I jump at the sound of a soft female voice, my hand jerking so the hose splashes me right in the face. Muttering a curse, I drop the hose and reach out blindly, wrenching the faucet off with one hand as I swipe at my eyes with the back of the other. I hear the girl laugh and I whirl around, fully prepared to find some bratty preteen Hale daughter mocking me.
But she’s not a preteen. Not even close. More like around my age. She’s tall and slender, her long blonde hair falling far past bared tan shoulders. She’s wearing some sort of sundress or whatever you call it and she’s pretty much covered since it hits just above her knees, though her arms are exposed since the dress is sleeveless. The sun catches her just right though, shining through the thin fabric of her skirt so I can see through it.
My gaze drops and all I can see is long, long legs through the shadowy fabric. Damn. Those sexy legs are endless. She clears her throat, like she knows exactly where I’m looking and what I’m thinking and I jerk my gaze up guiltily to meet hers, feeling like a jackass.
That’s when I notice her eyes are blue. As blue as the sky above us, and she’s so damn pretty, with delicate features and pink, pink lips, that I can’t seem to form words.
“Who are you?” she asks curiously. Her voice washes over me, sweet and melodic and now it’s my turn to clear my throat to get the lump out so I can freaking speak.
“Who are you?” I ask back like an idiot.
She smiles shyly and my entire body reacts, a bolt of electricity seeming to go through me. “I asked first.”
“Are you Hale’s daughter?” If she is, that sucks because holy hell she’s hot but yeah.
She’s completely untouchable if she’s a Hale.
“What if I am?” She kicks at the ground with her sandaled foot, her cheeks coloring the faintest pink. Innocence radiates from her. She looks like a damn angel and seems a little uncomfortable with me.
Despite her seeming discomfort, I think she might be trying to flirt with me.
“Well, I’d make sure and be extra polite to you since I work for your dad.” I go with the truth because I don’t want any problems from this girl. I probably shouldn’t even be alone with her. She could say anything, accuse me of something terrible and I’d have no defense. Her word against mine.
And her word would win every single time.
Another laugh escapes her and she slowly shakes her head. “I like your honesty.”
I like everything about her so far but I keep my lips clamped shut. I’ve already said enough to make myself look like a total loser.“So I’m guessing you’re definitely Hale’s daughter?”
It’s almost here peeps. DREW + FABLE FOREVER will be out tomorrow and I’m so excited that I just can’t hide it (name that tune). Seriously, I can’t wait for readers to see what’s happened in Drew + Fable’s lives. I hope you like how everything turned out. I hope I make you smile and laugh and sigh and maybe even cry. That’s what I did when I wrote it so fair is fair right?
Since we’re all awaiting anxiously for Tuesday, I thought I’d share with you Chapter One from DREW + FABLE FOREVER. You can add the novella (sorry, won’t be out in print) to your Goodreads shelf HERE. You can find all the preorder information HERE. And you can read the first chapter now…
“Let’s get married.”
I glance up from my phone to find Drew standing in front of me, his gaze locked on my face. Exhaustion lines his beautiful blue eyes and his dark hair is in complete disarray, the way it usually is after hours of football practice. There’s a light sheen of sweat on his forehead, and is that . . . blood at the corner of his mouth?
I’m sitting on the couch, texting Owen and asking where he’s at, but the little jerk is giving me wishy-washy answers. Not that he’s so little anymore, what with the way he towers over me. He’ll be a junior in high school this upcoming school year and he’s spending most of his summer either working, at football practice, or with Wade.
Causing all sorts of trouble, I’m sure.
I didn’t even hear the front door open or close. I’d left it unlocked. We’re staying at a rental in a gated community that’s part of an ultra-swank neighborhood not too far from the stadium, but still. So not good. If Drew realized I hadn’t heard him enter the house, he’d probably be mad. He’s so overprotective of me it’s ridiculous.
And sexy. Definitely sexy.
In fact, he’s pretty damn sexy right now, glowering at me, waiting for an answer. He must’ve just finished practice—he’s all dirty and sweaty, a combination of adrenaline and frustration pouring off him. It vibrates through me, fueling my constant hunger for him to an even higher level, stealing my breath as I continue staring at him. As he continues to stare at me.
“Why are you bleeding?” I ask, because I gotta know. I hate how he’s brutalized out on the football field sometimes. As the quarterback, he doesn’t take extreme hits like other players. But at this moment he’s got blood on his beautiful face and I don’t like it.
He waves a hand, dismissing my question. Something’s wrong and I wish I knew what. But as usual, he’s not blurting everything out. Not telling me his secrets. His worries. His desires. He likes to hold these things close to his chest. Still.
But I don’t mind prying them out of him. I’m patient. I’m in love.
Soon, I will be Fable Callahan. I’ve earned the freaking privilege to call myself that, too. It’s not easy being with Drew. Yet I wouldn’t trade my life with anyone.
I try a different tactic since he’s not answering my question. “We are getting married,” I say slowly, trying to calm my riotous heart. When Drew’s all worked up like this, it . . . arouses me, more often than not. And I don’t think he’s in the mood for anything like that at the moment. “I even have the engagement ring to prove it.” I raise my trembling hand and hold it out to him.
He shakes his head, frustration making his mouth tight. “I don’t want to wait any longer, Fable. We’re running out of time.”
“Running out of time?” I repeat with a frown. “What are you talking about?”
Drew goes down on his knees, his chest brushing against my legs, his upper body obliterating my vision until all I can see and hear and smell is him. The scent of fresh-cut grass and sunshine clings to him, as well as the familiar scent of his soap and sweat. His nose looks sunburned. There are new lines around his eyes from crinkling them against the sun and at this very moment, I find him so unbearably handsome, even with blood at the corner of his mouth, I know without a doubt I’ll agree to whatever he’s trying to convince me to do. It’s just that easy.
And I’m just that simple.
“Training’s almost finished and preseason is going to start soon. After that, the regular season kicks off and I’ll be busy. Beyond busy. Practice, home games, going out of town, all that bullshit for months. Months, Fable, when you’re going to end up staying back at home with Owen and making sure he’s going to school, you know? And I’m not against that; we already agreed to the plan.” He pauses, his mouth settling in a hard, firm line for a brief moment before he continues. “So when are we going to fit in getting married between all that?”
I part my lips, ready to come up with an answer, but . . . I don’t have one. I don’t know where we could fit in our wedding what with his crazy schedule. Me, I’m free as a bird. I go where he goes.
Well. That’s not quite true. As Drew just mentioned, I have Owen to take care of. He’s in high school and I need to stay home with him. Drew needs to be in San Francisco since he’s playing professional football for the 49ers.
Yes. My boyfriend—whoops, sorry, fiancé—is a professional football player. I can still hardly wrap my brain around it.
I’m with him now in Santa Clara while he’s in training camp. He was a first draft pick and the Niners snapped him up, just like that. Lots of media attention has already been put on him. He tries his best to avoid it all, but it’s hard. He’s always been such a private person and I know he’s overwhelmed. He talks to me about it a lot and I’ve spent a lot of time lately reassuring him that everything’s going to be all right.
I believe that. I believe in us, and we’re both beyond ready to get married. And I do see what he’s saying. If the reporters are eager to talk to him now, wait until he actually starts playing in front of a crowd. Whether he does well or not, the speculation will be there, focused solely on him. He wants to avoid the spotlight.
There’s no chance that’s happening, though. He’s already in it. We both are.
“I don’t know when we can get married,” I finally answer, my voice small. “It sounds like you really don’t have the time.”
He reaches out and settles those big, warm hands of his on my knees and gives them a squeeze. “Actually, I do, but we gotta make it quick. So . . . how about now?”
I meet his gaze, see all the love and worry and anxiousness swirling within the blue depths of his eyes. God, I love him so much. I want to make him happy. I plan on making him happy for the rest of our lives. I can only hope I’m enough.
“Now?” I whisper, my throat aching with the one, simple word. We’re deciding our future right now. This is a moment I will never, ever forget.
He nods, his thumb caressing the inside of my knee. Tingles scatter all over my skin at his touch, sending electricity zipping through my veins. The slightest smile curves his lips, the intimate one that’s just for me, that no one else ever sees.
I love that smile. I love knowing that what we share isn’t for anyone else. But lately in Drew’s world I’ve been feeling . . . less than. It’s a feeling I used to struggle with constantly, especially when we were first together. His life overwhelmed me completely. I was simple. Some might’ve called me trash. Okay, fine—lots of people called me trash. Just like Mom. Worthless. Whore. I’d heard those words so many times they meant nothing to me.
Until I met Drew and I wanted to become someone different, someone worthy of him.
Drew was far from simple. Complex and rich and gorgeous, everything seemed to come easy to him. But it didn’t. His world was shit. His father was oblivious to what was going on. His stepmother was an evil witch who molested him. He let me into his life, and I changed it for the better.
But what if he finds someone else? What if there really is someone else out there for him, someone better than me? He’ll be traveling. On the road with the team, playing games all over the country, and I’ll be stuck at home, making sure Owen’s getting good grades. I can’t pull my brother out of his high school. He’s lived his entire life here, has friends, is on the football team. He works at The District, just like I used to. His life is good there.
Drew and I are in love and we want to spend the rest of our lives together. Yet here I sit full of insecurities while this beautiful man is trying to convince me to run away with him and get married.
I mean, really. What the hell is wrong with me?
“Okay.” I blow out a harsh breath, trying to gather my wayward thoughts. They’re scattered everywhere, trying to figure out what’s the best next step when deep down, I already know what that step is. “Where do you want to get married? Vegas?” A quickie marriage had always been the plan. We don’t have enough family to warrant throwing a big wedding and we didn’t want the hassle anyway.
He grimaces and shakes his head, then moves so he’s sitting right next to me on the couch, slinging an arm around my shoulders. Leaning in, he nuzzles my hair with his nose, breathing deep, and I close my eyes when I feel his lips on my forehead. “I was thinking Hawaii,” he murmurs.
Fable pulls away so she can gape at me, her hand resting on my chest. I wonder if she can feel the vibration trembling just beneath my skin, my wildly beating heart. I’m fucking nervous she’s going to say no. Why, I’m not sure, because my girl said yes to me a year ago. We just haven’t done anything about it yet. “Are you serious?” she asks.
I nod, keeping my expression solemn though everything inside me feels like it’s spiraling out of control. What if she says no? What if I’m ruining her dream of having a giant wedding? I don’t think I am. She’s never mentioned she wanted a huge ceremony. It’s not her style. And we’ve already discussed most of the details, so we’re pretty much on the same page. “As a heart attack.”
“How long can you get away for?” Her fingers curl into my shirt and I’m having a sense of déjà vu. How many times has she pushed at my chest, like she wants to shove me away when really she’s always tugging me back. Pulling me in, absorbing me.
And I always want to absorb her. Take her in and make her mine. Again and again and again.
Yeah. I’ve got it bad right now. It’s all the change happening in our lives. I secretly long to return to a simpler time. To the happiest time of my life, only a year ago, when we were falling deeper and deeper in love as every day passed. When I was still in college and she worked at the restaurant full time. When we would go over to Jen and Colin’s house and hang out, sometimes bringing Owen with us, along with his friend Wade. Like a happy little family. My heart had been full. Fuller than it had ever felt in my entire life.
I long for that feeling again. I want to fill my heart with nothing but Fable. I need to focus on this girl, this woman who’s about to become my wife.
My fucking wife. People say we’re too young, but I don’t care. When it’s right, you know.
And I definitely know.
She’s watching me now, those big green eyes shimmering as she waits. She looks ready to cry, and it better not be from sadness.
“How long do you want to take a Hawaiian vacation?” I ask.
A giant grin breaks out across her face. She looks beyond happy. “Can we sit on the beach and sip mai tais?”
“We can do whatever you want.” I squeeze her close, press my face against the top of her head. I can smell her shampoo. I close my eyes as the silky, soft strands of her hair tickle my skin.
She tucks her face against my neck, her lips moving against my skin as she speaks. “Romantic sunset ceremony?”
“That sounds perfect,” I murmur, because it does. Holding her hands as the sun melts into the ocean, her face dappled with shades of orange and pink and red. She’ll have a flower in her hair, the dress she wears will be gauzy and white, and we’ll both cry. I know it. I’m not ashamed to admit it, either.
Pulling away slightly, Fable studies me, a little smile curling her lips. I love those lips. I love that smile. She reaches out, smudges her thumb against the corner of my mouth, and I wince, the twinge of pain reminding me that I cut myself earlier when someone tackled me during practice, causing my helmet to somehow hit the corner of my mouth just right.
“What happened?” she murmurs, her thumb lingering on my lips, wiping away at the blood I can’t see.
“Got tackled. Knocked my mouth on the helmet when I hit the ground.” I grimace when she presses harder. I can’t worry about the cut now. I have more important things to focus on. Like our future. “Let’s leave next week, Fable. Call up a travel agent or whatever and book the flight.”
“I can book the flight for us and find a hotel,” she says, her sweet voice soft, her hand dropping away from my mouth. “It’s going to be expensive, though, since it’s so last minute.”
I shake my head. “Money’s not an issue.” I’m making a shit ton. It’s ridiculous. Dad’s thrilled. He’s so freaking proud his son is going to start in the NFL. I went back to Carmel a few weeks ago. Without Fable, all alone, facing my demons, facing my father. Not one and the same anymore, thank God.
It went well. He took me to the country club where Fable and I had gone with him, and . . . yeah. It’s hard for me to think about that woman, what she did to me, the guilt I carried for so many years. Fable can hardly say her name out loud. Hell, I bet Dad feels the same way too.
My stepmom. Adele. The woman who seduced me, who tricked me and my father and everyone else in her life. She killed herself in front of me and Fable. I’m glad she’s gone. I don’t miss her.
She doesn’t deserve to be missed.
While I was in Carmel, I had lunch with Dad and his friends, let him brag all over me. It’s the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time, and sitting there at the table, listening to him go on and on, a mixture of regret and love and pride fills me.
I’m sorry our relationship became so strained. I’m not sorry that his wife died. And I’m thankful he didn’t hold her death against me.
After the country club, I told him I was heading straight home, but I didn’t. I went to the cemetery instead. I visited Vanessa’s grave, setting flowers on it, staring at her name etched in stone until my vision blurred and I blinked the past away. Is she mine? I still don’t know. I say no. I pray no.
But none of us will ever know the truth so in my heart, I believe Vanessa is my sister.
That’s the way it has to be. Otherwise, I might slowly lose my mind. And I can’t have that happen again.
“What about your dad?” Fable asks, and I wonder if she’s a mind reader. We’re so in tune with each other I wouldn’t doubt it for a second. “And Owen? I want them both there, but . . .”
“No.” I grab her hand and bring it to my mouth, kissing her knuckles softly. “Hawaii is just for us. Our wedding is just for us. When we come back home, we can have a small reception, or a big one, whatever you want. We’ll celebrate with our friends.” And family, I want to add, but we don’t have much family. Only Dad and Owen. Dad mentioned wanting to put something together for us, some sort of party, and I know she might protest so it’s better not to mention it.
Better not to mention Fable’s mother, either. She doesn’t want her mom around and neither do I. She’s pulled too many tricks throughout Fable’s life, especially lately.
I don’t like that woman. Hell, I’ve never even met her. But Fable hates her and that’s enough reason to feel this way.
“Okay.” She blows out a harsh breath, her lips turning into a tremulous smile. “I’ll look into flights. Ask Jen to take care of Owen, or maybe Wade’s mom.”
“Fable.” Her gaze catches mine when I say her name and I lean in, settling my mouth on hers in a lingering kiss. I taste her, salty sweet. I smell her. I inhale her. The cut in the corner of my mouth hurts but I don’t care. “I love you.” The words are more like breath, exhaled against her lips, and she closes her eyes on a sigh, little tears like shiny diamonds clinging to her lashes.
“I love you too.” I kiss her again after she says those words, dabbing at the tears with my thumb, catching them on my skin, feeling them sink into me. I’ve caught her tears more times than I can count. I’ve kissed her for what feels like forever. I’ve lost myself deep inside her body over and over.
It never grows old. Ever. My stomach still flips upon that first touch of her lips on mine. The sound of her laughter bleeds through me, suffusing my soul. The sight of her smile, the sound of pleasure that escapes her every single time I enter her . . .
This woman is just fucking it for me. She’s no longer a girl anymore. The jaded, angry, and defiant girl who was so determined to fight the world is gone, though shades of her still shine through.
I loved that girl. Fiercely. And I love the woman she is now, just as fiercely. She’s my fiancée, my future wife, the future mother of my children. Fable is the woman who will always stand by my side.
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.”