Wingless by Shelley Martin
sensual paranormal romance novella (approx 29000 words)
cover art by Valerie Tibbs
April doesn’t want to acknowledge she has a terrible illness eating at her mind, and she doesn’t want her best friend to know Luke, the man she fell in love with years ago, only lived in her dreams. She'd do anything to get Luke back. Even die.
Nathan doesn’t want his girlfriend to think he might be going crazy, but he keeps seeing a strange ghost-like man named Luke around April. Luke intends to get April back, and Nathan won't let that happen. April's his and he’ll do anything to convince her that she belongs with him.
The sound of Nathan’s handheld, his electronic baby, hitting the floor seized his heart. He barely noticed the burn of spilled coffee as he lunged to catch it. His right hand gently curled around the black plastic rectangle on the floor. His left hand whacked at the scalding black stain on his favorite t-shirt.
He turned the computer over and heard a rattling from the inside. Pulling the chair back to the table, he sat down absently.
The screen was cracked. All the way across the middle. And void of what he was working on the moment before.
“No…” the whispered plea was swallowed by the steady conversation in the coffee shop. “My dissertation…” He pushed the “on” button.
Okay, don’t panic. Try again.
This time his large finger held the button down before releasing it.
The color drained from his face. There was no way this could be happening. A shaky hand ran through his sandy blond hair, pushing it out of his eyes. His paper was due tomorrow. First thing in the morning. He’d been working on it all quarter. It was sixty percent of his grade. And the other forty percent wasn’t exactly stellar. He needed this report to sail through. It was good. Real good. But without it, he would fail hands down.
Nathan’s green eyes narrowed at the cracked screen. This couldn’t be! He punched the “on” button again. And again. And again, until the force of his finger would have damaged it, if it wasn’t already broken.
Okay. Backup plan. Let’s see… There were some notes here and there. He’d emailed part of it to a friend a month ago, so he could retrieve that. But that would still leave him with a month’s worth of work in one night.
Nathan’s fingers curled around the edge of the table. Maybe he could take it to one of those computer specialists and have the chip recovered—
Nathan’s wild eyes peered up to meet the blue ones of a stranger. Brown hair partially covered a kind expression. The kid looked about his age, wearing a sleek gray suit with a silver tie and white button-up. He was probably a senior.
“You seem somewhat stressed, and I noticed your computer here.”
Nathan looked back down at his broken plans for the future and nodded. “Uh, yeah. I dropped it. I need what’s on it.” He turned it over in his hands again, listening to the loose part moving inside. “Stupid me, I forgot to back it up recently.” He set it down again. “Or ever.” He laughed weakly. “Guess I was asking for it, huh?” His stomach turned sour.
“If you don’t mind, can I take a look at it? I might be able to help.”
Nathan shook his head. “Go ahead man, knock yourself out.” His shoulders drooped. “But it’s toast.”
“I’m Luke, by the way. A friend of April’s.” The stranger held his hand out.
He looked at it dumbly for a moment before grasping it. “I’m Nathan.”
“May I sit?” Luke asked as he picked up the remains of the little computer.
Nathan waved his hand at the chair on the other side of the little circular table. “You know April, huh?” April was a girl in his photography class. She was nice. Cute. A little silly, just like him. She had drawn his eye since he’d first met her. He finally pulled together enough courage to take her out on a first date the night before.
The smiling stranger nodded. “I heard you had a fun time last night.”
“Is that what she said?” He asked wearily. As much fun as he had last night, the current crisis was the only thing that his mind would consider.
Luke leaned forward. “Nathan, may I ask you a question?”
First this guy starts in about April, and now he wants to ask questions like we’re old-time buds? Nathan was starting to lose his patience. Doesn’t this kid get how deep I'm in? What he needed to do was something. Anything, other than sit here answering questions.
“Sure,” he heard himself say.
“Would you still be April’s friend, even if you two don’t end up together?”
What the...? Where did that come from? Is he trying to move in on my girl? You know what, it didn’t matter anymore. They only had one date. It probably wouldn’t work out now anyway. She’s graduating, and apparently I'm not. Why would she go out with me when, by tomorrow, I'm going to be a “grade A” loser?
He shrugged. “Sure.”
A smile spread across Luke’s face. It was as if Nathan had given him all the answers to the universe. Like everything would be okay now.
“Good. Because I’m sure you’ll find the love you’re looking for if you do.” Luke turned the hand-held around and passed it over the table to Nathan.
His body froze at the sight in front of him. The screen was no longer cracked. There wasn’t even a scratch. But it was the glowing cursor, blinking in time with his heart, that made him reach out for it. The page he was working on before he dropped his computer was right there in his hand, waiting to be finished.
Luke stood up. “You’ll see me around,” he said, still smiling. He tucked his chair under the table, and as he walked out the door, Nathan thought he heard him say, “It was good to see you again.”