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One Little Word

Elizabeth Perry


Copyright ©2017 by Elizabeth Perry

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. Please do not participate in or encourage the piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Cover Design by Ramona Lockwood, Covers by Ramona


Table of Contents:

Chapter 1- Reese

Chapter 2- Beckett

Chapter 3- Reese

Chapter 4- Beckett

Chapter 5- Reese, Ten years ago

Chapter 6- Reese

Chapter 7- Beckett

Chapter 8- Becket, Ten years ago

Chapter 9- Reese

Chapter 10- Beckett, Ten years ago

Chapter 11- Reese

Chapter 12- Beckett

Chapter 13- Reese

Chapter 14- Reese, Ten years ago

Chapter 15- Beckett

Chapter 16- Reese

Chapter 17- Beckett

Chapter 18- Beckett, Ten years ago

Chapter 19- Reese, Ten years ago

Chapter 20- Reese

Chapter 21- Beckett

Chapter 22- Beckett, Ten years ago

Chapter 23- Reese

Chapter 24- Beckett

Chapter 25- Reese

Chapter 26- Beckett

Chapter 27- Reese

Chapter 28- Beckett

Chapter 29- Reese

Chapter 30- Beckett

Chapter 31- Reese

Chapter 32- Beckett

Chapter 33- Reese

Epilogue


Chapter 1

Reese

The screech of my tires is all that I can hear over the pounding of my heart. Even jamming on my brakes isn’t enough to stop my car in time from hitting that stupid deer, the one who decided that now was a great time to cross the road. The airbag flies up, hitting me in the face with enough impact to knock out my teeth. Luckily, it didn’t.

Welcome back to Tennessee, where everything turns to shit the second you set foot across the state line.

At least it does for me, and my luck only seems to get worse the closer I get to my hometown of Westmont. Seriously, no joking around, I got a flat tire about five miles past the state line. My already long trip grew by two hours while I waited on the side of the road for roadside assistance. Now here I am, almost to my destination, and I hit a deer. Are you freaking kidding me?

I take a few deep breaths, trying to slow my racing heart, but instead, I inhale a giant cloud of dust from the airbags. I begin to cough so hard that my eyes water and I’m pretty sure part of my lung pops. Ok, that may be an exaggeration, but still. I cough pretty damn hard. I manage to push open my door, and standing up on shaky legs, I survey the damage.

Seriously, I just want to cry. Lay down somewhere, roll into the fetal position and ball my eyes out, that’s how bad my little car looks, that’s how bad this entire stupid situation is.

I’m so sad for it, and for myself. I shouldn’t have to be here, and my cute little convertible? Shouldn’t be smashed right now.

Curse whoever and whatever is forcing me to come back.

I swear, I almost passed out when the court courier knocked on my door, and handed me a piece of paper that completely redirected my ship of life. I had sat and stared at it for a long time, long enough that he asked if I was ok and needed some help.

Who in their right mind would summons me to appear in city court in Westmont, Tennessee? I haven’t set foot inside of that town in the last ten years.

The second I left? Lord. I’m sure I kicked up enough dust to cause a tornado as I flew down this same road in my beat-up jeep, wearing a wedding dress, driving as fast as my beat up old rust bucket would take me. I was on a mission to get the hell out of this backwards town, determined to make something out of myself and to prove everyone who ever doubted me wrong.

And I did, I most certainly have done just that. When I hastily packed my things that day, the plan had only ever been to get past the county line. But the county line turned into the state line, one state line ended up leading to another state line, and before I knew it, I had driven through almost three entire states, landing in Chicago, Illinois. From there, the rest has been history.

I busted my ass, burning the candle at both ends by working two jobs to pay my own way through college. After I graduated, I rocked out my LSAT and got myself into one of the best law schools in Illinois. Since I had done so well on my LSAT, some of the bigger firms in Chicago kept an eye on me throughout law school, so once I graduated and of course, made the bar exam my bitch, I had a flood of job offers.

I ended up being picked up by Hyler Schmidtt Attorneys at Law, which, in my world? Means that I have friggin made it. Whenever there is a big case that is all over the news? Odds are, the defense attorney is from my firm. Because we are the shit, and I’m totally not even trying to toot my own horn, here. Our attorneys are just that good.

Being a defense attorney is trying on my conscience, but on my bank account? Yeah. That part is nothing but nice. No longer am I the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, the girl who grew up in a trailer without a father. Nope, not me. That girl is long gone. Now, I’m a successful independent woman, who can afford to buy myself whatever I want. In fact, that was how I was supposed to be spending my Sunday, shopping until I dropped, or at least until the stores closed with my friend and partner at the firm Stephanie.

Obviously, plans changed when I ended up getting sent to exile, aka, Westmont Tennessee. In fact, my entire week got screwed up over this stupid court appearance. Tomorrow, I had tickets to the opera with my boyfriend Brad.

Things have been strained between us lately, with both of us working so many extra hours, defending our own cases. But, since I just slam dunked my last case, I had the whole next week off to get my office and things in order before picking up my next client. Brad was able to set aside some time for me tomorrow, and now, I can’t even spend it with him.

Super annoying.

Brad is one of the few good guys left around, and I’m lucky to have him. Not only is he a successful attorney like me, he’s also caring, and kind. And while he may be a little on the boring side, that’s fine with me. Because the fun good looking guys? Those are the ones that get you into trouble. The kind that get you pregnant and decide to marry you out of responsibility, but, can’t manage to keep their dick inside of their pants long enough to do so.

Those are the kind of guys that break your heart so damn badly that you will never be the same again. And I have no time in my life for anyone like that. Been there, done that, and no way in hell will I ever put myself through that again.

Brad isn’t the heart crushing type. He’s too boring and faithful to break my heart, and that is exactly the kind of guy that I need to be with. Because the other kind? Leave you so damn broken that you can barely move on.

I had a guy like that once, and man oh man. The damage he did to my heart is indescribable. I met him when I wasn’t expecting to, and honestly, at a time that I didn’t want to. It was the summer before my senior year in high school, and I was trying to go places. Trying to keep my grades up so that I could get a full ride scholarship anywhere far away from where I grew up. But then, I met him, and everything changed. Suddenly, I was a girl hanging onto every word that he spoke, falling blindly in love and never looking back. I was all too eager to climb into the back of his pickup truck, letting him take all that I had to offer. Which he did. He most certainly did.

He took everything from me, from my virginity to my sanity, and told me that he loved me and would never let me go. And, for a little bit over a year, I believed him, and was willing to give up my entire future just to have him. It was a love story right out of a fairy tale. Except until the part where he broke my heart and cheated on me.

With the devil, disguised as my own step sister.

From that moment on, I was forever changed. My heart was shattered, and I was left scrambling to pick up the pieces. The full ride scholarship that I had been working for? That was long gone, since my grades slipped while I was obsessed with Mr. Wrong for me. I threw away my future, thinking that I had one with him, and then he was gone, and so were all of my dreams.

Essentially, though, it made me stronger. Having to pick up the pieces all by myself? Made me learn to depend on no one but me. I managed on my own just fine, without a single bit of help from anyone. Which in hindsight is probably the best, because everything that I have now? Is mine, and was earned by me.

Nowhere in any of my future plans, did I ever intend to set foot back inside of this town. I cut ties with almost every single person from this hell hole, even the friends that I grew up with. I couldn’t risk ever having to hear his name mentioned again, or to hear if he ended up with a happily ever after with the she devil of a step sister that I was forced to grow up with, Aurora.

So, when I left, I left them all behind. Even my momma, but cutting ties with her was the easiest of all. She was never the kind of mother to me that I needed growing up. She allowed me to be mistreated by her husband and his retched daughter, and while Chuck never put his hands on me, he never gave two shits about me either. He pretended as though I didn’t exist, and my mother let it happen.

The only person that I kept in touch with was my savior growing up, a friend of my father who I never met, a man named Mr. Orville. I swear, he was the only person in my life that ever really cared about me. Like, really and truly loved me and wanted the best for me.

He was a single guy, whose beloved wife died shortly after they were married. He opened his gorgeous home as a bed and breakfast, and every summer, he gave me a job there, allowing me to live there, away from the trailer of hell. On the weekends during the school year, I stayed there as well, helping out whenever I could. It kept me away from Chuck and Aurora, and kept me away from my mother, who barely ever visited me while I was there. Yet another reason why it was so easy to cut all ties with her.

I did call her when I was summonsed, just to check in and make sure that this had nothing to do with her. We spoke briefly, but I never actually told her that I was coming. Actually, I didn’t tell anyone that I was coming. Not even Mr. Orville, even though his house is where I’m planning to stay.

So here I sit, with a smashed-up car on the side of the road, and there is not a single person that I can call for help.


Chapter 2

Beckett

“Uncle Beckett? Where do babies come from?” My head snaps in the direction of the sweet little voice, asking me a question that no way in the world l am answering.

My niece Bailey flutters her long black eyelashes up my way, her blue eyes large with wonder.

“Ah, why the curiosity kiddo?”

Bailey shrugs and casts her pole back into the water. She sighs before looking back to me.

“Well, Bobby Murphy told me that I was hatched out of an alien egg. And now Momma is pregnant again, so I was just wondering. Does that mean my daddy is part alien?”

Five-year-old wisdom, right there.

“Why are you listening to anything Bobby Murphy says Bails? He’s a bozo.” I make a funny face, loving her giggle. So where do I go from here? I’m definitely not having the sex talk with five-year-old. Hell-I’m not having the sex talk with Bailey at any age, but most definitely not now. I could go with the storck theory, but that never really made any sense to me. I mean, really. A bird drops off a baby? So unlikely. And how do you explain the big pregnant belly? Doesn’t make any sense at all.

“Jesus planted a seed in momma. And that seed turned into a baby. Not an alien Bailey. And next time Bobby Murphy tries to tell you something about, well really, about anything, you tell him that you could get better advice from a donkey.”

She giggles again, filling up the quiet evening air with her laugh.

From the moment she was born, my entire world has revolved around her. My sister Berlin thinks that I’m spoiling her, but I don’t care. She reminds me of my baby sister at every turn, and I couldn’t love her any more than I do. Don’t get me wrong, I have four nephews who I adore as well, and my oldest brother Brett just announced to us today that his wife is expecting again, this time with twins. I am crazy about all of them, but Bailey is the only girl, so she has me, and every other man in our family, wrapped around her finger.

Sunday is our fishing day. Every Sunday, without fail, Bailey and I head to the river on the county line after church and spend a couple of hours fishing from the bank. Since Bailey is a princess, she has a hot pink sparkly fishing pole. It nearly killed me to buy it, but she likes pretty things like her momma. So, that’s what she got. Fishing with her is really the highlight of my week, which for a single twenty-eight-year-old guy, might make me pathetic. But I don’t care. Sundays with Bailey are something that I look forward to all week long. We sit, and talk, eat too much junk and laugh as much as we can. She fills me in on the kindergarten drama, asks me all of the enlightening questions that she can, tells me how much she loves me, and then we fish. Six days go by, and we repeat.

She nods her head, seemingly fine with my answer on babies. Thank goodness. That is so not a subject that I even want to touch on right now.

“Uncle Beckett, are you ever going to have a baby?”

I raise an eyebrow at her and shake my head. “Um, Bails? You remember I’m a boy, right? Boys don’t have babies.”

She giggles again and rolls her large blue eyes my way, shaking her head full of blond ringlets.

“I know that silly. But are you ever going to get yourself a girlfriend and then make her your wife? Like Uncle Bentley is doing. He is making Savannah his wife and now she is going to be my aunt.”

Yes, he is. Because all of my three siblings have settled down, engaged or married, and are giving my parents all of the grandchildren they could ever want. Except me that is. And I have no plans for any of that in the future.

I wrinkle my nose up for effect and shake my head hard. “No way Bailey. I don’t have time for one of those. Besides, I already have a number one girl, and she’s sitting right next to me.” I nudge her softly and she looks up at me with the adoring smile that I have come to treasure.

“I’ll always be your number one girl Uncle Beckett, right?”

I nod and reach an arm around her tiny shoulders, pulling her in close. “Always Bailey. Promise.”

**

We’ve caught a total of two fish by the time we pack it up for the day. Two.

This has been an abnormally slow fish day, but that’s alright. Bailey did more eating and chatting than actually casting her pole.

“We can still keep em, right Uncle Beckett?” she bites her lip as she looks into the nearly empty cooler.

“Of course we can.”

She nods her head and smiles, before running to my truck and waiting patiently by the door for me to boost her in.

I really need to get some kind of step stool or something for her. My truck isn’t all that lifted, I just have big tires on it. But Bailey is abnormally small, even for a five-year-old. She is going to be a petite little thing like her momma.

I boost her in and then load up the fishing gear. By the time I make it inside of the cab, she is almost asleep. I buckle her up and then turn my truck down the two-lane highway that leads back into our town of Westmont.

It’s about a twenty-minute drive back into town, and since my family and I all live on the outskirts of town on the water’s edge, it’s another ten minutes after we hit town.

I’m about ten minutes into the drive, when I see it. There is a tiny Audi convertible and a deer in the road. I’m not sure which one looks worse, the car or the dead animal. Or maybe the frantic woman standing outside of the car kicking the tire.

I chuckle to myself at the sight of her. She’s obviously not from around here. Number one, little cars like that don’t work so well out here. This is the country. You need a truck or an SUV to get around these parts. Most of the roads are a mix of dirt and gravel, with bumps all over them. These are roads built for trucks, not tiny little cars.

She looks as stuffy as they come, in a tight-fitting navy skirt and suit jacket, her hair perfectly straight and cut in some trendy do, and she looks pissed.

Her long legs, clad in heels, kick the tire again as I role to a stop behind her. She glances up in my direction, looks around behind her at the deserted road, and bites her lip, before her arms raise above her head and she begins to wave frantically.

I pull over to the side of the road behind her, fighting to keep my smile off my lips.

“I think the deer lost the fight.” I tell her, shutting of my engine and hoping out of my truck.

She at least cracks a smile, and gestures down to the deer. “Yes, that darn thing jumped right out in front of me.”

She is most definitely not from around here. There is no drawl in her voice, no sign of anything southern on her at all. In fact, she screams northerner. And not from the north country either. North and city. I’d bet money on it.

“Where you headed?” I ask her, as I step closer to her, inspecting the damage on the front of her car. I’m not a mechanic, but I would bet that this little thing is totaled. Both airbags went off, the front is all smashed and the windshield is broken.

I take a step closer to her, so close that I hear her sigh softly and can see the impressive cleavage that mounds underneath her polka dot button up shirt. I try my best not to stare, but lord. I am a man after all. And it’s been well over a year since I’ve been intimate with a woman.

I force my eyes up to her sunglass covered eyes, and a strange sense of recognition washes over me. She starts to point down the road toward town, but stops abruptly and turns around.

She side steps me and walks to the back of her car, pops the trunk and grabs her suitcase out.

I narrow my eyes at her, watching the way that she moves. I know those movements. The gentle sway of the hips, the graceful strut that most woman have to force comes oh so naturally to this one. And in that moment, it hits me who she is.

My jaw drops as the recognition sets in. Holy shit.

“Reese?”

We both freeze as I say her name, and she sighs loudly.

“Hello Beckett.”

She looks different. Obviously, ten years older than the last time that I saw her, but still, she is as beautiful as the last time my eyes feasted on her. The last time I saw her, she had blond hair that hung in curly waves down her back. Her skin was tanned from a Tennessee summer, making her bright green eyes shine against her skin. She wore mostly cutoff jeans shorts and cowgirl boots, showing off her perfect body which, let me tell you, is to date the best body I have ever laid eyes on.

But this woman? Different. Her long blond hair is now in a short shoulder length bob, and it’s not curly. Its stick straight. Her cutoff jeans have been replaced for a suit, her boots traded for heels. Her large green eyes are hidden behind a pair of designer shades, and her drawl is gone. From the sound of her voice, you would have no idea that she was born and raised in southern Tennessee, near the Georgia border. You wouldn’t know that she spent nights catching lightening bugs and crawfish in the river. Or that she rode almost everywhere in a truck. No, those are not the things you would think about this woman. Because she has become as city as they get.

My words get stuck in my throat, as we both stand absolutely still, staring at each other. Of all the people I expected to see on the side of the road, Reese Crawford is the very last one. The feelings that seeing her surface aren’t exactly welcome ones either.

There was a time that I would have given just about anything to come face to face with Reese again. For one more minute with her, one more chance. But that time has long since passed, and instead of the ache that she left in my heart, all I feel right now is fury. Utter and complete fury towards her.

My eyes narrow, and I take a step back.

“What are you doing here?”

She crosses her arms, forcing her breasts up higher and glares at me from behind her shades.

“Way to roll out the welcome wagon, Beckett. I’m here on business that will hopefully be handled tomorrow.”

She storms past me and cranks open the driver’s door, grabbing out a purse and her phone.

“I just need to call a cab and a tow truck.”

I roll my eyes so high I worry for a split second that they might get stuck. “Are you crazy? There’s no cabs here Reese. You should know that.”

“Ugh. Seriously? When is this backwoods town going to step into this century?” She fumes, stomping her heel clad foot. “Well, at least I need to call for a tow truck then.”

I could leave her right here. Stuck on the side of the road, and let her try to use her cell phone, that I know damn well won’t work out here. And a huge part of me wants to do just that. Hop back into my truck and haul ass back to town, far away from her and her smashed up car.

But the man in me just can’t do that, regardless of how much I dislike the woman. I sigh loudly and cross my arms, letting my eyes travel up her body.

Damn. Time has been nothing but kind to Reese. While her skin is no longer sun kissed, her skin is creamy white and smooth. Her legs are still endless, perfectly toned leading up to her narrow waist. I can’t see her behind, but I am betting that it is still tight and firm, and perfectly rounded. Her breasts are still phenomenal, large and mounding out of her button up top. Her lips are still plush, and if I could see her eyes, they would certainly still take my breath away.

She is absolutely gorgeous. I used to sit and stare at her, letting the sight of her take my breath away. Which it did, always, it did. I used to thank the lord every night for letting her be mine, and not just because of her outer beauty. Because at the time, I thought that she was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. I was wrong.

Unfortunately, I know better than anyone that while Reese is beautiful, she is uglier than sin on the inside. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself, she never has, and odds are, she never will.

I motion over to my truck. “I’ll give you a lift, and you can call for a tow when you get into town. That thing probably isn’t going to work out here.” I motion to the fancy phone in her hand. She glances down at it and groans, obviously realizing that she has no service.

“Fuck!” She screams, stomping her foot before kicking her tire again. She mutters her word a few more times, kicking the tire until her heel breaks off of her shoe. She then stops, pulls the shoe off her foot, and launches it at her car.

“Temper tantrum about done here? I don’t have all day, so if you could wrap it up and come on, that would be good.” I cross my arms, leveling my glare with hers.

“I’m not going anywhere with you.” She seethes, before leaning up against her car and crossing her arms, matching my stance.

Forget this. I spent too many years dealing with her pain in the ass self. I’m not about to go there again. I shrug and head back towards my truck.

“Fine. Suit yourself. It’s about a ten mile walk into town, but hell woman, you already know that. Good luck to you. Try not to get eaten by any creatures.” I intend to laugh only to myself, but it ends up coming out as a roar. “On second thought, do that. Play tag with a mountain lion for all I care.”

I open up my door and start to get in, when she pushes herself off of her car and throws her hands up in the air. “Are you serious right now Beckett? You’re just going to leave me stranded here?”

I throw my head back in frustration and exhale slowly, trying not to blow up.

“Reese, if you want a ride, get in the truck. Otherwise you can walk. Clearly, you are really good at that, so it shouldn’t be problem for you.” It’s a dig and I know it. But I don’t care. It’s the truth

“Oh, nice one Beckett. I do clearly remember having to walk away. And, if memory serves me right, you gave me a damn good reason to do so.”

I whip around and stalk towards her, grabbing her suitcase out of her hand and throwing it in the back of my truck. I let her stand and stare at me with her mouth wide open, but luckily, no words come out. This is the last thing that I want to do right now. No way do I intend to bring up the past and fight it out with Reese in the middle of this highway that is growing darker by the minute.

“Get in the god damn truck.”

I hop into the driver’s side, and unbuckle a sleeping Bailey before pulling her over towards me, into the middle of the bench seat and buckle her in. Her eyes flutter open, as she moves her head to rest on my lap, but then she goes right back to sleep. Thank goodness for small favors.

Reese storms over to the passenger side door, opens it with probably all the force her tiny self can muster, before she struggles to climb in. I just sit and watch her impatiently, until she climbs inside and shuts the door.

“Ever the gentleman I see.” She mutters, but stops mid-sentence when her eyes connect with Bailey. She glances down at Bailey and then up to me, before taking off her sunglasses and looking between us again.

A hurt look flashes in her eyes, but only for a moment, before she turns her eyes forward and sits as still as a statue in her seat.

She probably thinks that Bailey is my daughter. Judging by the look I saw in her eyes, I’m sure of it. A good man would correct her thinking. But when it comes to Reese, I’ve never been a good man. And as shitty as it sounds, I want her to think it. I want her to feel hurt over it. Hell, this woman ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped all over it. Then took off to god only knows where and never looked back.

I want her to hurt.

“Where am I taking you Reese.”

She’s silent for several seconds, before her voice breaks the silence, calm and cool.

“Mr. Orville’s.”

“Um, ok. Did you happen to call ahead?”

She scoffs and looks out the window. “No. Why would I? It’s not like that place is ever full. Besides, even if it was, Mr. Orville will make room for me. Even if it means I have to sleep on the couch.”

She’s right. He would, he most definitely would make room for her. Growing up, Reese practically lived at the Bed and Breakfast. She worked there every summer and lived in one of the rooms during those months. The rest of the year, she would stay there on the weekends. So, I can understand her thinking, but obviously, Reese hasn’t kept in contact with the man, because Mr. Orville died a few months ago.

As much as I would like to hurt her, I keep this information to myself. She’s going to find out soon enough anyhow.

“You call your momma at all and let her know that you’re in town?”

Silence. So, that’s a no.

“Actually, you call your momma ever? You know, on Sundays or something? Just to say hey, I’m alive, all is well, anything like that?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, Beckett, but yes. I spoke with my mother on Monday.”

“Well, why don’t I just bring you to her place then? It’s closer than Orville’s anyway.”

I don’t even need to look over at her to know that she is rolling her eyes.

“I’m not going to barge in on her and her family. Besides.” She pauses, and her voice lowers. “She doesn’t know that I’m in town.”

I groan, and pull the truck out onto the road, heading back into town.

“You spoke with her Monday, yet you didn’t tell her that your coming into town.”

It’s not a question. It’s a statement, and she doesn’t even look up at me.

“Yep.”

I shake my head, and turn the volume up on the radio. Just loud enough to drown out anything that Reese might say, but not loud enough to wake up Bailey.

Her smell surrounds me, making it hard to concentrate on anything other than the fact that Reese is sitting here with me. Inside of my truck, close enough to me that I could reach out and touch her if I wanted to.

But I don’t. Not even slightly. The only touch I would like to give to her is maybe my hand around her neck.

So I force my attention on the road, and try to block out the feelings that circle inside of me.


Chapter 3

Reese

Of all the people to drive by and come to my rescue, it had to be Beckett McCallister. I swear, the universe is totally against me today.

I mean, first of all, I’m here. If that isn’t the worst thing ever, then I don’t know what is. Then, I got a flat tire, and finally, totaled my car. Oh, yeah. And I broke the heel of my favorite new pair of shoes.

Awesome.

I would have gladly broken off all the heels to all my cute shoes if that meant that I could have been saved by anyone other than Beckett. Seriously, I would have rather taken my chances with a serial killer who loves blonds. My chances of getting hurt would have been less than they are sitting next to him.

The worst part about this, is dear lord. He looks good. Really good. It’s been ten years since I last laid eyes on him, and I have to admit, time has been nothing but kind to Beckett. His blond hair that used to be longer in the front is now clean cut and short, styled off to the side in a ‘I just ran my hands through it and it looks this good’ kind of way. His eyes are still the same shade of sapphire blue that I remember, but his body? Jay-sus. He was always in shape, but it’s obvious that he works out like it’s his day job. Every inch of him is cut and strong, his muscles rippling with every movement. The boy that I remember is long gone. There is nothing boyish about him anymore. He is all man. And dear lord, what a man he has become. Beckett McCallister is sex on a stick.

Well, honestly, he always was. At least to me. Just the slightest look from him used to be enough to make me climb into the back of his pickup truck and let him have his way with me. Hell, it had been enough for me to give him my virginity all those years ago.

I force myself not to look at him, although, my traitorous eyes want to. But I can’t. I’ve never been able to control myself around Beckett and it’s never worked out for me. As hot as he is, there is just too much history between us and regardless of how much time has passed, the reality is that he broke my heart. Instead, I watch the scenery fly by, as we make our way back into town.

It’s amazing how in Chicago, things change all of the time. One day, you wake up, and a building is gone and has already been replaced by something else. But here? It looks exactly the same as the day that I left. The sign introducing the town looks more rundown than before, but it’s still standing. Smith’s barbershop still flags the end of the red brick strip mall on Main street. The grocery store is still standing in the exact same spot, with the same letter O burnt out on the sign. We pass the bar next, with the parking lot packed. Still the same in this small town. One bar, and it’s always full.

I was always too young to frequent it when I lived here, and even though I’m old enough now, I have no desire to go there. I can guarantee that many people from my past would await me there. And while there are some friends from school that I would love to reconnect with, I don’t want to risk prolonging this trip any more than I have to. Tomorrow I am going to the local attorney’s office to deal with whatever it is that they summonsed me for, and then hightailing it back to the city.

The truck bumps along the road to the bed and breakfast. It’s located directly on the water, on a large inland lake where only the richer people in town live. Beckett’s family lived on that same lake, just on the other side of it.

My family? We lived in a double wide trailer on a couple acres of land on the opposite side of town. The ghetto so to speak, except it was the ghetto of Hickville, USA. I swore up and down that I would never set foot inside of that trailer again, and I have kept true to my word.

Beckett is silent as he turns his truck into the driveway of the large old Victorian style home that was converted into a bed and breakfast years ago. I blink a few times, before glancing around the yard. Can we possibly be in the right place?

Unlike everything else in this town, this house is nothing like I remember it growing up. Back then, it was breathtakingly beautiful, with flowers always blooming from the many gardens that cover the property. Not a single window that faced the wrap around porch went without a blooming flower box. The porch was always painted every year and the trim too, making the entire house gleam. But now? It looks like a dump. The front porch has almost all of its white paint chipped away, and most of its sagging. Not a single flower blooms in the boxes, and the flower beds are overgrown with weeds.

I glance over at Beckett, before sitting forward in my seat and staring at the house that I called a home for at least half of the year, feeling myself die a little on the inside.

Bad condition or not, just the sight of this place fills me with so many memories, some that are good, and some that I just shouldn’t even allow myself to remember.

This is the place where Beckett and I spent most of our time together, and down some ways on the property, far out of sight of the house, is where Beckett took my virginity.

That’s probably not the best thought to be running through my mind right now, but for whatever reason, it’s there, in my mind, next to all of the other jumbled thoughts racing through me.

Beckett puts the truck in park but doesn’t cut the engine. I glance over to him and then back at the house, a sinking feeling hitting me in the pit of my stomach.

“We’re here.” He says, although his voice is cold, devoid of any emotion. I nod my head, and reach down onto the floorboard of the truck, gathering my purse and jacket.

I glance up to him, ready to thank him, when his daughter stirs. Her little eyes flutter open, and she snuggles in closer to him before shutting her eyes again. I try to force my eyes away from her, but I just can’t. It shouldn’t hurt that he’s a daddy. I mean, really. What did I expect? It’s been ten years. A lot of things change in ten years, and obviously Beckett moved on. I have too. But having the vision of his moving on clear as day in front of me? Hurts worse than it should.

I smile down at her and then glance up to Beckett. “She’s beautiful.” I tell him, hating that my voice cracks as I force the words out. She is beautiful. A head full of white blond curls, the cutest button nose I’ve ever seen and a face scattered with freckles. She looks so much like Beckett that it makes my heart ache.

“Thanks. She looks just like her momma.”

Oh. Yes, of course. Beautiful, like her momma. Beckett’s wife. I swallow hard.

“Thanks for the ride.” I force the words out as I hop out of the truck. I grab my suitcase out of the bed, and I’m not two steps away from his truck before he pulls out, kicking up gravel as he flies down the drive.

The dust covers me, so I do what any rational women would do. I hold up both hands and flip him the bird. Asshole.

Good riddance, Beckett McCallister. May we never, ever meet again. I keep my fingers up in the air just in case he missed them until his taillights disappear down the road.

Taking a deep breath, I turn my attention back to the house. What happened to this place? The last time that I spoke to Mr. Orville, he mentioned nothing negative about the house. In fact, he went on for what seemed like forever about how all of his flowers were doing. But that wasn’t that long ago that we spoke, was it?

How could everything have deteriorated so fast?

Taking a deep breath, I trudge forward, pulling my wheelie suitcase behind me. I make it up the front steps, but stop short of the front door, nearly falling into an enormous hole right past the steps.

I quickly step to the side, but the porch nearly collapses under my weight. The rotting wood sags dangerously low, making me step back to the safety of the stairs. Glancing around, I see that there are huge holes everywhere. This porch is an ankle breaker for sure. Maybe even a neck breaker.

Something is definitely wrong here. The house is quiet. Too quiet for anyone to be here. There isn’t a single light on anywhere in the house, and there is no familiar sound of music coming from inside. Plus, the front door is shut. That door hardly was ever shut. Usually he would just keep the screen door closed, with the large mahogany door wide open like a welcome sign.

What in the hell happened here? I swallow hard before stepping back another step. No lights. Dilapidated house, not a single sound, except that of the waves crashing on to the shore below.

That’s when I notice the sign posted clearly on the door. A notice to vacate the premises. I squint, trying to see the date on the notice, but I can’t. Dusk is settling, and I am at least six feet away from it. If I go any closer, I will likely fall into a hole and die.

Not happening today.

Sighing, I sink down onto the steps. The house is obviously empty. Never has there been a time that I’ve come here and not heard the sound of music playing.

Mr. Orville always had opera music playing. He said that it reminded him of his wife, who was an opera singer before she passed away.

He told me once when I was young that the music made him feel like his beloved Sally was still here with him. He had said that she was his one and only true love, and that while he was lonely at times, he could never bring himself to remarry, because his heart just didn’t have room to love another woman the way that he had loved his wife.

When I met Beckett, and when it was obvious that I had fallen head over heels in love with him, Mr. Orville had given me the best advice of my life when he told me that I should do anything that I could to treasure that love. Because sometimes that kind of love is a once in a lifetime thing.

At the time, I didn’t take the advice, but that was because Beckett had decided to go on and break my heart.

But out of anything that anyone has ever told me, those words couldn’t have been any truer.

Because the love that I had for Beckett was most definitely once in a lifetime. I’ve never felt that way about anyone since.

In all honesty, I haven’t really tried. At least, I haven’t really put myself out there to see if that kind of love could happen again. That kind of love is amazing. It fills you up, makes you believe that you can do anything, and makes you want to give anything up just to be with that one person. But then when that love goes away, it’s the most horrible feeling ever. I think I cried myself to sleep every night for a year straight after I lost Beckett. It was a terrible time for me, so bad, that I don’t even like to think about it, because my heart breaks a little all over again. That’s why I’ve never opened myself up to love like that again. I just physically can’t do it.

When I left town and went off to school, I didn’t date. While my girlfriends were busy hooking up with fraternity guys at parties, I busied myself studying. I centered my goals on my grades, and of making something out of myself. I mean, hell. I had already let one guy make me give up on my goals. No way was that happening again.

By the time I hit law school, I still only had one notch on my belt, and that belonged to Beckett. I finally ended up getting incredibly drunk with my friend Stephanie, and spent a single night having sex with some random guy that I met in the bar. Definitely not my style, but, the alcohol made it easier to do.

The only bad part about it, was even though the guy was gorgeous, I couldn’t have an orgasm.

I chalked it up to the booze. I mean, that happens to people when they are drunk all of the time, right? Even though I was able to convince myself of that, I wasn’t in any hot hurry to repeat that night. For one, drunken one night stands aren’t really my thing. But also? No way did I want to run the risk of having no orgasm sex happen again.

When I met Brad, honestly at first? He kinda bored me to death. I didn’t mean to date him. I’m really not even sure how we ended up in a relationship. When he began flirting with me, I brushed him off for a long time. But of course, he ended up growing on me, and the more I got to know him, the less boring he became. Not that he is a ball of laughs and good times by any means, but he’s safe. He’s trustworthy and loyal, and is in love with me. That counts for something, right?

Loyal and boring don’t usually lead to a heartbreak, and in my opinion, one heartbreak a lifetime is one too damn many. The first time I got my heart broken, it nearly killed me. If it happened a second time, I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t make it through.

But, where Brad lacks in personality, he makes up for it in hotness and hot body.

That’s always a bonus, right? Hot and in shape. Two of my most favorite qualities in a man. Let’s not forget to add in successful either, because he is all that. And a bag of chips.

And while he may not be Beckett McCallister hot, still. He is a fine looking male specimen.

I figured that as long as he kept his mouth shut during sex, that I would be able to get off on his body alone.

Ah. Yeah. That didn’t go exactly as planned.

I’ve tried. Lord knows, that I have tried to talk myself into coming. I get so close during sex, but then just as fast as the feeling comes, it leaves, and I am left to lay there and fake it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I can bring myself to that place just fine. But add in a man? A man that apparently isn’t Beckett? Yeah. Fail.

No orgasm zone.

But hell. Maybe Beckett couldn’t even do it for me anymore. Maybe I’m just broken, and it’s a wrap for me. Not that I will ever get to find out if he can or can’t, because honestly? The thought of getting busy with Beckett is not on my radar. Not at all.


Chapter 4

Beckett

Ok, so leaving Reese stranded was kind of a jerk move. I realize that, now that I have put a little bit of space between us.

After dropping Bailey off at home, I went to my house, popped the top of a beer and went to sit out on my back deck. I had stared across the lake in my backyard for about two minutes, staring at the dark and desolate water, knowing that the abandoned bed and breakfast was on the other side of the lake, although it’s too far away to see it. I stared off in that direction long enough to take a few swallows of my beer, before my conscience took over. Regardless of the fact that its Reese, and she totally deserved to be abandoned, I felt like a total prick for having left any woman stranded there.

In my defense, that woman tends to bring out the worst in me. And I know for a fact that I bring out the worst in her. We used to fight, all of the time. More times than I can count, we would end up fighting over the dumbest things, and then as I would try to walk away, she would follow right after me, yelling and waving her hands around like a crazy person. Most often, I would stop, turn around, and grab her into my arms, press her against my truck with my body and then we would have crazy make up sex. She is the only person in the world, I swear, who can drive me that absolutely crazy. But she is the only woman in the entire world that I have ever loved like that. I fucking loved her with every ounce of my heart. She owned every inch of my body, and losing her crushed me unlike anything in the world ever could.

We were young, crazy in love, yet totally oblivious to the realities of the world.

I like to think that I’ve grown up a lot since then, but in all honesty, what I did to her tonight doesn’t seem very kind or grown up.

“Fuck.” I mutter to myself, slamming the rest of my beer before tossing the can into the bin in my garage on my way out the door. Damn my conscience for taking over right now, because that is the only stupid reason that my body is even moving towards my truck.

I make it back to Orville’s in less than ten minutes. It would have been quicker to just paddle across the lake, but then I would have no choice but to put Reese in the boat with me and paddle her back to my house.

I would then have to fight the urge to drown her, and well, I don’t know that I could. Going to prison is definitely not on my bucket list, so, no way should I be allowed anywhere near Reese and water.

The temptation to kill her is just too damn strong.

The air is cooler now than it was earlier, and dusk has settled in. I pull into the gravel drive, shut the truck off, and step out onto the ground. I scan the area, but she’s nowhere in sight. I can’t imagine that she went into the house, since the doors and windows were all bolted shut by the city. I can’t really see her trying to walk anywhere either. There is nothing around for miles, plus she was in one heel and a suit, with a giant wheelie suitcase. Not exactly walking attire. Maybe she fell down one of the holes in the porch.

Am I an asshole that the thought makes me smile? Of course, I wouldn’t want her to be seriously injured, but a few scrapes and a good scare? I’m not against that.

I take a few steps onto the porch and shine my phone flashlight down a few of the larger holes. I’m slightly disappointed to not see her twisted up at the bottom.

I start around to the back of the house, and the second that I turn the corner, I see her sitting on the swing the still hangs from the old limb of the oak tree that hangs over the water.

Her suitcase sits off to the side, propped up against the tree. If she hears me coming, she doesn’t turn around. She stays sitting on the swing, with her knees drawn into her chest, staring out over the water.

I hear her sniffling, as I make my way closer. I stop next to the tree, and look up at her.

“Hey.”

She glances my way, a shocked look crossing her beautiful features. “Beckett, hey. What are you doing here?”

I blow out a sigh, and run a hand through my hair. “I felt too guilty to just leave you stranded here, even though you deserve it.” She cuts her eyes at me as I cross my arms and meet her glare. “Listen, I’m sorry, ok? I should have told you that this place was vacant.”

She doesn’t answer, but I see her swallow hard, even in the dusky night air

“It’s fine.” Her sigh is loud as she turns to face the water. “Can you at least tell me what happened to him? To Mr. Orville?”

I keep my arms crossed and lean against the tree. “Cancer. He had cancer just about everywhere. He put up a really good fight against it, but he died about three months ago.”

I see her hand reach up to her eyes, wiping away a tear that I can’t see. I’m sure this must hurt; I know how much she loved Mr. Orville. But, people don’t live forever, and she has been gone a long time. She must have suspected something could have happened to him. It’s not like he was a young guy. He was an old man when she took off without a single glance back to any of us.

“Oh.”

“You would have known that, if you kept in touch with people. Had you called him, maybe he would have told you.”

She sniffles again and wipes her eyes.

“I know Beckett, ok? Please.” She swallows down a sob and wipes her eyes again. “Stop rubbing it in. I don’t need anyone to tell me what a horrible person I am. I feel terrible enough already.”

I blow out my breath and sink down onto the dock.

“Listen, I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad. I know you cared about him. He cared a lot about you too, but hell. You already know that. He lived a good life. And he got to go here, right inside of his house.”

Her voice is shaky when she replies. “Was he alone?” Her green eyes are filled with tears as she finally breaks her gaze of the water, and swings her head in my direction.

I shake my head. “Nope, he wasn’t. A couple of years ago, he hired a nurse to move in here and take care of him. Rumor has it, that they also became lovers. She stayed with him right up until the end. He wasn’t alone, and he got to go here. Right in his own bedroom, next to a picture of his beloved Sally.”

Through her tears, she smiles.

“Good. I’m glad.” She pauses, before a sad smile breaks out across her face. “I really hope those rumors were true.”

Honestly, I hope so too. Mr. Orville was a good man, and dammit, he deserved to get laid again before going out. The man was so in love with his dead wife, that I never thought he would be able to move on. After Reese had left me, I was so broken hearted that I could barely function. I had gone over to Mr. Orville’s to see if he had heard anything from her. Of course, he hadn’t, because no one had. She just took off, and never looked back.

But he had told me that day all about his wife. And how hard it had been for him to get over her. I could relate, completely, but the idea of never being able to move on had scared the crap out of me. I left his house that day on a mission. I was going to screw Reese out of my system.

And so my days of whoring around began. I ended up transferring out of Tennessee State to Georgia University so that I had to live on campus. I nailed my way through that school, and then continued my ways into adulthood, even after moving back here following college.

But it never made it better, and eventually, the continuous sex just left me feeling even more empty. So, I stopped. While I still partake in a casual lay here and there, my man whore days are long over.

“How about if you come on down from there, and I’ll drive you over to your momma’s? I’m sure she’d love to see ya.”

She closes her eyes as if pained, and exhales long and slow. I’m sure going to her Momma’s is the last thing she wants to do, but hell. Her momma is not a bad person and would love to see her only daughter. Well, only daughter by blood at least. Reese has one step sister, Aurora, but the two of them never got along. Really, she didn’t get along with her momma either, but that’s just because they are both so much the same. Both stubborn as hell southern women. That’s a bad combination right there.

Reese sighs again, and then hardens her expression. “Fine.”

She struggles down from the seat, still wearing her slim skirt but her feet are bare. Her one heel is held in her hand, and the other is trying to hold on to the seat in order to jump down. I reach up and hold up a hand to help her down, but she doesn’t take it. Instead, she stares at my hand as if it has the plague.


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