Riley Durrant leads a double life that not even his closest friends know about, and he only has three rules. Never anyone he knows, always be in control, and never get emotionally involved. When his roommate’s sister showed up for a surprise visit, Riley had to have her. But when one taste wasn’t enough, he’s willing to break all the rules to get her back, and keep her.
Gabriella Kasey is still reeling from the dark secret that shattered her existence, but she’s always willing to set aside her own needs so her son, Parker, can have a chance at a better life. This includes walking away from the only man that’s ever threatened to bring down the protective barrier she put up around her family. But what if providing a better life for Parker means seeking out a better life for herself?
Release Date TBA
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen my brother happy. Actually, I’m not sure Corbin’s ever been happy, not truly. But watching him weave through the crowd of hot sweaty dancing bodies with a smile plastered on his face and Sophia’s hand clasped firmly in his makes me feel a sense of hope for my big brother who hides so much. My brother who buries everything to the bottom of his soul to shield everyone from the secrets he holds. I have hope that Sophia will be able to do for him what no one else has been able to. Make him feel like he’s enough. Maybe then he’ll let go of some of those secrets and I’ll get back the brother I lost so long ago.
Parker pulls me from my thoughts as he tugs on my arm a couple times to come dance closer. I smile as his eyes light up at his uncle and Sophia. I live for that sparkle in my son’s eyes, and when it it’s not there I strive to get it back for him. That’s my life. I don’t remember a life before him. I don’t remember a life that was just me.
Parker lets go of my hand and jumps up into Sophia’s arms. Her smile is warm but broken as she twirls my son through air. It’s like she’s ready to be happy but has forgotten how to do it. I suppose I can’t blame her, judging by what she’s been through. Parker’s pretty good at reminding people what life is really about and soon she’s absorbed in his giggles.
“He’s really loving this, isn’t he?” A shout in my ear sends a shiver down my neck as the bass of the music pounds through my chest. I turn my head to see Riley’s perfectly straight smile as he leans over my shoulder. The smile he’s been giving me ever since I ripped the book from his hands at breakfast. A probing and curious smile.
Riley’s fairly short for a guy, but I’m fairly short for a girl, so he still stands a good four inches taller. He smells like beer, and sweat and expensive cologne. I take in the smoothness of his skin and fullness of his lips while I nod. I notice the attractiveness in men, but always from a distance. Like they are images on glossy paper that transfer to fantasies in my mind, but never do I see them as real. Not even when I bump them in the street.
But Riley’s intense eyes have a way of sucking me onto his plane of existence, as if I were the woman in the magazine that was being transferred to his mind. Transferred there to live out his fantasy. From the first second I saw him, I’ve never felt him look away. Riley is real, and he’s looking at me. After a few moments, I realize that I have yet to answer his question so I force an apologetic smile while resisting the urge to grab at the short fringe of bangs that hangs in my face.
“He’s probably driving everyone crazy,” I say, leaning closer to his ear so he can hear me over the music. “He hangs on everyone.” My eye’s flick over to Parker, who’s holding one of Sophia’s hands and one of Corbin’s, lifting his feet so they have to swing him back and forth.
“He’s adorable,” Riley says as if it’s a well known fact, and I agree. Riley scans my features, seemingly committing me to memory as he places his fingertips lightly on the small of my back. A slow heat crawls across my skin as his fingers apply more pressure, gently pushing me forward. “Come get a drink with me.”
I look to Parker briefly, but he’s safely with Corbin and the way he’s glued to his uncle’s leg, I doubt he’ll go far. The kegs are still within sight.
When I start to walk, Riley takes his hand from my back and slips his fingers through mine, his skin warm and his grip tight. I look from our hands to his face and I feel instantly silly for the girlish flutter in my stomach. His expression is neutral and as we weave through the crowd. I hope he doesn’t notice the burn in my cheeks and awkward embarrassment of feeling like the hand hold means something it clearly does not.
“So did you finish that book?” I try to steer the conversation but when I get nervous I ask a lot of questions.
“What book?” Riley’s dark eyebrows shadow his eyes.
“Dostoevsky.” He hands me a beer and smiles, pulling in his cheek revealing a small dimple. My heart rolls around in my chest and I try to steady it.
Give your head a shake, Gabriella. I think. This guy is not interested. No guy is interested in a twenty one year old mother. Nor am I interested in him. I don’t do hooking up. That’s never made life easier for me.
“Oh, yeah I’ve read Crime and Punishment a few times. I just like to read while I eat breakfast. Sometimes the newspaper is the shits.” He tilts his head to the side when laughs but his gaze is still laser focused on me. I slowly bring the glass of beer to my lips, careful to take tiny swallows. I can’t get drunk with my son here. I look over my shoulder, making sure he’s still there. He’s on Garett’s shoulders and I can’t stop the laugh from rolling off my tongue. It fills my heart to know how loved Parker is by Corbin and his friends. It almost makes up for the disgusting mess of a man Parker calls Grandpa. At least Parker has somewhat decent male role-models, even if he rarely see’s them.
“Hey,” Riley says and tugs on my wrist, pulling me closer. “He’s fine.”
I look at my wrist in his grip then back to Riley but before I have a chance speak, he grins.
“I’m fucking terrible with women,” he says and rubs a small circle on the heel of my hand. My eyes go huge and my body frozen. “So, I’m just going to come out and say it. Forward is the only way I know how to be. I’m really attracted to you.”
“Um,” I have no idea what to say but the little circles he continues to rub on my skin are blurring my thoughts and melting any rational-thinking ability I have.
“It’s almost unbearable.” He runs his fingers up my forearm and I try with everything I have to make sure the reaction to his touch stays on the inside. I’m afraid to speak in case I betray my shock at what he just said. At how he’s touching me. The longer we stand there silent, the wider his smile gets.
“It’s cool, Gaby. I just wanted you to know that. Something about you is driving me crazy and just looking at you is not nearly enough.” He cups my face in his hand and runs his thumb along my cheekbone. “But no worries. We should probably get back, hey?”
He slips his hand into mine again and leads me back to my brother and his friends like the last few minutes never happened. Riley’s fingers are laced through mine and he continues to run his thumb along my palm. So apparently his hand holding does mean what I thought it meant. What I wanted it to mean.
In a moment of bravery I yank on his hand, stopping him in the middle of the crowd and whirling him around to face me.
“I’m fucking terrible with men,” I yell over the music and he frowns, so I pull him in closer to me, standing on my toes to speak into his ear. “I don’t do attraction well. I’m sorry. Parker always scares men off before I have a chance to feel anything.”
Riley lets go of my hand and touches my waist. “I’m not easily scared off, Gaby. Not when I see something I want.”
I swallow hard and try to steady the pulse that radiates through my body from his words and his fingers trailing up and down my side. I bite on my lip before leaning so close my lips touch his jaw. “After I put Parker to bed, we’ll talk.”
I feel him laugh, his shoulders bouncing, but can’t hear it over the music. “With you breathing on my neck like that, sweetheart, talking is definitely not going to be enough.”
He places a soft secret kiss on my neck, just under my ear and it unlocks a desire inside me that left unchecked could burn up every wall I’ve so carefully built around my safe life.
Parker’s curled up on the couch with Tobie in the staff cabin, clinging to her dress like it’s his blankie. A hand slips into mine as I stand in the doorway watching my little boy, making me jump. Riley holds a finger up to his lips and pulls me from the threshold barely giving me time to close the door. He hasn’t forgotten what I told him earlier, but neither have I. His glances have been torture as he’s undressed me with his eyes, and every time he smiles at me the spot where his lips touched my skin burns. I haven’t stopped arguing with myself about how bad this decision could be. I haven’t even known him a day. What kind of girl does this? Not a girl like me. Not a girl with a child who was born before her seventeenth birthday.
It’s been so long since any man has touched me. Too long. But with Parker things are different.
Giving in to lust isn’t an option.
But the tingle of my skin vibrating right up my arm from his touch silences all my hesitations and I follow him willingly.
Riley leads me around the back of the cabin, the darkness swallowing us up, leaving only the stars to light us. I’m about to ask him what he’s doing when he stops and pulls me to him. My body presses against him and my head is forced to lean back just to be able to see him. His dark suit fits perfectly over his shoulders and across his chest and I’m so close I feel him breathe. He slides his other hand down my other arm so that he has both my hands in both of his. My heart starts pounding as his heavy breath warms my cheek.
“Riley?” I try to keep my voice even, but it shakes with thoughts of where this is going. Where I want it so badly to go. My body reacts accordingly, pressing tighter to his, but my brain constantly reminds me that I don’t know him.
His head leans down so his lips hover over mine but I don’t close the distance. I’m so out of practice. I can’t make myself kiss him even though everything in me screams to do it.
“You know I want you, Gaby,” He states, moving his lips like feathers against mine. My eyes are closed. I squeeze his hands as the tension inside me builds.
“I know,” I answer quietly as he begins to walk me backwards. This isn’t just flirting in a crowded mess of dancing bodies. This isn’t a magazine. Nor is it a fantasy. This is real. We’re alone. My back hits the wall and he presses his hips into me.
“I know you want me, too.” He touches his lips lightly to mine, sending me further into a deep lust for him that’s been steadily building since the second he opened the door for me. I was instantly attracted to his clean image. His angular shaved face and mature confidence. But this side is new. I never would have pegged him for the rough type. But as he deliberately and forcefully pins me to the wall like he’s done it to a thousand girls before me, I fight myself about what to do. I’m always fighting myself about what to do. He obviously lied when he said he was terrible with women.
I return another soft, closed-mouth kiss, before he runs his lips along my jaw to my ear.
“But I can’t have you if you’ve locked yourself away inside your head. I’m fucking desperate to get in. I need you to give in to me, Gabriella.” Riley forces his leg between mine, pressing his thigh against me and kissing my neck.
The shiver of excitement runs through me, completely overwhelming every sense. A man has never spoken like this to me before. Never have I been with someone so sure of himself. So forward. The excitement is replaced by doubt as I realize I’m no match for someone like him. The public Riley I could handle. This private Riley is out of my range of understanding.
“But my brother,” I say in less than a whisper, knowing it’s a terrible excuse but it’s all I can think of to stop this ache forming inside me.
“This isn’t about anything but you and me.” Another soft kiss.
“We don’t even know each other.” Another excuse falls from my mouth and he smiles against my lips.
“Perfect. Then you can be whoever you want to be for me.” He slowly increases the pressure of his mouth on mine, not letting me answer him, until I finally relent, letting my lips part and meeting his tongue with mine.
My arms go around his neck grabbing the back of his head, threading my fingers into his hair. The kiss is long and hard, tasting a little like beer and my mint gum. His hands grip my waist, sliding around to my ass and grinding my hips against his leg.
He bites on my lower lip, pulling up the bottom of my dress, running his hands up my thighs. My chest tightens at the touch. I grab his wrists and push his arms away, more out of habit than anything else.
Having a baby has left it’s mark on me both physically and mentally.
He jerks back at looks at me, his eyes catching the moonlight. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry. It’s just been a while. I just…it’s just, I’m worried…” I try to smile through this sudden embarrassment that’s creeping through me. I’m probably doing a great job of making sure he never wants me again.
Riley frowns before stepping away to run his eyes the length of me.
“You’re worried about your body?” he asks with an undertone of pure confusion. His eyes scan me again, slower, and I wrap my arms across my stomach.
It sounds stupid, but every time I’m in these situations I ruin it with my insecurities. I push off the wall, my body shaking with an unsatisfied need.
“Gaby?” Riley grips my wrist, his face still laced with confusion.
“I’m sorry, Riley. It’s too complicated. I can’t.” I pull away and he lets go of me.
When I round the corner of the cabin I let out a long sigh and check that my invisible walls still surround me.
They’re still there. I’m still safe.