Title: Fractured Palace
Author: R.J. Loom
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Standalone
Release Date: March 22, 2016
They say home is where the heart is.
Ashton Roberts never understood that saying. Heart couldn't be found anywhere in the rundown bungalow she grew up in. It also couldn't be found in the luxury estate she moved into when her mother married her stepfather.
All Ashton wants is to get her degree, meet Mr. Right and find the happy stable life she never had. But when life constantly throws her curve balls, she begins to wonder if it really is just a pipe dream.
Until she runs into her former neighbor, Reed Collins.
As a child, Reed had always been Ashton's silent protector. As an adult, he is everything she has ever dreamed of in a man. If only he didn’t keep her at arms length. But as things heat up, guards drop and secrets are revealed which toss Ash back into the turmoil surrounding a tragic event from her youth.
Will Ashton let her past fracture the perfect picture of her future? Or will the meaning of loyalty, family and love be redefined?
After laying out rugs and putting away towels she began a battle with the packaging for the shower curtain rings. The plastic was sealed on all sides and no amount of tugging or biting at the edges would tear it open. She growled in frustration.
“Uh…Ash?” Reed chuckled from his bedroom. “You okay in there?”
Great. He heard her. “Yeah,” she called out. “I just can’t get this package open. Do you have any scissors?”
Ashton continued her fight then hissed as the plastic edge sliced into her thumb.
Reed appeared in the doorway and held out his hand. “Give it here.”
Happy to get rid of the stupid package, she tossed it to him, then stuck her thumb in her mouth to suck away the sting. As he began to struggle with the container, his eyes lowered to her mouth. They lingered there for a moment before he lifted them to meet her own. “Are you all right?”
She removed her thumb from her mouth and inspected it for any bleeding. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she dismissed, tucking her hand in her back pocket of her jeans as if she could hide the fact she was just sucking her thumb.
Fortunately, her slight embarrassment was short lived. With one last hard tug, the package popped open and shower curtains rings flew everywhere. They ricocheted off of the medicine cabinet, sink and walls before scattering all over the floor and in the bathtub. But it was the one ominous plop which came from behind her that was cause for concern. Reed must have heard it at the same time because he stepped forward just as she turned. A lone chrome shower curtain ring sparkled back at them from the bottom of the toilet.
Ashton swung her head around and locked eyes with Reed in alarm. “Injured,” she called out, thrusting her hand in the air as if she were holding up a free pass.
“Oh yeah?” Reed chuckled and raised a brow.
“Yeah.” She nodded solemnly, cradling her hand to her chest. The small, barely visible slice in her thumb had suddenly and conveniently become a grave situation. “I could contract MRSA or some other nasty infection.”
His eyes flicked down to her hands then back up to meet her gaze. “Well, we wouldn’t want that.”
“No, we wouldn’t,” she agreed, narrowing her eyes as a smile slowly crept across his face. The smile would not have been worrisome had it been a regular smile. No, this smile should have warned her to take a step back. Instead, she got lost in the way it reached his eyes and showed off his white, almost perfectly straight teeth.
“Good thing your other hand is fine,” he pointed out just as he lunged forward to try to grab her wrist.
“No!” She squealed, jumping out of the way.
He laughed and pushed one of his shirt sleeves up. “I’m kidding, Ash. I wouldn’t do that.” Shaking his head, he turned back to the toilet. “I’m going in.”
Ashton watched from the safety of the doorway as Reed swooped in to retrieve the shower curtain ring. He tossed it into the sink then washed it and his hands, going all the way up to his elbows. After he was done, he flicked water at her then grabbed a towel.
Reed’s eyes met hers as he dried his hands. Their laughter died off and silence stretched between them. Eventually, he cleared his throat and averted his gaze to the floor. A crease formed between his brows and she wondered what he could possibly be thinking.
“Ash …,” he began and lifted his eyes back to hers. In that brief moment, Ashton’s heart beat faster and she swore she felt some kind of connection with Reed she had never felt before. She wondered if it was her imagination or simply anticipation for what he was about to say. Most likely, it was a combination of both.
“Jackpot!” Danny announced from the bedroom, shattering the moment. “I found Reed’s spank bank!”
In spite of the horrible timing, Ashton could not help but burst out laughing. Reed groaned and stepped toward where she stood in the doorway. They both looked over to find Danny with a huge grin on his face as he held up a couple copies of some car magazine.
She shook her head and turned back to Reed. “You share a gene pool with that one.”
“Yeah,” he said, running a hand over the back of his head before he looked back over toward his room. “Hey, Danny. Why don’t you go outside, dig a hole, jump into it and bury yourself,” Reed suggested as if it were a great idea.
This only made Danny laugh harder.
“I’m just messing with him, Ash,” Reed murmured in her ear before he stepped passed her.
She knew he had been but her curiosity over what he had been about to say made her reach out to grab his arm to stop him. “Wait, what were you about to say in there,” she asked, inclining her back toward the bathroom.
His eyes shifted from the bathroom over to meet hers. He smiled but it was nothing like the smile he wore only a few minutes earlier. This one was weak at best. “Oh…nothing important,” he said with a shake of his head. Hooking a thumb over his shoulder, he took a step back. “I better get back to this so I have a bed to sleep in tonight.”
“Okay.” Ashton released his arm and watched as he walked back into his room.
R.J. Loom was born and raised along the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio, where she still resides with her husband, two children and two spoiled dogs. She loves books, music, travel and anyone with a great sense of humor. When she’s not writing, she can be found with her nose in a book, looking for more books to add to her “to-be-read” pile or spending time with her family.