Release Date: January 6th, 2017
Interracial Romance * Standalone * Historical * Full-length
❤ The Cover ❤
❤ Blurb ❤
Jesse Peterson lives by the sweat of his brow and doesn’t hold back from defending his beliefs—even if that means getting dirty and breaking a few noses in the process. It goes without saying that his tendency to let his fists do the talking hasn’t come without a price. His family’s intolerance of his behavior, and his own distaste for the town’s corruption, have set him on a downward spiral from which he can’t seem to recover. With the growing sense of his personal convictions being too big for such a small town, he wonders if there’s still good reason to stay.
That question is answered the instant Quinn Dixon crosses his path.
As strong as she is beautiful, Quinn steals Jesse’s heart right away. But in Honeywell, Alabama, the horrors of Jim Crow are an everyday occurrence. Forced to settle for passing glances and secret rendezvous, neither has forgotten that these stolen moments could cost them everything.
Once they’ve fallen, there’s simply no such thing as a life apart. Their love is forbidden, but is the truest either has ever found. For that, they’re willing to risk it all.
His conviction gives her hope. Her strength makes him believe. Their love defies reason.
*AUTHOR NOTE: “CHASING MOONLIGHT” is the third standalone novel within the “AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME” family saga. This is a full-length, interracial romance that takes you back to 1940s Alabama. Due to the nature of the story, as well as the era and locale in which it takes place, please be advised that this work of fiction contains sparse, racially-charged language and incidents some readers may be sensitive to. However, if heartfelt love stories with happy endings are what you crave, then this is the book for you!
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❤ Prologue ❤
Towns like mine don’t breed trouble. Well, at least not the kind that couldn’t easily be swept under a rug or hidden behind a closed door. Folks here are too concerned with keeping up appearances and keeping down gossip. For that reason, they did their best not to step too far out of line, fearing that people might take notice. It suited them well enough to seem perfect, at least in their neighbors’ eyes, even if the good Lord knew better.
With little more scenery than the miles and miles of dusty road carving through the countryside, things around here seemed quiet. A little too quiet, Momma used to think. ‘Idle hands are the devil’s workshop’ was one of her favorite warnings for my sisters, my brother, and I. For this reason, she made sure to keep us busy either helping her inside or helping Daddy outside.
None of us ever hesitated to believe there was truth behind the words she spoke concerning our little sliver of Alabama known as Honeywell. If there was one thing Honeywell had a lot of, it was idle hands. From the greatest to the least, these people had skeletons in their closets… and their basements, and a few out back in their yards, too.
There was something else Momma used to say, something that stayed with me even now, years after she passed. She’d say that ‘what’s done in the dark will come to the light’.
Those words… they felt like being sentenced for committing a crime even when what you were hiding wasn’t criminal. That statement was carved into the far reaches of my mind because of a predicament I found myself in; one that started the summer of 1941.
According to Momma, my secret—albeit one worth whatever punishment might await me—would inevitably be brought to the light.
If she was right about this like she seemed to be about everything else… Lord, have mercy on my soul.
❤ Chapter One ❤
Kyle Bates stared from across the table; an unspoken dare in his eyes, a smug grin on his face. He waited, watching even the slightest of my movements, likely wondering if I’d leap on him or walk away.
The smell of stale cigarettes and cheap liquor hung heavy in the air of the windowless building, no doubt clinging to my hair and clothes, too, now that I’d been here for the better part of an hour. My fingertips pressed into my palms when I balled them into fists beneath the table.
“What you gonna do? Hit me?” he taunted with a smirk, turning around to make sure his goons were all in place. “Know what I think, fellas? I think Jesse here’s been whoopin’ on these little boys around town and they got him thinkin’ he can throw down with a real man. That’s what I think.”
Laughter filled the air and I didn’t say one word. Instead of getting caught up in the pissing match Kyle was trying to drag me into, I took note of my surroundings. One of his buddies had a knife tucked in his boot strap. Another was stretching his neck in preparation for whatever was about to go down, and the third signaled someone near the exit to close the door. I assumed that was to make sure I didn’t try to run.
Something I’d never done a day in my life.
That look on Kyle’s face was familiar. I’d seen it before. It was the look of doubt. Other guys often had the same expression when testing me, trying to see what I was made of. Despite my reputation around here, most seemed to think being the mayor’s grandson had softened me, made me a pushover. However, not a single one who took me on walked away without their minds being changed.
As I saw it, there was only one way out of this. Blame it on my ego, call it pride or whatever else you might think of, but walking away from Kyle wasn’t an option anymore. Not after he’d talked so much trash.
All sound left the room in a vacuum. No one moved. No one breathed. The rush of anticipation nearly had me hysterical.
Hell, yeah… I lived for this.
Kyle’s gaze went to the left, following the half-full beer mug I shoved off the edge of the table. I counted on him being just simpleminded enough to fall for that. With him distracted for that fraction of a second as the glass shattered, I overturned the table into his lap, sending the deck of cards fluttering down onto the floor around him.
His goons came at me fast, but a blow to one’s gut slowed him down. The other yelled out as I took him by the back of his head and introduced his face to a barstool. Out cold, his body slumped to the floor in a heap. Everyone else, even the last of Kyle’s backup, moved out of the way, realizing this fight was mine and Kyle’s alone.
Normally, I preferred to have my brother, Eddie, or my buddies, Thomas and Henry, around when fights broke out, but life had a way of being unpredictable. If I’d known Kyle had plans to cheat me out of a pocketful of money at the poker table, I wouldn’t have come alone. Now, I’d have to wing it.
Kyle finally leapt to his feet, fists in the air to block his face. He danced around a bit, but I stood firm, waiting for him to take a swing. A low grunt moved up his throat when he went for my face and missed. The motion made him stagger a bit. When he fell forward, my elbow came down hard into the center of his back and he hit the floor with a thud. It’d been so easy to take him down I was almost disappointed.
I could’ve ended it there, but where would the fun be in that?
A mixture of fear and shock filled his expression when I helped him up off the floor. As soon as he was steady on his feet, my knuckles met his nose and blood sprayed from it like a fountain. He stumbled back, reeling from the blow, but I gave him a break, letting him get his bearings. Fists in the air again, he squared up to defend himself.
I’d been fighting all my life, literally and figuratively, to prove that being Mayor Bartell’s grandson hadn’t made me less of a man. In fact, all the adversity had probably made me a bit harder than I needed to be. But the way I saw it, I’d make the men of this town believers one at a time if necessary. I figured they’d eventually stop trying me like this.
…but I secretly hoped they wouldn’t.
Kyle fell against my shoulder when I sank a fist into his gut. An ugly groan puffed from his mouth as all the air left his lungs. I stepped aside and let his body fall to the floor. He lay there, moaning and mumbling idle threats while I patted him down for the cash he’d cheated me out of. I shoved the bills in the pockets of my jeans and stood upright, staring down on him, listening as he continued to talk trash while he bled on the floor.
I eyed his friends, flashing the two who were conscious a smile as I straightened my shirt.
“Thanks for the game, fellas. It’s been my pleasure.” Grabbing my hat from the floor, I dusted it off before placing it back on my head, giving the men a nod. “Until next time.”
I’d just turned when a response came from the crowd. “On the contrary, Mr. Peterson. There won’t be a next time.”
Hell… I knew that voice. Knew it well, actually.
The hollow steps of Sheriff Daley’s boots came my way as the crowd parted. As the last of them stepped aside, Daley stared me down. After shaking his head in disappointment, he looked down at Kyle lying on the floor.
“Is this going to be an every weekend event for you, Jesse?” he asked, sounding even more frustrated with me than last time, which I didn’t think was possible.
I chuckled a bit, which I soon realized was a bad idea, and straightened my face again.
“Outside. Now,” he demanded.
Every eye in the building was on me as I exited and made my way down the dusty steps out front.
“When are you gonna learn—”
“Sheriff, this wasn’t my fault,” I reasoned. “Kyle had it coming to him. Used to be a time that cheating a man out his money was punishable by death. As I see it, a little whoopin’ was getting off easy.” I smiled again; couldn’t help it.
Sheriff Daley wasn’t amused. “Turn around,” he said, straight-faced as a set of cuffs dangled from his fingers. The last few times we’d done this, he didn’t bother with them, but I figured this was to teach me a lesson. He knew I wasn’t dangerous, not really. Hell, we were practically family after all the years he’d served under my grandfather.
“Is that really necessary?” I protested.
His answer was nothing more than a blank stare, so I turned and put my hands behind my back. I had to listen to him lecture me the entire ride to the police station, knowing I’d only get more of the same from my grandfather when he got word of what happened.
“Get comfortable; you’re spending the night this time.”
I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “Come again?”
He escorted me through the front door, bypassing Officer Jennings’ desk, which meant there wouldn’t be any paperwork, no record of this, but still.
“Don’t you think you’re being a bit unreasonable?” I countered. “Kyle is—”
“Kyle is probably still trying to find all his teeth on the floor back there,” Daley interjected.
A laugh almost slipped. “I didn’t even hit him in the mouth,” I rebutted, as if that was going to change anything.
First removing the cuffs, Sheriff Daley unlocked one of three empty holding cells for me. When I didn’t go willingly, he shoved me a bit.
“Sleep it off, and if you’re not too much trouble, I might let you go home in the morning,” were his parting words.
He rejoined Jennings in the front of the building and I stood there, resting my forehead against the cool bars. How was it that Kyle was the cheat, and yet, I was the one spending a night in jail?
“Fighting again?” Jennings asked, his voice echoing down the hallow hallway I’d just walked. I couldn’t see them, but could hear pretty clearly.
Sheriff Daley sighed. “What else? Boy can’t seem to get out of trouble without using his fists.”
That was a line I’d heard before, from my grandfather.
“You gonna call the mayor?” Jennings added.
There was a long pause. “S’pose I’m gonna have to, but I don’t know what good it’ll do. Don’t think anyone can talk sense into that boy.”
I wasn’t bothered by hearing them discuss me. I was used to it. People had their opinions, but I didn’t pay them much mind.
Daley took another deep breath and I settled on the thin mattress. “Seems like the whole town’s going insane today.”
“Got that right,” Jennings added. “First the incident in town, then Reverend Haywoods’ wife coming in here with her skirt in a bunch over nothing, now this.”
Jennings chuckled a bit. “That woman’s even got my old lady beat. Makes sense the reverend’s so religious; must take the grace of God to put up with her.”
The two shared a laugh and I settled in, listening to their conversation, my only source of entertainment for the night.
“What was she squawking about this time?” Daley asked.
A chair creaked and I assumed one of the two officers was making himself more comfortable. “Who knows? I was half-listening, to be honest with you. Something about a little colored boy ‘looking suspicious’ outside the market.”
“Did you check into it?”
“Uh huh,” Jennings replied. “Wasn’t nothin’ to it. I told the kid to run on home and he did what he was told.”
The conversation went quiet for a second and I pictured Daphne Haywood, reverend Haywood’s wife, barging into the station like the officers described. If I had to guess, she laid the dramatics on pretty heavy as usual.
“Sounds like you let him off too easy. He was probably casing the joint,” Daley stated, immediately jumping to conclusions. “If you ask me, letting them get away with that kind of behavior is a mistake. Makes ‘em uppity and nothing good’ll come of it. If I had been here when she stopped in, I would’ve gone down there to teach that boy a lesson myself.”
Jennings chuckled and I rolled my eyes at the sound of it. “Well, maybe next time we’ll both get lucky and you’ll be around if the Reverend’s wife stops in again.” He made a shuddering sound at the mention of another visit from the woman.
They moved on to talk of sports and the latest updates on the war. I stared at the ceiling from my cot, waiting for morning. At some point that lumpy, musty mattress put me to sleep and I was awakened by the gruff sound of my grandfather’s voice.
“Get the hell up, boy!”
I sat up with a start, squinting at the light filtering in from outside my cell. My eyes focused and settled on the scowl set on Grandfather’s face beneath his white beard.
“If you weren’t my kin, I’d take you round back and put this cane to your head.” As soon as the sentence concluded, he lifted said cane into the air for added effect.
Slowly, I stood from the cot, feeling the soreness in my neck and back right away. I took steps toward the bars just as Daley approached with his keys to unlock the cell. I stepped out and Grandfather had me by the collar the next second, toting me alongside him. As soon as we were outside, he snatched his hat from his head and slammed it down into the dirt as he began to pace.
I stood there and watched, waiting for the inevitable.
“What in tarnation goes on inside that head of yours? There couldn’t possibly be a brain in there, ‘cause if there was, I wouldn’t be gettin’ calls at the crack of dawn to drag your sorry rear-end out of jail!” he yelled.
I folded my arms over my chest and rested against the hood of his car, just listening.
“This might not mean anything to you, Jesse Ray Peterson, but I’m a hardworking man.”
I knew he was really pissed when he used my full name.
“It takes a lot of effort to gain and keep the respect of the town’s people,” he went on. “And every time you decide to go out and act like the hooligan you are, it means I have to work that much harder to prove to folks ‘round here that I’m capable of doing my job! Do you have any idea how much trouble you cause? Or do you not care?” he spat.
My hand went to the back of my neck and I rubbed it, trying to keep calm. He was mad, yes, but so was I. Far too often, he seemed to forget that I was a grown-damn-man myself and he’d talk down to me like some kid. His only concern was always for himself and how other folks saw him. It never came down to us being family, but I’d come to expect that.
“No disrespect, Grandpa, but… I never asked you to come to my rescue—not today, not ever. Now, if you were really all that concerned with ‘your town’,” I said snidely, “…then maybe you should go round up that no-good cheat, Kyle Bates, and throw him in a cell.”
His face turned red as a beet, standing out even more against his pristine, white suit and dress shirt. He never liked being talked back to, meaning he and I had quite a rocky relationship because I’d never been one to keep my mouth shut.
Not for him.
Not for anybody.
Just when he was getting ready to respond, a car pulled into the lot, the sound of tires on gravel causing his expression to straighten. I knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t argue in front of anyone. It’d sully his image.
“Get in the car,” he said through gritted teeth.
I pushed off the hood of his car. “Don’t need a ride.”
Without looking back, I walked in the direction of the store. Eddie and I had plans to make a drop of fresh eggs first thing this morning, so I knew he’d be here. I might be waiting an hour, but that was a better option than sitting in the car and being forced to listen to my grandfather’s rant all the way to my house.
From the sidewalk where I sat, I watched the old man pull off twice as fast as he should’ve been driving. I’d gotten under his skin like always. It burned him up that I was so much like my dad. He never liked him either, never thought he was good enough for my mother; his only daughter.
The sun was already high in the sky, beating down on top of my head while I sat there waiting, watching down the road for the faded red truck my brother would be driving. There was no telling how long he’d be. Cicadas buzzed high in the trees that’d been carved away for our small stretch of specialty shops and the diner. I looked left when the faint sound of a metal bell chimed over the door of the tailor’s shop. Mr. O’Malley tipped his hat my way and then went on to his car. I stared at the building he’d just come out of, or rather at the sign mounted in the window: ‘Whites Only’.
I looked away, choosing to stare down the road again instead. The familiar rumble of our truck could be heard long before it was seen. I was on my feet in an instant, brushing the dirt from my jeans at the realization that my ride was almost here.
Eddie was shocked to see me when he pulled up. He turned off the engine and stepped out, coming toward me.
“Rough night I heard,” he said with a bit of a grin.
I ran a hand through my hair. “Yeah… you could say that.”
It didn’t surprise me that he already knew what’d gone on. If word hadn’t come down from my grandfather, someone who’d been there last night must’ve been running their mouth.
I caught the door when Eddie opened it and followed him inside when he went to talk to the store owner, Mr. Jessup. I waited off to the side while they did their business. With a blood stain on my shoulder and still reeking of booze, I figured that’d be best. When Eddie was done, he brought the crate inside and then we were headed back home.
There was a lot on my mind, so I didn’t do much talking. He noticed and started asking questions.
“From the looks of things, I take it you won.” He chuckled.
“I guess if you consider spending a night in jail winning, then yeah,” I replied. “I guess I did.”
Eddie glanced over at me and then looked back at the road. “Grandpa come down hard on you?”
I exhaled sharply. “The usual,” was all I said.
I’d been getting into trouble since I could walk, according to my mother, so my grandfather and I had this routine down to a science. At this point, I was kinda numb to it all.
I rested my forehead against the window and stared out of it while my brother drove. I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Honeywell. I loved the town itself, but could’ve done without most of the people. Kyle’s cheating ways and my grandfather’s self-centeredness were a small sample of what this place had to offer, but the two represented the population with surprising accuracy. It was enough to push thoughts into my head that I don’t have often.
It was enough to make me wonder what is it, exactly, that holds me here.
❤ Chapter Two ❤
Cooking, mopping floors, washing clothes, and mending dresses made for a mundane routine. By the time the sun rose, my shadow had already darkened the Haywood’s doorstep. My feet were still tired from the previous day’s work, but I was here, ready to serve the Reverend, his wife, and their two daughters, Macy and Lydia, all the same.
My bike was barely stable against the wood siding of the porch when Miss Daphne flung the front door wide open and started in on me.
“Well, good morning, young lady. Look alive! No one wants to watch you mope while breakfast is being served.” Miss Daphne’s soft, wispy voice gave the illusion of being in the presence of a gentle, kindhearted, southern belle. However, only Momma and I knew that to be a lie. There was nothing gentle and kindhearted about this woman and now I knew that firsthand.
All the years my mother had worked doing this very same job for the Haywoods, I found that my complaints about the Reverend and his family only mirrored hers. They were an insufferable bunch—spoiled and ungrateful. However, letting them know what I thought of them wouldn’t exactly make my job here any easier. So, with that, I secured a loose bobby-pin in the side of my bun and did what momma had done all those years… smiled big and reminded myself not to speak unless spoken to.
“The Reverend would like eggs and toast this morning with a side of bacon. He’ll take his breakfast in his study because he’s working on a sermon for Sunday,” Miss Daphne rattled off. “So make sure to keep quiet while getting your chores done, you hear?”
“Oh! And only two sugar cubes in his coffee this time. I’m not sure how you could’ve forgotten that, knowing us as long as you have,” she continued to ramble. “But the Reverend says you must’ve added a third yesterday and that simply won’t do, Quinn darling. He’s very particular about how he takes his coffee.”
Glancing back over her shoulder as we walked the narrow corridor to the kitchen, Miss Daphne cast a smile my way. I managed to return it, but was still pondering her false accusation; the one about me adding an extra cube of sugar to her husband’s coffee. However, defending myself would’ve been a waste of breath.
Just smile and keep that mouth of yours shut, Quinn Dixon. The sound of my mother’s voice filled my thoughts and I gritted my teeth together.
“Will you and the girls be eating anything, Miss Daphne?” I asked, swallowing my pride.
She smoothed her hands down her white apron, one she wore despite the fact that any work to be done around her home would be done by my hands.
“Yes, but I’m not in the mood for eggs.” She thought for a moment and then her eyes lit up. “Why don’t you whip us up a batch of those blueberry muffins you make?”
Whip up… she said that as if no real effort went into preparing special order meals for her and her family.
Another smile. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll get right on that.”
I kept my eyes trained on the yellow flowers that dotted the white linoleum covering the kitchen floor, wanting to keep my conversation with the lady of the house as short as possible. However, just as I thought I might get away, my name was called.
I blew out a breath before turning with a smile on my face. “Ma’am?”
Low-heeled shoes clicked and clacked against the floor when Miss Daphne closed the small distance between us. Her perfect, blonde curls bobbed gently on her shoulders when she did. There was a coldness that existed behind her gaze whenever we made eye contact, so it didn’t surprise me to see it there now.
“When you finish up in the kitchen, be a dear and press Macy’s yellow dress, would you? You know the one I mean—buttons down the front? Has that cute, little flower embroidered near the shoulder?” A smile spread across her face, parting her pale lips. “She’s got special plans this evening and I want to make sure she looks her best. You don’t mind doing that for me, do you, honey?”
I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or insulted that she always worded these special requests as if I had a choice.
“No, ma’am. Of course not. I’ll do that as soon as breakfast is on the table.”
She looked me over with the slightest hint of distaste behind the gaze, assessing my uniform to make sure nothing was out of place, I guessed—opaque stockings, knee-length, gray dress starched, white apron tied around my waist. Realizing that nothing concerning my attire was out of place, her eyes found mine again.
“And one more thing; I know you like to get home before dark, but… tonight’s real special for Macy,” she reiterated. “You do such lovely things with her hair; I was hoping you could stay a little later and make sure she looks her best?”
Words didn’t come immediately, mostly because I was taken aback by the fact that me riding home in the dark, alone on my bicycle, was of no concern to Miss Daphne as long as her little princess’s hair and dress were perfect.
“N-no, ma’am. That won’t be any trouble,” I stuttered, realizing I’d taken too long to answer.
Her head cocked to the side. “Now that’s what I like to hear. Macy will be real happy when I tell her you’re staying to help her get ready. She’s got a date tonight with Edward and Hazel Peterson’s boy? Jesse?”
When I didn’t answer, Miss Daphne giggled. “Quinn… for Pete’s sake, he’s Mayor Bartell’s grandson!”
Bartell was, of course, a name I was familiar with, but I hadn’t bothered to learn the names of our mayor’s extended family. I nodded once and smiled, being as polite as I could while secretly wishing she’d just leave me to my work.
“Well, at any rate, he’s escorting her out on the town this evening and she’s just tickled pink about it.”
My cheeks hurt form all these pretend smiles.
“But I’m boring you and holding you up from feeding that husband of mine, and we both know how cranky he can get when he’s kept waiting too long.”
With that, Miss Daphne turned to head toward the steps. My eyes were set on the spot where she stood long after she’d gone, wondering how my mother had done this day in and day out since as far back as I could remember. I’d only been here for a little over a year myself, but at twenty-one years old, I imagined I still had many more with the Haywoods ahead of me.
When Momma passed, the Reverend and Miss Daphne insisted that I come work for them just like my mother had. With no other job prospects in the foreseeable future, I accepted the offer. There was, of course, the money I brought in the few nights a week I served at Dixon’s—the barrelhouse my sisters, my brother, and I ran on our family’s property—but that was hardly enough. The wages the Haywoods offered were decent and I already knew this house like the back of my hand, so it only made sense.
Their oldest daughter, Macy, and I were practically the same age, give or take a couple years. We’d somewhat grown up together, although our distinct differences were never far out of sight. Miss Daphne made sure that line was never blurred, made sure I never forgot my place even as a child. To her, and to Macy, I was nothing more than the daughter of ‘the help’.
Two slices of bread popped up from the toaster, lightly browned just like the Reverend liked it. I spread a pallet of butter on each before reaching for the jam. Strawberry—one I made and jarred myself about a month ago. It was his favorite and I hated that I even knew that, hated that I had this family’s likes and dislikes memorized. It was one thing to do for folks out of love, but another to do for them out of obligation. The deep-seated resentment growing in my belly seemed to spread with each passing day.
With a heavy sigh, I dropped not three, but two lumps of sugar into Reverend Haywood’s coffee and situated the tray against my hip so I wouldn’t have trouble opening the door to the study. I knocked first and then waited for his reply.
“Come in,” he answered, and I took another breath before entering. “You’re timing is impeccable. I was just growing impatient smelling your cooking and not having a plate in front of me.” He smiled, but I was fresh out of false niceties and the day had just begun.
Without a word, I hastily made my way back toward the door. If asked why I was rushing off, I could blame it on Miss Daphne requesting that I be mindful not to disturb him. However, I knew there were other reasons I wanted out of this man’s study as quickly as possible.
“You didn’t even give me a chance to thank you,” Reverend Haywood crooned, unfolding his napkin to find the fork there. “Everything looks delicious,” he went on, eyeing his plate as I stood on the opposite side of his desk with my hands clasped before me.
“Thank you,” was all I said in return, waiting to be dismissed.
Reverend Haywood added a dash of pepper to his eggs like always, and then placed the crystal shaker back down on his tray.
Why does he still have me standing here? I had muffins to check on, a pot of tea on the stove, and…
“Your hair looks lovely,” he said, cutting into my thoughts as he bit off the end of a bacon strip. His eyes dragged over me from head to toe, finally coming back to my hair pulled away from my face into a bun.
“Thank you,” I repeated dryly, fidgeting a bit.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear it loose,” he added casually, tasting his eggs now.
I did my best not to check over my shoulder for Miss Daphne, but I knew she’d be down at any moment to make sure I was keeping busy.
“Do you wear it like that at home? Loose, I mean?” the Reverend added.
Why is he asking me all these questions?
“Uh… sometimes, Sir. All depends.”
He nodded and bit a slice of his toast, moaning with delight when the jam finally reached his taste buds. A look of sheer pleasure filled his expression. “This is exquisite. I’m positive it’s your best batch thus far.” He chewed and continued to enjoy his food. “I’d ask you your secret, but I’m sure you’d never tell me,” he added with a laugh.
The sound of floorboards creaking from above made us both aware of someone making their way toward the stairs. Reverend Haywood’s eyes fell on me after leaving the place on the ceiling where either his wife or one of his daughters had just crossed on the second floor. A smile was set on his lips, one that conveyed much more than the usual pleasantries, one that made me want to hurry out of the confines of the office I’d already spent far too much time in. He seemed to sense my uneasiness, but continued to hold my gaze.
“I’m taking up too much of your time,” he commented, perhaps suddenly becoming aware of something I’d realized long before. “Don’t let me keep you from your chores.”
I nodded once and immediately turned to leave without a word, feeling his eyes on me as I walked away with hasty steps. I’d barely made it back to the kitchen when Macy stepped in from the corridor, rubbing her fists against her eyes as she yawned. A mess of blonde hair, the same shade as her mother’s, flew in every direction; a sure sign that she just climbed out of bed before making her way downstairs.
“Something smells delicious,” she sighed, bending to peek through the small window on the oven door. I grabbed a teacup down from the cupboard just in time to see the dissatisfied look on Macy’s face.
“Muffins again?” she frowned. “Ugh… didn’t we just have those on Monday?”
“Yes, but your mother asked me to make them again,” I replied.
Macy shuffled away from the oven and plopped down in a chair at the kitchen table, apparently overcoming the need to complain about the breakfast menu. From the corner of my eye I watched her pick at the ends of her hair aimlessly while she thought.
“Did Mother mention that I need my yellow dress ironed?” she blurted when the question entered her mind.
I nodded and bobbed a teabag in the steaming-hot water. “Yes, ma’am, she did.”
“Good, ‘cause everything has to be perfect for tonight. Everything.”
I stared out the kitchen window at the empty clothesline as the first light of morning cast the yard in a pale, orange glow. “I understand.”
“I was thinking you could do my hair like you did it for the spring festival, you know? Nice, but not too over-the-top?”
I walked the ceramic cup over to her and placed a spoon down beside it. “I can do that.”
My answer seemed to satisfy Macy and she paused just long enough to sip her tea. “Mother told you I had plans, but did she tell you with whom?” Her face lit up again.
“She did. Mayor Bartell’s grandson, I believe. His name escapes me at the moment, though.”
The size of Macy’s smile doubled, letting me know she didn’t mind refreshing my memory. “Jesse Peterson. And yes, his mother is Mayor Bartell’s daughter. His daddy owns the big farm just south of the bridge.”
I didn’t respond because I wasn’t sure what farm she was speaking of.
“Oh, come on, Quinn. You don’t live under a rock. You must’ve seen it. You pass it on your way here every day. And you’re always on that god-awful bike, going slow as molasses in January, so it’s not like you could miss it.”
She took my silence as confirmation that I still couldn’t picture it. She waved a hand dismissively in my direction. “Well, anyway, he’s taking me to that dance at McKinley’s in town.”
I couldn’t have cared less what her plans were with this man, but I listened all the same. Didn’t have much choice.
“His mother had him bring by a few items to my mother the other night and, apparently, he was ‘smitten by me’. Mother’s words, not mine,” Macy added, unable to contain her smile. “She ran into Hazel, that’s Jesse’s mother, and they set the whole thing up.” Macy beamed from across the table as she rattled off the details. “What if we really hit it off, Quinn? What if he’s the one?”
Sweet Lord, please shut this girl up.
We weren’t friends, never had been, which meant she was only bragging, not bouncing her thoughts off me. With any luck, she and this Jesse would fall in love and get married so I’d have one less person to straighten up after.
“Macy Jean Haywood,” Miss Daphne called loudly, breaking her own rule of not disturbing her husband while he prepared his sermon. “What on earth did you do with your white high-heels, child? I can’t find them anywhere!” There was a pause before she added. “Am I the only one who cares how you look when that boy shows up tonight?”
Macy rolled her eyes as I set the pan of muffins on the stovetop to cool. “They’re at the back of the closet, Mother,” she yelled back, rising from her seat to aid in the search. “I swear this woman aims to drive me insane, yelling like that this early in the morning. It’s no wonder Daddy’s hiding out in his study.”
I breathed a sigh of relief when Macy walked away. There was no time to sit here and listen to her pine over this Jesse Peterson, or whoever he was, all day. There was plenty of work to be done around here.
To find out what happens when Quinn and Jesse meet, make sure I have you on my email list before the rest of chapter two and chapter three are released next Friday (Dec. 16th)
❤ Thanks for reading and don’t forget to grab a copy of CHASING MOONLIGHT when it releases January 6th. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments! ❤
Today’s the day! Can’t wait for you all to dig into this book, but for now, please enjoy a sneak peek of the first two chapters. When you’re done, I’d love for you to share, like, and comment! Release day is Sunday, October 9th, so Make sure you’re on my email list to get the notification as soon as it’s live!
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Also, if you like to party and LOVE winning prizes, come hang out with me and some of your favorite authors of bad boy romance at my Facebook party, Bad Boys Do It Better, taking place Thursday, October 6th. JOIN NOW!
❤ Blurb ❤
**Special Notice: This romance is of the darker variety, contains adult themes, and sexually explicit content. The hero is flawed and dirty. Consider yourself warned**
Insomniac. Narcissist. Sex addict.
…the only description sex therapist, Vanessa Ferris, was given of her newest patient, a fellow psychologist, Dr. Zander Hale.
From the moment he entered her office, she knew he’d be trouble—possibly the good kind. What she wasn’t prepared for was how he’d blindside her; how he would challenge everything she thought she knew about her profession, about herself.
There are certain lines a doctor is warned never to cross with their patients, but she didn’t listen.
Now, they’re both addicted.
One hit was all it took.
***AUTHOR NOTE: “OVERDOSE” is a full-length standalone, bursting at the seams with sexual heat, thanks to one smoking hot bad-boy and his feisty, no nonsense therapist. Expect a dark tale of erotic romance with no cliffhanger. This story is not for the faint of heart and is definitely intended for readers 18 and older.
❤ Chapter One ❤
“Your messages, Dr. Ferris.”
Vanessa flashed her secretary, Greta, the best smile she could muster this early in the morning and accepted the stack of pink memos. After uttering a quick, “Thank you,” she continued on toward her office at the end of the dimly lit hallway—a hallway with walls made of Tuscan fieldstone. The blend of ash and coal tones were too dark in her opinion, but there hadn’t been much consideration for her preferences when the décor was chosen. This practice was technically half hers, but these dark walls served as yet another reminder of how little that mattered.
She had no voice in this partnership.
During the half hour before her first appointment, she intended to return a few calls and finish the still-warm cup of coffee in her hand. Passing by Simon’s door, the sound of his and a patient’s muffled voices could be heard inside. It was likely this early session had been Vanessa’s saving grace; the only reason Simon wasn’t waiting at her desk already this morning. That was his latest ploy and she hated it. Since he wasn’t getting much conversation from her outside the office, he resorted to cornering her inside the building where he knew she’d be civil.
Now that the divorce proceedings had begun, all she offered her soon-to-be ex was one word answers and even those were few and far between. It was bad enough they were still linked as business partners by their joint practice. In her eyes, that was enough; he didn’t deserve her time off the clock, too.
Not after all he’d done.
Thumbing through the messages again as she settled into her seat, Vanessa zeroed in on one from a former colleague, Dr. James Keiser—or, Jim, as she was accustomed to calling him. Generally speaking, he only called when an interesting case presented itself, one he thought she’d be better equipped to handle. Tapping a pen on the edge of her desk, she contemplated.
Who would it be this time?
His referrals were always so colorful; clients who presented a welcomed challenge.
“Jim? Hey, it’s Vanessa. Looks like you called after I left the office yesterday?”
When he hesitated, she sat back in her seat and prepared herself, swallowing down a sip of coffee while she held the phone.
“As a matter of fact, I did,” came a gruff voice on the other end of the line. “I know you’re busy, as am I, so I’ll cut right to the chase. How’s your patient roster looking these days? I think I may have someone who could benefit from seeing you.”
Vanessa shrugged to herself and calculated. “Full enough, but there’s always room for more,” she answered. Now wasn’t the time to turn down new patients; not with her plans to branch off from Simon in the near future. “Who do you have for me?”
“Male. Thirty-five years old. Insomniac, possible narcissistic personality disorder—”
“That’s all very interesting, but how about you get to the good part,” she cut in, smirking at Jim’s tendency to tiptoe around his point. “Why’re you sending him my way?” she asked pointedly. “Nothing you’ve mentioned thus far warrants sex therapy.”
“Well, in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, the patient also suffers from hypersexual disorder—your area of expertise, not mine,” he finally added.
A sex addict; nothing Vanessa hadn’t dealt with before. She nodded to herself thinking this case would likely be routine. “Okay. That sounds simple enough. Can you tell me more?”
Jim hesitated again and Vanessa’s brow lifted as intrigue set in. “Actually… I’d like for you to delve into this one on your own. And the sooner you can avail yourself, the better.”
Resting both elbows on her desk, she frowned. Why the rush?
“By any chance, do you have an opening today?” Jim’s persistence definitely piqued her interest.
She checked her schedule. “I can fit him in at one.”
“Perfect. I’ll send him over.”
When the call ended, Vanessa sat back and drafted a mental list of reasons her former colleague could’ve been so eager to get this patient in to see her. Glancing at the clock, she dismissed the thoughts and opened the drawer that held her pen and notepad. Her first appointment would begin soon.
Within ten minutes, Greta buzzed the intercom. “Your nine o’clock is here.”
“Thanks. Send her in, please.”
Perched in her chocolate-colored, leather armchair, Vanessa stared at the blank sheet of paper and waited for Jasmine Emerson to enter. The three short knocks at the door carried an air of familiarity now after seven months of weekly sessions.
Jasmine stepped inside and took a seat. Pushing pale, blonde hair behind her shoulders, she gave a tight smile. Vanessa returned the gesture and assessed her patient’s posture and overall mood before speaking.
“Good morning, Jasmine.”
A distracted, “Morning, Dr. Ferris,” was returned. The heavy, southern drawl she spoke with slowed the pace of her words in a way Vanessa found charming. It wasn’t a common accent to hear in Denver, which made it even more pleasant.
Vanessa glanced down at her notes from the previous session. “So… how’d your little homework experiment turn out? Were you successful?”
Jasmine sighed, her expression speaking volumes. “No, not exactly. I mean, Drew and I tried what you said, but he was a little uncomfortable with the idea of me… you know… touching myself. According to him, masturbation isn’t natural for a woman.”
Vanessa had heard both men and women express this same notion—that self-gratification for a man is perfectly acceptable, but for a woman? Completely ‘unladylike’. If there was any truth to that theory, she was about as unladylike as they came, especially lately.
Clearing her throat, she pushed her personal issues to the back of her mind and focused on Jasmine.
“It’s not uncommon for men to have these views. Did you try talking to Drew about why he feels this way?”
Jasmine nodded, blinking blue eyes. “A little, but he wouldn’t really give me a straight answer. I guess the idea of it just freaked him out.” She sighed and slumped against the back of the couch.
“What’s on your mind?” Vanessa asked, seeing clear signs of frustration on her patient’s face and in her body language.
“Honestly? Sex. Sex is on my mind,” Jasmine admitted, laughing a little, but then her smile faded, giving way to the sadness Vanessa had grown accustomed to seeing her bear.
“I’m at my wits end,” she went on. “It’s been eighteen long months since my husband’s been a… a real husband to me and I’m losing hope that it’ll ever change. I suppose this would all be at least tolerable if the man believed in… you know… oral stimulation,” she added in a hushed tone, “but even that’s off the table. I shared with you that our families were deeply religious, but his upbringing was clearly stricter than mine. The man still believes anything other than plain, vanilla missionary is a sin.” There was a vacant look behind Jasmine’s eyes when she paused. “Lately… I’ve even considered filing for divorce.”
Hearing the word ‘divorce’ made Vanessa shudder. As someone currently going through that hell, she wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
“It’s common for soldiers with PTSD to suffer from prolonged impotence, Jasmine. No, not all of them manifest symptoms in the same way, but what your husband’s experiencing is actually quite normal.”
“Maybe. But what I’m going through isn’t normal. I find myself watching other men like a predator, Dr. Ferris. The pizza guy. My son’s high school friends—the legal ones,” she clarified. “The mailman.”
Vanessa cleared her throat again, but didn’t comment.
“Dr. Ferris, I’m not the type of woman to run around on her man, but this is my reality. It’s so… unnatural,” Jasmine added, not bothering to hide her frustration.
“Hold on to that feeling. Now tell me what ‘unnatural’ means? What exactly are you experiencing, feeling, when you say that?”
Jasmine toiled over Vanessa’s question for a moment. “I feel… vulnerable, like cheating is a very real possibility. And after twenty years of marriage, this is new to me. Drew and I went from four, five times a week to nothing. It’s hard to just turn off those feelings.”
“How did you deal with the sexual depravation while Drew was deployed? Is it possible to draw on those methods again?”
Jasmine sighed. “When he was away, I waited. The longest he was ever gone was six months, so I dealt with it. But we’re not talking six months; we’re at eighteen and counting.”
These sessions would’ve been so much more productive if Drew would give in and come to therapy with his wife. That would give Vanessa a chance to analyze his deep rooted sexual reservations and maybe offer some help. But for now, all she had to go on were Jasmine’s observations and assumptions.
She scribbled a few notes on her notepad and then met Jasmine’s gaze again.
“Do you truly believe you’d be happier being separated from your husband?” Vanessa asked, making sure she conveyed no judgment in her tone.
Jasmine shifted in her seat, becoming even more visibly flustered. “Yes and no.”
Jasmine shrugged her shoulders. “That part should be obvious.” Vanessa didn’t say anything, so her patient elaborated. “Because if I was… if I wasn’t married anymore, I could have sex with other men without feeling guilty.” She lowered her head when shame washed over her for having admitted such a thing.
“And why ‘no’?” Vanessa asked.
“Because I love my husband, Dr. Ferris. Despite what you may think, if I could, I wouldn’t be with anyone else for the rest of my life.”
Vanessa could hear the emotion heavy in her patient’s voice. “I’m not judging you, Jasmine.”
“Maybe not out loud, but you have to be thinking what a terrible person I am. Hell… I’d judge me, too, if it wasn’t my situation. I’m a married woman contemplating leaving her husband—the loyal war hero—just to get my itch scratched.” Jasmine seemed to get lost inside her head for a moment. “I don’t want to leave him, I… I just don’t know what else to do.”
Vanessa’s thoughts drifted to her own situation as she listened to Jasmine voice her frustrations. She had her own hurt to bear, hurt that ran deep. Making the decision to leave Simon wasn’t an easy one, but it felt like the only option. Their trust, their bond, had been severed. No amount of time or effort could mend that. When she came out of her thoughts, she tuned in to Jasmine’s voice again.
“I just want sex. Like… a lot of it. Now. Does that make me a bad person?”
“No,” Vanessa replied. “It makes you human.”
Jasmine sighed and sank deeper into the couch. Vanessa made a few more notes and then asked what goal Jasmine wanted to set for her next session.
She blew out a breath and gave her answer some thought, posing it as a question when she finally spoke. “I could try masturbating for Drew again? See if I can get him to loosen up a bit?”
“Are you comfortable with that?” Vanessa asked.
“I mean… I am. It’s Drew who can’t handle it. Maybe if we talk about it first, I can figure out what his issue is with it.” As she stood, she sighed heavily like before. “At this point, I almost don’t even care what he thinks. He’s lucky I haven’t resorted to dry-humping random household objects just to get off.”
Vanessa held in a laugh and lowered her gaze to her paper.
“Same time next week?” Jasmine asked.
“Your slot should be open. Just double-check with Greta on your way out.”
Jasmine nodded politely and then shut the door behind her.
Alone at last.
Each session was draining in its own way. Some patients were needier than others—looking for Vanessa to iron out all of their problems in one half-hour or hour-long session. Others left her feeling ineffective, which kept her on a constant search for new ways to approach their cases. Each one was like its own individual marathon. Some patients just wanted a hand to hold when they crossed the finish line; others wanted to sit on the sidelines and watch Vanessa run the distance all on her own. She soon came to realize that being a psychologist was tiring, thankless work.
The sound of a knock on the door startled her. “Come in.”
She watched as Simon peered around the door before entering and instantly regretted not asking who it was the second she laid eyes on him. That smug face of his made her sick to her stomach. He gave a half smile behind a gold-toned beard, one that had become equal parts gray over the last decade.
“Can I help you?” she asked in a clipped tone, hating that he continued to push like this.
Didn’t she deserve space?
Didn’t he owe her that after everything?
She was almost positive Simon had no clue just how deep this newfound hatred for him ran.
He took in the sight of her sitting in her chair, his soon-to-be ex-wife, rocking the hell out of a navy blue power-suit. When he failed to respond to her previous question, Vanessa stared, observing him right back as he ogled her.
Ignorant to Vanessa’s mounting intolerance, Simon’s gaze came to rest on her thighs—smooth, tight, the shade of a rich, expensive blend of coffee with just a small drop of cream. A memory flashed in his head, a vision of those same legs spread across his desk just after office hours in the Psych Building.
Their story began more than a decade ago, back when he was a prominent Psychology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Vanessa was nothing more to him than an eager student who couldn’t outrun his charm. He was nearly twenty-years her senior, but the age difference was rarely felt. He had no trouble keeping up with her insatiable sexual appetite then or now.
Damn… he missed those days, when he was still allowed to touch her. After only one night with him, he had her thoroughly hooked, and she had him wrapped around her dainty finger.
But now… all he had to go on was the memory of what was.
From the start of their relationship, sex had been a major part of the connection. In fact, they hadn’t even gone on an actual date until Vanessa graduated with her Master’s degree. Meaning, for an entire year, commencing with the first day he saw her sitting in the front row of his lecture hall, the relationship was strictly sexual. Sure there was conversation afterward, but it wasn’t so much the intellectual or emotional bond that made them fall in love; it was the physical.
His eyes continued to wander as nostalgia reminded him of all he’d had and lost. He always loved her legs, especially when she had on a sleek pair of high heels like she did now. However, all he was allowed to do these days was look. Touching her was out of the question.
Six months had passed since Vanessa found pale-pink lipstick on the collar of a shirt he’d worn. It didn’t matter that he’d take all the cheating back if he could. To Vanessa, all that mattered was that her husband of nine years had been unfaithful… and he couldn’t blame her for that.
Feeling the cold hands of guilt inching their way up his back, Simon cleared his throat and stepped closer, running a hand through his blond and gray-streaked hair.
Vanessa continued to stare, repeating the phrase, “Can I help you?”
Simon initially thought to have a seat on the couch, but he knew he wasn’t welcome. That feeling should’ve been enough to keep him away altogether, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t fathom the idea of just letting his wife go. In his mind, regardless of how many offenses he committed, she would always belong to him.
“Did you uh… did you get my boy off to school all right this morning?” he asked, trying like hell to sound confident. It wasn’t like he didn’t have the right to inquire about their son, but damn if she didn’t make him feel like he didn’t. That icy glare of hers…
Blinking dark lashes Simon’s way, Vanessa sighed. “Don’t I always?”
Simon nodded and gave a tight smile, knowing his face had become red when it heated. Yes, he really did want to hear about his son, but that wasn’t the only reason he’d come to Vanessa’s office. He hated that, soon, the paperwork would all be final and he’d lose her for good. It was hard enough not getting to go home to her every night, but the idea of her no longer being his, the idea of her moving on one day… it was almost too much to handle. He loved her. She had to know that despite his actions; had to feel that.
In a fit of pure desperation, he spoke without giving much thought to what he might say. All he knew was that he had to say something. Time was running out. According to his lawyer, in a matter of weeks, maybe only two, everything would be finalized and he will have officially lost one of the two most important people in his life.
If only he’d been able to show her that. If only he’d been a better husband, a better man.
The words, “Let me take you to dinner this weekend,” kind of fell at Vanessa’s feet when they tumbled from Simon’s mouth. The statement came out forced and clumsy, but he didn’t care. For her, he’d be awkward and vulnerable, two things he’d never been, but he’d do whatever it took to win his wife back.
“We can call a babysitter for Ryan… or, or even take him with us if that’s what you want. I don’t care,” he went on. “Just… please.” He paused to evaluate Vanessa’s blank expression.
When she puffed a short sigh and slid her glasses off, his gaze was trained on her dark-brown eyes. “Simon… I don’t know how much clearer I can make this.”
“Dammit, Nessa! Don’t shut me out!” He hadn’t meant to get upset, but he knew she was getting ready to reject this offer just like she had all the ones before it.
Weren’t they worth some sort of fight?
He felt like she’d been so dismissive about this whole thing. Granted, what he’d done was wrong, but… he was never given a chance to explain himself; was never given a chance to seek the help he knew he needed to resolve his… issues.
Issues he kept to himself.
Issues he knew could potentially push Vanessa even further away.
She’d cut him off with no real dialogue. Surely, someone with her expertise should’ve understood there was more to the story, he thought. His infidelity was just the tip of the iceberg.
That night was still so clear in his head. The second he walked through the door there wasn’t a question in his mind… she knew. At the time, he had no idea how she figured it out, but she knew. He could tell by the brokenness in her eyes. As soon as he stepped foot inside their bedroom, Vanessa came at him full-force, throwing her fists until he was able to restrain her. Through a blur of profanity and tears, she laid it all out on the table—what she found, how it made her feel, and what she wanted to happen next… she wanted him gone.
That was the end of it.
Simon had never been given the opportunity to tell her his side and that made him feel like he’d explode.
Vanessa stared after his outburst, trying to remember the last time Simon had raised his voice at her. She couldn’t recall, but knew it’d been years. She couldn’t understand why he’d even think she would accept such an invitation. Had she given him the idea that there was room to reconcile? No, she was sure she hadn’t. Yet and still, he was bold enough to ask.
“I think you should leave my office,” she said calmly, feeling the familiar sting of tears in the corners of her eyes. She could not and would not do this here, not in their place of business. Hell! She didn’t want to do it anywhere. There was nothing to talk about, nothing left of their relationship to salvage.
Simon read her mind, or read her face, rather.
The sound of Greta’s voice over the intercom broke the silence. “Your next appointment’s in, Dr. Ferris. Should I send her in?”
A chill passed between Vanessa and Simon as they stared at one another, frustrated for two very different reasons.
“Sure,” Vanessa replied flatly.
Simon moved toward the door, feeling his back and shoulders tense after the fruitless exchange with his wife. She’d always been stubborn, but once upon a time he loved that about her. However, it was different when that stubbornness was aimed at him, serving the express purpose of keeping him out of her life.
Now, more than ever, he felt that their end was inevitable.
❤ Chapter Two ❤
“Your one o’clock, Dr. Ferris.”
Vanessa sighed heavily, second-guessing her decision to do this favor for her former colleague.
“Thanks, Greta. Send him in.”
While she waited, she tugged the hem of her skirt down over her crossed legs.
The door opened silently, minus the usual courtesy knock she expected. Watching from her seat, she observed her newest patient as he stepped into her office and surveyed the room, tucking a black, motorcycle helmet beneath his arm.
The first thought that came to her mind was how terribly attractive he was, like the kind of attractive that could easily make a woman do things she wouldn’t otherwise; the kind of attractive that bred trouble. This thought reminded her of the reason Jim had sent him her way—sex addiction. If she had to guess, his good looks made finding women to satisfy his urges pretty damn easy.
The distance between them disappeared as the beautiful stranger stepped closer. Thick, dark hair on the crown of his head was neatly styled while the sides were shaven low. Vanessa stood and held in a breath as she continued to stare into eyes a peculiar shade of golden-brown. They sized her up slowly. The flecked orbs of his pupils seemed to burn brighter when he met her gaze and a dim smile touched his lips—damp as if he’d just moistened them with his tongue before crossing the threshold.
The fragrance he wore was subtle enough that it didn’t precede him. Instead, the scent came as sort of an afterthought once the two stood face to face. There was a perfect measure of sweetness and spice that made Vanessa breathe more deeply than what felt natural; drawing it in, savoring it, savoring him. She caught herself on the brink of getting carried away and drove the temporary fog from her thoughts.
In usual fashion, she greeted the gentleman with a smile just like she did all her other patients.
“Hello, I’m Dr. Vanessa Ferris,” she said, extending a hand.
“Zander Hale. Pleasure meeting you,” he said, taking Vanessa’s hand in his. Her eyes flickered at the sound of a heavy, British accent.
That was unexpected.
Motioning for Zander to have a seat on the burgundy couch across from her, Vanessa sank down into her own chair again, cross-legged just like before he entered. She skimmed the few details Dr. Keiser had shared—insomniac, possible narcissistic personality disorder, sex addiction. Gazing up, she found Zander already watching with inquisitive eyes as he eased his arms from the dark, leather riding jacket that clung to his frame.
Vanessa took a breath and did her best not to stare.
“I’d like to get to know you. Can you tell me a few things about yourself, Mr. Hale?”
“Zander,” he corrected. “And where exactly would you like me to start? Your request is a bit broad.” He stared at Vanessa expectantly, waiting for a more specific question.
She looked down at her mostly blank notepad and away from Zander’s intensity. “Well… your accent tells me you’re not from the States. Are you from England?”
“Yes. Beckenham, South London, to be more specific.”
When her patient fell silent again, Vanessa nodded. “Okay. What about family? Wife? Children? Parents or siblings close by?”
Zander perched an elbow on the arm of the couch and cocked his head. “My mother is right where I left her. I have a brother. Younger. He moved here with me a decade ago. And no wife. No kids.”
“It’s interesting that you brought your brother here with you. Did he follow you for a reason?”
“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” Zander shot back, expressionless.
Vanessa took a shallow breath. No stranger to difficult patients, she was unmoved by Zander’s callousness.
“Well, today’s session is about me getting to know you.”
“That hardly seems fair,” he said with a smirk. “Sounds rather one-sided, wouldn’t you say? I’m just supposed to let you inside my head; let you poke around a bit, and then what? You feed me your ‘expert’ diagnosis after leeching off my bank account for a few years?” he asked.
“Is that your perception of therapy?” Vanessa asked calmly.
“Why’s that?” She jotted down a note while waiting.
“Because that’s precisely the reason I chose the profession myself.”
Her pen stopped and she looked up into Zander’s intense gaze. “You’re a psychologist,” she reiterated.
He answered with a slow smile. “Does that scare you?”
“Why would that scare me? Your profession has very little to do with your treatment.”
He laughed cynically. “It has everything to do with it, actually.” He leaned forward and rested both elbows on his knees, closing the distance between himself and Vanessa just a bit. He liked to see a woman’s eyes dilate when he entered into that invisible bubble of personal space; the one that sets off all types of physiological alarms within the body when breached.
“Aren’t you the least bit interested in knowing what sort of sick, maniacal bastard has written textbooks on psychosis, neurosis, and erotomania, but can’t cure his own damn issues?” He laughed again. “I mean… aren’t you a little curious about what’s going on inside this head of mine?”
Vanessa remained still and void of expression after Zander’s outburst.
He held her cold gaze and couldn’t resist the urge to smile again as he realized something; his new doctor wasn’t easily rattled.
He liked that.
“I tell you what. Let’s cut to the chase. Let’s leave family out of it and just… dig right in, shall we?” he said, tapping a finger to his temple.
Vanessa nodded. “All right, you talk. I’ll listen.” If she was going to handle this case, she had to keep the upper hand.
Zander’s smile faded as he leaned his back against the couch, letting his eyes drag up the length of Vanessa’s brown legs. She cleared her throat, but didn’t look away from him.
“What’d the doc tell you I was in for?” Zander finally asked.
“The description I got was vague, so let’s just assume I know nothing.”
“Fair enough. To simplify things, I like sex. Need… sex,” he clarified.
Vanessa leaned her head to the side. “That doesn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary. Everyone’s sex drive is different. What makes yours qualify as a problem?”
The corners of Zander’s mouth lifted. He detected undertones of a challenge in Vanessa’s response.
“How often would you say you think about sex in a day?” she asked more pointedly.
She smiled, glancing down at the term ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ written on the sheet of paper. “I’m sure that’s an exaggeration.”
Zander remained stone-faced, prepared to prove his point. “Since entering your office, roughly…” he paused to look down at his watch, “…oh, six minutes ago, I’ve already imagined you sucking my cock from beneath your desk, fantasized about bending you over that table,” he said, pointing toward the mahogany antique to his right without breaking eye contact. “And, pardon my candor, but I’m currently fighting the urge to drop to my knees for a taste of you as we speak.”
While Vanessa sat still as a statue, Zander invaded that delicate boundary of space again before repeating the one word that summed it all up:
She tried to steady her breathing while making another note. Zander turned to gaze out the window and Vanessa took a moment to watch him while his attention was elsewhere. His demeanor had shifted tremendously since he walked in. When the topic transitioned to sex, he became increasingly aggressive. Even now, his leg was shaking.
“How long have you suffered from—”
“Decades,” he answered, cutting her off. “Since I was fourteen, fifteen maybe.”
“You had your first sexual experience at fourteen?”
“Is that strange?”
Vanessa ignored the question, assuming it was rhetorical anyway. “What made you decide to seek help now?”
Zander let his eyes shift from the window, to Vanessa’s face again. “In short? These… urges, if you will, are a bit difficult to control. And judging by the myriad of credentials framed on that back wall,” he added, pointing, “I’m sure you can imagine how a condition such as this would eventually become an issue.”
Vanessa eased her glasses up from the tip of her nose and back into their rightful position. “How so?”
The question visibly annoyed her patient, but she confidently maintained eye contact while waiting for further explanation.
A sharp breath puffed from Zander’s lips. “Professionally. Romantically. Socially. What else would you like me to say?”
Vanessa again noted his hostility. He was seething in his seat while she stared on, indifferent to his unprovoked outburst.
“Sex brings about a plethora of reactions—physical, emotional, psychological—what is it that sex makes you feel?”
The silence that filled the air was unforeseen. She expected Zander to have a response readily available. As a psychologist himself, she assumed this was something he’d thought of before.
“Physically, it’s about the heat.”
Not what she expected to hear. “Tell me more.”
Zander shrugged and stared at the ceiling while he explained. “Body heat—that simple, and yet very significant, indicator that you’re not alone.”
“Does being alone—”
“Scare me?” he cut in. “No, but I don’t think any of us would choose it over the alternative.”
Inwardly, Vanessa agreed with Zander’s logic. “Okay… is that all for the physical?”
His eyes flickered a little before he gave way to a smile. “Really? You’re going make me say it?”
The corner of Vanessa’s mouth turned up, too. “We’re both adults, professionals. I’m only trying to gain an understanding of where this addiction stems from.”
Still smirking, Zander nodded and gave her the answer she sought. “Suit yourself. Physically? I love that first plunge—that initial burst of wet heat enveloping my cock.” He smiled bigger just thinking about it. “Drives me absolutely mad.”
Vanessa took a deep breath and squeezed her thighs together. She’d gone too long without sex—with someone other than herself, anyway—to listen to such explicit details without it affecting her. Although she figured Zander was none-the-wiser, she felt embarrassed by her body’s very human reaction to his words all the same.
Her cheeks blazed hot. When the corner of his mouth turned up into a smile, she held her breath.
“Do you think the feeling is equally as intense for women as it is for men? Sex, I mean?” he asked out the blue. “I’ve always wondered that.”
Vanessa shifted in her seat. “I can’t answer that.”
“Because it would be inappropriate.”
Zander chuckled, nodding as he analyzed Vanessa’s statement. “So… it’s okay for you to ask me intimate questions, but I can’t do the same?”
She nodded. “That’s the nature of the doctor/patient relationship. You know that. You’re a professional.”
“Precisely my point. My occupation blurs those lines a little, doesn’t it? We’re not simply doctor and patient; we’re equals, two well-seasoned professionals exploring the depths of my sub-conscious… together. I just think this would be far more interesting if you stepped out of the role of bartender and pulled up a stool on this side of the bar for a change. Perhaps there’s even an issue or two rolling around inside that head of yours, just waiting for someone like me to pluck it from the shadows.”
Vanessa felt a strong need to shift the conversation back to Zander. She ignored his reasoning and asked, “Does it make you uncomfortable to share with me?”
He stared in silence.
“You don’t want to continue?” she asked.
“Pardon me if this offends you in some way,” he cut in, ignoring her inquiry, “but I find you… incredibly attractive. Almost to the point of it being a distraction.”
She cleared her throat, but never missed a beat otherwise. “Thank you, but we have to stay on topic. Let’s talk about the emotions you attach to sex.”
Her quick, verbal maneuver made Zander smile. He’d cooperate for now. “Sex makes me feel… centered.”
“Yes. Specifically, the moment I ejaculate—in a woman, on her… doesn’t much matter where.” He paused to smile again. “Even when I masturbate. Granted, the satisfaction isn’t quite as fulfilling, but it holds me over until I find another willing victim.”
Zander watched Vanessa squirm at the mere mention of him coming. He was pretty sure she thought he hadn’t noticed, but he did. Clearly, she’d never been in the presence of a man like him. Not much went unobserved. For instance, she’d licked her lips approximately four times in the last sixty seconds. Also, she’d crossed and uncrossed her legs every other minute since he entered her office—one of many tell-tale signs of sexual frustration in women. Zander felt a primal instinct kick in, resonating from deep within his chest.
“Victims? That’s how you view the women you sleep with?” Vanessa asked, cutting into his thoughts.
He shrugged. “No. Just a clever play on words. I’m actually very sure I’ve left each and every one of my customers feeling quite satisfied.”
“Now they’re customers,” she said flatly. “So you consider sex a service?”
Zander laughed and draped his arm casually over the back of the couch, watching as Vanessa pushed her long, dark hair behind her shoulder. It was thick and he imagined it to be very soft to the touch. He envisioned himself raking his fingers through it when he spoke again.
“Do you always take everything so literally? Perhaps I should’ve warned you of my perpetual sarcasm, too, when I introduced myself. Is there a treatment for that?”
When Vanessa didn’t respond, or smile for that matter, Zander shook his head. With a sigh, he answered, “No, Dr. Ferris… sex is not a service.”
She wrote in her notepad instead of speaking. While he stared, it was like a switch flipped within him. All of a sudden, Zander regained the ability to see through the smoky haze of lust that overtakes him at inopportune times such as this. He was like a man possessed, but every now and again, the true Zander Hale was able to break through and redirect his own path.
When Vanessa looked up again, she tried to analyze the expression on Zander’s face.
He’d lost himself in her dark eyes, memorizing their exact shade in contrast to her chestnut-brown skin. Again, he felt conflicted.
While she waited for him to speak, she counted her breaths to keep them steady. The way he stared at her, into her, it was unnerving. She couldn’t let someone like him know her defenses were down; couldn’t let him know she was experiencing the longest sexual drought of her life thanks to the untimely demise of her marriage.
“I’m not entirely sure this arrangement is going to work out,” Zander finally blurted, the abruptness of the statement catching Vanessa by surprise.
She frowned a little. “And why is that?”
His eyes dropped to her breasts, watching as they rose and fell with each intake of air. The charm to her gold necklace rested in her cleavage and he forced himself to look up at her face again. However, this helped very little. Now, there were her full lips to fixate on, still moist from that incessant licking she’d been torturing him with. He turned away. It was all he could do to clear his thoughts.
“Because,” he replied, “I just have a feeling our sessions will be very counterproductive to my treatment. And, contrary to what you’ve observed here today, I do actually want to be cured.”
“Well, for starters,” Vanessa interjected, “I think ‘cured’ is the wrong word. That would imply there’s something wrong with you.”
Zander laughed cynically. “Wouldn’t you say that there is, in fact, something very wrong with me, Dr. Ferris?”
Vanessa shook her head. “No, Zander, I wouldn’t. There’re varying degrees of normal. Some of us are extreme in areas where others aren’t. You just so happen to be extremely sexual. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.”
She crossed her legs again and his heart raced.
Vanessa noticed him staring and cleared her throat to regain his attention.
“Now, I can’t force you to return next week, but I’ll schedule you anyway. Hopefully, you’ll go home and think about it, see that our session today did at least a little good, and you’ll be back here to see me next week.” She flashed a confident smile and Zander actually felt guilty that she had so much confidence in him.
“As you wish,” he breathed, standing to his feet.
Vanessa stood, too. “It was very nice meeting you.”
Zander nodded, but deep down he knew he should end things here, leave this building, and forget that it, or Dr. Ferris, even existed. However, it was a little late for that. She’d already left a lasting impression.
Vanessa extended her hand to shake his. “I’m sure that, if you give this a chance, you’ll be very happy you did.”
Reluctantly, Zander returned the gesture and held Vanessa’s gaze, feeling her soft, supple skin against his palm.
“I agree,” he replied, thinking to himself, ‘…But will you be happy I did?’
(My Muse for Dr. Zander Hale: Actor, Joseph Morgan)
Wanna know what happens next? Make sure you add yourself to my email list before chapter three is delivered the morning of Friday, September 16th 😀 Just click here!
❤ The Official Trailer ❤
Add OVERDOSE on Goodreads today, by simply clicking HERE 😀
Heyyyy!! I’ve got something new being released August 6th!
If you read my contemporary, interracial romance, “Again for the First Time“, you were already introduced to Matt and Brooklyn in that story. However, if you DIDN’T read the first book to see how they met… it doesn’t matter LOL. “Matt and Brooklyn” is a full-length standalone within the series so they definitely don’t have to be read in any particular order.
She tells herself he’s just a friend, but in her heart he’s so much more…
Matteo Valente is an up-and-coming filmmaker whose award-winning documentary put him on the map two short years ago. It was that very documentary that also led him to the beautiful, intriguingly elusive Brooklyn James. From the moment he laid eyes on her through the lens of his camera, he couldn’t shake the feeling that their meeting was no mistake. Their connection was instant, but Brook has been hell-bent on keeping him in the dreaded “friend zone” while she chases after her own dream.
When Matt pays a surprise visit to Brook the day she graduates with her master’s degree, she is forced to take a second look. “Come with me” were not the words she expected to hear as Matt prepared to leave town again. The invitation to spend a week in L.A. left her breathless, but there were so many reasons to turn him down; so many scenarios that could ruin their close friendship, but… at the risk of regretting it later… she said yes.
“Matt & Brooklyn” is the second STANDALONE in the “Again for the First Time” family saga.
If you’d like to receive the first two chapters of the book to sample this coming Thursday, June 25th, subscribe to my newsletter before it’s too late! (Go ahead… don’t be scared. I promise not to spam you lol) While you’re at it, feel free to check out my inspiration board on Pinterest and add “Matt & Brooklyn” on Goodreads today! Also, if you didn’t already read “Again for the First Time”, check out the trailer here 😀
Tags: 2015 new release, AA literary fiction, AA romance, AA woman's fiction, African-American author, Amazon, Author, books, bwwm, friends to lovers, interracial couple, interracial dating, Interracial Romance, multicultural, Writer
Hey! I decided to do things a little differently with my upcoming release, “Again for the First Time”. I’ve got ARCS! Never done them before, but I’ll try anything once LOL. The sign up sheet for ARCs (Advance Reader/Review Copies) is right here and it’s pretty simple, just a few painless questions to answer 😀 These copies will be distributed by January 12th in exchange for an honest review to be posted on Amazon by no later than February 11th.
In the meantime, here’s a teaser and a few other sneak peeks into Luke and Lissette’s world ❤ Enjoy!
XOXO – Raven
Here’s the trailer for the new book! Only five more weeks until release day and there’s still time to sign up for my newsletter for those interested in receiving the first chapter in the coming days 🙂
I’ll share the blurb again for anyone who may have missed it, then enjoy the trailer ❤
“Marry me” were the last words Luke thought he’d say to a perfect stranger. Then again, Lissette never dreamed she’d actually say “yes”. But she did… The odds are against them from the start of their less than conventional marriage, but the couple quickly realizes that their newfound love is absolutely worth the risk.
Good morning !!!! 😀 If you’re interested in checking out the first chapter (or two… or maybe three, not sure lol) of “Again for the First Time”, I’ll be giving all of my newsletter subscribers a sneak peek in the coming days! If you haven’t subscribed yet, there’s still time! It’s simple; just click here, fill out the short form (name and email address), then you’re done! Feel free to share this. The more the merrier 🙂 Have a great one!! ❤
Tags: 2015 new release, aa author, AA romance, African American Romance, African-American author, Again for the First Time, Author, bwwm, interracial couple, interracial dating, Interracial Romance, New Adult, new release, Writer
With release day fast approaching, my co-author, Victoria H. Smith, and I decided to share the entire first chapter of our upcoming release, ONLY LOVE, available now for pre-order on Amazon.
~ Aubrey ~
He’s not what I expected. He’s just… so much more than I imagined he’d be. Cops around here aren’t exactly honorable, and yet, I found myself trusting the one in my own backyard, quite literally the floor above me. Still, my instincts have been wrong before. My heart tells me to let him in completely, to love him completely.
But I learned to stop following my heart a long time ago.
~ Adam ~
She’s locked up tight and won’t let go. A single mother, she’s bound by the struggles she hides from the world around her. These trials do nothing but burden her, test her in the worst possible way.
But I have struggles of my own, secrets, and with their depth, they don’t just test me. They consume me and have the capability of breaking me completely, of breaking us completely.
~ Aubrey & Adam ~
Only love will help us. Only love will save us.
The heavy wooden door slammed against the frame instead of latching. Like everything else in the building, it was broken and probably would be for several months—maybe even longer. Repositioning the eight grocery bags in my hands, I prepared my mind to climb four flights of stairs, because, you guessed it, the elevator was broken, too.
Over the loud rumble of bass streaming from apartment 4A, and over the blaring television in 4C, I heard my daughter’s shrill cry as soon as I reached our hallway. That sound, her wailing like she was in a horror movie, had been my soundtrack for the past two weeks—she started teething again.
I fumbled with the keys, wanting nothing more than to get inside and pass out across my bed, but of course that wasn’t the way the evening would go. As if mocking me, my keys slipped from my numb fingers, which were awkwardly locked around the handles of my grocery bags. A long, frustrated sigh hissed from between my lips, and I crouched down to scoop them up, but halted when a deep, unfamiliar voice called out from behind me.
“Hang on. Let me get those for you.”
An arm covered in a thin layer of dark hair stretched to the floor and retrieved my fallen keys, gently placing them in my hand again. After accepting, I rested my eyes on the last person in this entire building I’d ever expect to help me—the cop who’d been assigned to live in our building to “babysit” my neighbors and myself. Rumor had it that he was supposed to be here to make us feel safer, but the city wasn’t fooling us. He was here to spy and report back. A snitch, if you will.
Giving him the side-eye, I looked him over. I’d seen him before, but had never allowed myself to really look at him until now, making this the first time I’d acknowledged he was attractive. And he definitely was. Being so close, there were a number of things I was able to take in for the first time—how blue his eyes were, his height, and the size of his arms. They were toned and defined just like the rest of his physique from what I could see through the material of his t-shirt and jeans. He wore a kind expression that caught me off guard, too. The look made his already handsome face even more so, drawing my attention to his lips and the slight cleft in his chin when a smile touched his mouth.
“I can take these,” he offered.
Before I could even protest, my left hand was relieved of the bags it cradled. Then the right was freed, too. He managed them with ease while I stood there, staring instead of unlocking the door. It was Marissa’s cry that pulled me from my thoughts. It seemed like she’d gotten louder in just the few seconds I’d been standing there. The moment I crossed the threshold, her eyes darted toward me—eyes I felt like I’d been staring into for most of my life. Her father’s eyes.
Gabby, my go-to sitter, quickly handed her off to me, and Marissa squeezed her tiny arms around my neck. She was a little feverish again and her tear-soaked cheek pressed against mine as she latched on. As my concern for her grew, I became less aware of the stranger standing behind me in the doorway, holding the bags of food.
“She’s been screaming nonstop for the past hour. I didn’t want to bother you in class, but I didn’t know what to do.” From the look on Gabby’s face, it was safe to say that Marissa had really put her through the wringer. Snacks were littered across the coffee table and almost every single toy I’d ever purchased was scattered about the living room. Clearly, Gabby had pulled out all the stops and nothing was working.
“I gave her the medicine on time and tried to get her to take that teething ring, but I think it might have irritated her gums even more,” Gabby continued to explain.
I placed a hand on her arm, letting her know I knew she’d done all she could. “It’s not your fault, Sweetie.”
Relieved, Gabby’s eyes shifted toward the door and it wasn’t until then that I noticed the man who’d kind of rescued me a moment ago. He hesitated for a fraction of a second when our eyes locked, and then without waiting for an invitation, he entered my apartment and took my groceries to the kitchen counter.
“What’s he doing here?” Gabby mouthed silently.
My only response was to shake my head. Truthfully, I wasn’t really sure what he was doing here either; he could’ve dropped my bags at the door and left as far as I was concerned.
I bounced Marissa and rubbed her back, which soothed her a little—at least enough to allow me to now gather my thoughts to speak to Gabby. “You get your homework done?”
She shook her head, and I immediately felt guilty, knowing Marissa’s fussiness was to blame. I reached into my back pocket and took out the ten-dollar bill I had there. When I shoved it in the front pocket of Gabby’s backpack resting on the arm of the couch, she started to object, but didn’t when she saw the stern look on my face. She hated that I paid her, but knew I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’d been there for me more than my own family had, saved me more times than I could count when I didn’t have anyone else to babysit.
“Thanks,” she finally conceded. Situating the straps on her shoulders, she leaned in. “Night, Rissa. Feel better,” she said before kissing my daughter on the forehead over my shoulder.
“See you in the morning,” I called out just as she stepped into the hallway and disappeared.
A tall figure emerged from the dimly lit kitchen and cast a shadow just in front of my television. Reluctantly, and a little bit confused, I looked up at the officer who somehow ended up inside my personal space. I noted again how handsome he was—those eyes, those lips, his large, toned arms; however, his looks didn’t overshadow the fact that he was unwelcomed in this building, and especially in my apartment.
“Thanks for your help, but you didn’t have to bring my things in. I could’ve handled it,” I informed him, not wanting to give him the impression that his kind gesture changed my views of what he represented.
My cold tone seemed to go in one ear and out the other when he spoke. “She teething?” he asked casually, removing his hand from the pocket of his light-denim jeans just long enough to point toward Marissa.
Still working to settle her, I only nodded to confirm.
He took a step closer and my eyes shifted down to his feet, sending out a silent warning for him to keep his distance. When he didn’t come closer, I assumed he got the hint.
“I heard your sitter mention that she wouldn’t take the teething ring. If her gums are sore, she probably won’t,” he added.
I said nothing. Instead, I just stared, wondering where he was going with all this.
“Try wetting one of her washcloths and sticking it in the freezer for a bit. Thirty to forty minutes tops. The cold will relieve some of the throbbing, and it’s softer than those hard rings you get at the store.”
I rubbed Marissa’s back, but still didn’t acknowledge his advice.
“Do you have any small sandwich bags?” he asked. “If not, I think I have some I could grab for you if—”
“I have some,” I said sharply, causing him to purse his lips.
“So, yeah… just try that. Or don’t. Totally up to you,” he added under his breath, turning his back toward me when my cold disposition sent him scrambling for an exit.
It only took a fraction of a second for me to feel bad. Regardless of what I thought about his occupation and his assignment here in this building, he’d been kind to me tonight. And as much as I wanted him to feel as uncomfortable as the residents in this building feel, as much as I wanted to dislike him, I found it strangely difficult to stick to any of that with him standing here. At the moment, he wasn’t just the officer assigned to live in one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Detroit. He became human. Just a guy helping a girl with her groceries and her crying baby.
He halted at the sound of my voice and turned to stare with those baby blues, causing me to hesitate when I again noted how beautiful they were.
“Thank you. You know, for the groceries… and for the advice,” I blurted.
A gracious smile tugged at one corner of his mouth, and I found myself liking that particular expression almost as much as I liked his eyes.
“You’re welcome. I hope that trick works out for you. Both of you,” he added when Marissa stopped crying long enough to notice him. The officer gave her a small wave and grinned her way. To my surprise, she smiled back, despite the fact that she still had fresh tears in her eyes.
“And if you need anything, I’m only one floor up. 5C,” he offered, despite the fact that I hadn’t asked.
I nodded. “Thanks again.”
“No problem. Name’s Adam, by the way.”
His hand extended toward me, and I wasn’t sure if I should shake it or not. Marissa, now silent and still clinging to my neck, stared at Adam long and hard just like I did.
Finally, trying to hide my skepticism, I returned the gesture. “Aubrey.”
Adam smirked a bit as I softened up. His hands were cool to the touch, and soft, but not too soft. Despite the strength I was positive those hands held, his grip on mine was surprisingly gentle.
No other words were spoken as he left me to my usual nightly routine of dinner, bathing Marissa, and then bed. While she ate, I took one of her cloths from the basket of unfolded laundry and did the steps Adam had recited, fully believing in my heart it was all for nothing. None of the pain relievers had done a thing, so certainly there was no way something this simple would solve the problem.
I went about my night as usual, and when I was done, I retrieved the cloth from the freezer just before trying to lay Marissa in her crib.
“We’re gonna try something new tonight,” I said to her as I shut off the lights in the apartment on the way to her bedroom, balancing her small body on my hip. She sniffed back a few tears, and I was already dreading the process of trying to get her to bed. What used to take about twenty minutes, now took a couple hours, which meant I was missing out on quite a bit of sleep by the end of the week.
Sitting in the mauve recliner in the corner of Marissa’s bedroom, I handed her the semi-frozen cloth, watching her inspect it in her tiny hands like I knew she would. She never just made things easy. In that way, she was a lot like her father.
I watched with an air of skepticism as she took the cloth to her lips and eventually began to squeeze it between her sore gums on the side where the new tooth was trying to come through. Instantly, I saw a change in her demeanor. She relaxed in my arms and rested her head against my chest. The tears that threatened to spill a moment ago were now dry, and for the first time in days, I had a glimmer of hope that I’d get to bed at a decent hour.
Within fifteen minutes, she had taken her medicine to keep the pain away throughout the night and drifted off in my arms. She didn’t even stir when I put her down in her crib. I stood there in her doorway, amazed at how well Adam’s technique had worked. Now I had yet another reason to thank him.
With the extra time before bed, I took to the computer to check my email. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach as my eyes lingered on the first name I came across—Javier Ruiz. A lifetime of memories, both good and bad, flooded my mind. I stared at the screen and swiped away the single tear that fell, missing him and secretly being grateful for the distance all at the same time. Knowing whatever this message said would rob me of the peaceful night I thought I’d have, I opened and read its contents.
‘Babe… I’ve been trying to call all day. Yesterday, too. Something’s up and I hate that I’m too far away to talk to you face to face. I don’t know what’s gone down in the last couple months, but I see it. Hear it in your voice. Feel it through the phone. Half the time, you don’t pick up when I call, and when you do, all you want to talk about is Rissa. Not how you’ve been handling things on your own. Not about work or school. Not about how much you miss me. None of that. I mean, I know it’s hard with the distance and everything, but this feels like more than that. I’m gonna hit you up tomorrow at around 10 a.m. your time. Please, please pick up. We need to talk.
Kiss my baby and tell her Daddy misses her like crazy.
The plate of eggs had just hit the table when Gabby breezed through my door. I left it unlocked every morning just for her.
“Pancakes?” she asked, wearing an infectious smile.
“Nope. The usual. I’m running a bit behind today.” I didn’t explain that the reason my routine was lagging was because I’d slept through my alarm after lying awake half the night. Reading Javi’s letter affected much in the way I predicted it would.
“Speaking of running late,” I said sarcastically, glancing at the clock on the kitchen wall. She should’ve been here ten minutes ago by my calculation.
“Had to make my morning rounds,” Gabby answered. “Gotta make that money,” she said, referencing her side hustle, which consisted of her buying up candy at the liquor store and reselling it for double the price to people in the neighborhood. It was illegal, but I didn’t mess with her too much about it because there were definitely worse things she could be getting into at the age of fifteen.
“I even went to the cop’s place,” she mentioned casually, reaching for the strawberry jelly.
I glanced at her, but hid that I was intrigued, mostly wondering if she knew she’d just walked her illegal business right up to the law’s door—literally.
“And he didn’t slap a pair of cuffs on you and haul you down to the precinct? Shocking,” I said, unable to hide my distaste for law enforcement. Their impact on this neighborhood in particular had left a bad taste in my mouth.
“I don’t think he’s like that,” Gabby replied with a mouthful of toast. Marissa giggled at the sight of it.
“Yeah, right. They’re all like that.”
Gabby shook her head in protest, but continued eating of course. “Nah, he even bought a couple candy bars from me—thanked me and said that was the closest thing he’d had to breakfast all week.”
I pretended to only be moderately interested in her interaction with Adam, but probably wasn’t playing it off very well. “What else did he say?” I asked.
She didn’t make eye contact, but smirked. “Nothing, but I think you should invite him down to eat with us.” She eyed the spread. “I mean, I could definitely eat all this food, but only because it’s here. There’s enough to make him a plate.”
Her suggestion rang in my head as I toyed with the idea.
“Besides, he was really nice last night. Brought your bags in and put the groceries away and everything.”
I burst out laughing. “That man did not put my groceries away. Quit exaggerating.”
She grinned while biting down on a piece of bacon. Her eyes softened, and I tried not to let the expression get to me. “Still, he was nice. Not a whole lot of that going on around here.”
She didn’t know it yet because my face was still blank, but she broke me. She’d made several good points, and I was out of excuses to give for not feeding a man who was about to go to work with nothing in his stomach but pure sugar.
When I set my fork down, Gabby eyed me.
“Watch Rissa for a sec,” I said as I stood from my seat. Without even looking Gabby’s way, I knew she was cheesing.
I wasn’t even sure this was a good idea just yet, but I’d already committed to extending this invitation. So, whether Adam accepted or not, I was going to offer him a semblance of gratitude for his kindness the night before. Hopefully I wouldn’t regret it later.
Zipping up my bag of gear for today’s shift, the light tap, tap, tap at my door got my sudden attention. The candy bar I had lodged in between my teeth dropped from my mouth and into my palm as I turned my head to the door. Visitors were pretty scarce around my place, so the knock caught me off guard. Although, I was already running late this morning, which also had me a bit off kilter.
The knock hit again and my gaze shifted over to the wall clock hanging up in my apartment’s kitchen. I sucked in a breath upon realizing the time. I still had my morning rounds to do of the complex before heading into work. I normally didn’t do this late thing, but I was up past one last night looking at pictures. I guess I couldn’t help it and knew it would be a bad idea. It was a bad idea because doing so nearly made me have to pick up the phone and call my sponsor. Those two things usually went hand and hand. Those pictures and drinking. I hadn’t been that close in a while. I got it together, though. I got it together.
Letting out a breath, I shoved my candy bar into the pocket on my shirt uniform while I buttoned up the last few buttons. I normally got dressed at the precinct, but on the mornings I decided to do rounds of the apartment, I did so in uniform to make myself look official. I didn’t like intimidating people, but my chief advised it when I made rounds. I appeased him but not all the time. I usually did in the mornings as more people were up and around, but at night I kept it easy by wearing jeans and t-shirts mostly. These people were at home. They didn’t need a constant reminder of the law more than there already was. What, with me living here and all.
I made it to the door and unlocked it without looking, figuring it was one of two people. Option A was a neighbor complaining about another and wanting me to do something about it. I got a handful of those since I moved in a couple weeks ago. Usually folks avoided me like the plague, but if they needed something, they came by. I welcomed that seeing as that was my job. To protect and serve. The other option, B, was one of my moms.
Cringing as I turned the knob, I hoped it was the former. A neighbor complaint could be dealt with quickly. A worried mom (times two) couldn’t be. I heard no end of the dangers of taking this position by living here from my mom and her partner of twenty years since I told them I’d be moving into this neighborhood for my job. This new living arrangement offered not only cheap rent but also respect from my boss. Two things I couldn’t pass up. Tell that to my moms though. They came by before the last moving box hit the apartment floor. It took forever to get them out the last time.
Cracking the door, the visitor fortunately wasn’t them, and I widened it, blinking in surprise at the dark eyes, heart-shaped face, and long curls coiled tightly as they rested on her shoulders. They left tiny droplets of water on the tops of them, dotting her cinnamon-brown skin. She must have just showered; a scent, feminine and sweet, suddenly wafting through the air of the normally musty apartment complex let me know that.
Dampening my mouth, I stood tall, forgetting myself and my manners by not greeting her. “Aubrey. Hi. Good seeing you again.”
I had to admit, she was the last person I thought would make her way up here. I always knew when folks wanted to be left alone. That came with the job and she had definitely been in that category when we spoke last night.
She didn’t say anything. Her damp shoulders suddenly went tight, her body stiff, and when she wouldn’t look at my eyes, her gaze targeting lower to what I wore, I knew she wasn’t seeing anything but the uniform.
I internally cursed at my choice not to dress at the precinct this morning. My voice did cause her to look up though, long lashes flashing up in my direction. She cleared her throat. “Hi, Officer…” Her eyes drifted to my name badge. I internally cursed again. “Holloway. Likewise.”
She said this, but I knew she didn’t feel the same. That it was actually a good thing to see me again. Even if she hadn’t suddenly addressed me formally, her body language spoke of her true feelings. Last night she had her guard up. This morning, though? Something like Fort Knox came to mind.
I stepped forward a bit, but kept a fair distance from her. I wanted her know I was approachable but didn’t want to intimidate her. Pushing my hands into my pockets, I smiled. “Glad to hear it, and I believe I asked you to call me Adam.”
I hoped to break ground a bit by saying that and keep things casual with her. I didn’t know if it worked, but she didn’t step back from me. That was something.
She let out a breath instead, smoothing her hands down the gray sweat pants she wore. “Adam, right. Sorry about that.”
I simply smiled. “You’re forgiven. Can I help you with something this morning?”
A familiar awkwardness in the form of silence cut through the air again. Just like last night. I was about to push again when her mouth moved, forming words.
“Um, yeah. Um.” She went fidgety, running her fingers up and down the strap of her pink tank top restlessly. Realizing she was doing that, she let go, passing off the action when she scratched at the skin just beneath her earlobe, petite fingers continuing to be restless by brushing down to the base of her neck. “I just wanted to thank you for yesterday. Your advice with the baby.”
I looked up from her neck, and it took me a moment to recall what she was referring to. Once I did, I gave her another smile. “It worked then?”
She was still fidgety, opting to rub her neck now. “Mmmhmm. She slept through the whole night. That gave me a break.”
I was happy to hear that, but did wonder why the burden to get the baby through her teething was left on her shoulders and why she had no one to help. I supposed that wasn’t my business.
I nodded at what she’d said, my lips lifting with the knowledge that I had helped. “I’m glad. Hopefully last night is the first of many quiet nights for you.”
I genuinely meant that. I wasn’t just saying that because I should, but I actually wanted that for her. Taking care of a baby wasn’t easy; especially if she was doing it by herself.
I think she understood my sincerity because for the first time since we started talking, her hand dropped from her neck and she didn’t look so anxious. In fact, she was actually looking at me, finally in my eyes and not at everything else about me. She chewed her lip for a moment before her gaze wandered to my shirt pocket, the one with the candy bar poking out of it. Hesitantly, she lifted a finger. “Is that your breakfast?”
I tapped the pocket lightly, chuckling. “I guess so. I just moved in recently. Haven’t really been out shopping yet, and well, I’m a guy, so me and the kitchen probably won’t be acquainted for a little while.”
She shifted on her pink flip-flops in silence. Like she was in debate of something, but even still, I never thought that debate would be what she said next. “Do you want to maybe come downstairs? For breakfast? Gabby told me you were making that chocolate bar your meal,” she said, eyeing my hand on my pocket.
Laughing, I dropped my hand. “I did say that.”
The girl really surprised me by coming to my door. Again, I didn’t get many visitors. Not only that, but she tried to hustle me by selling candy she clearly bought at the store. I gave her a break and contributed to the cause. She had drive and that was good. Hopefully, she channeled it into the good stuff like school, too.
Aubrey shrugged her tiny shoulders once. “So what do you say? About breakfast that is?”
Aubrey’s invitation was the first sign of a welcome I had in the last couple weeks, but I was running late this morning. I raised my wrist, checking my watch. Maybe I had a few minutes; I could make a few minutes for her. She’d been so hesitant of me before. I didn’t want to ruin these new signs of trust she seemed to be giving off.
“You’re busy,” she said.
Before I had a chance to determine how much time I had, she was already lifting her hands, stepping away. “Have a good day, Officer.”
Just like that, the guard went back up. I closed my door without thinking, locking it right after. I caught up to her in two strides and she stopped walking, looking up at me with those dark eyes.
“Yeah, I am busy,” I said. “What’s for breakfast?”
I guess I’d be skipping rounds today.
Aubrey left that same trail of feminine scent behind her. It tagged along with every step she made downstairs. I kept close as well, but not too close, and she often peeked back, a quick look over her tiny shoulder, almost as if she was trying to keep me in check. I couldn’t get too close to her and she was letting me know. That same warning about her followed all the up to her woven, multicolored welcome mat despite the fact that it was she herself who’d invited me down for breakfast. When we got there, she turned her doorknob, but her hand hesitated pushing the door open. I thought to offer her an out, let her know I was running late anyway, but she pushed, granting me access to the same apartment I was in last night. The warm smell of eggs and bacon before I crossed the entry rumbled my insides, awareness that this morning’s chocolate bar just wasn’t doing the trick.
After I entered, I closed the door behind me. Her apartment was the same, though a peek into her kitchen let me know she’d put her groceries away. I wanted to do that for her last night, but I had a feeling the effort would have been interpreted wrong. As more of an intrusion than a favor from a stranger.
Sitting in a chair at a square table, the teenager who sold me the candy this morning, Gabby, turned, waving at me. Two dimples creased a round face, her dark skin. “Officer Holloway,” she said in greeting, grinning while she chewed a piece of bacon.
I had to laugh. “You can call me Adam, Gabby. I’m not on duty here.”
She looked more accepting of that than Aubrey did, not looking at the uniform at all. “Ah, okay,” she said. “You joining us for breakfast?”
She crossed a look over to Aubrey, who only shook her head before going to the other person I noticed sitting at the table. Her little girl. The baby.
“Uh, yeah. Aubrey invited me,” I returned to Gabby, my attention a bit distracted as I watched the mom with her child. Chubby arms reached up to her mom, which Aubrey appeased by letting them lock around her neck as she lifted her into her arms. The baby was a bit lighter than Aubrey, her curly hair looser, and I believed those indicated a mixture of races. She gurgled a laugh when Aubrey picked her up, and I smiled. The littlest things made babies happy, didn’t they? Attention and whatnot, and the smile Aubrey returned confirmed, for me at least, that happiness was always shared in return by the parent.
“That’s Rissa,” Gabby said, tugging on her chubby leg and breaking my thoughts. “Short for Marissa.”
I waved at her like I did last night, and both mother and child looked my way. More specifically, Rissa watched me while Aubrey watched Rissa, a curiosity in both gazes. Rissa studied me for only a moment before she released the material of her mom’s tank top and stretched her tiny fingers out toward me. I think Aubrey and I were both surprised by that, but I didn’t hesitate before I reached my finger out toward her to take.
“She doesn’t really like strangers,” Aubrey said, but she barely finished the sentence before Rissa latched onto my finger. She giggled, shaking my finger in her small fist.
Gabby laughed, looking up at her. “She seems to like this one.”
“I like her, too,” I said, surprised my uniform didn’t put her off like it did her mom. I was glad.
Aubrey’s lips actually threatened to smile while Rissa played with my finger, curling up a bit in the corner. Ultimately the expression didn’t completely make it when Rissa decided to use my finger for her own person teething ring, popping it into her mouth and chewing. I didn’t mind and laughed, but Aubrey clearly did. Removing her daughter’s newly chosen toy from her mouth, she apologized profusely, her eyes wide like I’d cuff them both at any moment. I raised my hands, hating the look.
“It’s fine. Fine,” I said, taking a seat at the table across from Gabby.
She didn’t accept that and said she’d put the baby in her playpen. I watched the pair again, folding my hands and setting them on the table. The playpen was in front of the couch and Aubrey placed Marissa there. She tickled her belly and that gurgled laugh hit the air again. The sound was magical.
“So have you ever killed anybody?” Gabby asked, eyeing the gun secured in my holster. She picked up her tumbler of orange juice and took a sip casually, like she’d asked me about the weather.
Aubrey shot her head around from her location at the playpen. “Gabby!”
Gabby lifted her hands. I think she was trying to look innocent, but that grin she sported kind of had the adverse effect. Putting her glass to her lips, she asked, “What?” before taking a sip, laughing into the juice.
Aubrey groaned, and I had to keep my smile in. She really was upset. She got to her feet and charged over to us, snatching a baby wipe out of a container on the end table by the couch along the way. Before I knew it, she had my hand in hers. I had no idea what she was doing, but I didn’t stop her as she rubbed it along the surface of my hand, taking extra care along my index finger. I relaxed and just watched her.
“I’m sorry about this,” she breathed out with a huff. “Rissa’s spit,” she paused, dropping my hand and taking the other. She rubbed there as well with the baby wipe, sneering in Gabby’s direction. “Her.”
Her annoyance only got Gabby chuckling into her juice even more. I kind of found the whole thing funny as well. Aubrey clearly freaking about how the morning was going, and now, rubbing down my hand to the point of making the skin raw like I was her own kid, but I didn’t dare laugh. That didn’t stop Rissa, though, as even she was having a laugh. She stood up in her pen, banging her hands on the bar as she watched her panicking mom. The whole thing went to all new heights when Aubrey dropped my hand, slid a plate over to me, and not only served me by putting eggs and bacon on my plate, but also picked up a piece of toast and continued to butter it for me.
Gabby was nearly losing it at this point, her hand over her mouth, and I couldn’t contain mine either. I snorted, and that’s when Aubrey realized what she was doing.
She lowered the butter knife from the bread, her expression nothing short of mortification. “You can probably do this yourself, can’t you?”
I could. But I kinda sorta wanted her to. I liked watching her do so. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed anymore though, so I took the knife from her. “Thanks.”
She nodded in return. Smoothing her hands down her pants, she backed away slowly. “I’m gonna get dressed for work.” She glanced over at Gabby. “Watch Rissa?”
Gabby lifted her glass to her, and Aubrey breezed out of the room. All this was definitely worth missing rounds for. Definitely.
I got started in on my food as Gabby finished hers. She got Marissa out of her pen and returned, placing her on her lap. Rissa watched me eat, wanting my eggs by reaching out toward them. I asked Gabby if it was okay, and she said fine, but just a little. I gave her only a little on the tip of an extra spoon on the table. She gummed it happily.
“But seriously, have you killed someone?” Gabby wiped Rissa’s mouth free of the extra egg with a napkin while she asked.
I shook my head in response, doing so with a laugh. I got that question a lot. I think people thought the life of a cop was way more exciting than it actually was. Especially the kids. Gabby looked let down by my response, and I could only shake my head again. An exasperated “Frickin-A!” came from behind our seats at the table. It seemed Aubrey only had time to get half dressed. When she came out of what I assumed was her bedroom from down the hall, she still wore her sweat pants with a dressy top. She charged down the hallway, ripping a hair tie off her wrist and placing it in between her teeth.
“Can you walk to school today, Gabs?” she asked around the hair tie, bunching her hair up. She pushed her curls into a ball before putting the hair tie around it. “I have to take Rissa to my aunt’s today. She lives on the other side of town and I won’t have time to run you by the school.”
Aubrey reached out for Rissa, and after the change off, Gabby nodded, saying “Sure,” before slipping her book bag off the chair she sat in. She pushed her arms into the straps. “Is everything okay? Why isn’t she going to daycare?”
Aubrey opened her mouth, but then her gaze went to me still at the table. I turned away, giving them privacy. I didn’t want to listen in, but the thing about ears was they were hard to turn off. I didn’t miss when she said her check for the week of daycare bounced, though I made it look like I had, scraping my fork along my plate. Like I was distracted and not listening. Gabby started to say goodbye when I chose to make my presence known again. I rubbed my mouth with my napkin and stood.
“I can take her,” I suggested. Both girls’ eyebrows twitched up at the proposal and I shrugged. “I pass the high school on my way to the precinct. Not a problem at all.”
“You want to take her,” Aubrey said, eyebrows narrowed in my direction. Rissa patted lightly at her face, but the woman’s gaze didn’t let up. “In your squad car?”
Yeah, the thing was an eyesore. But again, something my boss requested I drive once I moved in. I didn’t have to drive it all the time, but I did have to have it in the area. I shrugged again. “I’d take my car, but I’m headed into work right after.”
“I like the idea,” Gabby popped in, exchanging a glance between the pair of us with a clear excitement in her eyes.
Fighting a smile, I pointed at her. “She likes the idea.”
With a quick goodbye, Aubrey let us go, though she did so begrudgingly, I think. Gabby gave Rissa a kiss before she went into the hallway. I was last and left to close the door. I raised my hand to Aubrey and Rissa still in the hall. “Thanks for breakfast this morning. It was great.”
“Though a little crazy?” Aubrey added, her baby still patting her face while her mom stared at me.
I chuckled. “Yeah, a little crazy. But still good.”
I didn’t say what I really wanted to. I wanted to add it was a little perfect, too. Aubrey nodded and I got a cute little grin from Rissa just before Aubrey turned around with her, her back to me. I heard her mutter something as I closed the door. Something that sounded like: “Only one day with Aunt Jen today. We’ll figure out daycare tomorrow.”
Again, I wondered why she had no one to help her.
********************END OF EXCERPT********************
Thanks for reading! ONLY LOVE will be released next Tuesday, November 18th, but is available now for pre-order on Amazon. If you’re interested in being the first to receive information about new releases, sales, and other important updates, please click here to sign up for my newsletter!!
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Enjoy the trailer of “Only Love”, my latest release co-authored with Victoria H. Smith.
Available NOW for pre-order on Amazon!!
Good morning, ladies!! Super excited to share with you an excerpt from “ONLY LOVE”, my newest release with the talented Victoria H. Smith, coming NOVEMBER 18th!!!! Can’t wait for you to officially meet Aubrey and Adam, but in the meantime, checkout this snippet!♥
He flashed his perfect, white teeth and disappeared in the kitchen while I took a seat on the couch. About a minute and a half later, he returned with two Styrofoam bowls with plastic spoons hanging over the sides.
“I know it isn’t fancy, but I’m gonna be honest; I have no idea which box my dishes are in.” He chuckled.
“It’s fine. I don’t mind.” My eyes were stuck on his as I accepted my bowl and he took a seat beside me. Close beside me.
“I hope you like Neopolitan,” he said, but my gaze slipped down to his mouth when he took his first spoonful. I couldn’t even formulate a sensible response. Instead, I tasted from my bowl and kept silent to make sure I didn’t say anything I shouldn’t. I kept my eyes trained ahead until I was done. Had to. When I zeroed in on Gabby’s box by the door, I decided to just head out. Being here with him alone wasn’t a good idea.
“I should get going,” I announced, scooting to the edge of the couch.
I heard Adam stand right after I did. When I turned to look, he’d folded his arms over his chest, looking as conflicted as I felt. I tried not to let him affect me, but turning away didn’t change anything. I slipped into my shoes at the door so I could go.
“Thanks again. For everything. I had a great time,” I said, taking note of the fact that he’d taken another step toward me. My instincts kicked in and I placed a hand on the doorknob, aware of the contrast between what I wanted to do and what I knew to be the right thing.
Instead of responding to my statement with words, Adam took my other hand, entangling his lengthy fingers with mine as I got lost in the sensation of his digits sliding in between mine. The brazen gesture caught me off guard and I sucked in a breath, seeing the certainty in his eyes. No actual words were spoken aloud, but I felt like I heard Adam loud and clear, understood how he felt, even if the feelings he was harboring were yet new and unexplored. Those dark lashes shrouded his eyes as his gaze dimmed and he came even closer.
My body went rigid at the feel of the wall against my back, meaning I couldn’t go anywhere even if I wanted to. But I didn’t—want to go anywhere, that is. Adam came dangerously close—so close his scent filled my space and I had no choice but to breathe him in. He wore no cologne, just gentle hints of whatever soap or body wash he used. It was better than any expensive fragrance he could’ve ever purchased. They would’ve done nothing but ruin his natural aroma. It was simply the smell of him… and I loved it.
He took another step and now we were toe to toe. My fingers slipped off the knob when he gently took possession of that hand too. It didn’t matter, though. At this point leaving him here alone no longer seemed like the next action I wanted to take anyway. As if reading my mind, Adam erased the last few inches of space that were no longer welcome between us. His chest pressed against mine when our lips met and I inhaled a breath so long and deep that I became lightheaded. Or maybe that was just because of him. His lips were soft and warm just like I’d imagined they were. I somehow appreciated the hint of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry that flavored our kiss more now, tasting them on his lips instead of on a spoon. He was right; this was a much more suitable dessert.
My mouth parted in submission, welcoming Adam’s tongue inside when he took our kiss to a deeper level of intimacy. My knees went weak and I felt his heart racing through his shirt. His fingers squeezed mine tighter as he leaned into me, sandwiching me between him and the wall, which was just as firm and unyielding as his body.
My lips felt slighted when Adam tore away from them, grazing over my cheek as he traveled to the side of my neck. My eyes drifted shut after the sensation drowned me in a haze of lust and yearning. His lips were still damp from our kiss, intensifying the feel of them against my skin. I was so entranced I didn’t even realize my hands were freed from Adam’s grasp until I felt his inching up my torso, exploring me on top of my clothes. With him so close, I felt like he was everywhere—all over me.
Maybe he was.
And maybe I loved it.
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