I messed up.
I admitted to the girl of my dreams I’m in love with her, only to have her run away. Why don’t they ever warn you things like that happen?
Now that we’re paired up for a class project, I have to figure out a way to keep things from being weird between us. I can’t lose her again.
We shared a kiss the night after I broke up with my boyfriend of three years. A heart-stopping, panty-melting kiss I still dream about. But I wasn’t ready then for anything more.
Now that I am, he’s unavailable. What will it take to get us both on the same page – and stay there?
Targeted Age Group:: Adults
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I love reading and writing romance, and wanted to tell a second chance story, where two people overcome misunderstandings and past events to find their way back to each other. As I was writing the first book in this series, these two minor side characters jumped out at me, yelling "Tell my story!" and the idea snowballed from there.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Natalie and Evan started as side characters in the first book in the story, then appeared again in the second book. After writing the second book, I knew I wanted to tell their story. I actually put off writing what is now the fourth book so I could write this one. I love the journey the two of them went on to get their happily ever after.
“You should have seen their faces, Carter.” I settle into the booth, thanking the hostess when she hands me a menu. “They just loved the gifts we gave them.” I hope our server brings out some of those cheddar biscuits soon. I’m starving.
“Mmm hmm,” he nods distractedly from across the table, not paying me a bit of attention.
“And then all the women started piling on each other and making out. It was like a big orgy in there.”
His eyes shoot up at that, all ears now. “What?”
“Oh, so you’re interested in that, but not my actual conversation?” I tease. Of course my boyfriend would perk up at the mention of any girl on girl action.
A flicker of annoyance crosses his face. “We haven’t seen each other in weeks and all you want to talk about is giving toys to orphans,” he grumbles.
“Weeks?” I laugh. “It hasn’t been that long.”
“It actually has.”
“No. The last time I saw you was… was…” I rack my brain to come up with a recent date, but I’m drawing a blank. “I’m sorry, you’re right. I’ve just been caught up with Suncoast Serves. It’s our busiest season with Thanksgiving and Christmas charity drives. Plus, end of term papers and finals and everything. I’m all finished with Toys for Tots, now-”
“I don’t care about toys for orphans or how you fed homeless people or whatever else it is you’ve done,” he barks in a rare display of anger, eyes flashing.
My jaw drops.
He runs a hand through that perfectly coiffed mahogany hair of his as he visibly pulls himself back together. “I’ve actually been thinking we should take a break.”
His lips are definitely moving, words coming out of his mouth, but they make no sense. I dig my pinkie in my ear, making sure there’s no impacted wax to affect my hearing.
“I’m sorry, what?” I glance around the crowded Red Lobster, the man and woman in the booth next to us holding hands and smiling at each other, the family at the table behind us raucously laughing. Do any of them understand what’s happening? And where are those damn biscuits?
“Natalie,” he croons, taking my hand gently, all ingratiating now, his earlier fit of temper gone. “We’re both twenty, but haven’t had the opportunity for a real college experience.”
Real college experience? Is that code for something?
“We’ve been joined at the hip for so long,” he continues, “I think it’s time we be free for a little while.” He smiles at me casually, the white of his teeth dazzling. How can he appear so perfectly at odds with what he’s saying?
“We see each other maybe three times a week normally. Usually less. How is that joined at the hip?” I blurt out before realizing the bigger issue. “Wait. Are you breaking up with me?” Both heads at the booth next to us swivel toward me. I must be louder than I realize.
“I wouldn’t call it breaking up,” he hedges, shifting in his seat. “Just a break. To explore what else is out there. Broaden our horizons.” His tone is placating, expression calm. It’s the face he uses with unreasonable people.
“So by real college experience, you mean hooking up with a bunch of girls?”
He glances nervously at the couple, now staring unabashedly at us. “Maybe this was the wrong time to have this conversation. How about we finish it at my place?”
“No, I think this is the perfect time.” I lean back in my chair, crossing my arms over my chest. “You complain about me being so busy, but so are you with your precious fraternity. When else are we supposed to talk?”
His face darkens. “You were the one who didn’t want to join our sister sorority. And besides, I’m not the person always dealing with all that charity crap.” His lips twist, the calm facade crumbling.
I suck in a breath. “You think me volunteering, giving back to the community, is crap?”
He closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. As if I’m a nuisance. “Do you know what it’s like being with Saint Natalie? It’d be nice to be with an actual human for a change.”
I roll my lips in between my teeth, eyebrows popping up. “Nice to see how you really feel.” I pick my napkin up off my lap and throw it on the table, scooting the chair back as I stand. The man and woman’s heads both pop up as they follow my movements.
“Nat – wait. I didn’t mean it like that. I just… want something new.”
I stare at him. I know what this is really about. I’ve seen him looking at other girls. The times I’ve stopped by his fraternity house unexpectedly and he had glitter on his neck or his frat brothers would delay me from going upstairs for one reason or another. The last time I was over there was an empty condom wrapper in his room, even though we haven’t had sex in… God, I don’t know how long.
“Have at it. We’re done.” I grab my purse and stomp out, our table neighbors’ heads swiveling as far as their necks will let them.
How could I have been so stupid? I told myself those were all coincidences. He could have gotten glitter from anywhere. It’s the herpes of craft materials – once it’s on you you’ll never rid yourself of it. And his frat brothers were just really friendly. And the condom wrapper was probably an old one he found when cleaning out his nightstand drawer. None of it meant anything… until now.
Carter doesn’t follow me out of the restaurant. Even though he drove us here. Even though it’s December and I didn’t bring a coat because I figured I’d only be out of the car for a minute when we walked in and out.
I pull out my phone and bring up my contacts with trembling fingers. They’re only shaking because of the cold. Not because my boyfriend of three years just insulted me and said he’d rather fuck other girls.
I bring the phone up to my ear, praying that my friend Samantha will pick up. She’s got the biggest heart I know. If anyone’s willing to come rescue me in this hell of a shopping plaza, it’s her.
“Hey, babe. What’s up?” Her bubbly voice comes through the line, my knees weakening in relief.
How do I even start this? “I’m so sorry to ask you this, but I need a ride.”
“Of course. What’s wrong?” The kindness in her tone is my undoing. My eyes finally tear up as the enormity of what just happened crashes down on me.
“Carter just- he just- he dumped me at a Red Lobster!” I wail, earning a few concerned looks from people coming into the building.
In the background, the deep rumble of her boyfriend asking confusedly, “Who are you talking to?” meets my ears.
“I’ll be there in literally two minutes,” she assures me. “We were at the mall. Levi, turn the car around. We’re going to Red Lobster,” she says, her voice muffled as she speaks to him.
God bless his blind devotion to her because he doesn’t question it. Through the phone speaker, the sound of the blinker clicks. He must be U-turning.
She stays on the line with me until Levi’s Honda Civic pulls up, a blur of tall, blonde woman out in a flash to embrace me in a big hug. Her warmth surrounds me, thawing my heart more than my body, reminding me there’s still good in the world.
I hug her back tightly, surprised at how fiercely I feel toward her right now. She bundles me in next to her in the backseat and I relay the whole fiasco, knowing my secrets are safe with her, one of the most trustworthy people I know, and Levi, who hardly says a word to anyone.
“Okay, Levi. Male perspective time. He totally just wants to bone chicks, right?” she asks, the outrage on her face adorably terrifying.
“And all this break business? He wants to have his cake and eat it too.”
“Asshole move,” he agrees.
“I think he’s been cheating on me,” I whisper, tears forming in my eyes. “But I didn’t want to admit it to myself. Samantha, why did I keep my head in the sand?”
She wraps her arm around me tighter. “It’s safe there.” I burrow deeper into her side, still chilled. “Did he say he’s been with other girls?” she asks carefully.
I shake my head, wisps of my dark brown hair coming out of my ponytail and falling in my face. “I didn’t press it. In case it’s true.”
“Ugh, I never liked him,” she vows, which I know is the truth, not just something she’s saying after the fact now that we’re broken up. Even though she’s only met him once, she made no bones about expressing her displeasure with him to me. We’d gone on a double date, his disinterest in the outing patently obvious to everyone. Even Levi made an effort, and he despises small talk. “You’re way too good for him. Remember when you told me I was the whole package? Well, that’s you. You could get someone else like that,” she snaps her fingers, “if you wanted to.”
That’s nice of her to say, but I’m not really in the mood for another boyfriend right now.
“Oh, oh!” she squeals, switching gears and flapping her hands excitedly as an idea comes to her. Levi shakes his head from the driver’s seat at her antics. I can just imagine him rolling his eyes good-naturedly. “If he wants to hook up with girls, you should totally do the same. But with guys. Or girls, your choice. Oh, wouldn’t that really piss him off, after he wanted that threesome and you said no?”
A choking noise emanates from the front seat, followed by a soft, “Jesus.”
“What do you think?” she asks, turning to me.
“Uh…” I lower my voice, embarrassed for Levi to overhear. “I’ve only ever been with Carter. I wouldn’t even know how to do that.”
“How about we go to Empire tomorrow night? Scope out your prospects?”
“Samantha,” Levi says gently, “she broke up with her long-term boyfriend literally fifteen minutes ago. Maybe give her a little time to grieve?”
“But he’s a scumbag!” She rests her hand on my arm. “No offense.”
I dab away the last of my tears with the sleeve of my thin sweater. A pity party never got anyone anywhere.
Carter wants us to have real college experiences? I’ll show him how real I can get.
The large room is dark, bursts of colored lights from overhead briefly illuminating the crowd of people wildly dancing to some techno-pop song I don’t recognize.
I’ve been to Empire, the local club, once before at the beginning of my freshman year. But I wasn’t a single woman then. There wasn’t this sense of freedom, of… possibility.
A part of me feels guilty that I’m not sadder. Shouldn’t I be, I don’t know, mourning or something? Yes, I’m mad and a little blindsided by Carter’s declaration, but the strongest emotion that’s been coursing through me all day has been one of relief.
Things between us have been bad for a while, but I was too stubborn to face it. Breaking up would mean… failing. And my military father has always strongly asserted that failure is not an option. Not for the Miller family.
Samantha hooks her arm through mine, her long curls tickling my bare shoulder. At nearly six feet tall, she dwarfs me by over half a foot. On her other side, Levi tops her by a few inches.
“I’m gonna hang out with Audrey,” he says, leaning in to give her a quick kiss before heading over to the bar where his cousin is bartending tonight. Audrey’s violet-streaked hair is like a beacon in the darkness and she gives us a wave as I catch her eye.
“I invited someone else,” Samantha says, leading me into the crowd. “I got his number from Luke.” I work with her cousin, Luke, at the campus gym where I’m in charge of the front desk and he’s a personal trainer. He’s one of those guys that easily makes friends with lots of different groups of people, so she could literally be talking about… anyone.
“Who is it?” I scan the dance floor, recognizing more than a few faces from Suncoast, but no one she would specifically invite. The pounding beat creeps under my skin, making my hips wiggle. I’ve been taking so many cardio dance classes at the gym, my body automatically wants to move in time with any kind of rhythmic sound.
“Evan?” I turn sharply toward her. “Why?”
“For moral support,” she answers slyly, a mischievous grin spreading over her face. She’s been hinting for months she thinks he’s into me, even though I’ve repeatedly said we’re just friends.
He works at the campus gym too as a personal trainer, so we naturally see a lot of each other there. Plus, we had a class together last semester. We’ve never hung out outside of class or work, but we’ve always been friendly. Samantha seems to think just because I have a guy friend, he must automatically have the hots for me.
“I’ve told you before, it’s not like that. We’re friends.”
“Mmm hmm,” she drawls. “Now come dance with me.”
She grabs my hand and leads me out among the throng of bodies. I’ve made her a Zumba convert of late, so the two of us practice our moves, laughing ourselves silly at the odd stares we’re getting from the surrounding people.
After about ten minutes she straightens, noticing someone at the bar. “Evan’s here,” she smiles. I jump in place to try and see over the crowd, but I can’t match her height and have to take her word for it, following her to the polished steel counter.
He’s turned away from me talking to Levi, but I recognize his short dark hair and broad back, thick biceps, powerful thighs… my thoughts trail off gazing at him. If he turns around, I’ll find those warm, hazel eyes, the slightly crooked grin.
Has he always looked this good?
Oh God, Samantha’s got in my brain, making me see things I’ve never noticed. He’s a trainer, of course he has a muscular body. And millions of people have hazel eyes. And smiles that light up when they see you, like his is doing now as he turns around and spots me. And kissable lips and bodies that look like they know how to use them…
I bite my lip, giving him a once-over. His long-sleeved gray henley is more fitted than the clothes he normally wears, revealing his muscular physique. It clings to his torso, his pecs defined enough that I really want to run my hands over them for some reason. And then wrap them around his neck, pulling him down to kiss his-
Wait, stop. Evan’s my friend. Not someone to be checking out. He’s never shown any sexual interest in me before. And besides, we work together.
Did this breakup put some kind of horny spell over me?
Or was it the shots we did at Samantha’s house before we came here?
Or maybe just the fact that I’m still mad as hell at Carter about everything and a small part of me is looking to seek revenge?
“Hey, Nat,” he smiles easily, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his dark jeans.
“H-hey,” I stutter, sure that he can see through my head to all the lascivious thoughts suddenly running through there. Things I’ve never thought about before.
“Samantha said you need some friends right now. To take your mind off the Carter thing. I’m sorry about that, by the way.”
He makes no move to comfort me, and I push aside the pang of disappointment at his lack of touch. What the hell is wrong with me?
I tuck a strand of hair back behind my ear and swallow heavily. “It’s for the best.”
He takes a step closer, bending down to whisper, “He never deserved you.”
I glance up at his serious expression, so close I could reach up and stroke his jaw if I wanted. Not that I would. That’d be crazy. “That’s what Samantha said.”
“I think she’s more of a friend than any of those sorority girls you hang out with.”
He’s right, but I don’t say anything. They’re part of Carter’s set. Girlfriends of his friends that I always ended up hanging out with, even though I never really clicked with any of them.
“Do you want to dance?” I blurt out, not wanting to think anymore about how much of my life I’ve wasted on Carter. Given up potential friendships for, spent countless hours doing activities I didn’t care about, sacrificed time I should have been studying – just to make him happy. I need to get lost in the music, put my brain on autopilot. Focus on something else.
The touch of his hand on the small of my back as he guides me through the horde of club-goers releases a swarm of butterflies in my stomach. Is this the first time he’s touched me? I can’t remember. Can’t seem to recall any previous instances where I was so aware of him. It’s like some switch inside me has flipped.
It has to be purely physical. It’s only because I have the opportunity now. If it wasn’t Evan, it would probably be some other random guy here. Someone to lose myself in temporarily. We’ll dance tonight and that’ll be it. Tomorrow we’ll be friends again. This madness will have ceased.
When we reach a spot that provides us some space to move, I turn around to face him, my body moving on autopilot to the deep bass of the music.
He moves in closer, bending down to speak into my ear, “How are you holding up?”
I shrug. “I’m angry,” I admit. “But not upset about it. It’s kind of weird.”
He nods, his gaze never leaving mine. “This won’t be one of those things where I trash talk him and then you get back together with him next week, will it?”
“No. We’re through.” Relief pours through me saying the words aloud. Like the more I say it, the truer it’ll be. Carter and I are finished.
I smile up at Evan, the heaviness from the last day lifting.
“What’s that look for?” he grins, that crooked smile of his suddenly endearing instead of the objective feature I’ve always noticed it to be.
“I don’t know. All of a sudden I feel… free. Like I can do anything.”
Someone behind me knocks me forward, and Evan’s hands wrap around my shoulders to steady me, the heat of his palms once again sending butterflies through me. What is going on with me? This is Evan. My friend. I’ve known him a year and a half and have never had any kind of romantic feelings for him before.
Then again, I’ve never been single around him before.
“And what do you feel like doing?” he asks, his deep voice rumbling even closer now.
“Samantha said I should hook up with someone,” I blurt out.
His grip tightens on me briefly, the butterflies turning into a rush of lust. “Is that something you want?”
“I- I don’t know.”
His hold on me relaxes, his hands sliding down my arms, leaving shivers in their wake.
He shakes his head, bringing his mouth directly next to my ear. “You’re not made for casual sex. You need someone who would appreciate you. Cherish you. Worship you.”
Stillness overtakes me, shock coursing through my veins as people continue to dance around us. Is he suggesting he would do those things?
I look up at him gazing steadily back at me, his features so familiar yet curiously new. Is he aware of this attraction the same as I am?
I step in closer, dancing again, Evan joining me effortlessly, our bodies in rhythm together like we dance all the time. It shouldn’t surprise me he’s a good dancer. He’s one of the best trainers we have at the gym, with a client schedule that’s regularly booked a month out. He’s in perfect control of his body.
His hands wrap around my waist, my palms moving of their own volition up his chest till they’re intertwined behind his neck.
I can’t stop staring at his lips. How soft they look. Like he knows how to use them.
And if there was anyone I would have a rebound kiss with, it should be with someone I trust, someone I feel safe with. Evan isn’t some gross womanizer. He would be respectful, have my best interests at heart.
Geez, how hard am I trying to convince myself?
I don’t know if it’s the alcohol from earlier, or the atmosphere of the club, or just the way he’s looking at me with appreciation in his eyes, but I impulsively stretch up on my tiptoes, pulling his head down till his mouth meets mine, our lips lightly brushing.
He pulls back for a second, gazing down at me in awe, then comes down again, harder, kissing me with what feels like his whole body, one hand cupping the back of my head, the other spread across my back, bringing me tight against him.
I’ve never been kissed like this before. Never experienced this kind of… what was the word he used? Worship.
The instant attraction, the insane rush of lust. Where is all this coming from?
And what does it mean?
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