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Collide (Collide #1)
Author: Gail McHugh

Chapter One

Chance Encounters

She calculated the flight from Colorado to New York at three hours and forty-five minutes, after which, she knew her life would be forever changed—more so than it already had. Gripping the sides of the seat, palms sweaty, Emily Cooper closed her eyes as the engines prepared for takeoff. She had never been fond of flying; in fact, it scared the living shit out of her. Though she did remember times where the torture of being 30,000 feet in the air was actually worthwhile—the first time she left home for college, an escape to a tropical island, or a visit to see her beloved family. However, this trip included none of those enjoyments—it only held feelings of loss and grief.

Looking at her was one of the reasons she still woke up every day—her boyfriend, Dillon. She could tell he noticed the look on her face was filled with the uncertainty of what lay ahead.

As he held her hand, Dillon leaned over and stroked a piece of hair away from her face. “Everything’s going to be alright, Em,” he whispered. “Before you know it, we’ll be on the ground again.”

She forced a smile and then hesitantly turned, watching the snowcapped mountains disappear beneath the clouds. Her heart sank further as she inwardly said goodbye to the only true home she had ever known. She rested her head against the window and let her mind drift over the past several months.

In late October of her senior year in college, she received the call. Until that moment, life had seemed…good. Dillon had come into her world the month before, her grades were where they should have been, and her roommate, Olivia Martin, had turned out to be one of the closest friends she would ever have. Picking up the phone that day, she never expected the news she received.

“The tests came back, Emily,” her older sister, Lisa, said. “Mom has Stage Four breast cancer.”

With those last six words, life as Emily knew it would never be the same. Not even close. Her rock, the woman whom she adored most in her life, and the only parent she had ever known had less than three months to live. What followed after was something she could have never prepared for. Long weekend trips from ‘The Ohio State University’ back home to Colorado to aid in her mother’s last few months would become Emily’s norm. She watched her mother wither away from the strong, vibrant soul she once had been to the weak, unrecognizable woman she had become before she died.

With sudden turbulence jolting her nerves, Emily gripped Dillon’s hand and looked over to him. He gave her a quick smile and nod, essentially letting her know they were fine. Resting her head against his warm shoulder, she started to think about the role he had played through everything. Countless flights from New York to Colorado to be with her. Beautiful gifts he sent to take her mind off the madness that consumed her life. Late night calls talking with her to make sure she was okay. Even down to arranging for the funeral, giving her advice on selling her childhood home, and ultimately moving her out to New York. It was all part of why she adored him.

As the plane descended into New York’s La Guardia Airport, Dillon looked at Emily while her hand was white-knuckling his. He gave a light chuckle and leaned over to kiss her. “See, that wasn’t so bad,” he said, stroking her cheek. “You’re now officially a New Yorker, babe.”

After what seemed like forever navigating their way through the airport, Dillon hailed a taxi, and they made their way to the apartment Emily would share with Olivia. That had become a sore topic with Dillon. When he and Emily spoke about the move, it was his wish to have her live with him. Emily thought it was best, at least for the time being, that she move in with Olivia. Making the trek across the country was a hard enough adjustment by itself, and she didn’t want to add more pressure to her situation. Even though she loved Dillon—and she loved him something fierce—there was a tiny voice in her head telling her to wait. It was something that would come further down the line for them. He eventually gave in to her decision but not without putting up a decent fight of his own.

Once they arrived, Emily stepped out of the taxi, the sounds and sights of the city immediately hitting her in the process. Car alarms blaring, brakes grinding, and sirens wailing shattered through the air. People talking and yelling with their footsteps pounding against the busy concrete sidewalks and the frantic flow of tightly packed cars consisting of a sea of yellow taxis were unlike anything she had ever seen or heard before. Steam billowing from potholes looked like ghosts floating up from the hot pavement.

The sprawling trees and clear lakes in Colorado were now being replaced by steel and concrete, loud noises, and a clusterfuck of traffic. This was definitely something she would have to get used to. Drawing in a deep breath, Emily followed Dillon into the building. The doorman tipped his hat and buzzed Olivia, letting her know that they were there. They made their way up to the fifteenth floor, thankful for the elevator.

Upon entering the apartment, Olivia let out a high-pitched squeal when she saw Emily. She raced over and gave her a hug. “I’m so happy you’re here,” Olivia said, cupping her hands over Emily’s cheeks. “How was the flight?”

“I got through it without needing any drugs or alcohol,” Emily smiled. “So I would say it went well.”

“She was fine.” Dillon walked over and snaked his arm around Emily’s waist. “I wouldn’t have let anything happen to her anyways.”

Rolling her brown eyes in Dillon’s direction, Olivia crossed her arms. “Right, because you’d be able to stop a plane from crashing, Dill-Pickle. I mean, Dillon.”

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