Authors: Lark Lane
Love Scars – 1: Scratch
Cover design by eyemaidthis
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Love Scars, a romantic suspense serial:
Part One: Scratch
Twenty-three-year-old Nora Deven has supported herself and her niece on student loans for so
it feels like she’ll be a slave to debt all her life. When she lands a coveted summer internship, she’s offered a secret job that will pay off all her debts—but she’ll have to return to the place where tragedy devastated her family years ago.
J.D. Reider made his first $50 million at eighteen when he sold a software app to a multinational corporation. Now twenty-eight, J.D.’s millions have grown to billions, but wealth hasn’t shielded him from being scarred by love. When corporate intrigue puts J.D. in the path of Nora Deven, a graduate student who has no idea who he is, for the first time in years his heart is captivated. But can he risk exposing his love scars to Nora—and to himself?
“While Jane returns your exams, I have an announcement.” Dr. Barton gave his teaching assistant a stack of Blue Books to hand back to the class. “As soon as I find that note to myself. Let’s see...”
It was my last class on the last day of spring semester. I was twenty-three. After this I only needed six more units to complete my master’s degree, and if I didn’t find a real job soon I’d have no choice but to go on for a PhD.
I wasn’t hooked on school. I was hooked on student loans.
For six years, they’d allowed me to support my niece and keep her out of foster care. It was no hardship. I love learning. But keeping Stacey safe was the main thing. She deserved it, after what she’d been through. I tried not to think about how much I owed. But what was I thinking, majoring in humanities? That was for people with trust funds. People who didn’t need jobs.
My best friend Lisa pointed at the time on my cell phone. A quarter after two. My stomach clenched. I’d let her talk me into throwing an end-of-semester party, and tonight was suddenly coming at me like a speeding train.
The usual excuses—being broke and living with a minor—didn’t work this time. Lisa offered to pay for the food and the keg, and Stacey was out of town on her high school graduation trip. I was starting to freeze up inside just thinking about it. I don’t mix well with crowds and loud noises.
“Here it is.” Dr. Barton pulled a rumpled piece of paper out of his shirt pocket. The lines of middle age had invaded his face, but he was one of those men who’d be good-looking all their lives. “We’ve added two internships to the summer session. It starts a week from Monday. Three weeks in residence at the dig, hands-on study of the Maidu culture, and six units. Easy A.”
Six units. Just what I needed. For a split second I wondered if there were student loans for a summer internship. Yeah.
My name is Nora Deven, and I’m a loanaholic
Jane Marks, the TA, handed me and Lisa our exams. With satisfaction, I noted my A and slipped the Blue Book into my backpack. That was the one upside to not having a job—time to study.
As Lisa and I got up to leave, Dr. Barton stopped us. “Ms. Deven, Ms. Newberry,” he said. “Before you go, you two may be interested to know that yours are the next two names on the internship list. Congratulations.” He pulled four manila envelopes out of his briefcase and set them on the desk.
“Good job, you guys.” Brad Morgan was sitting on Lisa’s other side. He’d had a crush on her since last semester. He was one of the interns already selected. “It will be great to see some friendly faces up there.”
“Can’t do it,” she said. “I can’t take the time off work.”
Brad’s face fell. For two minutes, the poor guy must have anticipated being with Lisa for three weeks with no Frank in the picture, her boyfriend since high school.
“Thank you, Dr. Barton,” I said. “It’s great, but I have to find a summer job.”
I’d just found out my old standby at the mall toy store was a no-go. When I stopped by recently to ask about a summer schedule, my supervisor was gone and the new one said they weren’t hiring people back for the summer.
“There’s good news on that front,” Dr. Barton said. “This year interns will be paid a stipend. The dig sponsor has generously funded the spots to the tune of $6,000.”
I couldn’t believe I heard him right.
“Excuse me, Dr. Barton,” Cindy Slater said from the front of the room. “Is that to share or for each of us?” Cindy was the other student who’d already been given an internship.
“That’s each.” Dr. Barton raised an eyebrow at me. “Very generous, I’d say.”
He took four manila envelopes out of his brief case and put them on the desk. Heading for the door he said, “Have a safe summer everyone. You interns can pick up your packets there on the desk. Let me know by Monday if you’re in or out.”
“Six. Thousand. Dollars!” Lisa grabbed my forearm.
“Gah, Lisa. Ouch!” Her silk nails gouged my skin.
“You have to do it, Nora. Where else are you going to make two grand a week this summer?”
“I don’t know…” It was a lot of money, but I hated having things thrown on me all of a sudden. This was quickly becoming a difficult day. I tried to inhale discreetly and blow out the tension.
“You’re going.” Lisa pushed her blond curls out of her green eyes and jumped up from her chair. “I’ll go get the info.”
Brad tried to be cool about it, but I caught him checking her out as she went down to the desk. She did look hot in her sleeveless top and cut-off jeans with her flawless skin. She didn’t work out, but she was in great shape from her waitressing job at PF Chang’s.
I, on the other hand, was not in great shape—as every part of my body would attest. My muscles were still sore after putting in the garden last weekend. Hell, my bones were sore.
“Six thousand. Wow, huh?” Brad pushed his glasses up from sliding down his nose and ran his hand through his straight blond hair.
He was pretty hot himself, in a nerdy way. He was about a foot and a half taller than Lisa, with bright blue eyes behind square black-rimmed glasses and strong cheekbones. He was a classic. Always with the clean and pressed cotton shirts, complete with mechanical pencils in his pocket. He seemed more suited to computer science or architecture, not religious studies or—like last semester—Renaissance art.
And I didn’t believe for one second he was that impressed by the money. You can tell someone with Broke Student Syndrome, and that definitely wasn’t Brad. I’d bet his bills were always paid on receipt. Now that I thought about it, his clothes were new and good quality, and I was pretty sure those sandals on his feet were Mephistos.
I remembered hearing that he worked at BlueMagick, the big tech company in Folsom. He was older than me and Lisa, in his late twenties. “You didn’t get a Blue Book back,” I said.
“No, I’m auditing,” he said.
“Auditing. So you don’t even need the internship, for the units or the money.”
“Busted.” His face reddened. “Maybe I just wanted to spend time with someone I thought would be there.”
“Your secret is safe with me,” I said.
His crush was minorly tragic. In a Frankless world, Brad and Lisa would have made a cute couple. And even though Brad was a cutie, he had a thing for my best friend so he was automatically on my do-not-touch list.
Thinking about touching—more precisely, about not touching—made me cranky. It had been a while. Four months, to be exact, since I’d broken up with my last boyfriend. My relationships never lasted long.
I was suddenly aware of the air on my bare thighs and arms. “I could use it,” I said. “Desperately. The money, I mean. But I’ll have to think about it.”
Stacey would be eighteen next week. I could leave her alone now without fear of Child Protection Services, but I wanted to know how she felt about it before I decided.
Lisa came back with the packets and we headed out the door. End-of-semester relief washed over me. All my assignments were finished and there was another chunk of units in the achievement bag.
That’s how I kept my sanity: little accomplishments, one at a time.
Outside the lecture hall, an unfamiliar guy in a chair by the elevators sprang to his feet when he saw Jane Marks. She looked irritated to see him, but she didn’t object when he followed her.
With a wary expression, Brad watched them enter the elevator going up. I wasn’t worried about Jane. I couldn’t imagine anyone giving the six-foot-four, athletic woman any grief.
We walked out of the humanities building into the late spring sunshine. I said, “I’m not taking the internship.”
“What are you talking about,
?” Lisa said. “You need the money.”
“I can’t leave Stacey for three weeks.”
“Stace’ll be fine. Look, I wasn’t going to say anything until her birthday next week, but my supervisor at Chang’s said she can start on the buss crew as soon as she’s eighteen.”
“Oh, my god, Lisa. That’s fantastic,” I said. “She’s going to be so jazzed.”
“She’ll be too exhausted to get into trouble, believe me,” Lisa said. “And Frank can stay at the house while you’re gone. We’ll both keep an eye on her.”
Lisa made good money at the restaurant. She’d offered to get me a job there, and I’d been tempted, but I never wanted to leave Stacey alone at night.
“Where is the internship, anyway?” I asked Brad as we reached the grassy quad. “Unless it’s close enough to drive, I can’t go either.” I definitely couldn’t afford a plane ticket.
“It’s at Dr. Barton’s dig,” he said. “Up past Foresthill.”
“Oh, god.” Lisa’s eyes grew large. “God, Nora.”
My hands started shaking. It’s like they had lives of their own, separate from the rest of my body. Sweat beaded at my temples. The heat was suddenly so oppressive I couldn’t breathe.
“It’s an archeological site.” Brad looked at me quizzically. “They’re studying artifacts in the caves up there. Nora, are you all right?”
The packet fell from my hand.
The smell of wet dirt and pine needles invaded my brain, and the sky went dark. Someone screamed. I wanted to hit something. I wanted to kill somebody.
Lisa and Brad both reached for me as I pitched forward.