Soo…THREE BROKEN PROMISES is out this upcoming Tuesday! I can’t believe the release date is finally almost here. I feel like we’ve been waiting an eternity for this moment. Do you feel the same? Are you eager to read more? You can find the first chapter HERE. And now…you can find the second chapter right here, right now! Let me know what you think:
“Quitting? What the fuck are you talking about?” I’m yelling. I notice her wince and I clamp my lips shut, feeling like a jackass. But her words send me reeling, and I’m trying my best to rein myself in.
Jen can’t quit. She’s worked here almost a year. She’s one of my best waitresses. This place, specifically the bar, runs more smoothly when she’s here.
But that’s not why I don’t want her to leave.
“I can’t stay here anymore.” Jen glances around the empty restaurant, her fingers curling around the back of her neck, playing with the edge of the mysterious bandage. “Consider this my generous four-week notice. That should give you plenty of time to replace me.”
Doesn’t she know she’s irreplaceable? “Did you find another job?” It’s the only explanation. And if she hated working here that much, I wish she would have told me. I could have done something to make it better for her here.
But what? What more can I do?
Slowly she shakes her head. “I’m leaving.”
What the hell? “Going back home, then?” I find it hard to believe, but maybe she’s finally ready to see her mom and dad after everything that’s happened, after she ran away. She’s never gone back and I know they miss her. Her mom has called me more than once asking about her. I know they’ve talked but it’s rare, and that’s on Jen’s part. Maybe she’s had a change of heart.
There’s really no other explanation for her leaving. At least in my mind.
“No.” She spits the word out as if it were poison and drops her hand from her neck, straightening her shoulders. “I refuse to go back home. I’m moving to Sacramento.”
“Sacramento? Are you kidding me? Why?” I’m at a loss. I can’t figure out her motive, why she wants to leave, and what the hell Sacramento has to offer that’s so much goddamn better than what I can give her.
“I need a change of pace, okay? I’m tired of the small-town thing. I run into the same people again and again. Most of them I don’t want to see anyway.” She starts to walk past me. “We so shouldn’t be having this conversation here.”
I grab her again, stopping her progress. Curling my fingers tight around her upper arm, I pull her in close, invading her space. Her scent fills my head, like an exotic bloom that permeates the air, fragrant and heavy. Intoxicating. My gaze drops to her mouth, and I’m momentarily transfixed as she sinks her teeth into her plump lower lip.
Fuck. This is pure torture. Having her close. Arguing with her where anyone could see us. Acting like lovers in the middle of a heated discussion . . .
We pretend we don’t really matter to each other, but it’s time for me to be honest with myself. She’s so immersed in my world, I can’t imagine her out of it.
I don’t want to imagine her out of it.
“Where else do you suggest we have this conversation, then?” I ask, keeping my voice low and as even as possible. While deep inside, I want to rage and yell and throw shit.
Jen can’t leave me. What she’s saying, I can’t even begin to comprehend.
“Your house?” She rolls her eyes and actually laughs. “Not that we ever really talk there, though, do we? We never really talk anywhere.”
Letting her go, I step away from her, needing the distance. She’s right. Our situation is . . . weird. I take care of her because of my own twisted sense of guilt, and she stays with me because where else is she going to go? I know she appreciates all I’ve done for her. We keep our linked past a secret from the other employees at the restaurant with the exception of Fable. Jen confessed our long connection months ago.
At first, I was mad that Jen told her about our shared history. Then I got over it. I like Fable. She’s troubled—was extremely troubled when I first hired her, but she’s come out of her shell, and she and Jen are now best friends. I’ve even become somewhat friends with her boyfriend. Hell, the four of us have gone out to dinner together once or twice, like we’re on a double date or something.
Stupid that I can keep what’s between Jen and me so casual, so . . . easy, but I can’t turn it into something real. Something true. I’m just too damn afraid to make a move for fear I’ll ruin it.
Considering I’ve ruin a few things in my personal life, it’s a legitimate fear.
“You really want to talk when we get home? We’ll talk,” I finally suggest.
Her eyes widen. “Seriously?”
“Absolutely. Whatever you want, all you have to do is ask.” I spread my arms wide, then let them drop to my sides. She’s watching me with those dark, fathomless eyes, taking me in, making me want to squirm. She’s tall in the heels, almost eye level with me, and I’m a solid six-one.
“Whatever I want, you’ll give me.” It’s a statement, not a question, and I wonder at it.
“It’s yours,” I agree. “When have I ever denied you anything?”
She laughs, but there’s no humor in it. “You deny me almost every day of your life.”
I scratch the back of my head, puzzled. She means something else, I know it, but I can’t figure out what. Plus, I’m tired as fuck and not in the mood for a bunch of games, not that Jen is a game player. But she’s being evasive. Mysterious. Trying to pull a fast one on me, I’m sure.
“Make your request. I’ll do my best to accommodate you.” I grimace the moment the words come out. I sound like a boss, which I am.
A tiny smile curves her lips. “All right, then. Let me go. Let me do this, Colin. I can’t be dependent on you forever.”
Realization washes over me, making me feel like a fool. “Is that the problem? That you feel bad because I help you out? You’re never a burden, Jen. You know this.”
“No, I don’t know, but that’s not the point.” Sighing, her smile turns sad. “I appreciate your help. More than anything, I appreciate how you pulled me out of a bad situation before it could’ve become . . . a lot worse. You saved me.”
“It was the least I could do.” A major understatement. If I couldn’t save her brother, my best friend, then I could at least save his baby sister.
“ And I’m forever grateful to you for it. Really. But I gotta admit, I’m tired of being saved by you. Of being the problem you’re constantly trying to solve. I want to leave. I need my freedom to try something new and explore other options. Staying here in this stupid small town doing the same thing day in and day out won’t solve my problems.”
“You have problems?” Why hasn’t she told me about them?
“Yes! Tons of them. All sorts of problems, but you don’t notice because you’re too wrapped up with your own.”
Isn’t that the truth! “I don’t want to give you your freedom just so you’ll leave me,” I murmur, feeling like a selfish ass. The look on her face tells me she thinks I’m an ass for saying it too. “Ask me for anything else, Jen. Anything. I . . . I don’t want to let you go. Not yet.”
Irritation flits across her face, making her lips thin, her eyes narrow. “Ask you for anything else?”
“Anything. I’ll give it to you. No questions asked.”
“All right.” She takes a deep breath, as if she needs it for courage. “I want you.”
He’s staring at me as if I’ve lost my mind, which I probably have. What possessed me to just say that? He’s going to reject me. I feel it in my bones. Not that I blame him. We wouldn’t work. I know this. So does he. I’m keeping a huge secret from him that I can never let him know. That alone will prevent us from having any sort of a relationship.
But I couldn’t help myself. I had to say it. I think he secretly wants me, too.
“You don’t want me,” he finally says, dropping his head to stare down at the floor, a self-deprecating chuckle escaping him. “Trust me.”
Every single day that passes, he breaks my heart. The way he just said that, those six words infused with so much sadness, threatens to shatter my already broken heart into a bazillion pieces.
“You said I could ask for anything,” I remind him, my voice small. “No questions asked.” I throw his words back at him because I can.
He tilts his head back and stares up at the ceiling, seeming at a loss for words, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen happen before. The man is a talker. A charmer. He has to be, as successful as he’s been at such a young age. Yeah, his extremely wealthy and negligent dad gave him money to start the first restaurant he owns, but everything else he’s accomplished has been all him.
He’s also gorgeous. And he knows it. The dark blond hair, the piercing, pale blue eyes, and his face . . . no words can describe it. It’s too damn beautiful.
“You’re blowing my mind tonight,” he finally says, still staring at the ceiling.
“It’s been an enlightening day for the both of us,” I return, irritation making me snippy.
Dropping his head, he studies me. “I want to pretend you didn’t say that.”
Anger fills me. Of course he wants to pretend. It’s the story of his life. The way he always operates. I’m so sick and tired of pretending. Avoiding. Doing one thing while saying another.
My life with Colin feels unreal. I hate it.
“Go ahead. Pretend like you usually do.” I want to run but I stand my ground, glaring at him.
He ignores my comment. “We should go.”
“I’m scheduled till midnight.” And I’m not ready to leave. We need to finish this conversation. Besides, what if we go home and he helps me pack my suitcase and sends me on my merry way? That’s the last thing I want to happen. I’m not ready yet. I should have gone about telling him my plan more . . . delicately. I’ve handled this all wrong.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
“They’ve survived without you for the last fifteen minutes we’ve been talking. I think you clocking out early isn’t going to matter. Besides, I’m the one who made your schedule. You can leave when I say.” He flicks his head, looking every inch the arrogant, controlling boss. “Let’s go.”
And like the silly, obedient girl that I am, I follow him.
We drove home in silence, the air between us thick with tension. I spent the entire time texting with Fable, telling her I manned up and gave my notice to Colin. I thought she would be happy for me. At the very least, proud that I finally found some courage and did it.
Instead, I received a string of whiny texts in reply, begging me not to leave. I mean, what the hell? Even my new best friend is trying to hold me down. This town is too small and everyone knows each other. After my last close call, I don’t want to take that chance again. I’d rather go and forget this place ever existed.
I’ll miss my friends. I’ll miss Colin. But it’s best that I go.
I don’t even quite know how I ended up here. I grew up about two hours away, in a small, seemingly idyllic but really super boring town in the mountains. Where everyone knows each other and the air is crisp and clear, filled with the scent of pine. Where gossip prevails and the secrets that aren’t so secret anymore go generations deep. Colin grew up there too; his mom lived right next door.
His father has never been a part of his life. I’ve met Conrad Wilder a few times but always briefly, and I don’t know much about the man. Only that he’s very generous with his money—and he has a ton of it, a fortune he’d inherited from his father when he died—handing it over to Colin every chance he gets, in lieu of the two of them actually spending time together.
Not that Colin ever complained. He keeps most of his emotions to himself.
The moment we arrived at his house, I closed myself off in my room. Didn’t bother saying good night, let’s talk more, screw you, I hate you—nothing. Just ran away from him, heading down the hall like a coward. I turned the lock on my bedroom door, shed my clothes, and curled up under the covers. Squeezing my eyes shut tight in the hope that sleep would take me swiftly.
It didn’t. Hours later I still lie in bed, frustrated, hot even though the ceiling fan turns lazily above me. I’ve kicked off the covers, clad in only a pair of panties and an old tank top, feeling like I might burst out of my skin, I’m so restless.
And then I hear it. Him. Colin’s room is next to mine and the walls are remarkably thin. Thank God he’s never brought a woman here—at least he hasn’t when I’ve been around. Hearing him do . . . whatever he might do to another woman would send me straight over the edge.
I’m already teetering there, hanging on by a tenuous thread thanks to Colin.
It always starts out quietly. A whimper, or sometimes a growl, though it’s never fierce. Rolling over on my side, I face the wall we share, waiting breathlessly for the next sound.
His voice is guttural and deep, though I can’t quite make out what he’s saying. I usually can’t. When he starts talking, that’s my signal to climb out of bed and go check on him.
So I do.
Chilly air smacks my face when I open his unlocked bedroom door. He’s left the windows open and the night has cooled considerably, a sign that fall is on its way. Tiptoeing into his room, I stop at the foot of the bed, watching helplessly as he tosses and turns, overcome with whatever demons come to him in his dreams on an almost nightly basis.
It’s dark, but I can make out his form in the light of the moon shining through the open windows. He’s shirtless, of course. The sheets bunch around his hips and his broad shoulders and chest gleam in the moonlight. I’ve never seen him like this in the light of day—naked and mouthwateringly perfect—but I want to.
His voice rises, I can understand what he’s saying now, and the words break my heart.
“Gotta save him. Gotta find him.” He pants, as if he’s running, searching for the one he’s lost, and without thought I slip into bed with him, snuggling up behind him so I can wrap my arms around his waist.
I know who he’s looking for in his dreams. I used to dream about him too. Right after we lost my brother for good. This is our shared loss, the strong connection that has kept us together, that made him search me out when I ran.
Colin found me. Colin saved me. It’s the least I can do, to try and save him back.
Holding him close, I rest my chin on top of his shoulder, my mouth close to his ear. “It’s okay,” I whisper as I run my hands over his flat, firm stomach, feeling extra daring tonight. I’m tired of holding back, holding everything in. I want to feel him, know him in every intimate way possible. “Everything’s okay. You did what you could.”
His nightmares haunt him. They’re dark and desperate. Though he never talks about them, it doesn’t take a genius to realize just how awful they are. How they torment him almost every single night. I don’t know how he lives like this. He acts like everything is fine in the daylight. Happy and carefree, as if nothing ever bothers him. But in the dark, in his sleep, his other world reveals itself.
And it’s not pretty.
“Jennifer.” He whispers my name, turning his head so his mouth is in near perfect alignment with mine. He settles his hands over my wandering ones, intertwining our fingers, and I sigh at his touch.
It’s as though he’s not even aware of what he’s doing. He touches me as if he wants to own me. As if we’re really together. But we never take it any farther than this. No kisses, nothing sexual. Though the tension and heat that radiates off his big body isn’t only from his bad dreams.
It’s because of me. He wants me. His body always, always responds to my touch. I wish that for once, he could admit it.
“I’m sorry.” He sounds so distraught, so forlorn. I hate that. Tilting his head closer, his lips brush mine when he speaks. “Don’t leave me.”
And then he kisses me.
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