Title: A Girl By Any Other Name
Author: MK Schiller
Publisher: Totally Bound
Genre: Romantic suspense
Publication Date: 12th January 2014
Hosted by: Luscious Laylah Release Day
Everyone tells him he needs to move on, but how can a man function without his heart?
Ten-year-old Caleb Tanner wants nothing to do with Sylvie Cranston, the annoying weird girl who moves next door to him and gets him in trouble for swearing. But at twelve, they become friends when he teaches her how to hook a fishing line and she shows him the value of a selfless act. At fourteen, he falls in love with her.
At sixteen, she dies.
Or so he’s told. But Cal never believes it. Sylvie has become part of his soul. He knows her like the steady beating of his own heart. He’d know if she was dead. Cal looks for her, prays for her and finally he just waits for her.
Nine years later, she walks into the community college English class Cal is teaching. Only this girl claims her name is Sophie Becker and she doesn’t know him. Cal knows better. He’s determined to get the girl he loves back—and protect her from the danger that took her away all those years ago.
Author Bio – MK Schiller
I am a hopeless romantic in a hopelessly pragmatic world. I have a full time life and two busy teenagers, but by night, I sit by the warm glow of my computer monitor, and attempt to conjure up passionate heartwarming stories with plenty of humor.
I started imagining stories in my head at a very young age. In fact, I got so good at it that my best friend asked me to make up stories featuring her as the heroine and the boy she currently liked as the hero. We'd spend hours on the phone while I came up with a series of unrealistic, yet tender events led the object of her desire to finally profess his love. You've heard of fan fiction... this was friend fiction.
Even with that, it took many years to realize I could produce an actual full length book that readers would enjoy. I try to make my stories humorous, realistic, with characters who are flawed but redeeming. I hope you enjoy my stories and never stop searching for your happily ever after.
Also by MK Schiller:
The Other C-Word:
The worst part of being a kid was that you never knew how good you had it until it was too late.
Childhood was simple. My parents told me it was because I didn’t have bills to pay or mouths to feed, but it was more than that. It was because nothing was planned. When you didn’t plan for it, you didn’t worry about the consequences. They just happened naturally without the coercion, manipulation or mindfuck games that came with becoming an adult.
I never planned for Sylvie Cranston to be my best friend. I never expected her to be the muse in all my dreams, or the girl who later haunted my nightmares. I certainly never planned to fall in love with her, but that was exactly what happened.
Everyone told me I needed to move on. That was like asking me to pierce my own flesh and crush my empty, beating heart. They wanted me to toss it away and continue to breathe. How could a man function without his heart?
She sat down on her swing again. “I think you’re the smartest boy I know.”
She blinked her eyes at my goofy grin.
“I’m the smartest person you know.”
“That can’t be, because I’m smarter than you,” she replied, jutting her chin out.
“You’re a smartass. There’s a difference.” I returned to the passage I was reading, doing my best to ignore her.
“Why don’t you want people to know you like to read?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Sylvie. You’re annoying me.”
“Will you read one to me?”
“We’re supposed to be paying attention to the sermon. The only reason my momma lets me sit out here with you is because she thinks we listen to it.”
“You’re not listening.” She had me there. “Just read me one. Your favourite one. Please?”
I sighed. “Fine.”
I flipped to my favourite poem and quietly read The Raven to her I flipped to my favourite poem and quietly read The Raven to her. When I looked up, she was staring at me with wide eyes and a wistful smile. Even my ignorant eleven-year-old self could appreciate that smile.
“It’s so pretty. I wonder what it means.”
“I know what it means. He thought he heard the ghost of some girl named Lenore who he used to know, but it was just some stupid bird screaming that he’d never see her again.”
“That sounds sad and romantic.”
“Romantic? He was crazy,” I said, twirling my finger next to my head.
“I think it is. He had to love her very much if he kept searching for her.”
“Maybe he just went batshit.”
“Cal, don’t swear. We’re in church,” she scolded, wagging her finger at me.
“It’s okay. We’re outside of it,” I said, gesturing to the open space between us and the building.
“God can hear everything.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, but my momma can’t.” She punched me in the arm. “Did you just punch me or was it the wind? ’Cause I can’t tell.”
“Very funny.” She looked off into the woods, and I wondered if she was going to bolt early. “I think there might be a raven calling to me too. Do you think I’m crazy?”
“Heck yeah,” I replied, impressed with myself for not saying ‘hell’. I felt lousy, though, when she looked at me with those big chocolate-coloured eyes full of sorrow. I wanted to make her feel better. I wanted her to smile again. I knocked my knee into hers. “Girl, you’re such a weirdo,” I said, finding the most poetic words my childish mind could muster.
She laughed in that cynical way of hers. “Yeah, you’re right. Bye.” She took off, sprinting into the woods.
“Hey, Sylvie,” I called after her before she blended into the landscape. She stopped and turned, almost out of earshot. “Let’s go fishing tomorrow after school.”
“I knew you’d take me,” she yelled back, giving me a real smile.
She put her hand on my arm. Her voice wavered, shifting into a soft whisper. “I can’t sleep at night and it helps me. Sometimes I get so scared that it actually hurts. I feel it in my bones, like they might crack open any minute, breaking my insides apart.”
I shifted my pole and reached for her hand. I hadn’t quite comprehended the value of hugging. “Maybe you should pray on it. Pastor Morrison says that prayer can solve a lot of problems.”
“You really think that will work?” she asked dubiously.
I shrugged. “I wouldn’t know for sure. I don’t pray right myself.”
She frowned, wrinkling her nose. “How can you pray wrong?”
“Momma says I do it wrong all the time.”
“I don’t get it.”
I sighed, staring up at the blue sky. “She always asks me what I prayed for. The first time she asked, I told her it was for a new bike and football cleats. She got real mad and said ‘Son, you are praying to God, not Santa Claus’.” I used my best Amelia Tanner impression, and the edges of Sylvie’s mouth curved upward.
“That sounds like your momma.”
“Yeah, but I guess I didn’t learn my lesson because I asked her what I should pray for then. She said I should pray to be a better person.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“That’s what I thought too. I started praying that I could throw the football longer and run faster so I could make the team in high school.”
Sylvie cupped her hand to her mouth to cover her laugh. I didn’t care. I wanted to make her laugh, even if it was at my expense. “What did she say?”
“She got pretty mad and said that’s not what she meant. She told me I was being selfish and since I couldn’t pray for myself correctly, I should pray for someone else.”
“Who did you pray for?”
I stared down at the lake. “I prayed for Mandy.”
“That’s so sweet.”
“Yeah, I asked God to make her less annoying.”
Sylvie cracked up so much I was sure she’d run all the fish away, but I didn’t care. It was one of the best feelings in the world to make this girl laugh. “You didn’t.”
“I did, but at least now I know what I need to pray on.”
“What’s that, Cal?”
I squeezed her hand, noticing how hypnotic her eyes were. “I’ll pray that you’re not scared anymore, Sylvie.”
“Cal, you are such an idiot!” Sylvie said for the twentieth time since we’d been walking home from school.
“It’s not a big deal, Sylvie.”
“Not a big deal? Look at your face.”
“You should have seen his,” I said with a cocky smile.
She stopped and shook her head at me. “Why did you get into a fight with Nate?”
“He deserved it.”
“Y’all are best friends.”
“Girl, you’re so cute when you try to sound Southern.”
She squared her shoulders in a stance I recognised as pissed-off Sylvie mode. “But you’re wrong,” I said, tugging on one of her pigtails. “He’s not my best friend. You are.” She shook her head at me, but I could see the smile curling at the edges of her beautiful mouth.
“Are they going to suspend you? Oh, my God, are you going to get kicked off the team for this?”
“Are you on crack? We’re in Texas and I’m the reason we’re in the state championships. They are not going to kick me off the team. They care more about us winning than Nate’s busted nose.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t get in trouble.”
“Principal Sherman said he’s not even going to tell Momma. Nate’s parents won’t either.”
I shrugged. “I’m the kid who lost his dad. I’m getting a lot of free passes these days. Everyone thinks I’m just acting out.”
“Is that why you hit him? Did he say something about your dad?”
I got quiet, not sure if I should tell her. I readjusted our backpacks, one on each shoulder. She reached out for hers, but I took a step back. I always carried her backpack when we walked home together. Today was no different. “No, we just had a disagreement,” I replied, hoping it was enough to stop her interrogation. It wasn’t.
“What kind of disagreement would cause you to pummel another kid like that? You could have gotten hurt. You risked injuring yourself before the championship game. What the hell was worth all that?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
She narrowed her eyes at me, staring me up and down, as if she could find the truth by studying my body language. Hell, she probably could. “He said something about me, didn’t he?”
Bingo. “It’s not a big deal.”
“What did he say, Tex? Spit it out and don’t lie.” She stood on her tippy toes as if trying to intimidate me. It was funny because she only came up to my chest either way. She jabbed her fingers into me as she asked every question. “Did he say I was a freak? Did he say I was a retarded mute? Did he say I was a psycho anorexic? I’ve heard them all and they don’t bother me. They shouldn’t bother you either.”
I grabbed her shoulders and brought her face close to mine. “They fucking bother the hell out of me.” Her eyes widened and her breath quickened. I let go, realising I was probably scaring her. “But that’s not what he said.”
I sighed, knowing she’d keep asking until I relinquished the information. “He said you had nice tits and a fine ass.”
To my annoyance, she started laughing. “Hell, Tex, that’s kind of a compliment.”
“Not to me. He can’t check you out like that.” I was getting pissed. Not at her. She couldn’t help it that she was hot. She had started wearing regular clothes and doing away with the powder crap. She was wearing jeans and a simple T-shirt. She wasn’t trying to be appealing, and the clothes were still loose on her, but her beauty was apparent. How could it not show through with those long, silky curls that made a man’s hand twitch with desire to run his fingers through them? That perfect creamy complexion that looked like the sun had blessed her with a perfect tan. Those pouty kissable lips with the bottom one slightly plumper than the top, jutting out so invitingly. Guys noticed and I didn’t like it one bit. I’d always known she was beautiful, but that was a fact I really wanted to keep to myself.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, blinking rapidly.
I took a deep breath, telling myself to calm the fuck down. “I wanted to dance.”
“Why didn’t you stay at the dance then?” she asked, with a weak smile.
“The girl I wanted to dance with wasn’t there.” I walked over to her and held out my hand. “She’s here.”
Sylvie stared at my hand for a minute, biting her lower lip nervously. She finally took it with measured hesitation, but I grasped it tightly and pulled her up.
“We don’t have any music.”
I chuckled. “I’m your Huckleberry,” I replied, taking out my cell phone.
“Is that new?”
“Yeah, it’s cool. I can download music on it.” I scrolled through the selections until I found the song I was looking for. Brown-Eyed Girl started playing. I’d downloaded it because it reminded me of her. “You like Van Morrison, right? You were listening to them the first day I met you.”
“You remember that?”
I slipped the phone into my pocket. “I remember everything.” She slid her arms around my neck and I grasped her waist. It wasn’t the slowest song, but we danced to it as if it was. I held her in my arms as tightly as I could, knowing this was where I belonged. I loved her and although she’d never said, I knew she loved me too.
“You smell good,” she commented, her body relaxing as we shuffled to the music.
“You smell like dead fish,” I replied.
This elicited a hearty laugh from her. Sylvie always got my weird sense of humour. I was kidding, though—she smelt fine. Actually, she smelt divine.
“Cal, I’m sorry,” she said. “I wish things were simpler. I wish—”
“Shush, girl, I’m trying to dance with you. Just stop talking and let me hold you.”
She did and when the dance was over, she surprised me by putting a hand on each side of my face and pulling me towards her. It was a passionate kiss, open-mouthed with our tongues exploring hungrily. Her lips were soft, and she smelt of mint and strawberry. I breathed her in, tasting her scent. I let my hands travel up her back and felt my dick grow hard when she pressed her body closer to mine. There we were, two figures against the pale Prairie Marsh moonlight, me in my Sunday suit and her in her fishing outfit, but it didn’t matter what we were wearing or where we’d come from. We belonged with each other. To each other.
I hesitated, finally looking at it, knowing it would piss me off no end to see her naked body on display. I blinked in confusion, perplexed by the large canvas. She had told me it was abstract, but I wasn’t prepared for this. It looked more like a landscape scene than the gorgeous girl beside me. I had just thought about how a woman’s body was all peaks, valleys and curves, and that was literally what Rome had painted without any clear perspective. Well, at least I didn’t have to worry about anyone else seeing this.
“How many hours did she pose for you, Rome?” I asked him.
“About six in total,” he replied, not taking his eyes off Sylvie.
“It’s very…interpretational, isn’t it?”
“It’s modern abstract, so yes.” He turned his attention back to Sylvie. “I have to walk around, but have a drink with me later, okay?”
“’Kay. Congratulations, Rome.” She smiled at him and somehow this jackass took that as a sign to hug her. My hands twitched, but I let it pass. She was a beautiful girl and if I went around punching every guy who developed a crush on her, I’d be a pretty busy man.
I stared back at the painting, putting my arm around her. “So, what do you think?” she asked.
“Six hours, eh?”
“Yeah, it would have been less, but he kept getting the lines wrong and had to start over a few times.”
I felt the grin tugging at the corners of my mouth. I bit my lip to keep her from seeing it, but I failed miserably.
“What’s so funny?” she demanded. I choked on a laugh. She narrowed her eyes at me, “What?”
I couldn’t control it anymore. I full-out laughed so hard, people turned to look.
“I’m glad I bent down to whisper in her ear so we wouldn’t be overheard. “Baby, isn’t it obvious to you? That guy just wanted an excuse to see you naked.”
She released my hold. “No, that’s not true. This is his interpretation of me. Jesus, Tex, that’s very petty of you to say.” She hissed the words in my direction, managing to keep her voice to a very low level, although she was shaking mad.
I pulled her back against my chest and put my arms around her so I could have full access to her ear and she could clearly see the painting while I explained myself. “I know you’re an artist, and you know art much better than I do, but I’m a guy, and I know the male head—both of them—much better than you. Right now, I’m struggling whether to kick Florence’s ass or pat him on the back.”
“His name is Rome,” she replied, trying to keep her composure.
“Whatever. I’m not trying to be a jerk here. In fact, I think the idea was fucking genius as hell and very creative, but then again, he is an artist. I’m just being honest with you when I tell you that this”—I gestured to the painting—“has no resemblance to this.” I ran my hand down her neck, over the swell of her breasts and down her trim waist. We were in a corner and the way I was hovering I knew we wouldn’t be seen, not that I cared, but she would. Her breath hitched with my touch. “I know I’m way too possessive of you, but it’s not something I’ll ever apologise for because I love you so damn much. And the fact is, you are too free-spirited and look at the good in all people. It’s the thing I’ve always loved most about you and the very thing that scares the hell out of me too. Do you understand?” Her body was melting into mine, and I knew from the way she shivered it wasn’t from the cold.
She cupped her hand over her mouth. “Did you just quote Mr Darcy?”
“I did. You see I can appreciate art, but I prefer the written word to the visual experience. So please allow me to paint a picture for you.” I cleared my throat. “‘I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding—certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion, once lost, is lost forever.’” I finished the Darcy monologue with another bow.
“Holy hell, that was hot.”
I stood, grinning at her, backing her farther against the wall, a hand on either side of her head, in our own little world. “That turned you on, my love? Let me assure you, it’s just the tip of my knowledge base. Would you prefer poetry? Maybe Keats, Wordsworth or Blake? How about the female perspective? Emily Dickinson, perhaps? I know them all. I can sonnet you all night. And yes, I use the term as a verb because the way I do it is an action.”
She waved her hand in front of her face, fanning herself. “All night?” she asked, arching her brow, a sexy smile curling her lips.
“I have plenty of material. I hold a Master’s in literature, and words are my medium of choice.”
“I think you may have just mastered me, sir.”
I jerked my head towards the exit. “Shall we take our leave?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Shit, that hurts.”
“Good,” she replied. “It serves you right for getting into a fight.”
“Do you get off on my pain or something?”
She laughed, placing a bandage on my wound. “I finished the book by the way.” Sylvie and I had our own private book club. Whenever I bought a book, I’d lend it to her afterwards or vice versa. She was the only person my age who loved to read as much as me.
“Did you like it?”
“Why not? It’s a classic.”
She sat on the bed next to me. “I don’t think Steinbeck liked women very much.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, there was only one female character. She wasn’t very likable, and he didn’t even give her a name. He called her Curly’s wife, for God’s sake, throughout the whole book.”
“Not every single character needs a name.”
“I think you’re wrong, Tex. Everyone needs a name. It’s a right, not a privilege.”
“I think you’re reading too much into it. It wasn’t intentional, I’m sure.”
She stood up and put her hands on her hips. “How could you say that? I mean think about it. Sometimes a name is the only thing you own. For instance, I’d hate it if people started calling me Cal’s nutty neighbour or Cal’s crazy friend.” She looked so damn beautiful when she was aggravated. I grabbed her waist and pulled her onto my lap.
“What about Cal’s hot girlfriend? Would you be okay with that title?” I whispered against her ear.
She stood up, pushing my hand away. “We’ve talked about this.”
“Shit, why not? Is there something wrong with me? I recall you mentioning that I was perfection so I just don’t get it.”
“Yeah, and you let it go straight to that big head of yours,” she replied sarcastically.
I smirked. “Girl, stop acting hard to get.” I patted my chest, knowing full well she’d been checking out my abs at the pool yesterday. “You know you want this.”
“I know vanity is a sin,” she said, crossing her arms and fighting a smile.
“Seriously, Sylvie, why not? You have to know how I feel about you. Don’t you feel the same?”
“I care about you, Tex. It’s not you. I told you, my dad won’t let me date.”
I laughed cynically. “Your dad? You mean the man who’s so drunk he can’t even remember your name? That guy?”
She clenched her fists, and I winced, knowing I’d majorly fucked up this conversation. “You need to leave.” She hated it when I brought up her dad’s drinking. Instead of agreeing with me on any level, she made excuses for the guy.
“Leave!” she choked, pointing at the window, my usual exit.