You Me & Us

Between You Me & Us

Read an excerpt of Between You Me & Us, a Contemporary Romance

Prologue

Every day since my trip to Toronto to attend the Celebration of Happiness, my life had grown infinitely more complicated. I’d descended deep into this new sum total of my existence. Evading phone calls. Burying myself in busyness. Avoiding the embarrassment of justifications. I couldn’t explain. Not to anyone; least of all myself.

Disappearing. Becoming the invisible woman. Enticing. If only I could accomplish complete anonymity. Fade to black.

Perspiration trickled down my back as I arched into the next pose, planting each foot with purpose, absorbing the faint burble of the diffuser and the light aroma of some supposedly uplifting and calming yoga blend. 

What better way to escape responsibility and confrontation in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday besides a yoga class? Except this room, packed with perspiring bodies wrapped in colourful spandex, made me feel even more exposed, rather than providing adequate cover. 

Most of the city’s residents should be locked in corporate battle or slaving for that all-important pay cheque. So why were all these yoga devotees crammed into this tiny room when all I craved was peace and a chance to replenish my reserves?

Get back to work, slackers.

The resident yogi frowned at my smothered giggle.

I bit my lip. Hard. It wasn’t even funny. Don’t even know how that snicker sneaked out. Must be losing it.

“Breathe, everyone. Slowly. Deeply,” the yogi said. “In for five …”

I took her advice and focussed on the gurgling diffuser with its light orange and patchouli scented mist. In … one … two … Maybe that observation was directed at myself, anyway. Work was where I should be, and would be, if I hadn’t begged for one of my rare personal days.

No argument came from the head pharmacist at the hospital. “Have a relaxing day, Amara. You deserve the break,” she said, her soft words accompanied by a gentle smile. “After everything.”

Huh. Everything. My lips twisted even as I pressed my flattened palms together, forming a rock-steady tree with the sole of my foot tucked inward against my leg. My distress over seeing Jake must be showing. Or the pain over my separation from Kyle. Or that looming fear of remaining forever alone at the ripe old age of nearing-thirty. Or maybe it was the relentless tick-tock as my biological clock revved, fuelled by a wedding and a pointless discussion about kids. Or my overall sense of doom. My full smorgasbord of angst options served up for everyone’s entertainment.

On cue, I moved into mountain pose, pushing out the tiny bosom that accompanied my touch-too-thin athletic frame.

Perhaps I wasn’t as level as I hoped, even when focussed on being the consummate professional. It seemed impossible to maintain that calm and collected external sereneness on the busiest and most stressful of days. Was I inadvertently projecting my turmoil far and wide? Maybe my colleagues rolled their eyes in the background as I mired myself in a funk. 

“Lengthen those backs.” Our yogi’s gentle voice cut into my thoughts. “Breathe.”

I opened my eyes, cringing at the intensity of her stare under arched eyebrows.

Ah. In … one … two …

“And gently into warrior.”

Jake. His refusal to cut this off. Reeling me in, begging forgiveness, apologizing, texting daily, imploring me to call him. Then he’d sent a heart-rending missive tucked inside the ridiculous kiss-up display of stargazer lilies. Lucky for him, I hadn’t dumped the whole works into the nearest trash bin.

Ha. Never. The vibrant mass of delicate blossoms tugged the slender strings of my heart, transporting me to that long-ago night. Me, bending to Jake’s emotional and masterful twist, sucked in by a bunch of stupid flowers.

“Loosen up.” A soft tap on my wrist pulled me into the present. “Relax. Breathe.”

I uncurled my fists one finger at a time and shook out my hands before stretching into the next pose. In … one … two …

Kyle. Sending me asinine, cryptic texts. No explanation. No I’m sorry. No nothing. Well, except for that “call me, we need to talk” nonsense.

Wiggling my jaw to ease the ache, I bowed into the next pose, all the while my gaze flitting left to right, right to left. Could anyone hear my teeth grinding? 

“Focus,” the yogi murmured as she sidled past.

Right. In … one … two …

Kyle, my not-so-lovely soon-to-be-ex-husband and his bold, “Why haven’t you been to the lawyer yet?” A stellar question from a brilliant mind. It wasn’t that I held any delusions. My marriage was kaput. Totalled. Irretrievably over. A fact I accepted. Welcomed, even. Yet my heart begged for rescue from underneath the crushing defeat, remaining raw, battered, and bruised.

“Clear your mind,” came the whisper as the slim figure stole through our contorted bodies, all manifesting various renditions of an extended triangle. The gentle reminder could be for the whole class, but realistically, this was directed at me, as was her benevolent expression. 

Right. In … one … two … Clear the energy. Reframe the thoughts. So many good intentions, but the unforgotten, unforgiven men from my former life skulked through my reflections, clouding me in a dense fog. Faithless men whose volley of strategic and crippling body punches sent me reeling.

I sucked for breath, searching for my sacred mantra, but finding only a dull echo. Never enough. Unlovable and unloved. Unappreciated. Irretrievably broken and bent. Beyond redemption. Or worse; over-analytical hot mess.

The counters to these floated into my mind. Okay as I am. Loved. Strong and independent. Living my best life, daily. Believe. Believe. Damn. In … one … two … 

Mantras supposedly grounded and soothed, ending that enduring ache. Perhaps they did, if one believed in that sort of thing. Out … one … two … three …

Why drag this out? No reason. None at all. There were no second chances. Not with Kyle. Never with Jake. Only the delusional might believe any of this was fixable. In … one … two … three … Right. Time to call and make that appointment. I closed my eyes, my head shaking of its own accord. Signing those papers turned my abject failure into certain reality.

Envisioning a future with Jake in my current state of being was ludicrous. A monumental mistake, shredding me, surfacing every bleak and vulnerable moment of my past. The wedding.

If only I’d had the sense to stay home. 

Chapter 1

Here I was—completely committed, yet totally miserable. Why? Why subject myself to this? It wasn’t like I had untold wealth to pay for two fabulous new outfits, or a direct flight from Vancouver to Toronto, or even the overpriced five-star hotel. My credit card protested the top-tier gift from the couple’s wedding registry, bought during a moment of guilt-induced weakness. Ah, guilt. The age-old inconvenient lure to do things you shouldn’t.

I smoothed the scarlet dress over my hips and squared my shoulders, grateful for the tiny boost of confidence. Time to resign myself to a fate of awkward reunions and false levity, but at least I didn’t have to walk down the aisle in a froth of blue chiffon, only to stand mere metres away from blissful best man, Jake, while his lovely wife looked on.

Taking one wobbly step forward, then two side-steps to dodge the partiers milling about inside, became its own feat of courage. I plastered on a smile and scanned the room, searching the crowd for familiar faces. Wait. I’d spotted it. Nirvana. Or at least close enough for tonight. Situated toward the back of the dim room, the gleaming, strobe-lit bar beckoned. Yup, a drink would loosen me up. Or maybe it would take two. Whatever. Nobody would keep track, especially not me. As long as I avoided the dreaded drunken striptease, getting a little tipsy was no big deal.

“Amara.” Vivienne, the maid of honour and a close friend from university, popped out of the crowd. “About time you got here.” 

“Viv!” I threw my arms around her.

“So glad you came.” She curved an arm around my waist and drew me onto the dance floor. “Missed you,” she mouthed, pressing her hip to mine.

As we swayed to the music, thoughts niggled at me. Why had I cut myself off? Why had I even run in the first place? No. Absolutely no. Reminiscing and pining were rock-solid off-limits for tonight. Celebrating my amazing friend at this swanky bachelorette party took first priority. “Where is the bride, anyhow?”

“Dara’s dancing,” Vivienne said, fluttering her fingers toward the packed floor. “You look amazing.” She caught a strand of my dark curly hair, fluffing it slightly. “Love that you grew this out and left it natural. Gorgeous.”

Viv released me, returning to her solitary moves, and my eyes drifted closed. I lifted my arms and lost myself in the steady thump. Song after song blended, real life fading into the background.

Too soon, Vivienne’s light touch on my arm dragged me back to reality. She fanned herself and pointed to a table half-surrounded by party guests. “I’m parched.”

A server descended the second we reached the table, dropping off several drinks before taking our order and hurrying toward the bar.

Vivienne leaned in close. “Next round, make it two so you can catch up.”

My thoughts exactly. Liquid courage may be the only thing that got me through this weekend. 

“Wish you could have joined us for the shower,” Vivienne said.

“Sorry I missed it.” I pasted on a fresh smile. No matter how much I adored my friend, I couldn’t have faced the madness of a bridal shower. People would ask too many questions about my defunct marriage at a time when my friend was launching into her happy new life. “How was that?” I asked, accepting my extra-dry martini from the server.

“Ohhh! The guys will be here soon.” A woman on my left craned her neck, peering toward the door.

“The guys?” I gulped several mouthfuls of my drink and glanced toward the entrance while trying to place her vaguely familiar face. Brief flashes connected in my mind. The woman had hovered on the periphery of our group at Dalhousie University before Jake and I became an item. Kara? Carmen? 

“The men from the bachelor party. I hear there will be several eligible hotties.” She performed a small jig, wiggling her hips, her breasts quivering under her low-cut top. “Got my eye on a doctor.”

“Do you remember Celia?” Vivienne whispered in my ear. “She’s a bridesmaid. It should have been you Dara asked, not her.”

Right. Celia. Yes, yes. I wrinkled my nose as I pictured that long-ago night at one of our regular Halifax haunts, and the woman’s blatant passes at pretty much anything male that moved. Her constant ogling of Jake irked me, though that had been before he and I became an us. “It’s fine, Viv. I’m happier being a guest. Imagine how strange it would be to—”

Celia’s shrill squeal drowned out everything but the thud of the bass and she, along with several of the other ladies, abandoned the table. The decibel level rose as the fresh batch of men flooded into the room. Fortunately, Jake didn’t seem to be among the new arrivals, so I drained my drink and shook out my tense muscles.

“Now the real partying begins, just like old times.” Vivienne sucked back the last of her cocktail and rose from her seat in one lithe move, tugging on my arm and dragging me into the crush on the dance floor.

Hours later, I finally made it to the bar and claimed a stool, fanning myself as I took a load off my aching feet. “Water, please.”

The bartender nodded and winked as he served up a tumbler of ice water. Those blue eyes and his sexy scruff sent my heart racing, though he was a touch young. Early twenties, if I was lucky, while I was fast approaching the big three-zero.

He placed a flute in front of me, and I returned his smile, tracing a finger along the rim and admiring the artfully curled lemon peel. “Champagne?”

“Close. It’s a French 75.” Flirty bartender winked. “An elegant drink for a beautiful lady. On the house.” He wiggled his brows before turning to the next person in line.

I took an experimental sip, detecting hints of gin and lemon, the tingly champagne bubbles tickling my tongue. Delicious. After a slight nod and smile at the bartender, I turned to observe the continuing action, Celia’s teal dress catching my eye. Yup, she’d caught her first victim, hauling the poor soul toward the crowded patch of floor in the centre of the room.

Wait. Was that …? I squinted at the figure in the well-cut suit. He was thinner than I remembered. A touch scruffier, too, with his hair curling over his collar, the shadow of a beard darkening his jawline. Hmmm. This rough and tumble yet thoroughly hot and sexy look suited Jake. Married looked mighty fine on the man, even if I hated that another woman had brought him the happiness I’d only dreamed of.

Jake’s amber eyes paired with his dark, silky hair and broad shoulders always had an immediate effect on women, throwing their libido into overdrive. In the early days of our relationship, I’m sure I’d worn an expression similar to the one Celia wore now, many, many times. I’d often wondered why he’d picked me when he could have chosen one of the model-perfect blondes who continually flirted with him whenever we ventured into public. On those occasions, he’d been polite but never returned their blatant interest.

It seemed nothing had changed. Politeness ruled as he performed his obligatory best man duties, including dancing with the flirty bridesmaid. Though if he were my husband, I’d be stepping in and telling that particular pushy woman shaking her assets in his face to shove off. Where was his wife, anyhow?

I sighed. None of my business, that’s where. More unwelcome news greeted me as I turned, searching for the adorable bartender, but a slender blonde with a pixie cut had replaced him. Damn. Now I had nothing to do but stare into my half-empty drink, avoiding the sight of my ex-boyfriend cutting those moves on the floor. I downed the remainder, nodding as the new bartender motioned to my empty glass, then I chanced a look over my shoulder. Time to leave, or should I risk my ex-love catching me ogling him with pathetic longing? Maybe I should hang out until his wife made an appearance and satisfy my curiosity about Mrs. Cavallaro.

“Hi.” A blond man leaned on the bar beside me, his chin tipped down. “Care to dance?”

This cutie represented a risky distraction bound to drop me into the line of fire. The minute I hit the floor, Jake would spot me, and nothing would make me happier than buckling into my seat for the return flight to Vancouver without engaging in a single awkward conversation with my ex-boyfriend.

I tilted my head as he smiled, and his gaze travelled upward, revealing startling blue eyes. That’s right, dude. Eyes go up here, not down there. I tugged at my dress and shook my head.

He shrugged and moved on to the woman three seats away, checking out her ass as they headed toward the floor.

I settled in with my drink, peering through the crowd and keeping tabs as Celia kept Jake on the floor for a second and third song.

When the strains of a slow melody floated through the air, Jake leaned in, saying something to the woman before breaking away and heading toward the far side of the club.

Celia scouted his progress, a pout forming as she approached the bar and flagged down the bartender. She arched one over-plucked brow as she waited for her cosmopolitan. “Why are you sitting here … alone?”

I shrugged. “I’m recuperating.”

“How will you find a man if you don’t join the fun? Weddings are for hot drunken romps between the sheets. You should get out there.” She scooped up her glass, sucking down the drink in seconds, still scanning the dance floor. Her eyes lit up. “My good doctor is back. Maybe later he’ll give me a physical.” She fluttered her fingers and trotted away with tiny, mincing steps.

“He’s married,” I said, even though Celia was half-way across the floor. “Anyway, he’s not that kind of doctor.” But if the woman didn’t care about the wife, why would she care that Jakob Miguel Cavallaro was a marine biologist who’d never given a physical in his life? Not an official one, anyhow.

I waved a trembling hand at the bartender and motioned to the empty flute, amazed at Celia’s progress in her tottery heels as she bore down on the group of men Jake had joined.

Jake’s eyes narrowed in the direction of the advancing bridesmaid, then he ducked into the crowd, reappearing moments later, weaving toward the bar. The familiar dimple creased his right cheek. “Well, well. Imagine running into you here.” He leaned on the bar and flagged down the bartender, the gold ring on his left hand flashing. “Whiskey, please, and another drink for Amara here. Make mine a double.” When our drinks arrived, he said, “Can you charge these to room 3412? Thanks.” He promptly downed a good portion of his whiskey. “Where’s your other half? I was looking forward to meeting the man who finally won you over.”

“Haven’t you heard?” A wiggle of my fingers drew his attention to my missing ring.

“Oh, Mar.” Jake frowned and leaned closer, his woodsy masculine scent combining with the slightly sweet smell of whiskey, creating a heady combination that sent a shiver racing through me. “I’m so sorry,” he said, rubbing my back. 

I lifted one shoulder and sipped my fresh drink, sitting a little straighter as he withdrew his hand. Now my secret was out, and everyone would know I was a total relationship failure. No surprise to this man, I was sure, since I’d failed him too. “Jake.” I grimaced at the sight of Celia bearing down on us, a determined glint in her eye. “Don’t look now, but your friend is on her way.”

Jake glanced over his shoulder and hunched, his knuckles whitening as he clenched his glass. “What’ll it cost for immediate rescue through phone-a-friend?” His words slurred, rounded at the edges.

“Hmmm.” I tapped a fingertip against my pursed lips before sipping my drink. “Who says I can be bought? Anyway, isn’t that your wife’s job? When do I get to meet Mrs. Cavallaro?”

His head dropped further, the curve of his back becoming more pronounced as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Jake?” I rested my hand on his shoulder. “What’s—”

“I love this song!” Celia said, shoving in between us and practically gluing herself to Jake’s side. “Dance with me.” She pawed his arm.

He shook his head, his pained look bringing tears to my eyes. Without a word, he drained his glass and pushed it away, barely sparing me a glance before bolting for the door.

“Great. You chased him away.” The woman glowered. “That one’s mine, so mitts off.” Her lip curled as she scanned me from head to toe. “Like he’d want some stick woman in a sleazy red dress, anyway.”

“I’m not trying to pick him up.” I glared at the woman. “Unlike you, I don’t hit on married men.” 

“Are you crazy?” She rolled her eyes. “His wife is long gone.” 

“You’re the crazy one. How about that wedding ring?”

“That’s for show. It’s been months, and he’s up for grabs. Back off, bitch. I’m warning you.” Celia flipped her hair over her shoulder and strutted away, leaving me white-knuckled and clinging to the edge of the bar, suddenly stone cold sober. 

Gone? Jake’s wife had left him? I cupped my hands over my face, blinking hard against the burn.

“Are you okay, Amara?” Flirty bartender stood in front of me. “Do you need another drink?” 

“Thanks, but no.” Another drink would definitely not fix what ailed me.

Vivienne. She would know what happened.



After several minutes of searching, I located Vivienne at one of the high tables scattered throughout the club.

“Hey, Viv.” I slid onto the seat next to her.

“There you are! Having fun?” She looped an arm around my waist. “You’re a touch pale. Okay?”

I shook my head. “I ran into Jake at the bar.”

“Ouch.” She wrinkled her nose. “How’d that go?”

“Terrible.” Time to get it over with. “What happened with Jake and his wife?”

Vivienne’s eyes widened. “Didn’t you hear? Alysa d—” The cheer of the crowd blended with the shouts of the DJ and the thump of the music drowned out her words.

Cupping my ear, I leaned in closer. “What?” 

“His wife died. About six months ago,” she said. “They were married for less than three years. Devastating.”

I clapped my palm over my mouth, shaking my head, picturing Jake hunched and defeated, looking as if he’d rather be anywhere but here. Oh, Jake, my poor love. I cursed stupid Celia for interrupting and cursed myself for that idiotic comment. He had reached out to me. Or was the reaching idea wishful thinking? “How did it happen?”

“I don’t know the details. Anyway,” she said, patting my hand, “it’s not my place. Talk to Jake. I bet he’d like that. He needs his friends.”

Me? Viv thought I could make a difference for Jake? “Did you know her?”

“Not so well. Dara and Dean hung out with them quite often, doing couple’s things. Dara took it pretty hard when Alysa died.”

I looked toward the parquet floor where Dara danced with abandon, her skirt fluttering as Dean twirled her out and back into his arms. Happiness radiated from her. And so it should. No way would I be the one to bring her down on the night before her wedding by delving into her dear friend’s death. 

My worries about attending this wedding without a date now seemed stupid and petty. Marital breakdown often involved awful, excruciating tussles over everything, and mine was no exception, yet my estranged husband was alive and well. Jake’s wife had just … died. Ended. Hopefully, it was quick, not long and painful.

“Thanks, Viv. Today’s been interminable, so I’m heading out.” I hugged her, saddened that I’d lost touch with this wonderful woman and vowing to do better in the future. “See you tomorrow.”

“Night, sweets. Sleep well.”



The moment I stepped into the lobby, I slipped off my stilettos, the coolness of the marble soothing my aching feet as I padded to the bank of elevators. Once I was inside, I hit the button for my floor and slumped against the side of the car. My ears rang from the hours inside the club, and my energy level sank below zero.

I stared as the numbers lit up, each floor passing … twenty-two … twenty-three … I smothered a yawn, finally feeling the past week of anxious and sleepless nights. The door slid open at twenty-five—my floor—but instead of exiting, I hovered my finger over the button then pressed thirty-four, barely breathing as the upward journey continued.

At times like this, I needed the advice of my best friend and confidante. That was Beth, the woman who’d forced me onto the SeaBus and then onto the Canada Line to the airport, not leaving my side until I joined the security queue, my finger devoid of the four-carat cushion-cut security blanket. 

“What are you wearing that thing for?” Beth had squinted and grabbed my hand, tugging my wedding ring free and tucking it into her pocket. “Head high, Amara. Feel no shame. You’re the perfect trifecta—successful, single, and sexy. All those eligible men at the wedding need to know you’re likewise unattached. Live a little. I’ll be expecting a full report of uninhibited shenanigans when you get back.” Yes, she would know if I was doing the right thing, but it was beyond late on the West Coast, so I was on my own.

When the elevator opened, I stepped out, scanning the numbers until I found myself in front of his hotel room, fingertips resting on the gleaming wood, struggling for that perfect opening line. Simple was best. I’d apologize for my careless remark, relay my condolences, then return to my room. That would be that.

I tapped on the door and stepped back. Maybe he was asleep already. Maybe this would disturb him. Maybe he was angry. Maybe he wasn’t even in his room. I glanced at my watch, squinting at the hands. Was it really three in the morning? Had I lingered at the bar that long?

“Amara?” He leaned in the doorway, staring at me through bleary, red-rimmed eyes, adorably dishevelled in his unbuttoned shirt and wrinkled dress pants.

“Jake. I just wanted to … sorry. It’s late.”

He stepped aside and beckoned. “Come in.”

I closed my eyes for a moment before shuffling inside, taking in the low hum of the late-night talk show and the rumpled bed with its indented pillow. The true tell was the empty tumbler on the side table with the open bottle of Crown Royal beside it. “Not sleeping?”

He shrugged. “Drink?” Without waiting for my answer, he retrieved a glass from beside the coffee maker, poured a generous fifth, and pushed it into my hand. He refilled his own with a double shot.

“About before—”

“No need.” Jake shook his head. “To old friends.” He lifted his whiskey. “Cheers.”

By the time I’d taken a ginger sip, he’d drained his own and poured another. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know about your wife.”

He sank onto the side of the bed, massaging his temples with one hand, the other dangling loosely between his knees, glass suspended from his fingertips.

“Are you okay?” I rescued his whiskey and set it aside, then sat beside him. After a moment, I slid my arm around him. Yet another stupid question. Obviously, he wasn’t handling his wife’s death well, but I was still his friend, wasn’t I?

Wordlessly, he turned, wrapping me in his arms and tucking his face against my neck, entwining his hand in my hair. “I can’t believe you came,” he whispered.

My heart practically broke as I hugged him tighter, closing my eyes and enjoying his closeness. The heat of his body. The wonderful earthy tang of him. Ahh, Jake. I turned my head and kissed his cheek, sighed, and then kissed him again, wanting him to understand I felt his pain. The third time I met tender lips, my knees trembling as warmth crept from my toes, his enticing scent invading my nostrils. A soft moan escaped low in my throat when he nibbled at that tender spot on my neck. His silky hair curled around my fingertips as I savoured the gentle sweep of his touch against my back and the sweet taste of orange on his tongue.

As one, we shifted, him rising above me, settling me deep into the bedding. I wrapped one arm around his neck and slid the other hand across his shoulders, then down to squeeze his tight ass, our kiss growing longer as he slid the strap of my dress aside and cupped my breast.

Jake stroked my inner thigh, working my dress over my head and tossing it aside, soon sending his shirt with it. “My beautiful Mare.”

Mah-ray. The deepness of his voice and the rolling wave of the r attached to this delightful Italian word brought on a shiver. I sighed against his lips. Mm-mm, this man’s kisses were delectable, riling me up as always. I loved stroking the smoothness of his bare back. Ah, feeling the hotness of our flesh melding …

Buzz … Buzz … Buzz …

The vibration on the bedside table dug into my consciousness, but just as quickly, the sound subsided.

He removed my bra, his lips grazing my neck, the light scruff on his jaw tickling my tender skin as he skimmed downward, brushing his fingers over my navel.

Buzz … Buzz … Buzz …

“Jake … phone.”

His pause lasted only for a second before he tangled his fingers in my hair.

Buzz … Buzz … Buzz …

“Ignore,” he mumbled. “Message.”

No problem. My only concern was his pants and how soon they were leaving his body. I ached for this fine man, longed for his naked …

Ding.

“Shit, they’re persistent.” He groaned, tucking his head against the crook of my neck before he released me. “I have to check.”

I remained motionless, struggling to control my breathing, missing the gentleness of his touch and the weight of him as he reached toward the bedside table. Kneading my palms against the sheets, I closed my eyes to stop the world from spinning, desperate to hide the inconvenient sight of the gold band on his finger.

“Sorry. It’s important.” He rubbed my arm and pecked my lips, the mattress quivering as he moved to the edge.

What the hell was I even doing here, sprawled across my ex’s bed while he dealt with his oh-so-important text? Who wanted to be the widower’s rebound girl, to be his drunken wedding shag? Clearly, the loss of his wife had sent him reeling and clouded his judgment if he thought an ex-girlfriend was the ideal candidate. He might even be seeing someone, and I was simply a convenient diversion. A wander along some distant memory lane.

“… what’s happening?” 

That damn wedding ring, still on his finger. The one another woman had given him when he’d pledged to love her forever. Alysa. Alysa Cavallaro; the woman who’d replaced me.

What were the rules here? Were there any? Maybe rule number one should be to heed the fluttering red flag. To end this particularly trippy out-of-body experience. To protect my ravaged heart.

“How high?” A latch clicked, and his voice grew muffled.

I stared at the closed bathroom door for several seconds before scuttling from his bed, hauling on my dress, and scrambling for my shoes. The low rumble of his voice accompanied my rush across the carpet and my slight pause as I inched the door open and slipped into the hall, stilettos dangling from my fingertips. The door swooshed shut, and I trotted toward the illuminated exit sign, plunging into the gloom of the stairwell. The rush of cool air raised goosebumps on my bare skin, my unshod feet slapping the steps as I descended, zigzagging downward until I reached my floor.

What a fool for imagining I could visit my ex-boyfriend’s hotel room in the wee hours and expect nothing, besides my simple apology, to happen.

Being Jake’s one-night stand would be embarrassing. Unbearable. Our story had ended four years ago. No good could come of revisiting it. Now to get through the rest of the weekend.

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Book Two

Book Three

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