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A Past Refrain (New Song Series Book 5)

A Past Refrain (New Song Series Book 5)

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Old Love meets New Love! Jayce Morgan was the only one in the New Song band that was unmarried; everyone else was coupled up and happy. His main problem was that even though his relationship with Haley Greenwald was over ages ago, he still had a thing for her and couldn't shake thoughts of her from his mind no matter how hard he tried. It was a relief for him when he found himself attracted to Abigail Petri, the pretty waitress at his favorite restaurant. Suddenly, his emotions, which were in deep freeze when Haley left, started thawing. His only dilemma now was decoding Abigail's mysterious past and putting the inconvenient thoughts of Haley to rest when he was with Abigail, the current love of his life.
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Chapter One

October 5th

"Happy Birthday Jayce!" His friends slapped him on the back as he entered the warehouse where the band practiced. He had grudgingly allowed them to throw him a party this year. Usually he hated his birthdays and resisted the calls to celebrate it. So many momentous and traumatic things had happened to him on this day that he had grown to be wary of the date.
It started when he was born. His father said a freak lightning storm happened on the night he made his squalling entry into the world. The storm had plunged into darkness the little clinic where his mother had given birth to him, and the nurses had mixed him up with two other babies.
His father had joked that he might not even belong to him. According to his dad, the clinic sent him home with them because he shared the same light complexion as his mother and what looked like a birthmark similar to one his dad had.
It was also October 5th that his mother had packed two bags: a red leather suitcase that was split at the side, little tendrils of furry fiber sticking from it, and a cloth bag with a picture of Mickey Mouse on the side and told him to be good. He remembered the details of the bags with vivid intensity even after all these years because he had been staring at them so hard, not quite understanding why she was packing without him.
She had kissed him on the forehead, looked him in the eyes, and told him she would be back for him later. He never saw her again. He was just eight years old at the time.
It was also on his birthday that Haley Greenwald, the only girl he had ever loved, was born. For years after they had lost touch, his stupid birthday would remind him that Haley was also celebrating somewhere else—probably with someone else.
He breathed in deeply, accepting a cup of green juice from Melody with an absentminded smile, and sank down into his favorite beanbag chair.
He was thankful for this birthday this year more than any other because just five short months ago he almost died. Surviving being shot in the abdomen made him realize his mortality and caused him to do some soul-searching.
He realized that he had just been cruising along through his thirty-four years. He hadn't accomplished anything much. He had started working for his father's security company as an IT auditor after graduating from college. He had deliberately done computer security just so that he could work for his father and fill a gap in the ever-expanding field of computer crimes.
He reasoned that that could be counted as an accomplishment since he had significantly expanded that side of the business. His father's company was successful and highly regarded among local companies, but somehow that fact didn't give him the tingle of accomplishment that it should.
He wasn't sure if that was all he had wanted to do, though. Sometimes he got the urge to be creative not just with electronics but with poetry too. That usually happened when he went for lunch at the Searock Cafe, close to where the office was, and he saw Abigail, his favorite waitress. She had been inspiring him to write poetry.
He had written several odes to her smile so far. He had it bad for her—real bad—adolescent bad. For the past year, he had been interested in her, but he had yet to make a move. Maybe now was the time to do it.
He could have died and yet the only thing he knew about the girl he had been dreaming of was that she had a nice smile and a lovely voice when she said, "Good afternoon, Jayce. What do you want for lunch today?" At least he had made sure that she knew his name.
He looked at his friends around him, talking and laughing. They were all coupled up and happy, especially Aaron, who had his hand lovingly wrapped around Alka, who was so heavily pregnant she looked like she would give birth any minute now.
Alka's trifling ex-husband who had ordered him to be shot had washed his hands of the whole matter and was absolved of the crime by the Indian justice system. The thug who had shot him had mysteriously disappeared, though.
He fiddled with his cup and grimaced. He was getting heartily tired of green juices but drinking the juices actually helped him to sleep better at nights. He couldn't understand why that was. He still had nightmares about the day when he was shot. His counselor said his sleep patterns would eventually return to normal and his night terrors would eventually go away.
He closed his eyes and tried not to remember the shooting incident, but of course the memory was imprinted on the back of his eyelids: one minute he was standing in the buffet line at the Peninsula Hotel in Mumbai India at a security conference, looking forward to eating the various pastries spread out on the mile-long table, and the next minute he heard explosions near him. He hadn't even realized that he was the one who had been hit until he heard the screams near him and saw that the white shirt he had put on that morning was spattered with a deep red stain.
He didn't feel the pain immediately; that had come after. He had fainted from the sight of the blood, like a wuss. According to his doctors, he was shot in the side of the abdomen. The bullets, two in total, had passed through the muscles surrounding the abdomen and had not entered the abdominal cavity at all. If they had, he might not have survived the shooting. He had lost so much blood that at first they thought his injury was fatal but the bullets had made a clean exit.
The doctors still thought it was a miracle that he survived the shooting, especially since he was shot at point-blank range. Of course, it was a miracle. God had spared him for a reason.
It was a wake-up call for him. The buzzing sounds of people talking got louder; he assumed that the crowd had gotten larger. He idly wondered how many persons Melody and Ruby had invited. They had been the ones to insist on throwing the party.
He didn't open his eyes to see. He was not in the mood to talk, which was unusual for him. These days he was getting more introspective and less talkative, as if his recent brush with death had reset his personality.
When he heard Ruby's disapproving voice above him, he closed his eyes even tighter and groaned.
"Jayce Aman Morgan! I planned this party and you are sleeping in the middle of it! How dare you? I demand that you wake up and enjoy yourself! Now, this minute, or my reputation as a party planner will be ruined!"
He opened his eyes a crack and watched as she pouted at him. Her petite body was clothed in a ridiculously bright orange dress, with a squiggly square pattern that was almost dazzling. Standing beside her was her Amazonian friend, Cynth, who was in a more restful shade of gray.
"That's not Jayce," Cynth murmured. "Jayce is fat. This guy is hunky. Introduce us."
Ruby snorted. "Cynth, this is Jayce." She pinched him. "I had the caterer do all your favorite foods. Get up; eat; be merry. It's your birthday—no moping!"
Jayce opened his eyes wider. "Satisfied now? Ever since you had Amber you've become bossier."
Cynth gasped, putting her hand dramatically over her heart. "Oh my. It's him!"
Jayce grinned. He had been getting the same reaction for the last two months. Even at church, people didn't recognize him now. Church sisters who had avoided him before and hadn't cared to give him the time of day were saying hi to him. Even the older ladies waved to him and giggled.
Suddenly he was eligible again in their shallow little worlds. Suddenly he had raised his profile from the fat guy in the New Song band to the formerly fat guy of the New Song band. As one church sister had said, "It is as if he is a new band member."
He found it funny and he watched suspiciously as Cynth crept closer to him. "How come I never realized that you were always this hot?"
Jayce grinned. "I don't know. Were you blind?"
"And feisty," Cynth said grinning. "I like it. So how'd you do it?"
Cynth pulled up a chair and pinched him through his black leather jacket. "He even has toned muscles." Her eyes widened appreciatively.
Jayce rubbed the area where she pinched him and looked between her and Ruby. "What's with you two? Pinches hurt."
He moved farther from Cynth, who looked as if she was contemplating pinching him again.
"Just checking if you are real," she purred.
"No," Jayce said, shaking his head. "I am real. You know I got shot, right?"
"Yeees," Cynth said sarcastically. "I am not that out of touch. I sent you a get-well card when you were in the hospital."
"Thanks. Melody handled all my correspondence at that time and I haven't gotten around to reading them yet." He smiled apologetically.
"You asked how I lost the weight? Well, I was placed on a liquid diet for the first eight weeks of my recovery. After I was given the go-ahead to be up and about again, I realized that I had lost quite a bit of weight, so I started going to the gym at my workplace to follow through with the weight loss.
I was so overwhelmed by conflicting advice that I got from the other guys that were there on how best to build muscles and look cut that I asked The General to train me."
"Who is The General?" Cynth asked.
"My father." Jayce grinned. "And he is the best at this whole training thing, believe me; he looks really good for his age. Half the guys in the gym stand back and watch him when he deadlifts, and these guys are highly trained security personnel, some of them ex-army."
"Maybe now you can come and work out with us," Aaron said. The group had drifted closer to him and he realized that he was now the center of attention.
"Maybe," Jayce said, "but I am kind of enjoying my time with The General. He is determined that I develop abs of steel and I am determined to look as good as he does. He is twenty-five years older than I am; he shouldn't look so much better. No way should that happen: I have finally developed a vanity streak and I am in competition with my dad."
"Well, well," Cynth declared, "I thought you were cute when you were fat. You have those hooded male model eyes, which are so sexy but even more so now."
"Down girl." Ruby chuckled and slapped Cynth playfully. "Way down, this is Jayce. He is not into blatant flirtations. You would have to be way subtler than that to get him interested."
Jayce nodded gratefully at Ruby; she knew him well—but he gave Cynth an offhand smile.
"Thanks, Cynth." He stood up and flexed his biceps. "I shall go out and flex my muscles and watch the girls swoon in a heap all around Mobay."
Cynth laughed. "Well, good luck with your newfound sexiness. You have my numbers, right? You can call me anytime; I swoon on command."
Jayce looked at her half fearfully and then shook his head; he headed for the food area with Ruby's laughter following him. He wasn't really hungry. Pastries and sweets no longer appealed to him; food for him was no longer an emotional crutch that he used to drown out his feelings about his past with Haley Greenwald.
He didn't want to disappoint Ruby by not eating any of it, so he took small samples of what were once his favorite foods. He was relieved when Melody walked on the stage area and he could put the plate on the side of the table.
"As the official master of ceremonies for this occasion I must say thank you all for coming. This is an especially emotional birthday party for us because Jayce, our Jayce, our friend, pal, and confidant, the man who never fears to tell it like it is, almost died but was spared. The band will serenade him with his favorite song. Then we'll sing him happy birthday and then we'll give him our heart-felt speeches."
Jayce grinned. "Seriously? Heart-felt speeches. You guys are going overboard."
He then turned to the guys who were walking up to the stage. "I thought you guys said that if you heard my favorite song one more time you would just die."
Carson slapped him on the back. "That was idle talk, man. We are so happy that you are alive I think you can play it a couple more hundred times and we will bite our lips and not say a word. We will even perform it for you as many times as you wish."
Jayce grinned, his heart warmed by the sentiments. He knew that his brush with death had been a wake-up call for all of them. He folded his arms, stood on the sidelines with the rest of the crowd, and listened as the band played Ain’t It Enough by Maxi Priest.
He didn't know why he loved the song so much; maybe when it was released in June 1996 he was living the lyrics with Haley Greenwald. It had stayed a firm favorite of his since then.
The song brought back all of the wasted and pent-up passion he had for Haley. It also reminded him of the years he wasted trying to figure out why she left without saying a word to him. As the band sang the song it brought back memories, stinging memories, memories that he had tried hard to squelch but never really accomplished, even after all these years.
He rocked to the song as Carson did a fair imitation of Maxi Priest. Just then, he made up his mind: today was going to be different. He was not going to dwell on the past; instead his mind drifted to Abigail. He wondered what she was doing right now. He had not seen her since his trip to India.
He wondered if she even took note of his absence, or to her was he just a regular face in a sea of customers that patronized the popular restaurant where she worked.
By the time the guys finished the song, he made up his mind that this evening would be the evening to approach her. He felt compelled to find out more about her. It was his birthday; he was single and to be honest, lonely.
He had not really had the inclination to pursue anyone and had not even attempted to have a relationship with anyone since his youth and Haley. He was a definite case of arrested development, partly because when he was overweight, he had been rebuffed more times than he could count, and he hadn't had the will to put up with the dating ritual with anyone. It had seemed to him like so much of a hassle.
The very thought of it had made him feel tired but now he was feeling confident. He was willing to put himself out there again and do something positive with his life and he was going to start tonight, with Abigail. He had to approach her sometime; tonight was as good a time as any.


The Searock Cafe was deserted when Jayce drove up. He looked at his watch. It was near closing time, nine o'clock; the party had gone on for a while, considering that it had started early in the evening. He slammed his car door and contemplated going inside the dimly lit restaurant.
He could see Abigail inside, wiping down the tables and rocking to the music that was playing on the restaurant speakers. Her long hair was swinging with the motions of her hand.
He wondered how old she was. He had been wondering about that for the past year. She looked to be in her late twenties. He assumed that she was unmarried because he hadn't seen a ring on her finger, but then again, many married women didn't wear a ring.
Please God, let her be single. It was a stupid prayer. If she was married, what would God do—immediately make her single? He drummed his fingers on the car and took in a deep breath.
She stayed inside for twenty minutes more. After the lights were turned off in the front part of the restaurant, Abigail exited with two other girls. A taxi drove up as soon as they exited the building and his heart wilted in disappointment.
She was going to go with the taxi. His chance was shot. What did he expect? It was his birthday. Nothing good ever happened on his birthday, anyway. He watched as her two friends waved to her and got in the taxi and she waved back to them, heading briskly to the brightly lit gate.
His heart hammered in his chest. She was going to walk to her place, wherever that was. That meant that he could offer her a ride home. He jumped into his car, pulled out of his parking spot, and headed to the gate. He pulled up beside her and wound down the window.
She looked across at him and scowled fiercely.
"It's only me, Jayce," he said quickly. "The guy who orders baked chicken and rice and peas every day for lunch. Want a lift home?"
She stopped and stared into the car. "Jayce? You look different."
He shrugged. "Long story."
She sighed. "I don't live far from here. It is just a fifteen-minute walk."
"Come on," Jayce said, "tonight's my birthday. Come keep me company. I promise I am not a creep. I love God, I go to church regularly, and I am kind to animals and old ladies."
Abigail chuckled. "I can't believe you want me to just take your word for it."
"I work at Owl Securities," Jayce said hurriedly. "I protect people for a living, which makes me practically the best person to take a ride with at this time of the night."
Jayce watched her anxiously as she waged a war within, contemplating whether she should get into the car. Her face was so expressive, and not for the first time he thought how she looked vaguely familiar, with her creamy peanut butter complexion and thick winged brows. Her hair was in one of those sister locks styles: a fine braided look. She had her hair pulled back in a thick ponytail; she dyed the ends a fire engine red color and it was almost to her waist. She wasn't wearing makeup, but her skin had a slight glow, which enhanced her flawless skin.
She was pretty and petite, and she had him mesmerized. When she placed a hand on the door handle and then pulled it open, he breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't even realized that he had held it in, waiting for her to make up her mind.
"I live at the Golden Gate Apartments," she said to him after she sat in the car. "Happy birthday."
"Thanks." He nodded. "My birthdays are not usually the heights of happiness. Aren't you wondering why you haven't seen me around the restaurant?"
She shrugged, turning her expressive brown eyes toward him, and once more he felt a pull of familiarity with her when she looked at him.
"Not really. Obviously you were on a diet," she said. "You look slimmer."
Jayce grinned. "Thanks for noticing."
"Hard not to." She grinned. "So how did you spend your birthday?"
"My friends threw me a party," Jayce said. "It was surprisingly good."
She nodded and looked through the window.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably several times, hoping that she would look in his direction and say something. He did not pick her up for them to drive in silence; he wanted to get to know her better. Obviously, with Abigail he would have to do all the talking.
"So," he asked, "do you have a boyfriend, husband or partner?"
She shook her head. "No. None of the above."
"Is it okay if we see each other sometimes? I mean, I only see you at the restaurant and I would like to get to know you better."
"No," Abigail said, glancing at him. They drove under a streetlight and he could see her expression. She looked slightly appalled and fearful, as if he had asked her something more involved. His curiosity was piqued, and so was his disappointment.
"May I ask why?" He reached the entrance to the Golden Gate Apartments. It was a low-income apartment complex with two-story apartments. The wall surrounding the complex had surprisingly good artwork of various beach scenes, though. There was no golden gate in sight and he wondered how it got that name. He drove onto a graveled driveway that snaked around the complex.
The building looked like it was once painted a beige color. Even in the night, he could see that the walls were peeling and the place looked depressed. A few stray dogs were fighting over a garbage bag in the middle of the pathway leading to the apartments, and he slowed down for them to slink away with bits and pieces of garbage hanging from their mouths.
He waited for Abigail to speak but she only mumbled, "Right here. This is my block."
He dutifully stopped and looked at her curiously as she clutched her handbag to her side and sighed. "Look Jayce, it has been a long day. I am tired. I am really hot and bothered right now."
Jayce released the master lock on the car and watched as she opened the door.
"That's it?" he asked. "You are just going to blow me off like that without an explanation? It's because I am fat, isn't it?" he asked, all of his insecurities coming to the fore.
"You are not fat anymore, remember?" Abigail said swiftly. "Besides, you were always handsome, fat or slim. It's not you, it's me."
Jayce nodded. "I see. You know, I was shot the other day. I could have died. That's why you haven't seen me for months. I thought that since God spared my life, maybe it was time for me to do some things that I have always wanted to do. Like ask you out."
Abigail turned around and looked at him swiftly, such stark concern in her eyes it gave him hope this wasn't the look of a woman indifferent to him. He felt ashamed, though, that he had to resort to shamelessly mentioning that he had been shot to gain her sympathy.
"Are you okay now?" she asked breathlessly.
"Yes." Jayce shrugged. "I am fine."
Her shoulders slumped slightly. "I can't date you Jayce. I am sorry."
He watched as she jumped out of the car and walked toward her apartment door. She opened the door in haste and slammed it closed.
His body jerked with the slam and the anticipation with which he started out the night died like soda fizz.
"Happy birthday to me," he growled, irritated that he had expected a different outcome.