First Chapter Friday: Just Desserts

Liam Bailey is my sexiest dream and my worst nightmare, all rolled into one delicious, forbidden package.

I‘m the girl with an ironclad plan. Everything in my world is about succeeding, excelling, and making my large Italian family proud of me. That means graduating college with honors, landing the perfect job, and not letting anything–or anyone–get in my way.

But Liam is the guy who makes me want to break all my rules.

He’s the embodiment of all my naughtiest fantasies, with his incredible body, his brooding eyes, and his tempting smile.

Liam’s also the sweet-talking, complicated son of a well-known politician, the big man on campus, the athlete, the rich guy who’s never had to work for anything in his life.

When I don’t fall into his lap like the other women do, I fully expect him to walk away. After all, why would a girl like me matter to someone like him?

But it turns out that Liam doesn’t give up easily. He’s not going to let our friends’ opinions, his parents’ disapproval or my own walls get in the way of what he wants . . . which, apparently, is my heart.

Well, after all, rules were made to be broken.

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            “Well? What do you think?”

            I dragged my eyes from the Behavior Disorders text I’d been reading and glanced up at my roommate. She’d been changing her clothes since I got back from my last class, trying on one outfit after another.

            “Ava, are you even looking?” I knew the hint of exasperation in Julia’s voice covered up her nerves. I swallowed my impatience and studied her as she shifted from one foot to the other.

            “Yes, of course, I’m looking.” I narrowed my eyes, taking in the jeans and gray sweater. “That looks nice.”

            Julia turned back toward the mirror. “I don’t know. It’s just not what I wanted. And the sweater itches.”

            “Then try something else. You don’t want him to think you’ve got fleas or some weird body rash on your first date.”

            “Thanks.” She disappeared into her closet again and came out with another hanger, this one bearing a pretty green scoop neck shirt. “Does the green look too much?”

            I tilted my head, considering. “Too much what?”

            “You know, too much. . .like, too dressy for the movies.”

            I kept from rolling my eyes, but just barely. “It’s a date, Jules. You want to look pretty. And that color really brings out your eyes. Besides, he’s going to like you, whatever you wear. Go for it.”

            She didn’t look convinced, but she did stop talking as she stripped off the sweater and pulled the shirt over her head. It really was her color, and I smiled a little before I went back to my book. This date was a big deal: it was Julia’s first time out with Jesse Fleming, the handsome son of her boss. They’d met while she was babysitting his little brother, and she was more excited than I’d seen her in a long time.

            I managed to ignore Julia’s mumbled debate with herself over shoes and actually got through two more pages before she planted herself in front of me again.

            “Okay, I’m ready. How do I look?”

            I marked my place again with my finger. “Breathtaking.” I couldn’t help grinning at the sparkle in her eyes. “Seriously, you look awesome. Is Jesse coming up here?”

            “He’s coming to the dorm, but I think I’ll go down to meet him.”

            I arched an eyebrow. “Really? What, are you ashamed of me?” Ack, that was my mother’s voice, coming right out of my mouth.

            Julia laughed. “Of course not, silly. You can come down with me if you want. I just don’t think he should have to brave the Friday night freshmen.” She gave a mock shudder.

            I sighed. Being a resident advisor to a floor full of emotional first-year college girls wasn’t for the faint of heart. “Yeah, I get that. I think I’ll pass on going down. If I go out there, someone who’s having a crisis will find me and need nurturing. If I stay in here, there’s a better chance the crisis will pass before she can track me down.”

            Julia snagged her coat off the back of her desk chair and shrugged into it. “Hope springs eternal.” She took a deep breath and heaved it out. “Wish me luck.”

            I hopped off the bed and hugged her, the top of my head just about reaching her shoulders. “You don’t need luck. Just relax and enjoy yourself.” I stepped back, tamping down the unexpected flare of wistful envy that put a lump in my throat. “And text me at some point, so I know he hasn’t taken you off into the woods to be his love slave.”

            Jules made a face at me as she turned the doorknob. “Please!” Whatever else she might have added was lost in her gasp of surprise when she swung the door open, revealing a tall familiar figure in the hallway.

            Liam’s hand was raised as though he had been about to knock. He looked as taken aback as Julia was.

            “We need a peephole in this door so we don’t open it to just anyone.” She glanced at me over her shoulder, her eyes wide and pleading. I bit the corner of my lip, not sure what I could do to help. I didn’t have experience with ex-boyfriends. Hell, I didn’t have experience with boyfriends at all.

            “Excuse me, I need to leave.” Jules made to step around him. Liam didn’t move.

            “Where are you going?” He sounded more skeptical than curious, and I saw Julia’s shoulders stiffen. Now he was just making her mad.

            “Out.” If he knew her at all, he would have just stood aside at that tone. But apparently, nearly a year of dating hadn’t given him a clue.

            “Where?”

            “None of your business.” Julia craned her neck to look down the hall, and I knew what she was thinking. The last thing she needed was for Jesse to come up and run into Liam. Talk about awkward.

            “She has a date.” I didn’t mean to say it, but the words flew out of my mouth anyway. I stood with my arms folded over my chest as they both stared at me. After a minute, Jules took advantage of Liam’s distraction and slipped past him.

            “That’s right. And I don’t want to keep him waiting.”

            “Which one of your new men are you seeing tonight? Do you know what everyone is saying about you? Or don’t you care?”

            She stopped a few paces away but didn’t turn around when she answered him.

            “I thought I made it pretty clear this afternoon. I’m not your business any more, Liam. If I want to bang the whole football team, I will. So, good night, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

            “But I wanted to talk with you. This afternoon—”

            “Should have told you everything you wanted to know. Leave me alone, Liam. Please.”

            I couldn’t take it anymore. I moved forward to hold onto the door, leaning out so I could catch Julia’s eye.

            “How about this, Liam. You tell me what you have to say to Jules, and I’ll decide if it’s worth her time. If it is, you can talk to her later, when she’s ready.”

            Julia smiled at me in gratitude, and I mouthed one word to her.

            “Go.”

            She didn’t need me to say it twice. Before Liam could speak again, Julia was down the hall, to the steps. I breathed a silent prayer that Jesse was waiting for her in the lobby.

            “So who is he?” Liam stretched one arm to lean against the door jam, his eyes fastened on me now. “Who’s she seeing tonight?”

            “No one you know. Really, Liam. Why are you here?”

            He shifted his gaze away. “I told you. I’m worried about her. About what people are saying. Everyone’s talking about Julia screwing around, sleeping with any guy who looks her way.”

            “You’re going to want to shut the hell up. That’s my best friend you’re talking about. And you might remember she was also your girlfriend for ten months. What does that say about you?”

            “Exactly. Do you know how my fraternity brothers are talking? It’s sick. It makes me look bad, too.”

            “Oh, yeah? You mean like someone who dumps his girlfriend in front of all of their friends at the surprise birthday party she threw him?”

            He had the grace to look away from me.  “So it wasn’t my finest hour. But like I told Julia, it was for the best. Even if she doesn’t get that now, she will.”

            “Breaking up is one thing. Humiliation is another. She might get over it, but she’ll never forgive you. And neither will I.”

            “I don’t expect forgiveness from either of you. I just think she should rein it in, to stop slutting around campus. She needs to have a little self-respect.”

            Tomorrow morning, I was going to think of a killer comeback, but at the moment, anger closed my throat. I reached for the edge of the door to slam it in his face, but before I could do it, a group of freshmen girls appeared around the corner, giggling and talking in the high-pitched voices that went right up my spine.

            Liam’s face froze, and he stepped forward. “Ava, please. Let me come in. Just for a minute.”

            I frowned. “Are you crazy? No, you can’t come in.”

            “Ava. Please.” His eyes darted back down the hallway, and I followed his gaze to one of the girls. Aha. Suddenly everything was clear.

            I hesitated just long enough for Liam to sense weakness. He slid between the door and the wall, brushing against my body. Instinct made me shy back away from him. He pushed the door shut and leaned on it.

            He was entirely too close to me, and I struggled to say something to get my balance back.

            “Too many pissed-off girls, Liam? What’s the matter? Your little freshman fuck-buddy giving you problems, too?”

            He ran a hand through his light brown hair, scowling. “She wasn’t my fuck-buddy. She was just. . .convenient. And now she’s a major pain in my ass.”

            His obvious discomfort made me feel better. I’d never seen the cool and aloof Liam Bailey in anything less than total control.

            “What’s she doing?”

            Liam closed his eyes and shook his head. “Typical freshman shit. She just happens to show up outside my classes.  Drunk texts me late at night. Has her friends talk to me in the dining hall.” He pulled out Julia’s chair and sat down.

            “Make yourself at home, why don’t you.” I rolled my eyes, sinking onto my bed across from him and tucking my feet up beneath me.

            “Sorry, but I’m not going back out there until the coast is clear. If she saw me come in here, she’s probably walking back and forth down the hall, hoping to catch me leaving.”

            “Are you claiming sanctuary?” I couldn’t help a little smile.

            “Something like that.” Liam’s mouth tightened a little. “I didn’t sleep with her, you know. With Rachel, the freshman. Not that night, not since. Not ever.”

            I raised one eyebrow, my skepticism clear.

            “I didn’t. The night of my birthday party, Giff walked her home after everyone left. And I haven’t talked to her since. I mean, not to say more than, ‘Go home, you’re drunk. I’m not interested.’”

            “If you weren’t interested, why did you show up at your party—the party my best friend, your girlfriend worked long and hard planning, by the way—with your hand down the shirt of another woman?”

            He shrugged. “The guys had a little pre-party for me at the Alpha Delt house. They’d invited some girls, and she was one of them. She was wasted before I even showed up. And she wouldn’t leave me alone, kept saying she’d been watching me around campus and had a big crush on me. I don’t know, one thing led to another and it seemed like it would be a way to make sure Julia knew I was moving on.”

            “Because just telling her, privately, and maybe with a little bit of sensitivity just wouldn’t get the job done.”

            He sighed and sprawled back in the chair. “I never said it was the smart thing to do. If I could do it over, yeah, I probably would have made better choices. But there was more going on than you know. The whole thing is complicated.”

            I dropped to lie down on my side, bunching a pillow under my head. It didn’t seem like Liam was planning to leave any time soon, so I decided to get comfortable. My textbook mocked me from the foot of the bed, and I ignored it.

            “Complicated, huh? Care to elaborate?”

            “Not really, no. Just take my word for it. But don’t worry, I’ve felt like a dick since the morning after. And even if I hadn’t, Giff would’ve made sure I did. He was really pissed at me.”

            “Can you blame him? If you felt so bad, why didn’t you apologize? Make it right with Julia?”

            He closed his eyes and shook his head. “I told you, complicated. Plus, I figured it was done. Better let her just move on.”

            “And now that she has, in fact, moved on, suddenly you feel compelled to come back into her life?”

            “Thanks, Dr. DiMartino. I didn’t realize I was here for a session.”

            I grinned, unfazed. “You’re stuck in a room with a psych major. You have two choices: leave and risk assault by freshman, or stay and answer my questions.”

            “I could stay and ignore you.” Liam hooked one foot over the rung at the bottom of the chair.

            “You could try.”

            He frowned, rubbed one hand over his forehead, and blew out a breath. “Look, I don’t want to talk about Julia. I know I screwed up with her. What’s the point of rehashing the whole thing?”

            I held his eye. “You tell me. You’re the one who showed up here tonight, insisting on talking to her. You still haven’t said why.”

            “No, I told you. The guys are talking about her. Everyone is calling her a slut.”

            “And you care. . .why?”

            “Because I feel responsible.” The words came out as though he hadn’t meant to say them. “Okay, is that what you wanted to hear? You know what Julia was like when we started going out. She was shy. Quiet. I was the first person she. . .” His voice trailed off.

            “I know.” The flash of vulnerability on his face took away some of my mad.

            “So if she’s doing all of this, fucking around, because of what I did to her. . .yeah, I feel like I have to say something.”

            I hesitated. I was right smack in the middle here: my best friend was looking for revenge on the guy who had screwed her over and humiliated her in a very public way. She wasn’t actually sleeping with any of the guys Liam saw with her. It was all a giant con, a big set-up engineered by Julia, Liam’s friend Giff and me, designed to make Liam want her back so she could shoot him down.

            But there was no way I could tell Liam this, even if I wanted to. I wasn’t going to break the sacred girlfriend code. Maybe he wasn’t quite the jerk we thought—though I wasn’t sure I bought it—but still, I couldn’t forget who he was, and what he’d done.

            “You may have been Julia’s first serious boyfriend, Liam, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel responsible. And. . .” I licked my lips, trying to decide how to say what I wanted without giving away anything. “Come on. You know Jules. Does it seem like she’d start sleeping around, even if you did break her heart?”

            He shook his head. “Yeah, I do know her. Or I thought I did. But what if she’s, like, gone off the deep end?  Some girls can’t handle break-ups. They go nuts.”

            I couldn’t help myself. I burst out laughing. “Wait a minute. So you’re saying you think Julia’s lost her mind because of what you did? Good God, Liam. Talk about arrogance.”

            I half-expected him to get defensive and maybe a little mad, but instead, he surprised me again by laughing, too.

            “Yeah, I guess when I hear myself say it out loud, it sounds that way. Okay, so I didn’t drive Julia to the edge of sanity by breaking up with her. So then why is she acting like this?”

            “Maybe she’s just enjoying her freedom.” It wasn’t even close to being true, but it sounded good. I decided a change of subject was in order. With one last longing glance at my book, I stood up. “Since it looks like you’re going to be here for a little while, do you want a drink? I’m going to break out some wine coolers. I think we have some beer in the fridge, too.”

            “Sure, I’ll have whatever you’re drinking.”

            I dug out two of our high-class plastic cups, took two wine coolers from the fridge and poured us each a healthy portion.

            “I can drink from the bottle,” Liam offered.

            “Better to hide it in a cup, in case Rachel the freshman or one of her buddies decides to come in.” I tucked the empty and the extra behind my wastepaper basket.

            “Gotcha.” Liam held up his cup. “To. . .friends, I guess.”

            I raised my eyebrows but touched my wine to his anyway. “Okay. If you say so.”

            He sipped and nodded. “Not bad. The wine cooler, I mean.” He set it down on Julia’s desk, carefully avoiding the mess of papers she’d left there. There was a moment of silence, but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

            “You know, I always enjoyed spending time with you.” Liam traced a drop of moisture on the side of the cup. “Sometimes I felt like I could talk to you more than I could to Julia.”

            It felt disloyal to agree with him, but I nodded anyway. “I know what you mean. Jules said the same thing about Giff, actually. She misses him.”

            “Yeah. Too bad she isn’t his type. They always got along better than Julia and me. If it weren’t for Giff, we probably wouldn’t have stayed together as long as we did.”

            This wasn’t news to me. I’d seen the tension between my roommate and her boyfriend for months before the break-up had become official, but neither of them seemed to recognize it. If I’d said anything to Jules, she would have accused me of trying to psychoanalyze everything.

            “Why did you? Stay together, I mean.” I took another drink.

            Liam lifted one shoulder. “I don’t know. Why not? Julia is a nice person. She’s pretty, she’s smart. . .my parents liked her. My dad kept saying she would make a good politician’s wife.”

            “Julia? A political wife? That’s crazy.” I laughed and tilted my cup to catch the last drops. “I mean, seriously? You weren’t thinking that far ahead, were you?”

            Liam stared at me, an odd look on his face. “You should laugh more often. It makes your eyes sparkle.”

            I didn’t know what to do with that. Liam paying me a compliment felt somehow wrong. “Don’t change the subject. Were you seriously considering marrying Jules?”

            He looked away from me. “I’m going to graduate next year. My future is pretty well mapped out, at least as far as my parents are concerned.  And a girlfriend, who becomes a wife who can make me look good, is definitely on the list of things I need. According to the congressman, anyway.”

            I reached for one of the bottles and poured myself a refill, holding it to Liam in question. He hesitated a minute and then took it from me, adding to what was still in his cup.

            “I’m sorry, is this 1954? And is your last name Kennedy? Who thinks that way anymore?” The booze warmed me and loosened my tongue.

            “Yeah, I know. But it’s my dad’s dream. His father only got to county politics, but Dad made it to Congress. And maybe he’ll go further. But he’s counting on me to take it all the way to the big time.”

            “Do you want to do it?” I finished my second glass and curled on my side again, looking up at Liam.

            He met my eyes, and something flashed there. Defiance or pain, I couldn’t tell which. He didn’t answer me at first. Instead he tossed back the last of his cooler and took another refill.

            “Here, why don’t you kill it?” Without waiting for me to answer, he poured the rest into my cup. I rarely had more than two drinks, even if we were just staying in the room, but I couldn’t think of a good reason not to right now.

            “Nice dodge and re-direct, but you didn’t answer me. Do you even want to go into politics?”

            “I don’t know.” He spoke low, his eyes on the floor. “I thought I did. I mean, I’m good at it. My parents have been training me as long as I can remember. I never thought about doing anything else.”

            “So what changed?” I maneuvered the cup to my lips and managed to sip without shifting.

            “Nothing. Or maybe everything. Maybe me.”

            This Liam Bailey was not the same smooth, confident guy I’d known for the last year. He seemed troubled, almost sad. Or maybe that was just the three cups of wine talking.

            “Well, guess what? The good news for you is that you’re only a junior in college. You have time. You’re a history and poli sci major, and that can translate into something other than running for office. Or you could change your major, though it’s a little late in the game for that. Or you could—”

            “Or I could do this.”  Before I could move or react, Liam slid off the chair onto his knees and leaned over me, covering my lips with his.

            At first, I was stunned into complete paralysis. Liam Bailey was kissing me. Me, Ava DiMartino, the dumpy little Italian girl. The one who didn’t do dates, who had a plan and goals and no time for boys.

            And then he moved his hand to the side of my face, and his tongue traced the seam of my mouth. A moan caught in my throat, and I opened my lips, kissing him back for a wild minute of insanity. Liam slid his free arm under my back. The wall of his chest teased against the tips of my breasts, and he lifted his head to trail kisses across my face and murmur into my ear.

            “My God, Ava, you feel amazing. And you smell like. . .” Nose buried in my neck, he inhaled deeply. “Lilacs. Like my grandmother’s garden in spring.” His hand covered my breast.

            Something within me snapped, jerking me back to reality, cutting through the wine-haze.  I pushed against his shoulders.

            “Liam, stop. Move. We can’t do this. What’s wrong with you?”

            He leaned up, frowning down into my face. “Why? What?”

            “Holy—you need to get up. God, what was I thinking?” I kicked at his leg. “Get the hell off me.” I squirmed, trying to get away from the heat of his body. “Clearly I wasn’t thinking at all. It’s the alcohol. Wine is bad. Wine coolers, I mean. So, so bad.”

            “I hope you were thinking that you liked me kissing you.” He lowered his face toward me again, and without thinking about it, I hauled off and smacked him.

            “What the hell—” He jumped to his feet, holding his jaw. “What did you do that for?”

            I scooted up to sit near my pillows. “Be happy that was all I did. I’m Italian. You’re lucky I didn’t rip your balls off.”

            Liam climbed onto the foot of the bed, avoiding me with care, and leaned against the wall. His face was flushed, especially where I’d hit him, and his light brown hair, usually in such artful disarray, was looking decidedly rumpled. He dropped his head back, and it thumped against the wall.

            “I don’t get why it’s so bad.” He spoke with his eyes closed.

            I eyed his long, lean body, trying to ignore the evidence of desire that stretched the zipper of his jeans.  Swallowing hard, I focused on his feet. Black Converse. Totally unsexy. Except they weren’t. Okay, so no focusing on any of his body parts. What in the hell was wrong with me?

            “How can you not get it?” I gritted my teeth and curled my legs up, wrapping my arms around them until I was huddled in a ball. I let my hair drop around my face, giving the illusion of protection. “Whatever else might have been screwed up with you, I always thought you had a logical brain. Point A: Julia is my best friend and my roommate. Point B: She was your girlfriend for nearly a year—”

            “Ten months.” Liam didn’t move as he mumbled.

            I pushed my hair back and peeked out at him. “See, that is such a guy thing. Ten months is nearly a year. What I’m saying is, it’s not like you just went out once or twice. You were together. Like, together, together. So it is not cool at all for you to kiss me. It violates every rule in the girl code.”

            “Maybe I’m out of practice, but it sure felt like you were kissing me back.” He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at me, the smolder in his gaze making it hard for me to sit still. Even though most of me was flooded with guilt, another part was telling me to leap down the bed and climb into his lap. The image made me groan.

            “Stop looking at me like that. Okay, yes, I was kissing you back. But I was wrong. I’m a terrible person. I’m probably going to hell now. At the very least, I’m looking at extra time in purgatory. My mother is going to have to light so many candles for me.”

            A slow smile spread across Liam’s face as he dropped to his hands and knees and began crawling toward me. He reminded me of a mountain lion, and the look in his eyes was definitely predatory.

            “Well, if you’re already damned, you might as well have some fun, right?” He grabbed one of my feet and yanked down, pulling me flat again.  I kicked at him, missing his shoulder as he dodged.  He planted one hand on either side of my hips and dropped to kiss my neck, running his lips down to my collarbone.

            “Liam.” I pushed at his head. “Stop.” My words were weak, probably because him stopping was really not what I wanted. It was what I should want. But he complied anyway, rising up again so he could look at me.

            “I know what you’re saying. Yeah, it’s kind of weird, I guess. But not really. I always liked you. What I said before was true. I thought we got along pretty well, and God, Ava, if Julia is moving on, why shouldn’t we?”

            “Oh, so if you walked in on Giff and Julia in bed together, you’d be okay with that?”

            He smirked. “I’d be shocked. Ava, I hate to break it to you, but Giff is gay.”

            I swatted his arm. “It’s the principle of it, and you know what I mean. And not only that, but I’m not looking to get tangled up with you or with anyone. I don’t have time for this.”

            “Can you tell me honestly you don’t feel this spark?” He moved to lie alongside me and skimmed a hand down my side, from my hip to the side of my breast. “You weren’t pushing me away a few minutes ago.”

            I heaved out a breath. “Just because I feel something doesn’t mean I have to act on it. I don’t have any interest in being your fuck buddy tonight, Liam. Spark or no spark.”

            “I’m not looking for that either. Didn’t you hear what I said? I like you, Ava. I always have. Kissing you might not have been what I planned to do tonight, but this isn’t the first time I’ve thought of doing it.”

            I squirmed as he ran a finger up my bare arm. “Oh, really? So you’re saying you thought about this when you were going out with my best friend? Because that doesn’t make you look any better.”

            He fell back on the bed, hard. I could still feel his warmth all along one side of me.

            “Remember I said that my reasons for breaking up with Julia were complicated?”

            “Yeah. . .” I frowned as the meaning of his words dawned on me. “You’re saying I was the reason you did it? Oh, come on, Liam. What kind of idiot do you think I am?”

            “I don’t think you’re an idiot at all, and what the hell does that mean?”

            I held up one hand and began counting on my fingers. “One, you’re trying to say that you broke up with Julia because you had feelings for me? If you expect me to believe that, you really must think I’m stupid. Or desperate. I’m neither. Two, if I were to believe that, you feel it should be enough to make me want to fall into your arms here and now? If that’s the case, you must think I’m not only dumb but really shallow, too.”

            “I didn’t. And I don’t. The complications are a lot more—uh, complicated than just me liking you. But it played into it. You can believe me or not, but by last fall, I started to realize that the only time I really enjoyed hanging out with Julia was when you were there, too. So I knew it was time to end things before I did something really stupid like get drunk and try to make out with you while I was still dating your friend.”

            I snorted. “Like that would have ever happened.”

            Liam shook his head. “Yeah, I know, but I wanted to. And that was enough. So no, it wasn’t the only reason, but it was a factor. I didn’t come here tonight to tell you that, or to do. . .this. . .” He turned over again so he was looking down at me, and he touched the side of my face with the tip of his finger. “But I’m not sorry it happened, and I’m not sorry it’s out there. And I don’t think we did anything wrong.”

            I held still, hardly breathing. I was afraid if I moved, I might not be able to control my hands. Or my lips. Good God, when did this happen? When did I stop hating Liam Bailey? Or maybe I still did, but maybe hating him didn’t necessarily preclude wanting to rub my body all over his. . .

            I rolled away from him. “That’s the difference between us, isn’t it? I know what we did was wrong because it’s not something I’d be comfortable telling Jules.  Plus, I think you’re just saying what you did to make yourself feel better. I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but I’m not going to be part of it. Just go away.”

            Liam sighed, and for a minute, he didn’t move. Then he threw one leg over me, and for one dizzying breath, I thought he was going to kiss me again. But instead, he perched on the edge of the bed and dropped his head into his hands.

            “I can’t blame you for not trusting me, Ava. I know I haven’t given you any reason to believe me. But I’m going to. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make you see that I’m not that guy. I want a chance with you.”

            I kept my eyes trained on the wall across the room. “Don’t bother, because I’m not interested. I don’t have time for games, and I’m not looking for a booty call.”

            He stood. “I’m not, either. No offense, but if that’s what I wanted, there are plenty of willing girls.” He pointed at the door. “I could just call Rachel the freshman, right? But I don’t. I didn’t mean to act on this yet, but I’m not sorry you know.”

            Liam snagged his coat from the chair, picked up his empty plastic cup, and chucked it into the trash.

            “Thanks for the wine. And the sanctuary. I’ll talk to you soon.”

            He opened the door and disappeared into the now-quiet hallway. I heard the click of the lock as the door shut.

            I should have been mad. Pissed and outraged and full of righteous indignation. But instead, a tiny seed of something unexpected and unfamiliar took root within me. I hugged my pillow to my chest for a few minutes, staring up at the ceiling.

            When I reached to the end of the bed for my psych text, it no longer held the same appeal as it had a few hours before. I closed the book, slid it onto my desk, and climbed under the covers. It was the first time I’d gone to bed without finishing my reading in a very long time.

            That lasted about five minutes before I jumped up, turned the light back on, and grabbed my book.

 

HANGING BY A MOMENT Release Day!

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If you read

WHEN WE WERE US

then you’ve been waiting to read the next chapter

in Leo, Quinn and Nate’s story . . . and today, you can.

When life shatters, it helps to have friends. I don’t know what I’d have done without Leo and Nate to comfort me, to hold me up and to keep me sane in face of sudden and terrible loss.

And if one of those friends happens to be the love of my life, the one guy I thought I’d never be close to again . . . I’m not going to complain. After all, in a vast sea of things that aren’t fair, being with Leo again feels like the only shining beam of hope.

I know there aren’t any guarantees for us. Leo’s heading south to play football, rocking a full-ride at one of the top colleges in the nation. Meanwhile, all of my plans have fallen apart, and I have to figure out what comes next. Having Nate by my side is more important than I could have imagined.

The next four years were supposed to be the most exciting time of my life. Instead, they turn into a rollercoaster of uncertainty, complete with breathtaking highs and lows that threaten to break my heart.

In the end, the decisions we make now could change everything for the three of us, forever.

~~~***~~~

Buy your copy of HANGING BY A MOMENT right here!

 Amazon/iBooks/Google/Nook/Kobo

Read an exclusive sample right here.

And join me today at our Happy Hour Release Party!

The Keeping Score Trilogy is a New Adult contemporary romance. The first two books may notHanging by Moment give you complete closure, but hang in there for Book 3; I promise the pay-off is worth it.

The release dates, all in 2016, are:

When We Were Us April 7th

Hanging By A Moment May 24th

Days of You and Me September 27th

 

 

If you haven’t read WHEN WE WERE US yet, grab it now!

iBooks/Amazon/Nook/Kobo/Google Play/Goodreads

 

2015AuthorPhoto (1539x1800)Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books include YA paranormal romance,  NA paranormal and contemporary romance, and adult contemporary and paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.

 

 

Follow Tawdra:

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I’m Reading The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen

We’ve been playing with a theme here the last week or so: strong females, sexuality and how it’s all portrayed in contemporary literature, more specifically in New Adult romance. The book I’ve been reading over the last week is a perfect example of how that’s done well.

You might remember I read the first two Ivy Years books last month and really enjoyed them. I was thrilled to see this new installment come out in April, but since it didn’t involve the main characters from the first two, I was a little worried. Happily, the story was so good and the characters so very engaging that I was immediately captivated. But what drew me in even more was one of the main themes of this novel: healthy sexuality and the role of shaming in our culture.

Bella, the female lead, is an unabashedly sexual character. It’s clear early on that she’s perfectly comfortable with her own body, with her sexuality and with a series of partners. She’s the hockey team’s manager, and she’s definitely more at home with men than she is with girls; we notice that she doesn’t really have any female friends, and the attitudes of the hockey girlfriends are less than warm. Still, the fact that Bella doesn’t feel shame–and in fact celebrates her choices–makes the reader comfortable with her, too.

When she encounters her upstairs neighbor Rafe needing some cheering up, Bella does what comes naturally. His response–or Bella’s perception of it–in the weeks that follow shake her convictions, but what happens next nearly destroys her life. I won’t spoil it, but the way the author weaves this story, subtly showing how easy it is to jump to judgement in situations we don’t understand, is remarkable and extremely well-done.

The juxtaposition of Bella’s open sexuality and that of the men at her school, and how both of those are perceived by others, is eye-opening. (More on that Thursday.)

From a strictly-story point of view, this was fabulous. The love story is gently developed, with believable ebbs and flows. Bella’s evolution and maturity is also nicely done, and I’m excited that one of the related characters will have her own story! (Yay! More Ivy Years!)

If you haven’t tried these books yet, I highly recommend them. Actually, I can’t say enough good about them. One click ’em now.

I’m Reading #Nerd, #Hater, #Player

The indie community is not without its drama, and last fall, some of it involved two authors who apparently were both writing books with a similar main idea. I don’t know details, I don’t know people involved; I only heard buzzings here and there. For some reason, the topic in question stuck in my head.

So when I saw the titles of Cambria Hebert’s series, it rang a bell. I might’ve just slid past it, but the blurb of the first book (#Nerd) struck a chord, and I downloaded it.

I’ve said before that I find some New Adult books somewhat formulaic. It doesn’t bother me, necessarily, as long as the characters are strong and the storyline doesn’t take itself too seriously. A few extra twists never hurt anyone, either.

#Nerd definitely has the formula element. The nerd is the girl, Rimmel (and it’s never addressed where her name came from. . .which I found interesting and a little maddening. If I knew a girl named Rimmel, the first thing I’d ask is where she got her name). She’s not only a nerd, she’s actually a very shy, withdrawn, almost-hermit girl, who dresses in clothes five sizes too big, wears her hair around her face and keeps everyone at arm’s length.  As a matter of fact, in my school days, she wouldn’t have been termed a nerd, necessarily, as much as just ignored. In Buffy-lore, Rimmel would’ve gone invisible long before our story begins. But I digress.

She’s at a college in Maryland on scholarship, and of course part of that scholarship is the requirement to tutor her less-academically-minded students. And to whom is she assigned as a tutor? You guessed it. Hot, rich, popular football player, with heavy emphasis on PLAYER. Dude gets around. During their first study session in the library, he slinks off with a random chick and our poor little nerd spies him getting some action in the stacks.

(Side note to girls in college: if popular literature is accurate, get yourself on staff as a tutor to meet the man of your dreams. Apparently it never fails. You’re welcome.)

But our player, Roman, aka Romeo (and it’s a testament to how much I really liked his character, because I had a hard time taking him seriously with that nickname) turns out to have a heart of gold. He sees the sweet vulnerability in Rimmel, and something in him harkens to something in her. Deep cries unto deep, one might say.

Unfortunately, before this can really develop, there’s a complication in the form of a fraternity rushing initiation. Although this is not a belabored point, thankfully, it does play into both the rest of this book and the second one. There’s the twist, see?

I gobbled up all three books in about three days, so you can tell I enjoyed them. The characters were compelling, well-written and likable. The plot wasn’t shocking or earth-shattering, but it was viable and interesting. The use of the fictional college’s BuzzFeed, a texting gossip network work that uses way too many hashtags, was cute and added to the background.

If I had any reservations about these books, it would be the speed with which Rimmel transforms from hermit-girl to girlfriend of popular dude. We find out why she’s hiding under all those clothes fairly quickly after she and Romeo begin dating, and while I am all for the theory of love-cures-all, I needed her to be a little more real in her reservations. Then again, maybe in real life, any girl who was full-court-press pursued by our man Romeo would cave fast, too.

A fourth book is coming out in May, about one of the side characters. I really enjoyed the supporting cast in these books, including Romeo’s parents. I like this new trend in NA of letting the parents play a bigger role. It feels more realistic to me.

So if you enjoy New Adult romance with a little humor, some heaty heat (oh, yeah!) and some intense love. . .if you liked Beautiful Disaster, for instance. . .check out Cambria Hebert’s Hashtag series.

I’m off to skulk for something else to read. Oh, yeah. . .and write the book that’s under deadline right now.

THE LAST ONE Release Day

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The anticipated spin-off series of THE POSSE is finally here!

Meghan Hawthorne is restless. The last year has been a roller coaster: her widowed mother just married a long-time family friend. Her younger brother unexpectedly became a father and a husband. Everyone’s life is changing. . .except for hers. As she begins her final summer of college, Meghan’s looking for excitement and maybe a little romance. Nothing serious; this girl just wants to have fun. 

But the only man for Meghan turns out to be the last one she expects. 

Sam Reynolds doesn’t need excitement, and he doesn’t want romance. Fun is out of the question. He’s been the steady, responsible one since his parents were killed, and serious is his way of life. 

When Sam rescues Meghan alongside a dark Georgia backroad, she falls hard for his deep brown eyes and slow drawl. But making him see her as more than just a party girl won’t be easy. Sam’s tempted by the fiery young artist, even as he realizes that giving into his feelings will mean radical change. . .maybe more than he can handle. 

Nobody ever said love was simple.

 “As an almost strictly paranormal romance reader, it takes a certain type of author to convince me to dive into straight romance. Tawdra Kandle is one of the few authors I will make an exception for. Her writing style is so easy and relaxing that I have to really keep an eye on the time or I’ll stay up all night to finish one of her books.” Carrie Williams, Goodreads Reviewer

“Wow. Talk about romance with an edge. From the beginning the characters were so real that I was completely invested in them. The sexual tension woven into the story added so much value to the relationships. I will be reading this book many times just so I can spend more time with Meghan and Sam.” Cheryl Garrett, Goodreads Reviewer

“I’m in love with this book!!” Leah Fennick, Goodreads Reviewer

Buy it now at Amazon/iBooks/Barnes and Noble/Kobo/Smashwords

 

Watch the trailer here!

 

THE FIRST ONE

The One Trilogy Book 2

will be released on February 8th

and is now available for pre-order

Amazon/iBooks/Barnes and Noble

 

Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love TK03scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books run from YA paranormal romance (THE KING SERIES), through NA paranormal and contemporary romance (THE SERENDIPITY DUET, PERFECT DISH DUO, THE ONE TRILOGY) to adult contemporary and paramystery romance (CRYSTAL COVE BOOKS and RECIPE FOR DEATH SERIES). She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair. 

Follow Tawdra on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Instagram

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