​Tessa Brookfield

A gripping love story that will touch your emotions and warm your heart. 

After swearing off men, a young courageous woman did not hesitate to leave her home in Canada when offered her dream job at a large advertising company in Los Angeles. Running from her past, she was determined to make a fresh start and leave everything else behind.

Lexi Green is at the top of her game, a successful businesswoman who neither needs nor wants the distraction of a man in her life. Reacting to unexpected news that will change her life, as she now knows it. Her actions put her in a vulnerable situation that could be disastrous if not for Ryder Critchlow's unexplained intuition to watch over her.

While on a free spirited mission to make up for lost time, Ryder Critchlow captures her heart.

Lexi must face a tragedy that tests the power of the mind and the strength of the heart. Only time will tell if love will prevail and be enough to overcome the overwhelming situation she must face.

Chapter One
 
I now believe it to be the rarest of its kind—only to come along once in a lifetime, if ever at all. My heart belongs to him, branded by his love. The kind of love you only read about or watch in movies—never believing it to exist. The kind of love one can only dream about, believing something so strong could never be real. The kind of love never replaced once lost, so deep it becomes your means of survival and the air that you breathe. The kind of love so powerful that it lifts you at your weakest, giving you immense strength to fight for all you’re worth just to feel it again—strength you never knew you had.

What started as an irrefutable infatuation, heated with a passion so strong that generated the hottest kind of sex imaginable, turned out to be more—so much more. I knew it was different right from the start, with the undeniable connection towards him that was so overwhelming, having the power to ignite my entire body just by being in his presence. I just didn’t know that he was the one. The one I was to give my heart to, the one meant to watch over me. The one with the key to the sacred part of my heart that for most remains untouched, for it is reserved for that one very special person—only to ever open once.

You can spend your entire life searching always coming up short, but when you accidently stumble upon it, you may not know at first, but eventually you will. You will know by the way he holds your heart in his hands that you are one of the lucky ones that has found their true soul mate, the one person in the world that you were destined to be with, the one person you know you can’t live without.

If you are so fortunate to ever find him, which I was, hold on to him for all you’re worth, because in the blink of an eye it could all be gone, leaving you broken, never to be whole again.

Ryder Critchlow captured my heart right from the very first moment I saw him, and he is the only one that will ever hold my heart in his hands.

Beep, beep, beep, beep…

The simple task of opening my eyes was proving to be near impossible. When I finally accomplished that simple but agonizing task, the intense pounding permeating my head made me grab it with both hands, in hopes it would ease.

What in the hell happened last night?

Searching within the depths of my pounding, fog-filled head, I tried to put the pieces together.

Ryder, arguably the most beautiful man on earth—I remember flirting with him, only after I realized he was flirting with me. A smirk crossed my face at the blurred recollection I had of him. That other guy, the one that bought me drinks. For the life of me, I cannot remember his name, or if he even told me. I remember feeling uncomfortable and then…why can’t I remember anything else?

Never experiencing anything like this before was beyond unnerving. I knew I’d drunk a lot, but I have drunk that much before and this had never happened.

As the pounding in my head continued, nausea took over along with an intense twisting of my stomach. I somehow managed to scurry to the bathroom just in time, relieving the pressure in my head ever so slightly, only after expelling the contents of my stomach, which was nothing more than what remained from all I had drunk last night.

Looking and feeling like death warmed over, hunched over my bathroom counter, I cupped my hands, filled them with cold water, splashed some on my face and then rinsed the sour, bitter taste from my mouth. Staring at myself in the mirror, running my fingers through my hair, I froze with horror.

Trembling, I ran my hand over my arm, where a prominent bruise marked my skin, still very tender, and distinctly resembling the markings of fingers. Such a distinct mark like that could only come from someone grabbing me.

What in the hell happened?

Flooded with eeriness I took a couple of aspirin and climbed into the shower, tracing my footsteps of yesterday, looking for the answers that would alleviate my terror. My thoughts drifted back to yesterday morning...

Staring at the thin lines on my ceiling created from the beams of sunlight that were squeezing in through the slits of my blinds, I reluctantly pushed back the covers and headed for the shower, even though I really wanted to stay in bed.

As much as I loved my job, today was one of those days that I’d love to stay home, grab a good book and enjoy the tranquil breeze, the sounds and the smells of the ocean from my lounger on my balcony. I just didn’t have it in me to voluntarily miss a day’s work—I was what most would call a workaholic, chained to the same mundane routine day in and day out, leaving room for nothing else—solely by choice. Pretty close to every waking hour, I was either working or thinking about work. It’s what I knew, it’s all I knew, and it’s the reason I moved here to Long Beach, California, three years ago.

Deciding on my favourite black, with a fine pin stripe, pencil skirt and matching blazer over my white silk blouse, and after pulling my hair back in a bun, putting on my makeup and brushing my teeth, I grabbed my purse and a banana off the counter, and I headed for the door.

Surprisingly, given my awful eating habits of grabbing something here and there between meetings or on my way out the door, I have managed to maintain my figure. Partly due to how much I loved a good run along the beach when I could find the time, of course. It didn’t happen nearly as often as I’d like, though. I absolutely loved the scenery and the way the sounds of the ocean made me feel. There was something to say for the feeling of the wet sand under your feet squishing between your toes and the misty, cool breeze hitting your sun-warmed skin. It had become my serenity. The one place that allowed me to clear my head and truly relax. It had become a cleansing treatment, for my mind, body and soul.

Keel’s was located in downtown Los Angeles, about a half hour or so drive from my place or about seven or eight songs on my favourite play list, on a good day. The gate to the underground parking lifted at the swipe my card, and I pulled into my spot labelled, “Reserved for Lexi Green”.

“Good morning, Lexi.”
“Good morning, Julie. What’s my schedule like today?”

Julie looked at me through her Gucci, dark rimmed glasses. “It’s a pretty quiet day for you today. You have a meeting at one with Mr. Hutten, and another at three with the head of graphics and…” She glanced back at her computer screen, “That’s it for today.”

“Thank you, Julie.”

Julie was my assistant, who had been with me since I started at Keel’s. She was in her late thirties, very petite, and wore her bleached blonde hair in a short modern bob, which today I noticed that she was due for a colour touch up. Her natural dark hair was showing a good half inch of growth.

If it weren’t for Julie keeping me organized and making sure I knew where and when I needed to be somewhere, I would no doubt function in complete chaos. If I could even function at all.

I loved it here. It was always my dream to work for a large marketing and advertising company, and my dream came true when I was hired at Keel’s Advertising three years ago as a Senior Consultant. It was a no brainer to pick up and move here from Northern Canada, given what was going on in my life at the time—it was an escape that couldn’t have come at a better time—the perfect time.

Since starting at Keel’s I’d managed to secure some of our largest clients in just the three years I’d been here. Because of my accomplishments, I had been compensated very well and lived a very comfortable life style—boring but comfortable.

Sam Keel was the owner. A very successful businessman, to say the least. He had been married a few times, but none of them lasted very long with the most recent one ending about a year ago. I was sure that had something to do with how fast his hair turned from a hazelnut brown to shimmering silver in such a short period. Sam had spent endless hours dedicated to making Keel’s a success, but lately things hadn’t been so good with the turmoil of the economy, which had caused some uncertainty for Keel’s future.

The day really seemed to be dragging, but I kept myself busy with one of our older client’s files that had asked for some new advertising proposals. With business not being as it had been in the past, the days seemed longer. Today was no exception.

It was nearly seven o’clock when I looked up from my desk and found Sam standing in the doorway of my office. Surprisingly, with the day feeling as if it had been dragging the way it had, time somehow managed to get away from me. I didn’t realize just how late it really was.

Sam didn’t look like the usual Sam I was used to seeing. He looked tired and tense—even more so than usual, I thought. “Sam, is everything okay?” I asked.

He closed the door behind him and took a seat in the chair at the front of my desk. “No, Lexi, everything is not okay. There is no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to say it,” his voice cracked.

My heart sank, reaching the pit of my stomach as I stared into his tired eyes. This doesn’t sound good at all.

“Lexi, you know Keel’s has been struggling lately, and I have been forced to make some very difficult decisions.” He paused briefly with wandering eyes, unwilling to look at me.

I feared what was coming—it didn’t take a genius to see where this was going, given the distress in his voice. I fought to hold back the tears that started to burn at the backs of my eyes.

“Lexi, you have to know I did everything possible to prevent this, but I just can’t justify keeping you on at Keel’s any longer. Our new prospects are shrinking, and some of our existing clients have started to pull out. You have no idea how hard this is for me. I’m so sorry.” Sam’s head dropped, and his eyes searched the floor.

I was in complete shock. Yes, things had slowed down, but I didn’t realize it had gotten to this point. Never in a million years would I have seen this coming.

I noticed stress visibly present as he removed his glasses that were somewhat shielding his tired eyes set above dark, puffy skin. He continued, “I will make sure you receive a generous severance package, so you won’t have to worry about that. Lexi, you are a very talented young woman, and someone will scoop you up in a hurry, I’m sure of that. I have a few friends that would love to have you on board with them, and I would be more than happy to set you up with them, if that’s what you would want.”

This was really happening. I have made this place my life, I have given Keel’s my heart and soul, and for what? I had no real close friends, I wasn’t in a relationship because there was no time, and now I would no longer have the one thing I devoted all my time to.

I was finally able to find my voice, “I don’t know what to say, Sam.”

“If you agree, I would like you to stay at least another month, but if you don’t want to I completely understand.” His hand rubbed against his whisker-shadowed face.

“I, I don’t know right now, Sam. I honestly didn’t for the life of me see this coming.” I really didn’t know what I felt at that moment: shock, anger, resentment, sadness, or sickness, maybe a bit of everything all jumbled into one.“This is harder for me than you will ever know, Lexi,” he muttered as he pushed his heavyset body to his feet and headed for the door. Wow, I wasn’t expecting to find out I would be unemployed today. Not knowing any other way to live, I was suddenly in desperate need of a drink.