“I dare you.”
Those words would change adrenaline junkie, Alice Harrison’s life forever. She’s a party girl that doesn’t believe in love until she meets a man that only writes about it.
Seth James escaped his overbearing father and moved into one of the James family’s vacant condos, hoping to create the music he loves in peace. But the fragile calm he’s envisioned shatters when a tiny woman with a world full of energy bounces out of the elevator and nearly takes him out.
With the patience of a saint, Seth seeks the dark that keeps Alice from enjoying life. He challenges her to exorcise the demons in her past in order to discover the true meaning of love. But when the walls fall down, the hidden deceptions will bare the ugly truth about a woman drowning in sorrow and a man who may not know how to be her hero.
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In the hall, arms laden with musical equipment, four large and totally hot guys fill the space—Seth James leading the pack. He stops, drops the cymbal dangling from an index finger, and stares. His too bright gaze travels down my scantily, and very sweaty, clad body and back up. When our eyes meet, he grins. “Come to help?”
“No.” I have no idea what makes me do it, but I snatch his cymbal off the floor and carry it into his apartment. I’m asking for trouble, but can’t seem to stop myself. They follow me inside, jaws still slack. Okay, so I’m cute, but not worthy of jaws dropping. I plop it down on his couch and rush back to the door. Taking on Seth doesn’t scare me, but a crew of hotties is a little much.
His strong fingers wrap around my shoulder before I make it through the walkway. It’s not controlling or holding me back. His hand is simply resting on me. “Hey, thanks. I’m sorry if we…uh…interrupted your day.”
His words sound sincere and slightly slurred, and I can’t find it in my heart to be bitchy to the first guy in a long time that has only shown me kindness. I sigh and pivot to face him. “It’s not me I’m worried about. My sister is asleep.”
He glances at his watch and frowns.
“She’s recovering from an accident. So, if you don’t mind, keep it down in the halls.”
He leans forward. “Will do and I’m sorry.”
When he enters my personal space, my heart speeds up. His eyes stare into mine. I feel this incredible connection, like he knows my pain. Like he can see my guilt.
The distance between us seems to be shrinking, and I’m not sure if it’s me shuffling closer or him.
He snags the zipper on my jacket and runs it up and down. “Is she going to be okay?”
I pluck at a button on his shirt and glance up. “Eventually.”
His friends form a half-moon circle around him and gape at me. I flick a glance at each of them. They all have a very different style of dress, which only raises more questions about the man in front of me. “Am I the first girl they’ve ever seen?”
Blondie, with the coal lined eyes, on the left snickers. “In Seth’s apartment? Hell, yes.”
Seth elbows him, but grins.
The tall guy in a kind of hot-nerd ensemble leans over and shakes my hand. “Deacon. Would you like a beer?”
I eye the leering men again. “It looks like you started without me, and I’m not into gang-bangs.” I disengage the overlong hand play with the nerd and back away from the group. “G., I’ll catch you later.”
“Hey, wait. I’ll walk you back over.”
The hotties chuckle, high-five, and rib Seth as we walk toward the hall. He shuts the door to their gazes and catches my hand before I can cross back to my apartment. “Hey, are you going to tell me your name?”
“Nah, this is more fun.”
“I think you’re used to having your way.”
He smiles. “Maybe.” He leans against his door and crosses his arms. His smile slips into a smug grin I’d seen on so many rich boys in this city. He thinks he has me. “I’d like to have my way with you.”
He’s quite the talker when he’s sauced. Good to know. It’s nice to see his thoughts. “That’s the beer talking.” I step close, arch up on tip-toe, and tap a finger to his slightly parted lips. “A few hours ago, you didn’t have much to say. I’m okay with keeping this awkward tension between us. It’s all we’ll ever have.”
He scowls at that and twists the knob back to his apartment. “Whatever.”
Mission accomplished. I’d succeeded in pissing him off. If he stayed mad at me, then we could squash this weird attraction that we obviously both feel.
I grin. “Bye, G.”
His brows dip low, and I shove the door behind me, sagging against it. My breath swooshes out from between my clenched teeth. Damn, he is going to be trouble. I feel it all the way to my pinky toe.
A soft knock against my back drives home the point. I twirl and open the door before he disturbs Molly—or maybe because I’m not ready to share him with her yet. “What?”
He tucks a hand into the waistband of my shorts and hauls me into the hall, pulling my door shut behind me. “Where did you get that?” His gaze lingers on the small bump decorating my forehead.
I reach up and touch the sore knot. “Oh, I fell.”
“How?” He raises his free hand and traces the swelling.
I don’t even feel the careful prodding. No, my concentration is solely focused on the fingers tucked inside my shorts and only inches away from becoming way too familiar with me. “Um…I was doing yoga when you guys came down the hall.”
“And?” He tugs me closer. His thumb rakes a small path below my belly button.
Oh my. “Uh…I fell out of…of…my pose and banged my head on the floor.”
His eyes darken and those beautiful lips part. I want to snake my tongue across the bottom one to find out if it is as soft as it looks.
He winces and lowers his eyes to mine. “So this is my fault?”
I grab onto his wandering hand and pull it free of my shorts. If I didn’t, I’d be asking him for a wall orgasm in less than two minutes and random teasing and fleeing was a no go for me now. “No. It was an accident. Lighten up, G.”
“I don’t want to cause you pain.”
Wow, that feels like a loaded proclamation. “Okay. Well, keep the noise down, and we should be good.”
He drops the hand that had been rubbing away my bruise. Funny, I’d totally forgotten it. “I don’t want to cause you pain. It’s a personal thing.” A deep shudder races over him, and for some reason, I don’t think he is with me anymore.
“You didn’t. I’m fine.” I lift a hand and cup the side of his face, bringing his gaze to mine. It is the gentlest moment I’ve ever had with a man, and we’ve just met. “I’m not sure what this is, but I think I should go inside.”
He glances down the corridor, takes a deep breath, and nods. “Yes, you should.”
“Go play with your friends. Be men or whatever that means, and I’ll go back to my yoga.” I was going to need it after this.
He groans and drops his head back, his hint of an Adam’s Apple bobbing down the column of his neck, begging for my tongue to taste him there. “Did you have to bring that back to mind?”
I grin. “What? Me all hot and sweaty in contorted positions? Do you like that?”
He groans, and one side of his mouth slants up. “I have things to do and don’t need no-named neighbors distracting me.”
He laughs that loud laugh that cuts down into my stomach and vibrates my breakfast to the surface. “Of course. I haven’t seen you in quite some time and thought I’d pay my baby daughter a visit. Did you get my letter?”
I can’t help the tremble that takes root in my chin and bleeds up into my tear ducts. I fight the well of salt water. Seth was right. They were a weakness to him, and he’d feed on them. “You need to go.”
“I’ll go when I’m ready. I think you should remember whose roof you’re living under and be more gracious.”
The door across the hall opens, and I meet Seth James’ bold stare over my father’s shoulder. God no. Please, don’t watch this.
He leaves the door open and steps closer. “Everything okay?”
My father lurches back and clears his throat. “Everything’s fine.” He spins and thrust out his hand, all politician’s smiles and his kissing baby’s grin on his face. “E. Harrison, and you are?”
“Neighbor. Seth James.”
I grip my towel tighter, but Seth’s eyes never stray from Dad’s. He was so wrong about being a hero. He’d just saved me from pure evil. The two men stand taller. My father is forbidding in his expensive threads. He has years of cut muscles beneath that have kept him from sagging like most men his age. Seth, on the other hand, has youth on his side. He’s all hard ridges and full of territorial male dominance.
With a deep sigh that relaxes all those tightened nerves, I ask, “Father, did you need something?”
“I came by to speak to you about something, but, perhaps another time would be better suited.” He glances back at me and sneers, but returns to sleazy smiles before he gives a nod to Seth. “Mr. James, a pleasure. I’ll be on my way.”
Seth puts a hand out and catches my father’s shoulder. “Mr. Harrison, as the owner of this condo, I feel that I should warn you against making my tenants uncomfortable.” Seth steps across the hall and drops an arm around my scarred shoulder. His thumb soothes away the shiver chasing over my collar bone. “I’m not sure of your welcome here, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t want to see either of these girls come to harm.”
I gasp. He spoke so eloquently. Bold and rich. I’d have never thought he had it in him if I hadn’t just witnessed it. And no one has ever come to my defense. Never. Seth James was ten feet tall and made of blue bubble gum right now. I’d chew him, blow him, and make him pop. Vulgar, I know, but there it is.
My father straightens his jacket. “Do you know who I am?”
“I do, but obviously you do not know who I am or what I’m capable of.” Seth tucks me even closer. If he’s noticed the scars stretching across my shoulders, he’s too polite to even give them a second glance, and for that, I’ll forever be indebted to him. “Don’t fuck with Alice again.”
He knows my name. And he just cussed my dad.
Harrison squints at us, and turns, clicking his heels together before stalking to the elevator. As much as I love seeing someone put him in his place, Seth James had just built me a coffin.
Fucking great. As soon as the sliding doors close on Dad, I shove Seth away from me. He’s too much right now. Everything is too much.
His brow wrinkles. “What?”
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
He steps back and glances at the floor before smirking up at me. “Being your hero.”
About the Author:
Rachel Firasek spends her days daydreaming of stories and her nights putting the ideas to ink. She has spent a dull life following the rules, meeting deadlines, and toeing the line, but in her made up worlds, she can let the wild side loose. Her wonderful husband and three children support her love of the written word and only ask for the occasional American Idol or Swamp People quality hour.
She has a philosophy about love. It must devastate or it isn’t truly worth loving. She hopes that you all find your devastating love and cling to it with all your heart!
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