Authors: K. J. Reed
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary
Staff Sergeant Travis Donovan is on the hunt for his little
sister. Though he hasn’t spoken to her in years, his last deployment reminded
him how short life is, and it’s time to reconnect. Only problem? The one piece
of contact information he has, a cell phone number, belongs to someone else
now. A woman named Ariel. A woman he can’t get his mind off.
Ariel Winston doesn’t have time for a man. Her plate is full
with work and grad school and family obligations, and she’s fine with that. But
the innocent friendship she’s sparked with Trav, the anonymous texter, can’t
hurt. Right? It’s not like she’ll ever meet the guy face to face.
But when these two collide during a night of voyeuristic
pleasure, they have decisions to make. Will they balk at what fate has dropped
into their laps? Or be willing to look beyond the unique circumstances and
enjoy their finite time together?
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Text Me Copyright © 2010 KJ Reed
Edited by Grace Bradley
Cover art by Dar Albert
Electronic book publication December 2010
The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of
Ellora’s Cave Publishing.
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written
permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home
Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this
copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or
distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without
the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement, including
infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is
punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
(http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print
editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of
copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
Thank you to my husband, who answered all my stupid Marine
Corps questions, even though he swears I should have known the answers.
And to my critique group, you guys were awesome for walking
me through the sticky plot points.
Special thanks to Marguerite Labbe and Tibby Armstrong for
taking the time to read for me.
And lastly, to the child care center at the local YMCA, who
never minded watching my daughter while I wrote for two hours instead of
working out. My thighs might not thank you, but I do.
The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark
owners of the flowing wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Banana Republic: Banana Republic, LLC
Disney: Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Emily Post: The Emily Post Institute, Inc.
“Remind me again how you coerced me into doing your job?”
Ariel asked, heaving another load of clean straw into a now-sparkling stall.
Sweat dripped down her brow, leaving a streak on her glasses, but she didn’t
dare stop to wipe the lenses now. God only knew what was on her gloves.
Mary Ellen, an adorable, tiny pixie with auburn hair, popped
her head out of the stall next door. “Because you love me. Because you needed a
break from studying. And because it was either this or your brother was going
to draft you to work in the dining hall.”
“Oh, right.” Ariel gave a fake shudder and went back to
forking hay. Anything was better than working the dining hall where a bunch of
half-drunk, middle-aged corporate executives would mutter disgusting comments
and leer at her chest while she served their dinner.
The Winstons owned a camp outside the city limits of
Philadelphia. In the summers, it was used as an overnight camp for children,
ages seven through thirteen. But during the off-season, they held corporate
team building events for companies that wanted an excuse for a long weekend of
relaxation for their executives. While the camp was able to sustain itself on
the profits from the summer campers alone, the corporate cash had a special
purpose. The extra money brought in by those high-paying CEOs went toward
scholarships for underprivileged children so they, too, could attend camp for
the summer like their fellow classmates.
As much as Ariel wasn’t a fan of horse crap, she would do
anything to make sure that one more child was able to experience a week at Camp
Tecumseh, free from their troubled home life or peer pressure to join gangs.
Plus, after studying all day, the physical activity did feel good. Not that she
would admit that to Mary Ellen.
“Have you talked to Brice lately?” Ariel probed.
Mary Ellen snorted, eliciting a responding snort from the
horse she was brushing. “He’s avoiding me. Again. Your brother can’t figure out
what the hell to do with me. One minute he stares at me like he wants to rip my
clothes off, the next he’s acting like he wants nothing to do with me.”
“So in other words, no change,” Ariel joked. Brice, her
older brother, was adopted at the age of ten out of the foster care system.
Nineteen years later, Ariel often forgot he hadn’t been born into the family.
Of course, the fact Brice had beautiful coffee-with-cream skin from his mixed
parentage and Ariel’s skin was almost translucent was a good reminder.
“No, no change. He’s determined to play the dog in the
manger role through to the end. The bastard,” Mary Ellen muttered loud enough
for Ariel to hear through the wood walls. “How about you? Any word from Text
Damn. Somehow she let the conversation get away from her.
“No comment.” She grunted as she hefted one last batch of hay into the stall,
then propped the pitchfork against the outside wall and pushed the wheelbarrow
across the way to the next stall.
“Remind me again how Text Man came to be?” Mary Ellen asked,
her voice carrying over the clopping of hooves as she led another of the camp’s
horses into the fresh stall Ariel had just vacated.
Ariel sighed. She could pretend to not hear, but her best
friend would just ask again. And again. “When I switched cell phone companies
and got my new number, I kept getting texts and calls meant for the person who
had the number last. Her name was Sarah, and apparently she fell off the face
of the planet because she never told anyone her new number. I ignored them at
first, but they kept coming so I would just text back and say the number
belonged to someone else now. It slowed down then stopped. And then I got one
more. When I texted him, he texted me back to thank me. Of course…” She paused
to blow a puff of breath, moving a stray hair from her face. “Of course nobody
else bothered to thank me.”
“You expect too much from strangers,” Mary Ellen put in.
“Your manners are from the fifties, sweetie. Not everyone reads Emily Post. In
fact, I doubt anyone does.”
“Shouldn’t matter,” Ariel grumbled. “Not the point. Anyway
he texted me back a few days later saying that Sarah was his sister who he’d
lost contact with and asked if I knew how to reach her.”
“And let me guess. You, being the eager beaver you are to
help out anyone and everyone, told him where to look.”
“Of course I did,” Ariel said, annoyed that her idea of
being polite was worth mocking. “I told him to check the online networking
sites for her. And when that didn’t work, it kind of went from there…” she
finished, trailing off and hoping Mary Ellen would leave it alone.
No such luck. “What went from there?”
“We just talked. Through text, I mean. A few messages here,
a few there. He was always very polite and nice. I feel bad that he’s having
such a hard time tracking his sister down.”
“Maybe she has a reason to not want to be found. Did you
think of that, Ariel? What if it’s not his sister, but his wife? What if he’s
an abuser looking for his wife? What if he’s like some creepy ninety-year-old
“You’ve been watching that JLo movie where she’s stalked by
her crazy husband, haven’t you? Stop watching late-night television, Mary
Ellen. Sometimes a spade is just a spade. And besides, I don’t have a clue
where this Sarah person is, so any advice I gave him was pretty general
anyway.” She blew another strand of hair out of the way. “Plus, he’s not
ninety. He’s twenty-eight. How many ninety-year-olds do you know that text? My
grandpa is seventy-eight and he can’t even use a cordless phone half the time.”
“Do you know his name?” Mary Ellen’s voice was muffled,
coming from the tack room now.
“Travis,” she replied absently, then wanted to bite her
“Does he know your name?” Mary Ellen’s voice was right
Ariel yipped and dropped the pitchfork. “What the hell? I
could have stabbed you!” she yelled, spinning around and looking down. At
five-foot-seven, Ariel towered over her barely five-foot friend.
Mary Ellen rolled her eyes. “Right. Answer the question.
Does he know your name?”
Ariel bent to pick up the pitchfork and mumbled her reply.
“What the hell were you thinking, giving him your name?”
Mary Ellen asked, her voice hot with frustration.
“It just came out! I can’t take it back now. Besides, he
just has my first name. And he knows I’m twenty-four. Nothing else. And if he
bugs me, I’ll block the number or just change it again.”
Mary Ellen shook her head in disgust. “You’re too trusting.”
“Did you give out any other information?” Mary Ellen asked.
The stinging almost-accusation hurt. Instead of showing it,
Ariel made a mock face of horror. “You mean, I shouldn’t have given him my last
name, social security number and current address?”
“Knock it off,” Mary Ellen said, bumping Ariel with her hip.
“Can’t be too careful. Come on, you believe that too, it’s why we stick
together when we go out. When we hook up.”
And she had a point. Mary Ellen’s heart was otherwise
occupied and Ariel was too busy working on her masters in social work to give a
real relationship a go. But sometimes the itch just needed to be scratched, and
when they got the urge, the two friends headed out together and found men
willing to take them both on. One man or two, it didn’t matter. The
safety-in-numbers theory was their motto, and in the years they’d been going
out together they had no reason to doubt it worked.
“You sound like an unconvincing alcoholic in the middle of
an intervention.” Mary Ellen laughed.
Just then four beeps sounded from the work bench. Ariel’s
heart sped up and her palms started to sweat in response. Pavlov’s dog, she
thought with mild irritation. But she couldn’t deny the source. The hope that
the text might be from Travis.
Only one more stall to do and she was more than happy to
leave it to Mary Ellen, given it was her job to run the stables for the camp.
Ariel dropped her gloves in a bucket and washed her hands in the utility sink.
Then with a deep breath, she opened her phone to read the text.
Just wanted to see how your day was.
She’d never seen his face, never heard his voice. It was
like some unspoken boundary between them that neither would overstep. But for
some reason, his simple presence through the phone was a version of comfort.
She would never meet him. But she enjoyed their interactions.
“What’d he say?”
“Ah!” Ariel placed a hand over her erratically beating
heart, took a few deep breaths then turned around. “Do you have to keep doing
Mary Ellen smiled. “You looked like you had something to
hide. You guys sexting?”
“Sexting? You’ve got to be kidding me. What are you,
seventeen?” Ariel punched her friend lightly on the shoulder. “No. It’s just
“Uh huh,” Mary Ellen said, one eyebrow arched in the
dumb do you think I am?
face. “Well, if you’re done, then shoo. You’re in
my way and I’ve got horses to groom.”
“Love you too!” Ariel blew her friend a kiss and walked out
of the stable and into the fresh air.
* * * * *
“Exactly how did I get roped into coming here again?” Pete
Travis Donovan frowned at his friend. “You agreed to come,
you idiot. You didn’t have to. I told you I’d be taking up most of
post-deployment leave looking for Sarah. And you said you’d be bored with just
boning chicks by yourself while I was gone and invited your ugly ass along for
Pete grunted at that.
“You could still be back at Camp Pendleton, lazing away
leave with hot women.”
Pete shrugged his shoulders and stared out the window.
Trav drove from the Philadelphia International airport
toward the city, familiarizing himself with the sights and sounds of his
hometown. He hadn’t been back in years. Ten, to be exact, since he graduated
high school and joined the Marines. He wouldn’t have come back now, either, if
he hadn’t been so worried about his sister.
His phone vibrated in the cup holder of the rental car. He
grabbed the cell and tossed it into Pete’s lap. “Make yourself useful. Read
that, will you?”
A few clicks of buttons being pressed followed, then Pete’s
voice. “My day was messy. How about yours? A.” A short pause, then, “Is this A
person the chick you’ve been texting with?”
“The one with Sarah’s number? Yeah. I thought at first she
might know where Sarah was, but she had no clue. She gave a few suggestions of
how to find her, but none of them worked out. And we just kind of…kept talking.
Nothing big, just small stuff.”
“Uh huh,” Pete said and Travis could almost hear his friend
roll his eyes. “How do you know it’s a she? Could be a dude.”
“Her name’s Ariel,” Travis said through clenched teeth. Then
with concentrated effort, relaxed the chokehold he had on the steering wheel.
“Still,” Pete went on, his voice thoughtful. “She could be a
dog. Completely disgusting.”
“Shut up, Pete. She’s not ugly,” Travis muttered as they
rolled to a stop for a red light.
“So you’ve seen a picture?”
No, he hadn’t. But the instinct to defend Ariel was oddly
strong. It was crazy. But he just knew somehow she wasn’t ugly. And even if she
was, she’d been one of the most helpful people he’d ever encountered. He
wondered vaguely if she was as nice in person as she appeared through text.
He’d never find out. “She just isn’t ugly, all right? Lay off.”
“Good phone sex then, right? I’ve never seen the point,
personally, but if you can get a girl moaning over the pho— Jesus, Trav!” Pete
rubbed his shoulder where Trav had given him a none-too-gentle punch.
“Shut up about her,” he warned.
“All right, sorry. I’ll stop.”
Pete’s quick and easy reply went a long way in cooling
“Shit,” he said, driving on with the green light. “I’m
sorry. Just lay off, all right? It’s not like that. It’s just… She’s just… It’s
not like that.”
“Okay then.” With his usual easygoing nature, Pete gave up
the fight. Pete was looking around the scene of Trav’s childhood. “Topic change
time. Ah, how about signing our re-up papers? Any clue what base you want to
request from the detailer this time?”
“Yeah, I dunno.” Trav knew it was time to renew his Marine
Corps contract for another three years. But unlike years past, he wasn’t as
gung-ho about it. The nervous excitement of seeing what base he was being sent
to next was missing. He hadn’t had the time to figure out why yet, but he
needed to soon.
“We need to talk about it. Papers are going to be waiting
for us when we get back.”
“I know.” Just one more thing on his list.
* * * * *
An hour later, Pete and Trav were checked into the hotel in
rooms across the hall from each other. After dumping his stuff, Pete wandered
into Trav’s room, sneering as Travis hung up a shirt.
“You know, you might be the only person I know who actually
hangs stuff up at hotels.”
Trav scowled. “Sorry I’m not a big fan of wrinkles and the
Pete flopped back on the king-sized bed, bouncing once
before settling. “So, what’s the plan? I assume you have a plan, you always do.
Do we hit up the parentals for your sister’s whereabouts?”