BOOK 9 in The Forbidden Men Series
Contemporary New Adult Romance
Orginally published November 2016
130,880 words, 374 pages
4-Flame Sensuality Rating
Don't you just hate it when someone destroys all your carefully made plans?
I mean, I had goals: college to graduate in one semester, a future I was working hard to reach, and an image of myself I wanted the world to see. My life was stacked into these precisely placed blocks. But then Colton Gamble came along and knocked them all askew.
I hated how he messed everything up, how he could hog all my attention whenever he was around, how he made my pulse quicken—but only because he ticked me off… not because I was attracted to him. Oh! And I hated how he knew how attractive he was too, the shallow, full of himself, doesn't take no for an answer, too-flirty, too cocky, extremely irritating jerk.
The boy had all the qualities that turned me off. Or so I thought.
One night he wasn't quite the brainless, over-confident jerk I usually took him for.
One night, he took care of me when I was at my lowest. He opened up to me and made me open up to him.
Now I'm learning maybe he's not what I first thought he was. And maybe I'M not what I first thought I was. Maybe it's okay to rearrange a couple of my perfectly set blocks. Maybe, just maybe, I'll stop worrying about what I'm afraid everyone else will think and finally reach for something I really want. It's possible some of my plans need to be destroyed, and Colton Gamble is exactly the kind of mess I need in my life.
What do you think? Should I give him a try?
Desperately seeking your advice,
Damn, I loved wedding receptions.
Parties must've been in my blood because I seemed to flourish at them. There was just something about the noise and energy and hint of wild abandon that got my engines revving. And no better place could I make a spectacle of myself, projecting the image I wanted everyone to see, than in a busy, crowded room like this.
Oh, the things you could hide behind a loud, boisterous personality at a loud, boisterous party were truly amazing.
"I know what you're all thinking," I drawled into the microphone I carried as I meandered back and forth behind the wedding party's table to address the crowd. "Why the hell did a specimen as lovely as Sarah Arnosta settle for my loser of a big brother when she could've had all this, right?"
As I splayed a hand down the side of my tux jacket, motioning to myself, my brother Brandt twisted in his seat to punch at me, muttering curses as he swung. But I only chuckled and ruffled his hair before dodging out of his reach. "Well, all I can say to that, my friends, is love must be blind."
My answer drew a laugh from the crowd. I grinned and waited for the sound to die down before I got serious. "Or maybe Aristotle said it best when he wrote, ‘love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies,' because despite the fact I am obviously the far more handsome and charming brother, Sarah made the right decision." Setting a hand on the bride's shoulder, I grinned at her affectionately. "She recognized the missing part of herself nine years ago when she met Brandt, and there was no separating either of them from that point on."
When she reached up to squeeze my fingers, I leaned down to kiss her cheek. "For all of us who watched your romance bloom into what it is today, it felt as if it took you guys forever to realize you were meant to be more than just friends. But patience truly must be a virtue richly rewarded because you two have hit the jackpot. This right here, what you have between you, is a love-till-death-do-us-part if I ever saw one. I'm so happy you guys finally figured it out. And I'd say good luck to you, but I know you don't need it. You already have what you need to make a great life together. You'll be just fine. I love you both. You're my inspiration."
Lifting my fluted glass full of champagne, I called to everyone, "Here's to fifty years of wedded bliss for Brandt and Sarah, and fifty more after that."
Everyone drank with me, cheers and applause ringing through the hall behind my toast. My brother rose from his seat to give me a quick, hard man-hug as he said into my ear, "Thanks, bro. You weren't even as annoying as I thought you'd be."
"That was for Sarah's benefit, not yours." I teasingly jabbed a fist toward his gut and laughed when he flinched away from me.
"Whatever. You're such a pipsqueak." He jostled my arm and grinned as he stepped back because his wife had swiveled her wheelchair around to face me.
When Sarah held up her arms for her own hug, I knelt down to give her a warm embrace.
"Thank you, Colton. That was lovely."
"Anything for you, beautiful. You make him happier than you can imagine." I kissed her cheek one more time and then handed the mic over to Reese, the matron of honor who wanted to give her own toast.
As she spoke, I plopped into my seat next to Brandt, relaxing enough to sling an arm over the back of my chair so I could twist my torso and survey the people sitting nearby on my right. They were all family, even the ones who weren't blood relatives. They'd helped raise me into the guy I was, and I loved each and every one of them.
A part of me recognized how much I didn't deserve their affection and support, and that part appreciated every little piece of love they'd ever tossed my way. Yet another part of me was scared shitless, afraid of losing them and eternally certain they'd realize someday they could do so much better, and they'd cut me loose. That part remained an asshat, determined not to show how much he cared about them because everyone knew the moment you let people see what you cared for most, it became your biggest weakness and you were bound to lose it.
When cheers rose and everyone drank, I realized I'd spaced out through Reese's entire toast. Whoops.
I drank with them anyway and kept guzzling until I drained my glass. Noel had said this one glass was the only alcohol I was allowed tonight, but...yeah right.
Glancing around to make sure no one saw I was empty, I rose to my feet and started toward the waiter nearest me who still had a tray full of untouched champagne. Chin-bobbing and calling out a greeting to people I passed to blend in, I reached the guy in seconds and exchanged my glass for a new one smoothly, without anyone noticing.
Just as I took my first sip of the new bubbly, Remy—one of my non-related family members—passed with another chick.
"Loved your toast," the chick said with a provocative grin as she trailed her hand up the center of my chest, with the longest, reddest fingernails I'd ever seen. "Damn, you're a cutie." Then she winked and kept walking past, her short, tight sparkly gold dress shifting snugly over lush hips and a tiny waist with every step she took.
Without taking my gaze off her, I grabbed Remy's arm, stalling her at my side. "Who was that?"
"That was Carmen. She's my cousin." When my eyebrows lifted with interest, Remy patted my cheek and cooed, "Oh, honey. Don't even bother. She's twenty-six."
An eight-year difference. Meh, that wasn't a deal breaker for me. Tipping my head to the side to check out the lovely curved backside of twenty-six-year-old Carmen, I said, "I have no issues with experience because she seemed into me. Didn't she seem into me?"
Oh yeah, she had definitely seemed into me.
Remy's voice was dry when she answered, "Carmen's into anything with a penis."
Grinning, I finally turned my attention to her. "Well, what do you know, I happen to have one of those."
"Eww." She wrinkled her nose and immediately backed away from me. "I don't want to hear about your icky boy parts." Then she patted my arm with a maternal sigh. "Just...don't say I didn't warn you because she can be a man-eater."
As she started away to catch up with her cousin, I called after her, "Screw careful. She can snack on me anytime she likes."
She pointed back at me. "Behave, young man."
Ha! As if. This was a wedding, the prime opportunity to hook up with lonely women seeking a little TLC. And I was just the type of guy to help them realize it was perfectly okay to be single and unattached.