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Chapter One: Glamour: Contemporary Fairytale Retellings A.L. Jackson

 

#ChapterOne #Preorder

Glamour: Contemporary Fairytale Retellings

A.L. Jackson, Sophie Jordan, Aleatha Romig, Skye Warren, Lili St. Germain, Nora Flite, Sierra Simone with Nicola Rendell

Releases Tuesday, July 18th

Synopsis

Once upon a time…

Remember the fairy tales your parents read to you when you were little?

These are NOT those fairy tales.

From modern day royalty to metaphorical dragons, contemporary castles to sexy heroes, these bestselling authors twist tales as old as time into something new.

GLAMOUR contains eight exclusive never-before-seen novellas that each have an HEA… because they all lived happily ever after.

 

Links

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2sZlBMx

Universal link: books2read.com/u/bpW0QJ

 

Chapter One

Broderick

I’m not sure how you handle things where you come from, Mr. Wolfe, but I can assure you it is not how we handle things in Gingham Lakes. Mrs. Tindall has been a value to our small community since the fifties, and her family long before then, and I have every intention of securing that legacy for many years to come. Why don’t you make things easier on yourself and remain in your high-rise office, which I’m sure affords you quite the dramatic view of Manhattan. You seem better suited for that than our ‘provincial’ town.

 

I didn’t even fight the satisfied smile that pulled at my lips as I let my eyes retrace her latest email.

God, this woman was a handful.

Determined and feisty.

A challenge I couldn’t wait to take on.

For the last five months, we’d been going back and forth via email. My interactions with this tough-as-nails attorney, who was working pro bono for a tiny company in an even tinier city in Alabama, had escalated with each click of send.

Maybe it was a little sick that I’d come to crave this game.

Cat and mouse.

Round and round.

She was sharp and obviously loyal. I’d never even seen her. But apparently, I didn’t have to. Just sitting there and reading the fight in her words made my dick hard.

There was nothing like a strong woman who knew what she wanted.

The best part was I wanted it more.

My laptop screen burned through the dim light of my high-rise office, which did indeed offer the most spectacular view of Manhattan. With a smirk, I leaned forward and let my fingers fly across the keyboard.

 

That is where you’re mistaken, Ms. Redd. I’m sure you’re well aware of our company’s reputation. The Wolfe name is the very definition of success. It’s the cornerstone on which our company has been built, and I will not let that name be tarnished. I will have that building, and in the end, my hotel will stand in its place. I’m trying to be fair, but make no mistake, if you force me into a corner, I will come out, teeth bared. I’ve been told they’re sharp.

 

A shock of lust curled in my gut as I sent the email. Why did I get the feeling I would love sinking my teeth into this woman?

It took only a few moments before my inbox pinged with a new message.

 

Is that a threat, Mr. Wolfe? Because if it is, I can assure you, my nails are equally as long, and I never hesitate to fight back.

 

Visions assaulted me. Ones of her nails clawing at my shoulders and raking down my back. Her body straining beneath mine as I ravaged her.

My breaths turned shallow as I typed out a response.

 

Is that a promise or your own threat, Ms. Redd? I’m up for either.

 

God. What the fuck did I think I was doing? I’d always been about the job. But this woman…this fiery woman had me stepping out of bounds. Saying things I knew I should never say.

Her response was almost immediate.

 

Don’t flatter yourself. You’re clearly compensating, and I definitely don’t need that kind of disappointment. Save yourself the trip. You wouldn’t want to embarrass yourself with that kind of failure.

 

“Oh, you went there, did you?” I murmured beneath my breath. I fucking loved that she didn’t hold back. My teeth scraped my lower lip, my mouth watering as I gave into the chase.

 

Failure is not a part of my vocabulary, Ms. Redd. I think we’ve already established that. But don’t worry, at the end of all of this, you will be thanking me.

 

I pressed send a little too eagerly, becoming even more excited when I clicked into her quick response.

 

Only in your lofty, lofty dreams, Mr. Wolfe. I will see to it those dreams are crushed.

 

A chuckle rumbled free, and I rubbed at my jaw. She had no idea just how much pleasure I would take in crushing her.

This could have been an easy acquisition.

We’d made a more than generous offer, after all. Instead of accepting it and moving on, they let nostalgia taint their decision and rejected the small fortune.

Some people didn’t seem to understand when it was best to take the path of least resistance.

But you wouldn’t see me complaining. They had no clue just how much I relished the battle.

My cell bleeped and lit up where it rested on the glass desk, and I subdued the irritation that fought to work its way up my throat. I cleared it as I rocked forward and accepted the call.

“Father,” I said by way of hello as I stood and shrugged into my suit jacket before closing down my laptop and sliding it into its leather case.

“Son. Tell me you’ve taken care of the issue.”

“I’m working on it.”

“Working on it isn’t good enough. I needed this finished yesterday.”

I gritted my teeth in an attempt to keep from spitting the words at him. “I told you, I would handle this one my way.”

He huffed. “Haven’t you figured out yet that your way doesn’t work?”

A jolt of bitter laughter tripped from my tongue. “I think I’ve cleaned up enough of your messes that you would have realized by now that it does.”

If it were up to my father, he would have gone in there and basically stolen that building right out from under that old lady. His men had no qualms about making a threat or two to get what he wanted, bending people to his will by cowardly shows of force.

Silence traveled the line, the two of us at odds, the constant contention that had churned between us since I was a little boy so close to reaching its boiling point.

“Two weeks, Broderick. Two weeks,” he finally said. There was no missing the threat.

“I won’t need them.” My voice lowered. “And I’m warning you—do not interfere in this. I will do this my way.”

“We’ll see.” That was the last thing he said before the line went dead.

Fuck. I squeezed the phone in my hand. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to send my phone sailing through the air.

Broderick Wolfe Sr. thought he was the epitome of success.

Believed his efforts were what Wolfe Industries was built upon.

When in truth, the man was nothing but underhanded deals and greed.

Those were footsteps I refused to walk in.

I worked relentlessly for what I wanted.

Chased it.

Hunted it until I had it in my clutches.

And when I won? It was because I was actually the best at what I did.

I buttoned a single button on my jacket and shook out the cuffs. Lifting my chin, I grabbed my case and strode out the door.

I had work to do.

And I was going to love every second of it.

Chapter Reveal: Unconventional by Isabel Love

 

Title: Unconventional
Author: Isabel Love
Genre: Erotic Romance
Release Date: July 20, 2017
Blurb
Happily ever after—what a joke! I tried that once and ended
up divorced.
Now, I only want one thing from men.
Charlie Nelson is good at giving me that one thing. Really, really good.
So good, in fact, I discovered a new side of myself.
I never knew I liked to watch until I saw
his talented hands touching someone else.
I never knew I liked to be watched until I
felt his searing gaze on me.
Maybe happily ever after isn’t always a white picket fence,
wedding bells, and 2.5 kids.
Maybe it’s something a bit more…unconventional.
*Warning: Contains dirty talk, piercings and hot threesomes.
Intended for readers over 18 years of age.
Pre-order Links
99c pre-order only price!AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
B&N / KOBO / iBOOKS

Copyright © 2017
Unconventional by Isabel Love

 

 


That’s some
party trick.
 
I’m so worked
up
 right now, I
almost can’t see straight. I had fully intended to fuck Miss Double D, as Quinn
so aptly named her, but once the security guard interrupted us and Quinn
bolted, having sex with Crystal lost its appeal. All I could think about was
Quinn’s gaze on me, watching me touch another woman, watching me make her come.
She liked watching. I could tell how turned on she was by the
way her chest was rising and falling so rapidly with every breath, the way she
couldn’t tear her eyes away from me, the sheen of sweat on her upper lip and
neck.
 
My cock throbs in
my pants just thinking about it.
 
Quinn insists on
driving as I had a few shots tonight and we decide to go to her place because
it’s closer. Quinn lives in a condo that’s quite nice, actually. Once we’re in
her car, I adjust my dick so my pants aren’t strangling it.
 
“Congratulations
on your new account, hotshot. I don’t know if I told you earlier,” she says.
 
“Thank you. You
told me earlier, but you can tell me again. I like it when you praise me.”
 
“I’m not sure
there’s any room in this car, what with the size of your—”
 
“Cock?” I
interject.
 
“I was going to
say ego.
 
“My cock is
pretty big, too, you have to admit.” I look over at her, flashing a naughty
grin.
 
“I do like your
cock, you know that. Are you fishing for compliments?”
 
I chuckle. I love
that she admits to liking my cock. Most women shy away from dirty talk, but not
Quinn. She’s just as blunt as I am and isn’t afraid to use words like cock or
cunt.
 
“Isn’t there any
way you can go any faster? I’m dying over here.” I’m two seconds away from
pulling my dick out and jacking off while she drives.
 
“Calm your tits.
We’re almost there.” She rolls her eyes but does push down on the gas pedal a
bit harder.
 
“Speaking of
tits, you liked watching me fondle Miss Double D, didn’t you?”
 
“That was one
impressive rack,” she admits.
 
“Have you
ever…been with a woman?” The way she was watching us made me think she’d like
to join in. I could see Quinn experimenting with other women.
 
“No, I like dick,
if you haven’t noticed.” She smiles and glances over at me. “But I can
appreciate that boobs are sexy.”
 
“What about the
way she was able to lick her own nipples, wasn’t that hot?” I almost came in my
pants when I saw that she could do it. That’s going in the spank bank, for
sure.
 
“That’s some
party trick.”
 
“Would you lick
your own nipples if you could?” I ask her. Quinn’s boobs are amazing, large and
perky, though not quite as big as Crystal’s.
 
“Hell yeah I
would. That’s like asking if you would suck your own dick if you could. Don’t
even tell me you’ve never tried to; I won’t believe you.”
 
I chuckle. “When
I was 14, I tried as hard as I could, but I’m not that flexible.”
 
“There’s a sight
I would have liked to see.” She laughs.
 
“It wasn’t even
remotely sexy. I lived in fear that someone would walk in on me and catch an
eyeful of me in different contorted positions.” I laugh at the memory. “It
would seem as though you are a closet voyeur. How did I not know this about you
until tonight?”
 
She chews on her
bottom lip. “I didn’t know it myself. I mean, I like watching porn, but I’ve
never come across an opportunity to watch real-life action.”
 
I file that
information away for later and almost weep with relief when we pull into her
driveway. We turn to look at each other once the car is parked in her garage,
and her eyes roam over my face, stopping on my lips. She leans forward, about
to kiss me.
 
“Is there
anything you need to do before I fuck you?” Once I start, I won’t be able to
stop until I’m balls deep inside of her.
 
“No.” 
I promptly get
out of the car and walk around the front to open her door. As soon as she’s
standing, I’m on her, pulling her face toward mine and taking her mouth in a
hot, wet kiss. Her lips are perfect, plump, and soft, and this kiss has the
perfect ratio of lips, teeth, and tongue. Her tongue dances with mine and she’s
as ravenous as I am, licking and nipping at me. Her hands are busy too,
untucking my shirt and reaching for my belt buckle. Fuck. I love
that she’s desperate for my dick, but I reach down and bat her hands away. We
need to take this inside. I reach down to palm her ass and pick her up. Her
legs wrap around my waist as I carry her to the door, stopping by the security
alarm so she can disarm it.
 
Once the door is
open, I stride inside and sit on the couch with Quinn straddling me. She grinds
against my erection as I pull her shirt up and off. She reaches for my shirt
next, and I reach over my head to tug it off. She sits back on my lap and
stares down at my torso, lust and appreciation shining in her eyes. I also take
a moment to appreciate my view of her. She wears a red, silky bra, but it seems
like some of the material is missing because only the bottom half of her boobs
are covered. The top half is exposed and I can see the pink skin of her areolas
just hinting at where her nipples are. I trail my fingers across the edge of
the bra, dragging the material down a bit to reveal the rest of her nipples.
They’re tight little nubs and I pinch them, hard. She gasps and arches her
back, bringing her chest closer to my face.
 
“I really like
this bra, Red. It seems like you chose the color just for me.”
 
“I chose it
for me. I like the way it makes me feel,” she corrects me, her
voice low and throaty.
 
“How does it make
you feel?”
 
“Sexy.” 
“You don’t need a
bra for that. You’re sexy all on your own. Stand up, take your pants off. I
want to see the rest of you.”
 
She stands and
starts to unbutton her pants. “If I’m getting naked, then so are you. Come on,
let me see that gorgeous cock of yours.”
 
I comply with her
request, grabbing a condom out of my wallet before stripping off my jeans,
underwear, socks, and shoes. Quinn makes quick work of her pants and heels then
goes to take off her panties but I stop her.
 
“Wait, I want
to take those off.” I sit back down on the couch and pull her to stand in front
of me. The underwear is also silky red, and I love the contrast against her
pale skin. Quinn is curvy, her hips flaring out from her waist. I smooth my
hands down them before reaching back to squeeze her ass. It bounces when I let
go and I can’t wait to see it bounce on my cock.
 
“How wet did you
get watching me earlier?” I know she was aroused, but I don’t know how much.
 
“Soaking wet,”
she tells me.
 
“I want to see.”
I reach for the fabric that covers her pussy and run my fingers back and forth,
testing the fabric for wetness. Sure enough, it’s soaked. “Fuck, Red. I need to
taste you.”
 
“So taste me.” 
I slide her
panties down her legs and help her step out of them. I lean forward and nuzzle
my nose right in between her legs, inhaling her musky scent, then lick her
slit, grabbing her ass and pulling her forward, closer to my mouth. She holds
on to my shoulders to steady herself as my tongue laps at her cunt, but I can’t
quite get the right angle while she’s standing up.
 
I stand, and she
whimpers. “Why did you stop?”
 
I look around her
living room and see the ottoman in front of the couch is plush and a decent
size. “Lie back on this, I need to bury my face in your pussy.”
 
She shivers at my
words and reclines on the ottoman, legs spread wide and leaning up on her
elbows so she can watch me. Her red hair is wild, her face is flushed, and her
tits are heaving out of her bra as she pants in anticipation.
 
I kneel in front
of her and hold her gaze as I lick her slowly, from opening to clit.
 
“Fuck, that feels
good. Don’t stop.”
 
My licks are slow
and steady, working her up, but not giving her enough friction to come. She
keeps her gaze on me and I watch as she becomes more and more desperate.
 
“Charlie.” 
“Hmm?” I ask,
like I have all the time in the world.
 
Quinn likes to be
bossy too, and I like to make her beg. She hates begging, which makes me like
it even more. She tips her hips up, chasing my tongue, but I move it to lick
her folds instead.
 
“Charlie!” she
complains.
 
“Did I ever tell
you how much I love eating your pussy?” I ask her conversationally in between
licks. I could eat her out for hours. Her red curls are neatly trimmed, framing
her clit and pussy lips. I spread her wide open with my fingers and lick into
her opening, pushing my tongue as deep as I can get it, then licking the walls
as I come out. Her taste is addictive. Not all women taste the same—some are
bitter, some more musky, some sour. Quinn’s pussy tastes divine, the right
combination of musky, salty, and sweet. I lap up her juices, avoiding her clit,
trying to drive her crazy enough to beg me.
 
“Fuck! Charlie, I
need you. Is that what you want to hear?”
 
Bingo. “What do you need? More of my
tongue?” I focus on her clit and she moans loudly.
 
She doesn’t
answer me, so I back away.
 
“Charlie! Please,
I need you to fuck me, okay? Please fuck me.” She glares at me, pissed that she
gave in and begged me, but so turned on.
 
I chuckle and
reach for the condom. “My pleasure. Why didn’t you just say so?”
 
My body is so desperate to come but his tongue
wasn’t enough; I need his cock, and that fucking bastard always likes to make
me beg.
 
He rolls the
condom on and tugs on his gorgeous cock a couple of times before lining himself
up with my pussy. He pulls me forward slightly, making my ass hang just a bit
off the edge of the ottoman, and rubs the head of his dick up and down my
folds, coating himself with my wetness. I feel his piercing, a stark contrast
to the way a cock feels. The metal of the piercing is unforgiving while his
penis is hard but soft at the same time. The combination makes my eyes roll
back into my head and my clit throbs as I wait for him to push into me. He
doesn’t though, not right away. He picks up my legs and drapes them up over his
shoulders.
 
“Charlie!” I
bark. “Now. Fuck me now.”
 
At my tortured
command, he slams into me. I’m so wet, he gains entry easily, but his girth
stretches me open, making me gasp at the sudden feeling of fullness.
 
“Fuck. This is
going to be fast.”
 
Thank God. 
He leans forward,
seeking purchase on the edges of the ottoman to hold on. I grab on to his
forearms and he starts to thrust into me.
 
“Yessss.” I love
his unrelenting rhythm. His cock is big, and I feel the piercing inside,
creating more friction with each movement in and out of me. It reaches all the
right places and I’m on the verge of coming.
 
“I need you to
come, Red. Are you close?”
 
“God, yes.” 
He leans down and
latches on to one nipple, pulling it and biting it. Then he tends to the other
nipple, and the extra stimulation pushes me over the edge. Pleasure steals my
breath and my vision.
 
“Fuck!” I shout,
wrapping my legs around his waist so I can keep him inside me. My pussy clamps
around his dick while I come and he chuckles sexily.
 
“I love feeling
you milk my cock. Was that good?”
 
“Mmmmm,” I tell
him, too far gone for words right now.
 
He kisses me and
stays still as I come down from my orgasm. Then he starts moving again and I
realize his cock is still rock hard. “You didn’t come yet?”
 
“Not yet. Can you
flip over? I need to see your ass.”
 
“I’m not sure I
can move,” I groan. My body is always a bit paralyzed after an orgasm.
 
“I’ve got you.”
He pulls out of me, helps me sit up, then I turn and face plant into the
ottoman. He positions me so I’m kneeling on the carpet, folded over the ottoman
for support, ass sticking out at him. He palms my ass and slaps one cheek, the
unexpected sting causing me to gasp.
 
“Don’t fall
asleep on me.”
 
“Well then, give
me something to stay awake for,” I retort.
 
He spreads my ass
cheeks apart, so wide I’m completely exposed to his view. I can’t see what he’s
doing, but it seems like he’s just looking at me.
 
“You see
something you like?” I ask him, unnerved at his silence and stillness.
 
“I wish I could
take a picture of you right now, all pliant and satisfied, your pussy wet and
pink from my cock fucking you,” he replies, his voice so husky. “I’d title
it Satisfaction.”
 
“I bet you have a
collection of naughty pictures, don’t you?” He is a photographer, after all.
 
He slides his
cock up and down my crack, teasing me. Then he squeezes my ass cheeks together,
sandwiching his dick in between them, and pumps up and down. The condom catches
on my skin, not slick enough to glide smoothly, so he spits. The sound is so
crass, and I feel the plop as his saliva lands on my skin, but
when he starts moving again, the extra spit allows him to slide easily. Fuck,
his cock is so big. It makes me squirm every time it passes over my asshole,
and that piercing—it’s so unyielding.
 
“You’d think I’d
have naughty pictures, but I don’t. I’m not much for remembering past hookups,
but fuck, I want to keep this image for my viewing pleasure.”
 
“Maybe I’ll send
you a picture sometime.” I’ve never taken nude photos before, too afraid they
would end up online somewhere, but the thought of Charlie jerking off to images
of me gets me hot.
 
“I’d like that.”
He pulls back, his cockhead trailing down my crack to rub my clit. My nerve
endings are still so sensitive from my orgasm that his touch is almost too
much.
 
“Fuck, Charlie,”
I hiss, squirming away from his attention.
 
Surprisingly, he
heeds my complaint and finally slides into me. It’s a slow slide, inch by inch,
until his pelvis is flush with my ass, then he stills. Pleasure zings through
me at the way he stretches me and my recently sated body wakes up, hungry for
more. I need friction, but he isn’t moving. I huff in frustration.
 
“I want you to
bounce that luscious ass on my cock,” he says in explanation.
 
That I can do. I
lift my upper body off the ottoman and brace myself. Holding on to the sides, I
rock forward until I feel he’s almost completely out then I back up quickly,
loving the way he fills me up.
 
His hands cradle
my hips and pull me back to meet him. “That’s it, Red. God, your ass is
fantastic.”
 
Nothing is sexier
than the sounds this man makes during sex. The deep rumbles, the muttered
curses, the bossy commands, even the lewd remarks about my body are all so damn
hot.
 
Charlie Nelson is
one sexy beast.
 
Soon enough, he
takes control and reaches around to rub my clit. He can read my body so well,
and his fingers plucking my clit while he fucks me triggers an orgasm so
intense, I practically pass out. I scream my release and try to grab hold of
something to keep me tethered to Earth. He pitches forward on one final thrust
and shouts hoarsely along with me. His arms come around me, stilling my
flailing movements and holding me close as his dick pulses inside me.
 
“Fucking hell,
that was amazing.” He pants into my neck.
 
“Mmmm,” I agree. 
“You paralyzed?”
He knows this about me—orgasms always steal my coordination and leave me in a
heap of spasms and heavy limbs.
 
“Mmmmhmm.” 
“Stay here, I’ll
take care of you.” Those words sound so foreign coming out of Charlie’s mouth.
I know he means he’ll take care of my body. Not of me. I don’t want
anyone to take care of me.
 
I just want
orgasms.
 
And Charlie is
good at giving me orgasms.
 
I’ll never depend
on any man to take care of me ever again.
 
Charlie returns
moments later with a warm cloth and wipes between my legs gently. Then he lifts
me easily into his arms and carries me to my bed.
 
“Is it okay if I
crash here? I can be out of your hair first thing in the morning,” he promises.
 
I usually hate
having men stay the night. If it were anyone else, I’d make them leave
immediately. In fact, if it were anyone else, I wouldn’t have brought them to
my house at all, but Charlie is in this strange category. He isn’t some random
hookup; he’s someone I see all the time in my circle of friends. I guess he’s
my friend with an amazing cock who I like to have sex with on occasion, so I
trust him more than a random stranger.
 
That’s the only
reason I tug him down into bed with me, snuggle into his side, and promptly
fall asleep with the warmth of his arm wrapped around my waist.
 

 

 

Author Bio

Isabel Love is a hopeless romantic. She loves reading about two people falling in love, overcoming whatever obstacles they may face, and finding their happily ever after. A husband, two kids, and a full-time job keep her busy by day, but by night, she can be found with her Kindle in hand, reading “just one more chapter”.

Author Links

Chapter Reveal: Complicating by Noelle Adams & Samantha Chase

 

 

Title: Complicating
A Preston’s Mill Series Standalone
Authors: Noelle Adams & Samantha Chase
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: July 19, 2017


Blurb

Forget all those other accidental pregnancy romances you might have read.

 

Daisy and Carter don’t have a one-night stand…because it’s thirty minutes in a back room at a wedding reception. And Carter isn’t a bad boy baby-daddy…except for the motorcycle, tattoos, and attitude. Daisy doesn’t have the typical issues with her pregnancy…if you don’t count the morning sickness, food cravings, and occasional horniness. And Carter doesn’t hang around all the time, wanting both her and the baby…until he falls in love.

 

But they definitely don’t become a happy family…right away.

 

Daisy has always been a good girl. She’s never done anything wild or spontaneous until she has a little too much to drink at a wedding and has a fling with a sexy stranger. She thought they were careful, but accidents happen. And now she’s going to have the baby of a man she barely knows.

 

Carter is her opposite in every way and completely the wrong man for her. They can still work out a reasonable arrangement regarding the baby. But the more time she spends with him, the less reasonable she feels. And he’s acting all possessive and protective, so it gets harder and harder to convince herself that he’s just the father of her baby.

 

She wants him to be so much more.

 

Pre-order Links
AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
Chapter One

Daisy stared at herself in the mirror over the sink and thought with a thrill that she looked pretty darn good.

Her dress was green to match her eyes, and although it was perfectly appropriate for a five-o’clock wedding, it was sexier than what she normally wore with its sleek shape and slight flare above her knees. She turned a bit to make sure the curve of her butt wasn’t too pronounced.

It was pronounced, but hopefully not unattractively so.

“Your ass looks fantastic,” Chloe said with a grin as she came out from one of the bathroom stalls.

“I wasn’t looking at it.” Daisy gave her butt another quick glance to verify that it did indeed look fantastic.

Chloe laughed uninhibitedly as she washed her hands. “You can act all sweet, innocent librarian all you want, but you’ve got a wild side in there somewhere that I’m going to set loose eventually.”

Daisy gave her friend an appreciative smile and didn’t argue. Out loud anyway.

She knew the truth. She didn’t have a wild side. She was a sweet and (mostly) innocent librarian. She was twenty-four, and she’d only had one serious boyfriend. She went to church every Sunday, and she’d been raised to never swear, never drink, and never, ever let boys touch her in naughty ways.

She might not have lived up to those rules perfectly—and lately she’d been working on being herself and not just who she was raised to be—but she certainly wasn’t close to Chloe’s level of wildness. Daisy had met Chloe at Preston’s Mill, their apartment building in a small town in eastern Virginia, and they’d become friends immediately. Chloe was fun and fearless and had traveled all over the world, and she was always encouraging Daisy to spread her wings a little further.

Daisy was trying. But there was no way she’d ever spread her wings as far as Chloe did on a regular basis.

She would always be a quiet, small-town girl at heart.

“We’ve got to try to find you a man tonight,” Chloe said conspiratorially as they were leaving the bathroom.

“Ha ha,” Daisy replied dryly.

“Why do you mock? There must be a few eligible men around. Half of Preston is here tonight—plus tons of people from surrounding areas.”

“Chris and Heather were both raised in Preston, so they know everyone.”

Daisy had been raised in Preston too. She was a couple of years younger than Heather, the bride of today’s wedding, so they hadn’t been really close. But she knew almost everyone in town.

She also knew there weren’t any interesting single men lurking in the shadows of the reception hall, a large ballroom in a lovely Victorian house that was now hired out for weddings and other occasions.

As she and Chloe reentered the room, Daisy’s eyes immediately strayed toward the far corner where the man she’d noticed before was still lurking in the shadows.

She wasn’t sure why she’d noticed him earlier except he was sitting alone and seemed so out of place. He was tall and well built with unruly dark hair. He was dressed in all black, and he’d evidently made a gesture toward wedding attire with a jacket, but his shirt didn’t have a collar.

He looked rough. Intimidating. Not particularly friendly.

He wasn’t even very handsome—at least not the type of looks Daisy had always gravitated toward. She wasn’t sure why she kept sneaking looks at him.


“You’re just scared,” Chloe said as they returned to the table they’d been sitting at earlier.


The reception was lovely and generously stocked with food, but it wasn’t a formal banquet dinner, and there wasn’t assigned seating. Daisy enjoyed these kinds of receptions more. They didn’t feel so stiff and artificial. The band was playing a good variety of music, and there were a lot of people dancing—but mostly kids bopping around and older couples who clearly knew all the old steps.


“I’m just scared about what?” she asked Chloe, trying to think back to their earlier conversation.


“About coming on to men.”


Daisy sucked in a sharp breath. “I’m not scared about that. There aren’t any men here to come on to.”


“I’m sure I can find you a few. Then what would you do? You’d be too afraid to make a move on them.”


“If there are eligible men around, I wouldn’t be afraid.”


It was a lie. Daisy never came on to men. She’d always waited for them to make the first move, which was why she was often waiting a very long time between dates.


“Are you willing to prove it?”


“Prove it how?”


“If I find three eligible guys, will you come on to them?”


Daisy went still. They’d been joking around before, but Chloe was entirely capable of making good on this particular dare. “What do you mean, come on to them?”


“I mean you have to go over to them, start a conversation, and do a little flirting.”


“And that’s all?”


“That’s all. Best to start with baby steps with you, I think.”


Daisy frowned, although she knew her friend wasn’t serious.


She was by nature fairly conservative and by upbringing rather sheltered, but she wasn’t a child or a coward. She could do something other women might consider normal—even if she’d never done it before.


“Is it a deal?” Chloe asked.


Daisy never would have agreed had she not felt like she had something to prove—to herself even more than to Chloe. She didn’t want to be trapped by her own insecurities. Her heart was already hammering in her chest, but she was going to do this. “It’s a deal.”


Chloe looked delighted and a little surprised. “Okay. Great. We’ll start easy then. The guy with the glasses over there.”


Daisy glanced over and recognized the man as a cousin of one of her old classmates. He was pleasant-looking and a little shy. She breathed out in relief.


She could do this.


She could do it.


She stood up, aware of Chloe watching with amused interest, and she went over to talk to him. She felt a little stupid as she sat down in an empty chair at his table, but she relaxed when he smiled, recognized her, and looked happy to talk with her.


It was easy. He was perfectly nice, if a little boring. She laughed a lot and touched his hand, his arm, so Chloe would believe she’d been flirting.


It was clear to see that the man would be very happy to continue talking to her, but Daisy didn’t actually want to lead him on, so she ended the conversation with a smile and returned to Chloe.


Chloe was laughing, clearly pleased with her friend’s success, and she’d gotten them both fresh glasses of champagne so they could toast Daisy’s victory.


“Okay. That one was easy. Now you have to do that guy over there near the bar. The one with the flashy watch.”


Daisy turned to look and immediately saw the one Chloe meant. She didn’t recognize him, so he must not be from town. He was quite handsome in a charming, entitled way, and he looked like he was used to having his way with women. That would make him challenge enough, but he wasn’t standing alone. He was chatting with two pretty, single women, who were both clearly flirting with him.


And Daisy was going to have to go over there, bust into their conversation, and somehow try to win him away from the other women.


She swallowed hard.


“You can always admit you’re not up to the challenge,” Chloe murmured.


Daisy squared her shoulders. “I am up to it. I’ll do it.”


She walked over to the man in a blur, an anxious stupor taking over her movements, and she almost wilted in relief when, as she got closer, she recognized one of the women.


So when she got to the bar, she greeted the woman, having to remind her of how they’d had biology class together in high school.


They chatted for a minute, and the woman introduced her to the other woman and then the man.


As Daisy turned her smiles on the man, she was aware of how the other women looked annoyed.


Maybe this was normal practice for some women, to horn in on other groupings and take the attention of the best man.


Daisy didn’t like it though. It felt rude. And kind of selfish. But she had something to prove here, and so she tittered with laughter at a stupid joke the man made and did her best to look alluring.


She must have been successful because the man said how much he loved redheads and asked if she wanted another drink.


She said she did, and they walked away from the other two women.


There. That would prove to Chloe that she’d appropriately come on to this man. She’d earned his attention, and he evidently wanted to keep talking to her. She sipped a new glass of champagne, put up with his silly compliments about her long red hair, and finally got so annoyed with his obnoxious attitude and the way he kept flashing his ridiculously expensive watch that she made an excuse and returned to Chloe.


“That was fantastic,” Chloe said, brimming with excitement. “Did you see those other girls’ faces when you took him away from them?”


“Yes,” Daisy admitted, flushed with her third glass of champagne and with a kind of power she didn’t often feel. “Although it feels like a mean thing to do.”


“It wasn’t mean. That’s the way it always is. All’s fair and all that.”


“Okay. Fine. So who is the last one? Or do you just give up now that I’ve proven I’m more than up to this challenge?”


“I’m not giving up. I’ve got your last guy all picked out for you.” She nodded toward the far corner of the room. “There. The guy by himself.”


Daisy tensed up, knowing even before she looked who Chloe was referring to. The rough, intimidating guy she’d been sneaking looks at all evening. “He’s not eligible!”


“What do you mean, he’s not eligible? He’s been alone the whole time. He doesn’t have a date. I don’t think he looks married, but if you find out he is, just say ‘whoops’ and get the hell out of there. No big deal.”


“But…”


“But what?” Chloe was grinning wickedly now. “You’re throwing in the towel, aren’t you?”


“No. I’m not.” Daisy gulped. Was she really going to have to go over there and talk to that guy? What on earth would she even say? She had no thin connection with him to initiate the first contact the way she had with the other two men. She had nothing but a blunt, open approach.


“So do it. He’s been watching you.”


“He has not been watching me.” She knew that for sure because every time she glanced over, his eyes were focused on something else.


“Yes, he has. But it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to go talk to him anyway or else admit you’re not up to it.”


“I am up to it.” She swallowed down the rest of her champagne and then stood up, her head spinning a little from nerves or alcohol or both. “Okay. Here I go.”


She didn’t move.


“Anytime now,” Chloe prompted.


“I’m going. Right. Now.”


Daisy finally managed to make her feet move, and she forced them to head toward the corner. She was halfway there when the man’s eyes landed on her, and his gaze didn’t falter as she approached.


He knew she was coming over to him.


There was no face-saving excuse with this one.


She was breathless and almost numb with fear when she reached his table. Her knees wouldn’t hold her, so she sat down on the chair next to him. “Hi,” she said stupidly.


He raised his dark eyebrows. “Hi.”


His eyes were blue. Very blue. She couldn’t help but notice. He needed to shave—or maybe he was growing a beard. And there were tattoos all over his forearms, exposed now that he’d taken off his jacket.


Tattoos.


She was going to have to come on to a guy with tattoos all down his arms.


“You’re sitting all alone,” she managed to say when it was clear he wasn’t going to help her out in making conversation.


“So you felt sorry for me?” His voice was deep, slightly gruff. Definitely sardonic.


“No. Just being friendly.”


“Is that what you call it?”


She was getting confused now. Her mind was slightly clouded from the three glasses of champagne. “What I call what?”


“It looks more like you have some kind of bet going with your friend.” He inclined his head toward where Chloe was sitting and blatantly staring at them.


“There’s no bet.”

“Really? Because I just saw you come on to two other guys and then walk away when they responded.”

She gulped. “It wasn’t a bet.”

“Then what was it?”

“I was just… just proving something.”

“Proving what? How men will make asses of themselves when faced with a pair of green eyes and a hot body? Because I’d have thought that has already been proven over and over again throughout history.”

He was smart. She could see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. And he had a dry sense of humor. She liked both those things.

She also liked the strongly chiseled lines of his face and the breadth of his shoulders.

He was big and solid. Man all the way through.

“That’s not what I was trying to prove,” she said.

“Then what?” He asked the question like he had the right to know, even though they didn’t even know each other’s names.

“Just proving something to myself.” She wasn’t sure why she was telling him the truth.

“What did you need to prove to yourself? You must know how gorgeous you are.”

She didn’t know. She’d always figured she was pretty enough, but guys had never been knocking down doors to get to her. But she couldn’t help but flush with pleasure at the heated interest in his eyes.

He thought she was gorgeous. That much was clear.

“Not that,” she said, answering his question. “Just that I can… I can do things other women can do.”

“Things like what?” He seemed to really want to know.

“Come on to men.” No sense in pretense now. He evidently knew when she was lying to him or playing games.

“You really thought you couldn’t come on to men? Angel, all you have to do is show up.”

Her cheeks burned even hotter, and the pleasure washed down from her chest to her belly—and then even lower.

“So you came over here to come on to me?” he asked, swallowing down the last of the scotch in his glass.

She cleared her throat. “Yes.”

“And what was your plan?”

“I didn’t have a plan. Is that something women plan out in advance?”

“Some do.”

“Oh. I was just making it up as I went along.”

He chuckled, low in his throat. The sound seemed to vibrate through her whole body. “I see. Well, I’m waiting here breathlessly to see how you’ll proceed.”

He was teasing her, and she liked it. Her mind buzzed as she tried to keep up with his wit. “Oh. Well, maybe you get me another drink, and we’ll see what happens.”

The man laughed appreciatively and stood up. As he strode over to the bar—damn, the man had a great butt and amazing arms—Daisy tried not to giggle in excitement. She looked over to Chloe and saw she’d gone to talk to a few other friends. But she gave Daisy a grin and a silly thumbs-up sign before she looked away.

Daisy laughed out loud by herself at the table.

Was she really doing this? Flirting with a sexy stranger?

He returned with two glasses of scotch.

She frowned. “I was drinking champagne.”

“I know you were. But if you want to come on to me, you’ll have to drink something less fizzy.”

She didn’t like whiskey, but she took a swallow anyway. It burned her throat and filled her with a pleasant heat.

He nodded in approval. “I’m Carter,” he said.

“Daisy. It’s nice to meet you.”

“I have a feeling it’s going to be very nice to meet you.”

***

An hour later—a lot of flirty conversation and two more scotches each—and Daisy was flying high.

She wasn’t even sure how it had happened, but they were stumbling down a hallway in the old Victorian mansion, looking for a private room.

For the past thirty minutes, Carter had been touching her a lot—kissing her hand, stroking her bare arm with his fingertips—and between that, the alcohol, and his throaty drawl, she was so turned on she could hardly see straight.

He was evidently just as aroused. His cheeks were slightly flushed, and a delicious tension filled his body.

He pushed open a partly cracked door to discover a little sitting room. “This will do,” he growled, pulling her in with him.

He closed the door and pushed her against the wall, kissing her hard.

Her body throbbed with pleasure as she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. Nothing had ever felt so good. Nothing in her whole life. His hard body was pressed against her completely, and every inch of him was hot, was strong, was man.

Was hard.

She could feel his arousal in the bulge he kept grinding against her.

“You sure you want to do this, angel,” he murmured thickly, pulling out of the kiss to nibble a delicious line down her throat.

“Yeah.” She arched against him in helpless pleasure. “Oh yeah. Please.”

“You’re not too drunk?”

“I’m a little drunk,” she admitted. “But not too drunk to know what I want. I’ve never wanted anything more.”

It was true. It was absolutely true.

She might be buzzing from the alcohol, but her mind was still working. This was a choice she was making, and it was exactly what she wanted.

“Damn, I’m glad to hear that.” His hands were all over her now, stroking up and down the curves of her body.

She’d always wished she wasn’t quite so curvy so she could look more like the stylish girls her age, but he seemed to appreciate her body. He couldn’t stop touching it, and the fire in his eyes kept burning even hotter as he gazed at her.

Then they were kissing again, and he was walking her over to a console table against a wall. When her ass hit the edge of it, she gave a little “oof” at the impact.

She was so aroused she was throbbing with it, and she kept lifting one of her legs, trying to wrap it around him so she could get more pressure where she needed it.

He helped her by pushing up her skirt and then lifting her up to prop her on the table. She wrapped her legs around him eagerly and gave herself over to the feelings.

By now, he’d managed to unzip her dress and pull her breasts out of her bra. He lowered his head to nip at them, causing her to cry out at the intense jolts of pleasure. In their position, he couldn’t do much more than that, and both of them were too far gone to take the time anyway.

He slipped a hand inside her underwear so he could finger her, and she whimpered and rocked her hips in response.

“You like that?” he murmured hoarsely.

“Oh God, yeah! Keep touching me like that. Just like that.”

“Damn, you’re hot when you’re turned on. Who knew such a little angel could let go like this? You’re the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen.”

She experienced the oddest sort of pride—that she was that kind of woman, that she was capable of being so wild and spontaneous. And sexy.

She’d never dreamed it was possible for her.

He kept moving his fingers inside her until the pleasure coiled up and broke unexpectedly. She cried out loudly as she came, trapped between the wall and his body, propped up on the table.

“There you go, angel,” he was murmuring, his eyes devouring her face and body. “There you go. So good. Damn, that was gorgeous.”

Her body throbbed in satisfaction as he finally removed his hand.

“Do you have a condom?” she asked, her groggy mind managing to land on one reality she didn’t want to forget.

“Yeah.” He reached into his back pocket.

She wondered if he always carried condoms around with him.

She wondered if most men did.

She’d only had one boyfriend—the guy she’d dated all through college and had briefly been engaged to—and he’d never had condoms available at a moment’s notice.

But maybe some guys did.

She was infinitely grateful for it now as they both worked on undoing his pants and rolling on the condom. His erection was big and hard, and she couldn’t wait to feel it inside her.

He adjusted their bodies so he could enter her, and she wrapped her legs around him tightly as he sank in.

Both of them groaned at the penetration.

“Jesus,” he hissed through his teeth, holding on to her ass tightly. “Jesus, you feel so good.”

He felt good too. Better than anything.

She wriggled as her body relaxed around him and started to need even more.

He levered his hips and pushed into her with a short, hard thrust.

She cried out, dropping her head back as the sensations slammed into her.

“Like that?” he asked, his body so tight it was almost shuddering.

“Yeah. Yeah. More. I need more.”

He took her like that, propped up on the table with her legs wrapped around him, and she’d never known it was possible to feel so sexy and uninhibited. She tried to keep her voice down since there were people all over the building, but she couldn’t stay quiet. Every time he pushed into her, a helpless sound of pleasure escaped her lips.

When she felt the sensations start to tighten into another orgasm, she started to urge him on. “Harder. Faster. More. Please more.”

He was taking her hard now, almost roughly, and he was grunting with a primal passion as he thrust.

She bit down on her bottom lip hard as a climax ripped through her, causing her to shake and shudder. Then he was coming too, letting out a long, low exclamation that sounded like, “angel” as he let himself go.

And all of it felt good. Amazing. Exactly what she wanted.

Until she started to come down from her climax and realized she’d just had sex with a stranger at a wedding reception.

His name was Carter, but that was all she knew about him.

She wasn’t this sort of person.

She felt weird and achy as she unwound her legs and he pulled out of her.

“Damn, what a mess,” he muttered as he started to take care of the condom.

She was wet between her legs. Really wet. And it seemed to emphasize that maybe she hadn’t really thought things through as much as she’d believed.

Carter was looking down at the condom as she readjusted her panties and smoothed down her dress.

She was suddenly terrified. The heated fog was lifting in her mind, and she had no idea what she’d been thinking.

Her legs were sore. She was sore inside. Her whole body was sore.

She gasped and hurried toward the door, wanting only to be alone so she could think.

“Angel, wait—” Carter began.

She didn’t wait. “Sorry,” she said, swinging open the door. “I’ve got to go.”

And with that, she ran down the hall.

(Copyright © 2017 by Noelle Adams and Samantha Chase. All rights reserved)

Noelle Adams
Noelle handwrote
her first romance novel in a spiral-bound notebook when she was twelve, and she
hasn’t stopped writing since. She has lived in eight different states and
currently resides in Virginia, where she reads any book she can get her hands
on and offers tribute to a very spoiled cocker spaniel.  She loves travel, art, history, and ice
cream. After spending far too many years of her life in graduate school, she
has decided to reorient her priorities and focus on writing contemporary
romances. Find her at noelle-adams.com.
Samantha Chase
Samantha Chase released her debut novel in 2011 and
currently has more than forty titles under her belt! When she’s not working on
a new story, she spends her time reading romances, playing way too many games
of Scrabble or Solitaire on Facebook, wearing a tiara while playing with her
sassy pug Maylene…oh, and spending time with her husband of 25 years and their
two sons in North Carolina. Find her at chasing-romance.com.
 



Chapter Reveal: The Unrequited by Saffron A. Kent

 

Title: The Unrequited
Author: Saffron A. Kent
Genre: Contemporary/Erotic Romance
Cover Design: Najla Qamber Designs
Release Date: July 13, 2017


Blurb
Layla Robinson is not crazy. She is suffering from
unrequited love. But it’s time to move on. No more stalking, no more obsessive
calling.
What she needs is a distraction. The blue-eyed guy she keeps
seeing around campus could be a great one—only he is the new poetry
professor—the married poetry professor.
Thomas Abrams is a stereotypical artist—rude, arrogant, and
broody—but his glares and taunts don’t scare Layla. She might be bad at poetry,
but she is good at reading between the lines. Beneath his prickly façade,
Thomas is lonely, and Layla wants to know why. Obsessively.
Sometimes you do get what you want. Sometimes you end up in
the storage room of a bar with your professor and you kiss him. Sometimes he
kisses you back like the world is ending and he will never get to kiss you
again. He kisses you until you forget the years of unrequited love; you forget
all the rules, and you dare to reach for something that is not yours.
NOTE: Please be aware that this book deals with sensitive
topics like cheating and death. 18+ Only.

 

 

Pre-order Links
99c for a limited time
AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
Thomas & Layla’s First Kiss
It’s Saturday and I’m at The Alchemy with Emma, Dylan, and
Matt. We find a table in the middle of the room and Emma thumps the big bag of
goodies down on it. It’s prompt night for the Labyrinth and Emma is in charge
of producing the prompts.
“Explain to me one more time why you need this giant-ass bag
again?” Matt says, taking off his coat and hanging it on the chair as he takes
a seat.
Dylan gives him a disdainful look. “She’s got her prompts in
it, dumbass.”
Emma smiles in pleasure, her eyes on the bag as she looks
for something. It’s adorable how shy she is in front of him when she’s normally
so self-assured. Dylan and Emma have gone on a few dates this week. Turns out,
Dylan loved the tangerine. I knew it.
“And why can’t you show them a picture or something on your
phone?” He bumps his shoulder with mine. “Back me up here, Layla. This freaking
bag is a monstrosity.”
“I don’t have a problem with it, actually,” I say. “It’s
kind of fun to look at something while writing about it.”
When Emma told me about the Labyrinth’s prompt night, my
first reaction was panic. I didn’t think I could be a part of it. I wasn’t
prepared. I haven’t even read all the books I own.
Reading has become a vital part of my life, now. In the past
week, I’ve only roamed on the street once. I haven’t been to Thomas’ house at
all. I stay up late reading. There’s so much to discover, and I’ve been living
inside this fog for so long. I feel like time is running out on me. I’ll
probably die before reading all the books out there.
I try to calm myself. I’m here to be a part of something
greater than me—art—and I don’t have to be perfect. The only thing I should be
worried about is seeing Thomas.
It’s been six days since I cried in front of him, told him
my ugly love story, and sort of licked his hand, trying to taste him. Since
then I’ve seen him all around campus, at Crème and Beans with Nicky, in the
corridors at the Labyrinth when Emma dragged me to a play reading. I’ve even
seen him in the park, at the bench, the one time I went out at night. He was
smoking and battling with himself, as usual, and I was hiding behind the
tree. 
It’s like he’s everywhere. My secret keeper. The one person
who knows what I did.
And he is disgusted by me. He never looks at me. To him, I’m
invisible. Somehow, this hurts even more because deep down I thought he could
relate to me, but he doesn’t.
I really am a freak of nature.
The front door of the bar opens and in strides Sarah Turner,
followed by Professor Masters and Thomas. The snowflakes swirl behind his back
as he enters and the door swings shut.
“Hello children,” Professor Masters greets us in a jovial
voice as he saunters forward. There is a chorus of chuckles and Hi Professor
around the room.
Without paying attention to anyone, Thomas breaks off from
the trio and heads for the bar. Sarah throws him an annoyed look but Professor
Masters steers her toward their destination.
Thomas orders a drink and sits on the barstool, his long
legs straddling the small seat. He takes off his jacket, revealing a plain grey
t-shirt that stretches across his shoulders and biceps. His jean-covered thighs
bulge as he bounces his right leg with impatience.
The bartender sets down a chocolate martini in front of him
and I look away, embarrassed. His weakness for chocolate awakens something raw
and melty inside my stomach. I haven’t thought about what I’ll do come Monday.
Will I go back to class? Will I hide and never show my face again?
Emma gets up from beside me, greets the room, and explains
the instructions. She digs inside her bag and fishes something out. “So the
first prompt is this bottle of hot sauce. You have to write a short poem, no
more than twenty lines, with whatever comes to mind when you see a red bottle
with H.O.T. written on it. I’m going to pass this around for a bit so you guys
can look at it.”
My first thought is that I hate hot sauce. I’m more of a
sweet-loving person. In fact, I’m the only sweet-loving person in my family or
the families I’ve had over the years. My mom, Caleb, my dad, Caleb’s dad, even
Henry—they all shy away from sweet things.
The thought of Caleb makes me aware of the phone in my
jacket pocket. Since those missed calls at Crème and Beans, he’s called several
times, but I haven’t picked up. I was hoping he’d leave a message or something
so I’d know what it’s about, but he hasn’t.
Why does he keep calling me? As impulsive as I am, a strange
fear is keeping me from taking his call.
Emma bumps my elbow and tells me to get writing.
Right, hot sauce. I nibble at my pen, trying to think…no,
trying to feel. How does hot sauce make me feel? H.O.T. Feel. Feel.
I close my eyes and the first thing I see is Thomas’ face.
His beautiful, intense gaze. How every molecule of my body, every inch of my
flesh burns when he is near. How he has the power to change the weather, cold
to hot.
Gasping, my eyes whip open. Thomas Abrams is a
fire-breather. He breathes flames and lust, makes me forget everything and say
yes. Yes to obsession. Yes to stalking. Yes to insanity. Yes to licking.
With shaking hands, I begin to write and capture him in
words. The pen moves and the words flow out. They keep flowing without my
knowledge. All I can feel is the heat seesawing through my body.
Next thing I know I’m jolted by Emma’s clap and shrill
voice. “All right guys, it’s time to stop. Put down your pens.”
Murmurs escalate and the room breaks out in conversation, as
Emma asks someone to volunteer their poem first. With flushed cheeks, I pocket
my small notebook. While the entire room is busy, I get up and shuffle into the
hallway in the back. I need to get to the ladies’ room and calm myself down.
I rub my arms at the unexpected chill in the dank hallway
and take a deep breath. My legs can barely support themselves. Is this how
poets feel when they put feelings into words? Is this how Thomas feels? It’s
like bleeding. It’s like running for miles and running out of breath.
Before I can reach my destination, I’m being hauled into a
dark, tiny room. I don’t even have time to squeal before the flimsy wooden door
is shut, and I’m surrounded by a very familiar heat.
It’s Thomas.
He has me trapped inside what looks to be a storage room,
his hand banded around my elbow, pushing me back against the dank wall.
“T-Thomas.” I’m panting. “What… What’s happening? What’re
you doing?”
His chiseled face is a study of thick shadows and thin
slices of light under the flickering yellow bulb. The only bright spots on his
features are those fire-starting eyes of his. I can smell the delicious smoke
rising from my body, can feel the sting.
Now that the initial shock is gone, my body sags, relieved
to be the center of his attention after days. He sees us. There are things to
worry about, I know that, but I can’t muster the energy to.
“Thomas?” I whisper when it’s clear he won’t say anything.
“Wh-What are you doing?”
His breaths are choppy, short jabs of air inhaled and
exhaled as he stares at every inch of my face. “Do you still love him?”
“What?”
“Do you still love that guy?”
“I… Yes.”
“How much?”
My breaths match his, succinct and sharp. I study him, this
man in front of me. There’s a hint of vulnerability to him. His usually cool
persona is frayed. Is it because I told him my story? Maybe he relates to me
after all.
“Thomas, what’s going on?”
“How much do you love him, Layla? Do you love him so much
that you hate yourself? That you can’t stand your own sight? Do you constantly
think about how to fix it? How to make it better? How to be better?”
He isn’t merely frayed—he’s coming apart. Naked agony dances
on his features. It’s too bright and glaring. It’s too similar to mine, but I’m
not worried about that right now. I’m worried about him.
“Yes,” I whisper. I lift my hand and press it to his
stubbled face. His cheekbone is arched and high, seemingly made of granite as
it pulses beneath my palm. “But I’m so tired of it,” I admit, and his eyes
flare. Fire-breathing eyes. I wonder why I didn’t notice it before. It’s so
obvious now. They never fail to start a fire in my soul.
He crowds me against the wall, as if sinking his hard body
into mine, but there isn’t any touch involved. His frame sort of hovers over
me, heating me up, jumpstarting my nerves. I’m a mesh of live wires, firing
lust and adrenaline. I’m sticky as sugar and drunk as whiskey.
Thomas arranges his body and places both his palms on the
wall, caging me in. The vein on his bicep becomes taut, a purple string tugging
on my senses.
I watch him watch my parted lips, and suddenly, it’s the
only piece of my body I can feel. My mouth, throbbing, puffy, swollen with the
need.
“Me too,” he whispers, almost to himself.
I wasn’t meant to hear it, but I did. Again, I’m hit by a
storm of desire to kiss him better. It’s a tornado, an avalanche in my body,
and in one breathless moment, I decide to go for it. It’s okay. I can take the
blame for it later.
I break the rules and reach up and kiss him. A feathery peck
on his plump lips, it’s a kiss of solidarity, a kiss that intends to tell him I
understand—but one isn’t enough. It only manages to ratchet up my lust. So I
give him another, this time on the corner of his mouth, and then another one on
his jaw.
It’s not enough, these small, barely-there touches. I want
more, but I won’t take it. I’ll be good; I’ll only give.
Abruptly, he fists my curls and stops me. I look at him
fearfully, ready to apologize—not for the kiss, but for being the kisser. His
gaze reflects passion, stark, raving need, and I shiver, despite wearing layers
and sweating with his heat.
“Are you trying to kiss me, Layla?” he rasps, flexing his
fingers on my makeshift ponytail.
He couldn’t tell? Blush rises to the surface and I know I’m
glowing like a neon sign. Swallowing, I nod. “Yes.”
He inches closer to me, still not touching—as impossible as
that is—but infinitely closer. “You want to kiss me, Miss Robinson, you do it
right.”
Oh God, does he have to call me that? Now, here? My spine
arches on its own and my heavy tits graze the contours of his shuddering chest.
“H-How?” I ask innocently, belying the daring action of my
body. His stern, professor-y voice is doing things to me, making me wild,
uncontrolled.
For a second, he’s silent, just watching. I’m afraid he’ll
back out from whatever this is, whatever insanity we’re about to commit—but
then I sense the shift in the liquor-laced air as he opens his mouth and
growls, “Like this.”
Twisting my hair in his grasp, he swallows my lips in his
mouth. He sucks on the shape of my sensitive flesh and all I can do is let him.
I put my palms on his shoulders, feeling the heated muscles under the soft
material of his t-shirt. His chest shifts and slides over my breasts, like a
wave of water. I want to be drenched with it. I want every drop of his sweat,
his lust on every inch of my skin. I pull him toward me so he can crush me with
his massive weight.
He doesn’t budge though. He stands there, unfazed, still
devouring my lips, immobile. His tongue thrusts in and licks me from the
inside—the roof of my mouth, my tongue, my teeth. He is after my essence, the
special taste that lives deep. He growls when he gets it, my flavor, and the
pressure of his grip on my hair increases tenfold.
It’s painful, but not enough to tamp down my arousal. I give
up my attempts to bring him to me. Rather, I go to him. I lift my leg and wrap
it around his waist. My hands creep up and lock around his neck. I climb him
like an ivy, toxic and poisonous and shameless.
I press my body to his and kiss him back with everything I
am. I pour my soul into it. For these few moments, I become a balm to his pain.
But it doesn’t last long. My selfishness and my need for him
take over. My core starts leaking and it becomes hard to remember I’m only
meant to give, not to take.
I rotate my hips, searching for that magical friction
against the ridged planes of his body. Then I feel it—his erection against my
upper tummy. It’s huge. Hard. A heated rod. It’s alive, and when I move against
it, I feel it throb. A tortured moan rips out of his chest.
Thomas tears his mouth away from me and even my soul mourns
the loss. We stare at each other, gasping for breath. I’m still clung around
him and his cock is still nestled between our aroused bodies. I adjust my thigh
around his hip, and it throbs with the small movement.
“Don’t fucking move,” he tells me, emphasizing it with a tug
on my hair.
“Okay.” I swallow. “I’m sorry.”
A pained chuckle. “For what?”
“I made you kiss me.”
The legendary tic makes its appearance at the heel of my
words. It drums on his jaw like a secondary heart, or maybe a time bomb. “You
did, didn’t you?”
Unable to talk, I simply nod.
In answer, he lodges his thigh between my legs and presses
on my core. It’s an electric shock multiplied by a strike of lightning, and I
almost burst into flames.
“Wh-What…” I try to speak but he increases the pressure,
eliciting a moan from me.
“Why?” he whispers, noting my lusty reactions. “Why did you
make me do it, Layla?”
“Because I—”
Again, he repeats his movements, reducing me to wordless,
needy moans. What is he doing?
“Because you what?”
“Because I do this kind of thing. I-I’m selfish and bad…” I
moan, doused in shame and arousal. “I take what I want because I can’t control
myself. I don’t want to.”
“And you want me, don’t you?” When I don’t answer, he tugs
on my hair sharply. “You want me, Layla.”
It’s not a question, but still I nod my head. Yes, I want
him. I’ve wanted him since the first time I saw him. I want him more and more
with each passing day. I want him because he’s like me. He’s in unrequited love
and I want to save him, somehow.
His eyes shine with satisfaction, a sense of victory at my
answer. He loves my desperation and it makes me hornier.
We’re so fucked, my omniscient heart says. I agree.
“I can do whatever I want with you and you’ll let me. Isn’t
that right, Layla?” He licks his lips as if savoring his own words. “I can tell
you to jump and you’ll ask how high. I can tell you to strip and you’ll strip
as if your clothes are on fire.”
“Yes,” I moan.
He rewards me by grinding his muscular thigh and my cunt
pulses. My lust-addled brain commands me to move, to chase the friction, and I
do it. I slide up and down his maddening leg, digging my nails into his scalp
as the pleasure mounts.
I feel the angry and rhythmic jerk of his cock on my stomach
and I love it. I love the fact that I’ve shed all my inhibitions and am reduced
to this, a lust-drunk puppet. I love that it gives Thomas pleasure. He isn’t
sad anymore, or vulnerable.
Yes, I love all that.
His pain has become my pain, and it’s going to make me come
on his leg. I watch Thomas with hazy eyes. I watch the arrogant slope of his
flushed cheeks. I watch his dilated pupils, his wet, parted lips. All the
while, I’m moving, humping his leg. Up and down. Up and down.
“Of course you will,” he rasps. “Will you come for me,
Layla?”
I jerk out a nod. In the back of my mind, I know how wrong
this is, how shameful, but I can’t stop myself. As Thomas said, I’ll do
anything for him in this moment.
My movements are haphazard now, jerky, epileptic. I want it
so bad. I want my cum to gush so hard it seeps through my panties and leaves a
wet patch on his jeans.
The graphic, vulgar thought pushes me over the edge. Hard
and moaning, I come, just the way I wanted—no, just the way he wanted. I was
simply following his orders. My mind is filled with cotton and shooting stars
and static. I want to bask in it forever.
Oh God, it’s so good. So good.
The pressure on my body eases. I don’t feel his muscles
between my legs, and the harsh grip on my hair has vanished. In the wake of my
orgasm, Thomas has let me go, and in turn, forced me to unwind my body from
his.
I’m still recovering from my climax, leaning against the
wall for balance, but I try to focus. Thomas is watching me, intensely, his
flaming eyes working double-time to take me in, his hands on either side of my
head.
“Do you understand what I’m telling you, Layla? Can you hear
your heart beating? Is it trying to pound through your chest? Do you think you
can control it? Tell it to calm down? Your hips are still shaking. I bet you’re
still leaking cum, aren’t you? Do you think you can control any of that?”
I shake my head.
“Yeah, that’s right. You’d be surprised to know how many
things aren’t your fault at all.” His eyes bore into mine, as if telling me the
importance of his declaration.
For a second, I can’t make the connection between what he’s
telling me and what happened here, but then I get it. He’s absolving me. He’s
rendering me blameless for kissing him, for making him kiss me. I wonder if
this absolution includes what happened with Caleb. Am I free of those sins too?
My heart scoffs. Are you kidding? We tricked him into having
sex.
“I saw you,” I blurt out without thinking.
As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I know in my bones
that this will destroy whatever kindness he’s harboring toward me.
“Through the window,” I add, because I can’t handle not
being blamed.
Everything is always my fault. The broken vases at home.
Muddy footprints on the tile floors. The missing bottles of liquor from the
cabinet. Caleb’s missing underwear. The fact that he ran off to college a month
early and won’t even visit home. The fact that I shoplifted, drank and drove
numerous times, crashed parties, broke my mom’s ice sculpture.
It’s all my fault. It’s just like me to do those things. I
want Thomas’ accusation too.
“I saw how lonely you were. I saw the anger on your face,
the way you…the way you paced around the room, like you were trapped.” The
scene plays in my head: his frantic steps, his hands tugging at his hair.
Then the scene changes and I’m outside his bedroom window.
“And-And then you were with her—Hadley. I… You were talking and you looked so
sad and angry, and then she left. I kept watching your back and your shoulders.
They were so tight and I could see the effort it took you to keep yourself
together. Then you picked up a vase and I thought you’d throw it against the
wall, break it, because I know your heart was breaking, but you held on to it.
You set it down gently. You were better than me. I-I could never have done
that.”
Nothing moves on his body. I don’t know if he’s breathing,
if he’s even seeing me.
“Thomas, I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to see it. I…”
Then he shifts on his feet and the overhead light slashes
his face into two halves of shadow and light. He appears beastly, like an
animal with bright eyes and hard face. For the first time since I began my
confession, I feel a tinge of true fear.
I can see he wants to do something, maybe harm me
physically. His body is taut with violence. He looks bigger, enlarged with the
barely leashed control. For a second, I think he does lose control. His hands
jerk and ball into fists, but then he takes a shallow, choppy breath.
“Stay the fuck away from me,” he says softly, deadly.
 With that, he marches
out of the storage room.
Author Bio
Writer of bad romances. Coffee Addict. White Russian
Drinker. Imaginary Ballet Dancer and poetess. Aspiring Lana Del Ray of the book
world.
I’m a big believer in love (obviously). I believe in happily ever after, the
butterflies and the tingling. But I also believe in edgy, rough and gutsy kind
of love. I believe in pushing the boundaries, darker (sometimes morally
ambiguous) emotions and imperfections.The kind of love I write about is flawed just like my characters. And I hope by
the end of it, you’ll come to root for them just as much as me. Because love,
no matter where it comes from, is always pure and beautiful.



 

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Chapter Reveal: Twice as Hard by Amber Bardan

 

 

Coming March 20th

 

 

 

They caught me. Naked, shivering and dripping after a spontaneous swim in the forest. Two rugged men whose hard gazes captivated and scared me all at once.

They warned me. Told me I was on private property and I needed to obey the law…or I would be punished.

The idea of them both punishing me, pleasuring me, kept tormenting me. I couldn’t want them. I shouldn’t. But I did.

I didn’t mean to trespass again. I thought I could retreat without notice. But they’re coming for me.

To show me the pleasure in pain. To show me just how right forbidden can feel. And to love me twice as hard as I ever fantasized.

 

 

I run up the track. My thighs scream—but I can’t stop yet. Pain blazes from my blistered heels. The ground levels out. My sneakers slide on dirt.
Fuck.
The world disappears, dropping out only yards from where I’m stopped.
I go to my knees, gasping. The urge to vomit rises hard in my throat, yet the sight ahead pierces me almost as sharply as the burning in my lungs. The view from the peak of Hunter Mountain is everything I’ve been led to believe. I press my palms to the earth. Oh god, the air is good.
So damned good.
Fragrant and so clean I’ve only experienced its pale imitation from a bottle. Forest scent. Almost makes this worth it. Almost. I fill my lungs, and my racing heart slows a fraction. I drop onto my heels. Green rolling hills and the kind of quiet I’ve only imagined stretch out before me.
I shut my eyes. In my thirty-one years I’ve never experienced a moment of quiet like this. Where the loudest thing competing for my attention is the sound of me—my breath.
My galloping pulse.
There’s always been a background noise so ever present I never noticed it until this absence. Traffic. Street. People. The whine of electronics a constant hum.
Pity there’s not a moment of peace to be found.
Not now. Not like this. Not on my own.
Why’d he send me here?
Flapping jerks me out of my thoughts. I look up. Broad, dark wings beat overhead.
Holy crap. Is that an actual eagle? The huge bird soars over the ledge to hover above the ravine.
Hunting.
On Hunter Mountain. I drag my backpack off my shoulders, and open it up, fingers slipping into the inside pocket where the letter waits.
I roll onto my backside, and then peel back the seal from one side of the envelope to the other, glue stretching like cheese for a moment before snapping. My thumb pauses in the fold of the paper. I unfold the note a fraction at a time.

Congratulations, Baby, you made it.
Aren’t you glad you did?
Enjoy the view for half an hour. Set your timer, you impatient little thing. Then take the path to left, there’s something there I want you to see.

I scrunch the paper into a ball, and it’s only the abomination of littering in a place like this, that stops me from hurling it in the direction of the eagle.
That’s it?
I’ve come all this way, suffered through so much, for a hike?
Why’d he even bother? I’m not sure if this is him trying to hang on—or refusing to completely let go.
Neither answer is one I’m prepared to dwell on. So I gather together the remnants of my hopefulness and obey my husband, setting my timer exactly as he’s instructed. Then drink from my water bottle and eat an apple to pass time, because he’s right—I’m a very impatient thing.
The beep pings from my phone. With the nonexistent reception here, an alarm is about all the phone’s good for.
I tuck the phone away, slip the backpack on and stand. My legs give a jellied wobble, leaving me with a feeling of walking on bendy stilts. I circle the top of the mountain, then find a track on the left, the one he must’ve meant.
Do Not Enter, the sign reads.
Of course it does. I sigh and take the path, adjusting the straps of the bag and wondering what fresh torture he has in store for me.

One small mercy, walking down is a damn sight easier than running up.
I descend into the trees and the silence bleeds into a more organic quiet, where birds rustle, things move, and then…water rushes.
I pick up pace. Tired or not, I jog down the path toward the sound, then burst into a clearing.
The scent of water hits me.
I stare at the stream plunging over a hanging ledge. My eyes widen as if I could somehow take it in more. A real waterfall.
A heady mix of awe and joy floods me.
Bounced from one L.A. foster home to the next, vacations and sightseeing hadn’t been any part of my upbringing. I’d worked my ass off to get into college, then worked it even harder in my good, safe, secure bank job to pay off student loans—until him.
Until Dean came along and every plan I ever had went up in flames.
But this? Waterfall. Had I mentioned on one of our lazy Sunday mornings after he’d fucked me into exhaustion, how I’d always longed to see one?
My chest squeezes. Maybe this means he forgives me…
I take off the backpack and toss it onto the ground. Then tear off my top, kick off my shoes and peel off my socks. The late spring air has my nipples puckering, but I unhook my bra and let it fall where I stand.
He hasn’t instructed this part, but I can just see him imagining it when he wrote the note. He’d picture me unable to resist skinny dipping in the wilderness.
Had it made him hard when he’d told me to come this way?
I undo the button at my waist and peel off my jeans. My underwear goes next. Then I walk buck naked toward the water.
Of course he’d been hard.
He’d have known I’d do just this. My thighs squeeze. Heat moves through me. I’m naked out in the open without Dean and he can’t do a thing to stop me.
I climb onto a rock.
A laugh springs from my lips. The sound echoes back at me, clear and crisp and startling. It’s been too long since I’ve heard that sound.
I leap into the water.
Freezing cold slams into me. I resurface with a gasp. Oh, shit. The water’s not just cold it’s so icy it has teeth. Still, I do the thing I’ve always, always wanted to do, and swim to the waterfall. Foam and bubbles, and the current seem to force me back. A tremor of danger moves through me. It could be risky to try to swim through the waterfall.
I take a breath and dive underwater. Pressure pounds my back then dissipates. I emerge on the other side, and look up. The water curtains me from the outside world.
Sadly, no cave, but I climb onto the bit of rock ledge and watch for the brief moment before cold and self-preservation force me down.
That’s the thing about fantasy, you never dream these parts—the threat of hypothermia or how a slimy rock feels on your bare ass.
I dive back through the waterfall, and swim toward where I’ve left my things. My skin goes numb. A blanket of goose bumps coats my limbs. I collect my carelessly scattered clothes. Dirt and mossy chunks of forest floor cling to my feet and work up my ankles. My teeth chatter. I bend to retrieve my underwear and jeans.
Sound crunches behind me.
I spin, clothes clutched in my hands. A man stands in front of me, maybe six feet away. My heart seizes.
He stares, gaze raking over me as though he’s never seen a woman. From the looks of him maybe he never has. His beard is rough, dark and speckled with silver, but it’s the jaw underneath—clenched tight as he takes me in, that has my own teeth biting together. He’s built like someone who spends his days felling trees or wrestling grizzlies.
Or both.
My pulse mimics the sound of the waterfall, growing louder in my ears, until I don’t know which roar is which. That whole big body seems poised.
Set to pounce.
“I didn’t know anyone was here.” My voice emerges strangled and rusty.
He says nothing, but his gaze makes its way from where I clutch my things to my chest, then lands on mine.
His features set hungrily, tension thrumming tight through his expression in a way that makes me feel like a buffet that’s being presented at the very brink of starvation.
I can almost feel my heart beat against my forearms through the clothes I hold. Air moves in icy prickles over my naked thighs and between my legs. His attention moves there. To my uncovered cunt, which my bundle of clothes doesn’t hide.
His chest moves quickly, like he’s an animal under the heat of too much sun.
His fingers twitch at his sides. Big fingers. He has big fingers and big hands. Hands that would hold roughly. Fingers that would grab brutally.
And I can’t move. Can’t cover myself. Can’t conceal my most private area.
He takes a step—just one.
I jerk backward and stumble. My clothes tumble to the ground.
He looks at my chest. At my breasts, nipples puckered and strained. There’s a sensation rushing through me that reminds me of the brief period in my teens when I’d get high. A light-headedness that suspends me almost out of body.
He hisses, and comes for me.
A jolt of numbness plunges me back into frozen atrophy.
A blast rings out. Birds spring from trees.
A gunshot.

 


After spending years imagining fictional adventures, Amber finally found a way to turn daydreaming into a productive habit. She now spends her time in a coffee-fuelled adrenaline haze, writing romance with a thriller edge.

She lives with her husband and children in semi-rural Australia, where if she peers outside at the right moment she might just see a kangaroo bounce by.

Amber is an award winning writer, Amazon Bestselling Author, and member of Romance Writers of Australia, Melbourne Romance Writers Guild, and Writers Victoria.

 

Author Links

 

 

COVER & CHAPTER REVEAL: Detoured by Love by Michelle Lynn

 

Title: Detoured by Love
Author: Michelle Lynn
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Cover Design: Okay Creations
Release Date: November 10, 2016
Blurb
Carly Lincoln is just months away from claiming her overdue promotion. The plush corner office, the view, the prestige is finally within her grasp. She’s worked her entire life to make her dream, her reality. But when an unexpected boulder blocks her perfectly paved path, Carly is forced to reevaluate her goals.Bryant Garrity is just months away from another season. Last year, the star quarterback crumbled to a mere mortal on the games biggest stage. The blood. The sweat. The tears. He’s back and ready to return to his spot among the elite. His sole focus is one last shot at glory. But the detour on the road ahead, might cause him to alter his route.Love isn’t on either of their radars, but Carly and Bryant’s paths are about to collide.

Pre-order Link
 detoured-by-love-teaser
Chapter One
Carly

The sky is dark, and the air is quiet, except for the soft hum of the band playing at the resort. Nightly walks keep me sane in my job as a travel agent for corporations. After shuffling people off tour buses to ruins to swimming with the dolphins or scuba diving, my busy days end at five. Every night, I walk the shoreline of the ocean, letting the coolness of the water rise over my feet.My phone rings in my pocket, and I slowly move off course, away from a couple holding hands. I pull my phone out of my back pocket and trudge through the sand.

“Hey, Riley,” I answer.

“I’m getting married!”

I press my finger against my free ear to hush the echo of crashing waves. My heart flutters out of my chest before it drops dead into its dark dungeon again, but not because my baby sister has decided to promise her love to only one. I couldn’t be happier for her and her now fiancé, Cameron. The problem is, my sister’s upcoming nuptials will put me face-to-face with my ex-fiancé, Dean. Worse, my guess is, Dean will be the best man, which means that I’ll be walking down the aisle with him after all.

Why, again, did I meddle in my sister’s life and introduce her to Dean’s best friend, Cameron, all those years ago? Oh, right, I had a sparkling ring on my left hand and believed in the happily-ever-after crap.

“That’s great, Riley.”

I’m happy for my sister and not even close to upset that she’s embarking on my mom’s and sister Renee’s designated path. Nope, because that ship sailed for me when I left my perfect fiancé at the altar of my childhood church. In the last three years, I haven’t regretted that decision. I mean, who wouldn’t want my life?

My job is more like vacation than work. Traveling to exotic islands with all expenses paid isn’t hard. Living two hundred days of the year with my toes wiggling in the sand is easy. Give me a break; no one’s life compares. I have no one to answer to. I have no one who expects things. I have no one to report to.

“So, you’ll be my maid of honor?” Her question yanks me back to our conversation, like an anchor to a cruise ship.

I was blissfully happy, leisurely sailing along the ocean, by myself.

Maid of honor?

“What about Sara? You two have been best friends since preschool.”

“Carly, she’s not my sister. Plus, all she cares about is planning the bachelorette party.”

Great, so I’ll be drinking out of a penis-shaped cup with a lit-up penis necklace adorning my neck and eating jelly candy–shaped penises. Fun times.

“I’m really okay with just being a bridesmaid. What about Renee? She’s done it before.”

Renee, my older sister, the one who married young, lives two streets over from my parents and buys my mom’s favorite grocery items when they go on sale. You know, she’s the favorite child.

I stop right before I reach the hotel and sit down. My toes dig their way through the small particles of sand. Did I mention I never pay for a pedicure?

“You don’t want to do it? Is this because of Dean?”

I scoff, my toes reaching the cold and damp layer of sand.

“No, that’s not an issue.”

“Carly,” she says my name slow, as though I’m going to admit I’d rather cut off my feet than walk down the aisle with Dean. There is a reason I didn’t do it the first time. “I know it’s hard, but I need my sister. Mom’s going to drive me crazy with her anal obsession of daily calendars, spreadsheets, and time-scheduling.”

I stare out to the moon reflecting down on the ocean. Seriously, people would kill for my life.

“Riley,” I sigh, hesitating longer, hoping she’ll relent and not push me toward standing up in her wedding.

“I ran interference for you.” The slight whine that must be built in the DNA of the youngest child rings in my ears.

Oh, she’s pulling the big guns.

“That’s different.”

“Different!” she screeches. “Carly, I had to walk down that aisle, ask the organist to stop playing, and tell everyone that the bride just sped off in the limo without the groom.”

She’s got me.

My back collapses into the sand. “Fine.” The entire word depletes my energy.

“You’re the best. I knew I could count on you. When will you get back to Chicago?”

I cup a handful of sand in my palm, letting it slither down my closed fist. This is going to suck. Big time.

“Three days.”

I hear the claps from her hands.

“Great. We need to start planning. Oh, I forgot to tell you the most important thing.” The whine in her voice fading.

“What?”

“I want a July wedding, like Mom and Dad.”

“Riley, it’s April.”

“Why do you think I need you to get back as soon as possible?”

Hearing her excitement over the line probably doesn’t compare to seeing her in person. I envision her wide smile and rosy complexion.

“You really love him, right?” I ask the question that no one cared to ask me three years ago.

“Carly,” she sighs, thinking my question has something to do with Dean.

It doesn’t because I did love him. He just didn’t love me enough.

“Answer the question. I want to hear it from your lips.” I stand up and brush the sand off my butt.

“Yeah.” Her sultry tone confirms what I already knew.

She’s found him, her one.

Cameron is nothing like Dean, and I have to remember that fact during their whirlwind wedding, especially since I’ll be thrown back into a room with him until July.

“You’re going to continue working for your master’s right?” I ask because my mom won’t.

“Yeah. Cameron said he’d support us until I graduated. Isn’t he the best?”

A better man than his best friend.
“Yeah, he is.” I catch a man sitting in the sand ahead of me.

His hoodie-covered head faces the ocean with his elbows propped up on his raised knees.

“Okay, I gotta go. I have to call Darla, Tina—”

“Stay on for just a second more,” I whisper so that the man who I’m fast approaching doesn’t overhear.

“Why? Why is your voice shaking?” Riley asks.

I shush her through the receiver.

“I hate that you travel by yourself so much.”

“I’m not by myself.”

“You are now. This is what Mom’s talking about, Carly. You have to settle—”

“Shh.”

I’m behind him, and my eyes watch him for any quick movements. He doesn’t even stir, like he has no idea he’s not alone on this beach. Once I’m a safe distance from him, my eyes fixate on the pier that goes back to the resort. My feet move faster, digging further into the sand to gain momentum.

“Okay, go call your friends,” I say.

“Carly, what was that?”

“Just some guy on the beach. I wanted to make sure someone could call the police if needed.”

With every new glow of a resort light in my view, another one of my body’s limbs relaxes.

“I worry about you,” she says.

“Oh, I’m fine. Go call your friends.”

“You’re safe now?”

“Yep.”

“Okay, love you. Call me when you get back.”

“Congratulations, Riley. I love you, too.”

I hang up and glance behind me. The suspecting male is in the same position. I look to the wooden stairs that lead me off the sand and to the resort and then back to the ocean one last time for tonight. How could anyone not love to stare at this every night or to fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves? My job should be on some newspaper article for the best career choice.

My barefoot steps on the wooden plank of the stair, and a scream echoes through the ominous air. My mind floods with horrific images, and I instantly glance to where that man was sitting.

Did he pass me up for his next victim?

Immediately, news images of vacation stories when young girls go missing flood my head. I’d be a worthless witness because I never saw the guy’s face. I mean, a gray sweatshirt isn’t really a clue to catching an abductor.

My stomach plummets when I find the spot on the sand empty. I whip around so fast that the tail of my ponytail hits my cheek. The man is sprinting toward a woman who’s waving her hands on the other side of the resort.

Wait, that bleach-blonde hair is familiar.

My eyes shoot out to the dark water. Two flailing arms are swishing the water back and forth.

“Help!” I scream to no one who’s immediately around me.

I sprint after the man, my feet sore from the friction of the sand.

He strips off his sweatshirt, revealing a back most men would envy. He doesn’t bother slipping out of his sandals and dives into the first wave that combats him. The foreign male swims toward whom I now recognize as my client Mr. Fuller.

By the time I reach Mrs. Fuller, I’m heaving for breath. One hand is clasped over her heart, and the other is over her mouth.

“Here.” I take one side of her expensive silk blouse to cover her bare breast.

She looks down. “Oh my God.” Even though her skin is a golden hue from her extended time in the Caribbean, a pink flushes her cheeks. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs, buttoning up.

“What are you sorry for? Loving your husband?”

She smiles briefly and turns her attention back to the ocean. The man has his arm around Mr. Fuller’s neck until he reaches the shallow area and can no longer swim. Picking Mr. Fuller up as though he’s a child, no muscle strain whatsoever, the man carries him over, placing him on the sand.

“Oh, Kevin!” Mrs. Fuller says, falling to her knees at her husband’s side.

Just then, the staff from the hotel rushes out to the beach with cases full of medical supplies.

Mr. Fuller coughs a few times, and the resort medical group assists him to roll over to his side.

The man stands idly behind everyone, catching his own breath. My eyes concentrate on the droplets of water dripping off the hard ridges of his muscles. His hair is dark, and it matches his features of his olive skin tone and a scruff that I assume is his vacation growth.

Most would collapse into the sand right next to Mr. Fuller, but this man appears unfazed from the exertion his body must have taken from swimming through a current and dragging at least two hundred pounds back with him.

As Mrs. Fuller is busy holding her husband’s hand and the medical group is concentrating on checking over Mr. Fuller, my eyes fixate on the man in front of me. This is what I imagine encountering one of the most beautiful people from those special edition magazines would be like. Even his crooked nose suits him better than if it were straight. A dangerous yet safe element surrounds him.

My vision awakens thoughts of him exhausting me in bed, only to cuddle me afterward. With that thought, my heart’s rhythm syncs with the fast beat of the steel drums echoing from the resort.

My eyes cast further down from his perfect abs, but a deep throat clearing interrupts me. My eyes fly back up to his face. The right side of his lips quirk up in the most egotistical smirk I’ve ever encountered on a man. Again, it fits him though. His confidence is sexy and appealing, and beads of sweat form across my hairline.

Straightening my shoulders, I pull the hem of my T-shirt down over my hips. I break the few feet between us, holding my hand out in front of me. “Thank you, sir.”

He studies my hand for a moment, wipes his own hand on his drenched shorts, and shakes mine, firm and quick, leaving a few pieces of wet sand on my palm. Nothing too meaningful, except for the zing of electricity up my arm.

“Hey.” His gruff and unapproachable voice makes me distance myself from him.

Once Mr. Fuller has sat up and appears to be okay, Mrs. Fuller springs to her feet. Rushing over to the man who has yet to give me his name, she tackles him, and he practically falls over— if the man built of bricks could actually collapse, that is.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” she gushes.

He chuckles. “You’re welcome,” his husky voice says.

She steps back, straightening out her blouse that became wet from hugging Mr. Fuller.

“Oh my,” she fawns. She glances back to me, widening her eyes.

I shoot a smile to appease her, but she bugs them out more, nonverbally saying, Look at this man. I roll my eyes, silently telling her, Yeah, I’ve seen him, but unfortunately, he isn’t as pleasant as he looks.

She retracts her hand before it lands on his bicep. “We owe you.”

He shakes his head, little beads of water falling from his dark strands onto his shoulders. “No, ma’am. I’m glad your husband is okay.” He smiles, and an amazing mouthful of sparkling white teeth emerges.

My knees weaken.

“No, please. He could have drowned,” she continues.

Mr. Fuller slowly rises to his feet with the help of two medics. “I wouldn’t go that far, Marci.”

She leaves Mr. Lifeguard to help steady her husband. Once she swings her arm through his, he glances over to me and winks.

The two of them have been married for forty years. They’re empty nesters, except for their two poodles, Bella and Stella. They are one of those couples who can make critics like me believe in true love. Almost.

“You’ve gotta be shitting me.” Mr. Fuller’s mouth hangs open.

He waves off the medics, and they slowly walk back up to the resort. His stunned eyes are set on the man who saved him, as though he’s a kid standing in front of his childhood hero.

The guy looks at me from the corner of his eye, and then he studies the sand at his feet.

Embarrassed?

“Bryant Garrity!” he exclaims.

Mrs. Fuller’s face matches Mr. Fuller’s excited tone of voice, as though she knows the man.

She sneaks a look my way. I can tell the name gives her no recollection. I shrug, having no idea who the hell Bryant Garrity is. The name sounds vaguely familiar, but I don’t recall anyone by that name on this trip.

“Yes, sir,” he answers, stepping forward and holding out his strong, large hand.

“Holy shit. A Heisman Trophy winner as well as a first-round draft pick and pro-bowl quarterback of the Chicago Knights just saved my life?”

“Some might assume I was a bum about to assault you.” He glances over to me, winks his cocky eye, and then gives Mr. Fuller a firm handshake.

“No, who would ever think that?” Mrs. Fuller adds.

I feel myself shrinking into my body.

“You’d be surprised, ma’am.”

Again, his damn blue eyes sparkle my way, and suddenly, with the words that came out of his mouth, the tornado of lust that his looks whirled me in moments ago dies a still death.

“Please be our guest for dinner tomorrow night,” Mr. Fuller requests.

The guy, whom I guess I should refer to by name, Bryant, shakes his head. “Not necessary.”

“Please, Bryant, we’d like to thank you for saving—”

“His life,” Mrs. Fuller interjects.

That low chuckle easily leaves his throat once more. “Um…sure.”

Mr. Fuller looks over to me, and soon, all three of their sets of eyes are pinged right in my direction.

“Carly, can we make a reservation for a private party on the beach for four?”

I eye Bryant, who’s now holding his arms over his chest. I swear, he could squash a watermelon with those biceps.

“Of course, Mr. Fuller. I’ll call first thing in the morning.”

I pull out my phone to set a reminder to get that done before the day’s activities tomorrow.

“Don’t forget to block time for the dinner in your calendar, too, Carly.”

I look up, and Mr. Fuller’s eyebrows are raised in my direction.

“What?”

“You had help in rescuing me, too,” he continues.

Bryant huffs.

Asshole.

“Oh, not really.” I toss off any compliment of helping.

“No objections, Carly. You will not hole yourself up in that hotel room of yours for another night here.” He laughs as my mouth hangs open.

It’s like I’m thirteen again, and my mom just told a boy on the phone that I was in the bathroom. I’m fairly sure a professional quarterback never sits alone in his hotel room.

“Great.” I lean forward and place my hand on Mr. Fuller’s shoulder. “I’m glad you’re okay, but I’d better get going. Call me if you need anything.” I flip my direction to Bryant. “It was nice meeting you, Mr. Garrity. Thank you for your heroic efforts in saving Mr. Fuller.”

I’m respectful and polite, right?

Bryant holds his hand out in front of me, his eyes squarely on me. “Have a nice night.” He pauses.

“Carly,” I bite out my name, not allowing myself to be discouraged that Mr. Fuller said my name no less than three times in the last five minutes.

“I’m wondering what your last name is.”

The two of our hands are slowly moving up and down.

“Lincoln,” I say.

He shoots me what I assume is his winning touchdown smile, and damn if my stomach doesn’t feel like a roaring stadium.

“Have a nice night, Mrs. Lincoln.”

I let go of his hand, and he chuckles again.

Seriously, what is wrong with this man?

“It’s Miss,” Mrs. Fuller corrects him.

I roll my eyes, earning another damn chuckle. Is there nothing this man won’t laugh at?

“Oh, here I thought, you holed yourself up in your room because you missed your husband.”

“You’ve got it all wrong. Our Carly is as single as they come.”

I choke on my own air. Seriously, Mrs. Fuller?

He tucks his hands into the wet pockets of his shorts, the shorts currently hanging off those sculpted hips. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, tomorrow.”

I move to pass him, and my toe hits something hard in the sand, catapulting me forward. Wanting to stop myself, I have no choice but to grab ahold of him. His hands instantly grip mine, and I fall into his strong, muscled arms.

Damn him and his mouthwatering body.

“I gotcha,” he says softly.

For a moment, I stare into his eyes, believing him.

Quickly, I straighten my body with his assistance of placing me back on my two feet.

“Have a good night,” I mumble, wanting to bend down to pick up the flashlight the medics left behind and chuck it into the ocean.

I sidestep him and try to hold up any dignity I have left as I disappear to the resort.

 

 

Author Bio

 

Michelle moved around the Midwest most of her life, transferring from school to school before settling down in the outskirts of Chicago ten years ago, where she now resides with her husband and two kids.  She developed a love of reading at a young age, which helped lay the foundation for her passion to write.   With the encouragement of her family, she finally sat down and wrote one of the many stories that have been floating around in her head. When she isn’t reading or writing, she can be found playing with her kids, talking to her mom on the phone, or hanging out with her family and friends.  But after chasing around two kindergarteners all day, she always cherishes her relaxation time after putting the kids to bed. 
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Chapter Reveal: The Trouble With Before by Portia Moore

 

Coming September 30th
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Our history made things harder.
We were associates out of convenience.
We tolerated each other.
I never saw her that way.
She never saw me that way.
She and I were never meant to be friends.
You’re not supposed to fall for your best friend’s enemy, even if the enemy is YOUR ex-best friend.
This isn’t the story of falling in love with your best friend.
It’s about falling out of hate.

 

The Trouble with before.png

 



Chapter 1
Aidan

You ever woken up with the feeling that you were going to have a really shitty day? When everything goes wrong from the moment you open your eyes? You look out the window and the weather is crappy, and your grams forgot to wash your favorite pair of underwear, and instead of her making your favorite pancakes for breakfast, she’s out globe-trotting with her lover and you’re stuck eating old people cereal- the crappy flakes with no taste- that you can’t even make edible with sugar because you stopped buying it after her doctor suggested she use Splenda instead, and she’s never even here to not use the sugar she’s supposed to be avoiding… and you forgot to go grocery shopping to get cereal that’s actually worth eating?
Splenda sucks. It’s sugar’s ugly cousin.
I choke down the last spoonful of tasteless crap, and my stomach is still growling. The fridge is stocked with bacon and sausage, but it’s all frozen. At times like this, I question my bachelorhood and think it’d be really cool to have a girlfriend who could cook when my Grams decides to go all single twenty-year-old. That thought doesn’t last long though. It shrivels up and dies as my phone vibrates. It’s my sort-of-ex Hillary, the blond bombshell. I call her that because she’s hot and explodes all over the place, and she’s a sort-of ex because she acts like an ex, but we were never really together.
Why? Well, aside from the fact that having a girlfriend is like renting a house when you can live in a whole lot of hotels for free, Hillary pretended to be normal—like all girls do—then turned out to be bat-shit crazy—like all the girls who get on this ride are. That is exactly why I don’t do girlfriends. My track record is embarrassing.
My first g-girlfriend—I can’t even say the word without shuddering—was in middle school. Cassandra Beyers was a cute little redhead who was the first girl in our class to need a training bra, and I wanted to be the first guy to learn to take one off. I was successful and grinning from ear to ear after she let me touch what was then the Holy Grail, but afterward, for some reason, she thought I was her boyfriend and that she could tell me all her secrets. One of those secrets was that she liked to sniff her armpits.
Like, who the hell likes to sniff their armpits? I broke up with her the next day. It really wasn’t a breakup since we were never really together, but she slashed the tires on my bike, years before girls were supposed to go psycho on dudes. I had a woman before her time.
In high school, I was smart and made sure to date as many girls as possible, so my next girlfriend wasn’t until after high school. I met Shawna right after I graduated and before I enlisted in the army. Shawna was great. She was a singer, cute, didn’t want to smell any weird body parts, and had an amazing ass. But for some reason, she was intent on having a fucking kid. I hadn’t known her for more than four months before she wanted me to have a baby with her. I wasn’t even nineteen yet. After I caught her poking holes in my condoms, I got the hell out of Dodge!
Which brings us to Hillary. The moment I saw her, I knew I wanted to do her. She was one of the sexiest women I’d ever seen. She was like a potty-mouthed Kick Your Ass Barbie. I met her through my best friend Chris’s wife. We were at dinner, and Chris’s fiancée was giving his wife, Lauren, a bunch of shit. How Chris has a wife and fiancée is a whole other story, but anyway, Hillary practically attacked the fiancée, Jenna, over giving Hillary’s best friend, Lauren, shit. The way Hillary flew over the dinner table after throwing a pitcher of water in Jenna’s face, who really is a bitch who deserved it, I thought I was in love. Nah, just kidding.
I knew I was in lust though.
That night, Hillary was screaming my name louder than she’d been screaming at Jenna at dinner. It was the best sex I’d ever had, wild and passionate. She was like a fuckin’ porn star, and she got it! That I didn’t want anything serious. Well, she claimed to get it, until she didn’t. She started to want to go out all the time—which is fine, I’m always down for a good time—but then she started to get crazy jealous, which was not a good time at all. I wanted to cut her loose, but she’s my best friend’s wife’s best friend, and I didn’t want things to get ugly.
So I kind of kept sleeping with her because the sex was phenomenal.
Then she sort of started to act as though we were a couple, which was not supposed to happen. We were just supposed to be having a lot of fun. Hillary lives in Chicago, and I won’t lie, being with her there was a breath of fresh air from stale Madison, Michigan. I was going back and forth because Chris and I are opening a car restoration shop in Chicago, and it was kind of cool to have someone on speed dial there who got that sometimes good sex is just good sex. Well, until she started not to get it.
I’ve lived a lot of places. My dad was a sergeant in the army, so Mom and I followed him to so many different states: Arizona, New Mexico, Ohio, New Jersey, California, Ohio and even spent a little while in Paris. But Michigan always felt like home. For one, it was where my grams lived and was always kind of our home base, and two, it was the only place that I had real friends growing up. It’s funny how a decision like where you live can change your whole life. If my dad had chosen to live anywhere other than on Pine Circle, who knows who I could have become or how I would have turned out. But since he did choose Pine Circle, it was pretty easy for me and my next-door neighbors to become best friends.
I met Chris first. If there was a picture in the dictionary of an all-American family, it was Chris’s. He was like my generation’s version of Leave It to Beaver. He was a cute kid for a boy, I guess. A lot of girls liked him, almost as many as liked me… but we were complete opposites. He was nice, and not in the fake way most kids acted when adults were around. He was nice all the time. He followed the rules and did his homework and chores without having to get screamed at. He didn’t even swear much.
I don’t know if I believe in God after all the things I’ve seen while on tour, but if there is one, I believe he gives kids who don’t have siblings amazing best friends, because if I hadn’t had Chris as a best friend, who knows what all trouble I’d have landed in. He’s like the conscience that never shut up.
My phone rings again. This time, it’s a woman’s name I don’t cringe at seeing.
“Ms. Red!” I answer.
“Hi, Aidan, how are you?” she asks.
Her good mood is contagious, and I smile. Ms. Red is Chris’s mom and has been a surrogate mother to me since my own mom checked out after my dad died. She is one of the sweetest people I know, but she’s has had her fair share of shit dropped on her, including cancer and her husband being the biggest dick ever.
“I’m good. How about you?” I ask, hoping her happiness is genuine.
“I’m doing pretty well. Are you back from Chicago?”
I hear grease popping in the background, and my mouth waters. I glance at my phone and see it’s almost eight thirty, which is way past breakfast time at the Scotts’ house. They’re up with the roosters, literally. One of the only families I know that still runs a successful farm.
“I am, I got back last night,” I tell her.
“Great, I was wondering if you’ve eaten yet? Your grandmother mentioned you might need some breakfast since she was going to be gone for a while.” She laughs.
“Hell yeah!” I say, too excited. Not only is Ms. Red an awesome person, but she’s a freakin’ amazing cook. “I mean, yes, I’m starving.”
“Great, I’ll be done in about ten minutes if you want to head over.”
“Cool, I’ll be there in five!”

***
Before I’m even up the steps, I can practically taste Ms. Red’s famous homemade biscuits, rice, and gravy. If I’m lucky, she’s made sausage.
“Aidan!”
I steady my balance, ready for my favorite little person in the world to jump on me. She runs down the steps, her blond pigtails bouncing all over the place, and I brace myself as she jumps into my arms.
“What’s up, Willa bear?” I ask, lifting her over my shoulders.
“Guess what?” she asks sneakily.
“Let’s see… you’ve grown a tail?”
She smacks her lips. “No! I got A-plus on my spelling test,” she says with all the excitement of an eight-year-old on a sugar rush.
I set her down and give her a high five. “That’s awesome!” I take her hand as I walk up to the door, but she jumps in front of me with her hand held out.
“Remember what you said?” She laughs, her eyes twinkling, and I push the thought of her mother out of my head.
I let out an exaggerated sigh and pull the ten bucks I promised her out of my back pocket. “You’re breaking me kid,” I say with fake irritation.
She snatches it out of my hand and runs into the house. I follow her inside.
“Aidan, it’s so good to see you,” Ms. Red says, ushering me over to the sink after giving me a quick hug.
“You called me right on time. I’m starving.” After I finish washing my hands, I sit down at the table.
She sets a plate of rice, gravy biscuits, and score, sausage in front of me.
“Jackpot.” I rub my hands together before digging in.
She lightly swats my shoulder before frowning at me. I sigh and bow my head to say a quick grace, then I can stuff my face. I watch her pour me a glass of lemonade, and I notice no one else is eating.
“We all ate earlier. You know us.” She smiles with a quick shrug before sitting across from me. “So tell me, how is my little one?” She rests her chin in her hand as she watches me devour my food.
I swallow a spoonful of rice before rinsing my mouth with orange juice. “Chris or Caylen?” I joke, and she lets out a small laugh. “The big one is pretty much going crazy since Lauren just hit the six-month mark and he’s going to have three women in the house soon. Caylen is keeping him busy too.”
I reflect on the couple of days I spent with her son’s family. After visiting that household, I realize how calm my life is, which says a lot. My life is far from calm, but having a wife, a little girl, and twins on the way makes my friend’s life a circus.
“I can’t wait until I get there. I’m going next week to stay with them until Lauren has the babies.” She beams.
“I’m going to take care of Daddy and do all the cooking,” Willa sings, popping up beside me like a silent ninja.
“She is. I’ve showed her how to make eggs and oatmeal, and tomorrow she learns how to make my famous French toast.” Ms. Red winks at me.
“When the babies get here, me and Dad are going to help take care of the babies too,” Willa explains happily.
I smile widely at her, even though it still weirds me out to hear her call him Dad. He is her dad, through unfortunate circumstances, but after everything, fate or destiny has a funny sense of humor. A little person who almost destroyed their family has become such a permanent fixture in all of our lives. It’s as if she’s always been around even though she pretty much fell from the sky into our lives. Kind of like a bomb dropped, she was meant to destroy everything, but instead she fixed it… I can’t help but wonder sometimes if Ms. Red is a saint. I couldn’t have dealt with accepting and loving my spouse’s illegitimate child as my own, but if it works for them, it’s not for me to judge. I don’t think Ms. Red has loved anything in the world as much as she loves Willa, and that makes me admire her even more.
“Sweetheart, I have some towels in the dryer that should be stopping soon. Can you fold them up for me how you did last time?” she asks Willa, who nods happily before running out of the room. “So how are things with Hillary? I hear that you two are getting pretty serious?”
I instantly lose my appetite. Good thing I’ve already eaten most of what’s on my plate.
“Uh oh,” she says hesitantly.
I lay my head flat on the table. If Ms. Red thinks things are getting pretty serious, it’s because either Hillary told her we’re getting serious or Lauren told her we’re getting serious because she heard it from Hillary. Either way, that’s bad, bad, bad.
“I don’t know why everyone keeps thinking that.” I clear my throat, and she gives me a disbelieving look.
“What’s that face for?” she asks cautiously.
I lean back and stretch my legs. Ms. Red has always been like a mother to me and seems as though she could give some good advice. “Okay, things got really intense really, really fast…” I’m trying to sum up Hillary’s and my relationship in the best way possible.
She nods, seemingly understanding.
“I don’t know if the whole Chris and Lauren thing is getting to her, but she wants to move waaay faster than I want to move.” I shrug.
“When you say fast, what do you mean?” she asks.
I sigh. “She’s talking about moving in together, and when I went and visited her, she took me to this jewelry store supposedly to get earrings for herself, but we spent an awful lot of time at the ring section. It was more than awkward and completely weirded me out…”
Ms. Red nods thoughtfully.
“We’ve only been dating for, like, a year, and it wasn’t ever supposed to be exclusive,” I tell her, and she doesn’t look sympathetic but almost amused. “Well, it’s really been like a few months since we live in different states and don’t see each other all the time,” I say a little sheepishly.
“Do you love her?” Ms. Red asks, and I rub the back of my head.
“I’ve never really been in love. I’ve been in lust, a lot, with tons of women. I’ve liked girls, and I’m really in lust with Hillary to be honest. She’s cool, always willing to try things…” I chuckle.
“When you’re in love, you’ll know it,” Ms. Redd says, giving my hand a squeeze with a reassuring smile.
“I don’t know if I would.” I chuckle. “Most of the girls I’ve dated haven’t complimented me on being in touch with my feminine side.”
She shakes her head. “Love isn’t a feminine emotion. I understand why you’re afraid, but love, it trumps hate, anger, even un-forgiveness,” she says the last part quietly. A moment of awkwardness slips in, but if anyone can say that, it’s definitely her. She lets out a quick breath and flashes me a bright smile. “Love can be the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to you.”
I nod, my phone vibrates, and I pull it out and see that Hillary’s calling again. Is that a sign, or just a sign of crazy?
“I actually asked you here for a hidden agenda,” she says reluctantly.
I feel my eyebrow arch. Ms. Red has a hidden agenda? That’s actually funny.
“Do you need me to kick somebody’s ass?” I ask, and she laughs. Please be your husband’s, please be your husband’s. “I mean, do you need me to kick someone’s butt?”
She shakes her head. “No, nothing like that.” She sighs.
Shit, no such luck. I can tell by her demeanor change that she’s about to say something serious.
“Umm, I talked to Lisa this morning,” she says quietly, and her eyes narrow on me.
I slump back in my chair and let out my breath. I didn’t expect to hear Lisa’s name come out of her mouth, but then again, I would have never expected her to be raising Lisa’s daughter. I never expected Lisa would drop her kid off on their doorstep like an unwanted package. I can feel myself getting really pissed off. Ms. Red must be able to tell because she wrings her hands nervously together, so I shake my head to calm it.
“She’s calls every so often… to check on things…” she explains. I can tell she’s uncomfortable even mentioning her, at least to me. “I’m really worried about her, Aidan.”
I clear my throat. Wow. After everything Lisa did to this woman, she’s worried about her. “You really are a saint, Ms. Red,” I mutter in disbelief.
She shakes her head.
“She’s not someone you should be worried about. She obviously doesn’t worry about anyone or anything else,” I say, hearing the bitterness in my tone.
“She was your friend. Your best friend,” she says pleadingly.
“She was Chris’s best friend,” I correct her. I notice I’m pouting like a kid, and she frowns at me.
“I tried to talk to Chris about this…”
I can imagine how that went.
“If Lauren didn’t have two human beings in her…” she continues.
I roll my eyes, feeling disgusted. “I don’t know why you’re worried about her. She’s only ever worried about herself. She isn’t even worried about her own daughter.”
“I care because she’s Willa’s mother.”
“If you can call her that,” I mutter. “What’s the emergency? San Diego isn’t sunny enough for her? Brett didn’t get her the perfect gift for her birthday?”
“She’s hurting.”
The tone of Ms. Red’s voice makes my heart skip a beat. It’s funny how you can write a person off after they do so much crap and hurt so many people, but a small part of you still manages to care.
“And if anyone knows what hurting sounds like, it’s me,” she continues, her eyes locking on mine.
I nod guiltily. If anyone deserves to hate and refuse to forgive Lisa, it’s Ms. Red, but somehow she’s managed to.
“When she called me, she sounded terrible. Not in an obvious way; in a way only a person who has been there can recognize,” she continues. “I tried to call her mother, but that didn’t go so well.”
I roll my eyes. The only mother worse than no mother would be Lisa’s mother. We used to bond over that fact. She had Evie as a mom, and I didn’t have one at all most of the time.
“I know that… I appreciate that you’re so angry with her for me,” she tries to explain. “But if something happened to her, you and Chris would really regret not doing anything.”
I let out a long sigh. She’s right. Lisa’s like the stain you get on a shirt that you keep wearing because it was your favorite and the stain happened on one of the best nights of your life. “You think she’s really in trouble? What did she say?”
“She called and asked about Willa, then she just started crying, and when I asked her what was wrong, she said nothing and started to apologize for what she did. She said that she screws up everyone around her… and that it’d all be fixed soon.”
I roll my eyes. “Lisa’s too selfish to kill herself.”
“She sounded really drunk or high off of something maybe,” she says worriedly.
I think of the last time I talked to Lisa, how she pretty much told me she was shirking motherhood and escaping to California. I wanted to throw up.
When we were younger, Lisa and I were friends because of our best friend, Chris. We tolerated each other because of him, but somewhere along the line, we became close. She was one of the only girls who could put me in my place, who I could hang out with without any pressure or a hidden agenda. She was smart, funny, and could hold her own with the guys. And in some ways, we were alike. Chris was always the good kid, the Boy Scout with the perfect parents and perfect home. Lisa and I were kind of the outsiders, the kids no one expected to be much. We had it a lot harder than most.
When I found out what she had done with Chris’s dad, and how she hid a whole person from us for all those years, I couldn’t believe it. Still I stuck by her. I went off on her of course, but I didn’t abandon her. I would have never left her. So for her to abandon her daughter without a thought disgusted me. Even after she told me she was leaving to go to California, I hoped she’d change her mind. I knew if she went through with it, that would be it. I’d never be able to look at her the same way. She’d lose me the way she’d lost everyone else, so when she called me and told me she’d made it to California and she left Willa with the Scotts—who Willa had never even met—to find herself in California, I was done.
I told her to never call me again, and that she was a selfish bitch who deserved to be alone the rest of her life.
It’s been almost seven months since that call. Someone I used to talk to every day became someone I pretended didn’t exist for seven months. I guess humans are so resilient that someone essential to your life can so easily be wiped out of it.
“I don’t know where she is. I haven’t spoken to her since a few days after she left,” I tell Ms. Red.
“This is the address.” She slides a piece of paper toward me.
I look at her curiously. How the hell did she get Lisa’s address?
“She called me from this hotel. Last I checked, which was an hour ago, she’s still checked in,” she explains. “There’s a flight that leaves at four today I could book for you…”
I chuckle, and she smiles sympathetically. My phone buzzes again. It’s a text from Hillary saying she’s on her way to see me, complete with an angry face and a bunch of expletives. I throw my head back in frustration, then I text her back and tell her not to bother because I’m in California, bitch! Well, without the bitch part.
Three days earlier…
Lisa

Have you ever done something so bad, so terrible, that the act stays with you, wraps around you, and completely stops you from moving forward?
Well, let’s just say that in my other life, I was a bad person. Terrible, actually. I’m not even exaggerating. I can say that now because I’ve changed. When you change, you can recognize the bad things about yourself. You can tick off things that you didn’t used to notice but everyone else did.
Once upon a time, I was called everything in the book. There’s no word that could be thrown at me that would make me bat an eye. Selfish, inconsiderate, and manipulative? Those were the kinder words people used to describe me. Whore, conniving, and cunt were some of the not-so-nice ones. But they were just words then. Until they weren’t just words. Until they weren’t just accusations thrown around and I couldn’t defend myself, especially when the people I cared about most used them.
That, however, is the past. It’s not who I am anymore. Then I was a girl who put herself before everyone else. Doing that came so easily. It was second nature, almost inevitable, a dreaded family trait wrapped around my mother’s DNA that manifested the moment my boobs became full-grown. I should have seen it coming—my grandmother always said that I was my mother’s spitting image. I had taken Evie’s long blond hair and emerald-green eyes, so it only made sense that other traits would creep out sooner or later.
She was born to the perfect family, but managed to avoid doing a single worthwhile thing in her life, and she made every mistake she could, except putting her bra on right. That includes marrying my father, who walked out on us when I was just two years old. She made bad decisions, but her beauty usually offered her a way out. By the time I was five, Evie had met and married my stepdad, a successful man who was kind and owned his own construction company. When he was around, our life was good. I don’t remember wanting for anything, but apparently my mom wanted for a lot, seeing as she got caught sleeping with his brother. Needless to say, my stepdad divorced her.
She became a single mom again, with a pissed off family and a high school diploma, but this time, she had the screwed-my-husband’s-brother tattoo on her reputation in our small town. No decent man would come near her, so she settled for the drunks, screw-ups, and passersby, and she adapted who she was to whichever guy she was with. Of course, that made life very interesting for me. I never knew which guy would be there when, who I was safe with, who I needed to hide from.
The older I got, the more I looked like her. Once, I overheard my favorite aunt, Danni, arguing with Evie. They didn’t do it much—usually my aunt was my mom’s cheerleader—but this argument was one for the ages. I remember the most scathing thing she said to my mom.
The worst thing that could happen to Lisa is that she turns out like you.
It was an attack on my mom, but I remember her words cutting through me. They echoed in my thoughts every time I saw my mom with a new guy, or whenever a woman would show up screaming at our house in the middle of the night, having followed her very married husband. The thought of becoming her haunted me so much that sometimes I’d wake up to panic attacks.
I wanted to prove them wrong, every guy who said I was the spitting image of her, the townspeople who believed it was only a matter of time until I became her. I wanted every single last one of them to eat their words. I worked hard to make sure they would do just that, and it all seemed to be going perfectly until I turned seventeen. I was in my senior year, headed to college after working my butt off to make sure I had enough to money to pay for it if I didn’t get enough financial aid and scholarships. I was still a virgin even, and I was a good friend. Then, well, genetics kicked in, and everything just sort of fell apart…
But now, I finally have a clean slate, the opportunity to start all over, and it has been scarily amazing. For the first time in my twenty-eight years of life, I’m living in a state where no one knows what I’ve done or who my mother has done what with. Here, the secrets of my past don’t haunt me or remind me of how unworthy I am everywhere I look. Now I’m not weighed down; here, I can just breathe. For the first time in my life, I feel as though the universe isn’t pitted against me; I’m not destined to fail or set on the path to make a horrible mistake. Someone up there finally gave me a break in the form of someone I didn’t treat well in the past, someone I selfishly and stupidly looked over.
Brett Steltson.
He was my blond-haired, blue-eyed dream boy, my blessing in disguise, so to speak. We met right before I made the biggest mistake of my life. A part of me thinks that if guardian angels existed, mine had sent him to me as a last-ditch attempt to keep me from wrecking my future. But I was so stupid then. I ignored the glaring warnings trying to stop me from going down a road that only led to pain and years of loneliness. I was seventeen, stuck between bad history and an unknown future, and content to listen to unfamiliar emotions instead of my brain.
Still, even then Brett saw the good in me. He didn’t see how I needed to change, the mistakes I needed to fix, or the completely catastrophic decisions so close in my future. He only saw me. Not who I really was, but someone better, which was absolutely what I needed. He saw the person I could’ve been if I hadn’t let hormones and bad decisions shape the person I would become.
He was the first boy I gave myself to, the only boy I would have shared myself with if I had been thinking straight. The guy who took me out and loved to show me off, who didn’t keep me a secret. He was a sophomore in college, nice, extremely attractive, and smart. When hundreds of beautiful girls would have gladly been his and only his, he chose me. But like an idiot, I didn’t see how special he was, how much he had to offer, and I chose an alternate route to a terrible chain of events.
Brett and I broke up right before the end of my senior year of high school. I thought I was doing the right thing, but most seventeen-year-olds don’t do the right thing, only what feels good. They convince themselves that’s the right thing.
When I bumped into Brett last year, standing in front of one of the last book stores that wasn’t named Barnes and Noble, I realized what a complete idiot I had been. It was as if the heavens had opened up their door, highlighting his bright blue eyes and smile designed for pictures. He was so excited to see me, as if he had forgotten how I had been one of the suckiest girlfriends in history during our short-lived relationship.  I can’t recall a single time he ever said a bad thing about anyone. Not even the girlfriend who didn’t want to sleep with him because she was too busy screwing her best friend’s dad. Thank God he never found out about that. I’m sure everyone has their limits.
When we broke up, I’d told Brett that I wasn’t at a good place in my life to be with him, and he seemed sad and confused. But instead of being angry, which he had every right to be since I had essentially wasted almost a year of his time, he told me he still wanted to be my friend, that he’d be there if I ever needed anything. I believe he meant it, but at that point in my life, I didn’t deserve him. Sometimes I think he’ll wake up one day and realize that I still don’t, even though I’m trying my very best to be the kind of woman who deserves a man like him.
When I ran into him that day and looked into those warm blue eyes that never judged me, everything I felt came pouring out. Right there in a little café, I gave him tears and truth. I told him I hated my job as a teacher—not the kids, but the work—and that I felt like a fraud. I didn’t tell him why I felt like a fraud though. The truth was that I had only become a teacher because the married man I was in love with and had a child by was a teacher and he seemed like the only thing I could think about. I couldn’t stand another person I cared about looking at me as if I was scum.
Without hesitation, Brett invited me to come stay with him awhile. Well, not exactly with him but in a place he owned in California. Brett was doing pretty well and had just started his own real estate company. He didn’t tell me how good he was doing, but when I arrived at his four-bedroom house off the beach—which looked like something right out of HGTV—I realized he was doing extremely well.
He let me stay on the first floor free of charge, and the only thing I had to do in return was answer phones and make appointments for his prospective clients at his office. It was the easiest job I’d ever had, especially since he already had an assistant. Amazing Stephanie is what I called her at first, because not only is she smart and more organized than a Martha Stewart catalog, she’s a sweet girl who does all the hard real estate stuff while I pretty much answer phones, run errands, and watch Selling New York.
Only a few more nights after I moved to California, I kissed Brett and not in the way that I used to, with mild enthusiasm or obligation. I kissed him with an appreciation I had never felt for anyone before, and not soon afterward we made love.
Things have been great.
More than great.
Everything is perfect.
For once in my life, everything isn’t in a shamble on the brink of complete chaos. That’s why, as I stare at the two pink lines on the stick in my shaking hand, I don’t want to throw myself off a bridge.
I’m pregnant.
Two words that once destroyed me and scared me shitless actually do the opposite. They give me hope and a glimpse into a new life, an opportunity to get it right.
“Are you okay, Lisa? You’ve been in there forever,” Stephanie asks, worry in her voice.
I wrap the stick up into a paper towel and slip it in my purse. “I’m fine. I’ll be right out,” I tell her as I wash my hands. When I come out of the bathroom, she’s looking at me, her excitement apparent.
She sweeps her bangs from over her eye and smiles nervously. “Soo?”
“Yes. It’s a big fat yes,” I say, and she grabs me in a big hug.
“Shut up!” she squeals. “I’m so happy, happy for you!”
I laugh at how different this is from the last time all those years ago. Then, I lied to my best friend about the test results. Then, I was terrified and wanted to throw up. Then, it magnified the shambles my life was in. Now it’s different. I’m pregnant by a man who loves me, who I love, and things are just right.
“Brett is going to freak out!” Stephanie says.
“Freak out?” The nerves in my body start to bubble up.
She notices and waves me off. “You know what I mean. He’s going to be so excited. Oh my God, the baby is going to be so freakin’ beautiful. You might as well sign it up for Baby Gap right now.”
I roll my eyes playfully but can’t help imagining a beautiful baby boy with my bright-blond hair and Brett’s soft blue eyes and easy smile.
“You are going to be such a pretty mom,” she squeals.
Her enthusiasm is contagious, and I squeeze her hand. She’s been one of the first friends I’ve had in a long time. When I came here from Michigan, I didn’t want to judge people, since people had judged me all of my life, but I couldn’t help but think of all the clichés about everyone in California being made of plastic and only caring about the sun. And even though I’ve seen quite a few girls and guys with surgically enhanced features, I have loved everything about being here. The people are nice. Like, really nice. Everyone is so freakin’ happy all the time, and I guess why wouldn’t they be, when every day the sun is out and it’s the perfect temperature. Being miserable here is almost impossible.
I pull Stephanie into a hug, so happy to have a friend again. Even though my childhood was pretty crappy after Evie screwed up our life, I had really, really great friends. Friends who always took up for me, who were there for me when I needed them. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them. One was Amanda, my best girl pal. We were complete opposites, but she really loved me. Then there were my two guy best friends. We had been inseparable, and I could never imagine going as long as I have without seeing them or speaking to them. Now they’re all just ghosts from another life.
“You’re happy right?” Stephanie asks cautiously, and I realize my mood has sunk from thinking of the past.
I flash her a wide smile, pushing away those memories of not so long ago . “Yeah, just a little bit nervous,” I say with a nervous chuckle, and she gives me a soft smile.
When I first moved here, Stephanie showed me all the girly spots she said Brett had no idea about, like the spas and hair salons that would make you look like an A-list celebrity on a C-list budget. She even introduced me to her group of friends, who are all beautiful, smart, successful, and scarily nice. She reminds me so much of Amanda.
I haven’t spoken to Amanda since I started college. A few months after the year that changed everything.
Amanda never knew what happened to me that year. I never wanted her to know that I became everything her sisters said I would be, so I pushed her away. It killed me to not be able to share one of the most major events in my life with my very best friend, but I knew if I did, she’d never look at me the same way. I couldn’t stand seeing that look of disappointment mixed with disgust on her face, the way I saw it on everyone else I loved and cared about.
I surveyed Stephanie, with her fiery-red hair swept up into a top-knot and her warm green eyes smiling at me. Stephanie likes me, but she doesn’t know all the terrible things I’ve done. If she did, she wouldn’t look at me the same way either. But that’s a different life and a different you, I remind myself.
“So when are you going to tell him?”
“Um, I don’t know,” I say, trying to tuck my nerves deep down into my stomach. There’s nothing like finding out you’re pregnant to make you reflect on the past you’ve been blocking out for a year.
“Oh, you have to make it romantic!” she squeals, following me back to my desk in the reception area.
“I don’t know if I should tell him yet.” I sit down in my plush chair behind my three-thousand-dollar desk. I almost passed out when Stephanie told me how much they spent decorating the place. “It’s still early. A lot can happen.” I shrug.
She frowns at me. “Don’t be such a scaredy cat. You and that little bean are going to be fine. You’re how many weeks, you think?”
I let out a deep breath. “About seven or eight, I think.” I try to keep my tone casual, but I don’t think. I know. Not necessarily the weeks, but I knew I was pregnant when my period didn’t come. My period is like clockwork, but with the absence of it came the symptoms, then the nausea came… just like last time.
Stephanie starts to ask another question, but thankfully the buzzer rings, letting us know a client has arrived. Luckily for me, our slow Thursday picks up and I don’t have to deal with the hundreds of questions Stephanie will have for me that I don’t have any answers to.
***
Thursdays in the office are typically slow for Stephanie and me, but Brett stays busy meeting with prospective buyers and other brokers. Work keeps him out late, which isn’t good because I’ve been thinking too much and I just want to talk to him. My brain’s pulling out the absolute worst scenarios possible. It’s silly, because I know Brett will be excited about this. He’s going to be ecstatic! But I can’t shake that stupid nagging bitch called worry. She won’t let me hold on to any happy thoughts.
“Stop being so negative,” I mumble to myself as I do a once-over of the house again.
I don’t clean often—I usually don’t have to. Brett’s sort of a neat freak. He picks up clothes behind himself and me. He does the dishes and takes out the trash. Today though, I cleaned all the glass in the house, vacuumed the area rugs, and lit candles I picked up earlier from Bath and Body Works. If Brett has a fantasy, I’m sure it’s me in a French maid outfit.
Shoot, why didn’t I buy one of those? When you tell someone you’re pregnant, is it supposed to be romantic? Do you have sex?
I’m pulled from my thoughts when I hear the little electronic feminine voice saying, “Front door opened.”
He’s home.
I do a once-over in a mirror, making sure my boobs are perfectly lifted in my bombshell bra I bought from Victoria’s Secret. I didn’t want to get so dressed up he’d think I’m going to propose or something… not that telling someone you have their child inside you and you’re pretty much tied together for the rest of your life is any less pressure.
“Lisa?” he calls up the stairs. I meet him at our bedroom door, and a wide grin spreads across his face.“You cleaned up?”
I nod and slowly walk toward him. My heart is frantic as I jump into his arms and kiss him, long and slow. When my lips leave his, I take in his breath and lean back, looking into the blue eyes that have given me comfort and hope this year. They reminded me that life didn’t have to stop after everything I did wrong but could begin again with everything I do right.
“I’m pregnant.” The words are quick and spontaneous, kind of like me, I guess.
I had a plan to wait until the food arrived from his favorite restaurant. Then I’d give him a massage and read him the poem I wrote for him that I haven’t quite finished yet. But I can’t hold the news in any longer; I’m already holding far too many secrets from him and I feel as though if I didn’t tell him, I’d just burst.
His eyes widen and his grip tightens around my waist. A weary smile spreads across his face before he laughs. When I don’t join in, his eyes narrow on mine, and for a second, a wave of discomfort rolls through me.
Is he mad?
Is he disappointed?
Oh shit, shit, shit!
“A-are you serious?” he asks me cautiously.
After the longest second of my life, I nod. He nods too, but it’s slow and cautious, not excited how I pictured it in my head. I watch his face turn a little whiter than usual, and his grip isn’t as tight on me as it was before. I feel my heart speed up. I wiggle from his arms, and he lets me go without a fight. I expect him to look at me, into the eyes of the woman carrying his child, but instead he’s just staring at his stupid shoes. I just told him I’m pregnant, and he’s suddenly preoccupied by his stupid black loafers. I feel my anxiety surging. My chest is tighter than the waist trainer I wore once.
Calm down. Calm down. He’s in shock. People can act really weird when they’re in shock… but why would he be in shock? It’s not that unbelievable. We’re in a relationship, we’ve been having unprotected sex, so me being pregnant shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. I bite my lip and take a small breath, hugging myself since he sure isn’t doing it. Since I’ve been with Brett, I’ve grown as a person. I’m not the overemotional, “do first and think later” person I used to be. Brett’s taught me how to be calm and how to rationalize, but standing in front of him and not being able to read him after I just told him I’m pregnant with his baby is the biggest test of patience I’ve ever had.
He eventually looks at me with a soft smile, but it seems forced, the kind of smile you give your friend when she’s announcing that she’s marrying an asshole, or the smile you give someone who just told you they got the promotion you worked your ass off for and you’re super pissed and want to cry.
“I really wish you’d say something,” I mutter, trying to hold in the expletives that are itching to get out of me.
He opens his mouth to say something, but instead he walks past me and sits on the edge of the bed and puts his head in his hands as if I just told him I gave him herpes or something.
“I-I-maybe I’m an idiot, but a small part of me thought you’d be happy,” I say quietly, trying to hold on to the little bit of optimism I have left.
He looks up at me, and the expression on his face makes my blood go cold. It’s not one of anger or disappointment, but something far worse—it’s pity.
“I guess I assumed you were on birth control.” He’s just as quiet.
I feel a tear come to my eye, but I refuse to let it fall. “Why would you assume that?” I notice that I’m pacing, my steps hitting the ground at almost the same rhythm he’s squeezing his hands.
“Because we aren’t married. Because you’ve just gotten settled here. After you talked about how much you hated being a teacher, I guess I assumed that you didn’t want kids,” he explains almost in confusion.
I look at him, just as confused as he seems to be. These don’t sound like the words of a man who is in love with me. This isn’t the Brett who looked on me adoringly while I was in high school. Have I been reading this all wrong?
“We’re in love, I-I thought. You love me, and you’ve been there for me, and you’ve been the best thing that has ever happened to me.” My voice cracks, and his face falls. Tears are coming down my cheeks now.
He walks over to me and pulls me into a hug, but it’s not warm and definitely not passionate. “Lisa, I love you. I think you’re a wonderful woman. You’re wild and free and so full of emotion that it pours off you.”
His arms clasp my waist. I look away, embarrassed.
“I love that about you. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you, but are you saying that you’re in love with me?” he asks, his eyes boring into mine.  
I open my mouth to answer him, but the words are stuck and there’s a tugging on my heart before my stomach drops. I-I am. Of course I love Brett. How could I not love someone who is so perfect and who does everything for me without expecting much in return? He brought me out of one of the darkest places of my life. We look good together, we work well together, and that’s what’s important, right? Not the feels…
“I don’t even know what to say to you right now,” I choke out, pushing him away. If we aren’t in love, then it’s a hell of a time for him to make that clear now.
“Don’t shut down, Lisa, talk to me,” he pleads, following me to the bathroom.
I slam the door in his face. I have so much to say and nothing to say. My vision is blurred, and my head is pounding. I slide to the floor and cry while he knocks on the door and begs me to come out.
I hate crying. It makes me feel weak. There is nothing therapeutic about it, and it takes me back to a place I came here to forget. Ironically, I’m in almost the same situation. I guess if I look on the bright side of things, Brett isn’t married, and he’s not my best friend’s dad, and at least we are in a relationship, even if it seems more like a really well-developed friends-with-benefits thing.
Brett’s the only man who would make being a fuck buddy feel like being in a full-blown relationship. I replay everything in my head since we met and realize that’s exactly what we’ve been. He’s never introduced me as his girlfriend, just his best friend… but we live together… and we have sex pretty often.
His question replays in my mind. Am I in love with him? I shake my head.
I was told by a really wise woman that love isn’t a feeling; lust is a feeling, one that’s fleeting and goes away and causes a lot of damage. I can attest to that. Lust destroyed my entire freakin’ life. So love should be what saves it. Brett saved me. How could I not love him? How can I not be in love with him? So what that I’ve never had butterflies with him? The last time I had butterflies, they got me into a whole world of trouble. When he kisses me, I don’t feel anything. But he’s a good kisser, and when we have sex, it’s good—I mean, I always cross the finish line—even if it’s not necessarily passionate. When you mature, passion isn’t important, right?
I ignore him continuing to knock on the door. His voice is pleading, but I can’t face him or talk to him right now
“Please just leave me alone.” I force the words out of my throat.
How could I have been so stupid? So wrong! How could I just see things how I wanted to and ignore reality? This is why girls need friends, real honest, in-your-face friends who call you on your shit and don’t let you live in la la land. I try to remember Stephanie’s initial reaction when I told her I was pregnant. She was excited and happy and shocked of course, but was there something I didn’t see. She didn’t say that Brett would be ecstatic; she said that he’d freak…
My mind drifts to her and the group of friends who have so openly welcomed me. I picture them all sitting at the stupid little sushi restaurant I’ve been to with them. Their eyes would be wide as Stephanie dramatically tells them about how her boss’s stupid friend thought they were together and got knocked up by him. She wouldn’t use those words of course. She’d feign concern for me and tell them in a solemn voice, and they’d all look on in pity, absorbing all the juicy details over California rolls and Sake, and why shouldn’t they? They aren’t my friends; they’re hers. Stephanie has real friends, ones who would have told her if she was reading too much into the actions of a genuinely nice man who wanted to save the girl whose life was out of control.
I haven’t had friends like that in a long time… and my friends, other than Amanda, were guys. They definitely would have seen that I was jumping into something I shouldn’t have. Too bad I don’t have any of those friends left. I pushed one away, destroyed another one’s life, and let the one person who may not have judged me believe I had outgrown her and didn’t trust her with the truth.
“Lisa, can you just talk to me?” he asks quietly.
I swallow the lump in my throat. What did I do? The same thing I always do. Screw up people’s lives! I think of the one person who’s bothered to be a real friend to me. He’s standing on the other side of the door, and giving him a baby he doesn’t want will definitely ruin his life.
“I was just shocked, Lisa. I didn’t mean to be a jerk,” he says, sincerity lacing his voice.
Brett would be an amazing father… but I am pretty damned sure that this is the last situation he’d ever want to have a child in. Brett is an optimist and sort of a traditionalist. Of course he’d want to have a child with his wife, not some girl who isn’t even in love with him. I stare at my stomach, which just a couple of hours ago was a source of hope and love. Now it feels like a fifty-pound burden. That’s what a baby would be—a burden to him and a disaster for me. I push off the floor and take a deep breath before opening the door. When I do, he looks at me with eyes full of sorrow. He has a smile on his face, but it’s not real.
“I’m happy. I always wanted to be a dad one day,” he stumbles over his words.
“I’m not even sure it’s yours,” I spit out.
His face immediately hardens. “What?”
“I’ve been seeing someone else.” I bite my lip, trying to maintain the hardest stare I can.
He steps away from me. It’s a small step, but I feel as if he’s moved a million miles away. He chuckles, but it’s hard and cold and sounds foreign. He shakes his head in mild disbelief, searching my expression. “You’re lying.”
“His name is… Jake, and he works at this bar I’ve been going to, and yeah…” My eyes are locked on his shoes. I hear him let out a frustrated breath, and from the corner of my eyes, I see his hands wring together.
The silence stretches for almost a millennium. I’m afraid to look at him, and when I do, I wish I saw anger. Instead, I see hurt and disappointment from the curve of his lip to the ocean-deep color of his eyes. It slices through me. I’ve seen that look before, but this time, it’s due to a lie.
“Listen, I never meant…”
I stop when he shakes his head before leaving the room. He doesn’t even slam the door. Shit! Why did I do that? Why the hell did I just do that?
Because you don’t know what you’re going to do.
Because you always make rash decisions.
Because you’re an idiot.
Out of every way I could have made this better, I chose to do the one thing to make things worse. What if I decide to keep the baby? If I don’t, he’ll probably still never speak to me again. Why didn’t I just keep my mouth shut?
I race out of the door, hoping he hasn’t made it out of the house yet, but he isn’t anywhere in sight. I check the rooms on the ground floor, and he’s not in any of them. I look outside and see that his car is gone. I head back upstairs, grab the phone, and call him, but it rings twice before going to voicemail.
My night continues like that, except that my calls to him go straight to voicemail now. Hours pass without a call or text from him. I’m tempted to call Stephanie, but what will I tell her? Will she even listen to me? She and Brett are friends, but would he run to her with something this personal?
These thoughts run through my head until I hear the little electronic lady’s voice announce the front door opening. I sit straight up. My thoughts are running a million miles an hour about how to fix this, how to make it right. I get up from the bed since he’s probably not going to come upstairs. Brett has never slept on the couch, but I imagine after a girl tells you she’s having a baby but it’s probably another guy’s, that’s one time you’d sleep on the couch. Even if I’m the one who deserves to sleep on the couch.
I’m heading for the door when it opens. His eyes fall on mine, and I can see that his eyes are red and sort of puffy. I can smell the alcohol on him. In college and the past year we’ve been together, he’s never had more than a shot of tequila and a few beers. Today, it seems as though he’s had the opposite.
“Are you okay?” I ask worriedly. His gaze cuts through me. “Did you drive like this?”
He lets out a bitter chuckle and clears his throat. “It’s not like you care.” His tone is foreign. He doesn’t sound like himself at all.
“Of course I care.”
“Really? That’s a shocker.” His words are angry and wobbling into each other.
I’m not used to him being like this, and I hate myself for pushing him to this point, for turning a good person into this. Tears seem to be my best friend now. “I’m so sorry, Brett.”
He scoffs at me. “No, you’re not.” His disdain for me is tangible enough to hold in my hand. “When you told me you were pregnant, it threw me off. It was just so unexpected. I wasn’t mad. To be honest, a part of me was happy.” He sits on the bed with his back toward me. “I never know how to read you. Sometimes I look at you and I see this person with all of this love to give, someone so full of warmth and passion. Being with you made me feel like one day, the wall you have up would come down and you’d let me feel a flicker of that warmth.”
I crawl over near him and wrap my arms around his neck. I expect him to push me away, but he doesn’t. He’s slack in my arms, and it’s worse than him pushing me away.
“I knew when you came here that something happened to you. The light in your eyes was so faint. Not gone but barely there. I wanted to help you get the fire back. I wanted you to see in yourself what I saw when I looked at you. Someone who’s beautiful and amazing and deserved the world,” he says.
I can hear his voice breaking, and I start to cry harder.
“When I brought you here, I promised myself I wouldn’t fall in love with you unless I saw you felt the same way, because whether you know it or not, a girl like you could break a man.” He softly cups my arms and detangles me from around his neck. He turns toward me and looks me in the eye. “You’re not in love with me, Lisa, and I need you to leave.”
His words are colder than the chill that shoots down my spine. His face is harder than I’ve ever seen.
“What?” I ask, a little confused. I knew he’d be hurt and disappointed, but I didn’t expect him to ask me to leave.
“If the baby is mine, I will do whatever I can to help you, but if it’s not, I can’t keep doing this with you. It doesn’t take a genius to see that you don’t feel about me the way you claim to, and now it’s completely clear that you didn’t even care about me as a friend. If you’ve been sleeping with some other guy who could possibly be your kid’s father, that means you’ve been sleeping with him without protection. I wish I could say that didn’t hurt me, that I expected it, but you pulled one over on me.” He laughs with tears in his eyes.
“No, I lied! I’m sorry. I didn’t know what else to say. I haven’t been with anyone except you since I’ve been here. I swear to God,” I tell him frantically, but I can see in his eyes he doesn’t believe me.
“Are you kidding?” he asks with sharp irritation.
“I promise, I just didn’t know what else to say. I was angry and confused,” I say desperately.
“I don’t know how to read you! Why would you say something like that? What type of person makes up a lie like that?” he asks, completely appalled.
I’m breathing so fast now that I can see my chest heaving, but he just looks confused.
“Are you even really pregnant?” he asks.
“I am; I promise I am. I-I-I’m sorry, Brett, I’m messed up. That’s all that I can say. I don’t know why I said what I did. I’m just scared. I can’t go through another pregnancy alone. Please don’t do this,” I plead with desperation seeping from every pore in my body.
He only shakes his head. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a paper then hands it to me. I open it and see it’s a check for three thousand dollars.
“This is for whatever you decide to do…”
I look at him questioningly. “You want me to get an abortion?” I ask quietly.
“That’s not really for me to decide. I don’t even know if I’m the father,” he says bitterly.
“I told you,” I cry. My chin is trembling, my entire body is.
“I need you to leave. When you have the baby, we can do a paternity test. If it’s mine, I’ll be there in every way I can,” he says quietly.
I shake my head. “I’m not going anywhere. Brett, I’m telling you the truth. Please don’t do this!”
“I need you to go. If you’ve ever really cared about me, you’ll leave!” he shouts, his face red and tears in his eyes.
I take a deep breath and nod.
He heads to the door but stops dead in his tracks. He looks back at me, confusion and frustration written all over him. “What do you mean another one?”
My skin goes cold, and I drop my head in guilt and embarrassment.
He laughs icily. “Wow, just wow.”
“I’ll be out before you wake up tomorrow,” I promise.
He only glares at me before turning and leaving the room. When he does, I crumble onto the floor.
AP new -about the author.jpg
I’m obsessed with blowing kisses. I guess that makes me a romantic. I love books and cute boys and reading about cute boys in books.I’m infatuated with the glamour girls of the past: Audrey,Dorothy,Marilyn,Elizabeth.
I’m a self confessed girly girl,book nerd,food enthusiast, and comic book fan. Odd combination huh, you have no idea…
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