Home > Ash (Speed Dating with the Denizens of the Underworld #2)

Ash (Speed Dating with the Denizens of the Underworld #2)
Author: C.D. Gorri

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

Gabriella Keen looked over her lesson plans to make sure they were in line with the approved curriculum she received from Fr. Perez. Her old pastor from Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church, where Gabby herself took Catechism class all through grammar and high school, was a stickler for rules.

She knew them well enough and had a wonderful lesson all down and ready for her eager class of first graders. They were preparing for their first Holy Penance, confessing their sins before making their First Holy Communion the following year. It was a very exciting time for young Catholics, and Gabby was more than happy to be a part of it.

Of course, there were things about organized religion she did not exactly agree with or follow, but she’d always found the history of the Catholic Church, and the traditions, simply fascinating. Being part of a community of faith was comforting, and as a CCD teacher, she was giving her students that sense of belonging they would hopefully carry with them throughout their lives.

“Everything needs a foundation, little bit.”

Her father’s words came back to her as she closed her lesson plan book and replaced it on the small desk she’d had since her own school days. Her bedroom felt the same, despite the fresh paint and new bedspread. Like dreams and wishes, family and support, unconditional love, and a hint of sadness for those she’d lost. Coming home was supposed to feel that way, she supposed.

The warm, dry California breeze drifted in from the open windows and she sighed. Gabby was trying to find contentment with her life, but it was difficult with her being so unsettled. Running back home with her metaphorical tail between her legs was not exactly where she wanted to be at this stage of her life. But some things could not be helped.

Sad sigh.

Gabby had left home right after college hoping to find herself, her place in the world, but so far, she’d had no luck. She was a good person, or at least she tried to be. Being a teacher was the one thing she always thought she’d wanted, but lately, she was not so sure.

Something was different inside of her. It was like something had changed. Her way of thinking perhaps, or her long term goals. Gabby didn’t know for certain. Even worse, she was almost positive she was sick.

A suspicion she’d been too cowardly to confirm or deny with a trip to a doctor or hospital. She’d been having headaches and stomach pains. Both were highly unusual for Gabby, who never even caught a cold. It was like she felt itchy all over, but it wasn’t her detergent or lotion. That indeterminable itch was coming from the inside.

This was not how her life was supposed to go. She was supposed to be a teacher, find a husband, get married, and have a bunch of kids. So far, none of that had panned out. Finding a permanent position with her degree in elementary education had not been as easy as Gabriella had expected.

She’d spent the last few years hopping around from state to state, trying to fit in, to build a life.

But how could she do that filling temporary positions?

All she’d ever wanted was to make a home for herself. Her father had moved them from their New Jersey home to California after her mother had died when Gabby was still a baby. It was strange, but not bad. Never that. Especially when he met Mim.

The wonderful woman her dad had met in LA was a terrific stepmother to Gabby. After she’d married Gabby’s dad, she made a home for them here in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Her father had been as happy as Gabby had ever seen in those days.

She loved her stepmom too. The woman had adopted Gabby, and she remained in California with her after her father had passed away. She’d been just eight years old when her stepmother, Mariah Bailey Keen, had told her the terrible news. But Gabby’s childhood was wonderful despite the tragedies. Her new mom raised her like she was her own flesh and blood, and she never wanted for anything.

Still, Gabriella had grown into a restless young adult, and she had moved to the opposite end of the country right after college. Hoping to find herself in the place she’d been born. New Jersey held no answers, and finding a permanent position proved difficult.

Her latest job was just before Christmas at a posh preschool in Manhattan. The position had ended just after the new year with the return of the teacher who’d been out due to maternity leave. She was cold and lonely all by herself on the East Coast, and Gabby had been positively delighted when her stepmother invited her to come back home for a while.

“I miss you, Gabby girl, come home.”

Mariah’s plaintive message had greeted her after a sad New Year’s Eve spent alone in the tiny rental she could barely afford. That voicemail had given her the courage to buy a one way ticket back to Los Angeles. Gabby hadn’t found what she was looking for where she’d been born. Maybe she’d been wrong about where to look, after all.

Hermosa Beach was about thirty-five minutes outside of LA, depending on the traffic. It was a really nice place to grow up. Their home was a sprawling ranch her stepmother had already had when they first moved out there. It was worth a few million, at the least in today’s market. Mariah, or Mim, as Gabby had called her after her father married the lovely woman, owned her own real estate company. She’d worked very hard for the fortune she had.

Considering Gabriella had no money and no one else she called family, she accepted Mim’s invitation to come home immediately. It was a much welcomed respite to be invited back to the warmth and sunshine of the last place she’d lived with her dad.

Money was always going to be a problem for her, but she never questioned Mim’s love for her. Still, Gabby refused to take money from her. Her stepmom had tried time and again to give her funds, but Gabby was stubborn.

She just didn’t want anyone to bankroll her life. She couldn’t do that, preferring to earn her living herself. It was one of the things Dad had instilled in her.

“Work hard for what you have, and no one can take it away.”

The world was a rat race, and Gabriella simply did not have the constitution for it. Especially not now.

Oh no.

What if she really turned out to be sick?

Gabby was always a goody goody. She didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, paid her taxes, went to Church.

Why was this happening to her?

The moment of self-pity made her feel terrible, and Gabby quickly asked God for forgiveness. There were so many suffering in the world right now. People with families and incurable illnesses. She should not whine or complain. Not when she had it so good, relatively speaking.

Her old room at Mim’s was remarkable. Twice the size of the apartment she’d been living in. Hermosa Beach was a great place to live. Always sunny and warm, even if she felt chilled most of the time.

She knew people who weighed success by how much money you made or how thin you were, or who you were dating. Heck, the tuition at the preschool where she’d last worked had cost more per annum than her yearly college tuition. Certainly more than they paid their staff.

It was insanity. But Gabby didn’t care about money. Or the size of her waist. Not really.

She just wanted to be healthy and to enjoy her life. Even if she was destined to be alone. Gabby had her work. She loved teaching children. The little cuties went straight to Gabby’s soft heart. She simply adored kids. Once upon a time, she couldn’t wait to have her own brood.

Sigh.

Her hand went over her abdomen as the tension she’d felt all day squeezed hard in that moment. Darn it. She’d always thought she had more time.

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