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Letting Go by JM Dragon

Prologue

 
The city of Asheville was much like any other thriving populated area. This one boasted that it had recently celebrated its’ one hundredth and sixtieth year. Its inception began with the discovery of gold in the surrounding hillsides. Inevitably, the gold ran dry, but unlike other mining towns, Asheville continued to flourish. A wagon train of new settlers had taken a shine to the area and decided to continue where the miners left off. Eventually, the small town in which the settlers chose to begin their new lives became a large, thriving metropolis. 
 
One aspect of the original township remained, the local newspaper, the Asheville Globe. Although the paper had modern press technology and a large state readership, it remained a family run business, having done so since its first issue in eighteen-seventy five. 
 
People equate a newspaper with reporting the news.
 
This story is not about the newspaper. At least not directly. No, this is about a romance that did not make the headlines even though the Asheville Globe had its part to play. It all began in earnest when….
 
Chapter 1
 
“Stella? It is you. How have you been? I haven’t seen you since…well, ages.”
 
Stella Hawke recognized the gushing voice as a comrade from her army unit, met during her enlistment, Reggie Stockton. She managed a passable smile. 
 
“Good and you, Reggie?” 
 
Stella watched as Reggie moved closer, towering over her.
 
“I’m pretty good myself.” Reggie said. She grinned. “My dad was so glad to have me back safe and sound that he gave me an easy reporting job with the family newspaper. Life is going well. What have you been doing? Are you still in the army?” Reggie scrunched up her face.
 
Before Stella could reply Reggie spoke again. 
 
“I’d never have expected to see you in Asheville. Do you live here now? Some coincidence, huh?”
 
Stella recalled Reggie’s empathy and forgave her the questions. Normally she would have walked away by this point. 
 
“Yeah, some coincidence.” Stella shrugged. “My grandmother used to live in town. When they diagnosed her with cancer, I decided not to re-enlist. I managed to spend the last couple of months with her before she died. That was six weeks ago.” 
 
Stella blew out a breath she had not realize she’d been holding. “I’ve had odd jobs around the place while waiting for probate to sort things out…it was a little messy. Governmental paperwork is the very devil, right?”
 
“Yeah, right,” Reggie agreed.
 
Stella rolled her eyes as Reggie placed her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. She’d seen that look before and it usually meant that Reggie had made a decision.
 
“My job at the paper requires that I attend a luncheon where the old—well, maybe some young—wealthy women of Ashton congregate every three months and have a raffle. This time the prize is Super Bowl tickets.” She grinned. “Local dignitaries pay top dollar to attend. More to be seen rather than to win the prize.” 
 
Reggie’s eyes brightened. “Stella, come with me and we can catch up properly.”
 
Stella looked down at her attire. It was functional but hardly presentable for the cream of society. “Thanks for the offer, Reggie, but I have an appointment at two.”
 
Stella felt the hand rather than saw it appear on her forearm. It held a gentleness that she had not experienced for some time. 
“Stella, if you need a job, or anything, while things get sorted out for you, I’ll do what I can to help. You always were a great organizer. I could arrange….” 
 
Stella winced and abruptly withdrew her arm. 
 
“No! Damn it, Reggie, I don’t need your family's charity. I’m capable of finding my own way in this world and I will. Go to your damn charity luncheon and forget you ever saw me.” 
 
Stella forced herself to watch the pain of the refusal appear in Reggie’s expressive hazel eyes, as her brow furrowed and her lips took a decided downturn. 
 
“No problem, take care of yourself.” Reggie fished a business card out of her purse and placed it in Stella's hand before she turned and left. The three-inch heels she wore clicked on the sidewalk—the long legs reminding Stella of a stork’s pace. 
 
Stella watched Reggie leave as a part of her screamed to call her back and accept any morsel of help. Then, the darker voice that now ruled her world shouted louder, drawing the despair of her soul into the blackest corner it could find. She had no appointment. She had only the dim prospect of hope after she’d read in the local newspaper that the Asheville Globe had an open day for taking on new staff.  Talk about irony. With a heavy sigh, she opened the door Reggie had just come out of and entered the building. 
 
Regina felt that her head was going to burst if she had to listen to one more aged society matron ask her why a lovely, well brought up woman, like her, hadn’t been snapped up. Glancing around, the feeling of the constricted surroundings at times overwhelmed her. She realized that she was looking at her future. 
 
“Why, Regina, how wonderful to see you,” Regina smiled politely at Flora Andrews, the cream of Asheville society. 
 
“Your father must be so proud of you,” Flora gushed. 
 
Flora’s family had arrived on the Mayflower and she made sure everyone knew it. Her glowing brunette colored hair, styled perfectly, matched the fake diamante spangled dress she wore. She often made it a point to announce, with arrogant pride, that her antique jewelry once belonged to English ancestors.
 
Reggie extended her hand. “I’m sure he is, Flora. I haven’t seen you for ages. How have you been?”
 
Flora gave her a disconcerting stare before responding. Reggie was sure it would be the usual sympathy-seeking conversation. 
 
“The usual ailments for my age, my dear. The old bones are creaking and my heart condition isn’t getting any better. I’m glad you didn’t come to any harm with that hair-brained scheme of yours to join the army in a time of war. If only your mother?”
 
Reggie held up her hand. “Sorry to cut this short, Flora. I see Ian Hemmer just arrived and my dad wants an article on him.” She gave Flora her best fake smile. “We’ll talk later.”
 
Two hours and numerous interviews later, Reggie questioned the wisdom of her job as a society reporter. Somehow life, at least hers currently, had become trivial. The stark realization of the friends she’d lost on the battlefield still loomed heavy in her heart. She roamed her eyes over the self-important people around her. 
 
“There are times when I’d give my right arm to be a soldier again,” she whispered to herself.
 
A voice pierced her preoccupation. “You want to give all this up to be a soldier? Are you mad?” 
 
Reggie turned in astonishment and grinned. She impulsively jumped forward and hugged the man who’d spoken to her. “Chris, how wonderful to see you.”
 
“Wow, if I’d known this was how I could get up close and personal with Reggie Stockton, I’d have taken this road years ago.” A low chuckle followed his words.
 
Reggie cuffed him gently on the shoulder. “Chris,” she said. “I didn’t know you attended this kind of function.” 
 
Reggie studied Christopher Adams. He oozed personality, was the envy of most men, and caught the attention of even more women. He was wealthy, handsome, and a wonderful conversationalist. Who wouldn’t want to invite him? 
 
“I attend only the functions that interest me.”
 
His indolent tone held something more but Reggie chose to ignore it. “Okay, I’m game,” she said instead. “What’s interesting about seeing the blue-rinsed wealthy crowd…unless, of course, you prefer older women?”
 
He grinned, and took a sip from his champagne flute. “Oh, not all the attending have a blue rinse.” He reached out and touched her hair. “Yours for instance is dark golden, flecked with bronze.” 
 
Reggie gave him a bright smile as she pulled away from his touch. “I don’t see a lot of the younger set here.”
 
“You’re right. It’s mostly the geriatric crowd.” He shrugged. “Seriously, Reggie, how have you been? I haven’t seen you since that welcome home party at your dad’s place. When was that…eight months ago? What are you doing now, other than joining the elderly jet set?” 
 
Reggie chuckled at his last words, and then from out of nowhere a distinct picture of Stella Hawke invaded her mind. “Fourteen months to be precise, but who’s counting. I heard you were heading for Washington. Any truth in that?”
 
His smile made him arguably more handsome. His expression was inscrutable as he winked at her.
 
“I will be in a couple of months. How about a drink after this for old times?”
 
“Sorry, I arranged to see a friend later.” She smiled. “Rain check?” 
 
This time, Reggie was sure Chris’s smile was forced. “Sure, a rain check it will be. You never told me what you’re doing here anyway.”
 
“No, I never did. We’ll keep it for the rain check,” Reggie replied. “It was great to see you again, Chris.” She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll call.” 
 
She headed for the exit with everything she needed for the newspaper article. Once she polished it and emailed it to the newsroom, her workday was complete. 
 
Minutes later, she sank into the leather seat of the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 her father had given her when she returned from her first tour of duty. Her thoughts once again traveled to Stella. She sighed heavily before engaging the engine. Moments later, the car shot out onto the street—the throaty exhaust her exit trademark in the still, late afternoon air.
 
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To read Terry's review, click here. 
 
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