I’m only twenty-one and already damaged goods. A slut. A failure. A disappointment to my picture-perfect family as long as I can remember. I called off my wedding to William Bailey, the only man who thought I was worth fixing. A year later, he’s marrying my sister. Unless I ask him not to…
“If you shatter, I’ll find you…”
But now there’s Asher Logan, a broken man who sees the fractures in my façade and doesn’t want to fix me at all. Asher wants me to stop hiding, to stop pretending. Asher wants to break down my walls. But that means letting him see my ugly secrets and forgiving him for his.
With my past weighing down on me, do I want the man who holds me together or the man who gives me permission to break?
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“How do you feel about weddings?” I hear myself ask.Giveaway:
“Proposing already?” He cuts his eyes to me. “I don’t know. Seems like we’re moving a little fast.”
I bite back my smile. “I need an escort.”
“To a wedding?”
“To my sister Krystal’s wedding. I mean, if you’re still in town or whatever. I’m not asking that you make a special trip.”
He quirks a brow. “I thought she already got married.”
“She wants a do-over. But don’t worry, she promises it’s going to be fah-bu-lous.”
He’s silent. Can you blame him? He didn’t want to sleep with me, and I think this is a more appealing proposition?
“Sure,” he finally says. “I’d be happy to accompany you.”
“Really? Because there’s a pretty good chance the twins might maul you at the reception.”
He chuckles and cuts his eyes to me. “I can handle a couple of fan girls. Anyway, I know you wouldn’t ask me if you didn’t feel like you needed to have a date. I’ve never said no to a woman in need.”
“Humph,” I snort. “My experience says otherwise.”
A block away, a pickup screeches forward at the traffic light, and a guy in a ball cap sticks his head and chest out the window and points at me. “Loooose!” he calls out into the night, drawing out the word. “Loooos-eeee!”
The word, once a sharp knife, is now the sawing of a dull blade against my calloused heart. The truck screeches down the road, and hatred clogs my throat and blocks any response.
“Lucy?” Asher asks. “Isn’t that your dog’s name?”
Suddenly, I’m overwhelmed by my own naiveté. I really thought I could come back to this godforsaken hole-in-the-earth town and live a normal life? New Hope will never offer me normal. If I live and die in New Hope, I imagine they’ll carve my tombstone with the word loose.
I swallow down my anger and shake my head. “Loose,” I explain. “As in loose woman. Promiscuous. Slut.”
Asher’s breath draws in with a raspy hiss and his nostrils flare. Those blue eyes burn as he looks after the offender. He’s long gone now, and I’m glad because the look in Asher’s eyes says what he’d like to do to them. It should scare me, given his reputation, but instead it helps the insult roll off my back.
I can handle the nastiness now. But I wish I could send Asher back in time to be indignant on behalf of my fifteen-year-old self. She wasn’t so hardened.
“Can you tell me a name?” he asks, his voice low and deadly steady.
“They’re just stupid townies from my high school.” I press my hand to his arm. “It doesn’t matter.”
He doesn’t call me on my lie, but we both know it does matter. What had he said in there? Words hurt.
He takes my hand and walks me to my car, toying with my fingers.
“Assholes notwithstanding,” I whisper, “I had a good time.”
“Me too.” He rubs the inside of my palm. Soft. Gentle. This man may look rough with his tattoos and piercings, but there is nothing rough about the way he treats me. And, where the violence that flashed in his eyes didn’t scare me, this gentleness does.
“Listen,” I say. “About the other morning, I just—”
He cuts me off with his mouth. He touches his lips to mine, and I feel frozen for a moment—I am the statue I once trained myself to be. But his mouth is soft and slow and patient. I melt into him, curl my fingers into his chest, slide my tongue against his.
It’s the kind of kiss I dreamed about as a girl and never got.
When he pulls away, he traces his thumb over my bottom lip.
“Come home with me?” I ask, breathless from his kiss, his touch.
“You’re so damn sweet.”
That gets me right in the solar plexus. Men call me hot. Men call me sexy. Men don’t call me sweet.
“For a woman who claims to be an open book, you hide so much.” He runs his thumb down the side of my neck, over the hollow in my collarbone. “Next time you strip for me, you’re taking off more than your clothes.”
I step back. “Goodnight, Asher.” I climb in my car and drive away—from him and from this aching inside my chest that feels a whole lot like falling.
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