Why I’m not finishing Steven’s series (right now)…

Answer: I’m not a machine.

When other characters have stories to tell in my head, I go with those. I’ve written eleven other books, plus a book of extras, since I released Number Seven in 2013. So I’m not as prolific as some other authors. (As a side note, eight of those books I’ve written since 2013 have over 100,000 words.) I have a full-time job, am completely self-reliant and have had some hardships in the past few years.

The characters who have inspired me since 2013 are Livvy, Jon, Max, Callen, Trey, Will, Shea and Coley. Steven has not. Renee has not. Kaydra has not. I’m not going to write an uninspired book or series.

Believe me, I see my sales. I know people aren’t as interested in the characters who interest me; it’s a hard pill to swallow. That being said, I’m doing something my soul needs to do for me to stay healthy and happy as a person.

Someday, maybe readers’ tastes and the voices in my head will align. Until then, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing… and I’m going to stop calling Number Seven a prequel. I understand it’s misleading when I have no ETA for a follow-up.

A part of me feels the need to apologize, but… I feel like I’ve still given so much of myself over the years that an apology isn’t really needed. Instead, I’ll thank you for reading and for your patience between any releases I do have.

Peace and love, always.

Kaydra – From book three of Steven War and Peace


  • Narrator: Kaydra
  • Characters: Kaydra, Steven, Danny, & Mitch
  • Timeline
  • Low Spoiler Risk

“Could you fix this?” Mitch whispers in my ear on our way into the theater. He tugs at the knot on his tie and smiles apologetically.

“Of course, silly,” I say back lightly. “Hold Finny’s hand,” I instruct, passing off my nephew’s tiny fingers into Mitch’s strong hand.

“Finny, are you excited?” he asks him as I straighten his tie and brush back his hair just a tad.

Finn grins widely, showing the gaps between his teeth where others recently were. The permanent teeth were already pushing their way through.

“Okay, you’re good,” I tell Mitch as I pat him on the chest.

“Just a second,” he responds, kneeling down and straightening the tiny bow-tie that I had insisted Finn wear to his first Broadway performance. Danny had cringed at first, but as soon as I paraded my nephew from his bedroom, my brother immediately grabbed the camera and started snapping pictures.

I watch Mitch adoringly and feel a little pang in my chest. I want my own children. I want a father to those children that cares so much about them that he straightens a little tiny bow-tie around our son’s neck, or a little bow in our daughter’s hair. I know Mitch could easily fit into that picture. I know he wants that as much as I do.

Mitch places Finn’s hand back in my right one, and then weaves his fingers in between mine on my left.

“Are we ready?” I ask Danny, turning around to see him talking softly to Gabby. She was still waking up from her nap. Neither of us were certain that it was a good idea to bring her to the musical, but it was a children’s matinee, and we figured she wouldn’t be the only baby here. Looking around the lobby, we figured correctly. I had told Danny I’d take care of her if she got fussy.

My brother simply makes eye contact with me and smiles, not interrupting his conversation with his little girl.

Mitch guides us into the large theater and we begin ascending the stairs up to our seats. I glance around the auditorium, delighting in the smiles and excitement painted on every child’s face. Some wear normal, every day clothes; some are in their Sunday best, like Danny’s kids; and some are definitely dressed up for the event. In the center, about ten rows up, sits a large group of little girls with tiaras and fancy gowns. Their parents are in black tie attire, too, and I giggle inwardly until I recognize Steven’s brother, Jack, sitting to the right of the group.

My eyes dart around, looking for Steven. Finally, I see him from behind, recognize his messy hair anywhere. He’s leaning over, whispering something in the ear of a pretty, dark-haired woman sitting next to him.

My heart sinks into the pit of my stomach. So that’s Renee. My eyes well up quickly before I can compose myself.

“You okay, Katie-girl?” Mitch asks as he and Finn both tug on my hands. I hadn’t realized I stopped walking and was blocking traffic. Danny puts his hand on my back and starts to guide me up the steps when Steven looks toward me. His expression is one of surprise and I see a faint smile cross his lips before I finally tear my eyes away.

“I’m good,” I assure Mitch.

“Here are our seats,” he says, about ten rows behind Steven. I swallow hard as I clear my throat and try to blink the tears back and take a seat. Danny sits farthest in, with Finn in between us, and Mitch sits on the end of the row. Danny hands me Gabby as he takes his jacket off. I hug her into my chest and can’t resist the urge to look in front of me again. I spot the tiaras first, and immediately find Steven’s blue eyes staring back at me.

I gasp quietly at the sight of him. I want to smile, but knowing he’s here with her makes me want to scream. I didn’t want to believe that he really did go back to that woman who hurt him and hurt his daughter so much.

Mitch kisses me on the cheek and puts his arm around me, pulling me back into the seat.

“Get comfortable,” he encourages me.

I look at him abruptly, feel my cheeks blush, and nod quickly. He presses his lips to mine gently and drags his fingers through my hair. When he pulls away, I can’t bear to look him in the eyes, feeling the attraction to Steven through the crowded room and knowing that I can never love Mitch the way I loved Steven.

“You know what, I think Gabby needs to be changed,” I tell the group, grateful that I have an excuse to get away for a few minutes and try to compose myself enough to get through the next two hours. I glance toward the back of the auditorium, hoping for another exit, but the only way out of here will take me past Steven’s row again. I’ll have to just look at the steps. I can’t stand to see them together again. It still hurts so much.

Mitch places the diaper bag on my shoulder as I settle my niece on my hip. “Finny, do you need to go?” He shakes his head. I ask another time, just to make sure, but he is too enthralled with the giant props on stage to pay very much attention to me anyway. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” I smile weakly at Mitch.

“You have plenty of time before the show starts,” he assures me.

I count the steps as I descend them, doing everything I can to keep my brain occupied on anything other than Steven. Why is he still with her? Why couldn’t he feel the same way about me that I felt about him? I would never do anything to hurt him.

I have to remind myself, though, that Renee may be completely sober now… and with a clear mind, I know she would never leave her husband or daughter the way she did when she was messed up. I can only hope he’s happy with her now.

When I get into the ladies room, I check Gabby’s diaper, which is completely dry. I grab a few tissues and carry them to the couch in the lounge adjacent to the restrooms. I dab at a few tears that linger, and blink a few times to free a few more. My nose red, I search the side pocket of the diaper bag for my compact and try to apply some more powder as I balance Gabby on my lap.

She giggles, staring at a woman standing over us.

“Your baby is beautiful,” she tells me.

“Thanks,” I answer quietly. It’s just easier than giving her my life story.

“Enjoy the show,” she says as she makes her way out the door. I smile and nod.

“Why is he here, Gabby?” I ask my niece, dreading going back in the theater. I bounce her on my legs nervously and take a few deep breaths before gathering my things. I stuff a few tissues in the bag, just in case. “Alright, I’m going to teach you how to be a big girl, Gabby. I’m going to walk right past him with my head held high and he won’t have any clue that he can still make me cry like that.” I smile in the mirror on my way out the door and start back toward the auditorium.

“Are you seeing him again?” I hear his voice behind me. I stop dead in my tracks as my head falls forward in defeat.

“Another day, Gabby,” I whisper softly, taking a deep breath. He steps in front of me, looking handsome in his tuxedo, his skin soft from a recent shave. I just clear my throat and try to hold in my emotions as they scream inside my chest to come out.

“Hello, Steven,” I say evenly.

“You look beautiful, Kayd.” His compliment stuns me; causes me to waver, if only momentarily.

I take a few seconds to compose myself again. “Thank you.”

“Are you? Seeing Mitch again?”

“I don’t think this is the right time or place for this conversation,” I tell him, trying to side-step him.

He touches my arm softly, whispering his question once more as I pass him. His voice sounds anguished.

I look at him, confused. “What, you’re allowed to see other people, but I’m not? Was I really supposed to wait? You broke up with me, remember?”

“I asked for some time.”

“That was months ago. You haven’t called or anything–”

“So you are, then?”

“Are what?”

“Seeing him.”

“What does it even matter when you’re still with your ex-wife?” I ask him angrily. He shakes his head, but I can tell he’s too stunned with my honest question to answer. “You don’t have the right to question me.”

“Okay,” he says, nodding slowly as he starts to back away from me. “You’re right.” He swallows hard and I can see the remorse on his face. He should feel bad. I shouldn’t.

But I do.

“Steven,” I start to plead with him.

“Good night, Kayd.” He runs his hand through his hair, and I can tell I’ve hurt him by saying what I did. He turns around and swiftly returns to the theater.

I hate hurting him. I just told myself I would never do that.

And I think I just did.

©2015 Lori L. Otto • Distribution or duplication is strictly prohibited without written permission from the author.


Steven – From book two of Steven War and Peace


  • Narrator: Steven
  • Characters: Steven, Kaydra, Finn, Lexi, Daniel, Jack and Emi
  • Timeline
  • Medium Spoiler Risk

“Dad, you don’t need to walk me all the way to school,” Lexi tells me. “In fact, if you stand here, you can see me all the way in.”

“I’m sorry, Lex, I didn’t realize it bothered you.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” she begins. “It’s just… you know, I’m making friends and I’m fine.” I smile at her and nod in understanding.

“I know, baby. You’re right. You have a good day. Meet you here at three-fifteen?”

She reaches up to hug me as the crosswalk signals her to go. “Three-fifteen. Love ya!” She skips across the street, calling out to a friend and waving when she gets to the other side. I feel a little relieved as she links elbows with the other young girl, talking and laughing as they make their way to the school building.

“Finn, slow down!” I hear a voice call behind me. “And don’t you dare cross that street without me!” I know her voice. Mrs. Reese. I can feel my palms get sweaty just thinking about her. What is it about her that does this to me? She’s just a woman. Just a beautiful woman I see from time-to-time when I walk Lexi to school. I pass plenty of beautiful women on this stroll… hell, on any stroll in Manhattan. Why this one? Why this married mother who has never given me the time of day anytime we’ve politely passed one another? In fact, she purposefully avoids eye contact with me every time I try to smile at her.

Hearing the thumping footsteps of a running child, I turn around just as her son slams right into my legs. I stumble backwards a little, but somehow remain upright.

“Hey, there, kiddo,” I tell the surprised little boy, holding onto him until she can catch up.

“Oh, my god, I am so sorry,” his mother says, clutching tightly to the baby she holds in her arms. She kneels down to Finn’s level. “Now, Finn, see what happens when you run? You need to apologize to this nice man.”

“I’m sorry, mister,” he says shyly to me.

“It’s okay,” I laugh as Mrs. Reese stands up and takes Finn’s hand. She’s about six inches shorter than me. Her remarkable blue eyes sparkle as the sun hits them, her golden hair blowing freely under her blue knitted cap. “It’s not such a bad thing when they can’t wait to get to school, huh?” I ask her.

“He loves school,” she says. “Well, he loves to see his friends at school. He’s more manageable when his sister doesn’t come along for the walk. It was just too pretty to leave her at home this morning.”

“It is a nice morning,” I admit. “She’s beautiful.” The child’s hair is auburn, her eyes blue like her mother’s. The little girl shakes a rattling toy at me, as if waving to me.

“Yes, she is.”

“Mrs. Reese, isn’t it?”

She looks at me curiously. “My name precedes me,” she laughs. “It’s Kaydra, actually. And you are…”

“Steven Holland,” I tell her, offering her my hand, realizing too late that her hands are full with her two children. I laugh nervously, dropping my hand to my side. “My daughter goes to Saint Ignatius. She said Finn here is a soccer prodigy.”

“Fastest kid in his grade,” she nods. “It’s quite a hinderance when you’re trying to keep up with him, though.”

“So I see,” I laugh. “You do a fine job.” I realize quickly that I’m on the verge of hitting on a married woman, and decide to end the conversation. “Have a good day.”

She nods as I turn to walk away.

“Did I do okay?” I hear Finn ask before Mrs. Reese– Kaydra– admonishes him with a “shhhh.” My curiosity piqued, I slow down minutely, keeping my ears attuned to their conversation.

“Okay, we can walk now,” she says. I turn back around to watch them cross the street. As Kaydra focuses her attention on her little boy, the young baby flings her soft rattle into the street, unbeknownst to her mother. The family continues their walk toward school as I wait for the next light to change.

When the crosswalk signals my turn, I retrieve the toy from the pavement and take it back to the corner where I first spoke to Kaydra. She’ll come back this way once Finn has made it to school.

Is it weird that I’m waiting here for her? I debate leaving the toy on the waist-high brick wall that surrounds the park next to me. She’d see it there. That’s what I should do, I know, but I want to talk to her again.

She’s married, Steven. Move along. I set the toy down, arranging it so it stands out against its surroundings.

“Hey!” I hear her again, this time from across the intersection. “Um, Steven?”

I pick up the toy and walk to the sidewalk’s edge. “Your little girl dropped her rattle,” I explain over the noise of the cars passing by, picking up the toy and shaking it. “I’ve, um…”

“Thank you,” she yells back, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she waits for the light to change. When it does, we meet in the middle and she extends her left hand, reaching for the toy. She’s not wearing any rings.

I place the rattle in her hand, feeling her soft palm for a brief second with my thumb. “Thank you,” she repeats softly. I turn around and walk with her to the sidewalk. “Toys and walks don’t mix. You’d think I’d have learned that by now.”

“Well, sometimes we all get wrapped up in the chaos of our kids… I’ve left the house many times with everything but common sense.”

“Huh,” she says as we begin to walk down the street together slowly.

Idiot! “No, I didn’t mean–”

“No, I know,” she smiles. “I know what you mean.”

“Really, I’m sorry,” I try to explain again.

“Really, there’s no need to apologize,” she says, and I believe her.

“Okay,” I smile, swallowing nervously as the smell of coffee wafts from the corner café.

“Do you want to get some coffee?” she asks suddenly. Is she married or not?

“Sure,” I say without hesitation. One way to find out.

Kaydra finds a table as I pick up the drinks from the barista. She bounces the child on her knees lightly, making tiny sounds that cause her little girl to smile and laugh.

“She’s a happy baby,” I comment, setting her drink in front of her and taking a sip of my own. “What’s her name?”

“It’s Gabby. And she’s much happier than her brother was at this age,” she says. “He was such a handful. He cried all the time.” I grin at Gabby and she giggles loudly. “What’s your daughter’s name?”


“Did you just move here? I don’t remember seeing you until recently.”

I smile inwardly. “Yes. Lex and I moved here from Dallas.”

“…and your wife?”

I shake my head and take a long drink of coffee. Setting the cup down, I clear my throat.

“What brought you up north? I mean, I don’t mean to pry–”

“No, not at all. I’m originally from Jersey. I have a brother and sister here. I, uh…” I hesitate. “I needed to be closer to family. It was a, uh, difficult year.” I shrug and smile apologetically.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Kaydra’s phone rings. She tries to adjust Gabby in her lap to answer her phone, but seems to have trouble managing both. Her eyes meet mine, and I reach my hands out to take her daughter. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” I assure her, settling Gabby in my lap, facing her mother.

Kaydra finally retrieves her phone and stands up. “I’m sorry, I need to take this.”

“It’s not a problem.” Kaydra walks toward the window, gazing out. I try not to listen to her conversation, but it’s hard to focus on anything else. “But Daniel,” she cried, “you promised you’d take her today. I had plans… I know, but… well, what about Abigail? She can’t either? Okay… no, I know… it’s fine.” Kaydra looks over her shoulder to check on Gabby, waving cutely. “What about Friday? Yeah… Yeah? Okay, that’ll work. No, that’s better. Okay, I’ll see you tonight. Good luck.” She ends the call and walks quickly to the table.

“I hate to cut this short,” she says, taking Gabby back into her arms, “but I’ve got to get to work. Thank you for the coffee.”

“Oh, of course,” I stammer, sad that our date is ending so soon. “I understand.”

“Um…” she pauses briefly, smiling.

“We should do this again sometime,” I suggest. I learned nothing about her, and have so many questions.

“They’ll be with their dad Friday night,” she says, her voice upbeat and hopeful, her suggestion catching me off guard. “I mean, if you want to, um…”

Me? She’s asking me out? Well, that doesn’t happen every day. Or ever. Jack and Emi have offered to watch Lexi for me… maybe they could help me out Friday. “I’d love that,” I tell Kaydra, not wanting to turn down her invitation.

“You know the high rise on the northeast corner of Park and 82nd?”

“Yeah.” I don’t, but I’ll figure it out.

“Apartment 3456. Eight?”

“Apartment 34568?

“No,” she laughs. “At eight o’clock. My apartment is number 3456.”

“Got it,” I smile. “I won’t be late.”

“Great,” she smiles and sighs heavily. “I’ll see you Friday, Steven Holland.” I nod, taking my seat as she leaves the coffee shop.

I immediately pull out my phone to make arrangements with Jack.

“Everything okay, Stevie?”

“Yeah, it’s fine Jacks. Listen, I was wondering if you and Em could watch Lexi on Friday.”

“Of course,” he says. “What’s the occasion? If you don’t mind me asking…”

“That pretty blonde woman I pointed out to Emi… I think she asked me out.”

“You think?”

“I’m supposed to be at her place at eight.”

“I think she did,” he laughs. “So she wasn’t married after all?”

“Ummm…” I hesitate. “We never made it to that part of the conversation–”

“Stevie…” he admonishes me.

“Jacks, really. No, she can’t be. I mean, I don’t think. She definitely wasn’t wearing a ring. Why would she ask me out if she was married?”

“But she has a child?” he asks.

“Two, actually,” I admit. “The little boy and a baby girl. I have a kid. I’m not married.”

“She has a baby?”

“Yeah. I guess she’s, what… one-ish? She wasn’t walking yet.”

Jack groans into the phone. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“I at least need to meet her to get answers to all of your questions,” I tell my brother sarcastically. “I’m a grown man. I can take care of myself, Jacks.”

“Just remember, Stevie, you’re not just taking care of yourself anymore. You’ve got a daughter to think about, too. Lexi needs some stability. This just sounds a little…”

“Jacks, just… can she come stay with you and Emi Friday? Just for a few hours. I’ll get all the answers and then we can talk about this.”

“Of course,” he says, resigned. “Emi’s niece will actually be there that day. Liv will be elated to have another cousin over. We’d love to have her.”

~ * ~

Lexi’s comment resonates in my head as I’m taking the elevator up to Kaydra’s apartment Friday evening. Is she old enough to take care of herself? She’s trustworthy. She’s a smart girl. I just wish she hadn’t been so upset with me. I should have never used the word “babysit.” If I was her age, I’d be offended, too.

When I reach the third floor, I pull my phone out to call her.

“Hey, Stevie,” Emi answers.

“Em, is everything going okay?”

“Yeah, it’s great. What’s up? Are you stalling?”

“No,” I laugh at her insinuation. “Can I talk to Lex for a second?”


“What?” Lexi asks, her voice strained.

“I didn’t mean to imply that you were a baby, or a child, Lex. Why don’t we have a little trial run next week when I go to my meeting on Tuesday. You can have the apartment to yourself and we’ll see how you do. Would that be okay?”

I can hear the smile in her answer. “That’ll be cool.”

“Okay. Well have fun tonight.”

“You, too. And thanks, Dad.”

I sigh once she hangs up the phone. My heart rate picking up by the second, I knock and wait for Kaydra to answer.

“Who is it?” I hear Finn call through the door.

“My name is Steven,” I tell him. “Is your mother home?”

“No,” he tells me. No?

“Finn!” A man’s voice admonishes the little boy. “Finny, I’ve told you not to talk to strangers through the door.”

“I’m sorry, Dad,” Finn answers. Dad? What the… he’s here? The door swings open suddenly, and a man around my age stares back at me. And he’s answering the door to her apartment?

“Can I help you?” I begin to shake my head and take a few steps back, confused.

“That’s the man from the other morning, Daddy.” Shit.

“Steven Holland,” I tell him without thinking, straightening my shoulders. He looks at me curiously.

“Daniel Reese,” he holds his hand out to shake mine. “Kaydra mentioned something about a visitor.”

“Right, listen, I, um…” I stammer before taking a deep breath and composing myself, still unsure what’s going on. “So Kaydra isn’t here?”

“I’m right here,” she says as she appears suddenly from around the corner. She blushes, pushing past Daniel as she pulls a denim jacket over a colorful dress that falls a few inches above her knees. “Danny, Gabby’s had her bath. She shouldn’t be any trouble for you to put down. You know you can call me if anything goes wrong–”

“Kaydra, don’t worry. We’ll be fine. I’m their father. I’ve done this a time or two.”

“I know,” she sighs heavily. “Okay. You boys be good,” she says, kissing Finn on the cheek, then repeating the action with Daniel. What have I gotten myself into?

“Enjoy the night off,” Daniel calls back to her. “You’ll be back tonight…” his voice trails off in a questioning tone.

“Of course,” she nearly whispers to him. She glances at me, her eyes unsure, her smile growing and her cheeks getting pinker. “Good night.”

“Bye,” Daniel responds. “Good to meet you, Steven.”

“Um, likewise,” I say, playing along with whatever the hell is going on. This might be the strangest beginning to any date I’ve ever had. The door closes behind us as we make our way back toward the elevator. Once the door closes, we stand on both sides of the car. I alternate looking at my feet and back up into her pretty blue eyes. My gaze may have settled a little too long on her legs, but I don’t think she noticed.

“Well, that was weird,” I laugh quietly, trying to deflect some of the awkwardness.

“Why?” she laughs with me.

“Just… Please tell me he’s your ex-husband… or else I think there’s been some misunderstanding.”

“What?” she asks, surprised.

“I’m interested in seeing you,” I begin, “but my daughter and I have been through a lot this year, and this just seems like a complicated situation. You’re not still married, are you? Or…”

“There has definitely been some sort of misunderstanding,” she confirms. “Daniel’s my brother!” Her skin blushes pink as she smiles.

My stomach sinks. “Oh, God… What?”

“What?” she asks innocently enough.

“But Finn called him Dad,” I state solemnly.

“That’s because Finn is his son… What else would he call him?”

“This is…”

“Wait a minute…”

“Finn’s not…” Clarity comes to both of us at the same time.

“My son? Oh, God, no! He’s my nephew!”

It’s my turn to turn red. “Oh, wow, I’m sorry. Do I feel stupid…”

“You thought he was mine?”

“You walk him to school every day…”

“I’m their nanny…”

“Oh, this is making so much more sense,” I nearly sigh, relieved. “And Gabby is…”

“My niece! You thought they were mine?”

“Yeah,” I admit. “All the signs were there…”

“Oh!” she laughs, stepping off the elevator into the lobby. “Well, gosh,” she says sweetly, “that’s pretty bold of you to hit on a single mom of two, don’t you think?”

“No judgment here. I’m a single dad, after all.” Saying it out loud makes my chest feel tight.

“You’re not disappointed, are you?” she asks. “I mean, you don’t, like, prey on that type–”

“I don’t prey on anyone,” I state seriously. “In fact, I think you’re the one that put the moves on me, at this point.” I open the door for her and watch her think to herself as we walk to my car.

“I guess I have,” she says, settling into the front seat. A single woman with no children. This has become a lot less complicated. Smiling, I make my way to the driver’s side and climb in.

“Is there anywhere in particular you’d like to go?” I ask her politely.

“I hadn’t thought about it.”

“Well, I made reservations at a place called Victor’s, but we can go anywhere. Do you like Cuban food?”

“I love their sangria,” she gushes. “It’s perfect.”

“It’s been a few years since I’ve lived here, so I took my brother’s suggestion.”

“Your brother has good taste.”

“Jacks always seems to know the best places in town. He knows the city pretty well.”

“Wait,” she says placing her hand on mine on the center console. Her touch is warm and strangely comforting. “Is your brother the Jackson Holland?”

“You never dated him, did you?”

“Oh, no! You say he knows the city… he’s pretty well-known here himself, that’s all. He’s always in the paper.”

“I forget about his notoriety here,” I admit, moving my hand away from hers slowly. “He’s just my big brother, to me.”

“That’s great,” she says. I sigh inwardly, the conversation halted until we are finally seated in the restaurant. Skeptical, I’m suddenly wondering if she really knew who I was before we officially met in the street earlier today. Jacks had cautioned me of people who would come out of the woodwork in hopes of getting a little closer to his resources. That would explain why she hit on me.

I resume the conversation after we order our drinks and decide on the ceviche and croquettes as appetizers.

“I have to tell you,” I begin, “I’m not like my brother.”

“Oh, I–”

I cut her off. “I don’t have money like he does, and I’m not involved in all the charity stuff like he is,” I explain. “If that’s why you asked me out–”

“I didn’t think you were like him,” she says defensively. “I just found out he was your brother ten minutes ago, Steven. I’m sorry, I…” She shakes her head, her expression remorseful. I continue to search for something in her eyes, still unsure of her motives. “Can I be honest with you?”

“Please,” I tell her.

“Ever since I first saw you, I’ve adjusted my routine just so I could get a glimpse of you in the mornings… and some afternoons.”


“Why?” she repeats my question, as if the answer should be obvious. “Because I think you’re cute.”

“Wow, you are not afraid of honesty, are you?”

“No,” she shrugs. “What’s the point in hiding the truth? Life is too short to beat around the bush, you know?” Her viewpoint is remarkably refreshing to me, albeit slightly disarming. “Like the other day,” she continues. “You always walk looking at the ground, did you know that?”

“I don’t guess I’ve ever thought about it.” The waiter brings our drinks and plates.

“Well you do…”


“I gave Finn a dollar to run into you that morning.”

“You what?” I laugh, nearly choking on the drink I had just taken.

“I had to get your attention,” she says, matter-of-fact.

“Seems a little unorthodox.”

“I’m not saying it’s not. I did what I had to do.” She shrugs and sips her Sangria. “So have you noticed me before?” she tacks on a question, putting me on the spot.

I look her directly in the eyes to answer, willing to put it all out there in the spirit of honesty. “Yes. Many times. I pointed you out to my sister-in-law last week.”

“That’s the red-head you were with?”

“You make it sound so illicit…”

Kaydra sighs and takes a bite of one of our appetizers. “So she’s not a girlfriend?”

“No,” I laugh. “Her name is Emi. She’s married to Jacks.”

“So you don’t have a girlfriend,” she states, and I shake my head. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-one. You?”

“I’ll celebrate my seventh birthday next year.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I’ll be seven.”

I smile curiously. “Now that’s an outright lie.”

She shakes her head. “I was born on February 29th.”

It takes a second for me to realize her situation. “Leap year baby… so you’ll be twenty-eight.”

“Yes… and you’re thirty-one… You had Lexi when you were pretty young, huh?”

“Looks that way,” I answer vaguely, purposely. My smile punctuates the sentence, and she doesn’t ask anymore questions about her, much to my relief. I could see this going from date to therapy session in no time, and I’d rather not lay all the baggage out there for her to see on our first evening together.

“Is there a story there?”

I shift uncomfortably and clear my throat, picking at a piece of red snapper with my fork. “There is,” I finally answer with a nod. I lift my eyes to meet hers and hope she can read the signals, understand that this isn’t something I wish to get into tonight. Our waiter interrupts her before she can ask any more questions, taking our orders. “You know,” I continue when she is silent, “you can’t find good paella in Dallas.”

“Really?” she asks, playing along. “What’s it like there?”

“Different. Hot. Much quieter, more isolated. It was hard to feel a sense of community there, having grown up so close to the city. My family is from Hoboken.”

“Why did you move there?” Her question is tentative, and I realize she’s unsure which questions will lead to more uncomfortable silence. Noticing her empty glass, I pour her another drink from the pitcher of sangria we had ordered.

“For work. I’m in commercial real estate, and this market was too cut-throat for me starting out. I decided to go somewhere else for some experience once I finished school. There was a ton of new construction in Dallas, so there was plenty of opportunity. I ended up learning a lot. It’s a fine place to visit, but I’d never move back. I love this city too much.”

“I’ve never lived anywhere else. I grew up in Manhattan. My parents still live here. I couldn’t imagine leaving.”

“So you’re close to your family, I take it?”

“For the most part,” she says. “Mom and Dad are still married. My dad recently retired from his law office. My brother, Daniel, now runs it.”

“Is it just the two of you?”

“No, we have a younger sister, Holly. She’s also in the city. What about you?”

“Jacks has a twin, Kelly. They’re both married. Kelly and Thomas have four children, and Jacks and Emi have one. Then I have another brother, Matty, who’s four years older than I am. He lives with his partner in California.”

“Wow, you kids were scattered all over the country. Are your parents still in Jersey?”

“Wyoming,” I laugh. “We’ve always had a sense of independence in our family. Despite the geography, we’re all very close. I think Matty and Lucas will probably move back to the Northeast at some point. He moved there to be an actor, but ended up working in production and loving it. He wants to work on Broadway someday.”

“And your parents?”

“Oh, they’re happily settled on some land in the country. My mother grew up in a farming community, and she always missed nature and… well, space. We visit, they visit. They’re very adept with video-conferencing,” I laugh. “So you’re a nanny. Do you go to school for that?”

“I went to school to be a teacher, and I actually have my masters in literacy studies.”

“Literacy studies. Interesting. My daughter is dyslexic… she seems to cope pretty well with reading her schoolwork, for the most part. She gets headaches if she reads a lot, but sometimes I think she’s just putting too much pressure on herself. Right now, math is our struggle.”

“That’s actually very common. Does she have a tutor?”

“We haven’t found one here that we like yet. She had a great one in Dallas. We still keep in touch, for encouragement.”

“I know some people,” she offers. “I could recommend a few.”

“Thank you, yes. If you don’t mind, it bothers Lexi very much. She was teased a lot back home. The kids at Saint Ignatius don’t know. Her teachers do–”

“Oh, I’ll be discreet. Don’t worry.” She smiles. “I’d love to help.” Again, she places her hand on mine on the table. Her touch is soothing and reassuring and so unfamiliar to me. I turn my hand over, wrapping my fingers around hers, reveling in the feeling.

“You’re different, Kaydra,” I tell her quietly.

“Different from whom?”

“Anyone.”  And she is.  I’ve never met anyone so positive and upbeat, so forward without being aggressive or pushy.  She seems so happy, content with her life, and so sure of herself.  Such a change from any woman I’ve ever known.  Definitely different than Renee.  So different.  I let go of Kaydra’s hand, feeling a tinge of betrayal, a feeling that makes no sense whatsoever, but it’s there nonetheless. I pick up my fork to take a bite of paella, hoping she isn’t offended. “Does your family have any plans for the holidays?  Do you celebrate Christmas?”

“Oh, yes.  It’s my favorite time of the year.  We’re always very busy.  We usually take a trip while the kids are out of school.”

“This year, too?”

“Yes, we’re going to Hawaii.”  Beautiful Hawaii.  A paradise, forever marred by the unfortunate events of my failed marriage and the woman who stole my heart.  I wonder if I’ll ever recover.  “Have you been?” she asks.

“I have,” I tell her with a faint smile.  “I’ve been many places, but I can honestly say it’s the most beautiful place I’ve traveled.”

“Can’t wait to go back?” she asks, and I just nod.  It’s safe to say I never will.  “What does your family do?”

“We’re typically on our own,” I admit, wondering what this holiday season will be like.  It’s Lexi’s first Christmas without her mother, sure to be a difficult time for her.  It’s my first in years without her.  We had just begun creating new traditions, and for what?  She ruined the holiday for us.  December 27th looms just a few weeks away, when Lexi and I will be forced to mark the day we found her in the tub, the subsequent days we prayed for her in the hospital… and ultimately, the day that she left us for good.  I can never forgive her.


“Huh?”  I look around the restaurant, realizing my thoughts have taken over and I didn’t hear what she said to me.  “I’m sorry,” I apologize.  “What was your question?”

“I just asked if you and Lexi had anything special planned.”

“Not really,” I tell her.  “I’m sure we’ll be spending time with my sister and her kids.  They’re staying in town this year.”

“Good,” she says.  “No one should spend Christmas alone.”

“We’ll find something to do.” We talk about our favorite things over dinner. We have similar taste in music, an eclectic mix of alternative, folk and electronica, but our movie choices are polar opposite. If we decide to see each other on a regular basis, we’ll both be doing some compromising.  She’s not a sports fan and she loves going to the theater. Everything about her is so feminine, sweet, uncomplicated and… good. If ever I was looking for Renee’s opposite, I think I’ve found her. So many of Renee’s traits suited me so well… or so I thought. I mean, what could I have to offer this woman in return?  Self-doubt begins to overcome me again as I consider the baggage I would bring into any relationship. I finish the sangria quickly in an attempt to clear my head.

When she smiles at me, I relax and inwardly thank God for putting me across the table from her tonight. I needed a break from sitting at home and wondering where I went wrong. I wonder if I can ever make things right… not so much with Renee, but with myself and with Lexi. We’ve been through so much. We deserve something– someone– good in our lives.

“So tell me,” I start after the waiter clears our plates, “how often do you get an evening off? Is your brother a good employer, or is he pretty protective of your time?”

She laughs and nods. “He’s very considerate of my time, actually,” she answers.  “I usually stick around to help him with dinner, but he can manage on his own.  Sometimes he does have to work late, though.”

“And your weekends?”

“Typically free.”

“Good to know,” I smile.

“Does that mean we might have a second date?”

“If this one goes well… you’re not trying to end it yet, are you?”

“No,” she smiles. “I haven’t had dessert yet.” I nod and wave the waiter over so we can place our order for dessert. Kaydra requests a pineapple and ice cream dish. I just opt for a cappuccino.

After dinner, I hold her hand as we wait for the valet to bring my car around. She moves in closer to me as the cold winter breeze picks up, tossing her hair around to frame her face wildly. She looks up at me, and I don’t know what comes over me, but I push her hair behind her ear and lean in to kiss her softly. She willingly kisses me back, placing her hand on my cheek.

God, it feels nice.

Who knows how long it would have continued had we not been interrupted by the young man dangling my keys a few inches from my ear? Her cheeks, already rosy from the blustery wind, turn an even darker shade of pink.

“Am I going too fast?” I ask her as we drive back to her apartment.

She looks over the steering wheel and shakes her head. “I think the speed limit on this street is actually thirty, so you’re okay.” I look over at her to see if she’s serious. She looks back innocently. “Isn’t it? I could be wrong.”

“Not my driving,” I hint.

“Oh!” she laughs.

“I’ll be honest, it’s been awhile since I’ve been on a proper date. I don’t know what’s acceptable anymore. I’m a little out of practice.”

“Well, if this tells you anything,” she says assuredly, “you don’t seem out of practice to me. You’ve done everything perfectly.”

“Damn,” I tell her.

“What?” she asks as I pull into the driveway of her building.

“I was sort of hoping you’d tell me I need a little more practice.”

“What do you want to practice? Another date or another kiss?”

“Another… both,” I decide quickly, putting my car in park and turning my hazard lights on.

“I’d like another kiss,” she says shyly. We lean into one another over the center console and kiss again. Her motions become more passionate, and I’m quick to match her actions. I pull away first, realizing I’m going to have an embarrassing problem on my hands if I let it continue, and I want to be able to walk her to her door.

I kiss her cheek and run my fingers through her silken hair one last time, sighing against her skin and taking in the light, flowery scent of her perfume. “Can I have another date, too?” I whisper in her ear. Unable to resist her, I press my lips to the hollow beneath her ear, and once more a few inches below.

“Yes,” she says breathily, then shrugs away from me with an airy laugh.

“Can I walk you up?” She nods as we both exit the car. I ask for her phone when we get into the elevator and program my phone number in it for her. I call my own phone with hers so I can have her number. When we get to her door, I bend down and kiss her once more. She pulls me close as she leans against the door, and I can’t help myself from pressing against her harder. She hums lightly as I feel her lips form into a smile.

“Okay,” she says, breaking away. With her thumbs, she removes the traces of her lipstick from my skin. I take her hands in mine and kiss the back of each of them. I kiss her temple and tuck her hair behind her ears.

“Thank you,” I tell her.

“No, thank you,” she responds. “It was perfect.”

“The kiss or the date?” I tease.

“Both,” she laughs back. “Good night.”

“Good night,” I tell her with a wry smile. “I’ll call you.” She nods and goes into her apartment.

When I get to my car, I decide to dial her number. She answers quickly with an adorable giggle.

“Another Kiss?” she asks.

“What, now?” I ask coyly.

“You put that in my phone?”

“Well, when you’re ready for another, you’ll know who to call.”

“And who am I in your phone?”

“Another Date,” I admit. “So I know who to call when I’m ready for another.”

“Well, you just called me…” she says tentatively.

“I did. Do you have plans next Saturday afternoon? Lexi has a choir workshop, so I’ll be free.”

“That sounds perfect,” she repeats.

“I’ll pick you up around two?”

“Sure.” I can hear the smile in her voice. “Tonight was nice.”

“It was nice,” I agree. “Thank you. Sleep well.”

“You, too. Goodnight, Steven.”

“Good night, Kaydra.”

©2015 Lori L. Otto • Distribution or duplication is strictly prohibited without written permission from the author.


Renee – From book one of Steven War and Peace

  • ReneeNarrator: Renee
  • Characters: Renee & Steven
  • Timeline
  • Low Spoiler Risk

Ten o’clock. I guess it’s time to get up. The house quiet, I wander into the kitchen to grab a soda before turning on the bath water. I walk over to the closet and survey my clothing choices, but everything bores me today. Maybe I’ll go shopping. I grab some jeans and a lightweight button down and carry the clothes into the bathroom with me. I turn on some music just before I step into the hot bubble bath.

Closing my eyes and leaning back in the garden tub, I try to motivate myself to start the day. I really just want to go back to bed, remembering the argument Steven and I had last night about our future plans that filled the room with tension and made it next to impossible for me to sleep comfortably. After compromising by simply moving past the point of contention–how he wanted to start a family soon, and how I wanted to go back to school–he had offered to help me with the wedding invitations since I hadn’t started addressing them yet. I declined his offer and tried to change the subject with a fair amount of foreplay, but he was frustrated with what he perceived to be me dragging my feet, and he was not open to my advances. After he walked away from me to shower, I ended the fight with a questioning statement about who the woman was in our relationship.

Obviously, he found no humor in that. So maybe I worsened the fight.

It would seem that way, since this morning only Lexi stopped in to kiss me goodbye before she and Steven left for school and work. As soon as the car left the driveway, I called the center and told them I wasn’t feeling well before rolling over and returning to my dream about my ex.

I have frequent dreams about Ryan. I always have. I guess it’s because he was my first love, but I would say he invades my sleep weekly with sweet new memories that never happened. In most of my dreams, we’re both clean, happy–and together. Sometimes Lexi’s there, sometimes she’s not. But after every dream of him, I wake up with a certain longing that I can’t readily shake.

Some days I miss him more than others. I remind myself on those days that he’s bad for me. We were a volatile combination, knowing each others’ weaknesses and preying on them relentlessly. Granted we were very young and incredibly immature back when we were together. Co-dependency was the only way we knew how to survive. I didn’t know who I was back then.

And still today, as I soak in this bubble bath, I recognize that I was more myself back then than I am today. I was independent and smart and so very unafraid to speak my mind. I didn’t care what people thought about me. I don’t have that luxury anymore, though. To be a part of normal society, I am forced to care; to be a mother to a young, impressionable girl, I have to care what people think; to be the girlfriend–no, fiancée–to this man who loves me unconditionally… if I didn’t care what people thought, and acted as such, he would have left me long ago.

And again, I remind myself: he’s the best thing for Lexi. And whatever’s best for Lexi is what’s best for me. Whatever sacrifices I make–

“Renee?” I lose my breath, frightened at the sound of another voice in what was supposed to be my empty house, even if it is Steven’s voice.

“Yeah?” I call back to him, sinking further beneath the bubbles. He cracks open the bathroom door, and the cool air from the bedroom causes me to shiver.

“You’re not going in today?”

“No, I am,” I stutter. I hadn’t planned on going in, but I didn’t want him to know I had called out sick. I wasn’t prepared to have to defend my decision to stay home and enjoy some much needed me-time. I suddenly start to feel suffocated and start taking deep breaths to calm myself.

“Did you oversleep?”

“Yeah,” I lie. “What are you doing home?”

“I left some paperwork here in my rush to get out of here this morning. Look, I’m kind of glad you’re still here.”


He walks into the bathroom and squats next to the tub. “I’ve just had this feeling looming over me all day, that I left some other unfinished business here this morning.”


“I’m sorry I didn’t stop in to say goodbye.” He looks at me remorsefully.

“It’s okay–”

“No, it’s not, Renee. It’s sets a poor precedent. I love you, above everything else, and I don’t like leaving here angry.”

“You have every right to be mad,” I tell him, wishing he would just get truly angry at me every once in awhile.

“No, I don’t. I need to try to understand what’s going on in that pretty little head of yours.” I scoff at his compliment, knowing that I must look atrocious at this very moment. His smile is earnest, and it just pisses me off. “What can I do to take some of this wedding stress off your shoulders?”

“Just stop harping on me about it,” I say quickly, defensive. He raises his eyebrows at my response. I challenge him with a stare of my own. This is me. This is Renee not caring what people think.

“Listen, if you don’t want to marry me–”

“God, Steven, just because I haven’t finished addressing the fucking invitations doesn’t mean I want to end it all. Fuck,” I sigh, not quite under my breath. “Stop suggesting that.”

“Okay, then baby, what does it mean?” He stands up and leans against the sink. “You know, is this normal? Do all brides go through this, because I don’t know–”

“I don’t know, either, remember? Oh, let me check my manual. Yep, I’m just fine. Right on target.” I can’t hide the sarcasm in my voice, and I can see my mood is finally getting a rise out of him.

“Are you still taking your anti-depressants?” he asks me accusatorially.

“Get out.”

“It’s a fair question.”

“Get out!” I yell at him. He pushes away from the sink and walks with purpose out of the bathroom. Less than twenty seconds later, he comes back holding my prescription bottle, which I know is empty.

“How long have you been out?”

“I’m not out, asshole,” I tell him. “I’ve got more.”

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know.” He stands and stares at me, his other hand balled up in a fist at his side. I know he wouldn’t hit me, ever, but I can see how tense this conversation is making him, and it’s hard to get to him. “What, you want me to get out of the tub to find them?”

“Yes, Renee. I’d like that.” He picks up a robe and holds it out for me.

“Fine,” I say, standing up and climbing out of the hot water, bypassing his offer of my garment and dripping all over the floor as I make my way to my purse. He follows me and drapes the covering over my shoulders. I shrug it off, flaunting my nudity, trying to distract him in the only way I know how. “They’re in here somewhere,” I mumble, then scratch my lower back slowly, hoping to hold his attention. I look over my shoulder to make sure he’s watching me. “What are we doing?” I ask him with a slight lilt to my voice, smiling apologetically.

He smiles back at me, but I can tell he’s gritting his teeth, impatient with my stalling. “You’re looking for your pills.”

“Baby, I’m sure they’re in there,” I tell him as I turn around and set the purse down. His eyes stay focused on mine. “Don’t you trust me?” I stand in front of him, naked, and take his hand in mine. He squeezes my fingers and puts his other hand on my waist, leaning in to kiss me. I let go of him and move my hands to his chest, pressing against his muscles with my thumbs, kissing him deeper. He pulls away slowly, though, his lips moving to my cheek, kissing once, and then finding my ear.

“No,” he whispers. “I don’t.” He kisses my forehead and then picks up some papers from the bed and begins to walk out of the bedroom.

“Steven,” I start, stunned at his response. He keeps walking. I follow him quickly into the hallway, wanting to yell but not sure what I want to say to him.

“I’ll pick up your refill on my way home.”

“Steven,” I call to him again. I can feel the heat rise to my cheeks as the anger nearly boils over.


“Lexi has show choir tryouts after school. Can you pick her up at seven?”

He shakes his head at me, looking at me as if I’m the most pathetic thing he’s ever seen. At least that’s what it feels like to me. “Of course. I guess we’ll be home late.”

I nod and make sure I’m the first to turn away, returning to my bath. He slams the back door on his way out. I hold my breath and duck under the water, attempting to stave off the tears that are fighting their way out. I will not cry. I will not admit he’s right. I will not admit that I still need pills to maintain. So what if they’re prescription? It’s the same thing in my mind. And at least the other pills made me feel better than good, larger than life. These anti-depressants just make me feel… even. That’s the only word I can think of. And who wants to feel even all the time?

I miss the highs. I don’t miss the lows, because I can still get those by laying off my prescribed “eveners” like I have this time. It’s just easier to enjoy lows when I’m alone, and that’s one thing I never am anymore. Not since Lexi came along, and especially not with Steven in my life. I can never be alone.

©2015 Lori L. Otto • Distribution or duplication is strictly prohibited without written permission from the author.


Timeline of my books

I want to make sure everyone has a point of reference for all of my books since they’re all in the same universe. I’ve attempted to make it where each series can be read on its own, but you get more out of them if you’ve read all the books.

I’m going to start the timeline with the chronologically earliest book at Year 0.

How to read this chart: Number Seven took place 11 years after Not Today, But Someday. Lost and Found took place 12 years after Not Today, But Someday.

Year Title Series
0 Not Today, But Someday Emi Lost & Found
11 Number Seven Steven War & Peace
12 Lost and Found Emi Lost & Found
13 Time Stands Stilll Emi Lost & Found
14 Never Look Back Emi Lost & Found
15 Untitled/unreleased Steven War & Peace
16 Untitled/unreleased Steven War & Peace
17 Untitled/unreleased Steven War & Peace
27 Contessa Choisie
28 Olivia Choisie
29 Dear Jon Choisie
29 Livvy Choisie
30 Crossroads Love Will
38 Love Like We Do (Side A) Love Like We Do
38 Love Like We Do (Side B) Love Like We Do
38 Love Will Love Will
40 (It Happened) One Friday Love Like We Do
42 In the Wake of Wanting n/a (Trey’s novel)
45 Make Waves* Make Waves
47 A Holland and a Fighter* Related to ALL series
48 Leaving New York** Make Waves


*coming 2019
**coming 2020