Book Title: Almost Me (Phoenix, #1)
Author: K. Leigh Winters
Genre: New Adult/Contemporary Romance
Release Date: October 7, 2016
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
Claire is months away from becoming an adult and she has given up on her dreams of the ‘Perfect Sitcom Life,’ giving up on being a normal kid, and giving up on being loved.
Irish bartender, Liam, has watched the fiery auburn hair girl with the emerald green eyes, the ones that remind him so much of home. The wild carefree girl is growing up to be a beautiful woman, but hidden in her eyes is a pain so deep that she is drowning and Liam is more than willing to be her lifeline, if she would only let him.
Will Claire let anyone in before it’s too late?
Can Liam survive depths of her darkness and bring her to the light before it’s too late?
A Note From the Author
This book has been a long time in the making even though this will be my first completed and published work. As a child through my turbulent teenage years I always had something to write on. Journals, scrap papers, blank book pages, I had them all and they were hidden everywhere. I had so many journals and all only had a few pages and maybe some even made it to the halfway point. One theme was of a girl, my alter ego maybe, who lived a life like mine but her choices and environment took her to a different path than me.
A few years back I had a serious case of the ‘mean reds’ and finally found myself in a place that no one would ever want to be stuck in, no it wasn’t jail although it felt close to it. I learned a lot about myself from that experience and realized maybe I should’ve gone many years sooner but life has a way of going exactly the way it needs to in order to make you who you are meant to be.
Once out I finally found a therapist that I could work with, basically she took no shit from me and called me out when ever I tried to manipulate her or anyone else for that matter. I never do assignments but I thought I’d indulge her, she wanted a journal, yuck. So I decided she needed to know me from the beginning not just who she saw in front of her. I put on some work clothes and climbed my not too happy ass up into the attic of my Florida home and after 3 hours, a ton of boxes, and nearly falling through the ceiling a few times I found almost all of them. My journals.
I spent days reading them, cutting out important stuff and filling up my KnockKnock journal. There were bits and pieces of Claire everywhere and she wanted her story told. She kept me awake for days on end and after two months I finished her and Liam’s story and learned a lot about myself in the process.
I was for sure this was going to be a one time thing but then Alex needed his story told then of course Tristan and Evony who played such huge roles in Claire and Liam’s story with little hints of a budding romance through ‘Almost Me.’ Thus the Phoenix Chronicles were created. I wanted to call it the ‘Almost books’ or something of the like until my close friend and self appointed editor said that each of the characters reminded her of a phoenix much the same way she thinks of me. A phoenix will ignite into a fiery display before being reborn again. Some legends describe the phoenix as a large raven. Never less it is a symbol for rebirth and healing. Shakespeare refers to the Phoenix in his play “Henry the VIII”
“Nor shall this peace sleep with her; but as when
The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,
Her ashes new create another heir
As great in admiration as herself;
So shall she leave her blessedness to one,
When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,
Who from the sacred ashes of her honour
Shall star-like rise as great in fame as she was,
And so stand fix’d.”
Each of the books in this series is about rebirth in a sense, Claire has faced many trails and in a way she is set ablaze but rises anew with a grace and beauty greater than before. Yes her story ends in a cliffhanger but I promise it will be worth it! Alex’s story deals with his addiction, which we saw snippets of throughout Claire and Liam’s. I look forward to introducing you to everyone of them and encourage you to please sign up for the newsletter.
Also after the Playlist read the first 3 chapters of Almost Gone, Alex & Naomi’s story.
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Letting Him In
It’s just after sunrise and in her world this is late but being it’s the day after Thanksgiving and according to Claire the only other thing the “Skater Mom’s” love more is shopping so for Claire this means sleeping in an extra hour. I still can’t figure how she convinced the poor rink manager to come in on his day off to not only open the rink for her but he even ran the Zamboni to clean the ice mirror smooth just for her. I am standing up on the second floor staring down at the newly laid ice, the smooth white surface even to me looks inviting. I jam my hands in my jeans after pulling my jacket tighter. This is the first time she has ever invited me here and at this hour it is not just freezing but strangely very foggy and eerily quiet. I can understand her affinity for this particular time here.
“Hey, I’m Brian.” I turn and see a guy in jeans and a Detroit Red Wings jersey that’s practically swallowing him up, a baseball cap pulled down low shading his eyes. He seems hesitant to approach me, shuffling side to side on his feet, shoulders slumped. I decide to take the initiative and step towards the kid extending my hand; he shakes it then quickly steps back.
“I’m Liam, thank you for this.” I turn and motion towards the ice rink below like a game show host. At that moment Claire steps on the ice wearing solid black head to toe, the rink is a contrast of black and white with her bright auburn hair pulled tight on top of her head in a severe bun. She’s skating laps around the rink going forward and backwards with dizzying speed and smooth transition. I am no expert but to me she looks tiny and perfect out there all alone in an odd melancholic way that only Claire could pull off with such elegant beauty.
“She’s something else isn’t she?” All I could do is stand there with what I assume is a stupid look on my face, mouth open and eyes wide. My only response, all that I could muster see she is shocking me with some amazing flying jump split moves, again I am no expert but she looks like she is jumping from cloud to cloud. The only sound coming from the rink below is an odd groaning or more like a moan. It is all sensory overload. I wasn’t even aware that I moved but I am now leaning over the balcony hands braced on the cold unforgiving metal railing. I am totally drawn into her.
“That noise is the ice, her edges are so deep and precise it makes that sound. It’s louder here cause the rink is sand based so it echoes from below into the acoustics.” I turn and stare at the kid who appears to be just as enraptured by her, my sweet girl. “Not many skaters can do that and you can only hear it when it’s quiet” Brian points up to what looks like AC ducts, “And humid.” I look back down at him quizzically.
“You know I’m just a simple Irish guy.” Brian seems to relax with that comment he chuckles and starts walking and I can only assume he expects me to follow. As we walk he points to a large machine, “That’s the dehumidifier, the owner won’t let us run it at night. He’s cheap.” He shrugs his shoulders and keeps walking. “You know there are nicer and newer rinks and Claire could have her pick but she stays here. Much to her parents dismay.” He winks as we descend a set of stairs.
“Anyway the humidity makes the ice a little difficult but she likes it that way. That and she doesn’t like to be here around all the parents when they come in. I don’t think she minds the other skaters too much. They think she is snobby but she’s not, she just tries too hard to fit in. And well the adults I think she could care less for them.” We reach the landing and Brian moves over to a cabinet and opens it to reveal a kind of mini DJ booth. I hadn’t even heard her approach but she must have because there is now an iPod sitting on top of the rinks boards. Brian seemed to be completely in sync with her needs because he just moves without prompt just knowing the little device would be sitting there at that exact moment. He turns and docks it scrolling through till he finds what he is looking for; he looks back over to Claire and nods in confirmation and taps play. The rink fills with the sounds of a sultry guitar intro. I turn and look at Brian. “How did you know?”
“I saw where she was standing, this program is amazing! Very sexy” This is the most animated Brian has been since we stepped in here half an hour ago. I raise an eyebrow towards Brian and he blushes looking down on the dirty floor.
“Sorry, um so what’s the story? It’s just that she’s never really brought anyone here during this time.” Good question, I’m not sure what to tell him. I look back and watch as Claire is skating very seductively, flirting with her invisible audience she makes a move down the ice and sways her hips from side to side then bends forward pulling her hair free from its confines, her hair cascades in perfect red waves down to the middle of her back becoming apart of her performance she moves down the ice continuing to sway her hips to the seductive guitar rifts and the throaty female voice, “…and I’m the only one who’d walk across the fire for you…”
“We’re friends.” I state plainly hoping it would be the end of that conversation. But to my dismay he doesn’t seem to be satisfied. “Uh huh, sure. Well all I’m saying is she NEVER let’s people in at this time. She tore Alex a new one a few months ago when I let him in.”
“Why did you let him in?” He doesn’t seem like the brave kind of guy to dare and risk her wrath that she is apparently infamous for; I am learning though that her tantrums are usually the result of frustration. A break in her routine, a change in plans, or her failure at getting her point across.
“I thought it would help her. She was just acting different. You know she used to come hang out with us? She’s actually kind of fun.” He pauses gauging my response, I nod indicating I’m listening.
“Well this is all speculation but you know most of us rink rats, uh kids that work and hang out here, well we’ve all watched her grow up here and you know a few years ago she really started to withdrawal and become, well not really stand offish just different.”
I look back to see Claire is now practicing a jump, she is doing the same thing over and over again, falling hard on her hips, back, and knees. I’m stuck in place for a moment watching her jump and fall, every now and then nailing it but there was no time to celebrate. She’d land on one leg in one fluid move and hold the speed just long enough before taking off again to try for another. Every time she hit the ice my stomach would drop and my heart would falter. I look at Brian horrified he isn’t doing anything; my feet move forward towards her when a hand shoots out across my chest, Brian shakes his head.
“I don’t know what you two are to each other but I can tell you she’d flip her shit if you interrupt her right now.” He nods at me and doesn’t release his grip until I nod in return, how strange this all is.
“Come on let’s put on a cup of coffee, from the looks of it your going to be here for a while.” I follow Brian back into the lobby and behind a snack bar counter where he gets to work on some coffee pulling out a bag of ground Starbucks I give him a pointed look and he simply shrugs with a lopsided grin. “Claire’s?” I ask.
“Yeah, I’ll not lie to you but I’ve had a crush on her for years but no matter how hard I try,” he looks through the window out to the rink watching her, “she’s never looked at me as anything more than a brotherly figure.” Seems to be a running theme with her. We sit in companionable silence at a booth in the lobby watching the morning news as she pounds away in the background with AWOLNATION blasting through the speakers.
I don’t know why I am hitting it so hard today but I have this strange feeling, this need, to punish myself and no amount of pain is ebbing these strange feelings that are clawing their way to the surface. I’m free gliding down center ice lost in thought, I don’t know what possessed me to invite Liam in, but I felt I needed to. I may not be able to open myself up fully in the emotional verbal sense but this is as intimate as I can be, here I am my most naked and vulnerable self and I wanted so desperately to let him in to see me as I am. Now that I have would it change things for us? For him, will he look at me differently? I’ve been pounding away and failing for almost an hour since I saw him and Brian move into the lobby to give me space no doubt. I can’t stop the constant dialogue running circles in my mind; will he think me weak and imperfect? What about my morning routine does it seem silly to him? Anticlimactic? My new show piece is very seductive and I only half assed the piece not sure how much to perform in front of him. Brian loves it but will Liam think it’s ridiculous? Slutty even? All this is running through my head and I have beaten myself up for some time now literally and figuratively it’s time to throw the proverbial towel in, which is something I never do until I am black and blue and practically crawling of the ice. I never relent when I am in one of these moods of self-punishment but for some reason today is different. I just don’t feel the need anymore.
I check on the boys again, I can see them through one of the windows into the lobby they are drinking coffee and watching the news. I trust Brian, despite his misstep a few months ago, to not spill all my secrets but I really am done and just want to be held by Liam. As I am watching him he turns his head around and catches my eyes it’s like he sensed me there that one move tugged at my heart a little but then he smiled. A simple facial expression but one that can be so easily faked but Liam never does, his whole heart is put into everything he does even in something as simple as a smile. My lips move of their own accord and slide up in a very contented smile and I feel my whole body relax in this one move. I wave then point towards my locker room indicating I am done.
I stand still in the shower letting the scalding water run over my sore body while resting my head on my arms against the wall. I’ve been in here for a while but I am processing so many feelings right now and I feel exhausted from it all. I am working hard on stilling the noise in my head when I hear the door open then close, “Oh, sorry babe I didn’t realize.”
“No, it’s OK I’m just done. Can you bring me a towel please?” I don’t think anything of being naked, I should, but I don’t. I’m use to the showbiz scene, being around people and having to change quickly. There is never any thought, I pull open the curtain while I wait for him but when Liam returns he nearly trips on the slippery tile floor and fumbles with the towel quickly opening it up for me. He’s looking up and away and mumbling apologies. I take the proffered towel and after wrapping my body I let a giggle out, “It’s OK Liam, I’m sorry I just don’t think of it really.” I shrug and his eyes bug out questioningly at me. I just shrug again to his now visible agitation, “Showbiz.” I state in a very matter of fact manner.
I turned away from him and walked back into my locker room it’s not pretty but in a way it’s mine, Brian found a couch, cabinet and mirror for me and the floor isn’t really that bad. I have a key so besides me only Brian can come in and I trust him enough not to do anything in here.
I walk over to the couch and snatch up the other towel then bend forward to dry my hair. Strong hands grip my hips and I can hear heavy breathing behind me and for once I am not scared, Liam seems to be the only person who can approach me from behind. I slowly straighten up and Liam does his best to keep his body, apart from his hands, from pressing into me. Silently he reaches around me and takes the towel from my head and starts to rub my hair in sections. When he stops I hear him walk away, I see the towel folded on the arm of the couch before I can turn to look for him he is back with my brush. Is he really going to brush my hair? My question is quickly answered when he starts to separate my hair in parts and begins to work on the first section. I sway a little from the intense relaxing feeling he is creating in me. Liam takes the cue and pulls us down to the couch without breaking from his task. Once I am complete Jell-O and my hair is tangle free Liam takes it all and sweeps it to one shoulder leaning in to lavish my other exposed shoulder in sweet slow kisses working his way up to my ear he nuzzles his nose into the skin behind my ear. “I have never felt like this before and don’t take this wrong,” he continues to work his mouth back down to my shoulder and takes my hand in his, “I don’t want anyone looking at this body but me.” Jealous Liam? Before I can really process it his other hand turns me to face him giving me hard and possessive kisses with such hot passion I have yet to experience from him.
“My sweet girl let’s get you home before something happens in here.” His eyes are actually twinkling. “I, unfortunately have school and work, but I promise you that we have much to discuss and the sooner the better.” I hope it’s a good discussion but I am terrified it won’t be. I push the uneasy feeling to the back of my mind and just for once live in the moment.
Born and raised in sunny Florida my feet rarely touch the sand.
I have no horse, no boat and no land to hunt.
I think it is beautiful when it is rainy, overcast and cold.
I am kind of partial to spending my time with the people I live with, but I definitely have no aversion to spending time with the voices in my head.
I draw inspiration from life and I am thankful for everyday I am given to live it.
I am an advocate for mental health awareness and eliminating stigmatism through education and open conversation.
I love it when people ask questions because if I don’t know the answer it means I get to learn something new and that is one of my favorite things to do!
I have an amazing husband and two wonderful boys. All of whom brighten my every day.