Release Date: January 21st, 2014
New Adult Romantic Suspense Note: Language and Sexual Content
Guess I knew what my social identifier would be for the rest of my life. Amazing how one little picture could define your high school career. Like nothing ever happened during those four years to contradict that one moment in time, that people would suddenly look at you like you sprouted warts and aimed to shun you for the rest of your life.
One. Little. Picture.
I tried not to think about it much these days, but when I spotted the wedding announcement for two of my former classmates, Hippy and Sparky were the first things that came to mind. Hippy, because Hannah Harris was the only girl in school to wear hemp in some form of fashion on a daily basis, and Sparky, because Mitch Flannigan electrocuted himself in shop class so badly that his hair had the Einstein effect for three weeks.
So apparently, I was no better than the rest of them, because I identified them first and foremost by those lovely social tags. Hell, maybe I was looking for something negative to say about them, because it irked me a little that two people who now lived in California would find it necessary to announce their engagement in our little hometown Tribune even though they couldn’t be bothered to come back for the holidays. It was like they were letting those of us left behind know, Hey! We’re better than you!
I shoved the paper aside just as a voice called, “Can I get a draft?” A quick peek over my shoulder showed a guy around my age at the far end of the bar. I had just turned back and pushed off the wooden counter when it clicked. I twisted my head back, eyes squinting – as if I needed to with perfect vision. My heart skittered about my rib cage as my lungs twitched with a quick burst of incoming air.
There’d only been a few, but the years had been good to him. He was still incredibly sexy, especially since he’d put on a few more pounds of muscle on the part of his body I could actually see, and he seemed more confident – as if that were possible.
Great. I couldn’t even say his name without smiling.
His eyes darted north to meet mine. Yeah, north. And there wasn’t a hint of guilt in those savory greens for being south of my border. Usually, catching a guy staring at my ass pissed me off. We certainly had our fair share of customers who spent their evenings checking us out, but with Shane, I hardly seemed to care. Leave it to him to actually make me feel flattered. Or maybe it was because the guy had already seen me in a bikini so many times I couldn’t count.
For some asinine reason, my finger began wagging at him. “You know, I thought for sure when your family moved out of here senior year we’d never see the likes of you again.”
His smile hitched when he finally glanced at my face and figured it out. As I reached down to the shelf hidden within the bar beneath him to grab a fresh glass, he smoothly replied, “Mel Peterson.” He looked me up and down, again lingering in the sweet spots a little longer than he should have. “Wow. I never thought I’d see you again. What the hell are you doing back?”
“Back?” I asked curiously, filling a glass with our most popular draft.
“Didn’t you go off to school? It was all you used to talk about.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Clearing my throat, I quietly added, “But I decided not to go.” Laying the glass on the bar before him, we locked eyes and just kind of stared for a moment.
Because my life changed with the blink of an eye. My lips twisted, and after a moment, I said, “You first. What have you been up to?”
Given our history, he was well versed with my evasion tactics. I could tell his curiosity had been piqued, but he kindly answered me anyways. Hardly able to contain his smile, he replied, “I’m going to start law school next fall.” A smile grew across my cheeks as well, but for a different reason. If ever there was an argumentative person, Shane was it. “In a few years, yours truly will be gracing the courts with his presence.”
I practically snorted. With a tight smile, I playfully asked, “You do realize people don’t generally like lawyers, right?”
“No,” he corrected, pointing his finger at me, “people don’t like corrupt lawyers or jackasses who prosecute the stupidest shit just to make a few bucks.”
“And that’s not going to be you?”
Silence ensued as we gazed into each other’s eyes again. Was it just me or had we both avoided doing this most of our friendship? That would probably explain how I’d never noticed the way the green seemed to swirl. I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on in his head, but seeing him brought back a lot of memories for me. To a time when I used to date his best friend and every weekend the four of us would get lost somewhere outside of Berryville, Texas – the three of us plus whatever flavor of the week Shane was revisiting. In a town with less than a thousand residents, there were only a few girls he’d even consider putting his arm around, and for some reason, those girls didn’t seem to mind taking turns. He never could seem to commit. Guess it worked out for him though, because I didn’t see him bound to this small town with nowhere better to be.
Softly, he spoke, “You’re a smart girl. What are you still doing here? Working in a bar of all places?”
I probably should have taken offense to that, but I understood where he was coming from. I wasn’t supposed to be here. I should’ve been like him. Freshly graduated and beginning the next chapter in my life, whether it was further education, a new job or even beginning a family. If you had asked me five years ago where I expected to be at this point in time, not a single prediction would’ve landed me here at Sully’s Tavern and Grille. Hell, I wasn’t able to step even one foot out of this town before my world imploded.
“I’m the manager, actually.”
“Kind of young, aren’t you?”
I began pouring a generous shot of tequila for myself, my shift close enough to ending that I felt okay with indulging. “Sully was tired of managers coming and going. Said he wanted a lifer, so he gave me a chance.” I motioned my glass in the air for a silent cheers before downing my shot.
“Well, that’s all good and all, but you used to go on and on about heading out of state for college. What the hell happened to make you a lifer in this town?”
I skipped the lime and salt, and absently scratched at my left temple, my eyes drifting towards Joey, the last patron in the bar, who was getting up to leave. He waved goodnight as he crossed the room and I forced a half smile in recognition.
“Life,” I simply stated. Life slapped me down and gave me a reality check. I swallowed – more like gulped – a second shot, enjoying the immediate burn to my throat and stomach. As they drifted around, my eyes set on the silent jukebox in the back. My autopilot kicking in, I made my way through the empty room. I didn’t need to scan the list. Only one song was going to feed the mood I felt invading my senses.
B14. I clicked the program buttons and the smooth, bluesy tones filled the bar, saturating every fiber of my being with a sense of calm and longing. I rarely drank these days, so the tequila was already taking effect, faux courage coursing through my veins.
My hips began to sway, my neck and arms soon joining in. At least a third of the song played through before I realized the hair on the back of my neck was prickling. I knew he was watching. Intensely. And the thought of that made me even more courageous, a wicked half smile taking over my left cheek. I turned to face him, my blue eyes meeting his green, his elbows spread behind him on the bar, lounging as he watched me, like he didn’t have a care in the world.
He probably didn’t. His life was right on track. All the I’s were dotted, all the T’s were crossed. Mine? Fifty-fifty. I didn’t regret my life, but I sure as hell wished my path would correct this unexpected detour already.
It was weird seeing him this way, head all tilted as he took me in. Like, really took me in as my body continued to smoothly groove. His lips grew to match the shape of mine and I recognized the more playful Shane from way back when. The same eyes that twinkled. The same dimple that always got the other girls to swoon and come hither. Trust me. I had a front row seat to his first string line-up. They swooned over those velvety green eyes, killer lips, and scruffy brown locks, which unfortunately were a little more kempt these days.
So I surprised myself when, out of nowhere, my finger motioned that player forward. Even more surprising, he actually obeyed. Without hesitation.
My throat swelled as a lump took up residence there. Yeah, I had liked him through the years, but never once had I been bold enough to lead him on like this.
Maybe my courage faltered, or maybe I was just playing hard to get without even realizing it, but my eyes seemed to drift to his hips as he slowly swaggered towards me. As he neared, my vision dared to slip upwards, and I began to wonder if his chest looked as buff as memory served. I couldn’t tell you the number of times we all went to the lake and he swam in nothing but trunks, or how often he practiced baseball shirtless. His short sleeved t-shirt let me know exactly how muscular his arms still were, but was loose enough to leave everything else to the imagination. I suddenly wanted to reach out and take my time sliding my hands up his body, but I never got the chance. He slipped around me, hands gently grasping my hips, pressing my body back against his. It took a moment for my brain to realize how intimately he was touching me, but my breath didn’t, immediately escaping my lungs.
My heart thumped erratically, like a jacked-up rabbit scampering wildly about tripped-up on acid. I could feel the heat of his breath behind my ear, long and controlled. So unlike mine. It had been a long time since I let a guy hold me like this. A long time. And damn my body was getting a little too antsy. I could only pray that the tight grip encircling my sides wasn’t privy to the spastic insanity going on beneath the skin.
An eruption was building below my belly, and shivers traveled the length of my spine as I allowed my body to mold into his, our bodies slowly swaying back and forth. But I got a little more than I bargained for, and a sudden stiffness behind me snapped my eyes wide open.
What in the hell was I doing?
I hadn’t seen this guy in years. And even as easily as technology made it for two people to stay in touch, we’d never even bothered to contact one another. No emails. No phone calls. Not even a text or an instant message. Yet here I was ready to grope him at my place of work like nothing ever happened. Like he hadn’t been my ex’s best friend. Holy hell. Of all people, Shane Michaels was definitely off limits.
Unfortunately, the right side of my brain didn’t give two fucks what the left was going on about. All it could focus on was how very right his hands felt on my body. Like they were meant to be permanently affixed there, forcing me to remember how a small part of me always wanted him. But getting in between two best friends was never a good idea. Especially in a small town where everything seemed to be everyone else’s business.
“You probably never knew this,” he said, his nose nuzzling my hair, hands daring to creep up my ribs, “but when you moved into town freshman year, I had every intention of asking you out.” My head slowly rotated towards him, but I still couldn’t see his face, not even his lips, which were still gracing the top of my ear. “But damn it all to hell, Brad beat me to it. And you fucking said yes.”
I involuntarily sighed, my body feeling the same frustration his words were expressing.
Brad. The last thing I wanted to think about at this moment was Bradley Montgomery. Unfortunately, some mistakes could never be forgotten.
My head fell back against his shoulder, softly lamenting, “I really wish you had asked me first.”
The words were mine, but I wasn’t sure if that was the truth or not. As much as I wanted him, certain things had happened in my life that I would never give up. The grass wasn’t exactly green, but it was mine now, and I had grown accustomed to the sporadic patches of brown and yellow that never seemed to recover.
“Well, I’m glad I didn’t.”
It wasn’t his words that caused my forehead to crease, but the coldness in which he said them. So left field that my body came to a complete stop with his.
“When you cheated on Brad,” he spat, “you not only broke his heart, you mindfucked his whole damn life.”a Rafflecopter giveaway