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The Recluse

The Recluse

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A single mother who needs a job has no time to fall in love. He knew love was a lie, and he was determined to prove it.

Main Tropes

  • Grumpy Hero
  • Single Mother
  • Second Chance Romance

Synopsis

A single mother who needs a job has no time to fall in love.Traci is a devoted mother who needs a job. Her daughter Sophia is a bright asthmatic whose father has left them both. Determined to take care of herself and her child Traci will take any job. When she winds up as the executive assistant to Vincent Chance she thinks her luck couldn’t be any worse. She doesn’t want anyone in her town to know how desperate she is but there’s nothing she won’t do for her baby.He knew love was a lie, and he made sure to prove it.Vincent Chance knew why women followed him. The women were in love with his money. Every relationship started with a background check and a non-disclosure agreement. He had been burned once and proven everyone thereafter was in the same vein. Love was dead… until he met Traci.Trust was a five letter word between them. However, if they wanted to be released from the past and step into a future of unconditional love they were going to have face their past hurts.

Intro into Chapter One

.Chapter One

“Derek
don’t do this,” Traci begged into the phone. Her manicured hands wrapped around
the phone, wishing she could actually touch the person on the other side.

“Listen,
Tracie, this was a dumb idea from the start,” the gravelly voice replied. In
the rough tones were all the familiar signs of a man who had been hanging out
too long and hadn’t gotten enough sleep.

The
only thing Traci could think about was how disappointed Sophia would be. Her
precious daughter didn’t deserve to have a father who couldn’t appreciate the
miracle she was. Sophia’s asthma prevented her from going out on Halloween. The
truth of the matter was Sophie’s asthma prevented her from doing a lot of
things that the other kids could do. This year’s concession was to have a
pre-Halloween party at the house that her father had agreed to. Like everything
else that Derek did, he was backing out of this too.

Traci
looked into the living room as Sophia sat on the couch waiting. Today Sophie
had decided to dress herself. Traci couldn’t hide her joy at the little step of
independence. Traci’s joy at seeing her all dressed by herself went up in a
flame of anger at her father. If the stuttering, posturing, and sidestepping
was any sign, Sophia wasn’t going to see her father today either.

“Derek,
name your price to show up today!”

“My
price?” he sneered on the other line. Just when he was about to say something,
he started coughing. Traci closed her eyes. Traci knew the signs. First, it was
the complaining and then the rough voice and finally, it would be the crying
and empty promises of him being a better man and father one day.

“Sophia
is waiting for you. Don’t disappoint her. What will it take to get you over
here to see her? You don’t have to stay. Just come to the door and see her
dressed up in her costume.”

Traci
let out deep breaths and tried to get rid of the stress that was filtering into
her voice. If not, when he heard it, Derek would use it to bargain.

As
if she knew who was on the phone, Sophia turned to look at her mother. She gave
Traci a tremulous smile, and Traci’s heart broke for her daughter. Sophia was five
years old, and already life had been unfair. Sophia had cough variant asthma,
and she was allergic to Albuterol. The combination of the two put her on a
daily dose of strong medications with a couple of weeks off. The weeks off the
medication were the scariest. There was no quick answer. It was all about
timing and keeping Sophia calm, away from dust, inside the house, and away from
any new allergens, scents, or foods. The doctors claimed she might grow out of the
asthma, but Traci hadn’t been given any breaks in life and she didn’t expect any
for Sophia either. As much as she could, she would make sure Sophia’s life was
just like a normal five-year-old’s. Right now, Sophia wanted to have a
pre-Halloween party, and she wanted her selfish, self-centered father to show
up to it.

“Mommy,
is everything okay?”

Traci
covered the cell and nodded.

“Why
don’t you make sure the table is set up for your friends?” Sophia smiled and
jumped off the couch to check. When she left the room, Traci went back to
Derek.

“Okay,
Derek, what will it be?”

“Listen,
I’m so insulted you think I can be bought. I mean, I’m trying to make—”

“Just
save it. Stalling won’t change my answer either way. I either have it, or I
don’t,” Traci sighed.

“I’m
a little low on cash. I get paid this Friday, but….”

“How
much?” Traci asked as she shook her head. What had she ever seen in Derek? Where
once she saw a six-foot-tall, dark, and handsome man, now she saw a tall, lanky,
slimy guy. His dark looks were now shady looking, and his quiet demeanor was
another sign that he wasn’t being as truthful as he should be.  

“About
a hundred, if you have it. You know this is just a loan, so fifty will do.”

Traci
sighed. Nothing had changed with Derek. He was still living check to check.

“Done.
How soon before you can come?”

“Can
you send an Uber for me? It would be easier.”

“Derek,
if I do, I’ll take it out of the money I’m giving you,” Traci said firmly.

“Okay,
okay. I’ll have a friend drive me by in about an hour, okay?”

“Fine,
when you get here, I’ll Venmo you the money,” Traci said.

“What?
I need to get some food now, Traci!”

“Then
you better find a friend now to see your daughter,” Traci said and then hung up
the phone.

Traci
pushed her hand through her blue-streaked hair. The others should be arriving
soon. There weren’t that many people to invite because Sophia only had two
other friends. However, Sophia knew all the adults that were coming over, and
Traci hoped that would be enough.

Traci
went into the kitchen to make sure everything was where it should be. Sophia
was sitting expectantly at the table that had been made up for six. Each
setting had a Halloween plate and matching napkins. In the middle of the table
were some homemade Halloween cupcakes, complete with gummy worms coming out of
them. In front of each plate was a goodie bag filled with a small bag of
popcorn, Halloween chocolates, homemade chocolate, and lollipops in the shape
of winged bats. It wasn’t extravagant or even the latest candy, but it was what
Traci could do for now.

Between
the state pulling the child support money from Derek’s check whenever he did
work and public assistance, Traci juggled her bills. Looking around, she could
see that there were gold-and-black streamers from New Years that were being
repurposed around the room. The final repurposed decoration was Christmas snow
being used as spider webs on the backs of chairs. What mattered was that Sophia
thought it was the nicest scary house she had ever seen.

Throughout
the house, Traci had hidden candy, and there would be a scavenger hunt to find
it all. It wasn’t going door-to-door trick or treating, but it was something.
Traci stayed up the last week after coming home from school, coming up with clues
five-year-old girls could figure out to find all of the candy.     

The
party was an extravagance but saying no to Sophia after she had been denied so
much wasn’t an option. She just needed to make it another three months. Her
school was done, and she was going to be sent to a company as an intern. If she
were lucky, the company would hire her.

Traci
looked at her phone, hoping the school had sent the name of the new employer
she would intern with, but no new emails. What was taking so long? It was like
her school didn’t realize she went to them for a reason—to get employed.

Traci
sat down on a nearby seat. She wanted to recite the uplifting verse. “Traci is
smart, Traci is good …” However, this was not the time for such things.
Instead, what she clung to was her life mantra. “She could take care of herself
and Sophia because she was the best person for the job. She had all the
skillsets she needed to get this job done. She would work hard and smart and be
able to overcome obstacles. If there was no trust and respect, there would be
no relationship with a man.” Those were the Traci rules.

A
year ago, Derek moved completely out. If Traci were honest, he’d been gone
since Sophia turned two years old. Life was going perfectly for Rose since she
met Grayson Chance. So, talking to her about her problems was like talking to a
person who academically understood but didn’t really get it anymore. Her other
friend Portia was a whole different matter. Portia was trying to get her set up
with whoever was her partner on the groom’s side at Rose and Grayson’s wedding.
Traci appreciated the efforts of both of her friends. The problem was Traci
needed to answer her own problems. Derek was the result of her looking for
someone to take care of her before she was sure she could take care of herself.
Traci wanted to make sure she was a whole person before she went looking for a
complementary half.

Rose
just knew there was someone out there to make Traci as happy as she was. Traci
would like to think so, but the truth of it was she wanted to make sure she
didn’t make what she now referred to as “Derek mistakes.” Traci could admit
that it wasn’t all Derek. She had been looking for someone to keep her, and
what she should have been looking for was a partner to go with her in life, not
a pseudo-father figure.  

Traci
had a plan. She was going to get a steady job and be able to move into a two-bedroom
townhouse instead of the one-bedroom starter home she was in. Her friends tried
to help her and let her keep her dignity. They bought gifts and took her and
Sophia out when they could. Traci knew all the ways they had tried to help her,
and she was grateful.

Today
was no different. Rose was bringing Hannah and Anna because they were friends
with Sophia. The doorbell rang, and Sophia sprinted to the door, causing Traci
to catch her breath. Traci tried to reach out to Sophia, but her excitement had
given her the speed of three toddlers.

“Sophia,
remember what I said about strangers and exerting your—”

Sophia
nodded as she continued to the door. She whipped open the door, and the twins
barreled into her. Behind the girls, standing in the doorway, were Rose and Grayson.
They were the perfect couple. She had blond, wavy hair and came four inches
shorter than Grayson. Grayson has dark hair and lean, handsome looks that made
him look like a conqueror of old. The children—all girls—were a ball of
screaming joy. They oohhed and ahhed, looking at the house, all the while
making it to the bedroom when Sophia squealed, “I have something I can’t wait
to show you.”

Traci
would have to keep a watch and listen for the door. Now that her friends had arrived,
Sophia wouldn’t think about her father until the night is over. The excitement
would keep her distracted.

“Traci,
you’ve done a great job with the decorations,” Rose said. “I should have
thought of cupcakes, definitely less mess.”

Traci
smiled at Rose. Rose was forever thinking about what the easiest thing was to
clean. As the previous owner of a cleaning company and the head consultant of
cleaning foster homes and the like, cleanliness was always on her mind.

“I’m
sure you would have come up with cupcakes individually wrapped with a bib, had
I given you some time,” Traci said with a laugh.

Grayson
laughed and then hugged Traci. “I am in awe that either one of you ladies
thinks about cleaning as much as you do. Traci, if you weren’t so sure about
doing data analysis, I’d ask Rose’s boss if there were any openings for a mind
like yours.”

Traci
had heard this threat more than once. Her friends were the best, and that was
part of the problem. They claimed they were trying to help, but when Traci
looked at it, they weren’t giving her the space to take care of her.

“I’m
waiting on my internship now, and then I’ll be moving forward and taking care
of my debts.”

Rose
turned but not before Traci could see the hurt that darkened her face. Without
turning around, Rose threw over her shoulder, “Traci knows that there is a
space for her with me if she wants it. She has options.”

Traci
could hear the tightness in Rose’s voice, and Traci tried to maintain herself.
This wasn’t what she wanted between herself and Rose. These last months had
been harder than most. Traci had chosen a course and didn’t want handout help,
and Rose just wanted to make sure that her friend was well. The best of
intentions was making the friends ache in their need to help themselves and the
other.

“I
appreciate the offer and the options. I just want to make sure that I don’t
fall into old habits of leaning on others. I’m thrilled I have someone to call,
but I don’t want it to be that I feel helpless, like I did after Derek.”

Just
then, Traci felt a tug on her shirt. She looked down and Anna was smiling at
her. Traci was no wizard on telling the twins apart. The twins had just agreed that
when they came to see her, they would wear their watches so she could tell them
apart. Anna had a blue watch on, and Hannah had a pink one.

“What
is it, love?” Traci asked as she bent down to hear Anna.

“We
have some Halloween surprises. What do we do with them?”

Traci
was a little surprised Anna was there without Hannah. However, she became a
little more concerned when she mentioned surprises. She had invited everyone
over so she could provide a party for Sophia. This was supposed to be a party
she could afford.

“Can
I see the surprise?” Traci asked.

Anna
laughed. She leaned forward and whispered in Traci’s ear.

“Mommy
said you might have forgotten the surprise. We have the costumes from last
year. Last year, all of us were wearing the same costume, and we wanted to be
able to take pictures again this year. Mommy said sometimes you forget that you
make so many beautiful things and you leave them places. We have Sophie's
costume from last year, and we have the ones that you helped to make for us.”

Traci
didn’t move. She was so glad that Anna was whispering in her ear. That way she
couldn’t see the sheen of tears that Traci could feel building in her eyes.

“You
are so right, honey. I forget how many things I actually make and where I've
left them. Do you need help getting the outfits?”

Anna
pulled back away from Traci.

“No,
it’s not here, but I’ll go get it with Grayson.”

“When
you do, you can take it straight to the room with Sophia.”

Anna
nodded enthusiastically. “I can’t wait!”

Anna
ran past Traci. When Traci stood, Grayson was holding an eager Anna.

“Are
you good with this?” Grayson asked.

Traci
was more than good with it. She was feeling bad that she had thought they would
outdo her. She knew that was her own insecurity rearing its ugly head. Just
when she thought she had shaken off the trauma from Derek, it still manifested
in little ways. He was always making her doubt herself and what she could do.
Now that he was gone, there were times Traci still heard his voice.

“I’m
more than good, thanks.”

Grayson
picked up a giggling Anna. Traci was amazed at how Anna seemed to have really
stretched and become more independent of Hannah. Traci turned to Rose.

“That
man is the bee’s knees, you know.”

Rose
smiled.  “I know, and you should know
he’s not one of a kind. There are other bees out there.”

Traci
got up and brushed off her pants.

“All
the bees I’ve met have no knees, no stingers, and I think they painted
themselves and they were really flies.”

Rose
shook her head and covered her mouth to hold the laugh in. “Really, Traci.
Don’t give up on men. You have so much to offer, and there is a man who is out
there looking for you.”

“I’m
past that stage in my life, Rose. I know you have hope eternal since meeting Grayson,
but I think my moment may have passed while I was stuck with Derek.”

“You
see, that’s where you’re wrong. I don’t think you should go looking at all. I
think that when the time is right, he’ll find you. If you happen to find him at
my wedding this Christmas, I’ll be more than happy, and I’ll take credit for
it.”

Traci
laughed. “Oh yes, you are well and truly in love. Listen, you are one of my
best friends, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that you found Grayson and
it’s working out so well. The world isn’t the same for us all and it’s not fair,
but it just is. It’s my luck that my prince charming did the same thing I did—fell
for a false partner. I don’t know how he made out, but I at least have Sophia
and I couldn’t be happier.

“I
don’t believe in fairytales anymore. When I see you and Grayson, I believe in
miracles, that love can happen, but there’s no one out there who could deal
with Sophia’s condition and be patient enough to work with me while I make sure
I’m whole.

“He’d have to not
only be my prince charming, but he’d also have to be a saint as well!”

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