All right, everyone. Here’s a sneak peek at Chapter One! I welcome any feedback you might have!
The notes weren’t mine. I nabbed them from the trash bin. At first, I had felt like a voyeur, peering into someone else’s life, but I’d been collecting them for so long, they were now a part of an elaborate hoax I’d created for myself—the lie to end all lies—the existence of true love.
I slid the clasp aside and opened the lid of the lacquered wood chest. Eyes closed, I reached in and stirred up the contents, listening to the satisfying shuffle of paper cards, passing over several offerings before settling on one. “I love the way you fit, curled into my side, as we glide together on the porch swing.”
I held the thin sheaf of paper close to my heart. The veranda sagged empty now. A burden of snow weighed down the wooden bench, a layer of ice suppressing the hinges.
A tuneless whistle emanated from the living room, catching me up short, and I groaned, affecting a mental face palm. I was a masochist, allowing myself to get swept up in the charade. Nothing in my experience had ever taught me the validity of love’s promise. Survival, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears… that was the stuff life was made of.
I placed the note back inside the box and tucked it under the bed as a pair of meaty hands and thick forearms grabbed me from behind.
“Hey, baby.” Mark pressed his hips into my ass as I bent over.
I straightened and stepped into his embrace. “Hey, yourself.”
“That was a fine view.”
“Half naked.” He grinned and lifted me, carrying me to the bed. He made quick work removing my t-shirt, the only vestment I had on, and his own clothes landed in a pile on the floor.
A moment later, I lay on my back engaged in a riveting game of Mr. Wobbly hides his helmet. Despite my efforts to mix things up in the bedroom, Mark remained committed to the missionary position, which did little to aid my quest for an earth-shattering orgasm. I swore I was one of those women whose clit stretched miles away from their vagina.
“God, you’re so fucking hot, Samantha,” he grunted, pumping hard.
The draft from the single-pane window caused a shiver to race up my spine. I yanked on the duvet, trying to lift if up over Mark’s back, but it lodged under his knees and wouldn’t budge.
Teeth bared, his breath quickened, and he got that crinkled look on his face, which meant he was about to blow. If I had any hope of reaching orgasm, I needed to focus. I quit fiddling with the covers and shifted a little, trying to stop the broken spring in the mattress from gauging into my tail bone. I closed my eyes, desperate to build the climax.
He let out a long wheeze and collapsed, half his weight on the mattress, the other on me. Both my hope and clit shrivelled. After a period of heavy breathing, he rolled onto his back and put his hands behind his head. “Did you go, baby?”
“No.” I flipped onto my stomach and drew circles with my nails on his smooth chest. I ran my fingertips over his six pack, delighting in the dips and valleys, and traced the outline of a gothic tattoo that trailed across his pecs and up over his shoulder, before ending in a hot muscled sleeve. “But maybe you could help me out with that.”
He stretched. “I’d love to, but I gotta get to work.”
I didn’t expect a lot, but a little effort would be nice. Not that it would have mattered. I’d never been able to come during sex and most guys I dated didn’t do foreplay. If I wanted an orgasm, I had to take matters into my own hands. I chocked it up to baggage from my past and daddy issues.
He kissed my forehead and hopped out of bed, heading to the bathroom, and I admired the indents in his sculpted backside until the door shut.
Past baggage or not, I needed a release. Cranked and revved up with nowhere to go, I stared at the ceiling. The paint bubbled and peeled in one spot, and a crack ran the length of the drywall seam. I needed to talk to the Superintendent. It was only a matter of time before the whole thing collapsed.
The toilet flushed, and the shower door closed. With a final glance at the bathroom, I opened my nightstand and pulled out Bob, my faithful battery operated boyfriend, and waited. Once the water started running, I turned on my vibrator. It was old and sounded like a Hoover, but it never let me down.
Still sensitive from Mark’s jouncing, it wouldn’t take long. I just… needed… a little… attention… right… there. I arched my back into the pounding throb of my toy, letting the delicious buzz fill my body. I clutched the sheets, fisting them in my free hand, riding that delicious wave of pleasure as it crested. I let out a strangled moan and fell back, my heart pounding.
Why couldn’t I do that with an actual man present?
I cleaned up the evidence with some tissue, tucked Bob back in the drawer under my panties, and glanced at my phone. I still had time for coffee.
I grabbed yesterday’s jeans and hunted through my basket of clean clothes for a sweater. I hadn’t gotten a chance to put them away last night after work, so they sat there like a beacon admonishing me. At least I’d folded them.
Locking the door behind me, I headed downstairs, fortifying myself before stepping outside. A blast of Arctic air hit me full gale, and I tramped, head bent to the wind, through the snow, taking a quick right into the cafe. Once within the warm and welcoming glow of Let it Percolate, the comforting aromas of dark-roasted coffee and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies enveloped me.
I shook the icy flakes from my long blonde hair and stomped the slush off my boots onto the already soaked black synthetic carpet. The cafe wasn’t typically busy this early in the morning, but a few people lounged in the plush chairs surrounding one of the gas fireplaces. I envied them their leisure and warmth.
Durham was a small vacation town, nestled by the lake. Shops lined the main drag, and angled parking spaces poked out from either side of the road. In the summer, it looked picture perfect. Beautiful Victorian row houses with deep burgundy or stately hunter-green shutters lined roads paved with cobblestone. Hybrid tea roses in soft pinks and yellows cast their delicate scent through the air. Swinging benches on inviting porches overlooked manicured lawns. Baskets brimming with icicle pansies, hydrangeas, ivy, and impatiens hung from old-fashioned light standards. The perfect romantic getaway for exhausted city travellers seeking to pluck up their social media feeds with plastic smiles and pretty sunsets. Today, however, in the dead of winter, the cafe’s large, floor-to-ceiling windows framed a world blanketed in white. On a Christmas postcard, it would have been serene and festive, but beneath the powder and frosted window panes, Durham lay abandoned. Its shutters closed. Its shops empty. People forgot about Durham in the winter. The city moved on and Durham watched and waited for the warmer temperatures and spring blossoms that heralded better times to come, when the world would love it again, if only briefly.
“Hey, Samantha.” A familiar head popped up from the dessert cabinet. “One whole-fat, extra-whip caramel latte with double drizzle coming up.”
“I need that to go, Carlos. And a black coffee, large.” I followed the soggy carpet runner to the register and fished a ten-dollar bill out of my threadbare wallet. The shiny new brakes on my car had taken most of my free cash that month.
“Mark, huh?” Carlos’ mouth set in a firm line, and his hands found their way to his hips.
While his father might be able to get away with that stance and intimidate an entire courtroom of witnesses, it didn’t suit Carlos, and he wore it awkwardly.
“Yes. Mark. He’s on his way to work.”
He parceled out my change. “Why doesn’t he come down here and get his own coffee so we can meet him?” He leaned against the register, golden-brown eyes regarding me. “You’ve been dating this guy for six months. Why doesn’t he want to meet your friends?”
“He’s shy.” I shouldered my way past a man waiting in line. Carlos mirrored my progress from the other side of the long counter.
“It’s because he’s ugly and bald with a hare-lip isn’t it.”
“If I were that superficial, I’d wouldn’t be talking to you.”
A hand flew to his heart. “You wound me, Bella.”
I smirked. “Fine, you’d pass.” In truth he’d do more than pass any test I could give him. Brilliant, almost finished his law degree, he was handsome—all chiseled jaw and high cheekbones from his Italian father and Spanish mother.
“Your tests involve tattoos and lousy attitudes.”
I leveled my gaze at him, though admittedly, I didn’t have the best track record “Not all my boyfriends have been terrible.” I couldn’t argue with him on the tattooed part.
“You like the bad boys. I could never compete,” he said.
“No, you couldn’t. You don’t have a bad bone in your body.”
“I could try you know. Make a rolling stop at an intersection. Go five miles over the speed limit.”
If I had been drinking my coffee, I would have spit it onto the floor. “No, you couldn’t.”
His lips rolled into a pout. “Fine. But for you, I might be willing to consider it.”
I leaned in for a hug. “You’re too cute.”
He hugged me back. “Will I see you tomorrow night?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Carlos made his way back behind the counter.
“I don’t know why you keep trying,” Paul said as he swirled the last peak of whipped cream into a customer’s hot chocolate.
“I’m wearing her down.” Carlos smiled at the couple waiting at the till and completed their order, jotting down their drink selections for Paul.
Paul snickered. “What about Claire? Does she know you’re making the moves on another woman?”
Carlos had to recount the couple’s change. “Bad form, dude.” He tossed Paul a healthy glare of disdain.
Other than Samantha, no one knew he and Claire were no longer a couple. He still cared about her, and for a time he thought he loved her, but his priorities had changed. He wanted something else. Something more. And fortunately, so did Claire. If the decision fell solely to him, he would have made their breakup public a year ago. Three more months wasn’t that long to wait.
He placed a new cup, its surface marred with chicken scratch outlining the next order, in front of Paul. “You coming tomorrow?”
“Classic deflection. Well done.”
Paul placed the filled cups on the counter, shining his dimpled mega-watt smile at the older woman, who blushed as she accepted her Chai Latte. Her male companion steered her quickly toward the back of the room. “I’m looking forward to meeting all your adoring fans and playing the Don Juan to your Don Quixote.”
Carlos laughed. “You pull that crap and I may lose my adoring fans.”
Paul shrugged. “Chicks dig that whole pirate-rake scene. Besides, I’d only be helping preserve your pristine image as a chaste saint.”
“I’m not a saint, nor am I chaste.” Carlos glanced around the cafe to make sure no one paid attention to their conversation. He didn’t think Blake, their boss, would approve of the topic.
Paul leaned against the counter. “When was the last time you got laid?”
Beads of sweat popped along Carlos’ forehead. “I’m not sure we should be talking about this here.”
“They aren’t listening.” Paul gestured to the small group clustered together by the fireplace. He didn’t even bother pointing out the couple who sat side by side, huddled at the back. Carlos knew they couldn’t hear anything over the jazz music playing in the background.
“It’s been a while.”
Paul actually snorted. “Dude, I know it’s at least been a year. That cactus is shriveled. It’s probably grown a fungus from lack of air. Maybe some crusty smegma.”
Carlos threw the cloth he used to wipe the counter at Paul’s head. “Speaking from experience?”
Paul dodged the wayward towel. “My stallion gets ample space to run.”
“Just so I’m clear, you’re a stallion, and I’m a cactus?”
“You need to water that shit. Thing’s gonna atrophy and fall off. Just saying.”
“Didn’t you just give me hell for hitting on Samantha?”
“I fully support a little extra curricular activity. For God’s sake, Claire’s been in Italy forever. You see her once a year. A man can’t live like that. I just caution against where you throw your misdirected attentions.”
Over six feet tall, with the kind of biceps and tattoos that would normally make Samantha salivate, Carlos always wondered if something had happened between them, but he’d never worked up the nerve to ask. “Did you and Samantha ever, you know, hangout?”
“Damaged goods that one. I’ve warned you.”
“Yeah, you’ve mentioned, but you never explained how you came to that conclusion. Did you guys date? A one-night stand?” The idea rankled.
Paul started wiping down the espresso machine. “What if I told you she was the fuck of the century? Would that help?”
“No.” He was sorry he asked.