl. The back of my eyelids burned and I knew that if I tried to talk, it’d just come out as a sob. That, in turn, would just freak Jake out completely.
I hated that about myself. Other people got mad and spoke their minds. Me? I cried and babbled incoherently.
Aaris once informed me that I got ‘wet angry.’ According to her, the majority of my emotions, including anger, were expressed through tears. Aaris? She was in a separate category known as ‘dry angry.’ She expressed her anger like anger—it both amazed and scared the hell out of me.
We drove in silence for about ten minutes before he asked, “What are you thinking?”
I turned away from watching the raindrops race each other across the window to answer. “I was just thinking that thirty stories wasn’t high enough.”
In 2003, she moved to Denver and met the love of her life. After some relentless stalking and a few well-timed sarcastic remarks, the man eventually gave in to her charms and wifed her so hard. They welcomed a son in 2007 that they named after their favorite Marvel superhero, Spiderman.
Sick of seeing beautiful mountains through their window every day, the three escaped back to the desolate landscape of the west Texas desert in 2009. She welcomed her second son not long after and soon realized that being surrounded by three men was nothing at all like she’d imagined in her fantasies.
After an unplanned surgery in 2014 and a long pity party, she decided to pen a novel about the worst thing that could happen to a person in order to cheer herself up. She’s twisted like that. Thus, From This Day Forward was born and the rest, as they say, is history.
Not only does Shannon enjoy stalking people, she also has a fondness for being stalked. Visit her at www.shannonshaemyers.com to keep up with her latest schemes and shenanigans.