burning barriers (barriers series book 3)

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Copyright
©
2014 by Angela Page

All rights reserved

Cover Design by Renee Ericson, RE Creatives,
http://recreativesdesigns.wordpress.com

Interior Design and Formatting by Jovana Shirley,
Unforeseen Editing,
www.unforeseenediting.com

Editing by Paige Smith

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual personas, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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 owner.

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Epilogue

Soundtrack

Author Bio

Acknowledgments

I can’t figure out why I’m suddenly back in the woods behind my parents’ house in Breckenridge, Colorado, but here I am, walking down the mountain bike trails along the ski slopes. The aspen trees rustle above me as the typical summer afternoon storm suddenly rolls in. I hear the thunder roar overhead before I see the blackened storm clouds that continue to darken the path I’m trekking. I traveled this path a million times before I left this town. It was the quickest route to Jake Galloway’s house. I could walk this path blindfolded in the dark; that’s how many times I sneaked out to see him.

To see him
.

I never really went
to see him
. Until the end of the summer after our high school graduation, we were hotter than hot for each other. His parents owned a luxury mountainside villa that cost more than I would ever earn in my lifetime, but I never had any issues with his family. They operated a horse ranch in the area, trained barrel racers, and were hardly around. I’d sneak out almost every night to be with Jake.

My feet move steadily below me. Branches crunch under my sneakers as the wind howls through the thick tree cover. The heavy rain suddenly begins to push through the trees, soaking me to my bones. I quicken my pace some as I begin to make out the lights of Jake’s house ahead through the onslaught of raindrops. The clearing to his property is a few yards away.

Something sends a chill down my spine, and I turn to see his stealthy eyes staring at me. I’m no longer that teenager sneaking out to see her boyfriend. I’m now twenty-five and glowering at the man who fucked me twice a couple of months ago. The same man who gave me the scar that now permanently brands my neck after he attempted to kill me as well as my best friend, Sam.

Stone.

My hand runs along my sopping neck as I feel the raised scar tissue where the knife sliced through, reminding me of that horrific night. I watch as Stone stomps forward before I yell at the top of my lungs and turn toward Jake’s house where it’s safe for me. As I turn, hands wrap around me from behind before my feet slip from under me on the slick, rocky trail. My vision becomes foggy as I am propelled forward, hitting a tree trunk on the way to the ground.

Stone’s rough laugh and evil smile rush closer to me at the same time a body soars out of nowhere, pushing Stone to the ground. The mystery man kneels over Stone, ultimately pinning him below his strong, powerful body. Punch after punch lands across Stone’s face as the shoulder muscles strain through the back of the wet T-shirt of the man who came to my rescue. I watch until Stone’s body goes limp within seconds, and the grunts from my rescuer grow silent.

This man who just saved me stands over Stone’s lifeless body, making sure he’s no longer a threat. I catch him raise the front of his shirt to wipe the sweat and rain off his face before he slowly turns toward me. The face of my rescuer stares back at me, and my body tingles all over. He’s even sexier than he was the last time I saw him. He’s no longer that high school boy I left behind. He’s
all
grown up, six feet of pure male with slightly grown out brown hair and brown eyes that overpower my senses. While I simply gaze,
a cocky smile creeps across his face as he begins to near me.

My jaw drops as my body weakens into lava the closer he gets to me. “Jake,” I breathlessly say as my body temperature rises, and my heart pounds inside my chest.

My eyes can’t focus and begin trailing over his body. His chiseled jawline is sharp, but his eyes scream dominance. His defined abdominal muscles peek through the soaked beige shirt that clings to his skin. His bicep and forearm veins protrude as he intensely stands before me.

“Hey, Luce, miss me?” His deep voice rumbles through me as he reaches down to pick me up. We continue to stare silently at each other as he cradles me in his arms, walking back toward his house. I take one last look behind me to see Stone’s body still lying motionless on the ground.

My arm glides around his neck as I tease my fingers in his wet, messy hair. I hear him groan through his throat, his telltale sign that I’m turning him on. My eyes venture up from my fingers to his face just as we enter the back of his house with purpose.

His feet hastily make their way through his private entrance, and I’m suddenly inside Jake’s old bedroom. My wandering eyes take in the walls as a soft glow lights them. Nothing has changed since the last time I was here. Before I can make a comment about our prom picture still sitting on top of his bureau, I’m dropped onto his oversized bed. His outdoor woodsy smell seeps into my nose. As I glance up, Jake is hurriedly removing his shirt and kicking off his sneakers. His hands drop to start fiddling with his leather belt until it’s undone; his zipper opens just as fast. Jake’s drenched jeans and boxers get pushed to the floor in an instant, and out of nowhere, he’s standing naked before me.

Holy shit.

My eyes take in his adult body until I see his hardened cock in front of me. He’s certainly grown into the man I’ve only fantasized about when I have sex with random guys these days. My breathing escalates as I anxiously wait for what I
think
he’s going to do to me.

Jake’s hands reach down and pull off my wet sneakers before his fingers slide up my bare legs. Goose bumps form over my body. The elbows that once held me up have given way, and I shut my eyes as lie on my back, allowing my body to feel his hypnotizing hands. My stomach flutters with a sensation I have only ever felt with him.

“Open your eyes, Luce. I want you to watch me claim your body again. It’s been way too long,” he hisses into my ear. My eyes fire open to see his smoldering eyes on mine. He slips one hand under my heavy shirt while his other hand pulls me up into him as his body crouches over me. My shirt is ripped over my head as my damp, disheveled, blonde hair slaps against the naked skin of my shoulders.

Sitting here in nothing more than my pink lace bra and shorts, I feel completely exposed and yet covered at the same time. My body wants him. I’ve craved this for too long with him. Now that he’s here in front of me naked and willing, I’m not saying no.

“Jake, I need to feel you inside me again,” I devilishly whisper as my fingers reach out to barely touch his taut body. His eyes are no longer smoldering; they are blazing with heated desire. My fingers begin to work their magic and zigzag over his pecks and then trail their way over his nipples and lower to bump their way over each defined ab line on his stomach. One of my hands lies flat on his chest as the other suddenly wraps its way around his length to start stroking him slowly. I know what I can give him and what he likes. My hand may be small compared to his rigid cock, but it has always had the power to bring him to his knees.

Up. Down. Squeeze tighter. Run thumb over the head in circles. Repeat.

I raise my eyes to his, pleading for him to fuck me like he used to. I need him to eliminate the past seven years I spent away from him. Right here, right now. I don’t even care at this moment that he hasn’t asked about Stone’s attack in the woods or the scar on my neck.

Forcefully, Jake curls his strong fingers over my wrist, pulling my hand away from his erect cock. As he gazes into my eyes, I can tell he senses my yearning to have him. Jake pulls me by the wrist until I’m standing in front of him. “You’re not ready to have my cock inside you yet, Lucy. I have other plans for you right now,” he growls into my ear as his hands reach around to unclasp my bra, letting it fall to the hardwood floor. My arms dangle lifelessly at my side, unsure of where to touch him next.

My mouth salivates at the thought of falling to my knees and deep-throating him, but another part of my body is throbbing, and I need him there more than anything. Any thoughts of taking Jake into my mouth are thrown out the window when he undoes my shorts, ultimately dropping them unto the floor along with his body as he kneels before me.

He eagerly pushes apart my legs before looking up into my eyes. His tongue inches out to lick his lips before he brings his mouth to my heated, wet folds. I’m immediately transported into another world the second his tongue spreads between my legs and finds my slick clit. I no longer need to fantasize about Jake being the one between my legs and making me come. He’s here right now.

My hands fervently tangle in his damp hair, pulling him deeper into my core. The moans from Jake’s throat vibrate against me, and I’m already feeling the pressure between my legs building to a level it never has before. He pulls away as my knees tremble, and my naked body glistens with heated dampness.

“Come for me, Luce. I want to taste your juices all over my tongue.”

His words alone set my body spiraling out of control until his mouth is back on me. His tongue dances around my clit as his fingers slide inside my entrance. My body welcomes his strong fingers. I feel my walls throbbing around them as he picks up the pace both inside and out, and I can’t hold on any longer. My hands push against the back of his head, pulling him flush against me as my orgasm courses through my body. I scream his name with erotic pleasure as my head rolls back, and my eyes clamp shut, but I still only see Jake between my legs. His mouth and tongue prove they still work the same as before. My body shakes and grows weaker through Jake’s torturous assault of his fingers inside me.

I remember now why I can never envision anyone besides Jake while I fuck another guy. He’s always been the only one who could make me come like this. Nobody else.

As my breathing begins to settle, my eyes slowly open, and I chuckle at the fact I just experienced the best orgasm I’ve had in seven years. Then, all of a sudden, the feeling of ecstasy is missing from my core, and I roll my head back down to see why Jake stopped.

Pushing my tangled hair off my face, my eyes rove back to where Jake knelt before me moments ago. It’s suddenly empty, and the room is no longer Jake’s. I’m fully dressed again, and I quickly glance around the room to figure out where I am until I realize I’m back in my old house. The house I no longer live in with my roommates, all because Stone tried to kill Sam and me nearly a month ago.

Movement by the doorway catches my attention, and I immediately assume it’s Jake. When I look up, I see his haunting face staring back at me. It’s not Jake. It’s Stone, and his face seethes with anger as blood drips from the side of his head.

What the hell happened to Jake? Stone is supposed to be dead. I know he’s dead. Everyone told me he was shot and killed.

My body stills for a second until he starts rushing toward me, but my feet can’t move. It’s as though I’m stuck in quicksand, and there’s no escape. His hands dart to reach around my neck as I begin to scream for my life. My eyes slam shut, and I can’t stand to watch what he’s about to do to me.

As I anticipate Stone’s death grip around my neck, I hear another girl screaming in the distance.

That doesn’t sound like Sam.
Who could possibly be screaming?

My heart rate accelerates, and my body forces itself to help whoever is screaming and fighting to survive. I gave up too soon last time. I will never let that happen again.

I feel my body shoot upward, and my eyes widen instantly. The hotel logo sits on the flyer perched on the nightstand next to me. My hands nervously shake as they grip the blankets covering me. The television is on with the source of the screams that disturbed me moments ago, waking me from my dream.

I must have dozed off in the hotel room while watching
Catching Fire
. It was Katiniss’ screams in the movie that broke me from my dream. It all starts to come back to me. I know I need to get to Breckenridge. My parents are expecting me in a couple of days, but after my lengthy ten-hour drive across the very long state of Pennsylvania, I needed a break. I recall pulling off the highway somewhere near Indiana around midnight, and fortunately, the first hotel I came across had a room available.

The hot guy behind the front desk clearly wanted to get into my pants. He kept giving me this look with his come-fuck-me eyes that gleamed while he sexily tousled his hair. The minute he took a sip from his Grumpy Cat coffee cup, I nixed the idea of even flirting back. Don’t get me wrong. I love Grumpy Cat, and on any other day of the week, I might have fucked him, but after driving all day, sex was the last thing I wanted to do.

I know. I must be coming down with something.

Besides, I just really wanted to sleep for once, but only after I read some more of the hilarious parody I downloaded onto my e-reader last week. I’m a
Hunger Games
junkie and have read the books and watched the movies multiple times. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve read
The Humping Games
by Jack Gallow at least ten times already. Each time I laugh even more than the last. I swear, this book actually made my hospital stay and dealing with my parents tolerable. Trust me when I say it was possibly the worst three days of my life. If it weren’t for
The Humping Games
,
I might not have found my smile as fast as I did.

As I look down to the e-reader still ablaze on the comforter next to me, I notice where I left off reading.

Oh, yeah.
I chuckle softly.
Chapter five.

One character in particular I connected with on a freaky level. Her name is Rabbitfoot. She slithers across the floor, licking spilled booze and killing men after having sex with them. Now that’s a girl after my own heart!

I turn off my e-reader and lie back against the pile of pillows. I continue to watch the movie and attempt to keep my mind from diverting to thoughts of Jake. After the dream I just woke up from, I know this will be hard to do, so I reach for my cell phone and type out a quick text to Sam, letting her know where I am and I’ll be in touch soon. Then, I send my sister, Ellen, a text as well. I know she’ll still be awake, and it will prevent me from having to deal with my overbearing parents, who most likely are already asleep anyway. Ellen, on the other hand, is probably still living it up in downtown Breckenridge at the dive bar where she works.

After hitting
Send
, I plug my phone into the charger and turn off the light next to the bed. The TV is still glowing throughout the room. I try to concentrate on my favorite movie, but as I close my weary eyes, only one image appears.

Jake’s face.

Sigh.

It’s the last thing I remember seeing before sleep totally consumes me.

Another night, another bar, and another chick grinding up against my cock. Same shit. Different day. Story of my fuckin’ life for the past seven years.

Growl.

If this chick doesn’t stop pushing her tits up against me and running her hands over my cock, I just might have to ditch her. I grab my beer from the bar and take a long pull before leaning over to her ear. She’s not even paying attention to me. Her eyes are glazed over from one too many blueberry vodka and lemonade concoctions they serve here at The Loaded Tavern.

“Sweetheart, keep scratching that itch between my legs and the only thing you’ll be sucking back tonight are more of those drinks you’ve pounded all afternoon,” I explain loud enough for only her to hear. I don’t even know her name nor do I care.

It’s Bike Week in Breckenridge, which means the town is swarming with tourists. This chick falls into that category, but most of the people around these parts tend to be tourists this time of year. They’re hikers, bikers, or big money snobs that travel down from Vail or sometimes Aspen, probably here to see how normal people live. I think Stacey, Tracey, or whatever her name is, mentioned she drove out from Denver with a bunch of girls for a weekend getaway.

I don’t know, and I don’t care. I stopped listening ages ago. You know, before she had her third blueberry girlie drink. She’s like all the other girls I slam. Just here for the weekend and gone the next. I don’t give a shit about any of them. Most of them have nice racks, but I’ve seen enough tits and pussies since college. They all start to look the same after a while.

I have my own life, my own responsibilities, and a family business to keep running. On top of that, I work at the local fire department.

That is why the chicks love to throw themselves at my feet. They hear I’m a hose dragger, and they immediately assume I’m hung like a moose and an easy fuck.

Ehhh.

They could be on to something.

There isn’t a moment that goes by that I don’t regret my past decisions after high school. My life might have turned out a whole lot different than it is right now. I had that someone special in my life, and I let her go, and she never came back. All the women and all the booze might have been avoided had I used the right head back then.

Nothing is going to bring her back.

Lucy Wyatt walked out of my life seven years ago, and it was all because of me. I loved that girl more than anything, but I was young and thought I knew everything. All my friends were breaking up with their girls before college, and I followed suit. I wanted to have that college experience without any ties. I was going to party it up with all my new friends who came from somewhere other than Breckenridge. I couldn’t see anything but a good time ahead of me.

Biggest fucking mistake of my life.

I realize my thoughts have gone back to that place I hate going when I hear my buddy, Kent, laughing at the other end of the bar. He’s also with a girl he met this weekend, except she isn’t a sloppy drunk at the moment like this chick beside me. I’m not feeling her anymore, so as she runs her hands over me again, I firmly push them back toward her and pull her down to her friend who is with Kent.

“I’m out,” I tell Kent as he raises his chin to acknowledge me.

“You taking that one home with you?” he asks before placing his beer onto the bar.

“No fucking way. She can go home with her friend, or if you want a go at her, be my guest,” I say before slapping him on the shoulder and making my way to the exit.

The minute the fresh, clean mountain air hits my lungs I feel alive again. The bar scene was suffocating me tonight, especially with the sloppy blueberry inside. Turning to walk through downtown and heading in the direction of my truck, I notice the streets are bustling with people and bikes.

I’ll be happy when everyone starts to clear out of here and the town quiets down. Parking is always an issue whenever there is a huge event going on, which is why I had to park on one of the side streets away from downtown.

As I’m about to walk around the front of my truck, I reach into my pocket and fish for my keys. When I look up, I swear my eyes have to be playing games with me. A Volkswagen Beetle pulls up to the four-way stop in front of me, and the person behind the wheel leaves me standing like a fucking scarecrow.

If I didn’t know any better, I would say the blonde driving that car, tapping one hand on the top of the steering wheel, the other hanging out the window and singing along to what sounds like an Adele song is none other than Lucy Wyatt. I’d recognize that face anywhere. Even with the music blaring through the speakers, I hear Lucy’s voice over the song. The plates on the car are from Massachusetts, and the last I heard from Lucy’s sister, Ellen, she was living in New England somewhere. I’ve avoided her sister for a number of years, simply because she hates my guts after what I did to Lucy that summer after high school. Apparently, according to her, I’m the reason why Lucy hasn’t been home after all these years.

The minute “Lucy” turns onto the street I’m standing on, her eyes look over to see me blatantly staring back at her. Her eyes grow wider as she glares at me and continues to drive in front of me, nearly hitting the car in front of her. She slams on the brakes, and I watch as her eyes fixate on mine. Horns sound behind her, and the moment is lost as she takes one quick glance back at me before turning down Main Street and out of view. I don’t have any doubt in my mind after what just happened.

Lucy Wyatt has finally come back home.

What the ever lovin’ fuck just happened? After days of seeing nothing but flat farmland, I finally pull off the goddamn interstate with the scenic Rocky Mountains as my new backdrop, and just as I turn to head into downtown Breckenridge, whom do I see?

Jake Fuckin’ Galloway!

I don’t see my parents or even my big sister, Ellen, first. No, I see Jake.

God, he looked hot. Why did he have to be even better looking than the last time I saw him? And here I am, driving by him with exhausted bags under my eyes and unkempt hair all knotted and falling out everywhere.

Nice, Lucy. Real nice!

Pulling into the parking lot behind the bar where Ellen works, I hang my head on the steering wheel and groan in embarrassment. “Could my life suck any more at the moment?” I mutter to myself.

Seriously, first, my best friend’s ex-boyfriend attacked me and damn near killed me. Next, all my roommates moved on or out in a matter of weeks. Sam got engaged to that perfect friggin’ cop fiancé of hers. And now, Kim and Rose are searching for a new place to call home in-between their full-time jobs and roller derby tours. Then, there is me. Alone, scarred, and instantly running into the man who filters through my head every time I fuck another guy. I am seriously a therapist’s wet dream.

When the hell does this get better for me?

Grabbing my purse and pulling my keys from the ignition, I slide out of the car and plant my Chucks onto the ground before stretching my arms over my head.
Damn, it feels good to get out of that car.
I love my VW, but it’s been a long, cramped trip. Regardless if I just saw Jake, I’m happy to be out of that car and back home with family where I can hopefully relax and heal from a very traumatic few weeks.

After a short walk through the energetic downtown area, I finally make my way to Oliver’s. Ellen has worked here for years. She says she loves meeting the tourists and getting paid to basically talk all night with friends and strangers. That’s my sister, the social butterfly. I can’t say I’m any different. We were two peas in the same pod and inseparable growing up. She was devastated when I just up and left here, but she understood. She said if Jake ever showed his face around her bar, he’d be wearing his drink instead of sipping it. Fortunately, from what I heard years ago, he avoids her like the plague.

As I pull back the front door and make my way inside the bar, my eyes instantly see my other half chatting behind the bar. A smile sweeps over my face when I realize how much I’ve missed my sister. Ellen’s eyes move from the guy sitting at the bar when she sees me walking toward her.

“Oh my God, Lulu!” she shrieks, dropping her towel onto the bar and running around it before mauling me in a huge hug. Sometimes I think she forgets how strong she is. “I can’t believe you didn’t call me, Lulu.” Ellen pulls back from her embrace to look at me.

Damn that childhood nickname. “Ellen, stop with the Lulu. I’m not fifteen anymore. Plus, where’s the fun in ruining the shock of surprising my sister at work?” I tease. Ellen’s eyes instantly well up as she pushes my messy hair away from my face and her fingers brush over the scar on my neck. My parents said Ellen came close to needing professional help after she heard about Stone’s attack, which is why they didn’t allow her to come out to Massachusetts while I was in the hospital for a few days. My sister and I haven’t seen each other in nearly two years, but we’ve always been closer than close, even if it meant video chats online every other night since I left.

Ellen sniffles as she pulls her hand away from the scar, lowering both of them so she holds my hands in hers. “My baby sister has finally come home. Surprise or no surprise, you’re here and alive. I couldn’t care less about anything else right now.”

She pulls me back to the bar area before telling me to take a seat while she tends to the other customers. As I sit at the bar, I glance over at the guy Ellen was talking to before she saw me walk in. I watch as he eyes me from the side while taking a pull from his beer bottle. From the other side of the bar, I hear Ellen call out my name asking what I want to drink.

“Water and a shot of Café
Patrón
,
if you’ve got it?” I ask, hoping to hell she’s got any form of top shelf tequila. After the last few days, I need to just relax and get wasted tonight. Well, not too wasted, especially on tequila. The last time I drank that stuff I became so horny that I nearly… well, let’s just say things happened with a guy, and I’ll just be keeping that a secret.

Ellen pours my shot and fills the glass of water, placing it in front of me moments later. I run my finger over the rim of the shot glass containing the brown liquor. I dip my fingertip before bringing my finger to my tongue just to tease myself with what’s about to warm my entire body.

I grab the shot glass at the base and tilt my head back, feeling the liquid gold flow down the back of my throat all the way into my stomach.
God, this shit is good.
As I place the empty glass back onto the bar and slide it toward my sister, I catch the dude next to me still staring out of the corner of his eye. He places his cell phone down after typing what appears to be a text on the screen. Now that the liquor is warming my blood, I feel the need to speak up. If there is one thing I’ve learned after these past couple of months, it’s the fact I have to face my issues head-on.

“You gotta starin’ problem, asshole?” I demand from my seat as he chokes on his beer.

He brings the bottle back down to the bar and turns his bar stool to face me, but not before I hear Ellen scold my name in warning.

“It’s okay, Ellen. She clearly doesn’t remember who her friends used to be before she just took off seven years ago,” he sarcastically says. Squinting my eyes, I try to process how this asshole even knows me, let alone was my friend from years ago. “You don’t remember. Do you? Does the name Sean Jones ring any bells?”

Sean Jones… Sean Jones…Why does that sound so familiar? Oh, fuck!

“SJ? As in Jake Galloway’s best friend SJ?” I question, wondering if they’re still friends. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? They both still live in Breckenridge.

“Yeah, as in Jake’s best friend. You know, the friend who didn’t just up and leave him or even call when he needed someone the most.” SJ’s edgy tone leaves me shaking my head in dismay.

“Where the hell do you get off accusing me of anything? I didn’t break up with Jake. He broke up with me. I don’t think I was the one he needed for anything.” I push my stool away from the bar and stand as close as I can to make him understand I am not about to take any of his shit. A group of people begin making their way inside the bar from the street as I cock a hip out, resting my hand on it as I tell SJ off some more.

Just as the group of people starts to walk by me to head to the dining area, I glance up and meet a set of big brown eyes looking right at me. There’s a darkness behind them that scares me as much as it entices me. He slaps SJ on the shoulder and stands directly in front of me. The air rushes from my lungs, and I silently try to figure out whether I should run away or jump into his arms. He licks his lips before crossing his arms over his chest.

“Hey, Luce, didn’t want to stop and say ‘hi’ before?” He winks and smirks as though we didn’t just see each other in passing a short time ago. His voice alone makes my resolve weak and my knees tremble, and the damn tequila is seriously making me want to hump him right on the bar.

I’m royally fucked.

“Jake Galloway, you get out of my bar right this minute!” Ellen scolds as she rounds the bar to stand between Jake and me. “I will not allow you anywhere near my sister again. She’s been through enough pain these last couple of months, and the last thing she needs is you rehashing shit from high school.”

Shit.

Jake glances around Ellen to look at the weary expression written all over my face and then trails his eyes to the scar on my neck. I watch as his eyes widen in shock, and I see the curiosity sink in. While Ellen and Jake bicker about me already going through enough lately and how I’m only home to get my mind focused again, I can’t stand to be around all of this and try to explain my scars again. Grabbing my purse quickly, I turn and bolt for the front door. Pushing the door wide open, I dodge people all the way back to my car before I stop running. As I rest my palms on the top of my car, I hear the crunch of the gravel behind me, and I know who it is. I’ll never be able to escape him. I’m pretty sure I never did when I left all those years ago.

“Please, just leave me alone, Jake,” I say, still not turning around.

I see his tall shadow hovering behind me in my window before he places his long arms onto the hood of my car next to my hands. His lips near the side of my face, and chills run up my spine. My heart races at his closeness, and my knees start to shake again.

“I know we didn’t exactly get off to the best reunion back there, but I’m glad you’re home, Luce. It’s been way too long.”

I shuffle my ratty old slippers along the rustic wooden floors as I make my way down to the kitchen toward the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Shoving my arms through my tattered, old sweatshirt, I adjust the hood as I take the stairs of my parents’ small downtown Victorian home. It served its purpose for allowing Ellen and me to grow up in this predominately wealthy community. My dad, a teacher, and my mom, a nurse, worked all those years to pay for a decent life for us girls. I can’t say I didn’t feel bad about packing up and leaving like I did and never going to college, but I’m happy with how my life turned out anyway. Being the educator he is, Dad will never agree. I was happy once I put myself through cosmetology school and was offered a great job at an upscale salon. Hair and makeup always gave me some kind of calming abilities. They have allowed me to make a ton of new friends back home.

Home.

Funny. Breckenridge should be my home, but after so many years away, I feel as though I’m a tourist now. The outsider looking in. I mean, I didn’t even recognize SJ yesterday. We used to be pretty close back in high school. Now, it’s as though I don’t know anyone here anymore.

At this rate, I’m not even sure I’m going to make it the next few weeks here.

The sound of some ungodly country music filters through the downstairs where I can see my mother slaving over the stove. The aromas of bacon and eggs waft through the air, and I instantly groan and pull the front of my hoodie over my nose.

“God, Mom, you know I hate the smell of bacon,” I say as my sweatshirt muffles my words.

“Oh, I must have forgotten. I’m sorry, Luce. It’s been a while since you’ve been home, and you know how your dad loves this stuff.” My mom nervously tries to remove the bacon from the heat.

Pulling my sweatshirt off my nose, I make my way over to the coffee pot. I grab a mug and start pouring, spooning in the sugar like crazy. My thoughts go to Sam and her sugar addiction, and I wonder how her own recovery is going and what she’s doing. A sudden feeling of homesickness washes over me, and I miss being with my girls.

Snap out of it, Lucy. It’s time you moved on with your own life.

As I turn back to see my mom still frantic over the bacon, I walk by her and pat her back before heading to the sliding back door. “Don’t worry about the bacon, Mom. I’m going to sit out in the yard for a little bit and read.”

“Luce, are you okay? Ellen said Jake came by the bar yesterday.“

I stop with my hand on the door. My body stills at the mere mention of his name. My mind instantly remembers how much effort it took for me to ignore Jake yesterday and get into my car and drive away.

Lost in my thoughts over Jake, I never see my mother approach until her hand rests upon my shoulder. I flinch back ever so slightly as my breath catches in my throat. When I see the pain on her face as I pull away, I know I’m still not over everything Stone did to me. It’s obvious there are still some remaining issues that I need to set my sights on in order to allow myself to accept that Stone is dead and I’m alive. I might be a little damaged, but I survived, and that’s what matters most.

I place my coffee mug onto the counter next to my e-reader and turn to face her. I need to get better, if not for me, for her. I can’t be the one to cause pain to anyone, especially my own mother. Reaching my arms around her waist, I pull her into a hug that I know only she can understand. Her body relaxes, and I feel her hands begin softly running up and down my back.

“I know I’m not exactly where I need to be, Mom, but I’ll get there. I promise,” I whisper while resting my chin on her shoulder.

She pulls back, and I see the wetness forming in her eyes. I slowly raise my hands to cup her face and gently rub my thumbs over her cheeks. My eyes meet hers, and I silently tell her I mean what I say. I will not let what happened to me win out over my future. I’m just not sure if a few weeks back in Breckenridge will ultimately be what I need to change all of that.

I have to try, though.

Mom’s lips form a straight smile as she pushes my morning hair away from my face. Before heading back to the stove to clean up, she starts humming a song that only she knows comforts me. The melody of “Landslide” hits me, and my own eyes begin to water, even with a smile on my face. When I was growing up, Mom always sang it to me, and she knew every time I was knocked down, that song brought me back to my feet. I slide open the back door and grab my coffee and e-reader before taking a seat in the chaise lounge on the patio. The sound of trickling water in the creek behind the house is almost as good as a day at the spa.

A subtle breeze gently whips the aspen trees around me before I hear a knock at the front door. I glance at the time on my e-reader’s main screen before tossing it onto the cushion next to me.
Shit.
Two hours have passed, and much of my first full day has already been wasted. I must have been completely engrossed in what I was reading. I’ve always been a huge reader. Books allow my mind to go places I’ve never thought possible. Truth is, the books nowadays are like watching porn, but the movies all play out in my head instead. Never in my life have I ever imagined what it could possibly be like to have sex with someone as dominate as this man. Shit, this book has all the scenarios I could only dream of doing with a man. Al Daltrey really knows how to write one hell of an erotica book.
Testing
The
Submissive
has my clit tingling and my core dripping from just reading about the two main characters, Abigail and Lewis. It takes one hell of a book to make this sex-crazed chick get all hot and bothered. If ever I meet the author of this book, I’m buying him a freakin’ drink!

My mind is still distracted by Lewis as I continue to stand and make my way into the house. I figure my mom must have decided to leave me to my solitude out in the backyard. I don’t realize this is not the case until I’m stopped dead in my tracks by a huge wall of muscle currently blocking my way into the house. My eyes trail up to meet his as I take a few steps back.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I snap as his shit-eating grin begins to annoy me.

“I had the morning off, so I thought I’d stop by to see how you were doing.”

“Well, I’m here, and I’m perfectly fine. You can turn around and go home now.”

“Luce, I talked to Ellen last night. Well… she basically talked to me and told me all you’ve been through recently. I’m so sorry. Had I known I wouldn’t have come at you the way I did. I… I… it’s just been a long time, and… well, you know.”

“No, I don’t know, Jake. All I know is that Ellen shouldn’t have told you my business. I’m only home for a few weeks to try to get my head straight after everything. Having you show up yesterday, and now today, is
not
helping me sort my shit out.”

A look of pain suddenly flashes across his face as though I slapped him or broke his heart. My knees tremble in his presence, but I know no matter what, I need to be able to move on from him again. I cannot give in to the years of memories and fantasizing about a man who still holds a piece of my heart after all this time.

Suddenly, movement behind Jake distracts me enough to pull my eyes away from him. Ellen moves closer until she sees me standing there with my arms crossed and tapping my foot as she glances between Jake and me.

“I’ll just be inside. It’s looks as though you two have some issues to work through,” she says before quickly moving back into the house.
Run, Ellen. Run now.
Sister or no sister, I will hurt her for opening her trap about what happened to me, especially to Jake, of all people.

I let out a huff of air before returning to the chaise lounge to gather my things. I make quick work of snatching my mug and e-reader before turning around to see Jake still standing there staring at me. He slowly moves across the stone patio to stand within inches of me again. His hands reach out to grab the items in my hand and place them onto the black wrought iron patio table.

When he turns back to face me, he gently places his warm hands around mine. My eyes focus on the simple connection instead of my weakening willpower against the man in front of me.

“Lucy, I get we parted on bad terms years ago, but I never would
ever
want you to have to go through anything that would jeopardize your life. I just wish…”

My eyes remain fixated on our linked hands.
Don’t look at him, Lucy. Don’t do it. You know it will all be over once you do.
As much as I hate to admit this, no matter what happened during my past sexual encounters, I know Jake Galloway has been a part of my heart and soul all this time.

I stay focused on our hands, but Jake’s voice breaks my tenacity when he tells me the only words I had hoped he’d never say again.

“Lucy, I just wish you had never left. You’re the only woman I’ve ever lo—”

“Please, don’t say it, Jake.
Please
,”
I interrupt him before lifting my eyes to his. “Please, don’t say those words.”

“It’s true, Luce. I’ve only ever truly loved you, even after I let you go.”

Stay strong, Lucy.

“Jake,” I softly say. “I can’t do this with you.”

“Why not? I saw the way you looked at me yesterday. Shit, I see it right now. Don’t fight it… us.”

I shake my head, trying to convince him more than myself that this is not the case, even when I know in fact he’s called my bluff. Before I have any chance to lie and tell him I don’t feel the same, his hands pull my face up to his, and his lips crash unto mine.

Seven years apart have suddenly dissipated with just one kiss. Our tongues collide as my hands reach out to fist his button-down shirt between my fingers. I pull him closer. Even though our mouths are connected, I feel the need to be closer.

My body melts instantly in his arms, and I realize in just a few weeks, leaving him will ultimately be harder than it was seven years ago.

Why did I even think coming back here was a good idea?
Oh, right, because the man in front of me has suddenly made my mind switch from being on edge about Stone to instantly at ease. He makes me feel safe. I don’t flinch at his touch. He still owns my heart and my body.

I’m so fucked!

I can’t understand why or how I managed to start kissing Lucy. Hell if I even care. My dick is rock hard, and it’s aching to be buried deep inside her again. My hands roam under her oversized sweatshirt and trace slowly over her back. One hand pulls her closer into me as the other begins to tread softly over her stomach before reaching her tits.

Holy shit, no bra. Seriously, this is becoming a major mind fuck at the moment.

Soft moans vibrate against my lips as Lucy’s hands continue to hold on to my shirt for dear life. As I nip at her bottom lip, our kiss grows more feverish.

I need to have her right here and right the fuck now. I don’t give a shit if her family is in the house watching. Grabbing under her ass, I hoist her gorgeous curvy body and walk to the chaise lounge. I lower her so she’s beneath me, never breaking the connection between our lips.

Yeah, baby, that’s called fuckin’ talent.

She withdraws slightly to whisper my name as she pushes her heated core into my overly stimulated cock. Her hands move to start working their way around the belt loops of my pants just as Five Finger Death Punch’s “Bad Company” starts echoing from my back pocket.

Great fuckin’ timing.

I pull back from Lucy’s body and sit on the edge of the cushion. As I grab the phone, she begins to right her clothes and fix her hair. My free hand instantly reaches out to push back a stray blonde hair behind her ear, and I let my hand trail down to the scar that now marks her neck.

My eyes remain focused on her as I slide my finger across the screen to answer the call. Already knowing from the ringtone who’s calling, I answer more annoyed than anything. “What the fuck do you want, Laurel? I told you to stop calling my phone if it’s not an absolute emergency, so unless that fuckin’ barn is burning to the ground, you know to call my mother instead of me.”

Laurel Tanner. She’s my mother’s office manager at the ranch. She handles the books and finances along with all the meetings that happen on any given week. It helps she knows a thing or two about horses since she grew up with us on the ranch and used to barrel race for fun. She comes from money and gets everything she wants. My mother thinks she can do no wrong. The only problem with that is, she’s already done the worst thing out there.

Me.

We fucked in a barn stall one late, stupid, drunken night shortly after the summer I graduated from high school. What can I say? I was young, dumb, and full of cum. Technically, I still am, only now I know enough to avoid that black widow spider as best I can. If she gets her fangs in a guy, he’s toast.

Laurel continues to tell me that she can’t get in touch with my mother, and she has some meetings that need to be confirmed. My eyes watch as Lucy figures out exactly which “Laurel” I’m talking to and starts packing up her stuff from the patio. After I tell Laurel I’ll try calling my mother shortly, I hang up and turn my head to find Lucy heading toward the back door.