Branson’s Kind of Love Trilogy
Written by Diane Zparkki
Copyright © 2016
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of Diane Zparkki, except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.
Editing by C&D Editing
Cover created by: Ravenne Designs
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and events portrayed in this book either are from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, establishments, events, or location is purely coincidental and not intended by the author. Please do not take offence to the content as it is fiction.
Trademarks: This book identifies product names and services known to be trademarks, registered trademarks, or service marks of their respective holders. The authors acknowledge the trademarked status in this work of fiction. The publication and use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
This book contains mature content not suitable for readers under the age of 18. This book contains content with strong language, violence, and sexual situations. All parties portrayed in sexual situations are over the age of 18.
taring at myself in the mirror propped up in the corner of my bedroom, I wondered, How the hell did I get here? I stood there for another ten minutes, thinking I better contemplate My outfit included black jeans, converse, and a black tank top. My wardrobe mostly consisted of jeans, hoodies, sneakers, and boots. No dresses. In fact, the only formal dresses I had owned were the two I had worn to prom. The first one was to my best friend Shannon’s prom. Billy asked me to be his date after his girlfriend dumped him two days before to go with one of the football stars. Bitch. I donated that dress to a local charity. The other dress was worn to my own prom the following year. That dress was now long gone, buried at the bottom of some garbage landfill, being wormed back into the earth. Good riddance.
I was ready for my parents’ famous Sunday barbeque—well, my mom and stepdad, but I just called him “Dad” now. They loved having the family over for dinner. I didn’t know why they thought it was such a big deal when one of us was always there during the week, mooching dinner. If I were honest with myself, the real reason they had these dinners was to check on my mental stability. Over the past few years, those dinners had become a regular occurrence after I moved out to attend college.
I had taken a year off after high school to get myself back on track after I’d had a major meltdown that would have taken out three towns. Now I was coming back at a turtle’s pace, but I was coming back.
High school was so long ago, filled with great memories of football games, soccer games, pep rallies, dances, drinking, and school pranks. It had been the ultimate high school experience…until I had started dating Steve. Prom night had destroyed all those happy memories. That evening had twisted me up inside, shut me down so tightly nothing was going to penetrate my Teflon wall. It was the closest I had ever felt to death.
Death…Maybe death had occurred, just not in the physical sense.
I knew what death looked like, and I knew how people acted around it.
My father died when I was four. My memory was cloudy of him, but I remembered that day clearly.
My father lay in a plain mahogany coffin, wearing his favorite blue, checkered shirt. I had no idea why I knew it was his favorite; I just knew. He also had on a pair of black jeans, his boots, and his leather vest that had patches on it, like the other men at the funeral. To this day, every once in a while, I would get a whiff of worked-in leather, and it would remind me of him. I didn’t know why I would remember that above all else, though.
I also remem ered a man at the back of the parlor, dressed similar to my dad. He had several tattoos, as did the rest of the men who stood with him and shook his hand.
“Mommy, is Daddy sleeping? Why can’t I wake him? Why won’t he wake up? Daddy, wake up!” I remembered saying.
My mother took my hand and brought me over to the casket where she laid her hand on my dad’s. “Daddy died, sweetheart. His soul is already in Heaven. His body is here so that all his friends and family can say good-bye.” As she explained death to me, it was the first time I saw tears stream down her saddened face.
I had no idea what a soul was, so she tried explaining it again to me. “It’s like when your daddy would ride his motorcycle. He was the soul of the bike; he controlled it. He brought the bike to life and made it move. When he got off the bike and turned the engine off, the bike stood still. His body is like the bike, and his soul is the engine.” She looked down at me and gave me a big sigh because I stood there with big doe-eyes in confusion.
“Daddy’s a motorcycle?”
That was when a blonde lady came up behind me and asked if I needed to use the bathroom. My mom nodded her head at the lady and hugged me before sending me off to the bathroom.
The lady came into the stall to help me fix my tights. Even as a child, I hated getting dressed
While we were in there, we heard two women speaking in the bathroom.
“Poor Sara. What is she going to do with that little girl now, raising her alone so far away
from her family? Maybe she will move back home,” one woman said.
“She might when she realizes her husband’s so-called family will no longer take care of her,”
added the other woman.
I looked up at the blonde lady, trying to make sense of what my little ears were hearing. She just continued to fix my clothes until the women left. Then we walked out of the stall and washed our hands.
I remembered looking up into the reflection of the mirror and seeing the blonde lady’s eyes held anger in them, but she also wiped a tear away from her cheek. I never asked the lady about it.
She brought me back into the funeral parlor, and I noticed a lot of people I had never seen before, most of them dressed in black, hugging my mom and speaking in another language.
I had no idea my mom spoke another language until that day. I always thought she spoke gibberish when she was angry. However, I later learned that she was actually speaking Italian and cursing like a sailor.
Mom always said families were great, but you couldn’t pick your family. Sometimes, the families you built with friendships were the greatest ones. They knew how to support you the best. I would guess that was why we never spent much time with my mother’s family.
We rarely saw her family, only a few phone calls on birthdays or Christmas. As the years moved on the phone calls started to dwindle. We were on our own.
The next few years were hard on us. We moved from our home to a small two-bedroom apartment not too far from my school. Mom worked a lot of hours as an accountant and took on new clients, working late into the night after putting me to bed. I was always in before and after school programs. Regardless, my mom made sure I never went without, and she absolutely made sure I knew I was loved.
We had teddy bear picnics in the park, put lick and stick tattoos up and down our arms, or on rainy days, built forts in the living room. She never made me feel like I was missing out on anything.
What she didn’t know was that I could hear her crying in her room at night. Her cries were muffled, probably because she was sobbing into her pillow, but I could hear her. Still, she never showed her heartbreak over the loss of my dad to me or anyone else. Instead, each morning, she would get up and start her day with a smile. She had done better than I was doing now.
When I was seven, Mom started dating Brad. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him, but I knew he made my mom happy. She laughed more, her smiles were genuine, and her late night cries were
replaced by phone calls that had her giggling.
Mom had met Brad at a singles mixer—well, that was the story they told everyone. They actually met at a bereavement group for widows and widowers raising children on their own.
Brad had lost his wife Jenny due to a freak complication during childbirth. She had been giving birth to their second son, Logan, when something had gone wrong. Logan had only met his mother for a short few seconds before she had lost consciousness and died.
Just before Mom and Brad moved in together, the man from the funeral home came to the apartment. I remembered how nervous Brad was, pacing the floor and rubbing his hands up and down the front of his jeans. Mom, on the other hand, was as calm as a Hindu cow. It was rare that she would get flustered.
The boys and I played video games in the living room while Brad, Mom, and the man talked in the kitchen. The boys had just looked up at him when he had first come in, seeming unaffected by his presence, and continued playing.
The man had sat with his back to me, so I couldn’t see his face. They talked for a while, and once the man finished his beer, he shook Brad’s hand, hugged Mom, and then left. He never came back to our home again.
The following month, Brad, his boys, Mom, and I all moved in together. The house they bought had two huge oak trees in the backyard. They were so big I couldn’t put my little arms around the trunks. We had tire swings hanging from them, a tree house built in one, and Mom even made Brad rent the tallest ladder he could find to climb up the tree and carve our deceased parents’ names in them—Thomas in one tree and Jenny in the other. She said, that way, as the trees grew, they could watch over our growing family, too.
Mom was raised Catholic, but she had become more spiritual than religious. She often would say their spouses had brought them together. I thought that was a little morbid but sweet in a bizarre kind of way. That was my mom.
It was a week after we moved in that I met Shannon. She walked right up to me, wearing a little pink summer dress with white sandals, and her dark brown hair was pulled up in a ponytail with barrettes holding the strands in place.
“Hi, I’m Shannon. What’s your name?” she introduced herself.
There I was, lying on my belly on a floral blanket in the front yard, coloring. My messy, curly red hair was all over the place as I looked up at her and blew a strand out of my face, swearing I
had put it up in a ponytail that morning. I was wearing my favorite purple tank top and little jean shorts with a purple flower on them, and I was barefoot.
“Hi…I’m Sydney,” I said. “Why are you all dressed up? You going to a party?”
Shannon smoothed out the front of her dress, looking at me with confusion in her eyes. “No, this is my summer dress.”
Oh, boy, were we in trouble, and trouble we were from then on.
We were inseparable and as opposite as opposites could be, but she was still my best friend, and I knew she was also worried about me.
Shannon was a year older than me, whereas my new brothers and I were all two years apart. Therefore, I had to spend my last year of high school without my best friend. Meanwhile, my brother Holden was in his third year of college away from home, and Logan had enlisted and was deployed overseas in Afghanistan. That whole year, it was just me, Mom, and Brad holding down
I noticed the digital clock flashing behind me from the reflection in the mirror, telling me I had been standing there, pondering for way too long. I sighed at myself, thinking I hoped my happy ending came soon.
I looked at myself one last time as I picked up my bag, put on my happy face, and headed to my red Jeep.
I lived in a small loft over my brother’s garage. Holden had bought a farmhouse a few years ago and renovated it. Logan had moved in to help pay the bills when he had returned from his tour of duty and had invited a friend from his squad to come back with him to rent the third bedroom.
I had originally been staying on campus at the university, but a lot of freaky things had been happening to me there. At the beginning of this year, my room had been broken into and trashed. Holden had suggested I move into the loft, and I had jumped all over that idea, loving the idea of creating my own space.
A short drive later, I pulled into my parents’ driveway and noticed the boys had gotten there before me. There were three Harleys sitting in the driveway, two belonging to my brothers. It never surprised me to find there was an extra person at our dinner table; it had been like that my whole
I could see the barbeque smoke billowing up in the backyard, so I decided to go straight to the
back. Just before I swung the gate open, though, I took a deep breath and blew it out. I put my hand on the gate and debated about how this evening’s questioning was going to go. I decided I couldn’t think of that. Happy face.
I pushed the gate open, calling out, “Hello, everyone,” and quickly noticed the new face looking back at me.
I had met most of my brothers’ friends, but not this one. I actually found myself stopping to size him up.
When he stood up, I noticed he was a little taller than Logan—maybe six-one or six-two. He had sandy brown hair cut short and was wearing a fitted black T-shirt, which showed the guy worked out, and jeans that had a worn-in look that sat right on his hips with a black belt and black boots. I couldn’t get a look at his eyes, though, since he had on wraparound sunglasses. Eyes were my thing. I could usually tell a person’s character by their eyes.
“Hello, Cat!” Logan called out to me as Holden came around the corner with some corn to put on the flames, bumping my shoulder in greeting and bringing me out of my daydream.
I must have looked like an idiot.
I walked over to Dad and gave him a peck on the cheek then turned to introduce myself to
“Hi, I’m Sydney, these bozos’ sister.” I pointed over my shoulder to where my brothers were standing.
He looked confused. “Sydney? I thought your name was Catherine. Logan always refers to his sister as Cat.”
“Nope, Sydney’s the name.”
“When she was little, her hair was a lot redder, and you could never hear her coming,” Logan piped in. “She always snuck up on us and scared the living shit out of us, so we started calling her ginger cat, and eventually, we shortened it to Cat.”
I hated that nickname. Only my brothers were allowed to call me that.
As he leaned forward to shake my hand, I could see dog tags under his shirt, and that was when I realized this was Logan’s Army buddy who was going to rent the third room.
“Well, I’m Jaxon. Hi.” His handshake was firm with just enough gentleness, and it gave my body a spark I hadn’t felt in a long time.
My mom came into the backyard, interrupting my train of thought.
“Hi, sweetheart.” “Hey, Mom.”
“Did you meet Jaxon, Logan’s friend?”
Oh, have I met Jaxon…I grinned to myself.
“Yeah, just now.” Tonight’s dinner was going to be an interesting one, but hopefully, the focus would be off me. No awkward silence. I could just sit there and enjoy checking out Jaxon.
We all sat around outside on the patio, chatting. Logan and Jaxon told us how they had met the first week of basic training and how they’d wreaked havoc, which didn’t surprise me. Holden told us about his new renovation job in the city and what a pain in the ass it was to travel back and forth. Then the awkward silence rolled in, which was my cue that the conversation was about to turn to me.
I needed an escape.
“Dessert, Mom?” I started to clear the table and bring the dishes inside.
I knew I needed about twenty minutes before they would forget about me. I didn’t want to answer the same questions they always asked: When are you going to be normal again? Have you made any real decisions about your future? How are your sessions going with Dr. Thore?
I knew my parents were happy I had decided to return to school after taking online classes and picking up a few courses over the summer. Then Dr. Thore had suggested I adjust my path, so now I was back in school full-time. I had worked my ass off to get there, and now I was going to graduate at the end of this school year.
I was taking my time cleaning up the last of the dishes when I heard the ruckus of someone coming in.
“Sydney, you in here?” Shannon asked a moment later. Mom had invited Shannon and Danny, her boyfriend, over for dessert since they had been over at Shannon’s parents’ place for dinner,
“In the kitchen!” I shouted back. “Hey, you hiding out again?”
I laughed. Shannon knew me well.
Sunday night dinner attire for Shannon was nice, blue, cropped pants with a white golf shirt and white sneakers. She actually looked like she had just gotten off the golf course. Me? I was still the opposite: black on black on black.
“Well, aren’t you a lucky girl, then?” We both laughed.
“Girls, do you mind running to the store to get some cream?” Mom interrupted as she came into the kitchen.
Great, there was my escape!
“Sure, Mom, no problem.” I grabbed my bag.
Shannon offered to drive her nice, safe, silver Acura as we listened to the new tunes she had uploaded.
“Park anywhere, Shanny. I’ll run in,” I told her when we pulled into the shopping center.
She turned into the grocery store parking lot and was circling the lot when we both saw the green Ford pickup truck with the worn-out bumper sticker that read: “Education is Important, But Big Biceps are Importanter.”
When I saw that truck, it felt like someone had just kicked me in the gut. I could feel the blood draining from my face, and my hands started to sweat. I knew whom the truck belonged to, and I just wanted to press down on the gas pedal and peel out of there. Thank God for Shannon, because that is exactly what she did.
She looked over at me with concern in her eyes, heading right back toward my parents’ house. “Shannon, we can’t go home without the cream. They’re gonna ask why.” I had left my body
for just a few minutes, but I was getting better at controlling my inner freak-outs.
Shannon looked at me with confusion.
“I don’t want this to become a manhunt when I get home,” I explained. “Things have been getting better. I haven’t seen Steve in almost three years. We don’t even know if that was him. He might’ve sold his truck.”
Shannon continued to look at me in bewilderment. “Are you shitting me, Sydney? You know that was his fucking truck, and that means he’s back in town. He can’t be anywhere near you.” There was no official police document saying that. Steve just knew better, and Shannon never held back.
“Please, let’s go to the corner store to get the cream then go home.”
they both felt guilty for not being there when all the craziness had happened. “Please, Shannon!”
Shannon reached over and squeezed my hand.
We stopped at the corner store, and Shannon ran in while I continued to collect myself. I can do this. Then Shannon ran back to the car, and we drove back to my parents’.
“Please don’t say anything to them,” I begged, my hands shaking again as we turned down my parents’ street. I needed to do the whole meditation self-talk before I went in and faced all of them.
Shannon just looked at me with frustration and anger. “You know your family loves you. You need to let them in. You need to let me in.”
I knew she was right, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to handle this on my own. Besides, I was in therapy once a week now and doing great. Dr. Thore had even said she was pleased with my progress and suggested cutting back to once a month. After today, I doubted that would happen.
“Just cover for me. I’ll be right out after I go to the bathroom.” What I really needed was to pull myself together. I had taught myself how to get my control back, but I needed some more time.
Shannon shook her head in disapproval, but I knew she would do it.
I went straight to my parents’ en suite bathroom and looked in the mirror for the second time today, trying to pull myself together.
“Don’t cry. Don’t cry.”
I cried for the first time in a long time. Seeing that truck had hit me hard.
Once I was done, I cleaned up my eyes the best I could and pulled down my sunglasses and looked back in the mirror. It would have to do.
I came around the back again where everyone was lazing around the outdoor fireplace, another addition to the backyard. Mom was cleaning up the dessert dishes while Shannon was pouring coffee.
When Shannon saw me come around the corner, she mouthed, “Are you okay?”
I gave her a thumbs up and the best fake smile I could muster. Then I looked over at the boys and noticed Jaxon’s shades were pushed back onto his head, the perfect distraction I needed.
started cursing in Italian on the way down, landing flat on her face. There she was, sprawled on the patio with the dessert’s remains across the ground.
When she sat up, I saw her knees were scratched up and starting to swell a bit.
Always attentive to my mom, Logan quickly came over to help her into a chair and took a closer look at her knees. Holden sent me in to get ice and the first-aid kit.
We patched Mom up, and then Brad sat with her while the rest of us finished cleaning up the dishes for her. With all the excitement, I forgot about my own inner crisis.
After all the cleaning was done, the boys decided to take Jaxon over to the Open Cork, the bar I worked at on the weekends where I could pretend for a few hours I was normal and alive. It was the only social interaction I had.
The boys mounted their bikes after thanking Mom for dinner and rumbled off. I stuck around a bit longer to chat with Shannon, Danny, and my parents. However, the whole time I sat by the fire, talking, all I could think about was Jaxon and his caramel eyes. I didn’t get a good look at them, but I knew I wanted to get to know them better.
Sydney Sommer was a fun loving girl until an incident at her senior prom broke her. She became withdrawn and after three years has been working hard at finding herself again and trying to let her family help. When she meets her brothers friend, Jaxon Triggs, she feels something and is not quite sure what it is.
Jaxon realizes Sydney has a story, he also realizes she is his friends sister. However, he sees something in Sydney he wants a part of and decides he is going to take a chance to see if he can break through the walls Sydney has enclosed herself with. Danger is lurking though which could push Sydney even farther from those she loves.
This was just the type of book I had been looking for. Story starts off with a bang and doesn’t let up. Liked all the characters but Jaxon stole the show. Definitely will be checking out more from this author.