Enjoy this Excerpt from UnderCut
TUESDAY JUNE 21
On the first achingly bright morning of summer, Lily Masters stood ready to conquer her source of shame. She posed in front of her mother’s rusty, full-length wall mirror in her Wisconsin childhood home and hesitantly opened her robe. She kept her eyelids welded shut before she endured a last lengthy look. A quick, shallow inhale did nothing to balance her nerves as chills ran the length of her arms to her fingernails. She squinted, daring herself. Then Lily caught a flash of her diamond engagement ring, the reason she could finally make the decision. She forced her gaze back toward her torso.
Taunts in her mother’s creaky voice echoed in a shroud of childhood phantom sounds.
“You’re a freak! You’ll never get a man! Better be smart, reject. Learn to take care of yourself ’cuz I’m not feeding and housing you as a freeloader forever when you finally figure out no one could love you.”
Lily had long ago stopped needing anyone to take care of her. Except last summer when she had crawled back to Barter Valley. Downsized. Her magazine editing career in the Twin Cities dried up and home meant moving in with her stepbrother Art. Mom had moved to the cemetery twenty-two years ago when Lily was six and Berta two and a half.
Wincing, she let the edges of her robe fall across her shoulders. She reached to finger the ravages of the defect. A puddled baby soft mound of flesh over a protruding march of ribs instead of a left breast. Misaligned nipple. No armpit hair to shave was the only positive. That, and it didn’t hurt. On the outside. No scars…not yet.
She inhaled and watched her normal right breast rise and pucker. Stepmom Marge had joined the family a couple of years after Mom left. Marge never bothered to look at her new stepdaughters much. Lily and Berta learned early not to need anyone. Until Cam.
An ethereal vision of Lily’s fiancé appeared behind her in the mirror. Cam stared into her reflected eyes while his slow smile made her toes tingle.
Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look…
His spectral arms reached around to enfold her. She shivered as she imagined the solid weight of his chin resting on her shoulder. She was helpless to halt the downward sweep of his eyes, a lover’s regard that would soon be filtered through the lens of wedding vows. Worse than the expected revulsion was his brow-crinkling sorrow. She never wanted to make him sad.
She thrust her elbows backward and Cam’s image evaporated.
Lily was absolutely ready to fix this. Decision made. No going back. The plastic surgeon had shown her pictures of what she and her team could do to make Lily normal. Create a fold along her armpit that everyone took for granted, build a normal breast, even make that wretched nipple match the other. It wouldn’t be useful, as in letting a baby suckle, but replacing the savagery of the Poland Syndrome would erase her lifelong sense of humiliation. The worst part would be healing from the surgery to take muscle from her back to transplant in her chest wall. Small price. She would soon be proud of her body and gladly share it after Cam became her husband.
Cameron Taylor had been a stranger in the woods who’d rescued her when she’d gotten turned around in a blizzard six months ago. They hadn’t been able to resist their attraction in the storm-fueled intimacy of being snowed in together. Their bond was borne of patient discovery and mutual agreement to respect the act of marriage, and in his goodness, he’d accepted her ten-year-old nephew Kenny as part of her package. Cam told her he didn’t care about the Poland Syndrome, and Lily believed him. But all of her life she’d been a freak with a body even her mother couldn’t love. She’d taken such care to hide herself away and strapped on a padded bra to cower behind. No more.
Lily had planted Dear Old Jailbird Dad and horrible Stepbrother Art next to Bad Mom and Wicked Stepmother six months ago. Quite the little family plot the Masters clan had going in Peaceful Rest Cemetery. Lily couldn’t wait to shed the Masters name and move out of this tainted house.
Lily pulled her robe up over her shoulders and went to finish packing for her stay at the medical complex down in Houston. After a little slicing and repackaging, she’d come home, better than new. A few weeks of healing and therapy and she’d be racing down the aisle come September. Kenny would be theirs, and they’d have more kids together to fill up their cabin in the woods. They would be a family at last. A normal blended one. No more fostering, not kinship care, not being forced to take government funds to raise her own nephew or having to report to an impersonal caseworker. Berta had Kenny the first ten years of his life. Lily hoped it wasn’t too late to save him from embedded dysfunction.
The cheap flight meant spending most of the rest of the day traveling to one layover after another hop-skipping around the States. Tomorrow was more pre-op and prep. The next day, bright and earlier than decent, loomed the first day of freedom from freakhood.
On the way out of the door, she stopped to caress a photo of her and Kenny with Cam, surrounded by his dogs, on the front porch of his home in the woods.
THURSDAY JUNE 23
“Thank you, yes, I understand. Could you…please? Okay. Okay, I appreciate it.” Cam Taylor thumbed the off button on his phone and trembled with the attempt to keep himself from slamming the thing or throwing it across the gravel driveway into the unfurled umbrella patch of mayapples at the edge of the woods.
Iago, his part-Shepherd companion, thumped his tail on the cabin’s wood porch floor and whimpered.
Sounds of sawing and hammering out of tune and without discernable sync or rhythm drummed against Cam’s skull. It had been hours since he’d heard anything from Texas besides Lily’s sleepy phone kiss before the surgery. He was her official contact and had written, notarized permission as her personal representative to be given her medical status but nobody would talk to him. Cam pounded his fist on the porch rail. This…this “procedure” should have been over by the time he picked up Kenny from his morning summer school class where he built model airplanes and rockets.
Kenny—where was the boy? Cam stepped off the porch.
A pale balsawood flier on a low trajectory cut the horizon to his right. Kenny and the other dog, Lear, loped after it.
Cam let out his breath and put his hand on his hips as the morning’s frustrations replayed across his neurons.
He had dropped Kenny off at school and then spent the next two hours pacing at the Barter Valley Freeman newspaper office downtown. His ranting and raving about the difficulties of being a single parent with a loved one a thousand miles away had sent the editor, his buddy Matt Heuer, out on the town to gather “news.”
A real pal would not have left Cam alone to mutter, wave his arms, and ignore the trilling phone.
Lily’s operation to harvest muscle from her back and create symmetry to her already very fine person was not Cam’s idea of love. All this obsession with mammary glands made him insane.
“Who. Cares?” he shouted. His only audience was dust motes. Almost two years had passed since Cam’s rebirth from ex-soldier literature professor loser PhD candidate to future publisher. With Lily, the love of his life, and Matt, he planned to stun the reading public with beautifully created books.
Lily…he’d nearly lost her to a ring of traffickers after he’d rescued her from the embrace of a Northwoods blizzard. Falling in love had been as easy as watching the dancing snow.
Matt had his back, and believed in their fledgling publishing company. Made sense since he was already in the business.
Cam twitched his lip when he noticed Matt outside staring in through the large plate glass window as if contemplating whether or not to knock on his own front door.
Cam closed his eyes and held up his hands, paler palms outward so his malted milk skin—Lily’s words—greeted him when he peeked.
Matt had gone away again, apparently not ready to plop his bulk in his chair at the computer desk and listen to Cam.
Major surgery…Lily shouldn’t have done it at all, but Cam understood. Reluctantly. He’d probably do the same thing if he had worn her life. Cam resumed roaming the small newspaper office and ignoring the phone.
What he hadn’t appreciated was her refusal to allow him to accompany her.
At eleven thirty Cam surrendered his vigil in the office to Matt and went to Barter Valley Elementary to pick up Kenny, the reason he was here and not in Houston with Lily.
* * *
Inspirational Romantic Suspense
Sequel, Great North Woods Mysteries, 2
Fox Ridge Publications
Electronic ISBN: 978-1-0879-1023-9
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:16 (ESV)
When you are loved, you have everything to lose…
Lily Masters was born with a deformity that shaped her life. When she, white and rural-raised, and Cam Taylor, a biracial army medic and literary professor who left his work under a cloud of suspicion, meet, fall in love, and get engaged, Lily decides it’s time to take control of her body in order to feel whole. She schedules plastic reconstructive surgery in Texas and leaves Cam and her nephew Kenny, also of mixed heritage, who they’re planning to adopt, back home in Wisconsin to wait.