Claiming her Joy’s Lost Piece (Preview)

Chapter One

Serena tucked a blue hairpin at the back of her head. Ruben always said her color was blue.

“Serena! Ruben is here,” her mother’s voice carried up the stairs. Serena smiled and looked into the mirror. It was a bittersweet evening. Tomorrow, Ruben would be headed off to college and was going to leave her behind. She swallowed hard. She was doing her best to come up with a way for them to stay together, but so far, her plans were just hopes.

She pulled on a white knit sweater and rushed out of her room, taking the stairs two at a time. She nearly ran into her mom at the bottom of the stairs.

“Hey, you look like you’re in a hurry.” Her mom grabbed her shoulder and looked her up and down. “You look beautiful, honey.”

“Thanks, Mom.” Serena loved how encouraging her mother always was. There was never a time when her mom didn’t make her feel confident and loved. “Where’s Ruben?”

“He’s in the living room, waiting for you.”

“We’ll be back by nine. I promise.” Serena’s parents were pretty strict about curfew. Serena understood their concern. She had heard her fair share of stories about young women staying out late and never coming home. Despite that common fear, Freedom, Texas was a small town where everyone knew everyone. There were crimes on occasion, but they were few and far between and were typically things like small robbery or shoplifting.

“You’d better be. Last week, you got back at nine-ten, and your dad was practically going up the wall. He worries about you.”

“I know. I’ll see you tonight.” Serena slipped past her mother and into the living room. Ruben was sitting on the couch. His long, lanky leg was folded over the other, and his dark hair was ruffled. It looked like he had just stepped out of the shower, though his hair also looked styled at the same time.

“Wow, you look amazing.” Ruben stood and crossed the room.

“Thank you. You don’t look too bad yourself. You all ready for your big day?”

“No, not really.” Ruben’s face fell, and sadness showed in his eyes. “I don’t want to go. Maybe I made a mistake accepting that scholarship.”

“You didn’t. We are going to figure this out.” The one option that Serena had come up with to stay with Ruben was one he wasn’t going to like.

“For now, let’s go, or we’re going to be late for the movie.” Ruben put his arm out, and Serena tucked her hand into his elbow. She leaned her head on his shoulder for just a second. She was eager not to lose this. She didn’t want him to go away to college. She didn’t want to try a long-distance relationship. New York was so far away. Even if she did have the time and the money, visiting would be difficult. A couple of hours of visiting couldn’t make up for what they had now.

Ruben led her outside to his car. It was a simple Toyota, just enough for transportation. One of the things Serena liked about Ruben was how simple, yet confident, he was. Other kids at their school were richer and had fancy cars, fancy clothes, and huge houses. Ruben had none of that, and yet he was still confident and sure of himself in a way few were.

Ruben opened the door for her, and she slid inside. She watched as Ruben walked around the front of the car. He started the engine, and they drove down the block.

“So, are we going to talk about it?” she asked. Even though they’d discussed Ruben going away for college many times, they hadn’t spoken about what that would mean for them. Six months ago, they had spoken of marriage, a future together, kids, and a house with a white picket fence. Now Serena was doubting whether Ruben still wanted those things or not.

Ruben gave her a quick glance before redirecting his eyes to the road. “Let’s not talk about serious stuff tonight. Why don’t we just enjoy the evening?”

“Okay.” Serena leaned back into the seat and reached over to take Ruben’s hand. Tonight, they would pretend that nothing was changing between them.

—*—

Serena stared up into Ruben’s eyes. They were troubled and full of something that made her heart twist. He had been oddly quiet after dinner at their favorite place.

Ruben wrapped his hands around her waist and pulled her in for a hug.

“I love you, Serena. I hope you know that.”

Serena rested her head on his shoulder. “I love you too. Is everything okay? You’re starting to make me feel like it’s not.”

Silence surrounded them for a long while. Serena didn’t even know how long they were standing like that. She wondered if her parents were watching from the window.

Ruben pulled back. “I had fun tonight, Serena.”

“Me too.”

He leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss on her forehead. “I didn’t want to do this tonight, or ever but I have to tell you I can’t…we can’t do this.”

“What are you talking about?” A cold jolt ran through Serena’s body.

“I thought that we could keep seeing each other long-distance, that we could keep this going, but I realize now, we can’t. I’m going to be in New York, Serena. That’s too far and for too long.”

“What does that have to do with anything? What about all of our plans?”

“I care about all of that, and I’m sorry, but…it’s time for us to say goodbye. This was a high school thing. You are only eighteen. We don’t even know what we want from life yet.”

“I want you.” Serena stepped closer to him.

He took a step back and held his hands out to stop her. “That’s what you think right now, but I’m only your first boyfriend. You haven’t traveled. You haven’t gotten to know anyone else. You don’t know if this is what you really want, and neither do I. I can’t ask you to keep hanging on for me when it could be years before we’re together again.”

Serena shook her head. She didn’t recognize the man who was saying all of this. She wanted the old Ruben back, the one who had reassured her that they would grow old together and sit on a porch swing sipping tea with gray hair.

“Where is this coming from? We weren’t going to give up on each other, even when we had to go our separate ways, remember? We can write to each other and visit. We don’t have to say goodbye forever.”

“Serena, don’t you understand? I don’t want to hold you back, and I don’t want to hold myself back either. If I go to college, I want to enjoy college. I want to be able to have the experience that everyone else has. We are young. We should live our lives for a while before deciding things like who we are going to marry and what sort of house we will live in for the rest of our lives.”

Serena was the one who took a step back now. She couldn’t believe that Ruben was doing this to her. He had always told her they would be together forever, and now he was backing out of that. She had at first thought that this was about her, but what if Ruben really wanted those experiences like he said he did? What if he just wanted to be free to date other women and not have to be tied down to her?

Tears slid down her face.

“I’m so sorry, Serena. I do care about you, but we should both be free until we have a little more experience.” Ruben reached toward her, and for a second, emotions of heartbreak and sadness were mirrored on his face. Then his mask slipped back on, and he turned away. “Goodbye.” His words were so soft, she barely heard them. She watched, stunned as he got into his car and drove away. She had been so naïve to believe that what they had was real. Ruben was right. They were too young for what she thought they had. She never should have given him her heart.

She placed her hand on her chest and, with the other, wiped at the tears that kept coming. Her hopes, her dreams, and what she wanted were crumbling around her. Without Ruben, nothing made sense anymore. He was gone, and she knew that he wouldn’t be coming back. Her boyfriend of three years had just driven out of her life and was moving halfway across the country without even looking back.

Serena turned and took the steps up the porch two at a time. She breathed a sigh of relief when she found the living room empty. At least no one was around to see her humiliation and her grief. It was as if there was a hole right through her heart. She ran up the stairs and threw herself on her bed. Sobs shook her body. She wondered if she would ever feel alright again.

This was supposed to be one of the happiest times of her life, as she decided what she was going to go on to do with herself. Instead, she felt as if it was the end of her happiness.

Chapter Two

Eight Years Later

Serena poised her pen, waiting for further notes to come for her to jot down. Everyone in the room was silent as they waited for the meeting to be called to an end. Serena’s stomach growled. One of the stresses of being a lawyer was working and eating around work. Sometimes, she missed meals or would have one extremely late or had to eat on the run.

“I think we’ve covered everything. Overall, we did a great job with this case.” Mr. Lazlo, one of the partners at Deniers and Co. Law Firm was sitting at the head of the meeting table. He took care of assigning cases to different lawyers or picking a lawyer to assist him with more intricate cases.

The rustling of paper and other noises filled the room as the people around the table gathered their things and headed toward the exit. Serena took her time. She didn’t mind being the last one out of the meeting room, especially if it meant avoiding bumping elbows and fighting to be first out the door.

“So, are we still catching lunch together?” Rita, one of her coworkers asked, sidling up to her.

“I would think so. I’m starving. Did you and Amy decide on the place yet?” Serena raised her eyebrows. She loved going out with her friends whenever possible, but Rita and Amy had serious problems with settling on anything, especially restaurants.

“We were hoping you would choose this time. Amy says that it’s time to do Italian again. I think that the deli down the street would be better. It’s close, and their sandwiches are amazing.”

Serena giggled. “What if I choose a third location?”

“No, you can’t do that. It would create an imbalance of disagreements among us.”

“Okay, fine. Let’s do the deli. Just because I am in a hurry today and don’t feel like spending half an hour in traffic to get to lunch. I am literally starving. I didn’t have time to eat breakfast at all.”

“All right then, I definitely won’t tell Amy that you chose the deli because you like me best.” Rita grinned, throwing her bright red curls over her shoulder.

“Please don’t. I don’t need to deal with another friend feud today. Maybe I should actually go with the Italian place on Morse Avenue.” Serena tapped her chin.

“No! No! I’ll behave. Let’s meet at the deli at twelve-thirty. I’ll let Amy know. It’s Gerald’s Deli. You can’t miss it either, so make sure you come.”

“I’ll be there.” Serena watched her friend rush out of the office. She didn’t exactly get along with everyone in the law firm where she worked. Some people were jealous of her. Some seemed to feel threatened by her. Neither of those two groups was particularly friendly. Serena was happy that she had found friendship with both Amy and Rita. The two of them were warm souls who would take in anyone. She had no idea how she had been lucky enough to be adopted as the third member of their group.

There were certainly lots of other options. Little by little, after she had started working at the firm, they would invite her to lunch or ask her to go to the mall with them. Their friendship blossomed, and now they were known as a trio. They did everything they could in their spare time together. They had even stayed over at each other’s houses as if they were twelve again.

Serena smiled at the memories. She loved both Rita and Amy. They were a huge part of her life. They made things better, that was unless they were trying to set her up on a blind date.

Serena made a point to finish up her work quickly and head to the deli. Even though it was close, she didn’t want to be late. She was surprised she had never been to Gerald’s Deli. It was really close to the law firm, and it looked cute, in a quaint sort of way. An old-fashioned silver bell rang above the door as she pushed it open. Wooden tables and chairs were sprinkled around. They had simple white tablecloths and fresh flowers as centerpieces. It felt like she was stepping into an old-fashioned shop, from out West or something.

Rita and Amy were sitting at a round booth toward the back of the deli. Rita raised her hand and waved her over. Serena smiled, and her shoulders relaxed just a bit. Sometimes she forgot how tense she always was at work. Amy motioned to the empty spot beside her on the bench.

“Just so you know, I’m not mad that you picked Rita’s suggestion over mine.”

Serena smiled. “Sure. I’m sorry, Amy. I just really didn’t want to drive too far for lunch today. Traffic is terrible at this hour.” That was one of the downsides of working in Chicago. Traffic was horrific in the middle of the city.

“It’s fine. I understand.” Amy shrugged.

“So, you ready for your blind date?” Rita asked, changing the subject.

“No. I still can’t believe you guys set me up for another one. The last two went terribly. Did you really have to go for a third?” Serena appreciated her friends’ efforts to find someone special for her to share her life with, but she was tired of going on blind dates. Her friends had become a bit obsessed with setting her up.

“This one is going to work out. Mark is a great guy. You’re going to like him.” Amy gave a little squeal and squeezed her hand.

“Why do you guys not want to introduce us before we decide to go on a date? I think I can tell whether I’m going to like a person or not with a simple meeting and not having to go through all the trouble of going out with them.”

“That is exactly why.” Rita shook her head. “You make your judgments way too fast, and then you don’t even give yourself a chance to succeed. There’s no fun in that, and you will never find someone that way either.”

“Fine, fine. I’ll go. But if Mike is like the rest of the men you have set me up with, I am done with blind dates. I don’t care how much you guys push for it. I’m good with being single anyway.”

Both of her friends exchanged glances. “That is so unfair. It’s only been three dates.”

“That is three too many.” Serena almost winced as she said the words. Since Ruben, she hadn’t found someone who really understood her. She’d had one serious boyfriend for a couple of months when she was in college, but it hadn’t worked out. He wasn’t Ruben, and while Serena knew that wasn’t a good excuse, it was the only one she needed. She had just gone through the motions of dating him, but her heart wasn’t in it. It wasn’t like she was waiting for Ruben to come back into her life. She knew that what they had was gone. However, she was pretty certain that she would never find what she’d had then.

She had been young, barely out of high school, and hopelessly naïve, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t understand what love was.

She shook her head, dispelling the memories. “Enough about all of that. Let’s order. I’m going to starve before the food comes.” Rita motioned for a waiter to come over, and they all placed their orders.

—*—

Serena kicked off her shoes and let a stack of files fall on her kitchen counter. Living in an apartment all alone in Chicago was something that had taken some getting used to. She’d had a roommate in college so transitioning to being alone whenever she wasn’t at work was hard at first. The apartment was so quiet and lonely that she hardly wanted to come home at all.

She grabbed something to eat from the fridge, then carried her plate and a couple of manilla folders over to her tiny living room and placed them on the coffee table. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she leaned her back against the couch. Her mom used to always ask why she liked sitting on the floor and using the sofa as a backrest instead of a chair. Serena hadn’t been able to explain her habit then, and she still couldn’t now. It just made her feel more comfortable.

She took a bite of cold pizza as she laid out the files and her notebooks, getting ready to compile her notes for their next case. There seemed to be a lot of people who needed protection from crimes they didn’t commit. Serena wasn’t sure what made her become a defense lawyer. Maybe it was just her compassion for people and her passion for justice.

Just as she was about to write her first note, her phone rang. She only paused a second before answering. It was her mom.

“Hi, Mom, what’s up?” Serena asked, pressing the phone to her ear.

“Serena, it’s good to hear your voice. Is this a good time, or should I call back?”

“It’s fine.” Serena pushed her files out of the way and stretched her feet out straight, crossing them at the ankles. “I just got home.”

“Oh. Your dad and I were just wondering when you were coming to visit. It’s been so long since the last time, and I don’t know if we can manage a visit up there right now.”

Serena sighed. She missed her parents, but she had so much going on with her career right now that visiting was sort of a hard thing. “I want to visit Mom, but I’m trying to arrange things here. You know that they are kind of strict when it comes to vacation days.”

“I know, but you’re doing so well for yourself. We saw that you made it into the newspaper last week. We were both so proud.”

“Hi, honey!” her dad’s voice came from behind her mom.

“Tell Dad I said hi back.” Serena smiled into the empty room. When she talked with her parents, she had a hard time fighting the homesickness. She used to love sitting in the dining room at home, doing her homework while her mother made homemade cookies. There were so many things she missed about her life back then.

“How has the farm been going?” Serena asked. Her parents ran a small hobby farm back in Texas. They loved to grow things and live off the land, as her dad put it. They still managed to make enough money off of their farm to survive on, though the amount had decreased now that they were older and couldn’t do as much as they used to.

Serena had many memories of the chores and responsibilities she would help out with when she worked with her parents on the farm.

“It’s going okay. We’ve downsized a bit. We sold a few chickens last week. I’ve been telling your dad that it’s time to retire, but do you think he’ll listen to me? Absolutely not. He is determined to keep it going until we drop over dead.” Her mother’s voice was full of fun. That hadn’t changed between her parents. The way they joked with each other and laughed and loved each other purely.

“Don’t wear yourselves out. It’s better to quit while you’re ahead than go more than you can handle.” Serena felt a stab of guilt. Maybe instead of trying to be a big-shot lawyer in Chicago, she should be back home helping her parents. Then again, part of the reason she wanted a successful career as a lawyer was so that one day, she could support her parents financially. Already, she was able to send them a small amount each month which she liked to think helped them be a little less worried about money.

“We won’t. So, your dad is over here bugging me to ask again, do you have any idea when you might be able to visit?” Her mother sounded worried, like she was asking too many times. Serena took a deep breath. They were just excited and missed her.

“I am going to do everything I can to get a few days soon. Whether that will be in a week or a couple of months, I’m not sure yet. I’ll talk with my boss. I promise.”

“Okay then. We just miss you, darling. I wish we could move to Chicago, or you could start a practice here in Texas. I hate being so far away from you.” Her mother’s voice was sad. Serena knew that she wasn’t mentioning what they were both thinking. Her parents had never been able to have a second child. They had tried. They wanted more children, but things just didn’t happen after Serena was born. Maybe if her parents had more children, they wouldn’t be so alone.

Serena sighed. She would have loved a sibling growing up.

“Mom, I hate to do this to you, but I have to go. Do you have time to talk tomorrow? I’ll call you on my way to work.”

“That works fine, honey. We can talk while I milk the cow.”

Serena giggled. “Tell Dad I said goodbye, and I love you both.”

“We love you too, Serena!” her parents said in unison.

Serena reluctantly hung up the phone. She always felt so guilty when she turned her parents down. They had been begging her to visit for a couple of months now. She would love nothing more than to take monthly trips down to visit them but growing a good reputation as a lawyer was hard work. She had to work on case after case, not to mention, she wasn’t quite ready to quit her job at the law firm and start her own practice. When she was ready, she would certainly look into doing so in Texas. Her mother was right. Living so far away from each other was no fun.

Chapter Three

Serena paced the kitchen of her tiny apartment. She was supposed to meet her mystery date at the restaurant in forty-five minutes. She had no idea what to wear. If she went too fancy, she might be giving off the image that she was too invested. If she didn’t dress up fancy enough, she would be giving off the vibe that she didn’t care.

Deciding that she was overthinking it, she returned to her closet. She settled on a yellow sundress with long sleeves and a pair of white shoes. She threw her hair back in a low ponytail and pulled on a white sweater. Looking into the mirror, she decided that she was an even mix of classy and casual. She wondered what Ruben would have thought of the outfit. He would have said she was beautiful. Serena sighed. She had to stop comparing everything she wore and did and everywhere she went to with what would have happened with Ruben.

As much as she hated it, Ruben was a part of her past. If he had intended on coming back and rescuing her, telling her that he was still in love with her and that he had changed his mind about leaving her behind, he would have done it already. Ruben had probably moved on and married some other woman and was living in a fancy house with a white picket fence and two children. The image made Serena groan inwardly. The dreams she had once shared with her high school boyfriend still haunted her and probably would for the rest of her life.

She grabbed her purse and hurried outside to call a cab. She wasn’t in the mood to drive, especially since it was going to be dark in a couple of hours. To her surprise, a taxi stopped pretty quickly, and she was on her way to the restaurant. She felt mild disappointment that her date hadn’t picked her up but instead had agreed to meet her at the restaurant.

It was a simple little place, not quite fancy, and not quite simple. She smiled wryly. It seemed that she had chosen the right attire for the evening. If they had gone somewhere fancy, she would have felt underdressed.

Serena was pleased to see that she arrived five minutes early. Hopefully, that would impress her date. She hoped that Rita and Amy were right. She wouldn’t be against the idea of going on a second date with one of their setups. The young woman at the front of the restaurant stopped her.

“A table for how many?” she asked.

“I’m supposed to be meeting someone. Mr. Mark Howen?”

“Of course. There is a reservation here under that name. Right this way.” The young woman led her to a table toward the back of the restaurant near a window. It was just out of the way enough to be private. “He hasn’t shown up yet, but you are free to sit and wait for him. Can I get you something to drink in the meantime?”

“Just water is fine.” Serena forced a smile. Maybe showing up early was a bad idea. She would have to keep that in mind for future reference.

“I’ll be right back with that.” The young woman hurried off.

Serena stared after her. She should have told Rita and Amy that enough was enough. She never should have agreed to this. The minutes ticked by and turned to half an hour, and then an hour. She squirmed uncomfortably in her seat and looked up expectantly every time someone entered the room, but he never came. Eventually, Serena ordered herself food and had dinner alone. She could see the sympathy in the waitress’s eyes.

The waitress never said anything, but Serena could tell that she was feeling bad that she had been stood up. Serena enjoyed her food and left a tip. She had never been stood up before. Whatever great guy her friends thought Mark was, they were wrong. Either that or he’d had no way of contacting her, and something had come up. Serena gathered her things and caught a taxi back to her apartment. She found herself remembering how Ruben never would have stood her up in a restaurant after agreeing to go out with her. He never would have even been late.

—*—

“So, how was it?” Amy grabbed Serena’s shoulders from behind.

“It wasn’t,” Serena ran a hand over her face. She hadn’t slept very well the night before. Her sleep had been full of dreams regarding Ruben and her parents and her home back in Texas.

“It was that bad? What was wrong with him this time? Mark is a great guy. There’s no way you two didn’t get along.”

“He didn’t show up. I waited for more than an hour, had dinner alone, then went home. No sign of this handsome Mark guy.”

“You can’t be serious.” Amy narrowed her eyes. “I am going to give him a piece of my mind.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s probably for the best. Do you know if Mr. Lazlo is busy? I want to ask him something.”

“I don’t know. He’s in his office. You could ask his secretary.”

Serena nodded. “Okay then, I’ll see you for lunch?”

“Yeah.” Amy smiled. “And I’m really sorry about Mark. We really thought he would be the one.”

“I’m sure.” Serena meant it in a joking manner, but part of it was true. Her friends always thought the best of people. They rarely stopped to look for flaws. Serena hurried down the hallway, enjoying the bustle of busy people. She rarely saw someone with nothing to do in the law firm. There were always cases to take care of, files to store, other things to sort out. It was an endless job, with more opportunities sprouting up faster than the old ones disappeared.

Mr. Lazlo’s office was one of the larger offices in the firm. It had glass windows on all sides and a huge decorative wooden door. There were blinds on the windows, which were usually closed, keeping everyone from seeing inside. Sometimes Serena wondered what he kept himself so busy doing all day long.

There was no sign of his secretary at the small desk outside. Instead of waiting, she knocked on the formidable door.

“Come in!” Mr. Lazlo called out almost immediately.


“Claiming her Joy’s Lost Piece” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Serena Bolton has a career as a lawyer that anyone would envy. However, behind this success is hidden a wound caused by bitter betrayal; a wound that will be reopened when the man who broke her heart is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Compelled by some inner voice to prove his innocence, she returns to Texas to defend him. Very soon though beneath the ashes of the past she feels the sparks of her bygone feelings for him…

Is the love they once shared meant to be reignited or is the trauma too deep to be healed?

At the age of 18, Ruben Welsh was accepted to a college on a scholarship to pursue his greatest passion, playing football. After a serious injury though his dreams came crashing down. Since then, he has worked as a detective at the local precinct in Texas, until he gets treacherously trapped in a horrifying scheme. In his most somber hour, he knows that there’s only one person he can turn to, the woman to whom he never admitted the truth about their separation, Serena…

Regret is his most painful scar…

While Serena and Ruben uncover a disturbing truth, old emotions inevitably resurface. When Serena’s life is put in mortal danger, they realize they are each other’s shelter in the storm. Will they make it out alive with their hearts intact, or will the terrible abyss engulf them?

“Claiming her Joy’s Lost Piece” is a contemporary western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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