Cherry Girl

The Blackstone Affair - 3.5


Raine Miller

For my D who keeps me honest.

Blossoms are scattered by the wind and the wind cares nothing, but the blossoms of the heart no wind can touch.

-Yoshida Kenko, 14th century Japan


Cherry Girl is a book I never planned to write.  When the main characters were set down in my first Blackstone Affair book—Naked—I never dreamed that Neil and Elaina would ever have a complete novel and book of their own.  Theirs is an amazing and beautiful love story that pulls at the heart, so I am very grateful to be able to share it with you.

Creating the characters in my books is one of the greatest gifts a writer can own.  I have also been blessed with the support of friends and colleagues in the writing community who help me in ways that can’t really be measured.  I do know that I couldn’t have created this story without the help of so many people to whom I am greatly indebted.

So, THANK YOU, my wonderful friends, for helping Cherry Girl to be born.

My SC’s Katie Ashley and Rebecca Lilley, I love you for the amazing and brilliant women that you are.  Here’s to our triad, and that it never changes. xxoo

To my beloved street team at The Blackstone Affair Fan Page, this book wouldn’t even be a book if not for you.  Luna, Franzi, Jena, Brandi, Karen, Martha, Jen G., for reading and pimping the books endlessly with your beautiful memes and collages that bring life to the fan page every single day.  To Becca Manual at Bibliophile Productions for her generous talents with movie editing software in creating the beautiful book trailer for Cherry Girl.

To the madly talented Marya Heiman at Strong Image Editing for this amazing cover that still makes me want to weep for how beautiful it is.  To Cristina Cappelletti who generously sold the photo rights to me for this book.  (She is also the beautiful girl with the gorgeous cherry blossom tattoo on her shoulder.)  Sometimes serendipity comes into play, and finding her photograph was one of those times.

To my darling Marion at Making Manuscripts for her support and gentle wisdom in helping me to get the book into shape.  You are a priceless gem, darling.

To Cris at Book Avenue Review for formatting this beast for me.  I love you and miss your hugs already.

To Trish at The Occasionalist for organizing all of the fabulous events I get to travel to and meet the amazing fans that read my books.

And finally, to my family at Casa de Miller for loving and supporting me no matter how crazy things get in our lives.


Nothing but love and respect for all of you.

xxoo Raine

Part One


People who are meant to be together will find their way back to each other.

There may be detours along the way, but they are never truly lost.

Author Unknown~


I remember the very first time I ever saw him.  That first moment our paths crossed.  The memory is branded into my head with indelible clarity.  As clear as fine crystal with bright sunlight shining through it.

I was ten years old when my brother Ian brought him home for dinner.  He sat across from me at our family table.  I probably looked like a total idiot gawking at him, but he didn’t seem to mind my staring.  Good thing, because even then I couldn’t take my eyes away.  Neil was beautiful to me when I laid my child’s eyes upon him for the first time.  Purely and simply beautiful.

It didn’t matter that he was seven years older and totally uninterested in a gangly little girl with braces on her teeth who was definitely not anything close to beautiful.

He winked at me when he caught me sneaking a peek over a bite of Mum’s delicious buns.  I remember that gesture of his made me feel strange inside, like everything was squished together and turned to mush.  Feeling shy and self-conscious, I tried to come to grips with the knowledge that I had met the boy I had every intention of marrying someday.

Yes, it’s true.  I fell in love with Neil McManus when I was a child.  I am sure of how I felt, just as I am sure the feelings didn’t go both ways.  I watched him go through plenty of girlfriends over the years, too. What I don’t remember is if he said anything to me that very first time we met.  I do know he looked my mother in the eye with respect, and thanked her for the delicious dinner.  That impressed me, even then.  Even in my ten-year-old mind, I could read in him the deep appreciation he had for what Mum had easily offered to a guest in our home.  I could tell that Neil was not accustomed to cozy dinners at the family table.  He appreciated something I took for granted every day.  He was just a young friend my brother had dragged home from God knows where, and from whatever trouble they’d been deep into, but he became something more than that from the very beginning.  At least, for me he did.

Neil showed up for dinner quite often after that first meeting.  Some days it felt like he was my new brother who’d just moved in with us.  Other times, he’d show up after a few weeks’ absence, wearing a hollow look in his dark, dark eyes.  His home life was shit, apparently.  No mum, just a dad of some sort who didn’t care about him.  My dad wasn’t around a great deal either, but it wasn’t because he didn’t want us, it was because he travelled a lot for his job.  I missed my father, of course, so I suppose it was natural for me to connect with an older male figure that was always nice to me, and didn’t act like I carried the plague.

Neil called me Cherry Girl due to the colour of my hair.  I’d have to agree with him on that.  My hair was pretty much the colour of one of those dark cherries—nearly black with an undertone of deep red running through it.  Neil told me my hair was very beautiful, and that small gesture was enough for my self-confidence to blossom.  I took his compliment and ran with it.

I remember when he touched my hair for the first time, too.  The memory is as perfect as day it happened and I couldn’t forget if I wanted to.  Because it was also the first time he rescued me…

* * *

The cricket field stretched out to meet the forest edge a fair distance back.  When I was eleven, on a summery Sunday afternoon, I had been sitting on the fence watching the local team play cricket.  Neil and Ian were there too.  I’d seen them strolling through talking to girls and other friends they knew.  I was content to watch the match from my perch on the fence and blend into the background.  The warm day brought out the crowd and space had become a premium, I guess.  When a noisy, obnoxious group came through, being so small, I just got swallowed up in the melee that resulted.

A disputed call by the official started the ruckus.  Then a fight broke out in front of me with two blokes pounding into each other, with no regard for who they might include with their misfires.  I didn’t duck out of the way fast enough, and was shanked by a fist that relieved me of my front-row fence spot. And right onto my left forearm, which managed to find a large rock to land on.  Lucky me.

I heard the crack of bone, felt the pain, saw the brutal blows of the two brawlers, and smelled the beer that’d been sprayed about when the first punch was thrown.

I clutched my arm and tried to breathe, crying through the pain, sure that nobody would ever see me, let alone help me out.

I was wrong though.

The sweetest sound was Neil’s voice in my ear saying, “I’ve got you, Cherry Girl, and you’re going to be just fine.”

“My arm hurts,” I told him through the tears.

“I know, darlin’.”

“I heard a noise…like something snapped.  Does that mean it’s broken?” I wailed.