Stella's Awakening

By: R.K. Ryde

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS




My thanks and gratitude goes out to my wonderful husband who has supported and encouraged me to see my hobby grow into so much more. Also to my amazing daughter who put up with mummy being unavailable while she was busy writing. I love you both with all my heart.





CHAPTER ONE




I pause, taking in the daily quote scrawled in bright neon chalk on the sandwich board outside my favourite coffee shop.

Your life is about to change – you just don’t know it yet.

Shaking my head, I absentmindedly push on the door, immersing myself in the rich, pungent scent of brewing coffee.

“The usual?” Beth, the cheery barista beams as I approach her.

“Yes, thanks. Interesting quote today,” I comment, paying for my coffee.

She chuckles. “I think it sounds like a fortune cookie, but the boss man seemed to like it.”

Smiling, I step aside, waiting for my order, the daily quote still playing on my mind. I’m not sure how much more my life can change. In the past eighteen months I’ve earned my qualifications, bought my duplex in The Shire and grown my business enough to warrant leasing a small office here in the heart of the magnificent Harbour City.

My heart swells with pride. I’ve done well, considering what I’ve been through. But it’s not a life my parents are proud of. My heart sinks with the darkening thought popping my bubble of glory. Even though I’ve continued living by the beliefs I was raised with, my parents would have rather I pursued different goals. Goals I left behind to establish myself and my business.

“Large skim cappuccino, two sweeteners!” Beth’s commanding call pulls me from my ruminations and spiralling thoughts.

“Thanks Beth,” I smile, taking the large takeaway cup from her. “Enjoy your day.”

“You too,” she calls as I step out into the late spring morning air and make my way down Castlereagh Street, stopping at Tiffany & Co to gaze into the windows.

“Audrey? Or is it Miss Golightly?”

Startled, I spin around, sloshing hot coffee all over my hand. “Ouch!” I gasp, transferring the cup to my good hand and inspecting the other, now sporting a bright crimson hue.

“I do apologise.” A crisp, white handkerchief accompanied by the same raspy, sensual voice that caught me off balance invades my personal space.

I look up, only to discover the face associated with the voice is just as glorious: shoulder-length, caramel-blonde hair falling around his face, stubbled jaw, cleft chin; full mouth and magnificent blue eyes. All messages from my brain instantly cease.

“Let me take a look at that.” The voice hits me again, coming from that alluring mouth. I’m mesmerised, frozen, still no cerebral signals firing. All I can do is stare wide-eyed as he reaches for my hand, clasps it and presses his kerchief to the scald.

I instantly recoil, suck in a sharp breath and retract my hand, shaking it.

“I’m sorry, did I hurt you?”

“No ... no ...” I manage to utter, and I take another look at my hand. To be honest, I don’t know what just happened, or what I just felt, but I know it wasn’t the burn. “It’s fine,” I add. “It’s only superficial.”

“Are you sure?” he asks, lowering his face to my level, giving me another eyeful of his masculine beauty.

Our eyes lock and all the air is sucked from my lungs, the atmosphere oddly shifting around us. Reactively I step back. “Yes, I’m fine. Thank you,” I blurt, shaking my head, searching for perspective.

Straightening into his tall, powerful frame, he thrusts out his hand. “Conrad,” he introduces himself with total self-assurance.

“Stella,” I shrug shyly, raising my damaged hand in an apology. I never thought I’d be so pleased to have injured myself.

“Stella,” he repeats with an understanding nod, his proffered hand dropping to his side. “So, not Audrey or Miss Golightly?” he asks, his mouth lifting into a smile.

“S-sorry?” I stutter, and mentally slap myself for still being so affected by him.

“Well, a beautiful woman at breakfast time, sipping coffee and window shopping at Tiffany’s…” he explains.

“Oh,” I simper, realisation dawning.

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