Bosom Buddies Episode One

Sabrina

Everything in life is a tradeoff.

At least, that’s the way I look at things. Take today, for instance. Here I was at the end of a twenty-four-hour shift at the hospital, and by all rights, I should have been heading back to my condo to collapse into bed for a solid eight hours of desperately needed sleep. But instead, I’d turned left out of the hospital parking lot and aimed my car toward the small town of Burton, located about forty-five minutes due west of Savannah.

I wasn’t driving all the way into town today, even though I was tempted to pop into my friend Celeste’s adorable lingerie shop and shoot the breeze with her. No, my destination was about ten miles outside of Burton: I was driving to a picturesque little piece of property that boasted a small lake, two acres of wooded land, and over a hundred years of fascinating history.

Oh, and it also included a rambling old mansion that hadn’t been occupied for several decades. Seeing the beauty it could become hadn’t been easy, but I had a discerning eye for spotting potential, and this house had it in spades. I’d fallen head over heels for the place and made a rare impulsive decision. I’d forsaken the search for a cookie-cutter suburban starter home and committed to another year or two in my soulless Savannah condo in order to fund the rehab of my dream home.

Last month, the work on the bones of the house—the structural support, electricity and plumbing—had all been finished. This week, the company I’d hired to handle the historical rehab was supposed to begin working its magic, and I couldn’t wait another moment to see what they’d done so far.

Hence, the tradeoff. I was giving up sleep in exchange for a quick walk-through of my dream home.

It was late afternoon, so I wasn’t completely surprised to see that there weren’t any trucks in the winding driveway that led to the house. Was I a tiny bit disappointed? Sure. I wanted to think that the people I’d hired were giving my precious project all of their time and energy and attention, but the truth was that they probably had other jobs going on at the same time.

Anyway, being alone would give me a chance to really soak it all in without anyone there to rush me along or ask pesky questions. There you go—yet another tradeoff.

I let myself in through the front door only because I wanted the full effect of stepping into the magnificent foyer. I wasn’t disappointed. The walls were freshly painted in an updated shade of their original color, and the woodwork we’d selected for this space was already up, and even though it hadn’t been finished yet, I could already see how gorgeous it was going to be.

“Oh, baby,” I murmured. “You are going to be so beautiful when they’re done. I’d say we’re restoring you to your former glory, but I think it’s going to be even better than that. Kind of like getting a facelift that makes you look like a sexier version of your twenty-year-old self.” I giggled to myself, thinking of all the women who would line up for that kind of surgery.

Kneeling down, I ran my fingers over the baseboards and craned my neck to examine the molding that ran along the top of the walls, seeing in my mind’s eye the old photos one of my contacts at the county historical society had dug up for me, the ones that we’d used to make style and color decisions. It really was like the original, only better.

I was about to stand up again and make my way toward the kitchen when I heard footsteps upstairs. That was disturbing; if the crew had left for the day, no one should have been here. But there they were again: yeah, someone was definitely upstairs, and whoever it might be wasn’t making any effort to disguise his or her presence.

My mind raced through a number of possibilities, landing on the worst one first. I’d heard that sometimes vagrants or addicts or criminals scoped out empty houses and camped out there when they were fairly sure no one else was around. My place was pretty far off the beaten track, but still . . . if someone happened upon it, they might not like the idea of being chased away, and if they felt cornered or had a weapon, I could be in trouble.

I moved slowly, reaching into my purse and groping blindly. Like most women, I’d learned young the defense method of threading keys through my fingers, and if I could find them now, I might be able to buy myself time to get to my car. I thanked my past self for feeling safe enough out here that I’d left it unlocked. The door was just a few feet away, and if I could get to it silently—

And then the footsteps sounded again—this time louder and coming closer. My heart pounded, and sweat broke out all over my body. I tried to swallow, but my throat was bone dry. I took a deep breath and was about to make a run for the door when I heard a deep voice.

“Sabrina?”

I looked up, lifting my eyes to the banister on the second floor where a man was staring down at me. I blinked, my mind darting this way and that as I tried to make sense of the stranger above me who knew my name.

It wasn’t Linc Turner, the co-owner of Kent and Turner, the historical restoration company I’d hired. I’d have guessed it was one of the men who worked for him, but I hadn’t met any of them. It might have been someone local to Burton—someone I’d met with Celeste or maybe through Young Survival Coalition, the breast cancer support network and organization where we both volunteered. But it wasn’t. Somehow, I knew I hadn’t seen this face in a long time.

But I didn’t know him. The familiarity was frustratingly fleeting and vague. I frowned, rising slowly as the guy who seemed to know me jogged down the steps. My keys were still in my hand, so if he turned out to be psychopath who somehow happened to know my name.

“I didn’t put it together . . . I mean, Hudson is a common name, right? But then I heard your car in the driveway, and when I looked out the window to see who was here, I knew it was you.” He took a step toward me.

I moved backward. “I’m sorry. I don’t . . .” My voice trailed off. “How do you know me?”

He was quiet for a moment, and then a half-smile curled his lips. My heart sped up again, but this time it wasn’t fear making my pulse race. It seemed that my body had realized who he was, but my head was slow to catch up.

And then he spoke, his voice low and husky.

“Brina girl.”

Just like that, it all came flooding back to me, and I knew without a shadow of doubt who was standing in front of me.

“Wesley?”

***************************

Who is Wesley?

And how does he know Sabrina?

Read next week and find out!

Meanwhile, catch up on all of the steamy romance happening in Burton right here!

The First One is only 99 cents today!

ONLY 99 CENTS TODAY!

Bosom Buddies Episode Nine

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

If you missed Episode Three, read it here.

If you missed Episode Four, read it here.

If you missed Episode Five, read it here.

If you missed Episode Six, read it here.

If you missed Episode Seven, read it here.

If you missed Episode Eight, read it here.

Dax

I love my job. Seriously, I do. I don’t have any grand ambitions to do something else with my life, which is pretty unusual. You know, a lot of bartenders are just doing this until something better comes along. They want to be lawyers, or actors, or musicians . . . that whole deal. But not me.

I’ve been a bartender since I was twenty-one—officially, that is. Before that, I worked at my grandfather’s place in a tiny little map dot in North Carolina. My job description was waiter, but I took my share of shifts behind the bar, too. I knew enough to watch out for the kind of people who might be tempted to turn us in, and the locals didn’t care how old I was as long as I kept pouring beer and whiskey.

When Gramps had a heart attack and sold the bar to my uncle, he offered to let me stay on, but I’d decided that it was time to move on. I left North Carolina and headed south, mostly because I’d heard that the theme parks in central Florida were always looking for bartenders. But when I stopped for dinner in Savannah, I met a girl . . .

All the best stories start that way, don’t they?

Anyway, I ended up staying in Savannah and finding a job. The job lasted longer than the girl did, sadly. One bartending gig led to another and another until I realized I’d been in Savannah for twelve years. By then, I’d scored a prime role here at the Gwynn Regal, climbing the ladder to a spot where I could pretty much choose my own shifts, was known to the best customers and had the freedom to change the drink menu whenever I felt the urge.

Which brings me to why I was strutting through the lobby of the Gwynn at seven on a Thursday evening, my mind a thousand miles away. I’d just finished working on the specialty cocktails for the upcoming weekend and was heading toward the office of the food and bev manager to drop it off. But I wasn’t sure about the last entry on the list; I’d decided to add a caramel apple mule as a nod to the change of season. But maybe that was the safe choice. I frowned at the paper in my hand.

And then—whoomph! Something hit me—and I realized it wasn’t a thing but a someone. All I saw was a blur of arms and legs flailing. Realizing it was a woman, I dropped the paper I’d been reading and tried to grab her before she fell.

But it was too late. I missed her arm, and then her legs went out from beneath her, and she hit the marble floor.

“Oh, fuck.” I dropped down to kneel next to her, frowning as I stared into her eyes which were huge and scarily unfocused. “Are you all right? Hey, uh, miss! Can you hear me? Can you see me?” I snapped my fingers. “Hey, are you hurt?”

Her forehead wrinkled, and I felt a little bit of relief since this seemed to be a reasonable reaction. Then she spoke, and my relief evaporated.

“Hey there, hot stuff. What’re you doing Saturday night?”

***

“I’m fine. Seriously, I’m really all right.”

The woman I’d accidentally bowled over was sitting on a stool at my bar, holding a bag of ice wrapped in a thin white towel against her head. She lowered her eyes, and a tinge of pink colored her otherwise pale face. She was clearly mortified by having fallen. Despite my repeated requests that she allow me to call an ambulance—which was backed up with even more insistence by the hotel’s legal team, who saw a lawsuit under every rock—she’d even refused to see the house physician.

“I just bumped my head,” she muttered now. “It’s no big deal, aside from me being embarrassed.”

“No reason you should be.” I shrugged. “I’m the one who bumped into you and knocked you over. I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“I stopped walking and turned around without any warning,” she countered. “Even you had been watching, I would’ve run headfirst into your—um, you.” She closed her eyes. “Crap. This night has been a disaster from the moment I got out of the car.”

“Uh, okay.” I didn’t know what to do with that. I was aware that a woman in a situation like this probably needed some consoling, a shoulder to cry on, but I didn’t have the first fucking clue how to comfort. My experience with women was only in working with them or fucking them. Aside from that, females as a species were foreign to me.

So I did what I knew how to do: I turned around, picked up a glass, filled it with ice and then added soda water and a twist of lime.

“Here you go. Try this.” Another thought occurred to me, and I reached under the bar to find the small first aid kit we kept there. “And don’t tell anyone I’m doing this, but take this ibuprofen. You’re going to have a hell of a headache.”

“Thanks.” She held out one small hand, and I dropped the pills into her palm, watching silently as she popped the meds into her mouth and gulped the soda water. “This is perfect. Seltzer with lime is my favorite non-boozy drink.”

I grinned. “Happy to help.” I swiped a towel over the already pristine bar top to kill time for a moment before I spoke again. “Do you have . . . a husband? Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Roommate?”

She squinted at me, and I wondered if the dim lights of the bar were hurting her eyes. “Um, I share a house with a friend. Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to go home to bed by yourself.” I realized how that sounded. “I mean, you shouldn’t. You probably have a concussion. Someone needs to watch you.”

“Great. Just what I needed.” She sounded defeated, and for some reason, I found myself feeling like I wanted to fix that.

“I can call you a cab to get you home. Courtesy of the Gwynn. You shouldn’t be driving.”

“Since I don’t have a car—or a license, for that matter, you’re probably right,” she returned. “But I can’t take a cab home. I live in Burton. It’s like fifty miles away from here.”

Damn.

“Okay.” I crossed my arms over my chest, regarding the woman before me again. She was what my Gramps would’ve called a pretty little thing, short and slim, but now that she wasn’t lying prone on the floor, passed out, I noticed the swell of her breasts under the rust-colored dress she wore. It was tighter at the waist and then had one of those little skirt deals. I couldn’t tell right now, but I wondered if she had a decent ass to go with the rack.

Her black hair was short, and the front of it was just now sticking up in the air as she’d run her fingers through it more than once. Her skin was still a little pale; even the slight blush from moments ago had disappeared. Huge eyes that were the most interesting shade of gray-blue dominated her face, and their expression was bleak.

“Okay,” I repeated. “So tell me to mind my own business, but why are you here at this hotel without a car? You already said you’re not staying here.”

“No, I said I hadn’t checked in. Yet.” She held up on finger. “I was just about to do that when I wound up on the ground.”

“Oh, right.” I nodded. “Are you in town on business?”

She sighed. “Not really. I was meeting someone.”

My eyes narrowed. “You were? So is whoever you were meeting wondering where you are now?”

“No. I did meet—him.” She shifted a little and began to wrap the ice pack more securely in the towel.

I began to suspect where this was going. “So you met a guy, and you were on your way to get a room, huh? For the . . . two of you?” I raked my gaze over her again. Could she be a pro? It didn’t seem like she was, but then again, every now and then, we got high-priced call girls—escorts—here at the Gwynn. It was policy not to encourage such things, but at the same time, we didn’t make a big deal about it, either.

“No, not for the two of us. God, no.” She wrinkled her nose. “He wasn’t interested in me. I was walking away from him when I bumped into you.” She gnawed at the corner of her lip. “I ruined it tonight. It was my one chance, and I completely screwed it up. If only he hadn’t brought up pirates.”

I began to wonder if maybe I should have pushed harder for this chick to get checked out by a doctor. “Uh, well, yeah, that would be . . . weird, I guess. Right?”

“He thought he was bringing up a topic I’d find interesting.” She gingerly positioned the ice on her head again. “But I have an unfortunate tendency to . . . babble. Especially when the topic is related to my work.”

“You work with pirates?” This wasn’t so odd as it might sound to someone from any place but Savannah.

“No, not exactly.” Her eyes darted up to me for a moment. “I write about them. Not all of the time, but my most recent series involves them.”

“For real? You’re a writer?” I leaned on the bar, interested. “What’s your name? Would I have heard of you?”

For the first time since we’d crashed into each other, she smiled. “Unless you read historical romances—the kinds of books with covers that feature shirtless men and women with heaving—uh, bosoms—probably not. Although you might have seen ads for a movie made from one of my books.” She paused before adding, “My name’s Coral Jennings.”

It didn’t ring a bell. But then, I didn’t go to the movies very much, and when I did, it was always to see sci fi or fantasy films.

I shook my head. “Sorry. I’m not a big romance fan, though.”

“Oh, it’s not a big deal.” Coral waved her hand. “Most of my earlier books were made into series on TV, but I’ve had three that were films.” She lifted one shoulder. “My fourth one opens on Saturday night. The premiere is here in Savannah. Which is why I was at the restaurant tonight, meeting Dr. Dopey.”

“Okay, that needs more explanation.” I rested my elbows on the edge of the bar. “Who is Dr. Dopey, and why does he have anything to do with your movie?”

Coral rolled her eyes and then winced. “Ouch. That hurts. Remind me not to do it again.”

“Will do.” I waved my hand. “Come on. Start talking.”

“Fine.” Her chest rose and fell on a long exhale. “My agent and my publicist said that I have to have a date for this movie premiere. They’re negotiating my next book contract with the publishing house, and if I can sell myself as more than just your run-of-the-mill romance author, they have better standing to get me a sweet deal. Or so they tell me. My publicist is feeding the local media this story about my big romantic life. Which is a huge joke, because I’m boring, awkward, and hopelessly single.”

I couldn’t help chuckling. “Aw, it can’t be that bad.”

Coral snorted. “Trust me. It’s worse.”

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Ten is coming next Friday, October 29th!

And we’ll find out what happened on her disastrous date.

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

 Get yours today!

Get your copy of Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

 

Bosom Buddies Episode Eight

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

If you missed Episode Three, read it here.

If you missed Episode Four, read it here.

If you missed Episode Five, read it here.

If you missed Episode Six, read it here.

If you missed Episode Seven, read it here.

 

Coral

There’s never an invisibility cape around when you really need one.

I don’t write fantasy or paranormal or any other kind of book that might include such a thing—my gig is strictly historical romance—but that doesn’t stop me from wishing they really existed. And if they did, that I had one that I could stash in my purse for moments such as these. Times like this, when I’ve said or done something so mortifying that I just can’t bear the idea of anyone looking at me.

But since this kind of wish almost never comes true, I did the next best thing. I whipped my phone from my huge handbag and put on my best expression of horror.

“Oh, my God, I can’t believe this! My sister’s been trying to get in touch with me—she just texted that she’s stuck along the side of the road. Her car broke down.” I rose to my feet, grabbing at the napkin that had been resting in my lap before it could hit the ground. “I’m so sorry about this, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave.”

Maybe part of me was still holding onto hope that I hadn’t embarrassed myself beyond redemption—that maybe the total fox sitting across the table from me might look at least slightly disappointed that I had to take off. If so, that hope was in vain, because if anything, the sexy face only appeared to be relieved.

Not that I could blame him. Tonight hadn’t been the romantic frolic that I’d been fantasizing about ever since my best friend Sabrina—well, one of my best friends—had offered to set me up with a hot hematologist from the hospital where she worked. Tonight was meant to be the meet-cute, the warm-up act to the big event that was happening this weekend.

But it looked like this show was closing before opening night.

***

Crap.

My date—and I was using that term loosely now—did not offer to come help me rescue my sister. He didn’t even stand up to acknowledge I was leaving. Matter of fact, he didn’t bother to put down his fork.

“Best of luck,” he mumbled through a full mouth of risotto. “Great meeting you.”

“Yeah, you, too.” I pushed the chair under the table with just a little too much force, rattling all the dishes and glassware on the table. The doc never missed a beat; he kept chewing even as he reached out to steady his glass of wine.

“Pig,” I muttered to myself as I walked away from the table, clinging to as much of my dignity as possible. I mean, was it my fault that the date was an utter disaster from the word go? Probably, yes. Was I as awkward as all hell? Definitely.

But still, that was no excuse for him to be so rude. Just because he looked like sex dripping from a stick didn’t give him the right to treat other people like they were the dirt under his very fancy, very expensive Italian leather loafers.

I made my way out of the restaurant and into the lobby of the ritzy hotel, pausing for a moment to catch my breath and get my bearings. I’d taken a YouRideIt to dinner, partly because I figured I’d be drinking, partly because I’d hoped the night might end with me not being alone . . . but mostly because I didn’t drive. That little factoid wasn’t such a big deal usually, but tonight, being stranded at a hotel in Savannah, almost an hour away from home, felt huge. And overwhelming.

I knew I should probably just go outside and flag down a cab to take me . . . where? To Sabrina’s townhouse? That was a possibility, though she was more than likely at the hospital, working a shift. I wasn’t going to get any taxi to carry me all the way to Burton, to the house I shared with our other best friend, Celeste. It was too far and too late.

So my options were taking said cab to another hotel, which seemed absolutely ridiculous, or checking to see if this lovely and fancy place happened to have a vacancy tonight. It wasn’t like I couldn’t afford it. I almost never splurged on anything, so I could’ve booked a month in the priciest suite in this place and never even blink.

There was only one small detail holding me back, and that was so silly that it didn’t even bear considering. Who cared if Dr. Dopey, formerly known as my date for the evening, spotted me checking into this hotel and realized that my reason for abandoning him at the table had been nothing but a clever ruse? He had it coming. I didn’t owe him a damn thing.

“Not a damn thing,” I said aloud, and then I pivoted on the balls of one foot, intending to march toward the reception counter with my head held high.

Instead, though—because I’m me—I slammed into something solid that was moving in the opposite direction. And before I could help myself, my stupid high heels—the ones I’d picked out for this evening and paid way too much money to own—okay, so maybe sometimes I did splurge—anyway, those shoes lost their contact with the shiny, highly polished marble floor.

The next thing I knew, I was flying through the air. Someone was shrieking, and it occurred to me that someone just might have been me. Then I was falling, and my head struck something hard and unyielding that would probably turn out to be the ground.

The world waved and shimmered around me, and the edges of my vision grayed.

“Oh, fuck, are you all right?” An unfamiliar but very attractive, very sexy male face came into my wavering line of sight. “Miss, hey, there, miss! Can you hear me? Can you see me? Are you okay?”

I wanted to open my mouth and say something witty—or maybe just something basically appropriate for once in my life. But instead, my lips formed words that my brain hadn’t approved.

“Hey, there, hot stuff. What’re you doing Saturday night?”

And then the world went dark.

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Nine is coming next Friday, October 22nd!

And we’ll find out who knocked Coral off her feet.

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

99 cents only until Tuesday so get yours today!

Get your copy of Tinsel and Tatas Today:

Amazon

Apple Books

Kobo

Google

Barnes & Noble

An excerpt from THE CHRISTMAS KETTLE CAPER

Enjoy this sneak peek from

Mysteries of Christmas Past Anthology!

I was subjected to what amounted to the silent treatment on the train trip, though in truth Jenny Dee chattered and chortled enough for all three of us. Lilly maintained a stoic silence, staring out at the passing scenery as we chugged southwest in the direction of the state capitol in Austin.
I’d been surprised when Lilly suggested she might come along on the trip, but she’d sullenly said, “I spent two Christmases apart from ye, James. I’ll not spend another.”
And that was all it took. One tiny indirect mention of the Great War, and I felt my hand twitching again as memories of the horrors battled their way to the front of my consciousness.
As the train rounded a bend, I was at once thankful for Lilly’s deafening silence and annoyed by Jenny’s endless prattle.
“… but their daddy didn’t love her as much as her much prettier sister. And so she had no choice but to marry someone she didn’t love. Isn’t that the saddest thing you’ve heard, Daddy?”
The little flask in my coat pocket beckoned me, and I spared my wife only a moment’s glance before retrieving it to take a long swig of fine Irish whiskey. Her frown was searing, and I decided I must be a glutton for punishment because heaven help me, I liked the burn of both the liquor and of the woman born of the Emerald Isle.
“…so then the two sisters are on a train,” Jenny continued, curling her legs under her in her seat. “Um, I think heading for El Paso, maybe. But anyway, that’s when some dastardly robbers decide to hold up the train.”
“Jenny, sit properly, lass. You’ll muss your fine traveling dress.” Her brogue wasn’t nearly as strong as it had been when I’d met her, and certainly not as much as her grifter brother’s. But that was only because my wife had taken great care to work the accent out, despite my assurances that I much preferred her native drawl.
I sucked down another sip of the whiskey, then slipped it back into my coat as I watched our daughter ignore her mother, instead pushed up onto her knees and leaning towards the window to get a better view of the passing scenery.
“Oh, Daddy! Look at that. They’re longhorns! Do you know…”
“Sit down, Jenny!” I bellowed, smacking the arm of my chair. “Did you not hear your mother admonish you to sit?”
Her eyes were wide as saucers, and I knew that most children her age might burst into tears. But not my Jenny. She fixed me with a long, hard stare, then she carefully plopped down onto her backside with her legs out in front of her. I nodded my approval, then she crossed her arms over her chest and pivoted to look out of the window again.
It seemed I would get the silent treatment from both of my girls.

Preorder it here!!

Tinsel and Tatas Release Day!

Get your copy of Tinsel and Tatas Today:

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*******

Enjoy this little tidbit of my story, Tits the Season . . .

“You know, Celeste,” I began conversationally. “I could be remembering wrong, but I think you and I used to like each other fine. Back in the day, I mean. When we were growing up, and when we were in high school.”

“What’s your point?” Her hands gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. 

“You’re pissed off at me for something, and you have been since I got back to town. I don’t know what I did to deserve it, though. You called and asked me to perform this weekend, and I didn’t even hesitate. I said yes. But from the time I saw you at the bar last night until now, you’ve been bristling at me like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”

Celeste shot me a glare filled with venom. “I don’t bristle. And don’t compare me to a cat.”

“I happen to be a big fan of cats, so it’s not like that’s an insult,” I returned calmly. “My point is, darlin’—” 

“Don’t you darlin me, Ty Hollins.” 

I ignored that. “The point is that you’re acting like I’ve wronged you in some way, and I can’t think of anything that might qualify. So I’d like you to enlighten me.” 

She was silent, but I saw the tension in her jaw. With a sigh of defeat, I slumped down and stared out the window. 

I forgot sometimes how dark it got out here in the country, especially around midnight in December. Still, the headlights picked up enough of our surroundings that I had a good idea of where we were. Almost without thinking about it, I began to reminisce. 

“Krissy and Carl Hochuck’s place is out this way, I think.” I paused for a moment. “That was some party they threw that year—it was the end of the summer a few years after Danny and I graduated. Do you remember?” 

Celeste snorted and rolled her eyes, and it was about that time I began to get a clue. 

BOSOM BUDDIES EPISODE SEVEN

 

If you missed Episode One, read it here.

If you missed Episode Two, read it here.

If you missed the Bonus Episode, read it here.

If you missed Episode Three, read it here.

If you missed Episode Four, read it here.

If you missed Episode Five, read it here.

If you missed Episode Six, read it here.

 

{Trigger Warning: this episode contains a description of an abusive situation, including violence. If this is a trigger for you, you might want to skip this one.}

Sabrina

“My God, it’s a tornado.”

The words had no sooner slipped from my lips than Wesley grabbed my arm and yanked me with him down the steps. I wasn’t sure my feet actually touched the ground; he ran so fast that the world spun around me.

Terror pounded in my veins. I knew what tornados could do. Growing up in southeast Wisconsin, I’d learned that when the dreaded siren sounded, I had to drop what I was doing and race to the basement, where we huddled until the radio assured us that it was safe to leave. We’d never been hit by a twister directly, but I’d seen the grim pictures of nearby towns that had been devastated by storms.

I was so worried about getting away from that looming funnel cloud that I didn’t even think about where Wesley was dragging me until he paused to tug open the door that led to the basement.

“Wait!” I yelled over the sound of the wind, rain, and thunder. “I don’t want to go down there.”

“Sabrina.” Wesley gripped my wrist. “We don’t have any choice. That tornado is heading this way. The basement is the only safe place.”

“But it’s horrible. There’s not even a floor. I talked with Linc about putting in a subfloor and some better walls, but he said we should focus on the main part of the house first.”

“We don’t have time to debate this. You’re coming down here with me, and that’s all there is to it.”

I opened my mouth to argue some more, and growling in frustration, Wesley bent and scooped me into his arms. Stepping down onto the top step, he slammed the door behind us and made his down into the pitch black of the basement.

It was ridiculous to be frightened, I scolded myself silently, even as I hid my face in Wesley’s shirt. It was just an old basement. But it smelled of earth and decay and mildew, and I couldn’t help feeling as though we were about to be buried alive.

***

“It’s not so bad, Brina girl.” Wesley’s breath was warm as he murmured against my ear. “Better than being upstairs and getting carried away to Oz.”

“Oz has its virtues,” I mumbled, keeping my eyes squeezed shut. “It’s all dirt down here. There are probably mice and rats and snakes.”

“Doubtful,” he answered, but I noticed that he didn’t exactly sound convincing.

“No, there are,” I insisted. “I remember my grammy’s basement in Ripon. There were mice.”

“Yeah, probably, but my point was that if there are snakes, there probably aren’t mice. Snakes eat mice.”

“Well, that’s just great.” I curled my fingers into Wesley’s neck. “Thanks for the biology lesson.”

“No problem.” He came to a stop, his back against the earthen wall, and then I felt him slide down until my feet hit the dirt floor.

“Hey!” I pulled in my legs and rolled up my body like a little potato bug. “Why are you sitting down on the ground where the snakes are slithering around?”

“There aren’t any snakes. And I’m sitting down because if I don’t, I might drop you.” Wesley brushed one hand down my back and then wrapped his arm securely around me, snugging me tight against him.

“Well, thanks for that.” I began to struggle against his embrace and then remembered the possibility of rodents and reptiles and stayed put. “Are you saying I’m so heavy that you had to get off your feet?”

“Not at all, babycakes. Just that I ran down here, and you’ve got a stranglehold on my neck. Safer for both of us if I’m sitting.”

“Okay.” I closed my eyes and let myself lean into Wesley. The one positive thing about this solid earthen basement was that I could barely hear the sounds of the storm anymore. Everything was muffled and softened. “Do you think it’s going to hit the house? The tornado, I mean?”

“Hard to say. Those things are so damn unpredictable. It could hit us. Or it could dance around and hit a bunch of other stuff.” He rolled his shoulder. “Impossible to know for sure.”

“Hmmmm.” I tried to focus on good stuff, to settle my mind, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d seen growing up. “Wesley, do you remember the year the twister hit Genessee?”

I couldn’t see him in the dark, but I could feel his body tighten. “Yep.”

“It was so bad. Up until then, I didn’t take the storms seriously, you know? I always dragged my feet about going to the cellar when the radio warnings sounded. It seemed ridiculous because they always missed us. But when that one hit so close . . . I saw the pictures. We were in . . . what, eighth grade? Seventh?”

I felt Wesley’s throat work. “Eighth. I remember because . . .” He expelled a long breath. “It was spring of eighth grade. I was playing baseball. First base, remember?”

I nodded. “Yeah. Of course. I went to every game and sat on the first row of the bleachers—until you broke your collarbone and couldn’t play.” Something inside me clicked suddenly. “Oh, my God, Wesley. You—I thought you fell down the steps. That’s what you said. But that wasn’t what happened, was it? It was him—it was your father, wasn’t it?”

His head moved slowly. “He didn’t want to go downstairs because he was watching something on TV, and my mom begged him—she said what if we got hit and he was trapped up there? I said—” Wesley’s breath hitched. “I said, let him stay up here if he’s so hell-bent on doing it. I was standing at the top of the steps of the cellar steps, and before the words were even all the way out of my mouth, he came charging at me. Knocked me down, and I heard the crack—I knew it was bad. My mom was screaming at him to stop, but he dragged me back upstairs and made me stay there with him. Forced my mother down to the basement and locked the door—she was pounding on it, yelling for me, but after a while, the wind and the storm were so loud, I couldn’t hear her anymore. I was in so much pain—I puked, and he smacked me again for doing that. And then he held me down while the twister went past us, and I prayed—God, I prayed that it would hit us, suck both of us up and end all that misery. But it didn’t. And when it passed, he gave me a kick and then left the house. I had to drag myself over to let my other out of the basement.” He was silent for a beat. “So yeah, I remember it. We were sitting in the emergency room watching the coverage that day.”

“Oh, Wesley.” Reaching up, I stroked his cheek. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I didn’t know. I was so clueless. You must’ve hated me for not realizing.”

“No way.” His response was swift, and I wasn’t sure, but it felt as though he’d brushed a kiss over the top of my head. “You were my safe spot. My happy place. If you’d been part of that, if you’d known . . . I would’ve hated that. But there is no fucking way I could have ever hated you. Not ever.”

I toyed with the collar of his shirt, my nose pressed into his neck. He smelled delicious, like sawdust and musk and the woods at sunset. It was a killer combo.

“Maybe not back then, but more recently . . .” I sighed, and Wesley shivered as my breath tickled his skin. “I’ve been a raging bitch. I acted like a spoiled kid who’d gotten her feelings hurt, and I never stopped to listen to you, to ask what happened. Why you left. I’m sorry, Wesley. So fucking sorry.”

“Hey, I told you before. Nothing to apologize for.” He cupped my cheek with one warm hand. “Second chances mean not saying you’re sorry for things that happened before.”

“Oh, really?” I teased, loving how his touch made me feel. “So you’re making the rules now?”

“I’m making that rule.” His head bent over mine. “Brina girl . . . can I ask you something?”

“Of course. Anything,” I whispered, my heart stuttering erratically.

“If I promise that I’m not going to leave town unexpectedly in the foreseeable future, could I kiss you?”

My mouth curved into a helpless smile. “That depends. Will it be as magical as it was when we were sixteen?”

His deep chuckle jostled us both. “Baby, you can count on it. All that and more. I’ve picked up some moves in the past fourteen years.”

“Then I say . . . a little less talk and a lot more action.”

Taking that as the assent it was, Wesley nudge my chin up until the back of my head rested on his arm. When he angled his mouth over mine, I was suddenly catapulted back to that young hopeful girl having her first kiss . . . and at the same time, I was me, the older and somewhat cynical woman who still couldn’t resist the man holding me in his arms.

The moment our lips touched, I knew for sure that we’d never lost any of the spark between us. Wesley groaned, and I trembled, my entire being catching on fire, needing his touch more than I needed to breathe. I arched my back, wild to be closer to him, to press my body against his and feel every subtle movement he made.

One of his hands—the one not attached to the arm that was cradling my head—wandered down to squeeze my ass and then back up toward my breasts, cupping first one and then the other through the thin cotton of my shirt. His thumb stroked the stiff tip of my nipple, and I was pretty sure that I was going to melt into nothing right then and there.

“See,” he murmured against my lips. “So much better than when we were sixteen. This is the kind of stuff that I only fantasized about doing back then.”

“Did you really?” I nuzzled his jaw and then hummed with pleasure when his lips trailed down my neck. “Did you really fantasize about me?”

“Only all day, every day.” His soft laughter rumbled again. “Took me way the hell too long to get up the nerve to actually do something about it. If I’d acted sooner . . .” He heaved out a long breath. “Let’s just say my timing sucked.”

“Hey now.” I kissed his chin. “Remember your rule.”

“Right.” His fingers slipped lower until his palm flattened over my stomach. “Brina, babe, about that second chance—”

“Wesley? Dr. Hudson? Are you down there?”

The voice calling from above jarred both of us from this sweet world where no one existed except the two of us. Dim light illuminated a slice of the basement, and I heard the clump of Linc Turner’s boots on his way the steps.

Without thinking, I jumped up from Wesley’s lap, brushing at my jeans and raking my fingers through my hair. God, did I look like I’d been making out in the basement? What would Linc think?

“Yeah, boss, we’re here. We’re okay.” Wesley rose slowly to his feet, stretching his back. “Is it all clear up there?”

“It is.” Linc hit the bottom step and squinted toward us. “Lord A’mighty, I’m glad you made it down here. I was just leaving the office when we heard the report of funnel clouds, so I called home to make sure they were taking cover, then the guys and I hightailed it to the interior bathroom.” He glanced at me. “No basement at the office, so that was the safest place. But let me tell you, after spending fifteen minutes in that space with four sweaty, dirty men, I’m putting in a storm cellar just as soon as I can.”

“I bet.” I cleared my throat. “I’d just stopped by the house, and as I was upstairs, uh, talking with Wesley, the power went out and we saw the cloud. Wesley was smart enough to drag me down here.” I couldn’t bring myself to meet his eyes yet, so I gestured toward him instead. “Note to both of us, Linc—let’s make getting this basement fixed up a priority, okay? I know we put it on the back burner, but if I’d have had to spend any more time down here than I did, I wouldn’t have been very happy.”

Too late, I heard the words that came out of my mouth and realized what they might sound like to Wesley. Shit. That hadn’t been what I meant, but going back now to clarify wasn’t going to help either of us. Linc Turner was a great guy and a hell of a restoration contractor, but I wasn’t in a hurry to share my deepest, darkest secrets with him. He didn’t need to know that I’d been in a lip lock—and more—with one of his employees.

The overwhelming stress of it all—rushing over here to spill my heart to Wesley, the storm, the basement, revisiting our past—not to mention a very hot make-out session with the guy who’d always made my insides go gooey—suddenly rolled over me, and I needed to get out of there as fast as I could.

“The tornado didn’t hit the house, right?” I asked Linc. “Nothing’s damaged? And my car’s okay?”

He shook his head. “Everything’s fine here. There are a couple of branches down, but they didn’t hit anything. The twister passed by about a mile south. Mostly, I think it stuck close to the road, though I heard a couple of farm fields might have been torn up. Let’s hope it was the ones that have already been harvested.”

“Yes, sure, let’s hope,” I babbled. “I better get out of here and check on my friends. Make sure they’re all right.” I skirted behind Linc. “House looks great, Linc. Awesome. Wonderful work. I’ll be in touch.”

With my foot on the bottom step, I paused and finally glanced back at Wesley. “Thank you. For saving me. For getting me down here. For—everything.”

It was too dim for me to make out his expression, but in my mind’s eye, I already knew that he was probably scowling.

“Sabrina—” he began, moving toward me, but I didn’t give him a chance to go on.

“See you all later!”

And then, racing like the devil himself was on my tail, I ran up the steps, through the kitchen and out the door.

Want to know what comes next?

Episode Eight is coming *next* Friday, October 15th!

But . . . Wesley and Sabrina’s HEA will have to wait a bit.

Because it’s time for the tale of

Coral’s movie premiere date!

What about Celeste?

Her romance is revealed in

TITS THE SEASON

which is part of the holiday benefit anthology

TINSEL AND TATAS

Releasing Today!

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