Author: Sarah Daltry
“I’ve never understood a year. A year was always a measurement of something bad for me. A year in my father’s prison sentence, a year since my mom’s death, a year left of school before I could get far, far away from here. Now, as I look down the end of my college career, with only a little more than a semester to go, a year seems like something magical. It has been a year since Lily chose me, since she sat with me on the old swing set and made a decision that I was worthy of her. And every minute of the entire year has been better than the last.”
You already know their stories: Lily, the perfect princess, always living someone else’s life. And Jack, the broken boy, who had stopped believing in hope. Somehow, though, they found each other and what was one night blossomed into a love story.
Now, a year later, Jack and Lily are dreaming of the future. Despite all of his promises to himself that he would never be indebted to anyone, Jack makes a new promise – this time to Lily – that he will be there for her forever. But when life unravels for them, he starts to pull away, and Lily worries he’s out of reach for good.
When Jack does the unthinkable, Lily is left destroyed. Is it possible to have a happily ever after? Does love ever really save anyone?
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“I don’t have a ring, and I don’t have anything planned. I was going to plan something. It was going to be big and special and important, but I can’t. I can’t wait to tell you. I love you, Lily. You make me happy, as if that’s something that can even be real for me. I know you can probably think of a million places more romantic than the cemetery, but this is my family, and this is me, in all that I can offer. It’s nothing much, but you’ve made me believe that it might be good enough for you. You’ve changed my life, Lily. And I want to make you a part of the rest of it. Forever. I want you forever.”
She’s crying as she looks down at me on the ground. “What are you saying, Jack?”
“Marry me, princess? Not now, or really anytime soon. I don’t know when. I have very little to give you. I don’t even know when I can afford a ring. I was going to go look for one this week, although it will probably be tiny and nothing that can represent how much I love you and how much you deserve. I know I’m not what you pictured when you were a little girl and you wanted a husband or whatever, but Lily, I love you more than anyone else can. And I want you to be my wife, whatever that means, because I can’t imagine one day of a future that doesn’t have you in it.”
She lifts me to my feet and hugs me. “Yes, of course. I don’t care about a ring or even a wedding. I just want you. Forever. Nothing else is important to me. I will never not love you. Whatever you want to call that, I’m happy to be a part of it. I have two years left of school, but I can promise you that, in two years or fifty, at the end of it, you’re the future for me.”
We kiss and I wish it was epic and fireworks shot through the sky, but it’s not. It’s just me and Lily, holding each other like we do most nights, but I’m kissing my fiancée and that has some kind of importance to it. I believe my mom would be happy for me, because I need to believe it. The whole night, the holiday, the setting, the awkward proposal even, it’s all how it should be, because, although it’s not something people tell their kids twenty years down the road, it’s so real to us.
He’s smiling. Not that smirk he gets when he’s bitter but also pleased about something. It’s not the smile that says that he knows happiness is temporary. When he lines up his Skee-ball shot, there is a smile on his face that is pure. Genuine. It’s like taking a step back and seeing Jack in a photograph. One from years before his life went crazy. He is just a dorky kid playing Skee-ball and he’s so happy when he nails the shot. He does an awkward little dance and it’s the kind of thing about Jack that makes me love him. He’s gorgeous and sexy and aggressive yet sweet. He’s kind and considerate of me, both sexually and in general. But I don’t love Jack for that. I love him because there is light in the world in the space he takes up. I know he doesn’t see it, but he’s inside himself. From the outside, all I see is the absolute electricity and fire that fills the air around him.
“That’s how it’s done,” he tells me when he finishes his game, wrapping up his ridiculous stack of tickets. I’m so going to lose, but I don’t care. He’s happy. I just almost wish I were better at this, so we could stay here longer, so that Jack could be this part of himself for as long as he needs.
“I think you’re perfect,” I say.
“Because I’m good at Skee-ball? Shit, that’s all it takes?”
I shake my head. “No, but you tell me all the time. I don’t think I ever say it to you. I don’t like the idea of perfection. It’s too much of a standard to live up to, but I don’t think you even understand. It’s cheesy and probably cliché, but I just can’t imagine how I could breathe without you. How did I exist before this?”
He looks down, uncomfortable because it is one thing to tell Jack he’s hot or sexy; he can handle that and he gets arrogant and ridiculous when I tell him that. However, this part of him, this vulnerability, he buries it so deep that drawing attention to it makes him want to disappear. But I don’t want that. I want him to embrace it, because it’s beautiful.
“Don’t look down,” I say and I lift his face to look at me. His eyes explode with light, the way fireworks do on New Year’s when the sky is like ink and then it’s suddenly on fire. I lean in and kiss him, feeling his hands tighten on my arms and his lips opening against mine. He’s scared. I can feel it in the way he kisses me today; he feels himself falling and he is trying to hold on and I need to figure out how to be steady enough to hold him. “Trust me,” I plead. “Let me take some of what you’re feeling. I can handle it, Jack.”
He nods. “Another day. Today, I just want to stay here, to be here with you, where it’s safe and comfortable and my entire world is this. Where strawberries and popcorn and Skee-ball and shitty plastic toys are the entirety of what exists.” He pauses. “I promise, Lily. I will. Soon. But let me hide from it. Just for a little longer?”
“Okay, but don’t hide from me, okay?” I ask.
“It really has. I’m sorry this is happening. I know we’ve each lived through an entire lifetime already. It’s kind of overwhelming, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. It is. Do you wanna talk about-”
“No,” he interrupts. “I like coming home, because it’s like I can leave a part of myself here and then slip it back on over what I’ve become. I don’t know if I can ever be ready to merge the two.”
I nod. I get it. Maybe not totally, but each of us has had to be more than one person throughout the things we’ve seen. It scares me, because I only know about war from books and movies, and I hate picturing my friend as a part of that, but I know that he hates us picturing it of him more. So I try to remember the guy he was and forget all that when he’s home.
“Hey, this is weird, but I need pallbearers.”
“Of course,” Dave says. “You didn’t have to ask. You’re still my best friend.”
“I brought Lily to the arcade today. It was nice, hiding there for a while.”
“Remember when you broke the Centipede game? And that guy just shrugged and told you it was a shit game anyway?” He laughs, even though the story isn’t really funny. Some asshole at school had been harassing me again, and he’d been saying things about Alana as well. I had wanted to fight him, but after the last time, I hadn’t wanted to be suspended again. So Dave and I had gone to the arcade to forget it, but I’d lost and then I got pissed at the game, kicking and smashing it until it was ruined.
“I don’t have the best history of handling things well,” I admit.
He shakes his head. “No, you don’t. But really? If it comes down to it… I’d just… well, a game is a thing. I’d rather see you destroy that.”
I turn and thank people for coming. Most aren’t going to the cemetery with us, so it’s the only chance I have to see them. Abby hesitates and I’m not sure if I should ask her to come, to go to the reception after, but this whole thing is uncomfortable. The entire concept of a party after you bury someone is wrong in so many ways, but it’s a tradition and my family is nothing if not committed to traditions. I’m sure if Jack had planned this, we would sit around and get drunk, but instead, we’re going out for Italian food.
“Thanks for coming,” I say absently, until I notice I’m shaking my mother’s hand.
“What’s the matter?” she asks.
How do I answer her? What do I say? Well, Mom, the boy you seem to dislike so much but who is the sole happiness I have in my life is closing me out and I don’t want to be here and I just want to be back at school where this isn’t happening and chemistry exams are my worst problem. Instead, I just mumble, “It’s really sad.”
“These things happen, Lily. It’s part of growing up.”
I look up at her, her face so stoic as always. I do love my mom, but as I get older, I understand her less and less. “Well, it’s a shitty part.”
“Just smile and thank people. It’s the only thing you can do.”
“That’s your solution to everything, isn’t it? ‘Just smile and thank people?’ Just be everything perfect and pretty on the outside even if you’re falling apart?” I ask. I realize I’m raising my voice and I try to quiet myself, because I don’t want to make a scene and the guys are coming back, but it’s a year of frustration coming out now. “What about being real? Being something? How do you go through life just being no better than the pretty decorations you fill the damn house with?”
She doesn’t break her smile, just looks down, and nods softly. “Is standing here yelling at me, during a funeral, making anything better?”
“I don’t know, but being a plastic doll doesn’t, either. I’m tired of being a doll, Mom.”
“I know you’re worried about me,” he tells my parents. “When I met Lily, I knew there were, like, slots in her life for things, but I didn’t fit into any of them. I tried not to feel things for her. I figured she would be better off, and she was with Derek anyway. The thing is, though, I love her. I loved her the moment I saw her and not just because she was beautiful. She made me want to prove myself. I tend to be dismissive of anyone who makes me feel inferior, but I wanted to show her I wasn’t. Still, I tried. But I love your daughter. I can’t not love her and I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry I hurt her and I’m sorry I felt like leaving. I’m sorry I can’t promise you that I won’t do it again. I’m sorry I love her like I do.”
My dad sighs, shaking his head, and he stares at the cheese tray. I know he wants to find the right words, to explain to Jack that they don’t want him to feel guilty for feeling like he does, but that they don’t know what they’re doing, either. I can see all of it and I want to say it for them, but I’m tired of speaking for them and I’m tired of defending Jack.
“You shouldn’t apologize,” he finally says. “We should. You’ve had a lot of challenges in your life, and it scared us. Lily’s young.” He looks at me, taking in my scowl, but he continues talking to Jack. “She thinks she’s all grown up. She thinks she has all the answers. And, in a lot of ways, she does, because it’s her life. But you bring a lot of pain with you, Jack. No father wants to see that kind of pain in his daughter’s eyes, even if your intentions are honorable.”
“I want to sit here and make you promises,” Jack replies. “I want to sit here and make her promises. But obviously, I can’t. I just got out today. I don’t know what I’ll feel like next week or next month, never mind in ten years. But I love her. That’s all I know how to do.”
Orange Blossom Playlist
About the Series:
Forget Me Not (Lily’s Story):
This is a coming of age story, but it isn’t always sweet and innocent. If dirty talk, bedroom toys, and threesomes offend you… this is not your book.
“No one tells you when you start school just how homesick you will be, or how hard it will be to start life over with no direction and no friends or family. No one says that becoming your own person is terrifying.”
I never wanted anything but Derek, my brother’s best friend. When I chose a college, it didn’t seem to matter that he would be an hour away. We could survive it. After all, we were in love. But almost immediately, things change between us. I blame myself. Maybe I’m just not sure how to be a girlfriend and independent.
Life seems to be getting away from me – and then there’s Jack, the guy down the hall. He’s rude and vulgar and my parents would be shocked by him, yet every single time I see him, I feel like I’m being pulled toward him. It’s physical, sure, but there’s something in Jack’s eyes – and I want to know him.
I know I don’t always make the right choices, and I’m the only person at fault when everything falls apart. How do I tell Derek, the guy who was supposed to be everything, that I don’t feel like fighting for him anymore? And do I run to Jack, when I know his past is way too much for me to handle when I’ve just turned 19? Finally, where do I end up in all of this? Can I be more than just someone else’s idea of what I should be?
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Lily of the Valley (Jack’s Story):
Jack’s story isn’t pretty. He’s suicidal, depressed, and he uses meaningless sex and alcohol to survive. However, the story is about finding light in the darkness, but sometimes the road there isn’t always easy to walk.
“No one tells you about pain. They tell you that it hurts, that sometimes it’s consuming. What they don’t tell you is that it’s not the pain that can kill you. It’s the uncomfortable numbness that follows, the weakness in your body when you realize your lungs may stop taking in air and you just can’t exert enough energy to care. It’s the way taste and color and smell fade from the world and all you’re left with is a sepia print of misery. That’s when the shift starts – the movement from passive to active. I fall asleep, hoping that the morning will bring back the pain. At least the pain is a thing.”
I’m a plague, a cancer. My mom is dead – and my father is in prison for it. I survived high school because college was my way out. I needed to escape, to get away from my family and the people who tortured me, but it hasn’t grown any easier.
I don’t pretend that I’m a good person. I drink far more than I should, and I use my best friend, Alana, because together, we thrive on destroying each other – as well as the parts of us we hate. I don’t believe in love, but sex is fun and it also makes me feel something.
The morning I see Lily, the beautiful princess who smells inexplicably like strawberries every time I see her, I realize I’m in trouble. I should hate her. I want to hate her, because the alternative terrifies me. However, as she continues to crash into my life (often literally), I can’t avoid feeling something that is the one thing I swore I would never feel. I can’t fall in love, because people like me don’t live in a world where love saves anyone.
She just won’t go away, though, and I don’t know if I can keep running. The voices and the darkness hover over me and they threaten to bring me back to the safety of my hate, but the stupid scent of strawberries lingers on the horizon, as something like hope.
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Blue Rose (Alana’s Story):
Warning: This book deals with topics of abuse and may trigger reactions in people who have experienced those things in their own lives. It remains a story about healing, but it’s not always an easy journey.
“Four. My life has been shaped by four people. Four men, to be more specific. My father, my stepfather, my best friend, and my boyfriend. The first two shaped it in horrible ways, but what I am, who I am, is all because of four men.”
Over the last twenty years, I’ve learned how to keep secrets. It doesn’t really matter, since everyone already seems to think they know everything about me. So I hide. I avoid confrontation, I treat Xanax like a magic pill that will make it all go away, and I become everything they think I am. A slut. A whore. Nothing but trash.
I can only name two guys who have ever made me feel like I was more than that. Jack is my best friend and I’ve loved him since I met him. Now, though, he’s in love… with someone else, and I guess I need to get over him. Somehow.
And then there’s Dave. The guy I never gave a chance. The guy I used almost as much as people used me, because I wanted to pretend I was someone worth loving. Two years have passed since we last spoke, but I don’t know how to stop thinking about him.
My new therapist is making me face my past, and she tells me that life inevitably changes without our permission. I believe it, but I know what I am. I hear what she’s saying to me, and I want to try again with Dave, to help Jack find joy, to love myself, and to move on. I just wonder if anyone can do that, really.
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Star of Bethlehem (Holiday Novella):
This is a holiday novella-length story that follows Forget Me Not and Lily of the Valley.
“With you, Jack, it was the first time I ever felt real. It was the first time anyone looked at me and saw substance. It was the first time I wanted to make someone see me.”
Jack: New Year’s Eve. I’ve somehow managed to get here, and now I’m wearing a hideous and unreasonably itchy sweater, because I want to impress Lily’s family. I want to do anything for this girl who has made me believe in second chances.
Lily: The house is beautiful and shining with light, but it feels empty. At least until Jack gets here. I know how desperately he wants this – a family, love, a home. If I can be the person who can give it to him, it’s all I need, but I hope I can keep him from seeing how hollow it all really is.
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Ambrosia (Final Title):
Releases June 6, 2014
Four years. One night that was supposed to be an escape turned into four years. And now, four years is about to turn into forever.
Lily was never anything special. A perfect girl from a perfect world living an empty life. She was lost, thinking she knew who she was and what she wanted. She thought she knew love, but then there was a boy.
Jack has been through Hell. Watching his mother die - at his father’s hands - will never leave him. He had given up on living a life, figuring he would drink himself to death, if he didn’t give in to all the voices telling him to kill himself first. And then there was a girl who smelled like strawberries.
Two years have passed since Orange Blossom. Jack and Lily are only months away from their wedding and their journey is about to come to an end. Join them in the final title in the Flowering series, a story of growing up, of finding yourself, and of “blooming.”
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About the Author:
Sarah Daltry is a girl who writes books. The books are in all genres, because Sarah’s not so great at committing to things. She’s happily married and she and her husband live with their cats in New England. Sarah is painfully shy and, if you are able to find her, she is probably in a corner, hiding. She also wrote Bitter Fruits (urban fantasy NA vampire romance), Backward Compatible: A Geek Love Story (NA/YA gamer geek romantic comedy), The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: A Modern Reimagining (literary novella), and The Quiver of a Kiss: The Seduction of Helen of Troy (historical erotica), as well as several short stories and works of erotica.
Author Social Media Links (Sarah doesn’t handle her own social media):
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