Fire Heart

Fire Heart

by Pamela Taeuffer


Publisher Open Heart Press

Published in Romance/New Adult & College, Romance/Contemporary, Literature & Fiction/Women's Fiction, Literature & Fiction/Contemporary, Romance, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description


This story focuses on a woman who has come of age and begun to realize the fears she's carried through her childhood from growing up in a family battling alcoholism. They have impacted her severely when forming relationships. Abandonment, devaluing, fear of everything good ending—all are why Nicky Young has been happy to stand back in the shadows, watching and observing and stepping out only when safe. That is until Ryan Tilton, a professional baseball player who also has his own issues of abandonment, promises her a relationship that could be like no other.

Sample Chapter


I had been standing by myself, reflecting back to the year I was eighteen and had found my first love, when a tug on my hand caught my attention.

"Great auntie Nicky!" Five-year-old Olivia whined. I'd been a friend with Olivia's grandmother, Lorraine, since being in sixth grade and took comfort in having a friend from those innocent years. We could say anything to the other and not worry.

I was enjoying a moment of reflection.

Friends and family were gathered together for my thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. The noise was loud. Children were shouting, grandparents smiling, perhaps reminiscing about the old days, just as I was.

Thirty-five years ago, I had been getting closer with Jerry Stowe, a good friend from childhood. We'd always been friends, but felt something else when we turned eighteen. At the same time, Ryan Tilton, a professional baseball player, had been making a full on press to get me to be his girlfriend.

Had I not fallen in love with the boy who encouraged me to explore intimacy on a deep, sensual level, I probably would have kept my heart shrouded in mistrust and in the fear of abandonment because of my dysfunctional family and alcoholic father.

Because of that man, everything opened.

"Oh, sweetie. Why are you upset?" I asked Olivia.

"He hit me!" she sobbed.

"Who hit you?"

"Bobby!" She pressed her head into my hip as she continued whimpering. "He's a mean boy!"

I took her into my arms and listened to her story. As she dramatically embellished the tale of her woes, I remembered back to the day I was getting ready to check on Ryan Tilton's contacts. They were people who, with his say so, could help my family.

When I was finished speaking with them, I not only understood his wide circle of influence, but the generous spirit of his heart.

A Child’s Cry Among the Broken Bottles

Shadows and darkness are my cover

My hiding places are many, even in my own home

I’ve witnessed his rage and red face

My father’s become a stranger

Tonight my mother didn’t notice

When I reached for her love

Every day I crave the moment

When I’m alive in my parents’ eyes

I feel ashamed

I’m tired of keeping family secrets

My family seems to have gone deaf

They don’t hear me anymore

Am I part of a permanent sunset

There never seems to be enough light at our house

I sit down with my friends

A television and a bag of cookies I need to fill up with something My father has changed

My mother is damaged and hurt

I’m on my own

I know it’s up to me if I’m going to make it

Will anybody love me

My fences are very high

The boards are steel

Reach inside if you can

I’m calling out but you can’t hear me

I’m looking for you but you can’t see me

I’m in here, waiting to get out

Waiting to get

Waiting to


Chapter 1

Hollow Eyes

"Follow me," the man at Municipality's reception area motioned to me, reappearing after he'd checked in with Dad's supervisor.

We made our way to his office. In only minutes I'd find out in how much trouble my father was and if Stanford was still a realistic goal for me. He knocked on the door.

It was only an interview, but dread filled me.

When it came to my father, there was no safety net.

I knew the answers could be everything I didn't want to hear.

Then again, I'd heard those kinds of answers all my life.

"Come in," the man behind the smoky glass shouted.

* * * * *

Before my appointment at Municipality, I'd stopped at a nearby diner. I not only craved a cup of strong, black java, I needed to review the questions I'd prepared for my day of interviews a second time.

Sniffing in the rich aroma wafting up in the steam from my coffee mug, I took a nice slow sip of the delicious dark French roast and practiced my first interview out loud.

Ninety minutes earlier, when the alarm rang at seven, it took me longer than usual to shake out the cobwebs. I'd had another late night—a habit of late, still dragging from a beach party with my friends. The gathering would be one of our last. In only two months we'd take off like seeds blowing in the wind and begin our adult lives. We celebrated by having a bonfire on the beach.

Jerry Stowe, a boy I'd grown up with, had tried to make moves on me when we were in his sleeping bag. We were considering a deeper relationship, but his attempt at intimacy backfired when the park rangers broke up our party.

With strobe lights and megaphones they threatened to throw us in jail if we didn't clean and vacate the beach immediately. I laughed aloud as I recalled the vision of the ranger’s spotlight ready to find Jerry’s naked bottom as he rushed to put on his jeans.

We were two of just several people who were sober, proved after the rangers made us take a Breathalyzer Test. After that, we were charged with making sure everyone got home safely and cleaning up the beach. Since my best friend, Colleen, lived next door to me and we'd all come together in her boyfriend's car, I volunteered to take them home as well as a few of our friends.

When I finally walked into my house, I saw I'd missed a few calls from Ryan. We'd just spoken about trusting each other and being honest and I felt uneasy about calling him back. I went upstairs to my room, climbed into bed and lay with my thoughts.

Why was I hiding from Ryan the way I had with Jerry for years, to ultimately chose only friendship?

The moment I admitted my feelings for one of them, wouldn't I surrender completely and my own goals would weaken?

In those early morning hours, I realized a desire had definitely ignited inside me.

I was far from certain about who stirred me the most, but one thing that was clear. Ryan Tilton, a professional baseball player, and my friend Jerry Stowe, college bound to Stanford with me, had everything to do with my awakening.

It was as if a spark from the bonfire had come home with me and settled in my belly.

Tired as I was, I sat in the diner sipping my coffee, rehearsing my questions so I would appear prepared and ready to meet with some of Ryan's contacts—people who could help my friends and family. Through a candid conversation with him, I found out my father's job was in danger. Translation? An education at Stanford was in jeopardy.

What was Ryan's goal from these interviews? When I found out how he could help me, I would agree that his heart was in the right place and try a relationship with him.

My goal? I needed to find out what these people could do for my family and for Jerry.

One final sip of coffee and I pushed up from the table.

I went into the bathroom and took a moment to check myself in the mirror. I made sure my hair was in place and I hadn't stained the black slacks and white blouse I chose to wear.

I wasn't sure I was ready to confront my father's mess—but I'd prepared myself as much as possible. After all, could I ever really be ready for the uncertainty of his path of debris?

I tugged on my waist-length, flared-at-the-waist purple jacket and adjusted the amethyst pin I had fastened to its collar.

The pin was my grandmother's.

She'd come to stay at our house seven years earlier because no one else would take her. Before that, she had been admitted to St. Agnes Hospital and Sanitarium.

I remembered it as a place of terror.

As the generational chains of dysfunction rattled somewhere in my mind, I shivered.

* * * * *

“Girl!” The old woman moaned in a low, wretched voice, the word shaking as it came from her body.

Her bony fingers reached out for me as if crawling from a casket to rise and walk among the living for a few hours in a hallway on the fifth floor of St. Agnes Hospital and Sanitarium.

The box-shaped building was painted in a faded cream color, and a rusted iron cross was hung above the doors. It was as if the rust from it had become blood, staining the stuccoed fascia underneath it an ugly reddish-brown.

Bars covered many of the windows—especially on the upper floors. If not for the bright Red Cross on the lit sign near the road, passersby could have easily confused St. Agnes with a prison. On floors five and sex, no one could have told the difference.

Inside, the faded, pastel-pink linoleum floors were polished to a glossy finish. They led visitors down cream-colored halls to cream-colored doors leading into cream-colored rooms. Iron beds were painted white, covered with white blankets that covered white sheets.

As soon as we went inside, a smell hit me that I never forgot—a combination of something unsanitary, mixed with heavy amounts of bleach and Pine-Sol. I wondered if the patients crept from their rooms at night and smeared the floors with their feces. The quick wash by personnel failed to hide what went on when visitors left.

Screams, moans, and the constant otherworldly sounds—those well and unwell—filled the air of the fifth and sixth floors.

It should have been off-limits to the public, but I was lost and found myself in the halls of hollow, frightened eyes.

Some stared unfocused at nothing, and others accompanied open mouths, mumbling and begging me to listen—gray-haired people were everywhere.

Pale and wrinkled skin adorned the skeletons on wheels.

All of them pushed toward me.

Surrounded me.

Tried to touch me.

The day I'd gotten lost at St. Agnes, my family was visiting my grandmother. I knew from hearing my parents talk that with each ascending floor, the patients were more violent, disturbed, and unreachable. It was nowhere for a child to be without an adult.

Always wanting something to eat to find comfort and relieve my anxiety, I'd asked Mom for money to get a candy bar and something to drink. The vending machines were on the first floor. I took the elevator, got my goodies and then stopped in the gift shop for a small note pad. I wanted to jot down some notes about an idea I had for a story—this time about flying.

Sent to me during the night, a dream about magic dust filled my sleep, perhaps sprinkled in my thoughts by an angel. In it, I skipped and then took a running start in our back yard, opened my arms, and flew high above my neighborhood, watching my house fade away as I ascended into clouds and rainbows.

I was so busy writing I didn't notice I'd passed the fourth floor. When the elevator doors opened, I walked down several hallways and suddenly realized I wasn’t where I should be.

Bang! It was like a hammer hit my chest.



My heart beat hard and my throat tightened when I saw the pink heads of thinning gray hair wheeling down the hallways, bumping into walls, furniture, and people.

Some of them seemed to purposefully slam into each other as if trying to get attention from someone—anyone. Was this a way they screamed for help?

Wide, frightened eyes asked silent questions. Screams and yelling crowded the end of a hallway filled with locked doors.

I wondered if they were acknowledged or touched, would that bring them back to life?

How anyone could stand this?

I ran through the halls trying to find a familiar face.

They all looked the same—the rooms, the doors, and the nurses’ station . . . but something . . . something wasn't right. I stopped. A fleeting thought crossed through my mind during my confusion—I realized it was the patients that made the place come alive. I was frightened beyond words, but my mind spun with curiosity.

In some ways, they were just like the patients who were two floors down—lonely, confused, some sad and all of them counting down the days until they could go home—if they could go home.

But two floors down, the patients didn’t try to touch me.

Two floors down, they stared at the ground, looked away, or smiled gently; their eyes were focused, their words understandable.

“Who are you looking for?” A male nurse grabbed me and turned me around.

I gasped.

He was the biggest man I’d ever seen.

I thought he must be a giant.

He wore green pants and a matching shirt and looked like a doctor. Bunched on a clip, keys jingled from his belt. His expression was stern. When he grabbed me, the moving skeletons backed off. I wondered if they feared this giant, too.

“Grandma Young.” My lips quivered. The words came out broken and laced with hidden tears that were ready to flow.

He held my hand and brought me behind the desk at the nurses’ station, so I would be out of the hallway and out of the nightmare.

Was this scary-looking man actually a gentle giant?

As he looked at the computer, the hollow eyes in the hallway continued to stare.

“Maureen Young?” He lifted his head to look at me.

“Yes.” I was shaken. “That’s my grandma.”

“How did you get up here?” His voice was stern and his eyes were focused.

“That elevator,” I pointed.

“Daniel!” He shouted to a man who’d come from a door behind the desk. “The elevator isn’t stopping at four. Call it in, will you?”

The other man grumbled and then picked up the phone.

“Come on. I’ll take you back down to floor three.” The enormous man took my hand. I followed him into the elevator. We rode down silently. “Here we are.” The ding announced we had arrived and the doors opened again. He held them so I could step out, but remained inside; ready to return to his duties. “Flora, this girl is lost. She's looking for Maureen Young’s room and she's had quite a scare up on five. Can you escort her?”

“Sure can," she nodded. "Just give me a minute.”

“I know where to go now, sir.” I put on my best smile. Inside, I was anything but calm.

“What’s your name?” He knelt down and spoke to me at eye level.

“Nicky Young. What’s yours?”

“Edward King. I’m a nurse here.” He smiled kindly and it seemed my body warmed with golden colors. “You know, the patients you saw didn’t run into you on purpose or grab at you to hurt you. Can you try and remember them as people just like you and me? They need a different kind of help, that's all. Can you?”

“I’ll try,” I folded my hands. “That was scary.”

“I know.” His voice softened. “They don’t understand how you see them. They only saw a sweet little girl and they wished she could be their granddaughter.”

"Thank you." I smiled and waved goodbye as he disappeared in the elevator, ascending back into the madness of St. Agnes.


Excerpted from "Fire Heart" by Pamela Taeuffer. Copyright © 2014 by Pamela Taeuffer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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