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.

 

First Chapter Friday: Fifty Frogs

First Chapter Friday!

Get Fifty Frogs here!

 

“STILL FIVE POUNDS OVERWEIGHT.”
A collective groan rose from the line of people behind me. I ignored them all, even as I felt my face going just a little bit redder.
“Okay, then.” I unzipped the rolling suitcase, dug into it and pulled out a handful of clothes along with a random shoe. I tried to stuff them into my carry-on backpack, but it was already too full. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to close the bag as it was.

Still . . . with a frown, I bit my bottom lip and tucked what I’d just removed into the crook of my arm. I’d figure out what to do with it later. “Try it now, please.”
“Lady . . .” The airline baggage check attendant sighed and rolled his eyes. “That’s not five pounds’ worth of stuff you just took out.”
“Fine.” With a barely-contained snarl, I replaced the shoe in the suitcase and pulled out more clothes instead. I didn’t stop until the better part of my wardrobe was in my arms. “Please check it now.”
The attendant shrugged and lifted the suitcase back onto the scale. All of us—the employee, the people who’d been waiting not-so-patiently in the ever-growing baggage check line and me, of course—held our collective breath as the numbers blinked, finally settling at an ugly fifty-three.
“Son of a bitch,” I muttered under my breath.
“Look, just pay the damn fee already, okay, princess?” The man who was next in line behind me had a heavy New York accent. His meaty forearms were covered with tattoos, and he wore a Yankees cap. His baseball fandom alone was enough to make me dislike him. What he did next sealed the deal. “Here.” He reached into the back pocket of his sagging jeans and retrieved a wallet. “What’s the fee? I’ll pay it. Anything to get us moving again here.”
“I can pay my own fee, thank you very much.” I gathered as much dignity as I could, considering I was draped in a mismatched ensemble of clothes. “But I’m not going to do it. The airlines already charge us a ton of money to ride on the plane in a seat that’s barely big enough for a toddler, let alone a regular-sized adult. They let us bring on one flipping piece of luggage. Hell if I’m going to give them more money just because my bag weighs slightly more than the average suitcase. It’s the principle of the matter.”
“Your principles are going to make us all miss our flights!” This time, the complaint came from the woman standing four people back. “Just pay the damn fee.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I’d hoped my little speech about the injustice of airlines would have the effect of rallying everyone around my cause, until the airline employee just gave in and let me check my bag as it was. But no. They were not standing with me in solidarity against the industry. Instead, they all looked almost ready to lynch me if I didn’t give in and pay up.
The check-in attendant cocked his head, looking at me with some measure of sympathy. “It’s the shoes, you know? It’s not the clothes. Not really. And you can’t carry your shoes all loose onto the airplane. I’m sorry, miss. I think you’re going to have pay the fee.”

“Nope.” I dumped all the clothes I’d been holding onto the floor and began unpacking the backpack, too, adding the clothes there to my pile. Once it was empty, I transferred the shoes from the main suitcase to the carry-on. When they were all out, I was able to add back some of the clothes, watching the numbers on the scale carefully each time I did. When it hit fifty, I stopped, zipping up the suitcase with a triumphant smile.
“Okay, great.” The attendant picked up the bag and tossed it onto a conveyer belt behind him. “Now what are you going to do with all those clothes? You can’t leave them here.”
“I have a plan.” Bending down, I scooped everything into my arms and held the bundle against me before I picked up the stuffed backpack. “Thank you so much for your help. And thanks to all of you for your patience.” I raised my voice and turned my head to cast a quelling stare at the line of people.
“Honey, they won’t let you just carry those on, you know.” The lady who had been so helpful earlier threw a little more advice my way.

I ignored her and marched off, praying that none of those people whom I’d just delayed were on my flight to Florida. I was beginning to sweat under the weight of all the clothes I was carrying, but I managed to get to the nearest women’s room, which, thank God, didn’t have a line but did have a small bench. It was probably there for nursing mothers, I figured, but today, it was going to be a good place for me to organize what I’d liberated from my suitcase.
Once I’d dumped all everything onto the bench, I began to organize it into piles, thanking heaven that I hadn’t packed that many pairs of jeans. Instead, when I’d been choosing outfits to wear during my three-month writing residency on Amerails, I’d gone for leggings, anticipating that they’d be more comfortable on the long train rides. I’d been right about that . . . and now, these leggings were my new best friends.
I was already wearing one pair under a loose trapeze dress. Choosing the tightest pairs first, slowly I tugged each one onto my legs. At first, it wasn’t too difficult, but each subsequent pair felt that much tighter, until by the last one, when I was barely able to get the elastic waistband to the top of my thighs.
“Oh, this is going to be fun,” I muttered to myself. But there wasn’t any time to sit and mope; I still had seven shirts to pull over my head.
By the time the bench was devoid of extra clothes, I resembled something out of an old-time freak show. Or maybe one of those sumo wrestler suits people wore on sitcoms or reality shows for extreme sports. Let’s just say it wasn’t my best look.
My legs could barely move, and I couldn’t hold my arms down to my sides. I’d tied a denim jacket around my waist—it barely reached around my new bulk—and the sleeves of a cardigan sweater were around my neck. My face was beet red and damp with sweat. Limp strands of my brown hair clung to my forehead and neck.
“But none of that matters,” I told puffy, sweaty me in the mirror. “I might look like a lunatic, but it’s okay, because I have my principles. And an extra twenty-five dollars that didn’t go to the airlines.” I snorted, shaking my head. “Yeah. I’m totally the winner here.”
Rolling my eyes at myself, I picked up my stuffed backpack and began lumbering to the gate. Of course, because this was me, the line for security reached to the border of New Jersey. With a sigh, I took my place at the end of the queue, behind a woman with two small girls holding her hands. Dropping my backpack at my feet, I smiled at the child who’d turned to stare at me.
“Mommy.” She tugged her mom’s purse, her gaze never leaving me. “Mommy, why does that lady look so weird? What’s wrong with her?”

“Kelsey, shhhhh.” The mother, who looked cool, calm and completely put together in her cropped cotton pants and sleeveless blouse, patted her daughter’s head and glanced over her shoulder at me. Her eyes went wide.
“Hi.” I tried out my best wide smile. “I know, I look crazy, don’t I? I’m not, I promise. Although I guess even if I were, I might tell you that I’m not . . . but I’m not. I just had too many clothes for my suitcase, and the airline was going to charge me more, and I couldn’t fit them into my carry-on. So . . .” I gestured down my body. “I beat them at their own game. I wasn’t going to pay some stupid fee just because an airline bigwig came up with an arbitrary number for how much my suitcase should weigh.”
The woman’s back stiffened a little. “It’s not arbitrary. The airlines study these things—and the fees are in place to help protect the baggage handlers, so that they don’t get hurt lifting bags that weigh too much.”

“Huh.” I huffed out a breath. “Because of course the baggage handlers get the extra money we pay for heavy bags. Yeah, that’s how it works.” Sarcasm dripped from my words. “It goes to the owners and the board of directors, not to the people who do the real work.”
The other little girl turned around, looked me up and down with one raised eyebrow, and piped up to share her two cents. “My daddy works for the airline.”
Her mother drew both girls a little closer. “Sloan, that’s enough. Stay with me, girls.” She whipped a cell phone from her pocket, her thumb flying over the screen. I hoped she wasn’t alerting her husband who worked for the airline to send security to drag me out of the airport. This day just got better and better.
I made it through security, which was a miracle in itself. Thanks to some deity who was finally giving me a freaking break, I didn’t set off any alarms as I walked through the sensor. I shuddered to think of what a pat-down would’ve meant under these circumstances. They probably would’ve made me take off the clothes, and God only knew how I would’ve gotten them back on.
At the gate, I fell into a chair with a loud exhale, relieved to be sitting for a little while. Digging my cell phone from the outer pocket of my backpack, I scrolled through, looking for the right name.
Vivian: Well, I’m finally at the gate. Wait’ll you hear the story I have to tell you.
I hit send and sat, phone in my hand, watching the screen as I waited for Jeremy’s response. It didn’t come right away, and I frowned, and then shook my head. It wasn’t like he was sitting around expecting to hear from me. I’d only let him know a few days ago that I was on my way home, because the date had been kind of fluid for a while. His response had been vaguely positive, but that was men for you, right?

I flipped back through our conversation until I got to the day I’d left Florida, three months ago. It didn’t take long to get there. Jeremy’s messages to me in the beginning of my residency had been longer and more involved, filled with talk about our future and plans for what we might do when I returned home. I waited for a feeling of giddy anticipation to fill me, that sense of excitement that I was returning to the arms of the man I loved. Instead, though, I only felt an anemic flare of . . . something. It wasn’t joy or pleasure . . . but it wasn’t unhappiness, either. I didn’t think it was.
That was okay, because this was what grown-up commitment felt like. I’d spent three months talking myself into this. Closing my eyes and leaning back as far as the clothes would allow, I remembered the night before I’d left.
Jeremy and I had been seeing each other casually for about a year. We’d met through friends at a birthday party, and about a week later, Jeremy had called to invite me out for coffee.

That had been pleasant enough, and neither of us was too weird, so for our next date, we’d moved on to dinner, and then a few days later, to a movie.
After that, we’d just fallen into the habit of each other. Our friends had assumed we were together, and there hadn’t been any reason not to be. I’d introduced Jeremy to my parents, who lived in the same town I did, and when his mother had flown down for a visit, I’d met her, too. It had all been very calm and easy. Jeremy and I never fought about anything. We never disagreed. If I wanted to do something that didn’t interest him, I simply went by myself, and he did the same. We saw each other a few times a week and chatted occasionally on the phone to confirm plans.
My best friend Teddi, who shared my apartment, said that Jeremy and I had the most mature relationship she’d ever seen. “You never argue. I never hear either of you even raise your voices. Indon’t know how you do it. Shane and I fight about everything.”
I’d smiled but stayed silent. I knew all too well how much Teddi and her boyfriend Shane argued, because the walls in our place were thin, and I spent a lot of time at home. I had a front row seat to their disagreements and to their makeup sex, which tended to be loud and tumultuous. In contrast, Jeremy and I were less . . . physical. The compatibility we had didn’t exactly lend itself to passion. In fact, when I let myself think about it, the distinct lack of intimacy made me wonder exactly why Jeremy and I were together at all.
At first, I’d been impressed that he didn’t pressure me. We’d gone on six dates before he’d tried to hold my hand, and another four before he’d attempted a kiss goodnight. If we’d been sixteen, that would’ve been sweet and honorable. At twenty-six, it gave me pause . . . when I examined it too closely, which I tended not to do often.

There were so many wonderful things about my boyfriend that focusing on the aspects that weren’t awesome seemed petty, especially when my single girlfriends bemoaned their dateless states.
“You’re so lucky you have Jeremy. You never need to worry about what you’re going to do on Saturday nights or special occasions. You’ve got a built-in plus one for every wedding invitation.”
That was all true. And Jeremy did clean up well, although maybe that was the wrong figure of speech to use, because I never saw him get dirty—and I don’t only mean that in terms of sex . . . even if that was true, too. He wasn’t the type to want to go hiking or camping or, God forbid, to the beach. He wouldn’t even go running with me outside, preferring to get his exercise in an air-conditioned gym.
In light of that aversion to outside activities, I’d asked him why he’d moved down to Florida from New England. He’d looked faintly surprised and puzzled as he answered.

“Because the job down here was the best one offered to me. It had the best salary and benefits package and the most promising opportunity to advance in the company.”
“Uh huh.” I’d nodded. “But did you ever think hey, Florida! Sunshine, beaches and year-round summer? I want to get me some of that?”
Jeremy had frowned. “No. The place didn’t mean much to me. If the job had been in Montana or Oklahoma or Maine, I would’ve given it the same consideration that I did with it being in Florida.”
Being a Florida native, I couldn’t really speak to what I myself might’ve done under a similar circumstance. I’d been born here in central Florida, gone to the college where my dad was a professor, and after graduation, I had taken the one and only job I’d been offered. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that maybe Jeremy’s logical, practical approach to decisions like this revealed some kind of lacking in his sense of adventure. We were young, after all; weren’t these the years when we were meant to be impulsive and carefree?
But aside from these few concerning differences in philosophy, I didn’t have anything to complain about with Jeremy. He was steady, tolerant and understanding, and if we had a distinct lack of the same heat I saw between other couples, well, maybe that was just because he was so mature for his age.
When I’d been notified that I’d won one of the coveted writing residencies on Amerails, discussing it with Jeremy hadn’t even crossed my mind. I’d been giddy with excitement when I’d told him that I’d been selected to spend three whole months riding trains around the US, writing blog posts about changing family travel in the twenty-first century and how the train could be part of that shift.

Because Jeremy was nothing if not polite and supportive, he’d taken me to dinner to celebrate. Over the next two weeks, as I’d run around preparing to leave, I hadn’t seen too much of him. But we’d agreed to spend the evening before my flight together at his townhouse. It had been a lovely night, with perfect Florida spring weather. Jeremy had ordered out from my favorite Italian restaurant, poured me a glass of my favorite red wine, and just before dessert, he’d dropped a bombshell.
“Vivian, I’m so happy about this chance you’re getting, to pursue something you’ve always wanted to do. And I think it comes at the perfect time for the two of us.”
The raviolis I’d just enjoyed suddenly felt like lead in my stomach. Holy shit, was he breaking up with me?
“I’ve been giving this a lot of thought,” Jeremy went on, studying his hands where they were folded on the table. “Not just over the past few weeks, but actually, for a while before. I’ve weighed pros and cons, upsides and downs, and ultimately, I came to a decision.”
I held my breath, waiting for the blow.
“I think you should move in with me.”
If Jeremy had told me he’d decided to sprout wings and fly around the world, I would’ve been less surprised. I stared at him, my mouth open, for the space of several heartbeats.
“Well?” He smiled and reached across the table to touch my hand. “What do you think? It seems to me the timing couldn’t be more perfect. You told me that Teddi has been talking about living with Shane. If you move here, she could have your apartment. While you’re away, I can put everything into motion so that when you come home, we can have the movers lined up.”
“Jeremy.” I found my voice. “Um . . . I know it will sound trite if I say this is so unexpected, but it really is. I had no idea you were even considering this.”

He shrugged. “We’ve been seeing each other for a year, Vivian. This is the next logical step. It makes sense.”
The nausea that had come on when he’d first begun to speak hadn’t gotten any better. In fact, now it was much worse. Jeremy sounded as though he were proposing a merger, not something romantic and exciting.
“Right.” I nodded. “The thing is, Jeremy, I haven’t been on the same wavelength as you, I guess. This is coming out of left field. So I can’t give you an answer tonight. Would you let me take this time while I’m away to think about everything? When I get home, we can see if you feel the same way—”
“Oh, I will.” He looked faintly amused that I’d suggest otherwise. “I told you, I thought this through. My decision is made.” He patted the back of my fingers. “But you take all the time you need. I’ll be here when you come home. You’re worth the three month wait, Vivian.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to blurt out something sarcastic, but I knew he was being earnest. This was what passed for sweet nothings in my boyfriend’s head.
For the first three or four weeks that I was away, Jeremy texted me regularly—and I responded. We didn’t talk on the phone, because it was virtually impossible for me to have any kind of real privacy on the train, and the cell phone signal was usually iffy at best.
I did think about what he’d said, though. At first, my gut response was to say no. His suggestion had made me realize that I’d never considered a long-term future with Jeremy. I’d been fine with things between us as they were, but I had never pictured myself marrying him or settling down for the rest of our lives. Maybe this was the perfect time to make a break that was long overdue, even if it meant I’d be single again. I realized that impending singleness was more upsetting to me than the idea of not having Jeremy in my life. That was telling.
But as the weeks slipped by, I began to change my mind. I watched families on the train, and I thought that maybe I did want that sooner rather than later. And there was no question that Jeremy was an excellent candidate for responsibility and commitment. He’d be a very good father, not to mention a steady, reliable husband. I began to hear a voice in my head that remarked, “You could do worse.”
Now a voice not in my head but over the loudspeaker interrupted my ruminations, announcing that the flight was beginning to board. When my section was called, I rolled onto my feet, clumsily slinging my backpack over one very padded shoulder, and joined the line.
By the time that I got into the plane, seats were limited, and I could tell by the expressions on several faces that I was the last person they wanted sitting in their row. I guessed I couldn’t blame them; aside from how nuts I looked in my multi-layers, I was probably not smelling as fresh as the proverbial daisy.
I finally found an empty aisle seat in the back, next to an older lady who beamed at me as I stuffed my bag into the overhead compartment and settled myself alongside her. We exchanged small-talk pleasantries until after takeoff. When the pilot announced that we were at cruising altitude, the woman turned to me with a smile.
“You said you live in Florida. What do you do for a living?”
I perked up. “I’m a writer. A journalist, actually. I work for a local weekly journal, writing about the leisure opportunities in our community. I had a three-month residency on Amerails, traveling on the train all around the country, and I’m going home now that it’s over.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun. What an adventure to have while you’re still young and . . . unattached?” She took a sip of her complimentary ginger ale. “Do you have a special someone in your life?” She eyed my left hand meaningfully.
“Well . . .” I paused. “I think I do. Actually, I’ve been dating this guy for a year, and right before I left for this residency, he asked me to move in with him. I was shocked because I never considered us that serious. But now I’m thinking I’d be crazy to turn him down.”
“Oh.” She folded her hands, her face softening. “Are you just completely in love with him?”
“Um.” I fiddled with the corner of my napkin on the tray. “He’s really a great guy. He’s got an amazing job at a bank, and he’s smart about money and all that. He’s courteous, and he dresses well, and he takes care of himself. He treats me with a lot of kindness and respect.”
“Hmmm.” She narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t answer my question.”
I threw up my hands. “What kind of idiot wouldn’t be in love with a man like that? So yeah, I guess I am. I think I’m going to do it, too. My roommate’s boyfriend moved into our apartment while I was gone, and they just boxed up my stuff and stored it at my parents’ house, along with my car.” I nodded decisively. “I’m going to go to my mom and dad’s garage, put all my crap into my car, and move it to Jeremy’s townhouse. That’s the grown-up thing to do.”
“Are you sure about that?” She looked dubious, this stranger on the airplane who was dissecting my life at thirty-nine thousand feet above the earth.
“Yes. No. I think so.” I shrugged. “I don’t have a good reason to say no.”
“That might not be the best reason to say yes,” she observed. “Okay, tell me this. Is he madly in love with you?”
I hesitated again. “Ummm . . . he likes me. He finds my company enjoyable, I think.”
Judgy woman made a sound in her throat. It sounded very skeptical. “Is he anxious for you to be back with him in Florida? Has he been calling you? Texting you?”
I picked up my phone, reminded that Jeremy had never responded to my last message. “That’s just not who he is, you know? He’s not the lovey-dovey type. He’s not physically demonstrative.”
“Hmmm.” She pursed her lips. “And how are things in the sack?”
I raised my eyebrows. “Excuse me? I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
She lifted a shoulder. “None of this is, when you get down to it, but you brought it up. Or maybe I did, but it doesn’t matter. We’re both in deep now. And let me tell you something, sweetie. If this man doesn’t blow off the top of your head when you’re in bed together now, it’s not going to get any better. Trust me. My first husband and I had amazing chemistry. We couldn’t keep our hands off each other. Now, we were young and stupid, and we ended getting divorced over something trivial, but the sex never stopped being fantastic.” She sighed. “My second husband was the steady, dependable type, but he couldn’t get me off to save his life.”
My face, which had already been flushed, thanks to the layers of clothes, went even hotter. “Ummm . . .”
“And then one day, I got smart. I left the dud, went back to husband number one, and told him that if we agreed to have sex every time we wanted to argue, we’d be fine.” She grinned and elbowed me. “That’s been forty-two years and counting.”
“That’s, uh . . . nice.” I shifted a little. “But I’ve never met anyone like that. Before Jeremy, I never really had any steady boyfriends, just guys I dated a little, here and there. So maybe I’m not the type to get the top of my head blown off.”
“Honey, we’re all that type. You just haven’t met the right one yet. From what you’re not saying, I assume this Jeremy doesn’t get the job done?”

“Oh, he never leaves me unsatisfied. I mean, he hasn’t in the three times we’ve, um, done it.” I swallowed and stared straight ahead at the seat in front of me. Nothing like admitting to a seventy-something woman that she had a hotter sex life than I did.
“Three times?” Her eyes went wide. “In a year? Holy cannoli, honey. You need to call this one. Code blue. Run in the opposite direction.”
I sighed. “But what if I never meet anyone else? What if he’s my one shot?”
“In that unlikely event, you’d still be better off alone than with a man who you can only tolerate. Trust me, sweetie.” She craned her head back, taking me in. “And look at you. You’re pretty. I mean, under the undeniable crazy of wearing all your clothes at once, which I’ve shown remarkable restraint in not asking about, you’re probably a very nice-looking girl. Do you have a cute little shape?”

“I covered my face with my hands. “I don’t know. I guess. Maybe. I’m not fat when I don’t have eight layers on me. I could have a little more in the boob department, but I think I’ve got a decent ass.” Shaking my head, I rolled my eyes. “And why the hell am I talking to you about this?”
“Well, why not?” She laughed. “We’re stuck together for three hours in a tin can careening over the earth. We could stick to boring small-talk, which is a waste of time and energy, or we could get to know each other a little better, and maybe part as friends. I take this flight every two or three months when I visit my sister in Winter Haven. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve gotten to know this way. We’re all friends on Facebook.”
“That’s wonderful.” And it really was. I hoped that in fifty years, I was full of life and making new friends. “I’ve got a couple of people like that in my life. Only we didn’t meet on airplanes.”
“Doesn’t matter how it happens, but it’s always good to have a support system. A man in your life is a wonderful benefit, but a girl still needs her posse, right?” She reached over and patted my leg. I couldn’t feel it through all the leggings, but it was a nice gesture. “Now, I hope when we land, you’ll think long and hard before you make any decision about your future with this young man. Life’s too short to waste it with the wrong person, darling. Take it from me.”
I nodded. “I’ll definitely take everything you said under consideration. But it’s not easy out there, you know? I dated in college and afterward. It was never serious, just guys I knew through friends or met in classes. But the idea of being back out there, trying to date, makes me feeling slightly nauseated.”
“That could just be all the layers you’re wearing, hon.” She snickered. “I do understand. But trust me. Someday, you’ll look back and regret it if you don’t at least take some time to consider what you could be getting yourself into. Don’t settle for less than the man you absolutely can’t live without.” She drained the plastic cup in front of her and set it on my tray before flipping her own back into position. “Now I’m going to take a little rest. My sister has tickets for us tonight to the all-male revue, and I want to make sure I’m wide awake for that.”
She leaned back then and closed her eyes. I would’ve done the same, but the seven shirts I was wearing made it tough for me to rest my head against the seat. Instead, I laced my fingers together on my lap and considered my seat neighbor’s advice.
I’d thought I’d made up my mind. Now . . . I wasn’t sure about anything. Hearing myself talk about Jeremy reminded me why my gut reaction had been to tell him no. I tried to picture a future with him, getting married, having children and growing old together. It made me feel claustrophobic, as though I was going to jump out of my own skin.
But was I willing to give up a sure thing if the alternative was being alone?

Read the rest~

Get Fifty Frogs here!

 

Almost a Bride (iBooks FRiDAY 3)

 

I confess that I have a pretty healthy library already on iBooks. My original intention had been to read those books before I ventured onto the store to buy more . . . and then I happened to see that Melanie Harlow’s new book From This Moment had released.

That threw my pristine library plan right out the window. I gobbled up that Melanie goodness . . . and it was SO good. The story, the writing, the romance . . . oh, le sigh. Plus we got to visit with some old friends from previous books. Like me, Melanie often melds her worlds. That gives me an extra happy!

After I finished that book, I wandered to my library, where I was happily surprised to see a book by one of my author buddies, Patricia McLinn. Almost a Bride is part of the Wyoming Wildflowers series, and it’s a Western cowboy romance. I just finished that one, and I’m happy to report it was fabulous, as well–now I’m going to gobble up the other books in that series. I highly recommend them.

One of the pleasant surprises in reading on my iBooks app had to do with back matter. As both a reader and an author, back matter is important to me. As an author, I am invested in making sure readers can find more about me and about my books once they’ve finished reading. As a reader, I like to be able to enjoy the afterword or acknowledgements at the end of a book. On Amazon, a pop-up screen appears at the end of every book, and it’s not easy to navigate around that to get to the back matter. I was pleased, then, to find this was not the case on iBooks. I was able to flip through all the other titles the author shared at the end of her book as well as to enjoy the acknowledgements in peace.

One more perk of reading on iBooks!

Now I’m off to find my next read . . . until next week!