Welcome back to Writer Wednesday, y’all!
Today, I have the great honor of welcoming one of my favorite authors and friend, Taylor Brooke! They’ve decided to share a deleted scene from FORTITUDE SMASHED with us, and fans of this series are going to love it!
Now, have a look at a scene from Karman’s point of view…
Karman flipped through a magazine. A mug of coffee looped through her fingers, tilted against her lips. She hummed. Did women really buy into this shit? Her brow lifted as she scanned an article titled ‘tips and tricks to achieve an eleven minute orgasm’. Wouldn’t that be nice? She snorted, turned the page, and sipped her cappuccino.
A few people stopped by the café on the south side of town, The Klatch, for their morning fix. Some students ordered sweet blended drinks despite the cold. A wrinkled old man read a newspaper in the corner, and a couple with their dog shared the loveseat outside.
Karman sat at the two-top table tucked against the window. She flagged Shannon down when he opened the door, looking more disheveled than normal.
“Hey.” She covered her mouth with her palm, talking around the mouthful of vanilla scone. “I didn’t know if you wanted hot or cold so I didn’t get you anything.”
Shannon sank into the seat, shoulders hunched, and scratched the two-day-old stubble on his chin. He never left without shaving, Karman knew that much. His hair was barely brushed. Dark circles stained the skin beneath his eyes. She looked him over again and he watched her do so.
“Someone went a little too hard last night,” she mumbled, still chewing. A baggy beige sweater with sleeves that covered his hands hung loose on his shoulders. He shifted and the collar drooped.
She swallowed. That couldn’t be. It was.
“Wurther!” She extended her arm and pointed, grinning. “That’s a hickey!”
“Shhh,” Shannon hissed, motioning with his hands for her to lower her voice.
“A hickey? You? Someone call the choir, hallelujah, thank you Jesus, Shannon Wurther actually has a hickey on his neck!”
He buried his face in his hands. “Yeah, yes, you are correct,” he groaned. “Thank you for being discreet.”
“You can’t expect me not be excited about this. When’s the last time you were with someone? Four years ago?”
“I’ve been with people,” he spat. “This one’s different.” His tune changed from very embarrassed to very serious.
She cocked her head. “What do you mean different?”
Shannon gave one of his sad smiles, the kind that didn’t look natural on him, and shrugged. “It’s November,” he said softly.
“Yeah?” Karman’s eyebrows pinched together. She sipped her cappuccino and tapped on the cover of the magazine. “It’s November, so what, yesterday was Halloween, what does…”
She jolted. The coffee in her hand spilled over the edge. Her eyes couldn’t have gotten wider, and she couldn’t have been denser. October. Shannon’s month was October and she’d completely forgotten. They rarely talked about it, not just because of Karman’s lack of Camellia Clock enthusiasm, but also because Shannon was typically private. They didn’t talk about soulmates or love or this.
“Your Rose Road…? You found it?” She held her breath. He wrung his hands and looked down at his lap. “Shannon…” The way she said his name was an apology. She closed her eyes, and forced a tight lipped smile. She hadn’t meant for it to come out that way – like she was sorry for him. “I mean, you found them?”
Shannon didn’t look up. He nodded and said, “Found him, yeah.”
“Well, tell me about it. Where’d you meet? Who is he?” Karman winked. She tried to level her voice, to lighten the mood and wipe the apprehensive look from Shannon’s face. “It seems to me he likes you,” she said, and puckered her lips. They were partners. They were best friends. They could talk about this without her old ghosts ruining it.
Shannon chewed on his lip. “He’s…different,” he said, and the word didn’t seem to fit. “I mean, he’s really, I don’t know, he’s Aiden. I can’t describe him.”
“Different? That’s all I get. You show up for Tuesday coffee lookin’ like a train wreck, hickeys on your neck, all kinds of weird, and all I get is ‘he’s different?’ Bullshit.” And Karman knew bullshit. She lived it. Breathed it. There was no way he was getting different past her. She pulled her long braid over her shoulder and played with the ends of it. “I don’t buy it. Spill.”
Shannon shifted. He inhaled, nervous energy sparking around him. She shook her head. Shannon wasn’t being Shannon and that didn’t settle well with her. He tugged at the sleeves of his sweater, sighed, looked away from her and around the café. Finally, he said, “This stays between us, Karman.”
She straightened in her seat. Shannon stared at her, and she stared back. “Yeah, okay…” She lowered her voice, hardly above a whisper. “What is it?”
“Promise me.” He forced the words out and closed his eyes, fingers drumming on the edge of the table. “You have to promise you won’t tell the Captain.”
That got Karman’s attention. She leaned forward, elbows settled on the glass surface of the table. Shannon Wurther didn’t say things like that. He didn’t keep things from his superiors or lose control. She clasped her hands around his wrists, halting his anxious drumming and squeezed. “Come on, Shannon. Badges off the table. What’s going on?”
Shannon relaxed. He nodded and licked his lips. “Remember that night I was taking the report at the gas station off Main? The one by the canyon?” Karman nodded. He continued. “I drove through downtown that night and…Do you remember the gallery burglar I tried to catch? The one I almost arrested? He’s…That night was October 2nd.”
Karman’s body tensed. Her jaw slackened. The silence turned, twisting all around them, until she couldn’t contain it. First, they came out small, puffs of laughter that could’ve been fake, then she erupted, wailing at him. She shook her head, pieces of hair falling out of her braid and all around her face. “No way. That night…? That’s the guy? The burglar is your Rose Road?”
“You’re so good at being subtle, Cruz,” Shannon grumbled. He ran his fingers through his hair and heaved a sigh. “But yeah, that’s the guy. The thief. That’s Aiden.”
“Aiden Maar? The file you requested? Oh my god,” Karman drew out the god for as long as possible. Her laughter started to trickle away. “Is he cute? He sounded cute.”
“That’s your question? I tell you the guy I’m fated with is a criminal, and you ask me if he’s cute. Honestly, you’re useless. This is useless.”
“Oh, stop freaking out, Wurther.”
Karman leaned back in her chair. She chuckled, watching Shannon chew on his nail, and then tug on the sleeves of his sweater, nervous and blushing. He was always the steady one, the one who kept his cool in the hottest situations, knew what to say and when to say it. Seeing him like this, experiencing something for the first time was almost kind of sweet.
“He’s gorgeous,” Shannon whispered. He glanced up at her and tried to smile, another sad Shannon smile, and it still didn’t look right on him. “I’ve never been in a place like this before. I’ve never felt like this – when I touch him…Karman, it’s…I’ve never felt anything like him before. Not like this… Not…” He lost them. The words he’d worked so hard to gather faded. He opened and closed his hands, almost like he could still feel whatever it was he’d been trying to explain. But it was all right. She understood.
Karman reached for his hand, and he reached back, lacing their fingers together. “I get it,” she whispered.
He smiled at her, a real one this time. “Do you?”
“Yeah,” she said, patting the top of his hand. And she did. And it was okay that she did. Even if there was a place inside of her, buried under her work and Fae and everything else, where Karman wished she was falling in love again, too.