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Authors: Tamsyn Bester,Bailey Townsley

all of me (all of me #1)

ALL OF ME

(Part 1)

A Novella

By

T
AMSYN
B
ESTER

&

B
AILEY
T
OWNSLEY

 

 

ALL OF ME.

Tamsyn Bester. Bailey Townsley.

© 2013

All rights reserved.

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

This 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. The publication/ use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

This eBook is licensed for your personal use only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return it and purchase your own copy.

Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

Edited by Emma Mack,
Tink’s Typos
.

Cover Design by © Rebecca Berto,
Berto Designs
.

Photo Copyright © BigStock Images.

Formatting by Max Henry at
Max Effect
.

 

 

CONTENTS

Acknowledgements

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

About the Authors

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The first people we would like to thank are our families, for supporting us and for putting up with us when we were always working.

This has been an amazing journey, and we’ve had the odds stacked against us from the moment we started this project – but we made it, we’re at the finish line, and we can’t wait to get this book out there.

To the readers who have shown their excitement for this book, THANK YOU – you were the fire that kept this project alive.

Lastly, to our fabulous editor, Emma Mack – YOU.ARE.AWESOME! Enough said - And to Nikki Hardie, Amanda Heath, and Michelle Davis Grad, who all Beta read this in the final stages, your feedback has been invaluable. WE LOVE YOU!

Lots of Love from South Africa,

Tamsyn & Bailey

 

 

CHAPTER 1

L
ACY

My new loft apartment is quiet when I walk in and I can vaguely make out the box shapes in the shadows. I flick the light on before discarding my purse on the kitchen counter and walk through the boxes I have yet to unpack. I’ve been back in Chicago for less than forty-eight hours and I already wished I were back on the white sand beaches of Cape Town. For the last two years, the small bustling metropolis situated in the Western Cape of South Africa has been my home, my safe place and my refuge. It is the place I ran to after my life turned to shit and now that I’m back I understand why running away was so appealing.

I chuck off my ballet flats, not caring where they land, and check my answering machine. Oddly enough, unlike all the other times I’ve checked, there’s a message waiting. My finger hesitates over the button and I wonder if listening to this message is really a smart decision.

Against my better judgment I press the button and my sister’s voice fills the room. “Lacy…mom said she saw you in the streets today…are you home? Why didn’t you let us know you were back? Call me when you get this, we need to talk. All of us.”

I delete it, hating that my mother had spotted me today.
There goes my stealthy return,
I think. Great. I should’ve been more careful. The last thing I need is the unwelcomed attention of my family, especially when they pretty much wrote me off before I left. I wanted nothing to do with them but now that they know I’m back, they’ll be sharks circling a whale carcass. I’m not going to subject myself to an audience with them willingly.

My phone chimes from the kitchen and I amble the short distance from my bedroom to answer it. It’s a text from my friend Cassandra.

S
KYPE?

I make my way over to my desk and power up my iMac before typing out a response.

L
ET’S DO IT.

A few minutes later, I open Skype and let Cassandra know that I’m online. Seconds later the dial tone comes through the speakers and when I answer, Cassandra’s beautiful sun kissed face fills my screen.

“Hey bitch,” she greets in her South African accent.

“Hey Cass! How’s it going?”

“Same old, same old. Except you’re not here, and I fucking miss you. Come back!”

I chuckle, smiling for the first time since my return. “I miss you too, Cass. How are things with Kyle?”

She sighs with a dramatic roll of her eyes. “Fuck knows,” she replies, “he’s worse than a woman sometimes, I swear. He can’t decide if he wants us to be more than friends or not and I’m getting bored with him. I need some new eye candy.”

“You’re
always
on the lookout for new meat,” I tease playfully, even though it’s the truth.

“Well that’s only because I’m tired of playing with boys. I want me a man, a big strong sexy man who knows what he wants without me having to point it out. And preferably someone who doesn’t suffer from pencil dick syndrome.”

I know exactly the kind of man she’s looking for. I’ve had one before, only it didn’t end well. I think about Jason and then banish all thoughts of him just as fast. It only took me two years and running away to a different continent to get over him and the last thing I need is to think about the bastard
now.

“Anyway, how is it being back home? Have you spoken to your family yet?”

It’s my turn to sigh. Chicago hasn’t been my home for a while, but I couldn’t stay in Cape Town forever. I’ve managed to stay off the radar for this long but eventually I had to return to reality.

“They know I’m back,” I reply. I lift my feet onto my big office chair and rest my chin on my knees. “My mother saw me somewhere today and when I got back to my apartment I had a voice message from my sister.”

“What did the bitch have to say for herself? I hope they groveled like dogs.”

Cassandra does nothing to hide her disdain for my family. She knows everything about them and why I ran away. It’s odd really. We met at some rooftop party and hit it off. Three months later I was living with her at her Clifton beach house and had become fast friends with her ‘crowd’ of Cape Townians.

“She just said I should’ve told them I was back in town and that I should call her so we can all talk.”

Cassandra snorts and I realize that I miss her fiercely. She’s my only friend, really. All my so-called friends in Chicago ditched me as soon as the tabloids labeled me “Chicago’s Biggest Public Scandal To Date” and wouldn’t even return my calls, let alone be caught dead in public anywhere near me.

“I hope you told them to go jump off the Empire State building and into peak hour traffic.”

“I deleted the message. There’s no point in talking to them if they’re going to make me relive everything. I need to move on now.”

“I agree girly, make them fuckers suffer. On the flip side, I will be visiting in a few short months and you can show me all there is to see of Chicago. Until then, go out and have some fun, but not too much without me. You’ve come so far since I met you and I’d hate to see that all unravel because you have assholes for family members. You’re one tough bitch, Lace. Don’t you forget it.”

My eyes mist over because I really do miss my friend. She’s been all I’ve had when everything else fell apart.

“I miss you,” I say, grabbing a tissue on my desk.

“Ah girl, don’t you start crying, you know it will set me off too! It won’t be long and I’ll see you in person, but we’ll Skype often so you don’t forget what I look like okay?”

“Okay,” I laugh. “Tell everyone I say hi and go put Kyle out of his misery. Even I’m sexually frustrated on his behalf.”

Cassandra winks mischievously. “Oh I’m planning on teasing him later. We’re having a bonfire tonight.”

“Have fun. I’ll talk to you soon.”

Cassandra blows me an air kiss and waves before disconnecting our call. I feel better after talking to her and decide to follow her advice. I have to move on and live my life according my own rules. I have no one looking out for me, which is freeing in some ways.

I don’t have to worry about disappointing my family (done that) or being an embarrassment (done that too). Their unrealistic expectations no longer exist in my world and I’m determined to keep it that way, regardless of my last name.

I was fortunate enough to inherit a large trust fund from my late grandfather, which has supported my lifestyle after my family cut me off. I don’t live affluently but I’m more than comfortable, much to my parents’ displeasure.

Needless to say, I’m doing perfectly fine on my own.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

L
ACY

I throw my sheets off, unable to sleep. The sound of the cars below echo loudly in the streets and do little to soothe my busy mind.

The clock reads 4am and I’ve slept two hours at most. I slide out of my bed and saunter lazily into my office/dining room/living room. I turn my iMac on and open the files I’ve been working on.

When I was in Cape Town, Cassandra suggested I write a book about what she referred to as ‘my journey’. After the first two hundred pages flew out of me, I realized that getting it all out on paper helped and soon I was unable to stop. The first draft was finished before I came home, but now I’m contemplating whether or not I should publish it.

I read through the first ten chapters and before I know it time slips away from me. My phone chimes as my ‘6am’ alarm rings through my apartment and I stretch the tiredness from my limbs before heading into the kitchen to make a fresh cup of coffee.

Now that I have returned, I’d need some kind of routine, something to keep myself busy with. I decide that it would start with two hours of gym, and fortunately the building I live in now has one of those downstairs.

I change into a pair of black yoga pants and a purple sports bra that exposes my waist, and grab my matching black jacket. I finish my coffee, savoring the deliciousness, and devour a quick but satisfying breakfast before traveling down the twelve floors to the fully equipped gym.

I like my new home, and the privacy it provides from the world outside. I walk in and find what I assume to be the usual morning crowd milling about on various pieces of equipment. I find an unoccupied treadmill and slip out of my jacket.

After strapping my iPhone to my arm, I click on Miley Cyrus’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ and started warming up. I focus on nothing but the rhythm of the song and the burn of my muscles for a solid thirty minutes before I see him. His midnight black hair hangs a little longer than I remembered, his shoulders broader and his back far more defined.

My feet falter and I hit the emergency button to stop myself from falling face first onto the machine.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. He doesn’t even live in this building. Seeing him again wasn’t part of my plan. My heart races and it has nothing to do with the thirty-minute run I’ve just subjected myself to.

I move toward the exit with slow steps, watching him carefully, watching the way the females flock in his direction. I understand the pull to him. I struggle not walking to him myself.

He smiles; laughing at something one of the women said, and the sound has me gasping for air. Jason Tate is devastatingly beautiful and is even more so after two years have passed. He’s the man who had taken everything from me, destroying me in the process, only to turn his back just as fast.

I was nothing more than a naïve nineteen-year-old girl who’d fallen for a man who could play the game of seduction far better. That shouldn’t have been a surprise though, considering he’s eleven years older than I am.

My feet stumble over each other and I fall into another man while staring at Jason, attracting more attention to myself.

After causing a bit of commotion, Jason’s piercing blue eyes land on me, and his face falls. My traitorous body wants to go to him but my survival instincts and need for self-preservation kick in before I can act on that idiotic notion. I turn to leave and as I reach the doors, I hear him.

“Lacy? Is that you?”

I rip my gaze from his and take off running towards the stairs. I could manage twelve floors, especially when waiting for the elevator would make it possible for him to catch me. I race up the stairs, stopping every three floors to catch my breath, but when I make it to my floor, I realize it’s no good. Jason has beaten me, and steps out of the lift just as I fling the stairwell door open. If I weren’t so out of breath, I would use every curse word in the English language and throw in some hand gestures for good measure.

But that wouldn’t have stopped him. That much I know. I stand in the hallway and Jason stares unabashedly, his face pale as if he’s looking at a ghost. It’s a feeling I’m quite familiar with. It feels like I’m also staring at a ghost.

“It’s you,” he says quietly, almost to himself. I resist the temptation to roll me eyes and walk towards my door, which he’s standing in front of.

It strikes me as odd though, that he knows which apartment is mine, but I focus on the more immediate problem. Getting as far away from him as possible.

He shakes his head as if to bring himself back to the present.

“Where have you been?” he asks. I ignore him and start opening my door. I try closing it in his face but his hand shoots out and stops me.

“Lacy,” his voice comes out stronger, laced with authority, “answer me.”

His tone angers me. He doesn’t have that kind of authority over me anymore. Not that he ever did. But there was a time when the strength of his voice made me want to listen to what he said. “I’d rather not,” I reply, my tone carrying a hint of petulance.

“Why?”

A deep, aggravated sigh escapes my chest and I spin around to face him. “Because you have no right to know.”

“That’s what you’re going with? Really? Very mature, Lace.”

I scowl. “Why does it even matter to you where I’ve been, Jason? If you really cared you would have tracked me down the moment I got on the plane and left.”

“I didn’t know you were gone, Lacy! I had to wait for things to blow over before I contacted you again. You don’t know what it was like after - ”

“Save it,” I say, cutting him off. “The last thing you should try do is get me to feel sorry for
you.
You weren’t the one who had to leave everything behind and start over. You left me to deal with the aftermath of our relationship
alone
.”

“It was complicated,” he argues. “I couldn’t just run after you.”

“Of course not,” I bite back, “you had to stay here with your
fiancé.
Or is she your wife now?” My eyes travel down to his left hand on instinct, noticing the absence of a wedding ring. That doesn’t mean much though. He could have taken it off before going to gym.

“That’s not fair, Lacy.”

I look him in the eye and hope that he can see that I am no longer that naïve girl he knew. I’ve grown up and it’s no thanks to the silly little charade he had me play for his benefit. I went from being his willing puppet, hopelessly devoted to him, to being the fool he’d taken advantage of.

“It doesn’t matter now,” I say looking down. “It took me a really long time to deal with everything and I didn’t come back to relive it. If I’d known there was any chance in hell that I’d bump into you I would’ve chosen another city.”

Hurt flashes across his stone features but I don’t care. He deserves it. His phone rings and he frowns when he looks at the screen.

“Sorry,” he mutters, “I have to take this.”

“I don’t care, Jason. I’m going to shower. You can see yourself out.” I turn around and walk to my bathroom, not waiting for him to leave. Seeing him after all this time has messed with my head and I need a time-out.

***

After an hour in the shower, I get dressed and am relieved to find my apartment Jason-free. I decide to get out for a while and meander through the bustling streets to the Starbucks on the corner. They didn’t have Starbucks in Cape Town so I’m oddly excited to experience the caffeinated goodness. After I order and pay for my Latte, I leisurely stroll to Barnes & Noble to check out some of the newest releases. Most women have a penchant for handbags or shoes, and while I love buying both of those things, my real guilty pleasure is books. There’s nothing better than getting lost in a really amazing love story and shutting the rest of the world out.

As I peruse the shelves in the Romance section, I wonder about Cassandra’s suggestion; to publish the book I’d written while in Cape Town. I have a contact at HarperCollins who I could send it to but I’m not even sure if she’d be interested in what I’ve written. I’d also have to consider publishing under a different name because the last thing I want is my family knowing I’ve written about what happened between me and Jason. Then again, there isn’t any more they could do to me. They’ve already done everything possible to dissociate themselves from me.

“Lacy?”

I freeze, recognizing my sister’s voice. Rebecca is older by five years and at twenty-six she’s already taken her rightful place at my father’s right hand side at his law firm. The role suits her well and it has been her life-long dream to become my father’s protégé and then successor.

I turn around slowly and Rebecca’s eyes widen. “Lacy. Hi.”

She tries smiling but given our last encounter I don’t feel like returning it.

“Rebecca,” I greet coldly. I mentally start planning an escape route, noting that the exit is on the other side of the store. Dammit.

“So you’re back,” she states, shifting on her feet rather awkwardly. It isn’t often that my darling sister looks uncomfortable, but seeing me clearly ruffles her feathers. “You should’ve called. We could’ve fetched you from the airport.”

I snort. “Yeah, like mom and dad would have welcomed me with open arms. As you can see, I’m still alive and kicking and doing just fine on my own. You can report that back to mom and dad.”

“They’ve been worried sick, Lace, and they’ve missed you.” Lies. All of it. Complete and utter bullshit. If they missed me then why didn’t they bother trying to find out where I was?

“Great,” I reply with sarcasm, “remind me to nominate them for the ‘Parent of The Year’ award this year.”

“Don’t be like that,” she pleads. “They had time to think about what they did, and I can tell you they are genuinely sorry.”

Sorry my ass. I bet they have no idea Rebecca is pleading their case. I shouldn’t be surprised. Rebecca is the ‘fixer’ in our family. Too bad this is one thing I have no interest in having fixed. Her face softens and she gives me her best
someone kicked my puppy
expression. I know this tactic well, which is exactly why it is ineffective.

“They wanted me to invite you to dinner,” she adds when she realizes I’m not going to reply. “We missed your birthday and they’d like to make up for it.”

“I already had a birthday party. I don’t need another one.”

I’d spent my twenty-first birthday exactly how I’d wanted to and with people I’d come to care about, people who cared about me too. Cassandra threw me a surprise bash, which ended with a larger-than-life bonfire on the beach under a blanket of stars. It was perfect.

I didn’t need more, especially not some ridiculous party with people who commented about seeing me in diapers as a baby. Or worse, with people who had heard about my very public humiliation. No thanks. Chewing off a limb sounds more appealing.

“Will you at least think about it?”

My sister is begging. That’s new. Maybe she’s being sincere. Then again, she was being sincere when she sided with my parents the night they told me what a disgrace I was to the family name. I don’t trust her.

“Fine,” I sigh. I hate the way her face lights up with hope but I’m not going to pay it any mind. I’m simply going to leave the bookstore and not give this conversation a second thought.

“Great! Can we do lunch sometime?”

“I’m really busy.” The lie falls from the lips without much effort. “I’ll have to let you know when I have time to squeeze you in.”

“Oh,” her face drops slightly, “what are you busy with?”

I contemplate telling her, but then decide against it. The less she knows about my life, the less she will have to tell my parents.

With a final, and strategic glance down at my watch, I say, “Oh that reminds me, I have a brunch, and I’m going to be late. So if you’ll excuse me…”

‘Of course, I’ll let you go. I hope you’ll call me soon.”

“Yeah, sure. Bye.”

My steps quicken into a brisk walk. I have no intention of calling her, or anyone else in my family. I’m not about to hurl myself into an awkward situation with the people who have all but shunned me. Seeing Jason again after this time is bad enough.

 

CHAPTER 3

L
ACY

It’s late afternoon and I’m curled up on the sofa with a new book.  My phone has been ringing incessantly since I arrived home from the bookstore and clearly my mother couldn’t take a hint. I was expecting this, but not so soon after my run-in with Rebecca. My bet would be that she called my parents before I even had the chance to leave the store.

When my phone goes off a seventh time – yes, seventh – I glare at the screen and eventually throw my arms up in defeat. My mother won’t give up until she speaks to me.

I slide my finger across the screen and press it to my ear. My only option is to pretend I have no idea who’s calling.

“Hello?”

“Lacy.” My name comes out of my mother’s mouth with a
swoosh
. “I’ve been trying to call for over an hour.”

“I’m sorry mother, I’ve been busy.” My voice is hard, and cold as steel. Indifference is my only form of defense. It always has been.

“Too busy to let us know you’re back home,” she huffs. Anger surges through my body, wrapping around the very center of me. Answering the call was clearly a mistake, and I fight my natural inclination to cut the call. Manners be damned.

“Is there a reason you called?” I ask, my tone thick with irritation.

“Yes,” my mother half-snaps. “Your sister spoke to you about a dinner for your birthday. We’ll be having it next Wednesday at seven.”

And just like that I have been summoned. I remind myself that all the obscenities running through my mind belong to nineteen-year-old Lacy, and not grown up Lacy.

“Are you inviting me or
telling
me to be there?”

My mother’s heavy sigh comes through the phone before she replies, “I’d like you to be there, of course. We haven’t seen you and it’s time you came home.”

I bite my tongue, stopping my harsh words in their tracks before saying something I’d regret. The house I’d grown up in was just that. A house. It had never been home to me, and became even less so after my whole Jason debacle. Cape Town and the friends I’d made there felt more like home than anywhere else I‘d ever been.

The truth is, seeing my family isn’t rating high on my ‘To-Do’ list, especially when I know we’ll avoid talking about why I’ve been gone for the past two years. While I’m not looking for some kind of confrontation, some kind of apology would be nice. Then again, I doubt my family is capable of that, purely because they have a hard time admitting to being wrong.

I give it some thought and know deep, deep down it’s just another ploy to show all my parents’ friends that we are still the ‘picturesque’ family we’ve always pretended to be. In the end though, I know I’ll say yes, only because hiding forever isn’t an option for me.

“Fine,” I concede. “Just tell me what time I have to be there and what I have to wear.”

I wait for a gasp or some form of sound that shows my mother’s excitement to see me again, but I know better than to hope for things that would never be. I harden my spine and dispel of any disappointment I might feel.

“Very well,” my mother says, “Wednesday at seven sharp. Wear something tasteful and elegant. We wouldn’t want another scandal just because you can’t resist wearing something revealing.”

That stings. It also proves why my expectations have dropped to below zero where my parents are concerned.

I clench my teeth momentarily, irritation running rampant through my veins. “Great. I’ll see you then.”

I click ‘end’ before my mother can get another word in and resist the hankering to hurl my phone across the room. Only my mother can evoke such a strong desire to break something.

Thankfully I have a few days before I have to face her and my father so I can prepare myself. It also gives me some time to find the perfect dress that will undoubtedly piss my mother off. Since I’m no longer forced to behave a certain way in their presence, even if they expect it, I decide to embrace my inner rebel and do the unexpected.

 

CHAPTER 4

L
ACY

I sit in front of my computer and wait for Cassandra to answer my Skype call. It’s early evening where she is, and I’m anxious to talk to her after a few days of silence. When the call finally connects I smile at the sight of my friend. She’s wearing her pink silk robe, her hair’s a mess and her face is flushed.

I lift an eyebrow, and cross my arms over my chest.

“Am I interrupting something?” I ask with an amused tone.

Her cheeks darken in color and she looks down for a moment before meeting my eyes.

“No,” she clears her throat, “you’re not. I, uh, just got out the shower.”

A tall, lean, half-naked body walks behind her, and I can barely make out who it is. But I have an idea.

“Oh my God,” I gasp, sitting upright. “Did you just have sex with
Kyle?”
I whisper his name and gape at Cassandra. She throws her hands in the air, defeated and caught out.

“Okay,
fine
,” she huffs, “you caught me. I was…busy.”

“Nuh-uh,” I say, shaking my head, “you have to give me more than that. Spill it sister. I’ve been waiting
months
for this to happen!”

Kyle’s body appears in the camera and he spins Cassandra around in her chair. He presses his lips to hers in a feverish kiss and I have to look away. It’s intimate, too intimate, and makes me feel like I’m intruding. When she moans I clear my throat, drawing their attention to the fact that they aren’t really alone. Kyle is the first to break the kiss, and then he turns to me.

“Hi, Lace.”

He waves, giving me that surfer boy smile, and disappears from the screen again before I can respond.

Cassandra fans her face, mouthing the words “Oh my God,” and then attempts to fix herself up.

“I see you finally decided to take my advice,” I say, feeling smug. She’d been teasing Kyle, playing hot and cold with him, for much of the time I’d spent in Cape Town. I’m glad she finally listened.

“Several times,” she quips, fluffing her bed hair, “but he’s still here and I doubt he’d like to hear what I think about his very big…foot.”

My jaw drops as she proceeds to show me just how gifted Kyle is, and when she laughs I can’t help but join in.

“Anyway, what’s new with you? Any more run-ins with the Brady Bunch?”

More like The Adams Family,
I think.

“I have been summoned. My mother is throwing me a birthday party next Wednesday.”

Cassandra responds with an exaggerated eye-roll, and then says, “Wear your most provocative dress, and be sure to piss mommy and daddy dearest off.”

A giggle slips from my mouth. “That’s the plan.”

“So,” Cassandra begins, “any other news on the Jason front? Have you seen him again?”

Hearing her say his name reminds me just how much I’ve been thinking about him, despite the fact that I haven’t had any unfortunate run-ins with him again.

“No, but - ”

My sentence is cut off when the doorbell rings. I tell Cassandra I’ll be right back, and cross the short distance to the door. When I open it, I’m greeted by a young messenger boy, judging by his pimple-ridden skin, with shoulder length blonde hair, dressed in a red and yellow uniform. He’s holding a large bouquet of big, purple flowers.

“Can I help you?” I ask.

“Miss. Forbes?”

I frown. “Yes?”

“I have a delivery for you.”

He hands me a clipboard, and I sign before accepting the flowers.

He smiles, tells me to enjoy my day, and then walks away. I shut my door and walk to my desk.

“Ooh,” Cassandra chimes, “those are pretty! Who sent them?”

“I have no idea,” I reply, opening the card. The envelope is embossed with my name, and on the inside is a card with a neat black script.

Dinner on the roof. 7pm. Tonight.

P.S I’m not asking.

“Well?” Cassandra presses. I almost tell her I don’t know who sent it, since there are no initials and no signature, but only one man would ask me to dinner as a demand.

“Jason,” I sigh, feeling my brows knit. It’s so out of the blue.

“What does it say?”

I place the card on my desk, and lay the flowers down before looking at my computer screen again.

“It’s a dinner invitation for tonight.”

“Are you going to accept?”

I don’t have to think about my answer. “No.”

I see Cassandra regarding me, and I know the look in her eye.

“You’re not even going to think about it?”

I stare at her incredulously. “Are you serious, Cass? Weren’t you the one drying up my tears not so long ago while I was trying to get
over
him?”

This earns me another eye roll.

“Having dinner doesn’t mean you’re going to invite him back into your panties. I mean, aren’t you the least bit curious as to why he’s asked you to dinner? Or what he’s been doing with his life for all this time?”

Her questions are fair, and if I’m being honest it’s the second one that has me the most curious. But I know sitting down to a meal with him is asking for trouble. I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do.

“I can see those wheels turning,” Cassandra remarks, “and I can already tell you’re overanalyzing it. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Uh, hello, what have you done with my best friend? The one who wanted to castrate Jason and feed him his own testicles for hurting me?”

“I’m still here Lace,” her face softens, “and I’m not saying you need to sleep with the guy again. I’m merely suggesting that you see this as a chance to get the closure you didn’t get when you came here. It might be what you need to move on, and finally close that chapter.”

“But I have closed it,” I retort, knowing it’s not the complete truth.

It’s Cassandra’s turn to look cynical. “Lacey Forbes, you’re a terrible liar, and I wouldn’t be encouraging you to do this if I didn’t think it could be good for you. You deserve to start over, but you can’t move forward if you’re always looking over your shoulder, babe.”

I know she’s right. I’m just not ready to admit it yet.

“I think you should wear your sexiest dress, and show up,” she adds. “I bet he’s not expecting you to show up.”

I shake my head. I hate giving in, but he definitely won’t be expecting me to show up. It might be my only way to really move on and close that chapter, like Cassandra seems to think. I check the clock on the wall, and see that I have an hour to get ready.

Cassandra gives me a triumphant grin. “You’re going?”

“Yes,” I groan, “I’m going.”

“Wear that tight little red dress I bought you for your birthday. Jason won’t know what hit him.”

***

I open the door that leads to the roof and look around. When I round the corner I see Jason leaning against the wall, looking over the city. To his left is a small table set for two, candles lit. There’s a three-man ensemble a little way from the table, each playing a string instrument. It’s all very clichéd, and very
Jason.
He was always a charmer. I see that hasn’t changed.

The
click
of my heels gives me away and Jason turns to find me. His piercing blue eyes travel down my body and I fight the shiver wanting to crawl up my spine. I won’t be affected by him or his sea blue eyes or his pink pouty lips or his sexy smirk.

Granted, I’m wearing a tight red dress that will without a doubt get his attention, but its purpose is to show him what he no longer has. What he gave up. Everything I am without him.

“You came,” he says, walking towards me.

“I have no idea why,” I reply honestly.

He chuckles. “I see you haven’t lost your feisty attitude.”

I remain quiet, unwilling to give in to his charismatic banter.

He leads me to the table and I take a moment to gather my thoughts. I look out at the horizon, marveling at the way the city lights blend with the starry evening sky. It’s a beautiful landscape, and it makes it feel more romantic than it should.

I don’t want to be romanced. I’m here to close a chapter of my life, not reopen one and keep writing it. Our story, however brief, ended, and I want to walk away from him knowing it’s time. Time to let go and really start over.

“I hope you’re hungry,” Jason says. He takes the seat opposite me, and leans back into his chair. We stay silent for a moment, each of us staring at the other in silence. I feel vulnerable under his gaze. Like he can see through the walls I’ve worked so hard to put up.

I break the moment and shift in my seat, hating how unsure I unexpectedly feel.

A waiter appears out of nowhere and places trays on our table. He removes the silver domes, revealing an assortment of hors d’oeuvres. They range from mushroom-polenta diamonds,
Spanish ham with olives and oranges
, and stuffed piquillo peppers with goat cheese, to tuna nicoise crostini’s and grilled scallops wrapped in prosciutto. It smells delicious.

“Your favorites,” Jason murmurs, his eyes fixed firmly on me from across the table.

Yes. They are indeed in my favorites. A small part of me hates that he remembered.

“Why did you ask me to dinner?” I decide to cut straight to the point before he has the chance to
woo
me. He has the ability to charm clothes of a mannequin, and the last thing I want is for him to do the same to me. That’s why nipping it in the bud is the only option I will allow myself to consider.

I used to be weak when it came to this man, but now’s the time to prove that I have changed, that I’m no longer the weak helpless girl who blindly gave her heart to someone who was unavailable.

“I’ve been thinking about you,” he replies. He diverts his gaze and I realize that he may be feeling as vulnerable as I do.

“I needed to see you,” he continues, “I’ve been going crazy not knowing where you’ve been.”

Silence descends and I process what he’s saying. I get the distinct impression that he said more than he meant to.

“Cape Town,” I reply. “I was in Cape Town.”

“For two years?”

I nod and slip one of the delicious foods into my mouth.

Jason mutters “shit” under his breath and rubs his hand down his face. His brows furrow, and he looks angry.

I stiffen, readying myself for an argument. It’s a natural occurrence between the two of us. Or at least it
used
to be. He would push my buttons, and then I’d push his. We’d fight and then we’d…

No,
I berate myself. I won’t think about the hot make up sex we had. Or the angry hate sex for that matter.

It dawns on me that I am nowhere near ready for this. For him. For our past.

“This was a mistake,” I say, standing up. Jason watches me, studies me. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come. I’m not ready for this.”

I start walking away and the sound of a chair scraping almost makes me stop and look back. Jason grasps my elbow, spinning me around to face him.

“Don’t leave, please. Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.”

For a moment I consider it, but part of me, no matter how small, knows it wouldn’t be smart to lay all my cards on the table for him. I did it once, and it landed me on a plane flying over eight thousand miles away. I’m not going to make that same mistake again.

“No,” I reply, pulling my arm free of his hand, “I can’t do this with you, Jason. There’s too much between us, and I can’t go through this now.”

So much for not laying my cards on the table. Idiot.

“You can, Lace,” he pleads, “This is me you’re talking to. I know you better than anyone, and I can see the storm in your eyes-”

“Don’t do that,” I snap, cutting him off. “Don’t pretend you know me anymore. You have no idea who I am.”

Jason remains quiet, and I take that as my cue. I’m right and we both know it.

I should have never agreed to this dinner. I thought I was ready to face him and our history, but I’m not. I walk away wishing this is the last time I’d have to do it.

 

 

CHAPTER 5

L
ACY

I shut the door to my apartment and throw my purse onto the kitchen counter. That was a disaster.

I take a deep breath and change into my silk robe. The view from my living room is comforting and I feel safe up here, high in my tower looking down. I wrap my arms around my body and try not to allow what just happened to upset me. I owe it to myself to forget about it. I just don’t know how.

How do you forget about someone who was so deeply embedded in your heart that you were sure it wouldn’t even beat without them? How do you forget someone who brought you to life and showed you what living really is?

My eyes close and I press my forehead against the cool glass. A mere half hour with Jason has unearthed everything I fought so hard to bury. One step forward and six steps back. That should be the story of my life.

And really, the only person I can blame is myself. I was dumb enough to fall for him in the first place. But then again, any woman who comes into contact with Jason Tate can’t resist falling for him. He makes it easy.

The door to my apartment flies open and I spin around, startled. Jason fills my doorway, a murderous expression on his face.

“Jason, what the fuck?”

He shuts the door behind him and closes the space between us.

“You can’t just waltz in here like you own the place!” I snap. Resting my hands on my hips, I fix him with a ferocious glare of my own. Who the hell does he think he is?

“Guess what, baby,” his breathing is harsh, “I do own the fucking place.”

I frown. “What? What do you - ”

I don’t get the chance to finish my sentence. Jason seals his lips over mine and pulls me into his hard body. I resist, pushing him away from me, but it does little in the way of stopping him. He only holds me closer, and presses his fingers into my hips until I’m sure they leave bruises.

His tongue traces the seam of my lips and pushes inside my mouth. Trust him to do that without permission. He forces his way in the same way he forced his way into my apartment. Into my life.

I pull away, my body begging me to keep going and get some distance at the same time. That familiar
push-and-pull
between Jason and me comes roaring to life. With a hard shove I’m able to get some space between us, even if your chests are still almost touching.

“W-what are you doing?” I ask between breaths. Jason wipes his mouth, and then replies, “If you have to ask then I’m doing it wrong.”