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Then There Was You





THEN THERE WAS YOU SERIES

BOOK TWO





BY

What lies behind us

and what lies before us

are tiny matters

compared to what lies within us.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Copywrite © 2017 by SM Stryker

www.smstryker.com

Cover Design © by Krys Janae

Editing by Codi Johnson



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This contemporary romance is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission.

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Table of Contents


Prologue

LIAM (Maison)

FIVE YEARS AGO

Chapter 1

LIAM

PRESENT TIME

CHAPTER 2

FINN

CHAPTER 3

LIAM

CHAPTER 4

FINN

CHAPTER 5

LIAM

CHAPTER 6

FINN

FINN: TEN YEARS PRIOR

FINN: TODAY

CHAPTER 7

LIAM

CHAPTER 8

FINN

CHAPTER 9

LIAM

CHAPTER 10

FINN

CHAPTER 11

LIAM

CHAPTER 12

FINN

CHAPTER 13

LIAM

CHAPTER 14

FINN

CHAPTER 15

LIAM

CHAPTER 16

LIAM

CHAPTER 17

LIAM

CHAPTER 18

LIAM

CHAPTER 19

LIAM

CHAPTER 20

LIAM

CHAPTER 21

FINN

CHAPTER 22

LIAM

CHAPTER 23

NASH

CHAPTER 24

FINN

CHAPTER 25

LIAM

CHAPTER 26

LIAM

CHAPTER 27

FINN

CHAPTER 28

FINN

CHAPTER 29

LIAM

CHAPTER 30

FINN

CHAPTER 31

FINN

CHAPTER 32

FINN

CHAPTER 33

LIAM

FOR BETTER OR WORSE

CHARACTER PROFILES

THANK YOU

TITLES BY SM STRYKER

SM. STRYKER

ABOUT THE AUTHOR








PROLOGUE

LIAM (Maison)

FIVE YEARS AGO



Placing the phone up to my ear listening to it ring; I watch her as she reaches into her bra pulling out her phone. A smile spreads across my face remembering that she always tucked it away there.

God, she looks amazing. She continues to talk while answering her phone. “Keller, hold my hand baby. I’m sorry, Hello?” I’m speechless, my mouth goes dry as my breath hitches. Tears sting my eyes. “Hello, is anyone there?”

There’s so much I want to say. The words are on the tip of my tongue, but they don’t come out. I sit there speechless as the realization sinks in.

Christ, she named her son; our son, after me. I’m a father. His raven black hair twists and curls as a light summer breeze blows it into his face. It doesn’t look as if she’s ever cut it as it brushes his shoulders. Not yet coordinated enough to use his fingers, he swipes his chunky palms over his face to remove the long locks from his eyes.

My chest constricts; my heart is being ripped apart. The emotional lump in my throat is preventing me from sucking air into my lungs. Christ, my life is standing in front of me. I can’t believe it’s been three years. I’d give anything to be with her, with them, but I can’t. I won’t put her or her little family in harm’s way, not again. But God, her voice, it’s so soft and sweet and she’s so good with our baby. I hide like a voyeur behind the dark tinted windows of my Tahoe.

Fuck, even with her swollen belly she’s the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. God, I wish things could have been different. I wish it were me that my son ran to, me that could rub her baby belly, me that could help her bring my child into this unfair world instead of Kai.

I don’t know why the fuck I do this to myself and if Nash finds out I’m back in town he’ll have my balls, but hell, it’s worth it to see my son, and the one person I can’t bear to walk away from.

Sitting with my dark tinted windows cracked just enough to hear; watching as if I’m a fucking stalker, I notice Kai, now Callie’s husband, walk toward them. Squatting down on the sidewalk, the look on my son’s face as he sees him; his daddy; crushes me. My hand grips the door handle, as I start to pull it. “Daddy!” Keller drops Callie’s hand and sprints to Kai.

How’s my big boy? Are you taking care of your mommy for me?” Kai scoops him up, tossing him in the air. Keller squeals with excitement. Giggling and laughing at the thrill, Kai lifts him onto his shoulders, stands and walks over to Callie, placing his hand softly on her belly, leaning in to kiss her lovingly on the cheek. Her face beams as she gazes from her husband to her son adoringly, her face filled with so much love for them. There’s a hint of weariness in her face. I wonder when she’s due?

Letting go of my grip on the handle, I continue to watch them. I miss her so much, but I know she’s safe and this is for the best for both her and my son.

Watching them a moment longer, I run my hands over my face, wiping the excess moisture from my eyes. Tugging the gearshift into drive, I pull away, confident in knowing they are safe. Glancing up into the rearview mirror for one last look at the only two people I will ever love.





CHAPTER 1

It is always the simple things that change our lives. And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen. Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so.

~Donald Miller



LIAM

PRESENT TIME

I hate starting over. It reminds me of starting at a new school all over again. Studying to learn who I am, and where I came from, not to mention another new name. Matthew is long gone, as is Maison. I’m Liam now, Liam Tate. I can’t even remember all the different people I’ve been the last several years. Raking my hands through my hair, I sigh. I detest developing a whole new life, a new persona.

Hell, I don’t know what is real or fake anymore. That’s not true; I know I have a son, and I know that the woman that I loved is now married to another man and he is playing father to my son. Will I ever have a normal life?

Nash has had me moving from one town to another, never being able to settle down in one spot for any length of time. I’ve moved so many times over the past five years, I don’t even know where I am or where I’m going. But, as much as I bitch and moan about Nash, he’s the closest thing to a best friend that I have. I’m glad he’s back as my handler, and even when I’ve made some fucking shitty decisions, he’s always had my back. Unlike the other guy, Jenkins, I think was his name. He was a real dick. Christ, I couldn’t take a shit without having to tell him. He became my handler while Nash was recuperating from the bullet wound Mark through him.

God, it seems like yesterday. One day I’m trying to wrap my mind around Callie leaving me and the next, Mark had me tied up, threatening not only my life but Callie’s, too if I didn’t give him the passwords to my bank accounts. Thank God, she was out of town and he couldn’t get to her.

Callie had finally come to the realization that it wasn't me that raped her in my office. But, in the process of figuring it out, she met Kai fucking Sterling. He was the one to protect her, the one who wiped away her tears and the one who rode in like a white fucking knight in god damn armor and stole her away from me.

Hell, who am I fucking kidding? After what Mark did to her? I don’t blame her for running, I would too.

Disconcertingly running my hand through my hair, I know Callie was right to leave me. Every time she would have looked at me; scars or not, she would see his face: Mark’s face. The things he did to her, fucking hell, and the worse part of it was that she thought it was me. As kids being an identical twin was fun, but with Mark being sick, fuck, that’s why I’m in hiding. I know she was hurt and confused, not to mention terrified, thinking that I would ever touch her, no, hurt and abuse her in the way he did, but what was she to think, I never told her about Mark. This whole fucking thing is all my fault. I should have told her, but no; I figured, since he was locked away, there was nothing to fear. Was I ever fucking wrong.

And as much as I don't want to admit it, Kai was the best thing for her. I would rather walk away from her, than to continue to put her in harm's way. I know that as long as Mark is alive, she will be a target for him.

Mark was out to ruin me. To destroy anything good that I’ve accomplished and the reason my identity changes more than some change their underwear. He used my identity with some really bad fuckers and I was thrust into the middle of an FBI sting. In order to save my life and the lives of my family, I had to go undercover for them and now I'm just waiting for it to all come together so I can start living my life without constantly looking over my shoulder. At least that’s my hope.

What Callie didn't know, was the unknowing defenseless girl that she thought I was fucking, was murdered. Mark had a belt wrapped around the girl's throat in some sort of erotic sexual game, killing her. Thank God, Nash was with me and was my alibi, and thank God it wasn’t Callie.

Mark is my brother; my identical twin. He didn’t always hate me. Growing up we used to be inseparable, best friends, always sticking up for each other with our parents. I would take the shit for him and he would do the same for me. I remember the days in school when we would switch places and play jokes on our teachers and friends. There are subtle little differences that if you knew us well, you could see them. He had a freckle, just on the outside of his right eyelid, and I have a scar on my right eyelid from running into the breadboard when I was three. Of course, now Mark has a scar from having his appendix removed.

It wasn’t until we were young teenagers that he started to change. He started to withdraw, and instead of being my best friend, he started to blame me for things that he had done. It’s not that we had a bad childhood; well, other than our father being a selfish, philandering bastard of a husband, but I never doubted my parents love for me or my brother.

The doctors call it ‘histrionic-narcissistic disorder’. I don’t know if it was better to have a name behind it or not.

People with narcissistic personality disorder have a substantial problem with their sense of self-worth, stemming from a prevailing sense of entitlement. Mark believed he deserved special treatment, and that he was uniquely talented, brilliant, and attractive; and he was. He was so much smarter than I was. I, on the other hand, was more athletic. Unfortunately, he wasn’t. He tried, but his coordination was with his mind not with his body. His sense of entitlement led him to act in ways that essentially disregard and disrespect the worth of others around him, but since he has histrionic personality disorder, too, there’s added drama in the mix.

The doctors said it was because he felt as if he was constantly competing against me, and that most adolescents grow out of it, but he didn’t. I mean as kids, who isn't competitive with their siblings? But I would have traded him any day for his brilliant mind.

CHAPTER 2

If it is destined to come in to your life, it shall, because love can’t be won by mere efforts

~ Taleeb



FINN

Carefully pulling down the visor, I hold it in place, afraid it will drop into my lap again. Not that I will need it to shield the sun tonight, but, it’s just a pain in the ass to get it to stay in, once it falls out. Glancing at myself one last time before I walk into the restaurant, I need to see if I can see what’s hiding inside.

Rose Red, my car, is barely holding herself together, but she's the least of my concerns right now. I can't believe Marley set me up on another blind date. Hell, I can't believe I told her I would go, but she gave me some sob story about this guy, and how his girlfriend of five years dumped him for her co-worker. She told him that he turned her; and now she and her girlfriend were getting married. Ouch. So, I figured, what the hell, it’s a free dinner…maybe. After all, what is there to lose, it isn't as if I'm going to see the guy again. After tonight, I'm leaving this town. There are just too many bad memories and too much pain to stay.

Marley said this Tom guy is supposed to be wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans and has brown hair. I think of the old sayings; he has a nice personality…in other words, he’s not Henry Cavill. He’s really nice…He’s boring. Not to mention that if his ex was correct…well, maybe I can just do the drink and bounce. Nice to meet you and I’ll be on my way. God, I don’t know why I let her do this to me.

Yes, I do. She’s my best friend and I can’t say no to her.

The restaurant is nice, the nicest one in town. Every part of me wants to run. My stomach rolls as a bead of sweat slips between my breasts. I banter back and forth with myself, wanting to just jump back into my car and leave, but I promised Marley I would at least have a drink with him.

Marley and I have known each other since high school. She’s always been there for me. She doesn’t know the whole story about Jesse, my ex-boyfriend, just that we broke up and that’s the way I want it to stay, but she was there to help me get through it, so this is the least I can do for her. Apparently, she met Tom at work. He’s a pharmaceutical rep. that visits the doctor’s office, where she works, every couple of weeks.

The last time she set me up, I ended up with a guy that I refer to as ACE, an arrogant, conceited, egomaniac bastard that wanted more than just dinner; said I owed him, and when he tried to push his way back into my house. Things got more serious. He didn’t say much more after I pulled out Lucy; my pink Ruger LC9, from my purse.

I never used to be so untrusting, but I decided after that one night, the night that Jesse did what he did, I would never allow myself to get back into that kind of situation again. How could he? He was my boyfriend. We talked about marriage; instead, he destroyed me.

That’s why I don’t date. Memories of that night still linger on the edge of my thoughts, haunting me when I least expect it, knowing he could find me and torture me all over again.

My heart races in my chest.

I feel a flush rise to my face.

I need to get past this. I’m tired of living in fear, and even though I don’t want to be here, these are the baby steps I need to take to get to where I want to be. I don’t want to be alone all my life. I want more. I’m tired of living in fear.

Taking a deep breath, I paste a fake plastic smile on my face; something I hate to do, but it’s necessary until I pull myself through this trial. Walking up to the entrance I pull open the heavy wooden door. The big twisted iron handle cools my heated skin, sending shivers up my arms then coursing down my spine. Glancing at the waiting area, I look for someone that matches Tom’s description. Only seeing a few people seated on the ornate Victorian tapestry sofas, I know none of the people waiting match Mr. Blind Date. Beautiful stained-glass lamps decorate the side tables as heavy maroon velvet drapes flow from the ceiling, decorating the windows, adding to the rich ambiance.

Stepping up to the lavish dark wood and marble hostess desk, a bubbly little red head, dressed in a black button up shirt and slacks with a red tie, beams a bright freckled smile at me as I approach.

As I start to speak, I glance over her shoulder into the dining area. "Hi, I'm supposed to be meeting..." I stop speaking as I spot a man that matches the description of my date. The lights in the dining room are dimmed low, and I wonder if I’m seeing things. Blinking a couple of times, I question where this man has been hiding. Did Marley finally set me up with a beautiful man? God, he's gorgeous. His hair wasn’t just brown, it is more of a dark brown, almost black, but holy hell, for once Marley did me right. Tipping my head to the side, I realize this might not be so bad after all. Tapping my fingernail on the top of the cold marble desk in a nervous twitch, I say, "...Never mind, I see him." I wonder what’s wrong with him? He’s beautiful. Who would leave that piece of eye candy for a woman?

A cold sweat coats my skin. I mean, it’s one thing to be set up with the usual guys she has set me up with, but this, this is… just wow. Hoping to remove the moisture from my palms, I run my cold clammy hands down my red pencil skirt in an anxious gesture and stride, head held high, over to his table. The hairs on the back of my neck prickle as I realize he’s staring at me. Goosebumps pepper across my body making me shiver.

He has a glass of amber liquor in his hand and his menu is splayed open in front of him. Stepping beside the table, I reach out my hand to Mr. Dark and Mysterious. "Hi, I'm Stefanie. My friends call me Finn." My voice comes out in almost a whisper.

His eyes slowly drop from my face as he glances at my hand. His eyes widen, slowly roaming up my body, drinking every inch of me in as if he were dying of thirst and I was a tall cool glass of water that would quench his every need.

My nipples bead into hard nubs, rubbing against their lacy confines of my bra. I press my thighs together, trying to quail the aching between them. Finally, he lifts his eyes back up to my face. His look is carnal, sexual and sensual, yet tender. His eyes twinkle and his lips turn up into a sexy as hell crooked grin as if he's happy with his decision to accept the blind date himself.

My belly twists and tightens, and for the first time in years, a sweet pang of desire stirs in my core.

His eyes never leave mine as they stare deep into me. Can he see into me? See the broken and damaged girl that’s hiding deep within?

The corners of his kissable lips curl even more. God, that smile! The way it crooks up higher on one side is so sexy. Then I see his teeth; God, what is it about teeth that turn me on? They’re one of the first things I look at when I meet someone, and his make my pulse race with the thought of his mouth on mine. They aren’t perfectly straight as if he had worn braces, but perfect to what I like and sexy as hell. My mouth is bone dry as I try to swallow the lump stuck in my throat. His eyes are the color of freshly tilled soil; dark, rich and almost chocolate, with gold flakes sprinkling in them and outlined with long, dark, lush lashes. His face is strong and defined with a straight Roman nose. His stubble is well-trimmed shadowing his angular jawline. He’s more than just beautiful: he’s stunning.

He stands, scooting his chair out as he takes my hand in his. The warmth of his touch seeps into my being, comforting me without opening his mouth. I inhaled sharply, realizing I haven’t been breathing. My knees almost buckle at his touch. I grip the chair back with my free hand, struggling to hold myself upright. "Hi Finn, it's nice to meet you, I'm..." Hell, his voice matched his looks, low, husky, and hot as hell. Shit, I need to change my panties.

Pulling my chair out for me, he says, “Please, join me.” His eyes still not leaving mine, as I turn to watch him. Maybe my luck has changed.

God, what did I walk into? I slowly sit, as our eyes remain locked to each other’s. "I know who you are,” I hum. “Marley told me a little about you."

Tipping his head to the side, his eyes narrow. “She did, did she?” The crooked smile reappears. He returns to his seat, replacing his napkin back into his lap.

A server approaches the table. "Two for dinner sir?"

Looking hopeful, I glance up at Tom, his eyebrow quirks up as he peers over to me, a slight smirk on his face. "Yes, it seems to look that way,” he replies.

The server returns her attention to me. "May I bring you something to drink, ma'am?"

Not wanting to break eye contact, I answer, "Yes, a glass of Pinot Noir, if you have one, please."

Bowing her head, "Yes of course. I will be back with a menu."

His eyes smile as he drinks me in and replies, “She can use mine.” Then dismisses her with a simple, “Thank you.”

Very well, sir,” she replies, as she turns and walks away.

Tom hands me his menu. "Here, I've already had the chance to look it over."

Clearing my throat, I reply, "Thank you, Tom." I glean over the menu, setting it down as our server returns with my glass of wine. She takes our order then retreats from the table.

According to Marley, Tom was in town for work, so I decide to use it as a conversation starter. Anything to break the ice, or we would be sitting here all night just staring at each other. It was if we didn’t have to say anything to feel what each of us were feeling.

So, Tom, how long are you in town for?” I ask, looking over the edge of my wine glass as I take a sip.

That crooked smile spreads across his face as he traces his finger across his succulent lips, before speaking, “I leave tomorrow.” He looks up at me. His eyes peering into mine. There’s almost a hint of sadness in his eyes.

Sticking my finger into my mouth without thought, I wet my index finger. His eyes drop as he stares at my mouth. Running my finger around the edge of my crystal wine glass, I make it hum as he speaks. We continue to talk, not paying attention to the eerie sound the glass makes.

Where are you heading to next?” I glance up, realizing I’m making noise with my crystal goblet in a swanky restaurant. Glancing around, I notice several patrons are staring at me. I quickly wrap my hands around the goblet, stopping it from humming, and look up at him with an apologetic look. God, I wonder how many other nervous habits I have and never pay attention to?

His panty dropping smile has me fidgeting.

Oregon.”

I light up at his answer, sitting up tall in my chair. “Oh, my gosh!” I almost squeal. “I’m leaving tomorrow for Oregon, too.”

His eyebrows raise almost in disbelief. “Oh?”

I explain to him about my Grams and that I have a job interview for a new company that saw my designs at the school’s garment studio in NYC. They said my designs were just what they were looking for. So, I decided to move across the country to find myself. After all, Grams had really been my only family.

I jump and my head twists at a loud crash draws behind me. A large man evidently just ran into a server; her tray of drinks smashes to the floor. God, how embarrassing for him. Turning my attention back to Tom, his eyes sparkle with amusement.

I have a nervous habit of rambling, but this man has me feeling at ease, it’s as if I have known him all my life and we’re just getting reacquainted. He’s laughing at everything I say, almost as if he hasn’t relaxed in a long time. I feel like I’m in high school the way my hormones are banging into each other. I’m a hot mess and he’s barely said a word, he just stares at me, as though I’m the only person in the place.

Re-aligning my silverware, my eyes drift to him. I study him, getting a good look at the man sitting in front of me. His shirt is stretched tight across his broad chest and thick biceps. My breath catches in my throat and the words that I’m thinking slip from my lips. “You’re not what I expected.” God, I can’t believe I just said that, but feel comfortable with him. As if I can tell him anything.

Our eyes lock as goosebumps prickle my skin once more. “Oh?” he chuckles as he takes another sip of his amber drink.

I nod shyly. “Most of the men she’s tried to fix me up with, well, let’s just say they’re more, well, plain, boring, expecting more from me or like that guy that just walked in: an accident always waiting to happen.”

And you know I’m not like this in just the few minutes we’ve been sitting here?” I watch his face. His thumb is under his chin as his long-tapered index finger slides across his perfect bottom lip.

Swallowing hard, my tongue mimics his finger, slowly sliding over my bottom lip. His gaze is intense, his eyes drop to my mouth. He licks his lip as I bite mine. He closes his eyes in a long blink then swallows hard before opening his eyes, searching mine once again. Hell, he’s affected too. I know it's been a while, but my gosh, he's got me all sorts of worked up.

Taking a sip of my wine, hoping it will help me feel a little bolder, I reply, “Yes, this is going to be a great night, I can feel it already.”

His eyes remain on mine as he raises a brow. “I’m sure it will be very memorable.” His voice was smooth and low. That crooked little smile brightens his face.

Tom is beautiful. His dark hair is perfectly mussed; I have the urge to run my fingers through his silky locks. I shove the feeling down, remembering he travels from city to city. With just his face alone, I know he could have any woman wherever he lands.

Taking another gulp of my wine hoping it will calm my nerves. He watches me intently, as if I'm an elusive rare animal.

We talk and laugh. I tell him about Marley and how we met in school and how she is constantly trying to set me up on blind dates.

He tells me about how he travels a lot and that he doesn’t really have a home, but would like to settle down sometime.

We both are a little sarcastic with a dry sense of humor, and I love the feeling I have with him. It feels good, normal, natural, but sad that we won’t see each other again.

The corners of his lips curl as his smile lights his face. Horrified, I realize why. Another bad habit. Little bubbles I make under my tongue and blow them off as they float in the air like the bottle of bubbles my Gramcracker would give me in my Easter basket. I don't even realize I am doing it until he stops mid-sentence. My eyes follow his line of sight. Shit, one of my little bubbles floats over to his glass. I stare at it as if in a daze. The little bubble lands on the edge of his crystal glass and pops. Of course, it is a silent pop, but it startles me all the same. I can’t believe I just did that. Holy hell, how embarrassing!

My eyes flash to his. Feeling my face flame, I grab my napkin from my lap, reaching to wipe my bubble residue away. “I’m so sorry… it’s a horrible habit…” I start to ramble, words fly out of my mouth so fast, you would think I was one of those speed talkers. “I didn’t realize…” In the process of my pathetic apology, my napkin knocks into my wine glass, tipping it over. Dark ruby red liquid douses the pristine white linen table cloth. Tom jumps up, trying to escape the tsunami' of wine flowing across the table and down the side into his lap. As he jumps up, trying to escape my blunder, his foot catches on the leg of his chair causing him to stumble back into the server carrying our plates of food and is caught in his attempt to stay standing. She too is knocked backwards. I watch in horror. Everything is in slow motion. I want to close my eyes, but I just can’t. I have to see how this train wreck ends. It’s like a juggling act. Plates and food fly up into the air then crash to the dark hardwood floors, shattering and splattering everywhere. The server catches herself on the back of a chair that another patron is sitting in. A hot loaded baked potato lands in his lap, the man jumps up, tossing the hot spud into the air as it plops down onto the head of our server. A squeak escapes my lips as my hands fly to my face, covering my mouth in a comedy of accidents. Tom catches himself in a somewhat graceful move, rights his chair and sits back down as if nothing happened. He’s biting his lip to keep from laughing, but his eyes can’t hide the amusement.

I’m giggling so hard, tears stream from my eyes. My phone rings garnering my attention. Glancing at my phone, I wipe my eyes to see the screen clearly. Marley’s name flashes across the screen. After the last blind date, when the guy was all over me, she said she would call to check up on me. Trying to calm my hysteria, I look up at Tom as he lets out a low husky chuckle, shaking his head in disbelief, while our server and several other staff starts to clean up the broken dishes and food littering the floor and try to calm the man sitting behind Tom.

Holding up my phone to Tom, “It’s Marley, she’s probably just checking in to see how things are going.” I'm still giggling as I answer, "Hi, Mar..."

She cut me off, "Finn, where the hell are you?” She sounds pissed. “I can't believe you blew Tom off. The least you could have done was just be honest and tell me that you weren't going to show up!"

My brows scrunch together as I try to comprehend what she was saying. "What the hell are you talking about Marley?" I glance over to Tom; his smile slowly fades. "I'm sitting here with Tom now, I've been sitting here for the last half hour."

Marley's voice becomes eerily quiet, "Finn, Tom was late, he's only been there for the last fifteen minutes."

"What?" I question. “No, I’ve been…”

Fear floods me. “Finn, if you’ve been there for the last thirty minutes, and Tom has only been there for fifteen, who are you with?”

My eye raises to the man sitting in front of me. All sign of humor is gone from my face. His dark mahogany eyes lock on mine. His fingers are steepled at his lips. I scan the dining room again, and see him. Sitting behind the Tom imposter; the potato man turns and stares at me. He’s the man that knocked over the server when he came in. Fucking hell, I was right, he is the usual kind of guy she sets me up with. I take a better look at him: he’s heavy-set with a receding hairline and a bad combover, wearing a black polo about two sizes too small; his belly, stretching at the fabric, hangs out from under his polo. He stares over at me and waves. Holy freakin hell, seriously? I should have known Marley would never set me up with a man that looks like Mr. Beautiful. I end the call to Marley and stare at the beautiful man on the other side of the table. I break out in a cold sweat as my body goes rigid. Horror fills me. “You’re not Tom, are you?” It comes out in a whisper.

Shaking his head, he lays his hands flat on the table, in an almost a submissive gesture. “No,” he mutters.

A fire burns through my body as my anger consumes me. He sat there, never bothering to tell me that I had mistaken him for my blind date. My voice crescendos as my fury explodes. "Who the hell are you and why are you pretending to be someone you're not?"

Beautiful man raises his hands in surrender, a sexy smirk on his face has my heart racing. Hell, my body needs to get control of itself.

"I never pretended, I tried to tell you, but you said you knew me, and to be honest, I thought you were cute and I really didn’t want to eat alone tonight.”

Mortified, I huff out an exasperated breath. Standing, I stare into the face of the perfect man.

Suddenly something grabs me, startling me. A large paw grabs my arm, causing me to jump at his touch. My eyes flash to the hand pulling me away from… hell, I don’t even know his name! Within seconds, Mr. Perfect is standing; his chest broad and his eyes a mere slant, rage oozing from him as he steps between Tom and me. A gruff voice emanates from deep in his chest, “I believe the lady is with me.” He steps into the real Tom’s personal space.

Tom drops his hold on me, puffing out his chest as if that would intimidate Mr. Perfect. I’m fed up and embarrassed with the whole situation. “She might have started that way, but she was supposed to be with me tonight.”

Letting out a huff, I quietly turn and walk out of the restaurant.

Rose Red is cold as I slide into her warn fabric seats. Gripping the steering wheel, I rest my head on my hands, wondering when my life would change.

Taking a deep cleansing breath, I push my key into the ignition. Raising my head to look out the windshield, I see him out of the corner of my eye and pause, stopping my hand from twisting the key. Crouching down and staying dead still, I stare out at the beautiful man that, for just a moment, was chipping away at the walls I have erected around my heart. But who am I kidding? I don’t even know the man. He could just as well be a serial killer.

Ducking so he can’t see me, he takes his phone out of his pocket. Slowly rolling my window down, I eavesdrop on the man that I can’t stop looking at.

Nash. Yeah, I’m on my way.” I watch as he takes a deep breath.

I know you need me there in seven days.” He sounds annoyed, his voice is getting louder.

Fuck, Nash. You don’t think I want this finished? Do you not realize what the fuck I’ve sacrificed?” He’s yelling now. He looks around the parking lot, making sure no one is approaching or overhearing his conversation. “I would like to get my life back, too. I’m tired of constantly looking over my god damn shoulder.” His voice echoes through the quiet parking lot.

I know, I know you have given up a lot too.” He takes another deep breath, and in a calmer voice says, “I’m on my way.”

His hand pinches the bridge of his nose, as if trying to offset a headache. “I’ll be there Nash,” he whispers.

Yeah, I know, I’ll keep my eyes open. See you in a few days.”

I watch him as he scans the parking lot before stepping up into the black Tahoe parked at the back of the lot. I wonder who he is and what his story might be. Not to mention, who this Nash guy is.

I think about following him, but by the time I get Rose started, he’s gone.



CHAPTER 3

LIAM

Turning back to Finn, I want to get her out of here. Explain to her that I didn’t set out to mislead her, but she isn’t there. Peering around the dining area, I don’t see her, there’s no sign of her. Glancing down at the wine-stained tablecloth, I notice a twenty-dollar bill tucked under the crystal stem of her wine glass. A red ring blossoms around the bill from the spilt wine which stained the bottom of the glass. She must have left it before disappearing during my pissing match with Dickwad Tom. Not that I blame her; I probably would have done the same. Two men throwing their testosterone around as if we were back in high school.

Christ, what was it about her that made me want to get to know her more? I haven’t felt this way since Callie, but this was different. She was different, and fuck, I didn’t even know her, but God if she didn’t make me laugh, and hell, I haven’t laughed like that in a long time. It felt good, and when I took her hand in mine, something stirred inside me, took over my thinking, everything became unimportant. My fucked-up life blurred, banished to the far recesses of my mind. The only thing that mattered was touching her again, wanting to kiss that sassy, funny, captivating mouth of hers. I wanted to taste her, have her, make her mine. Shit, what am I even thinking? I know better than that, I know that wouldn't be a good idea. After tonight, I would want more and I think she would, too. I’m just bad luck for all women. The last thing I need is to get tangled in another relationship that can’t go anywhere. Have I not learned anything from the past?

Pulling out my wallet, I toss a few more twenties on the table.

Pushing through the heavy carved wood door, the cool night air hits my face. I scan the darkened still parking lot, hoping for one more glimpse of the woman that brought laughter back into my life. For a brief moment, I thought maybe, my life could be normal again.

My phone vibrates, pulling my thoughts away from Finn.


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