My contribution to It Happened One Weekend is SECOND SHOT, a novella set in The Anti-Cinderella World Romances. The main character is Liesel Duncan, younger sister of Kyra, the actual Anti-Cinderella, and it’s a second chance romance between her and a sexy baseball player who’s playing in the championship series.
I stopped more out of instinct than intent. We’re all trained to look up and pay attention when someone calls our name, aren’t we? I wished I had ignored him and swept out, but I didn’t. In fact, I not only stopped, but I found myself turning around to face him.
“What do you want, Carter?”
He slowed his pedaling and rested his wrists on the handlebars. “Were you seriously going to leave without even acknowledging that I was here?”
I paused, considered, and nodded. “Yes. Yes, I was.”
He exhaled long, dropping his head and rubbing his neck. “I can’t believe that we’ve come to this. We’ve known each other our whole lives, Liesel. We were together—a couple—for almost nine years. And now you just pretend you don’t know me? Is that how it’s supposed to work?”
I squared my shoulders. “I think the point is that it doesn’t work, Carter. We didn’t work. So . . .” I shrugged. “Yeah. That’s how it is. I don’t have anything to say to you, and I assume you don’t have anything to say to me, either.”
“Why would you assume that?” He scowled at me, his brow furrowed.
“Oh, I don’t know. I guess because it’s been four years, and I haven’t heard a word from you. No calls, no texts, no emails. When that happens, I try to accept that the other person doesn’t want to communicate. Call me crazy.”
“Well, you are,” he snapped back, and then at my expression of confusion, he added, “Crazy. You’re nuts, Liesel. Why the hell would I call or text or email you when the last time we were together, you told me you never wanted to see me or hear from me again?”
I blinked. “I was angry.”
“You think?” Carter rolled his eyes. “We were both angry, and for good reason. But we weren’t the couple who ends because we’re pissed off. We were the couple who worked out our shit. Or at least we were until the night you threw me out and told me we were over.”
“That’s not how it happened,” I protested, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, even though I harbored an uneasy feeling that perhaps Carter recalled that night with more clarity than I did. “We had been growing apart for months. You were on the road constantly, and even when you were home, you were so absorbed in the game, or at practice, or conditioning, or hanging out with your teammates . . . there wasn’t any room for me in your life anymore.” I paused. “Not to mention what was happening when you were at away games. The way the women threw themselves at you, the pictures and the posts—I couldn’t take it.”
“We hadn’t been growing apart,” Carter argued. “You were living in a constant state of stress and unhappiness because you hated the work you were doing.”
My mouth dropped. “That’s not true.”
“Oh, yes, it is,” he returned. “It’s a hundred percent accurate. And you got all pissy with me because I pointed out that you’d taken the job with your family’s company against your better judgement. You never wanted to work in a corporate setting, Liesel. You’re an artist. You were meant for a wild, unfettered existence.”
I bit down on my lower lip, battling against the tears that were threatening, because oh, God, Carter was dancing on tender feelings that were still too sensitive for me to face. His words forced me to remember how frustrated and miserable I’d been in those first few years after college . . . and reminded me that I wasn’t all that thrilled with my day-to-day work even now.
Still, I wasn’t going to let him get away with totally blaming our break-up on me.I drew in a deep breath. “That’s beside the point, Carter. If I was unhappy in those days, it wasn’t because of my job choice—not completely, anyway,” I amended as I saw he was about to open his mouth to argue more. “I hated the baseball life. We barely saw each other, between your schedule and mine, and when we did get together, we ended up bickering.”
His eyes darkened slightly. “Some of that bickering ended up in bed, if I remember.”
I chose to ignore that jibe, even if it was one hundred percent accurate and sent all the feels to my lady bits. “You hated how insecure I was about what went on when I wasn’t around. And I hated being that woman, the one who felt like she couldn’t trust her partner when he was out of her sight.”
“Your insecurity had nothing to do with me or anything I did,” he countered. “It was because you were stuck in a job you didn’t want to do, and you were doing it because you have an unhealthy and irrational fear of disappointing your family.”
“I do not!” My hands curled into fists. “Just because I love my parents and my grandparents doesn’t make me co-dependent on them. It doesn’t mean my relationship with my family is dysfunctional.”
“I never said it did.” Carter’s voice softened. “I said your fear of disappointing them was dysfunctional, mostly because I never saw any reason for it. In my experience with Handsome, Honey, and your parents, they never once said or did anything that was meant to make you feel anything but loved and cherished. They were so proud of your art, of your passion for design. Just like I was.” He sighed, his shoulders slumping. “Your grandmother Honey only mentioned the job at Honey Bee to you after graduation in case you were anxious about supporting yourself. She specifically said that she understood if you wanted to pursue your dreams on your own terms. I was sitting right next to you when she said it.”
A twinge of familiar guilt and resentment hit my gut. “She offered me the job. Honey Bee is our family company. It’s important to all of us that it continues to grow and thrive.”
“True.” Carter nodded. “But it wasn’t as if the business was in danger of going under or anything like that. Your parents are both helping to run Honey Bee. Kyra and Bria are involved, too. You could’ve easily gone your own way.” He waited a beat. “But you know, Liesel, I’ve had a long time to mull this over, and I think a big part of why you took a job you didn’t want is that you didn’t want to be left out. You didn’t want to be the only Duncan who didn’t work for Honey Bee.”
“No.” I shook my head. “You’re choosing to believe what’s convenient for you, what supports this crazy theory of yours. But it was so much more than that. Kyra was still settling into her role as part of the Royal Family, and she was pregnant with Alice. We knew that was going to impact how much time and energy she could devote to Honey Bee. Plus, Ky’s always been more interested in the sourcing side of the company—she’s happier with her hands in the dirt, trying to make the growing processes better and more organic.”
“Just like you’re happier when you have a sketch pencil in your hand and a pad of paper on your knees.” Carter frowned a bit, his lips pursing. “Or maybe not so much anymore. Because I have to say, Liesel, I’m a little confused about what you’re doing here this weekend. When I saw you yesterday, you were checking in for a writers’ meeting, weren’t you? What gives there?”
I tensed. “None of your damned business.”
“Uh-huh.” Carter crossed his arms, and I did my level best to ignore the way it made the muscles in his biceps bunch. He really had only gotten hotter in the past four years. Dang him. With no small difficulty, I dragged my attention back to what he was saying. “I heard one of the other women call you by a different name. Amelia? Was that it?”
I raised one brow. “I say again, none of your business, Carter. What I do, how I do it, when I do it, is no longer your concern. I don’t need your opinion or your judgement.”
“No one’s judging, babe. Or at least, not me. I never did. I only ever wanted you to have what you wanted. I wanted you to be who you wanted to be.”
I huffed out a sigh. “Bullshit. You hated my job at Honey Bee because it got in the way of me being that perfect baseball girlfriend. I didn’t have time to sit in the bleachers in tight jeans and a low-cut shirt with your name on it, my nails done and my makeup perfect. That’s why you tried to convince me to give up my job.”
Carter shook his head. “That’s not the way it was, Liesel.” He sounded weary. “I never asked you to be anyone other than who you are. If the job at Honey Bee fulfilled you, I would’ve been your biggest champion.”
“And this—” I jabbed my finger downward. “This right here is why I was trying to leave without saying anything to you. Because we’re back to talking in circles, just like we were four years ago. You’re like a dog with a bone when it comes to my job, and you won’t take any responsibility for what else was going on between us.” I stood silent for a moment, my entire body tight with coiled frustration. “If you must know, if it’ll make you leave me alone, I’ll tell you—yes, I’m here this weekend for the Romance Author Conference. I started writing a couple of years ago, but I do it under a pseudonym because—because—” I pressed one hand to my chest. “This is mine. It’s only for me. It’s the part of my life that I don’t have to share or explain to anyone.”
“Okay. I get that.” Carter’s tone softened. “It’s the artist in you, just coming out in a new and different way.”
“Whatever.” I tossed my hands in irritated surrender. I didn’t have time to argue with him any longer. “If you want to out me back at home in Philadelphia, if you want to shout it from the proverbial rooftops that I’m writing sexy books under an assumed name, have at it. I don’t even care anymore.” I swallowed, because that was a huge lie—I did care, and quite a bit. “But please do me a favor and leave me alone for this weekend. I just want to fly under the radar this weekend. This is the first time that I’m meeting other authors in person, and . . . it’s important to me.” I steeled my voice to keep it from trembling. “If I ever meant anything to you, Carter, I’m asking you, just for this weekend, to pretend that we’re strangers. I’m begging you to leave me alone.”
“Of course, you meant something to me, Liesel.” The words were raw, his tone bleak. “Jesus, you were the love of my fucking life. I thought we—I was just about to—” He jerked his head to one side. “Doesn’t matter.” He ran his hand through his short hair. “You have my word. I won’t blow your cover—not this weekend, and not back home, either.” His mouth twisted. “I have a lot on my mind today, anyway. I need to stay focused.”
“Of course.” I mustered a smile. “Good luck tonight. I hope the game goes well.”
“Thanks.” He gave me a brief nod. “See you around, Liesel.” Turning, he stalked back toward the stationary bike.
I stood there a moment longer, wanting to say so much more, dying to wrap my arms around him and hold him tight, needing his touch and tenderness more than I ever could have imagined.
But he didn’t look my way again, and with a silent exhale, I walked out of the gym.
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 young adult and new adult paranormal romance, new adult and adult contemporary romance and adult paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.
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