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OWNING

SWAN

CARTER BLAKE
Copyright © 2018 by Carter Blake
All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical
means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written
permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
The story of becoming beautiful isn't about the ugly
duckling becoming a swan; it is about the ugly duckling
realizing it was a swan all along.
— LETA GREENE
CONTENTS

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Epilogue
More Naughty Beasts & Filthy Princes
PREVIEW: Saving Red
PREVIEW: The Nanny and the Beast
PREVIEW: Thunderstruck
PREVIEW: Pretend to be Mine
PREVIEW: Hot Takeover
About the Author
Also by Carter Blake
Chapter 1
Quinn
“All I’m saying is, you need to drop the moody shit and go out
and have some actual fun,” Derek says.
As usual, his advice isn’t welcome or helpful, but I nod along
anyway because if I protest, he and the rest of my brothers will
make me miserable for the rest of the night. I make use of the
beer in front of me, and gulp down the contents of my glass in
one swallow.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate their candor or doubt that they
want what’s best for me. But as with most things, despite having
their hearts in the right place, following their prescribed course
of action would only give me grief.
“Dude, seriously,” Tate says, shooting up from his seat. He
gets excited about things and then throws his full weight behind
them. “How long has it been since you’ve picked up a girl?”
“You’re gonna want to sit down before you ask dangerous
questions like that,” Killian says. He’s cradling this watered-
down whiskey that he gets because he thinks it sets him apart
from the rest of us, the simple beer-chugging folk. “I bet it’s
been long enough for his hymen to grow back.”
They all laugh, and I grunt, throwing a look at them that
would terrify most men.
“Oh, Quinnie, come on.” Killian pats me on the back. “Your
big brother made a funny. Get that chuckle out now. You know
you want to.”
“If he laughs,” Derek says, “then it’ll be like he agrees with
you. And Quinnie is too proud for that.”
Another round of laughter. This time, they’re giggling like
fucking school girls.
And they question my manhood?
“And you all wonder why I don’t come out with you more,” I
mutter, taking another swig. As it happens, the glass is empty,
so I look even more like a jackass.
Let’s get one thing straight - I’m not a fucking virgin. I just
don’t work the same way as the rest of them.
Here’s the thing about my brothers: they don’t process much
more than the basic human needs. They get hungry, thirsty, hot,
cold, horny - but that’s about it. And they address those needs
when the situation arises, and then they’re back to coasting
along. I come out with them at least once a month because
they’re all I’ve got. Our DNA is as far as our common ground
goes.
Derek is happily married, though you’d never know from
hearing his locker room talk. Tate’s exhausted the town’s dating
pool, and now he’s working his way up to the moms of the girls
he’s dated - or just slept with, as is the case with most of them.
And Killian - well, Killian might be talking this big game, but he
keeps giving his phone furtive glances when he thinks none of
us are looking. Some chick named Mandy has his undivided
attention during those precious seconds.
But they do have a point. I haven’t been laid in months.
“Well?” Killian prods. “Aren’t you going to answer? Defend
yourself?”
“Against what, the opinion of a bunch of assholes?” I say,
taking his drink. I stand up because Killian’s five-ten stature is
nothing to my six-foot-four inches. That gets a rise out of Derek
and Tate, who live to see Killian lose his cool.
Killian is quick to his feet, trying to get his bottom-shelf crap
back. “Give that back.”
“Sit the hell down.” I glare pointedly at his seat. After a few
seconds of grandstanding, he does. “Good boy,” I say, taking a
mouthful before handing his beverage back to him. It burns in
my mouth, as only the cheap liquor Killian favors could.
“Asshole,” he says. “You drank half of it. You’re paying for
the next.”
“Killian, the owner of this dump is going to start paying you
for getting rid of that shit for him.” The bitter aftertaste sticks to
my throat, so I look around the table to see whose drink I’ll steal
next.
“I’ve gotta side with Quinnie, that shit is foul,” Derek says.
“Quinnie, go get us another pitcher, won’t you?”
“Get it yourself.” But I’m almost doing just that. They’re all
so lazy and entitled that they’ll wait it out - unless the thirst
wins out, that is. As I said, they’re all driven by their primal
urges.
“I’ll tell you what,” Tate says, a conspiratorial expression
materializing on his face. “We’ll lay off you if you go.”
“Nah,” Derek says. “Not worth it. I’ll get my own damn beer
and keep making Quinn squirm-”
Tate holds up a hand in Derek’s general direction. His eyes
don’t leave me, that same wicked glint clouding them. I can tell
that whatever he’s about to say next is going to cost me.
Damn it, I think. I should’ve just taken care of it before one of
them saw and took the opportunity to bait me.
“I propose that to buy his own freedom and dignity, Quinn
has to go get the next round and agree to a bet.” That gets a
smirk out of both Derek and Killian. “Let’s see…”
Shit. We don’t wager bets with each other often, and we avoid
Tate’s like the plague. He has a sadistic mind and will lay out
something outrageous. He reserves his perverse sense of humor
for the punishment if you lose a bet.
If I say no straightaway, it’ll only encourage Killian and Tate
to do worse. If I participate, I’m almost guaranteed to regret it.
“I know,” Derek says, flashing me a devilish grin. “Quinn
here is going to break the virginal streak tonight.”
Why didn’t I stay in tonight?
My knee aches and it’d been flaring up for a week. It always
does when the weather turns cold suddenly. Or when it’s about
to rain. They would’ve accepted that excuse, no problem. If there
was one topic my brothers held sacred, it was my injury.
“We aren’t in high school anymore. My sex life is none of
your damn business,” I snap.
“It is tonight. Unless, of course, you mean to forfeit,” Tate
says, grinning. “In which case, we hold the right to dole out
punishment as we see fit.”
“For it to be a forfeit, I would’ve had to agree to the bet in the
first place.”
“Quinn, just give up.” Killian wolfs down the remainder of
that disgusting whiskey of his, scrunching his face as it goes
down his throat. “We’re doing this for your own good.”
It’s no use arguing with them. It really isn’t. In the past two
years, I’ve stopped fighting things I can’t control. My knee
getting in the way of my career. The fact that my brilliant future
dulled considerably. The shitty prospects I had in town. The
sinking realization that this - my life now - was it.
I’d continue on this path for another thirty or forty years and
retire if I could afford it, or keep working my dead-end job until I
dropped dead.
It’s easier just to accept things. Besides, maybe there would
be a way out of the bet on a technicality or a loophole that
wouldn’t make fulfilling it too much of a hassle. Or cost me any
more of my self-respect.
I sigh. “Fine.”
“Continue, Derek,” Tate says. “Let’s see if your offering is
worthy of an official Cooper throwdown.”
“It’s simple. Quinn here has to find a woman and win her
over. Pop her cherry.”
I slam my fist against the table. “If you keep bringing up that
virginity bullshit, I’m outta here.” Where’s the damn beer? If
nothing else, they could get on with it so I could get up and get
the pitcher.
“Touchy, touchy,” Killian says. To Derek, he adds, “I like that.
Simple. Elegant.”
“Effective,” Tate says. “And before you look at us like we’re
force-feeding Killian’s atrocious whiskey down your throat,
remember, we’re your older brothers, and we love you. You can’t
even remember what a naked chick looks like. An intervention is
necessary.”
They’re all nodding ahead like a string of pigeons bobbing up
and down on a dangling power line.
“Shit, fine,” I say.
“Wait, what happens if he doesn’t follow through?” Killian
doesn’t know how to keep his cool. Tate is so invested in this
that he wouldn’t think to set the losing terms.
I’m not worried about not succeeding. It’s not the point. But I
wanted to ride it out and bullshit my way out of having my
brothers sticking their nose into what happens in my bedroom.
“Good question. Every bet should be balanced and fair. We
don’t want to put you down, Quinnie, so if you lose, it won’t be
the end of the world.” Tate winks. “Killian, since you insisted on
the stakes, your fate is tied to Quinn’s. If he doesn’t seal the
deal, you’re banned from ever bringing the mom squad to an
outing with any of us.”
Interesting. On the one hand, if I lose the bet, I will never
hear the end of it. But it would almost be worth it to throw the
whole thing just to get a pass from seeing Killian grope a cougar.
Killian groans while Tate gives another Cheshire grin. He’s
practically giddy.
“They’re not moms, they’re-”
“Sophisticated women,” we finish in unison.
“Dude, it’s weird. However this ends, we’ve done our job and
set at least one of you straight, I can’t think of anything better,”
Derek says, high-fiving Tate.
“But why is it something of mine? This bet is for Quinn. If he
loses, why should I pay for it?”
“For fuck’s sake, Killian, it’s like you don’t remember Quinn
snatching all those girls out from under - well, over you in high
school,” Tate says, chuckling at his height joke.
At that, I have to laugh. I can say what I want about Tate, but
he’s never a bad time when he’s picking on someone else.
“Hey, let’s not lose track of what’s important here. Quinn,
now you know the terms,” Derek says, and Tate joins in on the
background with a horrible attempt at a drumroll. “Do you
accept?”
“That’s it? Sleep with a girl, and you’ll get off my back? Sure.”
I nod at the pitcher. “Can I get us another round now?”
“Of course, that’s not it,” Tate says, enunciating that last
word with heavy sarcasm. “Who do you take us for? Noobs? No.
You left out the part where it has to be tonight.”
More pigeon head-bobbing from the three of them.
“What?” I say. I look around and signal for them to do the
same. “There are, like, three chicks in this place, and they’re
all-”
I’m not going to say they’re ugly, because it’s not true and,
more importantly, that’s not the point. I didn’t need their help
when it came to my sex life, and I didn’t want them to leer if I
went over to any girls. It would come across as a prank - which,
fair enough, that’s what it is. But this was my burden. I wouldn’t
make any of those girls my brothers’ laughingstock.
“Yeah, they’re not the prettiest,” Tate agreed, after scanning
the dive himself. “But beggars can’t be choosers, and unless I
see it with my own eyes, I won’t believe you’ve done your part.
Since we only see you about once a month…” He shrugs, again
with an air of mockery. “It’s tonight, or you go another month
living like a priest.”
“We only want what’s best for you,” Killian repeats. “And as
the older members of this family, you should defer to us.”
I look to Derek for sympathy. This was all his goddamn fault.
Why couldn’t he have extended a bet that wouldn’t put me on
the spot like this? He’s the oldest, and even if he does enjoy
messing with Killian and me, the youngest of the four, I can
usually count on him to be reasonable. This time, though, he
shakes his head.
“I don’t even care if you go home with the girl or not,” he
says. “I just want to see you put yourself out there. Go live your
life. And if you won’t do it on your own, we’ll use our influence
to force you to.”
“You’ll thank us later.” Tate holds out the pitcher. “Go get a
good draft and we’ll review your options when you return.”
I grab the cheap plastic thing from his hand and leave in a
huff to the bar. My knee whines with the abrupt movement, yet
another reminder that this night is going to tally up as a loss for
me.
The next time I feel hesitant about seeing the three of them,
I’ll listen to my gut and avoid it. Let Derek and Tate focus their
energies on Killian.
I wait for Marty to take my order, my back to my brothers. I
watch the door, zeroing in on the poster of me from my high
school football days. What’s that doing there? It has to be a
recent change in decor. Tate would’ve ended whoever had the
gall to put that relic up if he’d noticed it, and since he’s a
frequent flyer around these parts, it couldn’t have been up for
long.
Suddenly, a gorgeous woman steps inside. She’s tall. Almost
as tall as Killian. The first things I notice are her legs, which go
on for days. The kind of legs you want wrapped around you. And
curvy in all the right places.
Hot.
She sees me checking her out. A brief bout of confusion takes
over her face before she replaces it with a friendly smile. “Hi,
Quinn.”
It’s not weird for her to know me if she’s a local. I used to be a
legend in this little patch of land we called home.
But the fact that I don’t recognize her when she looks like
that and seems to be my age is odd.
“Hi.” I try to think of something to say that won’t offend her
or reveal my shitty memory. “You…look good.”
She bursts out laughing. “You have no idea who I am, do
you?”
“Of course I do,” I say. She stares, waiting for me to complete
that with some verifiable tidbit. “No, I don’t.”
“Abigail,” she says, holding out her hand. That’s not usually
how girls greet me, but I take it. “Abigail Swan.”
“And I’m-”
She takes her hand back. “Quinn Cooper. I know. We went to
high school together. Of course, you don’t remember me.” She
takes a menu from the counter and waves, ready to retreat.
Behind me, my merry band of asshole brothers cackle. I turn
to see if they’re doing anything that’ll get us kicked out. They’re
not.
They’re staring at us, unable to control their sniggering.
Abigail stiffens next to me. She glowers at me and then
retreats to a dimly lit corner, picks up a menu, and starts reading
it.
Chapter 2
A bigail
Not even two days back in town and already I’m reminded of
why I left. And there’s no better courier for an affirmation of the
status quo than one of the Coopers. Lucky me, winning the
jackpot and getting all four of them.
To be fair, I never had a problem with Quinn. He was in a
couple of my classes, but apparently, he doesn’t remember that.
Which isn’t surprising, given that we never exchanged more
than two words to each other in the four years we studied
together. Or I could take it further back, to middle school. We did
speak once or twice in elementary school, but that was eons ago.
I’m not the kind of girl who got his attention back then.
Or now.
Nothing’s changed. His brothers certainly haven’t. They
made my life a living hell in school. I only got a break during
senior year, when all of them except for Quinn had graduated.
Tate, in particular, was a piece of work. Just remembering the
mean comments he’d tossed my way was enough to make my
blood boil.
I’ll eat and then leave. With any luck, that unfortunate
greeting at the door is the extent of my misfortune where the
Coopers were concerned.
It’s hard to concentrate on which of the four greasy spoon
items on the menu I’ll choose. I haven’t unpacked my cutlery
yet, so I’ll have to eat while I’m here. Unless they pack a mean
doggie bag, with all the utensils I’ll need to eat. Which, knowing
this place, they don’t.
Their din hasn’t died down yet. I concentrate on the
laminated sheet that passes for a menu in front of me,
narrowing my options to a cheeseburger or a salad. A
cheeseburger could be messy to eat, especially in a hurry. It
would have to be a salad, which I’ll inhale in a minute flat, and
then be on my way.
When I glance up, three of the Cooper brothers are gawking at
me and laughing. The other one, Quinn, looks ready to dart out
the door. But when he looks over at me, he quickly darts his gaze
to another spot in the room.
What did I do this time?
Not that the Coopers needed a reason to make me miserable.
It seemed to be their nature. But still, just talking to Quinn is
enough to rile up the ridicule that floats across the room.
I glance back at the menu. Anywhere but at the men who are a
reminder of why I left this damn town in the first place.
“Hi,” a deep voice says above me.
Steeling my shoulders, I glance up.
Quinn is staring down at me. He blinks, and I see those
ridiculously long lashes haven’t changed either. It was that
detail about him that always made me swoon.
Yes, swoon. I was that girl in high school.
You know what? I’m still that girl. No one on earth can
criticize me for it. Put him in front of anyone attracted to men
and they’ll say the exact same thing.
“You again,” I say, ice cold. Ironic, given I’m burning on the
inside. “You know, I did give you a way out. For you to follow me
back to my table just to mess with me and make me a
laughingstock for your brothers, again, is just so…high school.”
Quinn furrows his brow. “What are you talking about? I
wanted to say hi. You’re right, I don’t remember you, and that’s
my loss. Can you really fault a guy for trying to right a wrong?”
I’m not convinced his brothers aren’t putting him up to this.
Right a wrong? Really?
“Look, Quinn, it’s been a long week, and I’m only at this
grease spoon because I need to eat. Then I’m headed back to my
little cabin in the middle of nowhere. You don’t have to right
anything.”
He pulls up a chair and sits with its back against his chest, the
image of an impish creature. “I’m here because I want to be.
What are you up to? What’s happened since high school?”
I have to sigh because that’s not a subject I want to get into,
not with him or anyone else. “Long story. I don’t like talking
about it.”
Quinn holds his hands up, a show of innocence. “I can respect
that. It’s my go-to response when someone asks me what I’m up
to or does that pity head-tilt when they talk about me blowing
my knee out.”
Here we go, then. Talking about the career that never was. I
heard about it, of course. No one around these parts could escape
it. The fall of the titan that never was. More precisely, the titan
that never got a chance to be.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I say sincerely, and go back to
scanning the menu, even though I’ve already settled on the
salad. Maybe now is a good time to make sure I made the right
call.
“You’re right, why talk about that?” Quinn asks, eyes
sparkling. “Better to talk about the present. And the future. Are
you going to be in town long?”
“I never know what’s going to happen more than a month in
advance. Sometimes, not even then. I’m here until I’m not,” I
say, setting the menu down and meeting his gaze directly.
“Keeps life interesting.”
“And what is it that you do that allows you to be such a
maverick about your moves?”
“I write.” I steel myself for the laughter I know will follow.
Writing isn’t cool or sexy to jocks, and even if Quinn always did
seem a step removed from his Neanderthal brothers, dollars to
donuts that he’ll lose interest in this conversation.
His eyebrows shoot up, which could either be surprise or
mockery. “Write what?”
“Fiction,” I say, averting my eyes again. I hope he doesn’t ask
to see something I’ve written because there’s no chance in hell
that I would ever oblige or humor him. My writing is too personal
and not-for-jocks.
“I get the feeling this isn’t something you want to talk about
either,” Quinn muses. “That’s fine. Look, I want you to forgive
my asshole brothers for laughing. It’s not you - it’s me. You
have my word on that. I need to ask for your help if you’re
willing.”
I study him for a second before answering. “What is it?”
“They’re on my last nerve, and I need a way out. How about I
drive you home so that you don’t have to walk back and I have an
acceptable excuse for ditching them?”
“How in the world do you know I walked here?”
Grinning, he eyes my shoes. “Your boots. They’re caked in
mud, and I don’t think there’s any place in the parking lot that
would result in that.”
I look down at my boots, which are indeed filthy. Come to
think of it, I’m exhausted from head to toe. A ride home would
be nice. If it were anyone else offering, I would accept in a
heartbeat. Well, if that someone didn’t have the last name
Cooper, that is. But if I leave with Quinn, he’ll get the wrong
idea. For all I know, this might well be a line. I never took Quinn
for someone who’d want to slum it with someone like me, but
maybe it’s been a long while for him.
Whatever it is, I want no part of it.
“I see your wheels are spinning, so I just want to assure you
that this is exactly what it sounds like,” he says. “I only want to
take you home.”
“That’s just the thing,” I start to say when I see Killian and
Tate, the worst of the Coopers, angling their phones at us. Like
they’re taking a picture. “What are they doing?”
Quinn glances backward, his face darkening when he catches
sight of his brothers. “Two assholes proving my point.”
“I want to say yes, but I’m afraid that-”
“Afraid that I’m in the same category as those assholes I
unfortunately have to call my brothers. And that I’ll use this as a
pretext to get in your pants?” Quinn raises his right hand like a
boy scout. “I promise it’s not.”
I shoot one last look at the menu. I’m really not missing
much if I skip this meal - but I’ll need to eat eventually. Maybe
there’ll be some other place open on our way to my cabin. My
stomach growls again, making Quinn laugh.
“Well, that’s the sound of one more stop on the way to your
place,” he says. “So, are you going to be my knight in shining
armor or will I need to fulfill that role for myself?”
Oh, what the hell. This is the best tonight is going to get.
“Let’s go, then,” I tell him.
Twirling his keychain around his fingers, Quinn gets up and
holds the door open for me. Before he steps outside of the dive
bar, he salutes his brothers. They’re all staring at us - Killian
even, that dick, with his mouth agape - and it does nothing to
settle the mounting fear that this is a terrible, no good, awful
idea.
Chapter 3
Quinn
“What’s their problem?” Abigail asks, seemingly irked by the
send-off we received when my brothers made a big to-do of
demonstrating their disbelief that she agreed to go home with
me. Good thing that it had worked. By the disgust Abigail shows
whenever she refers to the Cooper clan, it’s safe to say I’ll get as
far as her front porch - and no further.
“Do you have all night?” I ask.
She smiles. It’s small and gone a second later, but I saw her
lips twitch up.
“Why don’t you give me the abridged version,” she says.
“They’re well-meaning, but misguided,” I say, sticking the
key in the ignition. “But I don’t want to talk about them. We
have to figure out your food situation.”
“My food situation?”
“You’re starving, aren’t you? The problem about living here is
that after a certain hour, it’s pretty slim pickings. I’m drawing a
blank about where we should go. Marty’s is the place you can
always count to be open, but that’s only good for drinks.
Sometimes, not even that.” I tap at the steering wheel, anxiously
drumming to try to jog my memory.
“It doesn’t have to be fancy,” Abigail says. “It just has to be
food. I haven’t been here in years, so I came to Marty’s because I
was on foot. Maybe there’s a convenience store somewhere?”
“There is, actually,” I say, nodding. “Let’s drop by there
before we go to your place. Where is your place, by the way?”
“It’s a little cabin I inherited, just off Juniper Cove,” Abigail
replies, naming one of the shabbier parts of town.
It’s good for her that the cabins there are pretty sturdy, if
nothing else. The way she said ‘inherited’ makes me think
there’s a deeper story there. She didn’t want to talk about what
she’s up to now, so there’s likely a link.
We ride in silence. Eventually, Abigail fiddles with the radio
station, changing to a progressive rock one. The best one we get
out here, in fact. I want to tell her I’m impressed she even knows
about the legendary show that’s going to come on any second
now, but I can’t find a way to express it without sounding like a
pompous jackass.
The neon lights announcing the convenience store and gas
station appear in the distance. I point to them and say, “That’s
it.”
“What happened to Lou’s?”
“He went out of business. That’s one of those chain type of
gas stations, you know?” I exhale sharply. “Lots of things
changed around here since you left. Many mom and pop shops
are gone.”
“Wow, I thought this was the one place on earth that
capitalism wouldn’t touch.”
“Nah, we’re going to see the rise of corporate America and
the homogenization of commerce countrywide in our lifetime.
Mark my words.” She says nothing, so I glance her way and find
she’s staring. “What?”
“What’s with the word salad?”
I pull up to one of the pumps, and grunt, wanting to inform
her that I’m not the stupid jock she obviously thinks I am. But I
clamp my mouth around the words.
“Go, get your fill. Holly here is going to get hers, too,” I say,
giving my dashboard a playful smack. “I’ll go inside to pay, so
you have that long.”
“Holly?” Abigail unbuckles her seat. “That’s cute.”
I chuckle. “You better go. You’re losing good time.”
Racing to the door, Abigail shoots me one more look and
bursts out laughing before going inside. When she’s out of sight,
I look at my reflection in the rearview mirror and want to give
the dork I see a good whack. Why am I parroting words I read in a
magazine while waiting for my doctor a few days ago?
Because the only way to impress a girl like that is with brains,
not brawn, asshole.
I can’t believe I don’t remember her from high school. I’ve
always gone for the smart ones, even if from the outside people
thought I was dating them for their looks. It’s not fair to pit a
high school girl against one who’s had two years to mature out of
the bullshit we learned while there, but even if you took those
two years out of the equation, I would bet anything that Abigail
still beat them out of the water.
My reflection catches my eye again. I sigh and get out of the
car. It won’t take her long to get a dozen candy bars and chips or
whatever else is edible in there. And what am I doing, pondering
on my sanity about how I missed the fact she existed while we
were in high school?
Abigail couldn’t have made it clearer that she’s not
interested.
I pull the nozzle and attach it to my truck, watching the
numbers and dials count how much poorer this little trip will
make me. While I wait, I look through the windows of the
convenience store and see Abigail biting her lip as she studies
the food aisle. My cock twitches, struggling inside my jeans.
Looking down at myself shows me how fucking obvious my
hard-on is.
Shit.
She’s going to get the wrong idea, so I look away and try to
think of other things that’ll make my cock end its fight. Tate and
Killian were right - I might as well be re-virginizing, given how
long it’s been since I was with someone.
That makes me think of Abigail again, and what it would be
like if I were taking her home in the biblical sense. Which, of
course, makes my cock stiffen and strain inside my jeans even
more.
Algebra. That one actress’s face when she’s crying every other
scene on the show about the military guy flipping and becoming
a terrorist. That one gangrenous-looking mole on Tate’s foot.
One by one, a handful of images go through my mind, making
it clear that no randomly picked, definitely unsexy topics would
do the trick.
The station screen beeps, alerting me that the tank is full.
“You going to go pay for that?” Abigail says, startling me.
I blink. “Uh, yes.”
She slurps a large blue beverage. The blue sludge climbs fast
through the thick straw, leaving me to wonder how she doesn’t
have a brain freeze. While she’s working on her monster drink,
she rummages through a shopping bag weighed down by what
seems like fifty trillion chocolate bars. “I’ll wait for you here
then.”
“Okay.” I adjust my balls, thankful that Abigail seems
raptured with her purchases to notice I look like I’m attempting
an Irish jig.
Inside the store, the cashier pointedly leers at my crotch,
curling up her pierced lip in a smile that’s closer to a grimace.
“What can I get for you today, Quinn Cooper?”
Unfazed that I’m either fodder for what appears to be a
warped sense of humor or a weak attempt at a come-on, I pay
and head out again. Abigail let herself in the car. Inside the radio
blasts the song that played when the doctor delivered the news
that I wouldn’t go on to become a professional athlete. It does
the trick - my cock gets the message, anyways.
“Are you okay?” she asks when I turn the key in the ignition.
“Yeah. That song just brings up some bad memories.”
Abigail turns the volume down. “This one? Are you sure? Who
plays this kind of song when it’s a bad occasion?”
“Not the least of Dr. Morgan’s office manager’s offenses.” My
voice is clipped and a little too tense, and I don’t want to sour the
mood.
“Oh, yeah, I’m in full agreement. He gave me the news of my
parents’ deaths after I’d been waiting in the godawful pastel-
colored waiting room.” Abigail shakes the Slurpee and uses the
straw to dislodge the stray bits from the sides of the cup.
I frown and glance over at her. “Your parents died?”
“Yeah, years ago,” she says. “It’s one of those things I don’t
like to talk about. But if this were a court of law, you could argue
I opened the door to this conversation. So, I’ll give you one
question. You can quench your curiosity and we can move on.”
“Real life isn’t a court of law,” I say. “And I wouldn’t want
you to talk about anything that’s obviously so painful for you, so
I waive my right to that question.”
“Sorry, I’m on a legal thriller kick,” she says. “I think of
everything through the lens of what my lawyer protagonist
would see if she were living it. It was supposed to help my
creativity spark again, but it’s not. I have precisely zero pages
written.”
Changing the course of the conversation. That’s a good
tactical move, I have to admit.
“Why legal thrillers? Don’t chicks usually jump at the
opportunity to write romance?”
“And if this were a page from my manuscript, I’d tag that line
of yours as ‘dude-bro tries to come across as slick, misses by a
landslide, and shows his true colors as the veritable dude-bro
that he is’ or something a little pithier,” she says, laughing.
“Seriously, calling me a ‘chick’ and insinuating that romance is
what I should stick to? You have no idea how hard it is to write a
romance. Especially if you’ve never been in love.”
“You called me out on a word salad before and now you just
used ‘pithy’ unironically?”
She chuckles.
“Make a right over there.” She points to a shady intersection.
“I’m allowed to use big words. I’m a writer. Or at least an
aspiring one, anyway.”
“I’m also allowed to use big words.” I wink at her. “I’ve been
known to do it now and again when I shed my dude-bro facade.”
“Facade.” She throws her head back, and says exaggeratedly.
“Oh my God, someone please take away this man’s thesaurus.”
I erupt in laughter and almost crash the car into this garbage
trolley in the middle of the road, swerving only at the last
minute. Abigail hits her head against the window, yelping in
pain.
“Are you okay?” I pull the car up in front of a house that looks
either abandoned or condemned - maybe both. “I’m sorry. I
didn’t keep my eyes on the road. Let me take a look at that.”
Eyes shut, she massages her injury. “No. Don’t worry about
me. I didn’t buckle the seatbelt, so this is not your fault in the
slightest. My cabin is only a little further down this road, so
maybe you should just keep driving, and I’ll take care of it when I
get home.”
“I should take a look. Make sure you don’t have a
concussion.”
“You do much mending when you’re being a dude-bro?”
She’s trying to be funny, but I see her wince when she touches
her head and hits a sore spot.
“Have you seen a football game?” I keep driving. “Shit got
brutal. We all had to learn to do basic repairs with a first-aid kit,
especially when our medic missed a game. Newsflash, Dr.
Morgan as a volunteer isn’t nearly as dependable as he is with
his own practice. Which isn’t saying much.”
“Just over there. The blue cabin. God, this hurts,” she says,
gently pressing against her head.
“Maybe you should avoid touching it?” I pull up and drive the
length of her driveway at less than five miles an hour. “Do you
have a first aid kit in the house?”
“No. I just moved back. Haven’t unpacked yet.”
“Wait here while I grab mine from the trunk.” I spring out of
the truck to get it.
“That’s really not necessary, Quinn. I’ll be fine.” She’s out of
the car and starting towards the front door. “It’ll just leave a
bump. Maybe. I don’t know.”
“Stop touching it. Wait a goddamn second and stop being a
little kid who can’t stop picking the scabs off their scrapes.”
Here’s where I come clean about my general lack of medical
knowledge. The tidbit about us having to patch ourselves up here
and there when our medic didn’t show up? Bullshit. As if Coach
Hannigan would ever run a scrimmage - let alone an actual game
- without someone who could step in if there was an emergency.
After watching Friday Night Lights, he took it upon himself to
beef up our defensive and offensive training to be able to block
or at least absorb dirty tackles without putting ourselves in the
line of fire.
But Abigail is focusing on her injury, and if I don’t do
something to look in her eyes and make an impression, there’s
no way she’ll give me her number. The label of dude-bro doesn’t
apply for my attitude - I would go as far as to argue that it
doesn’t suit me as a whole - but I’m not about to just drop her
off and be on my way.
The only thing that can’t happen tonight is sex, thanks to my
brothers’ stupid wager. If I do sleep with her, it’ll be cheap.
And she is not that kind of a girl.
Chapter 4
A bigail

Ten minutes with Quinn is enough to make it crystal clear that


he’s nothing like his brothers.
He’s funny.
Clever.
And he goes back and forth between charming and broody
just enough to hint at a darker side without making me feel like
he’s a bottomless pit of despair.
Despite myself, I feel my defenses go down when he starts
with the big words. Aside from the English Literature geeks in
high school, I haven’t been able to share my love of language
with anyone else. I doubt he’s an aficionado or anything like
that, but it’s obvious he’s smart.
And, God, so sexy.
I’m milking my banged-up head for all it’s worth. If he just
drops me off, it’ll be over.
When will I run into him again?
Granted, it’s a small town. But we’d both go back to a neutral
zone. All the progress we made with the witty banter goes out
the window.
So, no, the window will serve a better purpose tonight.
He grabs a white and red case, sets it down on my lap, and
takes great care to examine the spot where I hit my head with a
light touch. When I’m certain he won’t meet my eyes, I watch
his work and try to keep from sighing.
He makes eye contact with me, which immediately has me
averting my gaze and blushing.
Damn it.
If he’s the kind who likes the chase, the only reason he’s been
so nice and flirtatious with me is that he enjoyed a girl not
lapping up his attention and subconsciously sending out signs
that she’ll jump through hoops for him. I thought for sure that
he knew about my crush on him, but since he has no recollection
of me in high school, that theory is a dud.
“It doesn’t look too bad,” he says, a hint of uncertainty
seeping into his voice. “Where did you say it hurts again?”
“Right here,” I say, feeling around my head. There’s only
some residual pain, but I exaggerate anyway, and wince.
“Usually the area would be red…”
Quinn takes a little flashlight and beams it down on my head,
mortifying me. Why do I have such a weak game? Why is my
answer to everything to take the worst possible route to get what
I want?
It’s no wonder I’m a virgin who’s never been on a real date.
Cupping one side of my face, he turns my head so he has a
better field of vision to the half of my scalp that’s supposed to
hurt. It’s not going at all like I imagined it would. How do pretty
girls do this? Do they just let their beauty speak for them?
“Yeah, I don’t see anything.” Quinn throws the flashlight in
the first aid kit as I untwist my neck from the unnatural angle he
had me in. “But the good news is, there’s no blood or any cuts.”
“That’s great,” I mutter. “Sorry for worrying you. And for
allowing my head to potentially put a dent in your-”
“Window?” Quinn chortles. “Don’t sweat it. It wouldn’t be a
complete night without some emotions running high and the
suspense of a health scare.”
I plaster a smile on my face, one that doesn’t convince even
me that I’m as breezy as can be and start to move towards the
house.
Quinn’s mountainous frame blocks my way. He doesn’t budge
when I gesture for him to let me pass.
“I had a great time tonight,” he says, his lashes on full
display again.
What did I say earlier? That I swoon when he does that? Well,
this time it threatens to put me in a coma. I’ve never had him up
close and personal like this. It makes my head faint and the
world spin around me.
“Me too,” I manage to say. “It was unexpectedly great.”
“It was,” he agrees. “We should do it again.”
“Wait, are you asking me out on a-”
Quinn’s answer takes the form of a kiss.
My first kiss.
I don’t know what I’m doing so I follow his lead, starting nice
and slow. Then, his lips part and he deepens the kiss. My heart
collapses against my chest, and I can hear my blood pumping
through my veins.
I can hear it.
That’s how terrified…and mesmerized…and turned on…and
confused…and afraid of doing something wrong I am.
A moan. Muffled by our lips, sure, but I’m sure I heard it.
Quinn moaned.
Heat radiates down my spine and travels to the center of my
being, lighting a fire between my legs. I finally understand the
world’s fascination with lust and how powerless and powerful it
makes you feel at the same time.
His tongue touches mine, and it’s a bolt of lightning. My
hands take a life of their own, grabbing at his hair and bringing
his face closer to mine. My body presses against his, and his hard
cock has to have left an imprint on my hip.
“You want to come inside?” I ask, even though the thought
simultaneously thrills me and chills me to my bones. “The place
is a mess, but if you don’t mind that, it might be more
comfortable.”
What are you saying, Abigail?
More “comfortable.”
You won’t seduce an oven mitt with that.
“No, it’s getting late,” Quinn says, pulling back slightly, his
expression unreadable.
“Oh.” It has to be the fastest anyone has gone from a
thousand miles an hour to a screeching halt.
“Oh, no,” he backpedals. “I don’t want you to think I’m
not...” His drags his fingers through his hair. “I’m interested.
Very. Interested.” He pulls me closer, his hard-on pulsating
white-hot through the layers of clothes between us.
“Then what’s the problem?” Insecurities flutter in my chest.
“I don’t want you to think it was some line,” he says. “I never
imagined that this would happen when we left Marty’s. Believe
me. You are…You’re amazing.”
I’ve come this far and either he’s just being kind, kissing me
so as not to reject me outright, but that’s as far as he wants to
take it, or he’s telling the truth about his hesitation. Whatever
the case, I don’t see much downside to digging my heels in
except for the possibility of me getting my ass handed to me and
humiliated three ways to Sunday.
Deciding I can live with that sooner than I can let him drive
off when we could do so much more, I kiss him again.
“I want you. Come inside?” It’s a small whimper. Pathetic.
But when he nods in agreement, I don’t regret it.
Chapter 5
Quinn
Her words are fuel for my desire. Whatever reservations were
on my mind, they vanish when she says those three magic words
- I want you.
The springs of Abigail’s mattress squeak when I push her on
the faded quilt covering. The bed isn’t the best, and those
springs are for sure going to wake any neighbors she has, but I
don’t care.
Our conversation in the car was more vibrant than any other
I’ve had in months. Years, maybe.
What she knows about me, she keeps to herself, so it’s easy to
pretend we’re two strangers who hit it off. One of those chance
encounters that change everything.
She’s dazzling.
A breath of fresh air.
I’m going to make her mine.
Reason goes out the door when I pull her shirt off, revealing
the creamy skin underneath. Goosebumps trail my touch,
making her shiver. It’s like my body’s entire content of blood
drained to my cock because the throbbing originating from my
groin is nothing short of earth-splittingly intense.
I’m torn between foreplay to make her anguish for my cock
and just - taking her. Showing her what a man who knows what
he wants can make her feel.
My jeans slide off quickly enough, but I leave my boxers on. If
I remove them, I won’t have a choice - I’ll want to thrust as hard
and deep into her as I can.
In a matter of a couple of hours, Abigail woke a need unlike
any other I’ve ever felt.
I want her.
Need her.
Have to make her mine.
My shirt joins the rest of our clothes in a heap on the floor.
She moans against my mouth when I kiss her, and wraps her
legs around my hips, lassoing me closer. Our bodies grind
together, rough and hot, until her skirt becomes an
inconvenience I can no longer bear. I hike it up, push her soaked
panties to the side, and pull my cock out.
The bare contact between my shaft and her wet pussy is
searing. I give her a good, long thrust, and I’m balls deep inside
her.
Fuck.
“Oh God,” she cries, and the tight fit becomes even tighter as
her pussy clenches around my cock.
“You feel so good,” I whisper in her ear, thrusting again. “I’m
going to”-another thrust-“fuck you”-another thrust-“come for
me”-harder-“like you’ve…”-again-“never come before.”
Abigail’s frantic moans send adrenaline surging through my
veins.
My hips collide against hers, and there’s no release, no hint of
it peaking, so I have to go faster. Smack. Our skin crackles with
each thrust, drowning out the squeaking mattress springs.
“Quinn,” she cries. “I’m-”
“You’re going to come for me,” I tell her, kissing her hard. “I
want to hear your moans”-I thrust deeper-“as you come for
me.”
The way she looks at me through her half-lidded eyes, her
lustful expression rouses a primal energy in me. My strokes
inside her tight pussy give rise to a tidal wave of pleasure.
In that brief second, just before I explode inside of her, I’m
overwhelmed by the desire to own her.
Not just her body.
All of her.
Her pussy clamps down on me one last time before she
shrieks in ecstasy, finally reaching her orgasm.
No sooner than I hear the sound of her bliss, jets of cum shoot
out of me, a full-body release that makes me roar.
“Wow,” we say in unison, foreheads pressed together.
I roll next to her, utterly spent.
No one - and I do mean no one - has ever gotten me to lose
control like that.
Even if I tried to hang on, I wouldn’t have been able to.
The fact I hadn’t even managed to get our clothes off before
we went at it spoke to that.
“That was incredible,” she breathes. “I can’t even think
straight.”
“Me neither.”
“And you said you weren’t trying to pick me up,” she teases.
“Did you really not see this ending right here?”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested from the moment I
saw you, but no. I didn’t think there was any chance.” I roll on
top of her and look in her eyes. “But let’s get one thing straight.
This isn’t ending right here.”
Her cheeks turn red. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” I say, burying my head in her hair, “that we have
only just begun.”
Chapter 6
A bigail
The sunlight pours into the room. Without curtains to give
me any shade, I can’t resist waking up.
I don’t open my eyes at first.
No, the only thing I need to do right now is to allow myself to
bask in the euphoria I feel as the reel of what happened on this
very bed just a few hours ago plays in my mind.
I pat the section of the bed next to me, trying to find Quinn’s
body.
Nothing.
No one’s there. Only a crumpled fitted sheet, the result of the
night before. I sit up and rub my eyes before scanning the room
for any sign that I’m not alone.
If Quinn left in the early hours of the morning without saying
goodbye, I hope a hole appears on the floor and swallows me. My
plummeting heart recovers when I see his clothes are precisely
where he left it. As are mine.
“Quinn?” I call.
“In your kitchen,” he shouts. “Making breakfast with the
very limited amount of ingredients you had in your pantry.”
“I’ll be right there.”
“No, stay in bed.” The sound of metal utensils clinking
together echoes through the cabin. “I’ll bring breakfast to you.”
He doesn’t have to say it twice. It’s like the sex depleted my
energy and even several hours of sleep aren’t enough to charge
the levels back to what they were before. My head collapses on
the pillow, and I fidget until I get comfortable again.
I had expected my first time to hurt. For me to not know what
the hell I was doing. But somehow, the way Quinn had taken me
brought out this instinct that had been there all along. I didn’t
tell him I was a virgin, and in return, he didn’t treat me like one,
as if I were dainty and fragile.
No, he made a woman out of me. The best kind of ache burns
between my legs. If I had it my way, we would never leave this
cabin. I want more of what we did. More of our limbs tangled
together and not knowing where I began and he ended.
Quinn appears in the doorway, a goofy smile on his face.
“Good morning.”
“Good morning,” I say, returning his smile. “How did you
sleep?”
“Like a rock.” He carries the tray to the bed.
Various candy bars are arranged in senseless little clusters.
The only breakfast item on there is the black coffee, fragrant and
fresh, in two mismatching mugs.
I can’t help but laugh.
“Well, isn’t this nutritious,” I tease. “They say breakfast is
the most important meal of the day. What are we going to do if
this is how we take ours?”
“Take it up with the owner of this joint.” He hands me the
cup of steaming coffee, a much-needed pick-me-up to
jumpstart my day. Without it, I’m sure I’ll remain a hazy ball of
post-sex-afterglow for days.
“The owner wishes to remind you that she hasn’t had time to
run to the store.” I take a sip and almost can’t believe how
heavenly it tastes. Since when did I have coffee this good? Aside
from the jar of instant coffee in one of the kitchen cabinets,
there’s nothing else on the premises that would end up tasting
half as magical. “Wait, I had decent coffee lying around? I
wouldn’t trust it. Was probably here before I arrived.”
Quinn laughs. “No, it was in my car. I never go anywhere
without a backup stash. No one deserves to drink shitty coffee.”
I glare at him from the corner of my eye and gulp the rest of it
down, scorching hot, in one go. “Hey. No subtle digs.”
“Just honesty,” he says, and sips his coffee.
The tray of sugary goodies sits between us, a matter I’ll have
to correct soon. I consider my options, opting for the plate with
pieces of a nutty caramel chocolate bar, the slabs of dark
chocolate, and the tangy, gummy candies. It’s cheating for my
usual diet, but what else was I supposed to get at a late-night gas
station convenience store?
“So, what do you have going on?” Quinn asks, taking the
other plate. The selection is similar, but instead of gummy
candies, there are soft, individually wrapped taffies.
“Nothing, really,” I admit. “I decided to go easy for the next
few weeks and try to get my story on the page, but I can just
imagine how that’s going to go. Spoiler alert, not well.”
“What’s your story about?” He unwraps five pieces of taffy
and crams them into his mouth all at once. It’s such a departure
from his calm, collected self that I can’t help but do a happy
dance in spirit, if not in person.
I’ve become the fool, infatuated with the guy who spent the
night under what he probably assumed was a no-strings-
attached hookup. Just like all the girls I hated and felt inferior to
in high school.
“Abigail?”
“Call me Abby,” I say. “Abigail is so rigid and formal.”
“Whoa.” His brows go up and he grins. “Letting me call you
by your nickname,” he says after he swallowed the taffies. “That
takes our relationship to the next level.”
Relationship?
“Play your cards right, and I might even let you wash the
dishes,” I tease, hoping to hide the tsunami of feelings that race
through me. And then I open my mouth again, “That’s the true
sign of a couple headed for wedded bliss.”
Why am I such a dork?
I groan inwardly.
Quinn just winks. “I’ll keep it in mind. So, you didn’t answer
my question.”
“Didn’t I?” I swallow the lump that’s formed in my throat.
“No, you only gave me a glimpse of your to-do list. That’s not
nearly close to enough.” There’s a devilish glint in his eyes that
both intrigue and enthrall me.
“I have nothing set in stone if that’s what you’re asking.
Nowhere I need to be and nothing I have to see to.”
“So, if I were to ask you if you want to spend the day
together…”
I do my best to keep my chill. Inside, though, what he’s
saying is music to my ears. “I would take it under advisement.
You’ll have to present your case and really wow me.”
“Challenge accepted,” he shoots back. “I have a place on the
lake. The weather forecast says it should be a nice day. Sunny but
not too much, if you know what I mean.”
“Tell me more,” I say, though I’m ready to accept. If he had to
go, my day would be spent perched on my chair, staring at a
blank page on the screen, and trying to kill my frustration with
my writer’s block by procrastinating.
“Going to make me work for it, huh?” Quinn rubs his lips
together as if he’s aware that his every move makes me melt and
is hell-bent on making it happen. “The lake is great this time of
year. We could go for a swim. It’s a private area, so we’d have it
to ourselves. The other neighbors are miles away from my
house.”
“Hmmm…”
“Oh, you’re such a tease,” he says, pouncing on me. I move
the plate out of the way just in time to avoid having to interrupt
our morning in this divine bubble to clean up the broken glass.
“After last night, I’m not sure you can honestly say that.” I
bring my face close to his, my heart fluttering in my chest.
“Unless it wasn’t good for you.”
“Miss Abby, I’ll show you how great it was for me.”
He trails kisses down my torso, stopping just below my belly
button. I feel his breath on my pussy, sending little shocks of
erotic pleasure throughout my body.
Chapter 7
Quinn
Where did this girl come from?
There’s an innocence to her that becomes more apparent the
more time we spend together. She presented herself as
standoffish at Marty’s, but now I see it’d been nothing but a
facade. It occurs to me that I’ll never be able to think that word
again without flashing back to our conversation in the car.
“You can put up a fight about my invitation,” I say, before I
lick the seam of her pussy. “But allow me to present my case.”
I trace her folds with my tongue, light and playful. She
shivers, but her legs draw closer, restricting my access.
“Do you want me to stop?”
“No.” Her cheeks are bright red. “I’m just…Yesterday was my
first time. I’m a little jittery because no one’s ever…”
I push myself up, my chest tightening.
Fuck.
“You were a virgin? Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because it’s been years since we finished high school and I
was embarrassed,” she murmurs. Sitting up, she pulls the
blankets across her chest, slumping her shoulders. “I didn’t
want you to think I was damaged goods or anything like that.”
“I could never think you’re damaged goods,” I say. “It’s just
that I would’ve been…” I run my hands across my face
remembering last night. “Wasn’t it too rough? I should’ve taken
it slow and easy.”
“It was perfect,” she says on a small sigh. “I just hope I didn’t
do anything wrong.”
I lean down and kiss her lightly, softly, slowly. “It was the
best night I’ve ever had.”
It would be crass to say she blew all of the women I’ve ever
been with out of the water, but I hope she figured it out from the
subtext.
“Really?” Abby was glowing, a smile that could light up the
entire world appearing on her face.
“In fact, I think I should show you how amazing you were,” I
say, lowering until I’m facing her pussy again. “If you want to
stop, let me know. You don’t have to close your legs.”
“Oh, that.” She pauses for a moment as if she’s working out
what she wants to say. “I get self-conscious. You. There. I’m not
closing my legs because I want to stop. It’s just that this is all
new to me.”
“Abby, let me tell you something.” I kiss her inner thighs.
“You’re beautiful. You have nothing to be embarrassed about.
And another thing you need to know is”-I run my tongue down
the middle of her pussy-“just because you’re the star of this
show doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying myself. You taste”-I spread
her pussy lips open with my mouth and thrust my tongue inside
her before emerging again-“so good.”
And she does.
I’ve always been big on getting head, but she’s the first
woman whose taste is intoxicating. She can’t possibly know how
big a turn on it is to bury my tongue inside her tight little pussy,
to circle her clit until she’s vibrating, to get her so hot that she’s
radiating need.
Her moans turn louder, and her breathing gets shallow. True
to her prediction, her legs threaten to press together, which only
means I have to hold them apart with my arms as I increase the
pressure on her clit.
“I want you,” Abby moans. “Right now. I want you more
than-”
My tongue is hard inside her, but it’s not even close to how
hard my cock is. “You want me more than what?”
“More than I’ve ever wanted anything.”
I kiss her in a frenzy, her legs propped up over my shoulders.
She isn’t expecting that first thrust, and the element of surprise
makes her body quiver. She’s so wet that sliding in and out of
her is deliciously easy, and soon enough, I’m pounding my
throbbing cock into her like my life depends on it.
Because right now, it does.
“Fuck,” I moan. “God, Abby.”
She’s in another dimension, her cries louder and more
desperate than they were yesterday. The angle she’s in allows
me to plunge deeper inside her, hitting the exact spot I know will
make her come all fucking over me. Her mouth opens and before
she can tell me she wants it rougher, harder, faster, I’m
pistoning into her with the full force of my body.
“I’m going to come,” she cries, her voice jagged.
Those are the words that hit the sweet spot for me. I’m on the
edge myself, but I don’t want to go over it alone.
“On the count of three,” I say, panting, “you’re going to
fucking come for me.”
She nods. Her pussy grips my cock, and a spasm that’s the
tell-tale sign of an impending dizzying orgasm pulses around
me.
“One.” I thrust harder, readying myself to erupt inside of her.
“I…Quinn-”
“Two.” Our bodies collide again.
“God-”
Her body trembles and she lets out a final yell, so loud I swear
the walls shake around us.
My own orgasm washes over me, setting every last nerve in
my body ablaze. I die a thousand deaths, the savage euphoria
blurring my vision for a single interminable moment.
Chapter 8
A bigail
That man should walk around with a health hazard sticker
attached to him. The way he makes my knees wobble and bends
me to submission is downright sinful.
I can’t get enough of it.
On the ride to his house, the memory of our morning sex
plays in a loop in my mind. Quinn is driving, oblivious to the
dirty thoughts in my head. Still, I know he can feel the
undeniable pull, the smoldering electricity that’s ever-present
between us.
His place by the lake isn’t so far away from mine that I can get
lost with my introspection for too long. Quinn parks his car
outside a quaint, one-story house. A flag dances to the wind in
his driveway. I’m tempted to ask why he didn’t pull up there, but
decide it’s not important.
What’s important is that in a few short minutes, I’ll have to
put on the heinous bathing suit that’s, regrettably, the only one I
own. It fits me all wrong. Too loose in some places, and too tight
in others. Never failing to squeeze my ass so every last bit of
cellulite shows up. The equivalent of full-body dimples, except
it’s not nearly as cute.
“Come here,” Quinn says, wrapping me in a tight embrace.
He kisses my forehead before pointing to the direction of the
outhouse. “You can get changed over there. I’ll be right out. Just
need to find my swim trunks.”
“Sure thing.” I have bigger concerns than how long it’ll take
Quinn to get ready. I, better than anyone, can attest to how fit he
is. He could just wear nothing and people would stop to ogle him.
And even more unsavory things.
Unsavory if they’re not with me, that is.
It’s naive of me to already be this into him, but I am. My crush
on him during high school was based on looks more than
anything else. We connected on a deeper level than that in the
car. What happened on my bed was the cherry on top.
And what a cherry it was.
Locking the door behind me, I’m overjoyed to find there are
no mirrors anywhere. If I’m to make it out of this room wearing
only the swimsuit that was the source of all my body issues in
high school, the safest bet is for me to not be able to see what
I’m doing. To just do.
I change quickly and then emerge outside, hoping to get in
the water before he has a chance to see me. As it happens, Quinn
is already there, waiting for me. And he has nothing on.
“I couldn’t find them, and after two minutes, I got bored of
looking. There are better places to be and much better things to
see out here,” he says, nodding my way. “You just happen to be
Exhibit A.”
I unfold the towel in my hands and cover myself up. “No fair.
I look ridiculous in this getup. I only bought it for Travis
Hollister’s end of junior year party at his house. And then, when
your brothers saw me come in with it…”
Why are you dusting off ancient memories? Especially the
ones about Tate and Killian?
My lack of game will be the death of me. If I’m really lucky
and all the stars are aligned, it won’t be the death of Quinn and
me.
“What about my brothers? And which one of my brothers?”
Shaking my head, I say, “Never mind. It’s not important.”
“Abby, tell me. What did they do?” There’s no trace of
Quinn’s previous good spirits anymore. His face is a mask of
anger, and he seems to be just waiting for me to supply him with
more details so that he knows on whom to unleash it.
“I don’t want to spoil the mood,” I say. “Please, let’s just get
in the water.”
“Okay, but if you want to get anything off your chest, don’t
hesitate. They might be my brothers and I love them, but if
they’ve done something to you…”
“Why dwell on the past? Let’s just get in the water.” I give
him an award-winning smile, hoping it defuses the accidentally
tense moment.
Another reason to get in the water is that if we don’t, I won’t
be able to keep from boring a hole through him. That sculpted
body of his can make a girl forget her own name (to put it like he
did) all on its own. But when you see it from a distance, there’s
an extra wow factor.
It becomes less about me and him, and what pleasure awaits
the both of us, and more about him. In his own element.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” he asks, walking my way
too deliberately for me to believe he doesn’t have an agenda.
“Wait, Quinn, what are you doing? The way you’re looking at
me is ringing all sorts of alarm bells. Why don’t you just-
ahhhh!” I yell as I fall in slow-motion, heading toward the
water. When I finally land, the surface tension feels like
whiplash.
He pushed me in. The bastard pushed me in.
“I can’t believe you did that! You-”
He cannonballs in, splashing me anew. I swallow the lake
water, cursing Quinn and hoping he-
Something pulls me downward, and though I struggle to keep
my head above the surface, I can’t. Just as I’m submerged, I look
down and see Quinn is the mysterious creature intent on pissing
me off. I jerk and kick him until he lets go of me, which he does.
He floats up and I follow him, jumping out of the depths and
inhaling sharply.
“What the hell?”
“You should have seen your face.” He sinks because he can’t
control his laughter, and it’s so childish and giddying that it
wins me over. Soon, we’re cackling, wading around the lake.
“This is great,” I tell him after we’ve gotten over our mutual
fit. “I mean, aside from you trying to terrify me.”
“Isn’t it?” Quinn swims to me. “There’s only one thing
wrong.”
“What’s that?”
“I don’t know why you’re not skinny dipping with me,” he
says.
Because I don’t want you to see me buck naked in the clear
light of day. Especially when anyone could be watching us.
It’s what I want to say, but I don’t.
“Come on. Won’t it be better if you join me au naturel and we
can do all sorts of things here in the privacy of a public lake?”
And he’s not joking.
“Quinn…”
“Are you self-conscious?”
I look away. “A bit.”
“You don’t have to be, you know. You’re a ten. You know
what the first thing I thought about you was, when you walked in
at Marty’s?”
Rolling my eyes, I say, “That I was the only age-appropriate
girl in the entire place and if you wanted to get lucky that night, I
was the best choice. All the others were someone’s mom or a
guy, and you’re not gay so…”
Quinn makes a flippant hand gesture, like he’s going to allow
me to talk crap about myself. When he sees I don’t intend to
finish that sentence, he says, “You have to stop putting yourself
down. Remember when I said you’re beautiful? That’s what I
thought. And that you have great legs. The kind any man wants
wrapped around him.”
A flock of swans appear many yards away, all making the
same noise. I want to respond to what he’s saying, to tell him
that he makes me feel like there’s molten lava swirling around
in my chest and I’m always one short step from dissolving into a
puddle when he talks about me like that, but their beauty
overrides anything else.
I point to the birds. “Are those swans?”
He glances at them and nods. “Yeah. I’ve seen them around
town in other parts of the lake, but never here. Huh.”
“What?”
“Today must be my lucky day.”
Chapter 9
Quinn
We spent hours on the lake. Eventually, the swans got too
close, and since there were so many, I decided it was better to
call it a day. It’s true that there is safety in numbers and they
clearly beat us in that arena. Abby stared at them from the shore
of the lake for several more minutes before coming inside.
The mid-afternoon sun made for a perfect, lazy day. Abby
opts to take a shower while I whip up a snack for the two of us. I
slide into clean boxers and go to the kitchen. My cooking isn’t
great, but it’s decent enough. Abby doesn’t seem to have any
trouble eating whatever is in front of her, so I know even
something simple will bring that gorgeous smile to her face.
More importantly, my house is stocked with actual food. The
utter lack of anything healthy in her place was a surprise.
There’s something about her that makes you think she’s prim
and proper. A stickler for doing things the right way.
And yet she has no food.
I shake my head, amused.
It has to be crazy to be this into someone. We went to high
school together, sure, but that was a lifetime ago. It took a
chance encounter for her to show up on my radar, and I can
scarcely believe she wasn’t on it before. Abigail Swan has to be
the epitome of everything I want in a partner. Quirky, down-to-
earth, and is blindingly attractive even though she doesn’t know
it.
I’ll make her believe she really is everything I tell her. No
compliment is a fabrication. She’s genuine and warm. Such a
departure from the last of my high school girlfriends, Sheila. The
one who embittered me and made me avoid relationships like
the plague.
“Something smells nice,” Abby says.
A sweet aroma emanates from her, and it’s all I can do to not
leave the scrambled eggs in the pan to burn so that I can grab her
and take her again. Right there on the kitchen counter, since
there’s no time for us to relocate somewhere better.
“You have naughty in your eyes,” she says. “What are you
making?”
“Nothing fancy,” I say, yawning. “We didn’t have a real
breakfast this morning so I figured you could use the
nourishment. You’ve been busy, after all.”
“That I have.” She sits down on one of the stools lined up
along the breakfast counter. “You have a really nice place.”
“Right after I found out I wasn’t going to have a career, I
managed to sign one last lucrative deal, endorsing this sports
equipment that we use in our district for other high schools in
the country. I had a high enough profile that the company’s
advertising department decided I was a good fit for the
demographic, even though I wasn’t going to go on and play
college ball. That money bought this place.”
It’s not the first time the subject of my so-called retirement
has come up with Abby. Eventually, she’ll want the full story.
It’s the cornerstone to who I am today, so it’s a natural course of
things for us to talk about it.
But I don’t feel ready right now. The pain of losing the
promising career I had ahead of me weighs on me. When the
hurt passes, it’ll give way to anger. The kind of rage that makes
your reality splinter in front of you and rids you of your good
cheers.
“Where did you go just now?” Abby asks.
“It’s just that bringing up those old memories has a way of
gutting me. You would think I’d be immune to it by now. But I
haven’t truly moved on.” Suddenly, the eggs in front of me are
the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen. I can’t look away, and
I certainly can’t meet Abby’s eyes.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I would prefer it if we don’t.” I use the silicone spatula
Derek’s wife got me for Christmas to scrape the residue off the
bottom of the pan. “Could you get the plates from those cabinets
over there?”
“Sure,” Abby says. “One second.”
She reaches for the top shelf and her oversize shirt rides up,
revealing the underside of her perfect, round ass. My cock
twitches at the sight. I can’t get too carried away because she
pivots on her heels and comes back a quick second later.
“Were you checking out my ass?” she asks glibly.
“Are there swans outside?”
“Yes?”
“There’s your answer,” I tell her. Equal amounts of buttery
eggs scrambled to divine precision go in each of the plates.
“Forks are in the first drawer to my left. Could you get them for
us?”
She did and soon we sat down to enjoy the chow I threw
together. Abby has to eat one forkful before exclaiming, “God,
what is in this?”
“A whole lot of cheese. I’m a cheese snob.”
There’s no stopping her from putting it away almost
immediately. She scrapes the bottom of the plate, saying, “You
can’t imagine what the last full meal I had was. This makes me
never want to leave your place ever again. I wish I knew how to
cook.”
“It’s a thing you pick up when your diet is completely
different than your asshole brothers’ eating regimen,” I tell her.
“So, why don’t you tell me more about your writing? I’m
curious.”
“What about it?”
“Legal thrillers?” I arch an eyebrow. “Not that I think there’s
anything wrong with them. It just doesn’t seem like a genre
you’re all that passionate about writing. Especially if you’ve been
blocked for months.”
“It hasn’t been quite that long,” she says. “But you’re right
that it’s not my genre of choice. I met an editor who told me
that’s what’s hot at the moment, and I’m following her advice.
It’s between this and epic fantasy. Romance always sells well but
it’s not my wheelhouse. Like, at all.”
“Well, why not?”
“It’s not a girl thing, you know. Romance isn’t about just
writing some half-assed story with a ton of smut. The characters
go through this journey, and developing that journey takes a
special skill set. I really admire romance authors. In a lot of
ways, I wish I could write one, but…”
I pick up a notepad lying on the kitchen island and give it to
her. “So, do it.”
Her gaze alternates between the pad and my face as if she
wanted to know how serious I am. “It’s not as simple as that. If I
told you that just because you’re an athlete, you should have no
trouble playing basketball or baseball or something else with a
ball, and you had to be proficient enough at it to hold your own,
would you be able to?”
“No, but -”
“That tells you how easy it is to just pick a new genre. It’s not.
The one time I tried to write a romance, I was in high school and
it was a young adult one. I shopped it around to a few agents,
who all said they loved my voice but that they just couldn’t get
into the romance.”
I chuckle. “That sounds like telling a guy who’s got some
natural talent for the game that he’s raw. I see what you mean.”
“Raw?” she asks.
“Yeah. Natural talent but completely unmolded by a
professional trainer,” I explain. “It’s not the compliment that it
sounds because there are more perseverance-type guys out on
the field at any given time than there are sheer prodigies who
didn’t give the sport years of their life.”
“That sounds like writing,” she says. “Lots of books are
published every day. The majority of them are not the work of
novice writers.”
Abby eyes the notepad anyway, her finger tracing the bottom
of it.
“Did you think of something?” I ask.
“Actually, yes. Do you mind if I sit somewhere and jot a few
ideas down?”
“By all means,” I tell her, motioning for her to go to the living
room. “I’ll just clean up in here.”
I spend a few stray seconds watching her pull a loose strand of
hair back, and then scribble furiously on the notepad. The
intensity of her concentration is a brutal reminder of the power
of passions. It’s not lost on me that I’m adrift largely because I
don’t have a project for myself. No ambition for what the future
might hold.
Being stripped of that project once was too painful for me to
contemplate alternatives. But maybe, with Abby here, I should
explore my options. Other sports aren’t a bad idea, but if my
knee is a problem for football, it’ll screw with me again.
Plates rinsed and leftovers thrown away, I take a seat next to
Abby on the couch and watch her work. It’s pacifying enough
that I don’t notice myself falling asleep.
Chapter 10
A bigail
Quinn dozes off next to me, and I only notice when his faint
snoring turns to woodchipper levels of bothersome. To my
amazement, I’ve covered seven pages of the notepad with notes
and snippets of a story that came to me.
Front and back.
One caveat to not having a computer nearby is that it’ll take
me forever to untangle the mess of what I wrote later on. That
doesn’t make my smile shrink, though. I can’t remember the
last time I had such a productive brainstorming session. And I
certainly can’t recall the last time my idea had me this excited to
sit down and write it.
The reason for the spark in creativity is sitting there, a noise
complaint waiting to happen. The bit about having no neighbors
for miles in either direction might sound like it’s because Quinn
loves his privacy but the real reason has to be that having
someone who snores like that near anyone else’s house is a
surefire way to bring property values down altogether.
A vague patch of hair below his belly button catches my eye.
His happy trail. It brings back a flood of memories. Somewhere
in an alternate universe, a high school freshman Abby is
watching the football team practice. The ball gets tossed to
Quinn, who shoots up to grab it before the guy wearing a
different color jersey has the chance. He dodges all the blocks
and tackles people throw up, and legs it to a resounding
touchdown.
After the practice is over, Quinn pulls his gear off. It’s just the
jersey now, with no bulky pads or other protective equipment
getting in the way. Before he disappears into the boys’ locker
room, he takes his shirt off and fans himself under the sizzling
sun.
I had caught all of that from underneath a shaded canopy on
campus. It was the place I went when I needed a break from the
teasing and ridicule I was subjected to for being a little awkward
and a lot different in high school. I was a girl the same as any
other and Quinn Cooper made my heart skip a beat.
Seeing him bare chested, though? That was the peak moment
of my freshman year.
And now there he is, asleep in front of me. After we’ve spent
the last twenty-four hours together and he slept over at my
place.
If there’s a good thing that came from my return, it’s this.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be me on my own anymore. I’m not
saying to chime the wedding bells or anything like that, but
maybe I’ll have some company on what’s been a harrowing and
lonely road for me so far.
A devious idea hatches in my mind. I set the notepad and pen
down. Inching cautiously to Quinn, I get on my knees and pull
his boxers down a little. His flesh swells at that even though he’s
still sound asleep. After the way he ravished me this morning,
it’s only fitting that I return the favor.
I take just the head of his cock in my mouth. The sudden
movement must be jarring because he blinks his eyes a few
times, disoriented, then sees where I am and groans. “God.”
“I was just thinking about what you did this morning,” I tell
him, swirling my tongue underneath it. See, I may be a virgin but
my roommates after high school weren’t. And they went in
graphic detail about every last thing they ever did.
“Abby, fuck!” he shouts when I flick my tongue at the little
bit of skin between the shaft and the head.
I flatten my tongue in my mouth and relax, prepared to take
him in. There’s nothing wrong with working my way up to it but
I’m not in a teasing mood. The taste of him in my mouth and the
way his cock twitches, pulsating with so little stimulation from
me, has me curious about what happens next.
“I want to know something,” I say, licking up and down to
make sure he’s good and slick for me. “One, will I be able to take
you all the way in?” I eye his massive cock, genuinely unsure, but
God, I’m so ready to try. “And two, how fast can I make you come
for me?”
He sits up, allowing me a better angle with my mouth.
“I think-”
It’s my turn to interrupt him mid-sentence with unexpected
and unbridled pleasure. He moans as I envelope my mouth
around his cock, deeper and deeper until I feel him breaching my
throat. It’s not the most comfortable position to be in but I love
it.
Love it.
“Fuck,” he says, his eyes squarely on me the whole time.
“Babe, this is fucking hot.”
I’m lost in the moment, reduced to a creature of desire and
primal need. My pussy aches for him for what feels like the
thousandth time since I invited him in not even twenty-four
hours ago. But now the show is for him. I bob my head up and
down, the loud, slurping noise of my tongue on his cock turning
me on all the more.
“Abby, I need you,” he says, standing up. I struggle to catch
up with him, but he takes care of it by holding my head still and
thrusting, same as he did before. Except this time, I know that
each quiver in his body is the direct result of his cock in my
mouth, thick and hard, and the way he savagely pumps.
It surprises me that there’s no shyness. No unpleasantness.
Only single-minded release at the end of the tunnel.
“Get up,” he says, and tries to pull his cock out.
I shake my head. A little part of me is thrilled to defy him.
Quinn Cooper might be polite and respectful, but if the past
several hours have taught me anything, it’s that he’s an animal
in bed.
I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to poke this
particular bear.
“Get up,” he repeats, visibly torn between enjoying what I’m
still doing to him and wanting my obedience.
I shake my head again, but this time his reaction isn’t so
mild. Grabbing a fistful of my hair, he jerks his cock away. A
heady anticipation follows because I don’t know what’s to
follow. He wants to fuck me, of that I’m certain.
But how?
“Get up,” he says a third time.
This time, I oblige. No sooner than I’m up do his hands go to
the small of my back, pressing against my spine until I bend
over, my arms propped up against the back of the couch he was
just sleeping on.
“I’m not going to fuck you like you’re the good girl you think
you are,” he tells me, sliding one hand on my hip. He hooks his
finger against the pair of cheeky panties I have on and nearly
tears them off me. “Spread your legs.”
You’d think this would send me in a tailspin, but it doesn’t.
Just this morning, I was mortified of him getting so close to my
pussy. Now, he’s getting the eyeful from behind, seeing it, pink
and raw, in a way that sends a shiver down my spine.
I long for his control.
A hard slap on my ass jolts me. It stings long after his hand is
gone, and to my surprise, I want more. The line between pain
and pleasure blurs so that when he smacks my ass again, I’m
ready for it. I moan despite myself.
“You like that?” he asks, slapping me harder.
Next, his two hands spread my ass cheeks, exposing every last
bit of me. I’m caught in the moment, confused by the conflicting
emotions I feel. If someone had told me I would be here right
now, doing this with a guy I only had a proper conversation with
for the first time yesterday, I would’ve cowered behind my usual
insecurity.
But it’s not that. I feel safe with Quinn. Him taking over like
this, dominating my body and taking it the way he wants it, is
his way of cherishing me. It’s that tacit understanding that I’m
sure we both agree on that’s fueling all of this.
There’s nothing more freeing than having him treat himself
to me.
He pulls my hair again, forcing me to look at him. “I’m going
to fuck you raw.”
“Please,” I say, bucking my hips against him. I can’t find his
cock but I yearn for it, my whole body vibrating with need.
This time, there’s no teasing. No making me beg for it. His
hands grasp my hips and in a split second, he’s inside me.
Instead of the deep thrusts I’d grown accustomed to, he barely
moves. He’s pumping only an inch or so, barely taking himself
out only to come back. No, he’s filling me up with no reprieve.
I fucking love it. I claw at the cushions, a cry of ecstasy stuck
in my throat. He takes my silence as a kind of affront, because he
leans on me so I’m forced to bend lower. His body covers every
inch of my back. It’s like I have no personal room as he’s
pounding away at me, grunting with the effort it takes to subdue
me.
Finally, I cry out. My pussy clenches around his cock, and I
decide to take some of my agency and back into him. I have no
idea how he’s to go any deeper, but that’s what I want him to do.
Never in my life have I needed something or someone more
than I need for him to fucking ruin me.
Quinn responds in kind, holding to my body as he explodes in
a raging orgasm that threatens to topple us over. My body
quakes and trembles, only a hint of energy left in me before I fall
over the cliff and into the delirious abyss that awaits me. My
body succumbs to a series of orgasms that take away my ability
to breathe, think or even be.
I black out from the pleasure.
Chapter 11
Quinn
Let’s just say that Abby wasn’t the person who made me
discover my dominating tendencies. I didn’t have any interest in
staging an elaborate scene to explore power dynamics in a sexual
setting. Some role playing is nice and all, but what really gets me
off is the spontaneous control she gave me. To use her how I saw
fit.
I found this out about myself on my own when I was a
teenager. The idea that this is what fascinated me and made my
blood shoot straight to my cock without hesitation was daunting
at first. And I never got the kind of release I sought with anyone,
so those fantasies only existed in my mind.
Until Abby. Who was a virgin until I got my hands on her.
How someone so new to the world of pleasure was able to bring it
out of me and engage in that kind of play, I won’t ever know.
But it’s enough to make me addicted. I have no interest in
controlling her until kingdom come or treating her like an
object. She’s my equal in every way, and when she bends over
and allows me to do with her as I see fit, it’s the greatest possible
expression of the bond that exists between us.
So, it’s not without a lot of protest that I agree to take her out
to eat. And then go back to her place because she doesn’t feel
comfortable sleeping over just yet.
“You can sleep over,” she tells me. “I just… I hate that cabin
but at the same time, I came back here for it. It’s twisted that I
want to go back when that thing is literally my albatross but it is
what it is.”
“Say no more,” I reply. “Your wish is my command.”
I watch her get dressed, my mind jumping back to the last
scorching moment we shared. I fully expected her to tell me to
take it easy or to dial it down, but she didn’t. If anything, she
goaded me to doing much more than I ever would have permitted
myself. To go further than I suspected anyone else would.
My cock twitches again, stiffening for the millionth time.
The clock on the dashboard informs us it isn’t yet seven in the
evening. “It’s early enough that most restaurants in town are
open. Like I told you, a lot changed in your absence. But there’s
still plenty that’s exactly the same. Where do you want to go?”
“Moe’s Diner?” She smiles at me. “I used to go there after
school all the time when I knew there was a game. No offense,
football isn’t my thing and I could only watch so much before I
zoned out. The coast would clear at Moe’s and I got a lot of
writing done. Vampire novels, mostly, but every respectable
writer needs to have a solid number of trunk novels.”
There’s so much about her sentence that I want her to explain
but the first thing I need to address is her choice of venue. Going
to Moe’s isn’t as easy as, well, just going to Moe’s. If we had met
under different circumstances, I’d agree with her. But that
traitorous fucking bet I accepted meant I had to avoid my
brothers when I was with her. At least until I got a chance to talk
to them myself.
“Quinn?”
“Sorry, I was just thinking that Tate and Killian and maybe
even Derek will be at Moe’s. You know how high school never
ends for some people? They’re regulars there almost every day of
the week. Except for the days they’re at Marty’s.” It’s slimy of
me to make her come to the same conclusion as me like this, but
it’s the best I’ve got.
“You know, I think I had a change of heart,” she says,
bolstering my hope that she’s about to side with me. “High
school was awful for me but I’ll need to get over it. Nothing can
bring me down today, so it’s not a problem if they’re there. Not
for me, anyway.”
Shit.
“Are you sure? A triple dose of my asshole brothers...” I
shake my head and sigh. “I avoid them like a plague most days of
the month.”
It’s patently obvious that her interpretation of what I said is a
lot more offensive than what I meant. Abby slumps her
shoulders, a look I am familiar with enough to know it’s
synonymous with defeated, and she nods. “Sure. You pick the
place then.”
“Abby, you know this isn’t about you, right?” I try to keep my
eyes on the road but I keep peeling them away to look at her.
“No, I get it. High school never ends and I’m not the kind of
girl you introduce to that crowd.” She plasters a smile on her
face and turns to face me head on. “It’s fine. Really. You’re
protecting me.”
“That is not what I said. I’m worried that they’ll put a damper
on your mood. Just seeing them last night was enough to bring
up a lot of-sorry, I don’t mean to pressure you. I don’t know
what it is that they did, but when you want to share it with me,
I’ll listen. And you’re right, I want to protect you.”
“Then take me there,” she says defiantly. “I have you as an
ally. They won’t mess with me. And if they do, I can take it.”
“If they do, they’ll have to take it up with me.” I glower at the
road ahead, trying to cover all my bases. If I send word that they
need to keep their trap shut, there’s a good ten percent chance
they don’t step in it.
Moe’s Diner appears down the highway. I enable the turn
signal and pull up. Abby sees the familiar establishment and
lights up.
“Are you sure?” She bites her lip.
“Yes, but you still haven’t explained to me why this place. Of
all the other restaurants we could go to or even the grocery store
and I’ll cook for you.”
Really, there’s nothing special about Moe’s. It’s the only
diner in town, which is where it’s claiming to fame begins and
ends. It’s a popular place for high school kids because it’s open
24/7, so if you sneak out and go on a bender with your friends,
it’s only natural that you’ll need coffee and some comfort carbs
afterward.
Abby unbuckles her seatbelt. “Moe used to be a big deal. He
wrote a ton of sword and sorcery stories for pulp magazines back
in the day. It earned him enough to build his business from the
ground up.”
“He struck gold and this is what he wanted to invest in?” I
say, glancing at the shabby building. It’s not that owning your
own business isn’t an enviable position to be in. But when I got
my own windfall from my dying career, I splurged on a place that
I could enjoy to myself. Not somewhere that would entail me
serving others for the rest of my life.
I seem to have struck a nerve.
Abby crosses her arms in front of her and scowls. “Do you
know how long this place has been here? Decades. It’s an
institution. And back in his time, this kind of business in a
sleepy town like ours was the American dream.”
I hold my arms up. “I’m sorry. It was a shitty thing to say. I
guess times have changed.”
“Like you said yesterday, the homogenization of the
American economy. They have. And I feel strongly about
supporting a business-like Moe’s.”
“Then it’s a good thing we’re here. Shall we?” I open the door
and step out. Her frown disappears when I stride to her side and
open the door for her.
“Soon you’ll be calling me m’lady and thinking that washes
out the dude-bro,” she says. “You still have some ways to go
until I trust that your brothers haven’t done any lasting
damage.”
She doesn’t know how right she is. It’s only been a day but I
feel it in my gut that Abby is going to play a large role in my
future. And that means I need to get on top of cleaning up my act
and ridding my brothers of any ammo they might use against
me. I might not have spearheaded their bullshit all these years,
but I’m complicit.
As expected, the three are inside. They sit in a corner booth
that accommodates eight people, and they’re not alone. The
minute I see the bleached hair that’s Sheila’s calling card, I
freeze.
Abby doesn’t pick up on it. “I just realized I need to go to the
bathroom. I’ll find you in a moment.”
This is my opportunity. As soon as she disappears inside the
women’s bathroom, I hurry over to the Cooper both. Tate sees
me first. He pumps his fist in the air and grins. “Look who’s
come out to play. Tell us everything.”
“Hi, Quinn,” Sheila coos. “How are you?”
“Sheila, will you give us some privacy?” I ask, cutting to the
chase. “I need to talk to my brothers.”
“If you’re going to be giving them the play-by-play about
your night with not so little Abigail Swan, I have to decline. I
want to know all about it.”
I narrow my eyes at her and then look at Tate, Killian, and
Derek. “You told her?”
“Sheila’s practically family, bro,” Tate says. “Just because you
were dumb enough to dump her doesn’t mean we all blacklisted
her.”
Sheila winces but remains composed. It’ll be a cold day in hell
before that girl ever shows her true colors. I could fill pages and
pages of stories about how despicable she is but I stupidly
decided to let her save face and say we just “drifted apart” after
our split.
“It’s not like that. I care about her. I really care about her. I
want out of the bet, and I don’t want Killian to pay for it. You
guys can have my vintage Fender if we can pretend it never
happened,” I say.
That gets their attention, all three of the idiot bunch and even
Sheila. She widens her beady snake eyes at me, visibly floored.
“What? You’re willing to part with your beloved little toy?”
she asks. “You don’t even play the guitar and that thing got
more action from you than I did when we were together.”
“And you know why that is,” I tell her, and turn to my
brothers. “Do we have a deal?”
“So, you want to get out of the bet we wagered fair and square
last night and you’re putting your precious Fender up as
collateral?” Tate says. “What’s the catch?”
“The catch is you never tell Abigail what the bet was. And
Sheila, I’ll think of something for you. I know you don’t want the
guitar.”
“Keep your fucking guitar or any other loot you have,” she
says. “I’m not going to tell her anything because I don’t even
talk to that fatso.”
“Huh?”
“Dude, Abigail Swan was that fat girl.” Tate stares at me like
I’m supposed to know what he’s talking about.
“Rubenesque,” Derek corrects.
“Potato, potahto,” Killian says. “She used to follow you
around with that notebook she was always writing in? Like some
kind of spank bank in the form of a diary. She was, like, obsessed
with you. I bet you she wrote all her dirty thoughts in it.”
“It’s not potato, potahto,” Derek protests. “She wasn’t ever
fat. She just wasn’t anorexic.”
“Dude, she was chunky,” Tate says. “Do we have to go down
the rabbit hole to find a picture of her from the glory days?”
Well, this answers the question of what it was my brothers
did. I do remember a girl they used to pick on during high school,
but her face is a blank on my mind. As I recall, she wasn’t even
close to having a weight problem. And even if that were the case,
Jesus, they’re an embarrassment to the Cooper name. My head
was in football to an obsessive degree during the time, so I never
paid attention to what huge dicks they all were.
“For fuck’s sake.” I slam my fist on the table. “Who fucking
cares what you remember about her or what she looked like. I
need you to keep your mouths shut. You have no idea how much
this will hurt. She cannot know about that stupid fucking bet
that I didn’t want to take in the first place.”
“Q - Quinn?” a voice behind me says.
I close my eyes and wonder if there’s any way to turn back
time. Because the person who says it sounds like they’re shocked
and on the brink of tears, so that sorrow is marring the words.
But it’s unmistakably Abby. And if I turn around and look at her,
then this becomes real.
Whatever she overheard becomes real.
“Cat’s out of the bag,” Sheila says, preening. “Hi, Abigail.
May I call you Abby? We have so much to talk about. Let’s catch
up sometime. I can’t wait to bond with someone else who was
the victim of Quinn’s betrayal.”
“Shut up, Sheila,” I say through gritted teeth.
“Fuck off, Quinn,” she snaps. “I won’t be silenced again and
watch you ruin this poor girl’s reputation.”
“You are such a-”
“Quinn,” Abby says again. “What’s going on?”
“Your new boyfriend only took you home as part of a bet he
made with the idiot parade,” Sheila says, feigning concern. Is
she that vapid that she doesn’t realize she doesn’t fool anybody?
Just a second ago she was positively gloating. “The thing with
Quinn is, everyone thinks he’s the exception to the rule. That he
might have these awful, misogynistic brothers, but no, he’s not
like that. He’s the golden boy.”
I finally face Abby in time to see a single tear roll down her
face. She meets my eye and doesn’t look away, as if she’s daring
me to see her hurt. My stomach ties itself in knots and sweat
pools fucking everywhere.
There is no going back from this. Not ever.
“Abby-”
She storms off, letting the double doors slam behind her. It
takes a moment for the reality to sink in but when it does, I bolt
after her.
Chapter 12
A bigail
Rubenesque.
Stalker.
Obsessed with Quinn.
Spank bank in the form of a diary.
Every last horrible word is branded to my soul, like a badge of
shame. Quinn probably did remember me when he saw me at
Marty’s. But he had just wagered a bet and I was the only one
there he could use to get ahead.
Suddenly, I remember my little quip about how I was the only
eligible girl in the entire place. Nausea floods my system. I lean
over a shrub outside, using the greenery to steady my wobbly
self. My hands are shaking.
“Abby!” Quinn shouts. “Ab-are you okay?”
“Get the fuck away from me.” I spit the words out like they’re
poison. “Get the fuck away from me, Quinn fucking Cooper.”
“Abby, I don’t know how much you heard-”
“I heard enough to figure out my place in all of this. It was a
little strange that you suddenly had all this interest in me. My
gut was right. I fell for that stupid fucking lie and then I-”
I start retching over the shrubs. Nothing comes out, but it
still feels like my body lost in a duel against a semi. Quinn comes
to my aid, holding my arm.
I yank it away. “Are you fucking deaf? Leave me the fuck
alone, Quinn.”
What breaks me is the pity in his eyes. It’s like a warped type
of vindication, seeing that the way he looks at me is an exact
match for the way I always suspected he did. The dam inside me
bursts and tears come flooding down.
“Abby, don’t cry―”
“Oh my fucking God, how many times do I have to say to
fucking get away from me for you to hear me? Have you heard
me curse much in the past twenty-four hours? Newsflash,
asshole: I don’t. But right now, it’s the only thing that comes
close to expressing how disgusted I am. How fucking humiliated.
You asked me what it was that your brothers did to me? They
treated me like fucking shit all throughout those four fucking
years we were supposed to be coming of age and coming into
own our,” I say, furiously wiping away the tears that don’t stop
flowing. “For the record, my notebook isn’t filled with shit about
you. I had a crush on you and I’m not surprised that everyone
knows because I was about as subtle as fucking Coopers are nice.
By which I mean, not very much at all.”
It’s not enough that he has to take my virginity like a trophy
for some game I wasn’t even aware I was a party to. He can’t
summon enough respect to give me some privacy while I fall
apart. It’s not just mean and cruel―it’s exploitative and
heartless.
If wrath could kill, my heart would’ve given out already.
“Let me explain,” he murmurs. “I promise that-”
“Quinn, save it. I don’t want to hear your excuses. And you
don’t get to stay out here to bank the good guy. Take a good look
in the mirror because you are not a good guy. For all of the
torment I endured at your brothers’ hands, they never crossed
the line you did when you accepted my invitation to come inside
my cabin. They never put on this wretched charade and made
me-” I can’t finish because another sob chokes me. It’s the
violent sort of unraveling you only see just before someone
breaks down.
“Abby, I can’t leave you here. I can’t go away without
knowing how you’ll get home or if you’ll be okay. I don’t think
you should be alone right now.”
“Guess what, asshole? It’s not up to you.” I swallow the
venom and try to get through what I need to say to him without
getting too worked up. “Quinn, I don’t want you near me. I
would rather walk home than spend another second out here
with you.”
He stands there for several minutes. Neither one of us says
anything. I can’t stand to look at him for more than a couple of
seconds at a time, but when I do, I see that his remorse is
palpable. It doesn’t make a goddamn difference, because I’m just
done.
I walk away, leaving him there to stew over what he’s done.
Chapter 13
Quinn
It’s a total fucking waste of my time to go back inside and
ream my brothers for what they did, but I’m so frustrated that
any outlet will do. I barge through the doors and march to their
table ready to salt the earth and poison the wells.
Or something more fitting when the assholes in question are
my own fucking brothers.
“I can’t believe you,” is the only thing I can manage.
“Dude, so she’s upset,” Tate says. “Who cares? Chicks do
that. Give her a couple of days, show up on her doorstep with a
few dozen roses or whatever you can afford, and tell her you’re
sorry. No matter what she says, you just nod along and agree
with her. If she doesn’t say anything and doesn’t even want to
see you, do that thing where you make her think she’s totally in
control.”
“Tell her the ball is in her court,” Killian offers.
Derek is the only one who shares in my outrage. “Y’all, shut
the fuck up. Look, man, we’re sorry. That wasn’t how any of this
was supposed to go down.”
“The hell it wasn’t,” Tate says. “He came in here with fucking
blasphemy about reneging on a bet. This shit is sacred. It’s the
one thing that binds us together-an appreciation for the finer
points of bets and brotherly profiteering.”
“You sound like a complete jackass,” I snap at him. “I
actually liked that girl. Wasn’t the point of this fucking bet for
me to find someone? I fucking did. And you guys chased her
away.”
Sheila yawns, which is when I notice she’s still here. I ignore
her.
“Quinnie, she’ll get over it. And if she doesn’t, screw her.
Plenty of fish out there.”
“But only one swan,” Sheila says. “So, you take a girl home
only because your brothers talk you into it but when the truth
comes out, you have plenty of blame to dole out on everyone
except yourself? Please.”
“You didn’t have to come here,” Killian says. “You could’ve
gone to any other restaurant in town. The moment you set foot
inside that door, you knew this was bound to happen.”
“Fuck you.”
“No, don’t tell me to fuck myself. One, is that supposed to
offend me? You know I’m all about getting in touch with myself
and my feelings. Two, you know all of this. You’re spouting your
anger off on the rest of us, but if you took a minute to really
think about it, you’d see you have no one to blame but yourself.
The good news is we’re all here and we can drink the troubles
away. Grab a chair,” Killian says.
“Dude, we’re sitting in a booth,” Tate counters. “And we’re in
a diner. If you want to drink milkshake, God fucking bless you,
but if you want to get hammered, you’re confusing this with the
other place that starts with an M. Repeat after me: Moe’s for the
milk, Marty’s for the malt.”
Killian flips him the bird. The conversation devolves into
their usual bullshit and I’m left standing on the outside,
seething.
For all their faults, Killian and Tate have a point: I can’t point
the finger at anyone but myself. My mouth is dry and my
appetite gone, so I make a go for the door.
“Quinn!” Derek shouts. “Don’t go, man. Let’s buy you a
round of, uh, strawberry milkshakes and then go back to
Marty’s. You can lean on us.”
“Yeah, bro, lean on us,” Tate apes. “We are here for you. If
you want to share, we’re all ears. Don’t let it fester because you
know what they say: emotional wounds become black holes in
the soul.”
“What do I need to do for you to shut the fuck up?” Derek
yells. “Quinn is obviously…”
I’m out the door before I can hear another word of their little
jokes and games. It isn’t funny. Not any of it. And I might not be
able to level accusations at them without looking to myself first,
but I also don’t have to stay and listen when they mocked, and
all but kicked, the girl I like.
More than like. I can’t say the word. I can’t even think it. It’s
too crazy and too soon, and now that she’s gone, it’s also too
late.
I get in my car and speed home. There’s work in the morning.
I groan at the thought of having to explain to my manager why I
bailed today without giving them any notice. There’s still a lot of
cache attached to the image of golden football star, Quinn
Cooper. I won’t get fired.
There will be a considerable amount of grunt work waiting for
me, though.
My car door slams after me and I stalk my way inside. The
house is in complete disarray. Around every corner lurks a
reminder of what happened here this afternoon. Of the
newcomer who wouldn’t show her face again.
Just get yourself a beer and give up on trying to make sense of
what happened.
Not once in my life have I fucked up this badly with a girl. It’s
just the turn of my luck that it would happen when I stand to
lose so much.
You already lost, asshole.
For the longest time, I sit on the couch and go over the
highlight reel of this colossal clusterfuck. My thoughts are only
interrupted by the knock on the door.
Abby?
Was she going to give me a chance to explain myself?
“Quinn, open up!” Sheila’s shrill voice calls. “I want to talk to
you.”
Is the man in charge getting off on this?
“Sheila, I don’t have to tell you that I don’t want to see you in
the best of circumstances. And I certainly don’t have any time
for you right now,” I reply, not bothering to get up from the
couch.
“Quinn, please,” she says. “I’m really sorry about what
happened. I want to make it up to you.”
I take a swig of my beer. “Go sell your snake oil to someone
else.”
“Are we going to continue to have this conversation through a
door? Come on, we go way back. Open up.” She pounds against
the wood frame again and again, until I’m left with no choice but
to haul my ass so she can see I mean business.
“Sheila,” I say as soon as I open the door, “let’s get one thing
clear. We do go way back but you ruined any chance of us getting
back together when you hooked up with Scott Mercer. Anyone
could’ve told you he would throw you away the minute he got
word that my scholarship was going to him-never mind that, it
happened a mere seconds later. You were just a taste of what
wearing my shoes would mean for him. So he got to have a go at
my girlfriend, then he got to take my place in college, and he’ll
likely go on to have the career I thought would be mine.”
To her credit, she brushes my snide comment off. “You have
to forgive me about Scott Mercer. We were young and we were
stupid. I really regret that.”
“I don’t think I could’ve forgiven you even if you weren’t the
biggest bitch to ever walk the earth.” I spit on the ground and it
lands right next to her. “I don’t want to ever see you again.”
“How long are you going to keep this charade going?” she
asks. “You and I were meant to be. We will be. Whether you like
it or not. You try it out with these other girls and when it
invariably goes badly, I know you start thinking about me. But
your fragile ego can’t handle the idea of forgiving your girlfriend
for a mistake she made when she was seventeen. Seventeen,
Quinn.”
“That mistake you made turned out to be a blessing in
disguise. It saved me from having to suffer through that joke of a
relationship.” I point inside, and she steps forward like it’s an
invitation. “No. That was just me telling you I’m going back to
my spot on the couch. You can stay here for as long as you want,
but I’m telling you, you’re wasting your breath. Go bother
someone else.”
“What did that little skank let you do in bed? Did she allow
you to use her every which way? Is that it?”
I swing the door back open again and let the can of beer I’m
holding fall to the ground. “What did you say?”
“That has to be it. You’re pussy whipped by the fatty because
she compensated for her lack of status by letting you do all sorts
of depraved things to her. Admit it.”
I know Sheila. I know she’s only baiting me because it gives
her more face time with me. When things turn against her, she
doubles down and goes for the kill. It’s the same thing she did to
me when I broke up with her after finding out about Scott
Mercer. Even with all of that, I snap.
“What did you say?” I ask again, lunging forward. It’s a false
step, one that makes me lose my balance. I fall to the ground and
land on my bad knee. “Fuck!”
“Quinn, oh God, I’m so sorry!” Sheila shouts. “Oh my God,
what do I do?”
“Help me get up.” I pant, trying to rise above the searing
pain.
“Here, lean on my shoulder. Let’s get you up.”
Sheila kneels and wraps her arms around me. Using her legs
to put her weight behind pulling me up, she and I grunt together
and progress at a snail’s pace until I’m back on two feet.
“Thank you,” I say. “I need to ice that knee. And I really need
to be alone.”
“Are you sure?” For the first time maybe ever, there’s no hint
of trickery in her eyes. “I can stay and help you. Or I can take you
to the hospital.”
I shake my head. “No, it’s fine. I have some painkillers. This
happens. If it hurts after a week, I’ll go see Dr. Morgan.”
“Quinn, please.” Tears well up in her eyes. “I really want a
second chance. I’m sorry I was such a bitch before. I just can’t
believe we’re over. You know we were meant to be together.
Everyone said so.”
“Sheila, it doesn’t matter what everyone said back then,” I
say as gently as I can muster through the sharp twinge. “I’m in
love with Abby. I know you don’t get it. I know we only just met.
It’s real. It was, anyway. And you and I never had that. I sincerely
wish you the best of luck. I just don’t think there’s anything I
can do or offer you.”
Sheila’s lower lip quivers. “So, this is it?”
“You and I ended a long time ago.”
I shut the door behind me and go draw a hot bath. How long
she stays out there is anyone’s guess. I have nothing left to say
to her.
Chapter 14
O ne Month Later

Abigail

In my solitude, I learn that the power to put words on a page is


back. I don’t stop to dwell on what happened with Quinn. It
doesn’t matter. If I’m honest with myself, things were too good
to be true right from the outset. I can’t say it doesn’t sneak up on
me from time to time, but my answer to those harrowing
moments is to open my laptop and start typing.
It’s not a legal thriller. My talents don’t align with that genre,
which is probably why I wasn’t able to write anything
worthwhile in the first place. No, the story I’m telling comes
from me. There’s no label for it. I’m not sure it’ll end in a
happily ever after, so I can’t even think about submitting it to a
romance publisher or agents who represent those kinds of
novels.
Mainly, I’m not trying to box myself in anymore. Fit a square
in a circle or pigeonhole myself in a category that’s too
restrictive.
I can finally breathe. The words that come pouring out of me
shape a sensational story about love and loss, identity and
essence, and the little miracles within the mundane. The things
only those who are paying attention see unfold.
The flock of swans isn’t a flock at all, but rather a bevy. They
play the soundtrack to my work, several of the males and
females hissing at each other as a rite of passage in their
courtship. Their white feathers create a stunning contrast with
the backdrop of the vibrant spring blossoms.
Out here on the lake shore half a mile from my cabin, it’s
endlessly serene. It probably seems odd to any passersby (which
I have yet to see, but I suppose they might come when I’m
immersed and I’ll never be the wiser), but for the first time in
my life, I’m truly riveted by the characters I’m creating. None of
them are me-not even the damaged and depressed female
protagonist. If she were me, I wouldn’t be able to give her so
much hope only to take things away. To watch her suffer.
If it sounds like I’m talking about actual people and not
characters in a book, it’s because I am. They’re as real as anyone
else in my life. In the absence of actual company, I write scenes
that will never go in any book but that explore the characters in
their everyday world. None of these passages are pivotal-they’re
just a window to these people who populate a world of my
creation.
Once every two weeks, I go shopping for groceries. It’s always
when I know Quinn will be at his job, because the cashier is still
in high school and has no filter. She’s got a huge “vintage
crush” on Quinn and can babble about him for however long it
takes for her to ring up all of your purchases. I tried buying less
at a time, and discovered I learned just as much if not more
about what he’s up to.
The only silver lining is that I now have his work schedule ad
infinitum.
The other Coopers and Sheila are trickier, but going early in
the morning means I can rest easy that none of their functional
asses are out of bed. I take my time looking at the fresh produce
that’ll go on tonight’s casserole, which I’m making from
scratch.
Yes, I’ve only recently turned twenty and this is how I live my
life. Not everyone was made to be a social butterfly.
Why do you always go through this rundown of excuses for
how you live your life?
Because every time I run into someone from school, they
want to know what I’ve got going on in my life. Talking about
how my parents are dead and that their possessions didn’t clear
the probate court for this long isn’t good. Elaborating on my
utter failure with my career isn’t, either.
That awful conversation I overheard shed a light on how
people perceive a writer. Why did my carrying around a notebook
raise such scandal? Why was I the target of so much ridicule? Did
they really have to go the salacious route, rife with sexual
deviancy and tawdry nonsense?
Let it go.
I feel the urge to go write again, so I cease the aisle shopping
and head straight to the register. The friendly high school girl
waves at me and checks her watch, probably because first bell is
going to ring any minute now.
“Vanessa will take care of you today, okay, Abby?” she says,
checking her reflection and applying a few finishing touches to
her makeup. “I have to run. Mr. Tomlin for first period.”
“Sure thing,” I tell her, failing to recall her name. She talks
about Quinn so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if she
sometimes forgot that she has a separate identity from him.
Actually, that all she has is a separate identity, since I don’t
think they’ve ever even met.
I hear her squeal on her way out but don’t bother to check and
see what it is that riled her enthusiasm. After the other cashier,
Vanessa, finishes scanning all my items, she gives me the total
and I pay, trying to not fret about the state of my dwindling
savings.
The walk home goes by fast enough, and I don’t concern
myself with putting anything away except the stuff that needs to
go in the fridge. Hugging my laptop, I go on the hundredth foray
into the wilderness. My isolated little piece of creative haven.
I make it to the final stretch of my manuscript when I realize
it’s already dark out. It’s like I said: put me in front of a scenic
slice of land and I forget my own state of being.
In all my weeks coming here, I have yet to come face to face
with another soul. This time, a hulking figure appears, walking
in my direction. I almost drop my laptop with fear. Who could it
possibly be? This is an abandoned part of town. The houses are
almost all vacant and there certainly isn’t anything exciting for
anyone who’s not seeking a time-out from reality.
And even if they are, why would they do it here, on my turf?
“Hello?” I call out. “Who’s there?”
The only sound I hear in response is twigs breaking
underneath the monstrous feet of whoever is coming.
Chapter 15
Quinn
Signal is spotty on this stretch, but when I do get some
reception, the alerts for all the missed calls and voicemails stack
on top of each other. After the fifteenth missed call from my
boss, I decide to listen to his latest message. Not because I care
about what he’s got to say. It’s a good barometer for me to figure
out how much groveling I’ll have to do in order to not lose my
job.
An echo reverberates in the open field, but I can’t make out
what it is. A wild bird? The wind? Nothing at all?
My boss’s muffled intonation makes zero sense, so I put my
phone away. It’s only when I focus on what’s in front of me that
I notice that there she is.
Abby.
“You,” Abby says. “What in the world, Quinn?”
“I’ve been trying to call you all day!” I accuse. “I waited
outside your door for hours. Hours. Raven down at the grocery
store told me that you were there early this morning, and then I
figured that even if you had errands to run, you’d be home by
late morning or noon. At the latest.”
She rolls her eyes. “What do you want me to tell you? Do you
think I owe you some kind of an apology? I didn’t know I was
supposed to facilitate you stalking me.”
“It’s not stalking. I tried to get in touch every way I knew
how, and then yesterday I just decided to come and talk to you in
person. It’s been a month, so I don’t think it’s adding insult to
injury.”
Nonplussed, she sidesteps me and continues to walk.
“Abby? Are you really going to ignore me?”
“You came down here. I can’t imagine what it is that you
want, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable that all your efforts
lead you to this: my nonchalance. I don’t want to talk to you.
Nothing’s changed in the past month, except for the fact that I
really, truly, absolutely, hand-to-God do not have a single thing
to say. But if you insist on walking with me, you have about a
quarter mile to say whatever it is you want me to hear. Then, you
can consider the message delivered and we can get on with our
lives.”
She doesn’t look at me once.
“Abby, please,” I say. “I’m begging you. I have to explain my
side of things. I can’t bear to think that you’re hurt by my
actions and you think I was so careless and reckless with your
feelings to the point-”
“I’m going to say it again,” she says, sighing. “What do you
think you’ll say this time that will make any difference?”
“I love you,” I blurt out.
That seems to get her attention because she doubles back and
stares at me.
“Did you hear me? I said I love you.”
“I’m trying to figure out what kind of moron you are,” she
says. “Why in the world would you ever tell me that?”
“Because it’s the truth and I needed you to know it. I need you
in my life. I can’t stop thinking about you. And you don’t know
the whole story. My brothers are jackasses and I haven’t spoken
to them since that night at Moe’s. I won’t until they all apologize
to you. Sheila is moot. She came around that night and asked me
to let her in-”
“Let me guess, you two fucked nice and good on that couch
where you and I-” She sniffles. “Never mind. Why are we getting
into this again?”
“I would never do that with her,” I say. “I don’t want anyone
else. You don’t have any idea how hard it’s been to feel like I
finally met the love of my life and to let her slip away because I
was stupid. I can’t even imagine how upsetting it was to hear all
of that, but you have to believe I never participated in any of
those conversations in high school. I didn’t approach you for
anything other than exactly what I told you. I needed an out with
my brothers. They bet me-”
“I already told you I don’t care,” Abby says. “Please.”
“You said I could tell you my side for the rest of your walk
home. Please give me a chance.”
Abby sighs. “Fine.”
“I haven’t been with anyone for real since high school. Even
when I had an official girlfriend, I felt empty. And then my
brothers started getting on my case about how I hadn’t gotten
laid in so long, and they felt it was their brotherly duty to impose
a bet that would force to me act. It was weak of me to not shut
them down, but that night, I really didn’t want to fight. I’d only
come by the skin of my teeth and after another round of drinks, I
planned to go. Then they made this ridiculous bet and you do not
understand how impossible they are if they don’t feel like you
gave it an honest thought.” I pause to take a deep breath.
Abby shakes her head, seemingly exasperated. “I sympathize
with all of that, but your whole thing was that you needed to get
out with a woman. You worked me over pretty well to get what
you wanted. It worked out perfectly for you, didn’t it? You can
fall back on your brothers’ gross bet and you also got, uh, laid.”
“I fully intended to simply drop you off,” I insist. “Then I
made up that bullshit about the first aid kit because I wanted a
few more minutes with you. That conversation in the car was the
best thing to happen to me in months. Years. I felt alive, and
that hasn’t happened since I heard about my knee.”
She stops dead in her tracks. “Wait, the first aid thing was
bullshit?”
“Well, yeah,” I say, shrugging. “If you bump your head, you
think a few band-aids or a thermometer or anything like that is
going to make a difference? It won’t. Unless you had some
telltale signs of a concussion or something like that, that bump
was probably nothing and there’s not a single thing in a first aid
kit that made a lick of difference.”
She takes it all in quietly. Suddenly, Abby bursts out laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“It’s just that this thing is ludicrous from start to finish.
Ridiculous. I don’t know why you even care anymore. Who am
I?” She shoots me a guarded smile. “I don’t know what to
believe. But this whole thing brought back a deluge of bad
memories.”
“You’re arguing against yourself,” I tell her.
She cocks up an eyebrow. “How do you figure?”
“If you were just a random person or someone I didn’t give a
shit about, why would I go to all this trouble to come clean? Why
would I be chasing after you after that nearly insurmountable
run-in with my brothers?”
“What are you getting at?” Her voice isn’t a hair above a
whisper.
“That I love you. And if you don’t love me, that’s fine. But
stop hiding from your feelings and thinking you’re the biggest
reject in the world. I love you. What do I have to do for you to see
that?” I purse my lips and shake my head. “I don’t know what
else you expect me to do, Abby. I’ve reneged on the bet. I’m sorry
that I took it. It was before we started talking that night. I
resisted you as much as I could because I didn’t want it to start
like that. But then you wore down all my self-control and… I
wanted you, okay? I wanted you and I couldn’t hold out any
longer when you gave me every possible sign that you wanted it,
too.”
“But you tried to cover it up,” she says. “Why didn’t you just
come out and say it?”
“I was going to tell you. At the right time. I shouldn’t have
stayed the night. I should’ve asked you out on a date and avoided
this whole mess. I know that and I accept it. You can’t know how
sorry I am.” I rub my eyes, the exhaustion of the past few weeks
hitting me. “I don’t know what else to do. I just know I don’t
want to lose you. We were only together for a day but it was the
best day of my life. Tell me-”
Abby interrupts me with a kiss.
Chapter 16
A bigail
“I know what I want you to do,” I whisper in his ear. “And it
involves shutting up and following my lead.”
There’s this wicked idea inside of me. It’s insane, but no more
than the rest of my story with Quinn. I don’t look at him as some
deity anymore, or like someone whose feet don’t touch the
ground or who would never want someone like me.
I’m sick of getting in my own way. And I’m sick of things just
happening to me. I’m waiting for someone to give me
permission to live my life. What he did sucked. It hurt. But in
light of everything else, and the sincerity with which he said he
loved me, I’m willing to overlook it long enough for me to test
out this theory.
“Starting when?” he asks.
“Now.”
We arrive at my cabin. It’s pitch black and I don’t have my
phone, but Quinn makes enough of a ruckus in order to draw my
attention to his phone. I turn the flashlight on, find my key, and
open the door.
“I want you to lie down on the carpet,” I tell him.
It’s either that or the bed, and the bed isn’t neutral territory.
He looks puzzled but gets over it when I stand there with a
firm hand. The problem is that when he tries to get down on the
ground, he groans.
“Your knee?”
He nods.
“Sorry. In that case, the bed is fine. Make yourself
comfortable. But not too comfortable.”
Quinn widens his eyes but remains silent. I give him some
privacy, which gives me the chance to check on how I look. I’ve
been in the woods all day long and I’m sure it shows.
Surprisingly, it doesn’t. The girl staring back at me isn’t the
same one who stood on this very spot a month ago. Her eyes
aren’t timid. Her posture isn’t set to a perpetual slouch. She’s
lithe and strong. A warrior.
Abigail Swan, you finally arrived.
But none of that mattered if she only exists in a vacuum.
Before I can even entertain the prospect of getting back together
with Quinn, I need to know if she can exist with him, too.
I take off all my clothes and smile at my reflection. It’s the
very first time I don’t flinch and look away. I didn’t go on a
breakup diet and I didn’t start wearing makeup. I can’t explain
it. Something fell away inside of me-there was this barrier
before, and now there isn’t. I’m over it.
When Quinn sees me leaning against the doorframe, stark
naked, his eyes widen again. I watch him for a long time and let
him watch me. Neither of us moves.
Well, except for his cock. Even though it’s confined in his
trousers, I can see how hard and ready he is for me.
“Take off your clothes,” I tell him, and they fall to the ground
in five seconds flat. “I want to do something, but like I said, I’m
the one running this show. I loved you dominating me”-I climb
on top of the bed and straddle him, his cock nestling between
the folds of my pussy-”but I need to figure something else out.
I’ll explain later.”
I grind on his cock, soaking it with my wetness. There’s
nothing subdued about the way I moan as I find the right
position to hit my clit and still feel the length of him under me.
Quinn writhes under me, clearly ready to burst.
The way he stays quiet, though, is such a turn on. I wonder if
I’m taking away his agency and outright using him in the way
you just don’t do if you love someone, but a look into his eyes
tells me he’s loving every second of it.
I get on my lips, hovering over him, and rub my clit, basking
in the pleasure I’m creating for myself. His eyes fixate on my
pussy, filling me with a theatrical flair, so I stand up and prop
myself back up on my knees closer to his face.
What he’s thinking is that I’m going to sit on him and make
him give me the best damn oral. It’s tempting, but no.
I want him to watch. See me and my pussy up close and
personal.
It’s like I’m hypnotizing him. He just cannot look away.
I’ve never felt so powerful.
“Abby-”
I raise a finger over my mouth, which silences him. Glancing
backward, I see his cock twitching in regular beats. It’s thick
girth somehow seems even bigger than I remember, swollen just
for me and pulsating with my need.
And my need, too.
“Help me here,” I say, getting up again and returning to
where I was. This time, I’m not on my knees but rather on my
feet, squatting. I want full mobility. “Hold your cock up for me.”
Quinn licks his lips and obliges. It’s tantalizing what happens
to a guy when you hold all the cards. My pussy barely touches the
tip of his cock, but still, he’s wild with lust.
“You like that?” I ask him.
He nods.
“You want more?”
To that, he doesn’t have a response. Of course, he doesn’t
know why I’m doing what I’m doing. I can just imagine what’s
going through his mind: Is Abby doing it just to get off or is she
searching for something else?
With Quinn, it’s never just to get off.
I lower myself slowly on his cock, letting it fill me up
gradually. Inch by inch. Quinn watches me, his breathing
shallow, and beads of sweat running down his face.
Sweet, sweet agony.
And it is for me too, but I want it. I want the lust to give way
to so much pleasure that it’s almost too much.
Almost, but not quite.
I’ve never been so wet in my life. When I’ve got his cock
halfway in, I lose my balance. Before I can recover, I slide the full
length of him-every last inch of that gigantic fucking cock-
inside me.
“Oh, God,” I cry out. The sudden tight fit and the friction of
our bodies cause the still waters inside of me to swirl into a
hurricane.
I lean forward and get on my knees. Try as I might to go back
to doing it slow, I can’t. I need the release only Quinn can give
me. I ride his cock hard and fast, yelling out without a care in the
world.
But there’s something different. The build up to my orgasm
doesn’t happen just in the pit of my stomach, burning between
my legs. My chest quivers, and when I look in Quinn’s eyes
again, I see what he means.
He loves me.
I lean down to kiss him. He responds in a frenzy, sitting up
and opening me from the inside out with his lips. We melt into
each other, hands clasped together. Quinn’s hands travel to my
ass and he presses against me and pounds into me.
“Abby,” he moans.
“I love you, too,” I tell him, and it sends me over the edge, a
cascading orgasm that feels like it lasts for minutes.
Epilogue
A bigail
“Abby, the boxes are here,” Quinn calls.
I race to the door to receive him, since he’s had a hard day at
work and is beat. Same as every other day. This time, however,
he has two medium boxes in his hands. “The one is from...you
know?”
“Yes,” he says.
I jump on him, embracing him in a bear hug, and then pounce
on the boxes. Whoever wrapped this must hate people because
there’s wrapping tape-layers upon layers of it-on every edge of
the box.
“I’m going to get the box opener,” Quinn says.
“Thank you, love,” I say.
I can’t take my eyes off the boxes. Ever since I received the
news that my book was going to be published, I’ve been on cloud
nine. Even on days like these, when each word written was like
squeezing water from a rock, the literary world is my salvation.
“Let me handle it,” Quinn says. “You’re going to end up
cutting yourself if you keep jumping up and down.”
“How many times am I going to receive the printed form of
my debut novel in the mail?” I ask, my hands on my hips. “Need
I remind you that I never thought this was possible?”
“Maybe to you. I always knew you’d be a star,” Quinn says,
savagely cutting the box open.
I need him to hand me a copy of my book in its published
glory. I thought I would be able to handle this one little step on
my own, but it turns out that I can’t.
I’ve been waiting for this my entire life.
“Babe, look at you,” he says, showing me the back cover,
where there’s a picture of me. “You really did it! I’m so proud.”
I cradle the book in my hands. There are no words to describe
how this feels. I hug Quinn again and plant a deep kiss on his
lips. “Thank you for being you.”
Quinn winks. “Let me get a bottle of champagne for us to
toast this moment.”
“Oh, Quinn, I’d love to, but I need to finish the next one by
tonight. I already blew the deadline, so I can’t get drunk.” I pout.
“I really wanted to celebrate, though. How about a rain check
until I finish?”
Quinn goes to the kitchen anyway. “Believe me, Abby, this is
one drink you want to have.”
My curiosity is piqued. Quinn doesn’t make cryptic
statements like this on a regular basis. It only happens when he
has something up his sleeve.
“What are you up to?” I ask, trailing after him. “Did you do
something?”
“What are you talking about?” he asks. That boyish grin on
his face doesn’t fool me, though. “Hey, could you get the
champagne glasses from the top cabinet?”
Of course. It’s my celebration but I’m the one who has to get
the stuff off the high shelves, because Quinn loves staring at my
ass.
“Okay,” I said, reaching up to get two champagne flutes. I
turn around and say, “But just know that I-”
I grind to a halt when I see Quinn.
On his knees.
“Abby, you might be the writer, but I’m the true romantic,”
he starts.
Setting the glasses down, I cover my mouth with my hands.
“Are you really doing this?”
“I am. Now, let me give you my speech, if you would.” I nod
and he clears his throat. “Ever since you walked into my life,
nothing’s been the same. You’re extraordinary. You’re the
bravest, most brilliant woman I’ve ever known, and I can’t go a
second longer without asking you to be with me for the rest of
our lives. Will you marry me?”
“I’m just-yes. Of course, I will.”
He slides the most dazzling ring on my finger and kisses my
hand before getting up and twirling me around. “Now, what did
you say about needing to work more tonight?”
I wave in the general direction of my laptop on the counter.
“Oh, that? I know how the story ends.”
“And this one? How does it end?”
“The story of you and me?” I grin. “It’s only just beginning.”
More Naughty Beasts & Filthy
Princes
Book 1 Saving Red (Little Red Riding Hood)

Book 2 Owning Swan (Ugly Duckling)

Book 3 Craving Snow (Snow White)

Book 4 Guarding Beauty (Sleeping Beauty)


PREVIEW: Saving Red
Prologue

Ash

A girl’s scream pierces through my sleep. Heart racing, I jump


from my bed, tearing down the stairs from my apartment above
the five-car garage. Cold air bites at my chest when I step
outside, snow and wind whipping harshly around me.
Another cry. Followed by the distinct sound of growls and
barking.
She’s close.
Ignoring the sharp pain that slices through my bare feet as
they scrape against ice and snow, I grab the first weapon I see, an
axe, and move quickly towards whatever crisis lies ahead.
A flash of red through the white blizzard is my focal point.
The girl’s pale face and large brown eyes meet mine when I
barrel through the trees towards the edge of the Redmond’s
large property.
Ella.
The hood of her red jacket is caught on the steel fence. A
silver wolf surrounds her, lips curled back over large fangs that
drip with saliva. It crouches low, moving forward, and lets out a
threatening growl.
Terror strikes through me as I watch the animal position itself
to pounce, eyes flashing gold when they catch the light of the
moon.
Adrenaline pounding through my veins, I bound over the
fence, dropping in front of her and swinging the axe towards the
snarling beasts.
“Watch out,” she screams, when the animal lunges at me.
The blunt end of the axe hits the animal with a sickening
crunch.
A snap.
A snarl.
One wrong move and the beast sinks its fangs into my calf.
I grit my teeth, and strike out with the axe, sending it
whimpering backwards. I swing again, hollering madly and
driving the wolves back into the shadowed forest.
When I turn back to Ella, her eyes are wild, her breathing
rough and uneven.
“You… you were amazing.” Her gaze trails down my bare
chest, then back up to my face, and her tongue darts out across
her bottom lip.
Fuck.
“Are you hurt?” I demand, moving towards her, reaching out
to unsnag her hood from the fence.
“I-I don’t think so.” Her lips tremble, dark auburn hair
whipping around her heart-shaped face.
I give a harsh nod. “Can you climb?”
She glances at the fence. “I think so.”
Hands on her hips, I help her over. Then, with less agility
than I had before, I climb over myself, grunting when I hit the
ground as pain shoots up my leg.
“Was that… was that a wolf?” She asks, voice wobbly.
My nostrils flare at the innocence behind her dark eyes. How
many years has the girl been coming here to visit her
grandmother, and she still thinks this place is as safe as the
boarding school she attends ten months of the year.
“Yeah, that was a fucking wolf, and it would have devoured
you if I hadn’t heard your screams.”
She flinches.
“What the hell are you doing out here?”
The quick glance away, and the red that creeps into her
cheeks tells me everything I need to know. There’s a boy
involved.
Every protective bone in my body goes on high alert. Not that
I have any right to feel that way. She’s nobody to me. Just the
stubborn, over-pampered granddaughter of the woman I work
for.
The girl is beautiful, yes. But she’s young. And way out of my
league. Not to mention that she seems terrified every time she
comes into my presence. Even now, her eyes dart apprehensively
over the ink that marks my bare chest.
But right now, it isn’t fear I see in her eyes, instead I see
something that shouldn’t be there—lust. The pure, innocent
hunger that could have even a grown man on his knees begging
for one taste.
Shit.
My cock twitches, but my brain screams danger.
“Let’s go.” I grip her arm, and start to pull her towards the
house.
I’m pretty sure I’ve lost all feeling in my feet. My leg is
pulsing, blood caked into my ripped jeans and freezing against
my skin.
“You’re bleeding,” she says, concern in her voice.
“I’ll be fine.” After a few stitches, and half a bottle of
bourbon.
At the garage, I release her and toss the axe up against the
side of the building.
She glances up the hill toward the main house, then back to
me, fingers twisting together. The wind still whips around us,
cold and daunting, but the way she’s looking at me sends fire
blazing through my veins.
“What?” I growl out.
Another small flinch, then she straightens her shoulders and
meets my gaze with more confidence than a girl her age should
have. “Thank you.”
I grunt. “Get inside before you freeze to death.”
Turning towards the door that leads up to my apartment, I
don’t wait to see if she obeys. I’m fucking freezing, and the only
thing that’s going to warm me up tonight is the bottle of
Jameson waiting for me upstairs.
The crunch of snow behind me warns me she’s following me.
Shit.
“You’re…” She breathes out a shaky breath and follows me
up the stairs. “You’re not going to tell on me, are you?”
Flinging open my apartment door, I make a beeline for the
kitchen cupboards, pull out a bottle of whisky, and take a deep
swig, before slowly turning and leaning against the counter.
Ella stands in the doorway, eyes roaming around the large
room. She’s never been up here before, at least not since I’ve
lived here. And she shouldn’t be here now.
“No, kid. I’m not going to tell your grandma that you snuck
out in the middle of the night and almost got yourself killed by a
pack of ravenous wolves.”
She pulls her hood back, exposing her flawless features, the
thick mane of dark auburn hair falling over her shoulders, and
juts her chin out. “I’m seventeen. I’m not a kid.”
“You’re acting like one if you have to sneak out.” I rake my
fingers through my hair and take another swig straight from the
bottle, the liquid finally starting to warm the cold from my
bones. My lips pull up over my teeth, and I snarl, “When you
don’t have the common sense to protect yourself from danger.”
Usually my prickliness sets her running in the opposite
direction, but not tonight. Tonight, she seems dead set on
driving me insane.
She moves into the room, hand reaching out to trace the edge
of the wooden footboard of my bed. It’s the only piece of
furniture I brought with me when I moved here. An antique piece
that used to be my parents when they owned the ranch on the
northeast side of the property.
Back when my family actually had something more than a
black cloud of debt hanging over their head.
It’s why I’m here now, working like a dog for minimum pay.
But it’s a job. And I need the money. Rancher turned
groundskeeper. It’s not ideal, but at least I have a roof over my
head, and enough money to send to my sister each month.
The work is easy. At least it is when Ella isn’t here distracting
me and making me question every reason why I hate the
Redmond family.
The girl is standing at the foot of my bed, big, looking around
with those innocent eyes like she has no fucking idea what I
want to do to her. And if I wasn’t a better man, I might give into
those dark, wicked cravings.
I take another long swallow, not taking my eyes off her.
“Ca-can I have some?” Her gaze is on the bottle, and she
takes a few steps towards me.
Yeah, the girl didn’t know danger when she was standing
right in front of it.
I hand her the whisky and she takes a deep swallow, her eyes
water as the burn hits her throat and she hisses, “God, that’s
awful.”
Grunting, I take the bottle from her hands, ignoring the
warmth that spreads up my arms when my fingers brush against
hers.
“The wolf… it bit you.” She’s close now, her gaze darting
across the ink on my chest and arms, and I can see her fingers
itching to touch me, to trace the patterns.
I swallow the groan that vibrates in my throat.
“It’s just a flesh wound,” I lie, knowing I’m probably going to
need a couple of stitches, which I’ll do myself once she finally
leaves me in peace. “I’ve had worse.”
Her brows draw up. “You’ve been bitten before?”
“My family owned a cattle ranch. It was part of my job to hunt
down the predators that threatened our herd. I had a few run-ins
with wolves, coyotes, even a few mountain lions, and the odd
bear.”
“Wow.” She’s looking at me like I’m a fucking superhero, and
not the predator that wants to devour her whole.
The pull between us is almost tangible.
Fuck. I need to get her out of here before I do something
stupid.
“You should go,” I growl out, glaring at her.
“Do you want me to look at it?” She bites her bottom lip and
glances down at my leg. “If you take your pants off—”
I groan, and her eyes widen. She licks her lips, and leans in.
Like a moth to the flame, she has no idea how close she is to
getting burned.
Yeah, too fucking innocent.
The girl is a goddamn siren sent to tease me.
I wrap a tendril of her hair around my fingers and give a small
tug. “You want to tell me why you were out there all alone?”
She glances down, pink infusing her cheeks. “I was supposed
to meet someone.”
“Supposed to?”
“He didn’t show.”
“A boyfriend?” Every muscle in my body tenses at the
thought.
“No.” She shakes her head. “I mean. Well, I thought…
maybe. I met him a couple nights ago at a soiree my
grandmother was hosting.”
I have no clue what a goddamn soiree is, and I’m pretty sure I
have no desire to. Most likely it was just another name for one of
those god-awful parties the rich throw for any excuse to dress up
and flaunt their wealth.
She’s fidgeting now, dark eyes downcast. “He…”
The small shaky breath she exhales tugs at something in my
chest.
“What?” I demand, making her flinch, and her gaze pulls
back to mine.
She gives a small shrug and more pink floods her cheeks.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
I grunt, “Try me.”
Her shoulders straighten, and her face goes serious. “I
thought he might be the one.”
“The one?” Possessiveness flares.
She sucks her bottom lip between her teeth, a flash of
uncertainty crossing her expression, before saying, “My first.”
“First?” I fucking hope to hell she isn’t saying what I think
she is. “First what?”
“First everything.” She lets out a frustrated breath. “I’ve
been stuck in that horrible prison my grandmother calls a
boarding school for so long that I never get to do anything. Do
you know there’s no guys there… at all? Except for the principal
and a few teachers. But they’re old, and…” She lets out a deep
sigh. “I’m the only one of my friends that’s never been kissed.
That’s never been…”
“I get it.” Leaning back against the counter I drag a rough
hand through my hair.
“I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
I don’t know why either, but every word that tumbles from
those lush lips only intensifies the ache in my cock.
A low, muted growl rumbles up in my throat. “That’s not
something you give away to just anyone, Red.”
Raw energy pulses between us. Because the primal part of me
wants to claim her innocence. To devour her and make her mine.
“Why not?” Her hand reaches out to touch the ink on my
chest, and I catch her wrist.
“Because you deserve better.”
“Everyone’s always telling me what I need. What I should
want. Maybe I just want to choose for myself.” Her other hand
snakes up, palm flattening on my abs, then she leans closer, her
body pressing against mine. “What if I want danger…
excitement?”
My cock is rock hard, pressing painfully against the denim
that restrains it.
Only a fucking saint could resist an offer like that. And it’s
been a long time since I’ve had my halo.
I skate my hand around the back of her neck, my fingers
tangling in the hair at her nape and I tug, just hard enough to
make her chin tilt up, her gaze meet mine.
“Is this what you want, Red?” I say roughly against the shell
of her ear, sending a tremble through her body. “You want me to
bury my cock inside of you? To lick that sweet pussy until you’re
screaming my name?”
A small whimper is her only reply. And I can feel the fear that
mixes with innocent yearnings.
“Run away. little girl, before I decide to take you up on your
offer.” I inhale her scent, closing my eyes and struggling for
some control. “But trust me, sweetheart. I don’t play childish
games.”
Her breath hitches, and I feel her body tense, like she finally
has a clue about how much danger she’s actually in.
Good.
I release her, dropping my hand, and watch as she takes a few
quick steps backwards.
“I-I should go.”
“You should,” I agree, keeping my expression hard. No way
I’m going to let this girl know just how much she’s gotten under
my skin.
“Tha-thank you for saving me.” She stumbles towards the
door, pulling her hood over her head.
“Red.” The command in my voice is clear, and she stops,
glancing nervously over her shoulder, brown eyes wide when
they look at me. “Be safe. There are more than just wolves out
there ready to devour you.”
Confusion washes over her expression. So young. So naïve.
Again, something primal inside of me growls, wanting to
protect her. To keep her. To make her mine.
Foolishness. She belongs to a different world. One that I’ll
never be a part of.
She shoves her hands in her coat pockets and nods, then
disappears down the stairs.
I grab the bottle of whisky and down half the bottle because it
isn’t just my leg that’s throbbing now. The ache in my cock is
going to be a hell of a lot harder to get rid of.

Chapter 1

Ella
Six Years Later…

My heart aches when I walk through the large wooden doors


that lead to the foyer of my grandmother’s estate.
I was in France when I got the call that she passed.
Since then, the house has been left empty, except for the
staff.
The staff. A small shiver races down my back when I think of
Ash Hunter.
The man has done an exceptional job avoiding me over the
years, but the news I just received from my grandmother’s
attorney, placing me as the sole beneficiary of the estate, means
that I’m currently his employer.
A position I doubt either one of us is happy about.
“Would you like me to take your bags to your room?” The
butler who’s decked out in the whole penguin suit as to my
grandmother’s preference, stares down his nose at me, thin lips
pressed together severely.
“Thank you, George,” I say, trying to be as amiable as
possible. Already the staff are eyeing me warily, and I know what
they’re thinking. They’re wondering how a twenty-three-year-
old woman, who is supposed to be finishing up her last year of
under grad in art history, is going to manage an estate this size.
I’m trying to figure that out myself.
Because right now, I don’t have even the first clue as to where
to start.
I’m supposed to be meeting with another of my
grandmother’s lawyers later today to go over the finances, and
my stomach is twisting at the thought.
Walking through the foyer, I exit through the back doors,
taking in the huge estate.
Winterberry trees line one side of the house, the red berries
striking against the fresh white powder that has recently fallen.
A loud crack makes my heart nearly jump out of my chest.
Another whack.
The sound echoes around me.
“What in God’s name?” My feet crunch through the snow,
then stop cold when I see him.
Ash.
Axe flung over his shoulder, he picks up a log with his free
hand and places it vertically on a tree stump, then steps back,
and with perfect precision brings the axe down hard, splintering
the log in two equal halves.
Through the red flannel shirt, I can see his heavy corded
muscles bunch and tense. His large thighs strain at the denim,
and his ass… my god, but the man has the most perfect
backside.
His hair is longer than the last time I was here. Shaved on the
sides and hanging thickly over one half of his ruggedly
handsome face.
As if sensing my presence, he turns; blue eyes, dark and
intense as they land on me.
Flames lick at my flesh, burning through me, setting my
entire body on fire.
I feel the heat warm my cheeks, and when I start to take a
step backwards I lose my footing on a patch of ice and go
sprawling, landing hard with a sickening crunch.
Pain—sharp and hot—slices through my head as it bounces
off what I assume is an icy patch of concrete.
My vision darkens instantly even though I can hear and sense
the world moving around me.
A few deep, growl-like curses, are muttered above me. Hands,
big and strong, are touching me. Calloused fingers stroke my
face, and for a moment I don’t want my vision to return,
prepared to spend a few more moments of bliss in the man’s
embrace.
“Damn it, Red, open your eyes,” he demands roughly.
I blink several times, until the pinprick of light expands,
revealing the smoldering blue eyes that have haunted my
dreams for the last six years.
“What the hell were you thinking, wearing heels out here?”
His tone is harsh, his expression brooding, but there’s a
tenderness to his touch as he studies me, that makes the pain
seem to dissipate, replaced by an aching hunger that clenches
my core.
“Always my savior,” I try to joke, grinning up at him.
He grunts. “Because you’re always getting in trouble.”
I try to sit up and groan when the world spins.
“Here.” One arm snakes under my knees, the other behind
my back, and he hoists me up against his god-like body.
As much as I hate being the damsel in distress, I’m not about
to complain when he’s touching me.
As I inhale his scent—all male and woody—the butterflies in
my stomach start to do a little dance of joy.
He’s intoxicating. Reeking of pure primal masculinity.
Compared to the guys on campus—even the football jocks
who are gym buff—Ash is one hundred and ten percent sinew
and muscle.
I rest my cheek and palm on his chest as he carries me back
up to the house, squirming to get closer to him.
He lets out a harsh breath. “Stop that.”
“What?”
“You know what.” His tone is laced with frustration.
“I’m not seventeen anymore.” I blink up at him and reach out
to run my fingers across the ink along his neck that peeks out
from his shirt. “You don’t have to be such a… gentleman all the
time.”
“You think that’s what I am, Red?”
“That…” I know I’m pressing too hard when I say, “Or a
coward.”
A feral noise rushes from his lips, and my feet hit the floor
with a hard thud when he releases me. The only thing stopping
me from falling, one large arm wrapped tightly around my waist.
He doesn’t say anything, no brooding remark like I usually
get, just a concentrated look that makes me wonder if I went too
far.
Hunger.
Lust.
Stubborn determination to stay the hell away from me. That’s
what I see when I look in his eyes.
A man’s cough makes both of us tense. Ash drops his hold
and takes a step back.
“Miss Redmond?” A deep, velvety voice says almost lyrically
behind me.
Frustrated by the stranger’s rotten timing, I turn to face the
intruder, only to be met by a pair of striking light brown eyes.
Eyes the color of honey, framed by thick black lashes.
The man is devastatingly handsome, in the typical blueblood
way. Chiseled features, strong jaw, straight nose, dark hair just
long enough to give him a sexy mussed look that would make a
woman beg to run her fingers through it.
One side of his grin tilts up higher than the other in a smirk
that tells me he knows exactly what kind of effect he has on
people.
“I’m Jared Wolfe.” He takes a step towards me, hand
outstretched. “I’m the lawyer from Wolfe, Perrault, and
Associates, who’s handling your grandmother’s estate.”
I take his hand, and stammer, when I feel the slice of energy
that sizzles between us, “Ri-right. Sorry, I didn’t think you were
coming until later.”
He doesn’t let go of his grip, just keeps those hypnotizing
eyes focused on me. “If it’s a bad time—”
“No. It’s fine.” I shake my head, glancing at Ash from the
corner of my eye, who’s standing all dark and brooding, glaring
between us. Ignoring him, I turn back to Jared and grin up at
him. “Why don’t we go into the study?”
The man’s smile broadens, and he gives a small nod.
I swear I hear a low growl come from Ash’s direction when I
turn and start to walk away.
The man is so hard to read. I swear, one minute he’s looking
at me like he wants to tear my clothes off, and the next he’s
treating me like I’m a child that needs protecting, or worse—a
spoiled rich girl he can’t stand being in the same room with.
In the study, I glance around the giant room with its unread
books, and antique furniture, and suddenly feel extremely self-
conscious.
The large mahogany desk where my grandfather used to sit
and drink bourbon and smoke cigars, while I colored on the floor
beside him, is another reminder I’m just playing grownups; that
I really have no idea what I’m doing.
As if sensing my unease, Jared motions to one of the leather
chairs. “Why don’t you have a seat?”
“Okay.” I wipe my sweaty palms on my pants and sit down.
He follows suit, sitting in the adjacent chair and placing his
leather case on the desk. Leaning back, he steeples his fingers in
front of his mouth and studies me.
I shift uncomfortably under his intimate gaze. “What exactly
did you want to talk about?”
He gives me a sympathetic look, one that makes my stomach
flip flop, because I know what it means—trouble.
“You’re aware that the estate has been left solely in your
name?”
I nod, sitting straighter and bracing myself for the but that I
know is coming.
“As trustee of the estate, my law firm is legally—”
“What do you mean, trustee?”
“Your grandmother entrusted my firm to oversee the estates’
finances while she was ill or incapacitated. Now that it’s in your
name, my company holds the right to oversee the estate until
you turn thirty.”
“Thirty? But that’s years away.”
“Yes.”
“I don’t understand. Why would she give you that much
power?” I don’t even know the man. And I’m pretty sure my
grandmother never mentioned him.
“She trusted me.” His grin is dark and full of hidden
meaning. “And I hope you will too.”
An unsettled feeling stirs in my stomach. But my
grandmother was a smart woman, she wouldn’t have given just
anyone that much power without fully trusting them.
“Okay,” I say, uncertainty making my voice catch. “So, what
happens? What do I do?”
“You don’t have to do anything. I’ll take care of paying the
staff, and any bills that ensue, and you’ll be given an allowance.”
“An allowance?” Each word he utters makes me feel more
and more like an incompetent child.
“It’ll be enough to let you live the lifestyle you were already
living. You can go back to school and finish—”
“And if I want to stay here?”
He frowns. “It’s your house, legally. If that’s what you want,
you can stay.”
Then why do I feel like I suddenly need permission from him?
“And you?”
He cocks an eyebrow. “And me, what?”
“Where do you stay?”
A deep chuckle rumbles in his chest. “Not here, if that’s what
you’re suggesting.”
“Right.” Heat warms my cheeks, once again I'm feeling
foolish.
He tilts his head that same seductive grin playing on his lips.
“Can I make a suggestion, Miss Redmond?”
“Of course.”
“You’re a very beautiful, young woman, who has recently
come into a great amount of wealth. You need to be aware that
there will be many men who will take an interest in you.” He
nods towards the door, and I know where his mind wanders.
Ash.
Defensiveness steels my spine. “I’m perfectly capable of
handling my own love life.”
Again, that grin. “I’m sure you are. I just want you to be
careful.”
Careful. I hate that word. What I want is to be wild, to ride the
wave of danger. To live and love and not worry about the damn
consequences.
What I want is Ash.
“Thank you for your advice, Mr. Wolfe.” I start to stand and
he takes my hand.
“Jared,” He says, thumb stroking across the back of my hand,
sending small bolts of electricity sparking through me.
“Jared,” I repeat, unable to break from his mesmerizing gaze.
He leans closer, his expression full of intent, and his gaze
drops to my mouth.
Hot.
Intense.
The man is all charm and raw sexuality, and it’s nearly
impossible not to respond to his touch.
It’s not the same all-consuming, carnal desire that I get with
Ash, but it’s something. I just can’t think straight enough to
figure out what.
“Would you like to have dinner with me?” he asks, not
loosening his grip.
“Dinner?” I repeat. My voice is weak, shaky, and annoyingly
childish, even to me.
He keeps watching me, lips quirked up in a sexy grin.
“Tomorrow night?”
“Oh… all right.” I give a small nod. “Tomorrow.”
“I’ll see you then, Ella.” His voice drips with promise.
I watch his back as he exits the study, seeing Ash still
standing in the foyer, all fire and broodiness, with his dark
scruff, and plaid shirt rolled up, exposing his inked forearms. A
striking comparison to the cool and collected man who just
asked me out on a date.
It was a date, right?
I haven’t been on one in months. Too busy with school. Or at
least that’s what I tell myself. It has nothing to do with the fact
I’m obsessing over a man that doesn’t want me.
Maybe Jared Wolfe is exactly what I need to get my mind off
Ash Hunter.
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Chapter 1

Lucas

“Who the hell is Eliana?” I shout into the intercom to my


secretary when I scan my day’s agenda. I just have a note in my
diary: Meeting with Eliana, 10 a.m., with a goddamn smiley face
next to it.
If I could get help—any help—in this office, I would be a
fucking trillionaire, rather than a billionaire.
“I am,” a feminine voice says, making me look up.
Shit.
At first glance, the woman looks like a typical all-American
college student, dressed in a baggy Notre Dame sweatshirt and a
pair of old jeans. Nothing special, until my gaze lands on her
face.
She’s gorgeous. Not the typical runway-model, I-only-eat-
salad-with-no-dressing look like my ex-wife, but the striking
beauty of a woman confident in herself, and her curves. Lush,
bee-stung lips that practically beg to be wrapped around my
cock. Large, doe-like eyes that could have any man melting in a
pool of romantic mush with a single look.
Thank God, I’m not any man. I’m Lucas fucking Philip. Cold-
hearted son-of-a-bitch whose emotions are locked behind a
steel cage.
The woman fidgets as she moves across the large room
towards me.
My cock says, Hello Eliana.
But my mouth says, “What do you want?”
She doesn’t flinch like most people would. Instead, she says
calmly, “Your assistant said you’re free to talk.”
I have to stop myself from rolling my eyes because I don’t
have the time or patience for whatever my secretary said. I’ve
fired the woman three times, but HR keeps insisting that it’s
unlawful dismissal.
Bullshit.
She’s useless. How is that unlawful?
I’m pretty sure my father put something in her contract that
makes it impossible to get rid of her – he's the one who hired
her. For what reason, I have no idea. Sometimes, I get paranoid
and think that she's some kind of spy for him. Even though he’s
semi-retired, the man is constantly in my business, never fully
trusting me, despite the billions I’ve made this company.
But it’s never enough.
Not for him. And not for me.
This is where I thrive. Work. Making money.
Business is what I know. And I’m fucking good at it. Better
than good. I’m the best at what I do.
It’s people that I have a problem with. Either they’re
spineless cowards with no independent thoughts of their own, or
they’re backstabbing cheaters who are willing to throw away six
years of marriage and the love of a five-year-old girl, all for a
meaningless fling with the pool boy.
My stomach twists when I think about my ex-wife. It’s been
over a year since she left, but it’s still a fresh wound to my ego.
Just now, instead of pain, all I feel is anger and bitterness.
And that’s what I project when I growl out, “Don’t just stand
there. Tell me what you’re here for, so I can get back to work.”
Dark eyes narrow on me and her lips purse slightly before she
says, “I came to talk about Lily.”
Shit. She must be the new help. The woman my mom hired on
my behalf when the last nanny walked out. My cock hardens
almost painfully when I think about the beauty standing in front
of me sleeping under my roof for the past three weeks.
How the hell had I not seen her before now? Guilt creeps into
my chest. I know how. Because I work too damn much.
Has it really been that long since I’d seen my daughter?
Fuck. I’m not getting any father of the year awards, that’s
certain.
“And?” I ask, dragging my fingers through my hair and
breathing out a deep sigh.
“Well, I’ve been working with her for almost a month, and
you and I have never met.”
I raise an eyebrow in expectation for some better excuse for
her interrupting my day.
“And?” I repeat.
For the first time since she entered my office, I see a trace of
hesitation. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other and
says, “I thought it would be good for us to meet.”
I’m not sure why she thinks it’s so important. I have no doubt
she’ll be gone by the end of the month –– or sooner. One month
seems to be the breaking point of the previous nannies I’ve
brought in to take care of Lily.
My daughter didn’t just inherit my good looks, she also got
my cunning ability to manipulate and control. She’s driven the
previous hires away through brilliant little tactics that would
wear down even the most patient of saints. As much as I hate to
admit it, I have to admire the kid’s gusto. And, in all honesty, it’s
my opinion that if you can’t outwit a six-year-old, then you
should probably find a new line of work.
Eliana is watching me expectantly. Her tongue darts out
across her lower lip, and I have to suppress the dirty thoughts
that pop into my head when I think about what I want that
mouth doing to me right now.
She’s my daughter’s nanny. Completely off-limits.
“We’ve met,” I say stoically, hardening my gaze and my
thoughts. “Anything else?”
“I wanted to talk about Lily. I’ve noticed that she’s been…
struggling, and I thought–”
“I appreciate your concern. Now, if you don’t mind, I have
work to do.” The last thing I need is some stranger to come in
here, telling me what she thinks is wrong with my daughter. I
know exactly what’s wrong. Her mother left her, and her father
is a selfish bastard who has no idea how to raise a six-year-old
girl on his own.
Unfazed by my dismissal, Eliana continues. “I’m taking Lily
to the zoo tomorrow.”
“Fine,” I mumble, keeping my gaze down and shuffling
through the files in front of me.
“I thought you could come with us.”
I grunt and look up at her. “Why?”
“It would be good for Lily. It's a school trip. There was an
option for the parents to go.” She licks her lips, and adds, “And I
put your name down.”
My gaze jerks to hers. “You shouldn’t have done that. I have
work to do. Important work–”
“More important than spending time with your daughter?”
Who the hell does this woman think she is?
If I say no, I’m an asshole for not going, and if I say yes, I’m
just an asshole.
I may have met my daughter’s match for manipulative
behavior.
“Since you asked, yes, I have a meeting with the mayor in the
morning and multiple meetings in the afternoon.”
And, as if right on cue, the useless secretary that I’ve been
trying to get rid of walks in and blurts out, “Actually, the mayor
cancelled that meeting, and I booked you out for the rest of day,
so you can go.” She places a coffee on my desk, then turns to
leave, just as fast as she walked in, saying, “You could do with a
break. We all could.”
“Sara, get back here,” I holler. But, as usual, the woman
ignores me and disappears down the hall.
Fucking hell.
She booked me out so I wouldn’t come to the office. And she
calls herself a secretary? Right. Another thing to go to HR about.
Eliana is smiling at me, and there’s triumph glistening in her
dark eyes. “Looks like you’re free.”
“Looks like it,” I grumble.
“Great. Lily is going to be ecstatic. We can take the car, or we
can go on the school bus with the rest of the class.”
“Hell no.”
She laughs, a light, playful sound that has my balls
tightening. “I didn’t think so. Lily said there was no way you
would come at all, let alone ride the bus. At least I can prove her
wrong on one of them.”
“Is there anything else, Miss…”
“Sanders,” she offers. “But you can call me Elly.”
I grunt. “Miss Sanders will do fine.”
She gives a small nod, then her expression turns serious.
“She’s a good kid. Your mom said she has some behavioral
issues, but honestly, I just think she needs more positive
attention.”
“Are you a psychologist, Miss Sanders?”
Her cheeks turn a shade of red. “No.”
“Then I’d appreciate you keeping your opinions to yourself.”
Her nostrils flare slightly, and she opens her mouth before
clamping it shut on whatever snippy little comment popped into
her head, then gives a curt nod. “Thank you for your time, Mr.
Philip. I’ll see you at home.”
At home.
A small groan bubbles up in my chest.
She turns to leave, and I can’t help but watch her firm,
perfectly shaped ass as it leaves my office. And I’m almost
tempted to follow her – home.
I shove a hand through my hair and curse the dirty thoughts
that pop into my mind. It’s been too goddamn long since I’ve
been with a woman. At some point, I’m going to need to move
past the pain of betrayal that my ex has left me with.
But not now. Not yet. And especially not with the nanny.
***

Chapter 2

Eliana

“We did it,” I say to Sara, Lucas’ secretary, when I walk out of his
office, still trying to shake off the bolts of electricity that race
through my body.
I’d seen pictures of the man, but they hadn’t prepared me for
the effect of being in his actual presence. Lucas Philip is power.
It rolls off him in waves. It’s not just his size, which is
impressive. Six feet of pure muscle. Or his chiseled jaw, the
rough, almost primal features, or the scorching blue eyes that
sear me with an intensity that makes me want to drop my
panties and fuck him right there in his office. It’s something
more. A confidence that screams, I can make all your most
wicked fantasies come true.
He’s your boss, I remind myself. Not to mention that he’s at
least ten years older than me, a billionaire, and way out of my
league.
“I can’t believe it,” Sara says, coming around her desk and
peering over my shoulder as if expecting the man to come
tearing down the hall at any time.
Not that I blame her. The man is more than intimidating.
He’s scary as hell. But I grew up with two older brothers, and I
know how to deal with men like him. Hold your ground, and
never, ever, show fear.
“I thought he’d come up with some other excuse.” Sara
smiles and shakes her head. “The man is so stubborn."
“Just like his daughter.” I chuckle, thinking about how
similar they actually are. Right down to the sandy blond hair and
blue eyes.
“I’ve never met her, but from how quickly she’s gone through
nannies, I can only imagine. You must have the patience of a
saint to still be working with her.”
“It’s been…interesting.” I laugh, thinking about the pranks
the kid has pulled. The first night I was there, all of my shoes
disappeared. The groundskeeper found them in the pool the
following morning. I knew then I was going to have my hands
full.
It’s been a rough few weeks. But Lily’s behavior has been
better, and I feel like I’ve actually started to connect with her.
“She really is a great kid. She’s just starved for affection. It
can’t be easy not to have either parent around. I feel sorry for
her.” I glance over my shoulder towards Lucas’ office. “And for
him.”
The man is snarly, arrogant, and obviously angry at the world.
But behind the cool mask he wears, there’s pain and rejection.
It’s the same thing I see in Lily’s eyes. The same thing that stirs
something in my chest and makes me want to help them both.

***

Chapter 3

Lucas

Lily is asleep when I get home from work. I tried to get home
earlier, but I got stuck in a conference call with a client in Tokyo.
Guilt spirals in my chest when I open the door to her bedroom
and glance in at her.
One tiny fist clutches the pink, stuffed bunny I bought for her
last birthday. I reach out and stroke my knuckles across her
cheek and sigh.
I’ve been a shitty father this past year. I know it. Hell,
everyone knows it. But I honestly have no idea what I’m doing.
At least at work, I can control things. With Lily, I feel like
everything I say and do is wrong.
“Daddy?” Her lashes flutter open.
“Hey, Princess.” I crouch down beside her.
“Are you really going to the zoo with us?”
“I am.”
Her face lights up.
More fucking guilt punches through me. I lean over and kiss
her forehead, brushing her curls away from her face.
“Go back to sleep.” I stand and turn to leave.
“Daddy?”
“Yeah?” I drag my fingers through my hair and glance back at
her.
“I like Elly.”
It takes me a second to realize she’s talking about the nanny.
“Can we keep her?”
I can’t help the smile that pulls at my lips. It’s the first time
she’s shown any real connection with someone since Stacey left.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
She gives a small nod, then curls back under the covers.
“Goodnight, sweetheart.” I close her door when I’m back in
the hall, then start towards my room, stopping when I hear the
soft beat of music coming from the other end of the corridor.
The guest room door is slightly open, light spilling out into
the hallway, and a shadow darkens its path for a brief moment.
Eliana.
I tug at my tie, loosening it, and will myself to walk in the
opposite direction.
Don’t even think about it, asshole. But I am thinking about it
– thinking about her. And my feet ignore my brain’s warning.
I need to ask her about tomorrow’s agenda. At least, that’s
what I tell myself as I stalk down the hall towards her room.
Raising my hand, I’m about to knock, when I catch a glimpse
of the woman through the crack in the door.
Fuck.
Wearing only a tight t-shirt that leaves little to the
imagination, and a pair of lacey, pink panties, Eliana dances
around the room, her dark hair cascading over her shoulders,
and across her breasts.
My balls tighten and I’m immediately rock hard.
Walk away.
The woman is young. I did some research on her after she left
this morning. She’s a student, just finishing up her last year in
Epidemiology through online courses. Smart. I like that. But
she’s only twenty-two. Almost ten fucking years younger than
me.
And she’s Lily’s nanny.
As tempting as that sweet, curvaceous ass is, I need her
taking care of my daughter more than I need her taking care of
my aching cock.
If she saw me creeping around her bedroom, I’d probably end
up with a sexual harassment suit on me.
But then, she’s the one who left her door open while she’s
bouncing around half naked.
As if sensing my presence, Eliana stops dancing and looks
over in my direction. Her eyes go wide, her cheeks infusing with
color, and she lets out a small squeal before grabbing for a pair of
pajama bottoms that lay at the end of her bed.
Shit.
“You should keep your door closed,” I growl out, unable to
tear my gaze away as she struggles to get her pants on.
“I…I didn’t know you were home. I’m sorry.”
“Do you make it a habit of dancing around half naked in front
of my daughter?”
“I’m not…I wasn’t…” Obviously flustered, she takes a
steadying breath and straightens her shoulders before saying
more calmly, “Lily has been asleep for hours. I was just getting
ready for bed. And if you must know, I keep my door open
because Lily has nightmares, and I want to make sure I hear her
if she needs me.”
Since when has Lily had nightmares? I rub the back of my
neck and wince. I’ve been gone too damn much.
“Just close it from now on when you’re changing,” I bite out,
more harshly than I intend.
She gives a curt nod.
I should walk away, but instead I just stand there staring at
her like a goddamn stalker, my balls aching, and my cock harder
than it’s been in years.
Why the hell does this woman have such an effect on me? It’s
not like I don’t have my pick of women. It’s just my luck that I
want the only one I can’t have.
“Is there anything else, Mr. Philip?” she asks, eyeing me
suspiciously.
I cough. “I came to ask about the itinerary tomorrow.”
“We leave at nine.” A small smile spreads across her
gorgeous face. “I think you’re really going to enjoy it.”
I doubt that. In fact, spending time with her and not being
able to touch her seems more like torture than fun.
On the nightstand beside her bed, her phone lights up with an
incoming text. I glance down and frown when I see the
screenshot that’s saved as her background.
It’s a picture of her and Lily. But that’s not what gets my
attention. It’s the smile on my daughter’s face that makes my
heart skip a beat, because it’s the first time since her mother left
that I’ve seen that look on her face. She’s smiling so big that
both her dimples are showing, as well as the huge gap where her
two front teeth should be.
I pick up the phone and study the photo. “She lost her front
teeth?”
“Last week,” Eliana says, moving towards me.
“I didn’t know. The tooth fairy?”
“She was very generous. Who knew that a tooth was worth so
much nowadays?” Her lips quirk up in a small smile.
I nod, and hand her the phone. Our fingers brush when she
takes it from me, and I see the small tremor that races through
her.
“Goodnight, Miss Sanders.” Better to walk away now before I
do something I’ll regret.
“Goodnight, Mr. Philip.”
I have a feeling it’s going to be a very long night, because I
have no clue how the fuck I’m going to fall asleep knowing the
woman is only a few rooms away.

***

Chapter 4

Eliana

Lily comes bounding into my room just as the sun peeks through
the drapes. Jumping on top of me, she gives me a dimpled smile
and says, “Wake up, Elly. It’s time to go to the zoo.”
“Okay, okay. I’m up.” I tickle her and she laughs. “Why don’t
you go wake your dad up?”
Her little face turns suddenly serious. “He doesn’t like when I
disturb him.”
“I think today will be okay. He took the whole day off work
just to be with you.”
Her eyes brighten again, and she quickly changes the subject,
“Macy said there’s a new baby giraffe. It was only born last week,
but it’s already as tall as Daddy.”
“Wow.”
“Did you know that giraffe’s are the tallest animal in the
whole world?”
“I did.”
“Except for whales,” she continues to ramble on. “But
they’re not really tall, just long.”
I try to keep a straight face as she spouts off more facts.
“Are you two still in your pajamas?” A deep voice says from
the door. Lucas stands there looking hot as sin in his white t-
shirt that stretches tight against his powerful chest, and
designer jeans that look like they haven’t had much wear.
I’m surprised he even owns a pair.
I immediately flush when I think about what happened last
night. Him seeing me half-naked. Then his brief touch when he
handed me my phone. The heat of his fingers on my skin. I’ve
never felt anything lie it.
Had he felt it too?
The way he’s looking at me now, all cool and aloof, I doubt it.
Maybe it was all in my head.
“Daddy,” Lily says, jumping off the bed and running to him.
My heart practically melts when he scoops her up and presses
and kiss against her cheek. For a moment, his gaze softens, and I
see something almost vulnerable in his expression.
He loves her. That much is obvious. So why does he pull
away?
“Go get dressed,” he says, putting her down. “We don’t want
to be late.”
Lily nods, and disappears down the hall, leaving him standing
in the doorway of my room, once again.
“Do you always sleep in, Miss Sanders?” His blue gaze is
narrowed on me.
“It’s barely seven o’clock.” Is he serious?
He grunts, and turns, leaving without saying another word.
So much for the softness I thought I saw. But he doesn’t have
to be nice to me. That’s not why I’m here. As long as I can get
him to spend more time with Lily, I’ve done my job. It may not
be the job he hired me for, but it is the one he needs me for.
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Sixteen Years Old

Thunder

The air ripples between us.


A spark of energy. A sizzle of light.
I promised myself years ago that no one would ever hold the
power to hurt me. But this girl has the power to destroy me.
“It’s cold out here.” Kennedy shivers and rubs her bare arms.
“Here.” I tug off my hoodie, then help her into it.
She’s tiny, barely coming up to my chin, and the sweatshirt is
huge on her. I let my hands linger a little longer than I should.
“Thanks,” she says, looking up at me. The nervous tension
between us is palpable.
“It’s almost midnight. You don’t want to miss the fireworks.”
At least that’s my excuse for dragging her out here, away from
the New Year’s Eve party her parents are hosting inside. What I
really want to do is pull her into my arms and crush my lips
against hers.
Not happening.
“We should be able to see them from here.” I pull away and
take a sip of the beer I stole from my father's stash.
When I offer her one, she scrunches her nose up at it, instead
snuggling into the warmth of my sweatshirt. Her eyes go wide
when she notices the new ink covering my forearms. “Oh my
God. Is that real?”
“Yeah.” I grin, proud of the web of patterns I designed
myself.
“Your dad let you?”
“Like he cares,” I sneer, which isn’t exactly true. He beat the
shit out of me when he saw it.
“How?” She takes my arm in her hands and begins tracing
the patterns.
Almost instantly, I’m rock hard.
“Three hundred dollars and a fake ID.” I shrug, like it’s not a
big deal, like her touch doesn’t send a thousand bolts of
electricity pulsating through my body.
“It’s…” she bites her lip, fingers still playing across the ink,
sending more sparks of heat thrumming through my veins,
“beautiful.”
I lean in, mesmerized by her perfect mouth, and wanting
nothing more than to taste those lips.
“Beautiful,” I murmur, brushing a lock of blonde hair off her
cheek and tucking it behind her ear.
So fucking beautiful.
That’s what she is.
And so much more.
Kind.
Sweet.
Pure.
All the things I’m not.
I’ve known Kennedy Harper my entire life. She’s practically
family. So why the hell can’t I control my thoughts around her?
“Ten, nine, eight…” Inside, people start the count down to
the New Year. “…seven, six, five…”
I drain the last of my beer, then place it on the railing.
“…four, three, two…”
In the distance, the first flashes of light brighten up the night
sky.
Kennedy stands against the railing, and I move behind her.
When she shivers, I go against all common sense, and pull her
back towards me, wrapping my arms around her body, and
leaning down so that my head rests on top of hers.
I dip my head towards hers, breathing in the scent of her;
watching her eyes light up as the fireworks go off.
She leans back into me, like she wants my touch.
I should step away, but instead I press in closer. I’m so far out
of my comfort zone with all these emotions twisting in my chest.
I’ve got a lineup of girls that are more than happy to jump
into my bed. Meaningless sex. It should be enough. But it’s not.
Not when there’s Kennedy.
“Happy New Year.” I murmur in her ear and feel a small
tremble go through her body.
She turns slightly, her mouth parted as if she’s about to say
something, but before she can utter a word, my lips are on hers.
Just a single touch.
Soft.
Gentle.
But it’s enough to rock my world—or destroy it.
“Liam.” My father’s rough, slurred voice barks out behind
me.
“Fuck.” I push Kennedy away from me a little too roughly,
and her fingers go instantly to her mouth, eyes wide.
I should never have touched her.
She’s off limits. I don’t need him, the asshole who’s now
staring at me with murder in his bloodshot eyes, reminding me
I’m no good for her. Because I know it’s the truth.
Kennedy looks up at me like she doesn’t know what she
should do.
“Go inside.” My tone is cold, harsh, because I know what the
single kiss is going to cost me.
She blinks, not moving, like she’s still trying to decide if she
should leave me. She knows my father’s temper. Not the full
extent of it—but she’s seen the bruises, heard his vicious words.
“Liam?” she says softly, concern in her hazel eyes. She’s the
only person who uses my real name without causing my stomach
to curdle.
I prefer the nickname the boys down at the gym started
calling me after my first fight—Thunder. A single blow to the
temple knocked my opponent out ten seconds into the first
round.
At just sixteen, grown men tremble when I walk into the ring.
Yet here I am, ten consecutive wins later, and I’m still scared
of the man staring daggers at me now. Every second Kennedy
stands there, a shield between us, I know his anger grows.
“Go,” I growl, then lean closer so that only she can hear.
“That shouldn’t have happened. Understand?”
A small nod is her only response, but I can see the tears
gathering in her eyes.
Shit.
When Kennedy is gone, my father stumbles towards me. He
grips my t-shirt in his fists and shoves me up against the side of
the house. “I’ve told you to keep your hands off her.”
I could easily dart out of his grasp; instead I stand there and
accept the first shot, a blow to my ribs.
Pain splinters through my chest, and I cough out a rough
breath.
Fuck.
He’s still sober enough to make each hit count.
I’ve learned from experience that the more I fight back, the
worse the beating.
Could I take him? Yeah, I could kill the motherfucker. But
then what? The asshole is still my father, and for another five
months, he’s the roof over my head.
“She’s too fucking good for scum like you.” His breath reeks
of beer, and spittle hits my face when he hisses out each word.
I don’t need him reminding me. I know he’s right. Everything
I touch I destroy. Kennedy would be no different.
“Everything okay out here?” Tom Harper, Kennedy’s dad
opens the sliding glass doors, brows drawn down.
“Yeah, just having a little father-son talk.” Like fucking Dr.
Jekyll, my father’s expression changes, an easy smile spreading
across his face as he turns to meet his friend.
Tom doesn’t smile back. “It’s freezing out here. Come
inside.”
Like nothing happened, my father follows him, leaving me
alone, my ribs aching. But the pain is nothing compared to the
hollowness inside my chest.
Empty.
Raw.
Alone.
I breathe out heavily when they’re both gone and pull up my
shirt to take in the damage.
The one good thing about having a drunk for a father, is his
memory is shit. I doubt he’ll remember seeing me with my lips
plastered against Kennedy’s.
I drop my shirt and wince.
Uncapping my last beer, I drown the contents. My thoughts
are chaotic, and I’m not sure how long I stand there, but my
fingers are practically numb when I turn to go inside.
Instead of going through the house, I take the back stairs to
get to the basement where Kennedy and her friends were
hanging out before I pulled her out here.
Opening the sliding door, I freeze when I see her. Or rather
them.
My brother is stretched out, legs in front of him, a giant smirk
plastered on his face, because curled up next to him fast asleep is
Kennedy. His arm is wrapped around her shoulder, possessively,
and the way she burrows closer to him in her sleep makes my
stomach twist.
If she wasn’t practically attached to his body, I’d punch the
smirk right off his face.
“Got a problem?” Colin’s eyes narrow on me.
Yeah, a huge one. Him.
Emotions from the darkest part of my soul well up inside me.
Resentment.
Jealousy.
Hatred.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now. Colin swooping in.
The white knight.
The good brother.
That it wouldn’t feel like a rusty nail to the heart seeing him
with her, knowing he’d probably comforted her when she came
in here with tears in her eyes—because of me.
My father would have no problem with Colin touching her.
Shit, he’d no doubt encourage it. But with me, nothing I do will
ever be good enough.
Not for him.
Not for Colin.
And especially not for Kennedy.

***

Chapter 1

Present

Thunder

I hate being back in the city.


Mostly because everything reminds me of her. Especially this
damn café.
We used to come here after school—Kennedy, Colin and me.
It was just a donut shop then. Now it’s one of those fancy shops,
where the cup sizes are written in French and it takes ten
minutes to brew a damn cup of coffee.
It’s only the beginning of November, and already trickles of
laughter mingle with the faint hum of Christmas carols being
pumped through the shitty sound system, the smell of cinnamon
and peppermint another reminder of Kennedy.
She loved this damn holiday. Even after her father’s death,
the foreclosure on her house, and her mother’s unsteady mental
health, she still found joy in the small things, like decorating a
Christmas tree, or baking cookies that she’d force Colin and I to
eat.
“Sir?” The pink haired barista with multiple piercings and
tattoos looks at me impatiently.
“Thanks,” I mutter, taking the paper cup she hands me.
Five minutes home, and I’m already torturing myself with
memories I’ve spent the last several months trying to forget.
I need to get back to my apartment. Unpack. And try to figure
out what the hell I’m going to do with my life, now that fighting
is no longer an option.
One bad kick, and my career is over, my knee permanently
fucked up.
My manager insists that it’ll just take time to get my strength
back. That if I give myself some time to heal, I’ll be back in the
ring.
The thing is, I’m sick and tired of fighting.
I mean what’s the fucking point? I’ve already got more money
than I know what to do with—and no one to fucking share it.
“Careful,” I growl, my coffee sloshing over the side and
burning my hand, when a woman carrying two armloads of
shopping bags bumps into me.
“Sorry,” she says in a sing-song voice that only annoys me
more.
The place is packed with Christmas shoppers, and I scowl at
the happy faces that look up at me when I pass.
“Holy crap.” A balding, middle-aged man corners me before I
can make it to the door. “You’re Thunder Forrester.”
A few heads turn and look in my direction.
Shit.
“Wrong guy.” It’s not really a lie. The guy he thinks I am, that
Thunder Forrester died along with his career. I try to push past
him, but he sidesteps me and places a hand on my shoulder.
“Sorry to bother you. But I’d love to get an autograph for my
son. He’s a big fan.”
A quick glance at the freckled-faced kid staring wide-eyed up
at me, and I cave.
“Fine,” I mutter, taking the pen and paper the kid hands me,
and scribbling my name.
“Thanks, buddy.” The man slaps me on the back. “What’re
the odds meeting both the Forrester brothers on the same day.
“You think I could get a picture with you both? I’d really…”
The man keeps prattling on, but all the noises of the café turn
to static when I follow his gaze towards the far corner booth.
Bent over a cup of coffee, forearms stretched out on the table,
my brother frowns at the woman sitting across from him.
Even though I can only see the slight profile of her face, I
know it’s her.
Kennedy.
Yeah, what are the fucking odds?
They haven’t seen me, and if I was smart, I’d keep it that way.
But my feet feel like they’re glued to the floor, and despite the
twisting sensation inside my chest, I can’t move.
The man is still hammering on, and I turn and give him a
scathing look that has him raising his eyebrows and taking a
step back.
Of all the fucking coffee shops in the city, Colin and Kennedy
happen to be in this one. It’s like fate has it in for me. I didn’t
even think the two of them were together anymore. At least
that’s what the tabloids reported.
Two months ago, Colin was photographed making out with
one of the Nelson twins; Abby or Gabby, it didn’t matter which
one. The media loved the torrid affair between the country’s
most famous bad boy hockey player and the Barbie doll cloned b-
list actress.
I’d thought about trying to contact Kennedy when I read it,
but what was the point? She’d made her choice. Time to live with
the consequences.
My fingers form into knuckles at my side as I watch them. The
two people that I loved most in this world. I wonder if they know
what a fucking mess I’ve been since our last encounter?
How shredded I was when I found them in the hotel room
together.
If they even cared.
Colin passes a small brown envelope across the table.
Kennedy shakes her head vehemently and pushes it back.
“Don’t be so stubborn.” My brother's words, clearly laced
with frustration, are loud enough for me to hear.
With her back to me, I can’t make out what she says, but
whatever it is only makes Colin more irritated.
“I know what I promised, and it’s complete bullshit. This
whole situation is fucked up.” He leans in and says something
that makes her shake her head. “I’m done.”
She scoots over on the bench, and Colin reaches out and grabs
her arm. “Please, I need you to—”
“No.” The way his nostrils flare, the curl of his lip, I can read
what he’s feeling—disgust. “I won't be part of this.”
Something primal stirs in my chest, and despite my brain
telling me to get the hell out of there, to let them deal with their
own shit, I start towards them.
Tossing my coffee in the trash can, I push through the line of
people waiting to order, then freeze when I see Kennedy more
clearly. She leans over to collect her bag, then stands so I have a
perfect view of her profile.
My breath catches in my throat, because underneath the
layers of clothing, the oversized jacket, I witness the rounding of
her stomach.
Fuck. That one, small sliver of hope that she’d ever be mine…
gone. Just like that, my memory flashes, and I’m back, standing
in the doorway of my brother’s hotel room, watching as Kennedy
comes out of the bathroom wearing only a white towel wrapped
around her perfect body.
That was months ago.
Fuck. Me.
I blink. Once. Twice. Not able, or willing to accept the reality
in front of me.
She’s leaving, headed through the crowd towards the door,
and all I can do is stand there and watch her walk out into the
bitter cold of the city streets before disappearing around the
corner.
She’s pregnant.
Those two words play over and over in my head like a broken
record. I know little about pregnancy, but she must be maybe
seven or eight months with how big she is.
My brother’s baby. That’s why she was here with him. My
entire body is numb, humming with emotions I can’t even place.
To think she’ll be connected to him like that, forever, it stirs a
jealousy inside of me so strong that my body shakes.
She’s not yours, I remind myself, knowing logically that I
have no right to feel the way I do.
But fuck right and wrong. Right now, all I want to do is the
one thing I should have done months ago. Beat the living shit
out of my brother.
“Liam?” Colin’s voice breaks through the static that’s kept
me paralyzed.
My head snaps to where he’s standing, only a few feet from
me now.
Face pale, dark brows drawn down, he looks confused.
“You’re back?”
Anger. Red-hot and blinding blisters through me.
“You fucking asshole.” I lunge at him, my fist connecting
with his jaw before he has a chance to brace himself.
Built like a tank, my punch doesn’t have the same impact it
would have on any other man.
Colin stumbles back a few paces, but remains standing.
A woman’s shriek, the screech of chairs sliding back, and
chaos ensues as people do their best to get out of our way.
I’m about to take another swing when Colin comes at me,
hitting me with the full force of his two hundred and twenty
pounds.
My fist lands a kidney shot, and he retaliates with an
uppercut to the jaw that leaves me seeing stars. I grunt as my
back connects against the wall.
“What the hell is your problem?” He’s got me pinned.
His fists grip the collar of my shirt, and he looks like it’s
taking all his strength not to hit me again.
“She’s pregnant,” I hiss, tasting blood.
His grip loosens slightly, and I see it. The guilt. A quick
sideways glance, the way his lips purse. There’s no denying it’s
his.
“I wanted to tell you. But she asked me…” He shakes his head
and sighs.
“To what?” I shrug him off, then push him away. “She asked
you to what? Keep it from me?”
With a small shake of his head, he looks over his shoulder,
and groans. Multiple people have their phones out, recording us.
Normally I would care. Right now, I don’t.
“You’re a real jackass, you know that?” I spit out.
His eyes narrow on me. “You’re the one who took off.
Wouldn’t answer anyone’s calls.”
“I was dealing with some shit.”
“Yeah. You always are, aren’t you?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
He stares at me for a long moment, the muscle in his jaw
clenching, his nostrils flared.
When he doesn’t answer, I ask tightly, “What are you going to
do about it?”
His eyes narrow and his chin tilts down. “About what?”
I have to clear my throat before I can say the words, “The
baby.”
“What am I going to do about it?”
I can tell he’s trying to keep his cool because one eye twitches
like it always does before he loses his shit.
“You plan on marrying her?”
He laughs, but there’s no humor in it. Just pure, undiluted
anger. “No. I’m not going to fucking marry her.”
“You think this is a joke? You think you can just walk away
from her? From your child?”
“That’s what you think of me?” He sucks his bottom lip back
over his teeth. “You’re unbelievable, you know that?”
“She deserves better than this, than you.”
“Screw this. I’m done.” He turns and starts to leave.
“That kid needs a father, and—”
“You’re right.” He turns back, and despite the throng of
people watching he gets in my face again. “But it sure as hell
won't be me.”
“I always knew you were a coward.” I keep my voice low,
steady, despite the seething anger that rolls through me.
Digging my finger into his chest, I egg him on, “A no good piece
of shit just like Dad. The kid’s better off without you.”
He doesn’t come at me like I hope he will. Instead, he stands
there watching me, his expression unreadable.
The tension between us is practically tangible. His mouth
twists, and his breathing comes out in small bursts, but I still
can’t read what he’s thinking. Or maybe I don’t want to because
what I think I'd see would gut me if I let it.
Screw him. He doesn’t get to be hurt. Not after everything
he’s done. Everything he’s taken from me.
“Here.” Colin pulls the manila envelope from his pocket and
shoves it against my chest. “Give this to her. Maybe she’ll take it
from you.”
From the heaviness of it, I know it’s cash.
“You think you can buy your way out of this?”
“Yeah.” The corners of his lips twitch up, but there’s no
humor in his eyes. “That’s what I’m doing. Buying my way out of
this fucked up relationship.”
It’s impossible to miss the sarcasm that drips from each
word. The hidden meaning I clearly don’t get.
“You’re an asshole,” I spit out, only wanting to see him as the
villain in all this.
“I’m your brother. Maybe one day you’ll remember that.”
He turns and walks away. And I let him. Because he may be
my brother, but he’s also the man that stole the only woman I’ve
ever loved.

***

Chapter 2
Sixteen Years Old

Kennedy

“Let me see.”
“Come on, Kennedy.”
The Forrester brothers hover over me, their matching blue
eyes full of mischief. Their sole purpose to obtain the small
spiral notebook I clutch to my chest.
“No.” My cheeks burn with humiliation with what’s written
inside.
“You always make us read your stories.” Liam—or Thunder as
he insists on being called lately—sits on the couch beside me
and places one arm around my shoulder. Dark, unruly hair falls
over his forehead in waves, and he gives me one of his rare
smiles. “Why not this one?”
“It’s personal.” My heart beats a little faster at the contact,
which is silly because he’s practically family.
Our fathers had been friends since they were kids. And there
wasn’t anything my dad wouldn’t do for the man and his sons,
including pretty much adopting them after their mother passed
away eight years ago.
Liam and Colin would stay with us when their father had to go
out of town for work. Now they came by whenever he was on one
of his benders.
Like right now.
Steve Forrester is a difficult man to like. My mom insists he
wasn’t always so severe, that it was only after his wife’s death
that he changed, became the insufferable ass who’s constantly
yelling at Thunder, pushing him to be as good as Colin at
everything, especially hockey.
Which is ridiculous because Liam is good.
Really good.
The problem is Colin is better. At seventeen, he’s already
being scouted by some of the top teams, and will most likely be
the first draft pick next year.
Most people think they’re twins because they’re in the same
grade, but there’s actually eleven months between them.
Irish twins, my mom calls them.
And with Colin being born in January and Liam in December,
it means they’re constantly competing against each other—at
everything.
Hockey.
School.
Girls.
To call their relationship volatile is an understatement. I’ve
never met two people who butt heads more often than they do.
The only thing they seem to agree on is that no guy is or will ever
be good enough to date me.
Not that I want to date just any guy. The one I want to date is
sitting right beside me.
The one that is completely and utterly off limits.
Forearms already covered in ink, muscles tensing and
rippling under his tight black t-shirt, Liam Thunder Forester
doesn’t just look bad.
He is bad.
At least for me.
He’s everything I’m not.
Dark.
Dangerous.
And so damn sexy.
He’s already broken more hearts than I can count.
I sigh, still clutching the notebook to my chest. “Can we just
watch a show or something?”
“Why all the secrecy?” Colin moves towards me, and I can tell
he’s not going to let up. “What do you have in there? Your
confession of who you’re crushing on?”
Liam grunts beside me.
I shake my head, but I know the heat that creeps up my
cheeks gives me away.
“Shit. I’m right.” One blond eyebrow goes up, and Colin
chuckles. “It’s about me, isn’t it?”
I feel Liam tense beside me, then he pulls away slightly, so
that he’s no longer touching me.
“How d'you guess?” I roll my eyes. “Who isn’t in love with
you?”
“True.” Colin gives me a dimpled grin, the one that all the
girls swoon over.
Everyone but me.
I love Colin. But not like that. He’s the closest thing to a
brother I have. I know I should feel the same way about Thunder
—but I don’t.
What I feel for him is… complicated.
“Leave her alone.” Thunder stretches back, clearly over
teasing me, and turns on the television.
With a snort, Colin sits on the other side of me, sandwiching
me between the two of them.
They’re both huge, almost an entire foot taller than me, and
neither one has any qualms about taking up more than their
share of the couch.
I know every girl in school would be jealous of me right now.
My best friend Kiley lets me know at every opportunity how
freaking lucky I am to be so close to the Forrester brothers.
What she and everyone else doesn’t believe is that there’s
nothing but friendship between us.
I’ve been the subject of some pretty raunchy rumors because
of my relationship with them, because of how much time we
spend together.
But hell, I still haven’t even kissed a guy. Not really. Not
unless you count New Year’s Eve.
Best night of my life.
Who needed fireworks when they’d shot off inside me like a
million volts of electricity sparking every nerve in my body when
Thunder’s lips had brushed against mine for a millisecond.
It was just once, and he’d been drinking. I doubt he even
remembers it happening.
Me on the other hand, I can’t forget—no matter how hard I
try. And I’ve tried. Because I know that nothing will ever happen
between us.
Ever.
Thunder hates when anyone assumes we’re more than just
friends. He gave Jeremy Hudson a black eye and bloody lip last
year when the douchebag told half the school that I was having
sex with both brothers.
Jeremy was just mad that I kept turning him down, but
Thunder saw red, and it took five guys to pull him off the
asshole.
He’s always been overprotective with me, which is why I
know he’ll never see me as anything more than a friend; or
worse, a little sister.
The three of us sit there in silence, watching the stupid
football game that Thunder turned on.
I should be studying for mid-terms, or finishing my English
assignment, but their father’s been on a four-day bender, one of
his more violent ones, and I know neither one of them wants to
go home.
With a heavy sigh, I snuggle into the couch, my notebook now
thankfully forgotten.
Thunder’s knee touches mine. Barely. But I can feel the heat,
the crazy electricity that pulses between us.
I freeze.
Butterflies.
My breathing speeds up and my palms start to sweat.
Get a grip, Kennedy.
Biting my bottom lip, I pray that he doesn’t notice my
reaction. But I’m pretty sure the temperature in the room just
raised ten degrees, because the back of my neck begins to sweat.
I wish I could go back to the way things used to be, before my
body turned into an uncontrollable inferno of hormones around
him, but the more I try to ignore my feelings, the worse they get.
Luckily, he hasn’t seemed to notice. And I plan to keep it that
way, which is why I continue to clutch the damn notebook to my
chest.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“This game is boring,” Colin says, and before I know what
he’s doing, the book is snatched from my grip, and he’s jumping
from the couch.
“Give it back!” My voice comes out in a shriek.
Colin laughs and starts flipping through the pages.
Fear burns a path up my throat. I never should have written
what I did, but my English teacher asked us to make a detailed
list of the people that have made the biggest impact on our lives,
and what makes them unique.
The people I chose were my mom, dad, Colin, and…Thunder.
“What I like about Colin Forrester,” Colin reads, a cocky smile
spreading across his face. His gaze meets mine, and he winks. “I
knew it was about me.”
“It’s just an assignment for school.” My skin burns so hot, I
swear it’s going to blister.
“Right.” He continues to smirk, then starts reading. “He’s
kind. Funny. Always willing to help…”
I jump from the couch and try to snatch the book back.
Colin lifts it above his head and continues to read, “Smart.
Confident. A good listener.”
“Don’t be a jerk. Give it back.”
Thunder continues to sit on the couch, not moving, gaze
glued to the screen.
“I never knew you thought so highly of me.” Colin winks,
teasing.
“Stop being an ass.” I hit his chest, praying that he doesn’t
turn the page.
Too late.
His eyes go wide.
Crap. Crap. Crap.
I know what he’s reading, and I want to crawl into myself

What I like about Thunder Forrester:


He’s my best friend
And I’m in love with him

The last line is scratched out, but it’s still legible.


Colin looks at me, brows lifted. “Love? Really?”
“Don’t.” I swallow hard, praying that he won’t say anything
more.
“She said give it back.” Thunder jumps from the couch, rage
in his voice.
For a heartbeat, the two of them stand nose to nose, the
tension between them almost tangible. Thunder’s hands are
fisted at his side, and I have no doubt that he’ll use them on
Colin if he doesn’t do what he says.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
As light, and easygoing as Colin is, Thunder is as broody and
temperamental.
You always know where you stand with Colin, but Thunder
hides his emotions behind a mask of indifference, until he’s
pushed too far and then you never know what he’s going to do.
But it usually involves fists flying.
“What are you going to do about it?” Colin smirks, edging
Thunder on.
“You want to find out?”
“Stop.” I get between them, which probably isn’t the
smartest move, but I know they’ll be in an all-out brawl in ten
seconds if I don’t. With a hand on both of their chests, I try to
push them apart, which is really a stupid move considering I
don’t even come up to their shoulders. I look up at Colin, who’s
usually the more reasonable of the two. “Just give it back.
Please?”
“Fine.” Colin hands the notebook back to me, but his gaze
remains on Thunder as if expecting him still to strike out.
“Thanks,” I mumble, closing it before Thunder sees what’s
written there.
I have no idea what passes between the two of them, but
whatever it is stirs an animal-like growl in Thunder’s chest.
Colin just chuckles in response, then places a heavy arm over
my shoulder, which only makes Thunder’s face turn a darker
shade of red.
“Don’t worry.” Colin leans down, and whispers in my ear, “I
already knew.”
Oh. If it’s possible, I swear I blush even harder.
He shakes his head at both of us, then saunters out of the
room leaving me alone with Thunder, who continues to scowl
after him.
When Thunder turns back to me, there’s blue fire in his eyes.
He looks angry. Really angry.
His nostrils flare, and his mouth presses into a hard line
when he glances down at the notebook in my hand.
“What?” I chew on the inside of lip.
“Nothing.” He drops back on the couch heavily.
When I sit beside him he doesn’t put his arm around me like
he usually does.
“It was only an assignment,” I mumble. “It didn’t mean
anything.”
Did he see what I wrote about him?
“What do I care?” His gaze is sharp and as cutting as his
words. “It’s just a stupid crush.”
A stupid crush.
Something inside my chest shatters. And I know in that
moment that not only did he see what I wrote about him, but
that he’s right, what I feel for him is nothing more than a stupid
crush. And in that second, I hate him for it.

***

Chapter 3
Present

Thunder

Standing outside the rundown apartment, I glance up at the


third-story window with its sunflower yellow curtains, and
inhale roughly.
I shouldn’t be here. This isn’t my damn problem. But I can’t
stop the voice in the back of my head demanding that I go to her.
To make sure she’s all right.
A shadow darkens the window, then disappears.
Kennedy.
My pulse begins to race, and I curse myself for it.
She doesn’t want you, asshole.
I drag my fingers through my hair and exhale, then start up
the cement steps towards the building.
Pressing the buzzer, I wait, but she doesn’t answer. I press
again. Nothing.
I pull out my spare key, the one she gave me when I helped
her move into this dump. I know I’ve lost my right to use it, but
right now all I care about is getting the answers I should have
asked months ago.
Instead, I’d left, went off the grid completely. Because seeing
her with my brother, knowing she chose him over me, was like a
knife to the gut. A soul-crunching agony that was far worse than
any physical pain I’ve ever been in.
The elevator is out of order, so I walk the three flights of
stairs. The place smells of mildew and rotting garbage, and
there’s graffiti spray painted on the cement walls.
How the city hasn’t condemned this place is beyond me. But
it’s cheap rent and with the shit salary Kennedy gets working at
the Animal Shelter, I know it’s all she can afford.
It pisses me off that the animals she takes care of live with
more luxury than she does.
But she’s too damn stubborn to accept help, even though I’ve
offered multiple times.
Staring at the rusted metal numbers on the door, I grind my
back teeth and give one brief hard knock.
The door opens slowly, and I see the shock in her gaze when it
meets mine.
Dark hair frames her delicate face, falling over her shoulders
in waves. Everything about her is perfect, almost fragile in its
beauty. Soft, full lips, flawless skin, but it’s her eyes that have
always intrigued me. The lightest brown rimmed with thick dark
lashes. The color of caramel.
Those eyes hold my gaze now.
“Thunder?” A flash of something that looks like hope crosses
her expression, then quickly vanishes, replaced by a mask of
indifference. Her shoulders straighten, and her knuckles whiten
on the door that she’s holding half-open in front of her. “What
are you doing here?”
It’s a good question. One I haven’t figured the answer to.
“I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
A small exhaled breath leaves her. “He told you?”
No, he didn’t fucking tell me. Which pisses me off even more.
“Can I come in?” I rough a palm over my jaw, then rub the
back of my neck, praying she doesn’t slam the door in my face.
With a small sigh, she opens the door wider. It’s then I see
the baby bump that’s almost hidden under her baggy, gray t-
shirt.
I grind my back teeth together as a fresh wave of red-hot
jealousy rolls through me.
She should have been mine. The child growing inside her a
part of me.
Colin doesn’t deserve her.
The thought of him touching her, kissing her, makes my
insides turn to molten lava. I’ve never hated my brother as much
as I do now.
An awkward silence stretches between us as I follow her into
the bachelor apartment.
It’s exactly how I remember it. One room that consists of a
living area-slash-bedroom, and a small kitchenette in one
corner. Despite how meticulous she keeps the place, it’s hard to
ignore the cracks in the plaster and the stains that she could
never get out of the carpet no matter how much she scrubbed
them.
The thought of her raising a child here twists my stomach.
“Do you want something to drink?” She moves to the far side
of the room, clearly trying to keep as much physical distance
between us as possible.
“No. I’m good.” I sit down on the futon that’s been folded to
resemble a couch. I forgot how uncomfortable the damn thing is.
It must be a nightmare to sleep on in her condition.
Her body language is stiff, forced, and she won’t meet my
gaze when she sits down on the only real piece of furniture in the
room, a brown recliner I bought for her two years ago. She’d
fought me on it, until I convinced her I’d found it at one of those
god-awful yard sales she was always trying to make me go to.
A white lie, but at least she took it.
She bites down on her bottom lip, hands moving protectively
over her stomach.
I don’t know how far along she is, but there’s nothing to her.
If anything, she looks like she’s lost weight.
Concern overrides my own unease.
“Have you been eating?”
Her gaze snaps to mine, and anger flashes there. “Is that
what you came here to ask? To see if I’m capable of taking care of
myself?”
“That’s not what I was implying. I just…”
“Just what?” With some effort, she stands, her back towards
me. A quiver of emotion laces her words, “Don’t come here and
act like you care. Just tell me what you want, then leave.”
The futon creaks when I stand. “I came… to…”
“To what?” She twists around, gaze hard on mine, almost
daring me to say what I desperately want to.
When I don’t answer right away, she shakes her head.
The stubborn set of her jaw, the hurt and hostility emanating
from her, tells me I should go, that she doesn’t want me here.
If I didn’t know her better, I’d believe the act.
Underneath the façade, I can tell she needs me. Even if she
doesn’t want to admit it, she wants me here.
Her eyes are glassy from the tears she’s trying her best to
hold back, and the small quiver of her chin tells me that the
moment I walk out that door she’ll fall apart.
Not happening.
“I’m not leaving.” Despite her small protest, I remove the
distance between us.
Cupping her jaw in my hands, so that my thumbs brush her
cheeks, my fingers tangle in the silky, dark hair at the nape of
her neck.
Forced to look at me, she sucks in a breath, and I see it—the
spark.
The acceptance.
It’s real.
Always was.
I can’t believe her connection with Colin was ever this strong.
Or I don’t want to.
I tamp down the jealousy that threatens to boil up at the
thought of him.
This is about her. About making sure she’s taken care of.
“I can’t…” Her eyes close and when they open again, I see the
wall she’s built between us. She raises her hands, and places her
palms on my chest like she’s going to push me away, but instead
they just rest there.
“I’ve missed you.” It’s the truth. Despite everything, I can’t
deny how much I care for her. How much I need her in my life.
Even if it’s just as friends. I know that now.
Her body tenses, fingers curling into the fabric of my shirt,
and a small, almost silent sob escapes her lips. She buries her
face in my chest, and I hold her until she finally lets the tears
fall, and she melts into my body with the familiarity that has
always been ours alone.
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Chapter 1

Ross

The moment Brooklyn Walsh walked into my office I wanted her.


No, scratch that, I wanted to fuck her. To pull up that tight little
skirt she was wearing and drive myself balls deep into what
would no doubt be the sweetest pussy I’ve ever had.
But damn if it didn’t go against my one and only rule – never
mix business with pleasure.
Despite the way my cock protests every time she walks into
the room, my sweet little assistant would have to stay that.
Sweet. Untainted by my perverse desires. Assisting me in every
need except the one I can’t stop thinking about.
Today, Brooklyn’s curvy little body is snug in a little black
dress, that while modest, screams fuck me, please. Hell, I swear
the woman could make a burlap bag look sexy.
She tucks a strand of her long blonde hair behind her ear, and
studies the tablet that she’s holding.
I’ve thought about firing her. That would solve my problem.
But from the small details I know about her, she needs this job.
And in all fairness, she’s a good assistant. One of the best I’ve
had in the five years since I took over the company.
But with Brooklyn it’s like my cock has a mind of its own. Like
I’m some hormonal teenager and not a thirty-two-year-old CEO
millionaire who can have any woman he wants.
Any woman except Brooklyn Walsh.
Transferring her to another department crossed my mind. But
I haven’t been able to make the call. The torment of having her
around is nothing compared to having her assist anyone else.
She’s looking at me now, brows drawn down when she takes
in my appearance. I can only imagine what she sees. Still dressed
in yesterday’s suit, I run my hand across the scruff on my jaw,
then through my mussed hair.
“What?” I bark, making her jump slightly.
She glances across the room towards the black leather couch
and rumpled blanket, and frowns. “Did you sleep here last
night?”
I grunt, refocusing my attention to the paperwork in front of
me. Yeah, I’d slept here. Because the only thing that takes my
mind off the tortuous ache in my balls is work. That and the
bottle of bourbon that’s half-empty in the bottom drawer of my
desk.
“Coffee?” The lilt of her voice makes me look up.
Bad move. She’s standing in front of me, and when she
reaches over to place a cup in front of me, I can see straight down
the front of her dress to the pink satin bra she’s wearing.
Holy hell, I’m one hundred percent screwed.
I groan, and her gaze flashes to mine, eyes widening. So
innocent, and yet so damn inviting, I swear my cock is going to
burst through the seams of my pants.
Down boy.
“Sit.” The word comes out harsher than I intended.
She bites on her bottom lip and sits in the chair across from
me, adjusting her dress nervously.
I know full well that I scare her. I’m a hard man to work with,
but with her I’ve been even more demanding. More callous. I’m
surprised she’s lasted as long as she has. Most people would
have quit weeks ago.
But not Brooklyn. Despite the sweetness about her, she’s
tough. Like there’s a steel iron inside her, under all those
luscious curves.
“Your father called.”
My head jerks up at that, because I know the second part of
that sentence will only fuck with my life one way or another.
I’d hoped he would take it easy when he handed over the
company’s reins to me. With his high blood pressure, retirement
was exactly what the doctor ordered. Not to mention that he’d
let the business slip.
It took two years to get it out of the red, and another two to
clean up the mess he’d created. So, when my father said that he
was running for office, I thought it was some kind of a joke.
“And?” I demand, tapping my fingers on the edge of my desk
waiting for her to drop the bomb.
“He wanted to make sure you were still going to the
Gladstone Charity Event tonight.”
Shit. I’d forgotten all about it.
“When I spoke with him, he sounded pretty persistent that
you be there. And…” She winces and looks away.
“And what, Miss Walsh?”
“That you bring a date and not the same…” She bites back a
small smile. “…floozy you brought to the last one.”
I grunt and lean forward, forearms resting on my desk, and
mentally go through my backlog of women. But the thought of
spending time with any of them is as appealing as shoving my
hand in a blender.
Work is the only relationship I have time for. The last thing I
need is another female trying to dig her claws into my bed and
bank account. And that’s exactly what will happen if I invite any
one of the women in my little black book.
I need something simpler.
The thought of calling an escort feels desperate. And I’ve
already had one humiliating experience that I’ll never live down.
The last time I hired a companion for the evening, most of the
men at the event had rented her out before. She spent more time
handing out cards than actually being my date.
She wasn’t the most expensive escort on the books because
she was good. She was the most expensive one because she was
popular. The whole fucking thing was embarrassing. The idea
that everyone knew that my date was an escort is one scandal
that my father has never let me live down.
I could go without a date, but that will only tempt the cougars
and gold diggers to think I’m still on the market. Which I’m not.
I’ve married myself to this company, and for now that’s all the
companionship I need.
“Mr. White?” Brooklyn’s watching me. Her tongue darts out
across her plump bottom lip and I almost groan out loud.
The little temptress doesn’t know what she does to me.
“What?” I snap, looking away and trying to think of anything
but her.
“Would you like me to call one of your…female friends to
escort you?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Because the solution to my problem is staring straight at me.
No fucking way. I shake my head and focus on the contracts in
my hand. Taking Brooklyn anywhere outside of this office is a
very bad idea, because the minute I allow myself one touch, I
know I won’t be able to hold back from consuming all of her.
She looks at me with those big green eyes, and I know she has
no idea what I’m truly capable of. What kind of man is under the
designer suits, and cold, calculated mannerisms.
I am the big bad wolf that her mother warned her about.
The girl is too fucking innocent.
And she’s my goddamn assistant.
Keep your paws off her, my brain screams, despite the
persistent pulsing bulge between my legs.
But damn, as I’m giving her notes, watching her pink lips
pout as I spill out a ton of chores for her to do by lunch time, I
can't get the thought out of my head that her sweet little body
was made for me.
I need to go through my black book. Try and figure out
someone else to take to this damn party.
“Can you do all this before twelve? I need to leave early
today.”
She sighs, but tries to hide her frustration at my tight
deadlines.
My phone buzzes and I curse under my breath when I read my
father’s text. Ella, my ex. The one that never seems to get the
fucking message that we’re over is coming tonight. Even more
reason why I need to find a date, and fast.
I was furious when I found out my father had hired her to help
him run his campaign. But then he never could resist a pair of
long legs and a pretty face. And Ella had both going for her. What
she didn’t have was a heart.
Or if she did, it was made of pure ice. The woman was as cold
and calculating as I am. The only difference is that’s all there is
to her. She’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants, and what
she wants is me on a leash, and a ten caret ring on her finger.
So not happening.
Another text pops up on my phone.

Please don’t disappoint me, son.


See you at eight.

I’m stuck going to this damn party, and playing the part of the
dutiful, adoring son. And that’s all it is, a part to play. If I didn’t
need to keep up appearances for the business, I’d tell my father
exactly what he could do with invitation.
But the man’s put himself center stage, once again.
Trust dad to want to run for office.
I shake my head as Brooklyn stares at me. When I don’t look
away like I usually do, her brows turn down and she starts to
fidget, nervously.
“What?”
“Are you free tonight?” The question comes out before I have
a chance to stop myself.
“I can be.” She frowns. “Is there a project you need me to
work on?”
I take my time to word this carefully, because for the first
time in my life, I am worried about a rejection, something that
I’m not accustomed to. But I’m fucking desperate, and I know
that I can’t demand it of her. Because I need her help.

***

Chapter 2

Brooklyn

To say that I'm exhausted is an understatement. I start at eight


every morning and if I’m lucky I leave by the same time in the
evening, but I suspect that tonight's going to be different. The
way he’s looking at me, tells me he wants something more than
my usual twelve hour shift.
I'm tempted to say, ‘Yes, sir. Do you want anything else? Like
for me to drive to Chicago and back before the end of the day?’
But sarcasm doesn’t go over well with my boss. Actually no
type of humor does. He’s the most serious man I’ve ever met.
Dark.
Brooding.
And sexy as sin on a stick with whip cream on top.
Focus, Brooklyn. The man is way out of your league.
I smile at him, the same way that I do every single time he
asks me to do the impossible.
The man’s a slave driver. Always wanting more than I can
give.
He’s obsessed with work. Maybe that’s the role of being a
CEO, being on top of everything. Or maybe it’s the perfectionist
in him, driving him to always achieve more.
But how much more can one person seriously need? Or want?
He has staff. A lot of them, nearly two hundred employees
and he is obsessed with micromanaging nearly everyone.
Including me.
But I won’t quit.
Because leaving means going back home or even worse, back
on the road.
I haven't been home since I graduated from high school and
I’m not about to go back now. It isn’t an option. Ever.
Getting another job seems like the easiest solution, except
that it took me six months to land this one. Before that, I was
working in a coffee house, barely able to pay my half of the rent.
Prices in the city are outrageous.
I need this job. And working with Ross White isn’t completely
terrible. When he isn’t growling at me, or shouting orders, he
can actually be kind of sweet. Well, maybe sweet isn’t the right
word – more like civil.
It also doesn’t hurt that he looks like he’s been plucked off a
GQ magazine cover. Dark hair that’s always mussed just right.
Clear, intelligent blue eyes that smolder with promise.
Just not for me.
He’s made it very clear that our relationship is one hundred
percent business. I’ve never had a man go so out of his way to
make sure he doesn’t touch me.
It’s fine. I don’t do relationships. Or sex.
I’m just starting to get my life on track.
Nothing, not even Mr. Tall, Dark, and Deliciously Brooding
will get in my way.

***

Chapter 3

Ross
“I need your help, Miss Walsh. But it’ll mean going beyond what
I pay you for.”
Her expression goes from guarded, to intrigued, to full out
suspicious.
“I want you to escort me tonight to the function.”
Her mouth drops open slightly. “You want me to be your
date?”
“Strictly business, of course,” I add quickly.
“Of course.” Her tone is an echo of mine, stoic and reserved.
But I can practically see the wheels spinning inside that pretty
little head of hers. She thinks I’m up to something.
And I am.
“Why me?” Her green eyes narrow, regarding me.
“I don’t have time to call anyone else.” Knowing the words
are a little too curt, I add, “And I think my father would
appreciate you over the floozy I took to the last event.”
That causes a small smile to play on her lips.
I shake my head thinking about the reason that I’ve kept our
relationship merely professional. She’s my assistant and apart
from not wanting a sexual lawsuit on my hands, she’s way too
young. Christ, the woman is practically a decade younger than
me.
“If you’re busy–”
“No.” The word comes out in a rush, and her cheeks turn a
shade of pink. “I mean, I’m free. If you need my help.”
This feels like a bad idea.
Because no matter how hard I try to deny it, I know this can
only end one way. With her in my bed and my cock buried balls
deep inside her.

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Chapter 1

Alicia

“Alicia, did you hear me?”


I set aside the design I’m working on and look up at the
woman who’s currently hovering over me, blonde hair pulled
tight in a bun, green eyes filled with malice as they rake over me.
Cynthia Briggs.
My boss.
The one that ignores every design I send her.
“Yes?” I force a smile, but one look at the woman’s pinched
face and all the frustration that I let go of during this morning’s
yoga session, slams into me.
I breathe out through my clenched teeth and try not to show
my agitation.
The company I work for is Love Lace. The name implies that
we sell sexy lingerie. Yet, she insists on proposing the same
designs, season after season.
Boring. Unenticing. Granny-panties made from spandex,
rather than lace. Not the racy, provocative pieces that I believe
our customers are craving.
The ones I design.
There are others in the room, a couple of senior managers and
designers, and I see them stiffen and turn away as not to incur
her wrath. They all know that her vision for the company is the
reason we’re in the red. But no one is willing to risk their necks
to do anything about it. And because of that, we’re all probably
going to be out of a job by the year’s end, if not sooner.
“In my office, now.” Cynthia’s voice is shrill and sends a
shiver down my spine.
I’m in trouble. And I know why. She’s angry about the designs
I sent her for the upcoming holiday season.
Slowly, I push my chair back and stand up, then follow behind
her as she clicks and clacks down the long hallway toward her
office.
She could have had her secretary call me instead of making a
scene in front of my co-workers. But that’s not Cynthia’s style.
She likes – no loves – to assert her power whenever she can.
Especially with me. And humiliating me in front of my
colleagues is the perfect way to do it.
When we’re in her office, she slams the door shut, then stalks
across the room, sitting behind her large mahogany desk, with
her fingers steepled as she glares at me.
“Sit down,” she demands, a small, wicked smile catching the
corners of her lips.
Now, I’m afraid. No, I’m petrified. Because Cynthia is only
happy when she’s doing one thing – making other people
miserable.
Is she going to fire me? She’s been hinting at it for months.
Always making empty threats.
I love this job, and it would gut me to lose it.
“Is there a problem?”
“I want to talk to you about the designs you submitted,” she
says, still watching me with narrowed eyes. “You still seem to be
confused about the company’s vision.”
I spent two weeks working day and night on the designs. But
with a simple flick of her wrist she rejected each and every one of
them.
The company should just change its name to Underwear For
The Dead, because no one with a pulse would buy the new
designs that Cynthia suggested.
I bite my tongue and try not to lash out at her, but it’s so
damn hard. The woman is insufferable.
My parents, friends, everyone that knows me, says I should
get a new job. They don’t understand why I stay. Some days I
don’t understand myself. I’m going nowhere fast. I should quit.
But every time I go to give my resignation, I can’t bring myself to
do it.
This isn’t just a job. It’s my passion. I love designing. Love
creating beautiful pieces and knowing that a small piece of fabric
can change a woman’s mood, bring out a confidence in her that
she didn’t even know she was lacking.
Every woman deserves to feel beautiful, and the fact that I can
help that happen means everything to me.
I know what it’s like to be insecure about my body. I’ve
struggled with my weight since I was thirteen. Never living up to
the image my mother had for me.
Even now, at almost sixty, my mom is slim without even
trying. Me, I splurge and eat a bowl of rocky road ice cream, and I
gain five pounds the next day.
It’s only since I started designing lingerie that I started
feeling comfortable in my skin, because I could create pieces that
aren’t only comfortable for a full-figured woman, but also
incredibly sexy.
“Alicia.” Cynthia’s sharp tone breaks through my thoughts.
Arms crossed over her chest, she glares at me. “You’ve worked
here for a couple of years–”
“It’s been four, actually.”
I didn’t think her expression could get any more disdainful,
but it does.
“We need to be able to sell fashionable pieces. We’re not
designing lingerie for brothels.”
Brothels? Is she serious? “I think if we surveyed–”
Again, she ignores me. “Our customers want class, style, not
trampy pieces that are practically pornographic.”
I feel like stripping off and showing her that not everyone
wants spandex panties that start at the waist and stop mid-leg.
Neither do they want bras that start at the shoulders and end at
the waist.
What century is she living in?
Hung around the room in frames are the certificates and
awards from the fancy design school she attended. I’m tempted
to prove one day that they’re all fake. She can’t be qualified,
because she doesn’t have a clue about fashion. Or about what
women want.
“Your time here is over, Ms. Parker.” The words come out
cold, and emotionless.
“Excuse me?” I feel as if the air is being sucked out of the
room, because I can hardly breathe.
The company that I felt was my lifeline to fashion is being
taken away from me. I have no social life, no love life, and I gave
it all to Love Lace and she wants to take it away from me because
I don’t believe in spandex.
If that was the case then it should be called, Spandex Love.
But, we’re not, because we’re supposed to be selling sexy, lace
lingerie.
“Cynthia, please–”
There’s an abrupt knock on the door, which stops me from
saying exactly what’s on my mind.
“Cynthia Briggs?” A man’s deep voice rolls through the room
as the door opens.
I glance over my shoulder and freeze.
Oh. My. God.
Standing in the doorway is the most beautiful man I’ve ever
seen.
Tall, dark, and handsome doesn’t even begin to describe him.
Dressed in a fitted suit, with a sky blue tie that matches his
pale eyes, the man is gorgeous. So gorgeous that for a second I
forget that my boss literally just sacked me.
There’s something familiar about him. I shake my head
thinking that I’ve seen him somewhere before. I know that I
haven’t, at least nowhere other than my dreams.
For a long, intense second he holds my gaze. Dark. Intense.
Smoldering. I swear the man is practically undressing me with
those hypnotizing eyes. Normally I’d be offended, but with him
I’m just freakishly turned on.
My heart begins to race, and my palms actually start sweating
with the force of my reaction to him.
Then he clears his throat and looks away, all business.
“Ms. Briggs?” He asks, eyes darting to Cynthia.
She clears her throat and stutters, “Ye-yes.”
He’s even got her tongue tied, which is quite the feat. The
woman never shuts up.
“I’m Killian Scott. You were told that I’d be coming in.”
She seems confused or maybe she’s anxious as she sways her
head to the side, and for the first time since she’s started
working here, I see a weak side to her. One that I didn’t know
existed.
“I-I thought that you were coming tomorrow,” she manages,
regaining some of her ice-queen composure.
“I decided to come in today,” he says unapologetically, and I
have a feeling like things are about to get interesting, because
never in the two years that Cynthia has worked here have I seen
her squirm like she’s doing now.
His eyes fix on me once again, but he’s cooled the intensity of
his gaze, and all that I see there now is curiosity. “And you are?”
“Just leaving.”
Cynthia hasn’t actually fired me, and if I can get out of here
quickly, maybe she won’t have the chance, and I’ll be able to
come up with some miracle plan of how to keep my job.
I start to walk out while he walks in, fully aware that his gaze
never leaves me.
“Mr. Scott, what can I help you with?” Cynthia’s brittle words
pull his focus away from me, and I’m left both disappointed and
relieved.
Who is this man?
Someone powerful that’s for certain. And someone that
clearly makes Cynthia nervous.
As I’m about to close the door behind me, I notice that
Cynthia’s secretary isn’t at her desk. Leaving the door open a
small crack I stay and listen.
Is it right? No. But then I need all the help I can get if I have
any hope of keeping my job. Maybe this Killian Scott has
something on Cynthia that I can use.
“I think you know why I’m here, Ms. Briggs.” His voice is that
deep baritone that makes a girl’s panties melt right off her
without a single touch. Pure, hot, sexy, velvet.
“I didn’t think you were coming in until tomorrow.”
“It doesn’t make a difference. I’ve seen the designs that you
sent me. I’ve also taken in a detailed account of everything
you’ve done over the past two years. This company isn’t going to
make it if you keep repeating the same mistakes over and over
again.”
Amen to that.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“For some reason I got two emails. The first one had designs
that I thought were perfect for the company. Lacey and sexy,
exactly what the Love Lace needs to start getting back into the
black.”
Cynthia blurts out, “They were sent by mistake. I didn’t know
my secretary sent them to you. The moment I found out, I sent
you the right documents.”
“That’s the part that worries me. The fact that the designs,
which were perfect, were sent by mistake and the spandex
collection is your new proposal. It’s just not going to work. I’ve
talked with management and they’ve agreed with my decision to
let you go.”
“No. You can’t do that. I’m–”
“You were given a lifeline and I think it’s safe to say that
you’ve blown it.”
“Do you know who you’re speaking to?” Her voice is two
octaves higher than it normally is.
“A woman who needs to start looking for a new job.”
I hear Cynthia’s sharp intake of breath, then the click-clack
of her heels coming towards the door.
Not wanting to be caught eavesdropping, I quickly move away
from the door and down the hall towards my work area, unable
to stop the grin from spreading across my face.
With Cynthia gone, and my new boss a total hottie, maybe
today is going to be okay after all.

***

Chapter 2

Killian

“I’m not fucking leaving here.” Cynthia slams the office door,
causing one of the certificates on the wall to crash to the floor.
The one that after a single day of investigation, I discovered
wasn’t real. Like most of her credentials.
“If you don’t calm down, I’ll have to call security.”
When the lamp comes flying at my head, I make the quick
decision to not make it an empty threat. I’ve been around
enough women to know bat-shit crazy when I see it. Pulling out
my cell, I make the call.
“Bastard,” she screams, sending a stapler zipping across the
room.
A small warning about the woman’s unhinged mental status
would have been nice before the owners sent me here to deal
with her.
I usually love my job. And then there are days like today when
I wonder why the hell I still do it. It’s not like I need the money. I
made my first million at twenty-one, and my first billion ten
years later.
I know business and I know money. Give me one and I’ll
produce the other.
At thirty-five, I own my own jet, a yacht, and several estates
across the globe, none of which I’ve made a home.
I hate being anywhere for more than a few months at a time.
Never liked any place enough or been given a good reason to stay
longer than that.
It’s why I enjoy what I do so much. The thrill of taking
something that’s broken and fixing it. That’s what drives me.
And once I work my magic, I move on.
Love Lace is a smaller company than I usually work with. But
Bernard Turner is a friend of my father. And I’m doing this more
as a favor for him and his wife than anything else.
Like most of the companies I work with, the root of the
problem is poor management. The problem with Cynthia is that
she’s not just bad management, she’s just not good for the
company. She has shares in a company that produces spandex,
and that’s been the reason for her pushing her God-awful
designs.
“Ms. Briggs, if you don’t leave the office peacefully then I’ll
have no choice but to expose your investments in Spandacare.”
Her face goes pale. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking
about.”
The woman is terrible liar.
“The company has been very gracious with your severance
package, but I can just as easily make sure that all disappears.”
I’m usually not an ass, but she’s pushing my fucking buttons.
There’s a knock, then two security guards come into the
office.
“Ms. Briggs,” I say, her name a warning on my lips. “This can
go one way or another. Either you leave with these men
peacefully, or they drag you out.”
Were at a standoff. Gazes locked. But I have no intention of
losing this battle.
“Fine,” she hisses. “This company is pathetic anyways. I give
it two months, maybe three, and it’ll be bankrupt. You’re doing
me a favor.”
She walks out with her head held high, limping as she tries to
balance herself on one shoe. The other one, thrown at my head
in her anger, lies discarded in the corner of the room. She
doesn’t even try to claim it.
When she’s gone, I drag my hands through my hair and take a
seat in the large leather chair behind the desk, and glance
around the office. The one that I’m supposed to be working in for
a short time, trying to sort out the mess that Cynthia created.
I sigh as I think about the challenge that I’ve been given at
Love Lace.
She’s right. The company is in trouble. Big trouble.
But I’ve always loved a challenge. And this one’s no different.
Plus, there’s the red-haired beauty that was here when I first
came in. The woman is one of Love Lace’s mysteries that I have
every intention of unravelling.
I need to hold a meeting with the top managers. Not only so
that I can introduce myself, but so that I can find out her name.

***

Chapter 3

Killian

I’m holding my first company meeting, and like every first time,
my adrenaline is spiked. I should be used to these types of
meetings. The ones where I have to tell the staff about the
changes I’ll be making. The only difference this time is usually
top management leave amicably. Especially when they get their
severance package.
Everyone here must know what’s going on. Cynthia was
shouting loud enough that rumors had to have already spread
like wildfire.
And judging by the scared, doe-like eyes that meet me when I
walk into the conference room, I know exactly what they’re
thinking.
Who’s he going to fire next?
And in all fairness, it’s a good question. Because it’s what I do
– weed out the unproductive. Get rid of what doesn’t work, and
replace it with what does.
But it’s more than just that. It’s also my job to find the rare
gems that haven’t fully maxed their potential.
That’s my favorite part of this job.
Not that shit that went down earlier today.
But there was no helping it. I just hope it doesn’t go against
me when dealing with the staff members that are left. I learned
early on that fear isn’t always the best motivator. Praise and
rewards work much better in the end.
Then again, judging by the round of applause that took place
as Cynthia hopped down the hall with one shoe, escorted by the
security team, it’s clear she wasn’t liked or is going to be missed.
I clear my throat. “Good afternoon.”
Silence meets me.
Blank stares blink back.
They stare at me like wasted zombies.
Dull.
Drained.
No fire or passion.
I expect reactions like this from nerds who spend too much
time behind the screen, who aren’t used to human interaction.
The geek squad as I like to call them. The only time they’re used
to communicating is if it involves sending a message via their
phone or whatever electronic device they’ve decided is their
lifeline.
I clear my throat and start again, “Good afternoon, my name
is–”
Before I can finish my sentence, she walks in. The red-haired
temptress. The woman who I haven’t been able to stop thinking
about all day.
“Sorry I’m late,” she says, trapped between the door and me.
I watch her every move. Soft. Feminine. Not fully aware of her
beauty. And yet still confident, and incredibly sexy.
More than a dozen pair of eyes are on me, and the only thing
on my mind is, what’s your name?
She’s wearing a tight black number that leaves nothing to the
imagination, and yet still shouts class. It hugs her body in all the
right places. And those curves. She’d put any of those Victoria
Secret supermodels to shame.
In a world where skinny is the rage, she wears her curves with
confidence.
Damn.
She’s probably the type that’s breaking hearts all over the
office. Then again, judging by their vacant expressions, I find it
hard to believe that any of them even have pulses.
“I didn’t catch your name earlier.”
“Alicia Parker,” she reaches out to shake my hand, and as
soon as our palms connect, a flash of energy burns through me
so hot that I swear I’m going to combust. But I don’t want to let
go. I can’t help but hold her small hand in mine, stroking the
soft skin with my thumb.
A small tremor races through her. I see it. Feel it. The
attraction mutual.
My God, but I want this woman.
There’s a small rumbling in the room, a couple awkward
coughs, and I let her hand go, noticing the red that’s creeped
into her cheeks.
Shit. Nice move asshole.
She moves a strand to the side and I can’t help but notice the
subtle tattoo on her neck – a butterfly. Interesting.
“And you’re our new boss?” she asks when I keep staring.
I’m blowing this.
“No.” I shove my hands in my slacks and take a deep breath
before continuing and making sure to look anywhere but at her.
“I’m here to help the company get back to what it was. After
that, a permanent manager will be hired to take Ms. Briggs
place.”
Again, no reaction from the rest of the room, just more blank
stares.
The only reaction is from Alicia. A small, almost happy grunt.
“Is there something you’d like to share?” I ask.
“Cynthia leaving is the best thing that could happen to Love
Lace. I know that’s probably not nice to say, but it’s the truth.”
She bites her bottom lip, stopping herself.
“Go on.” I nod at her, wanting to hear more.
She looks around the room, but when she doesn’t get any
reaction, those gorgeous gray eyes turn back to me, and she says,
“I’ve been trying to get Cynthia to approve my new designs, the
‘Charlotte Range.’ But she said…” Her tongue darts out over her
lush lips before continuing, “She said that it was a range that
belonged to hookers and I was way out of my league. But I think
if we surveyed our customers, we’d see that what women want is
not only comfort, but pieces that make them feel sexy.” She
glances down and says softly, “Even if it’s for their eyes only.”
I don’t say anything, because I’m blinded by her beauty, and
by the fact that she pretty much read my mind. There’s also the
hint in her words that suggests she not only enjoys designing
sexy pieces, but also wearing them.
God, what I wouldn’t do for a glimpse of that image.
“Sorry, I said too much.” Shifting nervously, she drags her
palm down her skirt.
I remember the original designs that Cynthia’s secretary sent
me.
“The Christmas designs. The ones that were sent by mistake.
Those were yours?”
She nods, “Guilty.”
I sit down and say, “So, why do you think Ms. Briggs didn’t
approve them?”
She shrugs, “I don’t know. I’ve never understood her
management style.”
I don’t want to put their manager down, especially because I
don’t know anything about this Alicia. Yes, she’s hot. And sexy
as hell. But until I’ve done my homework on something other
than her measurements, I’ll have to keep everything strictly
business.
She licks her dry lips, and I think to myself that it’s going to
be fucking hard.
Probably near impossible.
But I’ve never been one to mix business with pleasure, and
even for this delicious little temptress, I’m not going to start
now.
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HOT TAKEOVER
About the Author
A good ol' Canadian boy, who loves hockey, maple syrup and
beavers! I also love to write sexy stories about strong alpha men
who would do anything to protect the women they love.

Stay in touch!
authorcarterblake@gmail.com

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Also by Carter Blake
The Nanny and the Beast
The Teacher and the Beast
The Law of the Beast
Awakening the Beast
Pretend to Be Mine
Say You’ll be Mine
Hot Takeover
Thunderstruck

Naughty Beasts & Filthy Princes


Book 1 Saving Red (Little Red Riding Hood)
Book 2 Owning Swan (Ugly Duckling)
Book 3 Craving Snow (Snow White)
Book 4 Guarding Beauty (Sleeping Beauty)