Aurora Rose Reynolds - New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author
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Until Sage Sneak Peek

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Copyrights ©2017 Aurora Rose Reynolds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

To Anjelisa

You were beautiful, with dark hair, and a smile that lit up the world around you. You were far too perfect for this world and taken much too soon.

May you always know how much you are loved.

1/10/2002- 5/18/2002  

  Elizabeth

There are people in this world who show you what strength truly is.

You, my darling, are one of them.

 

 

 Until Sage

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

Science says it only takes four minutes to fall in love with someone.

I didn’t believe that was true, until I met Sage Mayson.

Kim

Hearing a thump, thump, thump, the steering wheel in my hands jerks hard to the left, making me squeak as my car swerves into the oncoming traffic lane. Getting the car back under control, I slow down as it bounces, letting me know I have a flat.

“Great, just flipping great.” I pull carefully off the road and onto the shoulder, flipping on my hazards as I put the car in park. Grabbing my cell from my purse sitting in the passenger seat, I curse to myself once more when I see the battery is just about to die. “You should have stayed in bed,” I mutter under my breath, but then I think about the baby blue suede bag I scored for seventy percent off from the underground sale I went to and remember instantly why getting out of bed this morning was so totally worth it.

Scanning through the contacts in my cell, I find the number for AAA and press call then put the phone on speaker. “Thank you for calling triple A. Your call may be monitored. Please press one for—”

The phone dies in my hand and I let out a growl of annoyance. Dropping the now useless piece of crap into the cup holder, I check for traffic and then get out of the car, slamming the door behind me. Checking both tires on the driver’s side, I see both are good, so I move around to the back and drop my hands to my sides. The back right tire is not only flat, but it’s shredded. There is no way I can drive on it without doing major damage to my car.

Resting my hands on my hips, I scan the road to see if there is anyone coming, but the street is completely dead. “Looks like you’re on your own.” I’ve never changed a tire in my life, so I have no idea what the hell it is I’m going to do, but hopefully I can figure it out.

Going to the trunk, I open it up and pull out the bottom floorboard, where there is both a spare and a jack. Taking out the jack, I set it to the ground then spend ten minutes trying to unlock the screws for the tire, which seem impossible to remove. Feeling tears of frustration burn the backs of my eyes, I lean into the trunk, resting my forehead on the edge of the spare tire. “This sucks.”

“Need some help?” a voice asks from behind me. Startled, I jump up, bumping my head on trunk lid, and then quickly pull myself up to stand. Holding the top of my head, I spin around feeling lightheaded. “You okay?”

“I…” Blinking, my mouth runs dry. “Um….” I stare at the guy in front of me, trying to get my mouth and brain to work in unison. Hot is the only word filtering through my head as I take him in. He’s probably six-two, if not taller, long and lean, with broad shoulders, a tapered waist, and skin that shows he’s a mixture of something beautiful. Smirking, his full lips tip up ever so slightly, making me realize I’m staring at him and still haven’t answered his question.

Shaking away my sudden stupidity, I mutter, “My tire blew.” 

“You got a spare?” The deep timber of his voice slides over my skin as he steps closer, giving me a full dose of his presence.

I was wrong; hot isn’t what he is. I don’t think there is a word in the English language that could properly describe him.  Long, thick lashes make his unusual grey-green eyes stand out. His jaw is angled, hard, and his nose crooks a little to the left, but even with that imperfection, nothing could take away from his beauty. 

“Yeah, I have a spare, but I can’t get it out of the trunk.” I give myself a silent pat on the back for putting together a full sentence without stuttering. As he comes even closer to me, I jump as his hand wraps around my hip and he moves me to the side, away from the road.

“Let me take a look.” His head disappears into the trunk, and two seconds later, he stands holding the tire I couldn’t get out moments ago.

“How did you do that?”

“You have to push down on the tire while you loosen the bolt.”

“They should really print that on the tire or something,” I say, feeling my nose scrunches up, and he smiles, showing off a dimple in his right cheek that makes my stomach feel full and melty. Jesus, whoever this guy is, he’s dangerous to the female population of the world.

Dropping the spare to the ground near the back tire, he grabs the jack and puts it in place. “Do you know how to change a tire?”

“No,” I reply distractedly, watching the muscles of his arms flex as he takes a long thingy and starts unscrewing the bolts from the tire.

“What was your plan then?” He pauses, looking up at me, and my eyes move to his.

“What?”

“If you got the tire out of the trunk, what was your plan?”

“I was going to wing it,” I tell him truthfully, and his eyes close briefly as his head shakes side-to-side.

“Come over here.”

“Why?”

“I’m gonna teach you how to change your tire.”

“Oh.” I take a step toward him. Apparently not close enough, his big hand wraps around mine and he tugs, forcing my feet to move until I’m practically standing between his bent knees.

“Now, you always want to loosen the bolts before you get the car off the ground, it makes it easier to remove them once the car’s in the air.”

“Okay.” I nod, and he smiles again, making me feel like a giddy schoolgirl. This is getting ridiculous. I have never been effected by anyone the way he’s effecting me.

“All right, I’m going to loosen the bolts then we’re gonna raise the car. Got it?” Nodding, I watch the muscles in his arms flex as he loosens each of the bolts. “Then you use this to pump the jack.” He takes the long thingy in his hand that he loosened the bolts with and uses the flat end of it, sticking it into the jack that he starts pumping. “Once you get the tire off the ground about two inches, you stop.”

“Okay,” I agree, watching him pull the long thing back out of the jack once the tire is off the ground.

“After you get the bolts loosened and the car in the air, you remove the bolts completely,” he says as he starts to remove them.

“Can I try?”

“Absolutely.” He lets go of the handle, and I take over and try with all my might to turn the bolt, but nothing happens. “Let me help.” He gets close, too close, placing his hand next to mine on the handle. “Push on three.”

“Okay.” I bite my lip when his body cocoons mine and his scent of dark, warm amber seeps into my senses.

“One… two… three.” I push with him and the bolt spins. “Good job. If you’re having problems getting them loose, you can always stomp it.”

“Stomp it?” I turn my head to look at him, and he grins.

“Step on it. Use your body weight to force it to move.”

“Oh, got it.” I nod and move away from him to get off the next bolt without help, but the last one isn’t as easy. I start to do what he suggested, but he stops me with his hand wrapped around my bicep.

“You have heels on.” His eyes drop to my espadrilles. “And I’m here, so you don’t need to break your neck.” He leans over, and with one flex of his muscles, the bolt spins. Pulling off the tire, he grabs the spare and puts it on then sets all the bolts. “This time, we do the opposite. Tighten them as much as we can then drop the jack and tighten them up the rest of the way,” he explains, and I spend the next five minutes watching him tighten all the bolts then drop the jack, allowing the car to lower to the ground, before tightening the bolts the rest of the way.

Stepping back when he stands, I notice a thin coating of sweat covering him. The sun has hit its peek and it’s about twenty degrees hotter out than it was this morning when I left my apartment. Lifting the bottom of his shirt, he wipes his face, giving me a glimpse of his abs. That’s when I notice the dirt and grime from his hands has transferred to his shirt, a shirt I know by the tiny U on the pocket would probably cost eighty dollars, if not more. “Oh no.”

His eyes drop to where mine are looking. “What?”

“Your shirt, it’s ruined,” I point out, and he shrugs.

“It’s all good. Where are you heading?”

“Just about fifteen minutes down the road into town. I think there’s a mechanic there that’s not far from my place.”

“All right, I’ll follow you in.” He picks up the jack in one hand and the tire with the other like it weights nothing at all and carries them back toward my trunk. I stare after him, wondering what I should do.

“That’s not necessary.” I follow after him. “I’m sure you have things to do,” I say as I open my door and reach in to grab a twenty from my bag sitting on the passenger seat. Slamming the door, I go to where he’s bent over the trunk. As soon as he stands, I hold out the bill toward him. “Thank you so much. I don’t know what I would have done if you didn’t stop.”

His eyes drop to the bill in my hand before meeting mine once more. “I’m not taking your money.”

“Please, take it,” I push, holding it out farther in his direction.

“No.”

“Your shirt is ruined because of me. At least let me give you this for helping me out.”

“I don’t need your money.” He moves around me and opens the driver’s door. “Get in. I’ll follow you to town.”

Holding his stare for what feels like forever, I finally give in when I see I’m not going to win. Putting a little stomp in my step for not getting my way, I watch his eyes crinkle in the corners and his lips twitch. Sliding behind the wheel, I turn the car on and look up at him when I put my hand on the door handle.

“Don’t drive over twenty.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re a little bit bossy?”

“Can’t say they have.”

“Hm.” I tug the door but he doesn’t move, and when I look up at him, he’s looking at me like he’s trying to figure something out. “Um…” God, I just realized I don’t even know his name. “Sorry, what’s your name?” I ask, and his eyes meet mine.

“Sage. Sage Mayson.”

“That’s a cool name. I’m Kimberly, um… but my friends call me Kim.”

“Kimberly,” he repeats, and the way my name dances off his tongue makes my heart double beat in my chest. “Wait for me to pull out before you pull off.”

“Aye, aye, captain,” I say, and his lips tip up and he shakes his head before pushing my door closed. Watching him out my side mirror as he walks back to his car, I study the way he moves. It’s like he’s in control of every single muscle in his body. His shoulders are back and his stride is long. If I were walking next to him, I would have to double my steps to keep up.

Seeing him open his door, I move my eyes from my side mirror to my rearview mirror and notice his car for the first time. His isn’t a car at all; it’s a Cadillac SUV, the exact one my dad drives, only Sage’s is black. And not a shiny black, no. It’s matte black, so I know it’s custom. Sage doesn’t look much older than me, so the ride could be his parents’, but if it’s not, now I really wonder who the hell he is and how he can afford something like that. I know my dad paid an arm and a leg for his, because I heard my mom bitching nonstop about how much it cost when he came home in it.

Hearing a horn, I snap out of it and pull onto the road, speeding up until I hit the twenty mark on my speedometer then slow down. The normal twenty minutes it would take me to get back to town takes me almost thirty, and when I pull up outside the mechanic shop, I shut the car down and watch Sage pull into the spot right next to mine.

Getting out, I grab my purse and the shopping bag from the back seat then head toward one of the open bays. Sage is talking to a guy with dark, almost black hair that is a little long and tattoos covering every inch of skin not hidden by his white shirt, which is spotted with black grease and dirt.

“Gareth, this is Kim,” Sage introduces as soon as I get close.

“Hi.” I give him a smile, and he lifts his chin a fraction of an inch in greeting.

“You got keys?” he asks.

“Yep.” I hand them over, and as soon as I do, his eyes go back to Sage.
“It’ll be done in about forty minutes.” My teeth snap together and my hand moves to my hip.

“Its actually my car,” I point out, and Gareth looks at me and repeats, “It’ll be done in about forty minutes.”

“Wow, aren’t you just Mr. Wonderful?” I grumble under my breath, and Sage chuckles next to me while Gareth smiles, and if I didn’t experience Sage Mayson’s smile this morning, Gareth’s would for sure take my breath away.

“You need to keep this one,” Gareth mumbles before walking off, and I wonder what he means by that, but I obviously don’t stop him to ask.

“How about coffee?”

My head swings Sage’s way at his question, and something strange fills my chest. I would normally say no to any kind of anything with a man who looks like him. A man who looks like he has the ability to break your heart with one smile. But there is something telling me that if I pass up his invitation, I will regret it for the rest of my life.

“Sure.”  

“Good.” He smiles gently then startles me by placing his hand against my lower back, leading me over to his truck. As soon as we’re at the passenger side door, he swings it open. Taking my bags from my hand, he waits until I’m inside before handing them back and shutting the door behind me. Letting out the breath I didn’t know I was holding, I look around.

The car smells like him, and the inside is just as clean as the outside; there isn’t even a little dust on the dash. Turning to look over my shoulder, I see him open the back passenger door then watch him take off his shirt and toss it inside before reaching in and grabbing a new one, putting it on before slamming the door.

“Oh my,” I breathe, turning to face forward, hoping he didn’t see me checking him out.

“So you live around here?” he asks as soon as he opens his door.

“Yeah, just a few blocks over off Lowery in the Hamilton subdivision,” I say, as he slides his tall lean frame behind the wheel.

“That’s a nice area.”

It is nice, and I will never be able to afford a house in that subdivision. The only reason I can afford my one bedroom apartment there is because my landlords, Mr. and Mrs. Dennison, take a huge chunk of my rent off each month so that I will help them out with babysitting when they need a night out or just need a break from their four kids. They are adorable but total hellions.

“Do you live with your parents?”

“No.”

“Houses in that subdivision are close to a mill.”

“I know,” I agree, as he studies me like he’s trying to figure out how it is I live in that area.

“Where do you work?”

“Are you a cop?”

“No.”

“You should be,” I inform him, and his lips twitch. Letting out a sigh I roll my eyes when I see he’s not going to give it up. “I rent an apartment above a garage from a doctor and his wife who live in the subdivision. I help them out with babysitting, and they give me a break on rent each month,” I rattle out quickly then pull in a breath and let it out. “Is there anything else you need to know right now?”

“I want to know everything.” He turns away from me to face the windshield. “But I’m thinking that will all come with time.”

My breath leaves on a whoosh and my heart starts to pound against my ribcage as I watch him back out of the parking spot. I don’t know if he meant to make that statement sound like we would be spending time together or not, but it did, and the thought of getting to know this man has my stomach filling with butterflies and my palms sweating.

“You okay?”

Turning my head, I find him studying my closely. “Yeah, totally cool.” I drop my bags to the floorboard then wipe my hands down the front of my bare thighs. “So, if you’re not a cop, what do you do?”

“I work with my cousin.”

“Okay…” I wait to see if he will fill me in, but he doesn’t. “What kind of work do you do with your cousin?”

“Private security, bounty hunting, PI work, we do it all.”

“So you’re kind of like a cop, but you’re not a cop. Why is that?”

“My dad’s a cop. He loves his job but hates that he has to deal with red tape. He can’t just go in and get a job done. He has to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed.”

“So you don’t like red tape.”

“Basically,” he concurs as we pull into the drive thru line of one of the small coffee huts that sits in a parking lot on Main Street. “Do you know what you’d like?”

“A large iced green tea,” I murmur, leaning forward to grab my purse so I can get some cash out. As soon as we pull up in front of the window, he places our order with the girl working inside. “Here.” I hold the ten-dollar bill in my hand toward him and he shakes his head. “Please, let me pay for our drinks,” I press, but he ignores me and pulls down his visor, taking down a twenty from the bills he has stacked there. “You know, it’s kind of annoying that you won’t let me pay,” I inform him, as he hands me my drink.

“You’ll survive.” He smiles at me before giving the girl a tip and pulling away from the window. “What’s your plan for the day?”

“I have a date with a bookshelf I bought from Ikea that will likely take me a year to put together. What about you?” I ask, taking a sip of my drink.

“My schedule’s clear. Do you want some help putting it together?”

“Really?” I ask, stunned, and he stops at a stop sign then turns to look at me.

“Sure.”

Wow, okay.

“That would be really nice,” I respond quietly, as warmth and something soft and sweet spreads through me.

“Good,” he replies just as quietly, heading back to the mechanic shop, where he waits for me to pick up my car and pay before following me back to my place.

As soon as we reach the house, I lead him down the long driveway that curves around the back of the property. My apartment is above the third garage, but the way it’s set up makes it feel like I have my own space and I’m not living in someone else’s house. Hitting the remote for the garage, I pull inside and watch Sage drive up and park behind me. Grabbing my bags from the passenger seat, I open my door, get out, and head toward the trunk, where I meet him.

“Have you been over here before?” I ask, when I see him looking around the neighborhood.

“I’ve spent my whole life in this town. When I was younger, I wanted to buy a house over here before the developers got a hold of it,” he says, taking my bags from me.

“You did?”

“Yeah, years ago, when this was nothing but farms and open land for miles.”

“I would have liked to see it then.”

“It was beautiful. My parents own a house a few miles down the road from here. Their house used to be in the middle of nowhere. Now, the city has grown up around them. My dad loves it, but my mom hates it and has been talking about moving farther out to get away from everyone.”

“This place is growing fast. Since I moved to town a couple months ago, they have built a Starbucks and a Taco Bell. I have never seen buildings go up so fast before,” I tell him, as I head for the set of stairs inside the garage. With him at my back, I open the door to my apartment and turn on the light.

My apartment is just under six hundred square feet, with a combined kitchen and living room. There’s a small bedroom that is just big enough to fit my queen-size bed two side tables, and dresser, and a bathroom with a pedestal sink and standup shower.

“This is nice,” he says looking around, and I smile. I love my place. The dusty blue of the walls sets off the light gray colored wood floors that run through the place, making it seem bigger than it is, which is a bonus for sure.

“Thanks.” I take my bags from him. “But you should see the view from my bed,” I gush, then realize what I just said when his lips tip up. “Not that you will ever see it,” I add quickly, dropping my eyes to the floor as my cheeks get hot. “I just said that because I have a huge skylight over my bed that makes it feel like you’re sleeping under the stars,” I finish, then turn and head for my room without looking at him.

Kicking off my sandals, I dump my bags on the bed then pick up my pillow and hold it to my face, wishing I could just scream. I’ve had three boyfriends. Two of them were when I was in high school, and one of them was in college. I haven’t dated since the last. Not really, anyway. I mean, I’ve gone out to dinner with a few guys, but nothing serious, and none of them ever came back to my place, so I have no idea what the hell it is I’m doing. Knowing he will hear me if I scream, I toss the pillow to the bed and head into the living room, where I find him standing over the demolished box my shelf came in.

“Did the box come like this?” he asks, looking at me, and I shake my head.

“No, it was in one piece when I bought it,” I say, and he looks from me to the destroyed box then back again. “It might have fallen down the stairs when I tried to carry it up here.”

“Just once?” he asks, and I let out a breath.

“Okay, a few times,” I revise, and he smiles.

“You got any tools?”

“Tools?” I repeat, and he presses his lips together like he’s trying not to laugh. “I obviously know what tools are. I just don’t have any. Besides, it came with the little thingy to put it together.”

“Thingy?”

“Are you going to make fun of me or help me?” I ask, putting my hands on my hips, and his eyes move over my face then drop to where my hands are resting.

“I’m not making fun of you.”

“It feels like you’re making fun of me,” I point out, and he stands, and now that I don’t have on my sandals, he’s not just taller than me. He towers over me, making me feel tiny and fragile.

“I would never make fun of you. I think the way you talk is cute.”

“Oh.”

“I’m gonna go out to my truck to get my tool bag. Can I use that door?” He tips his head toward the sliding door off the kitchen that leads to a deck, which looks over one of the large ponds in the middle of the community.

“Yeah, but you’ll have to walk around the back of the building and go through the gate at the side. It’s easier if you just go out the garage. Besides, if Burt is out back, you may have to run from him, and I can tell you from experience that is never fun,” I inform him, and his eyes have once again filled with humor.

“Who’s Burt?”

“My landlord’s Chihuahua. He’s small but scary as hell.”

“I’ll go out the garage.”

“That’s probably smart,” I murmur, and he shakes his head then opens the door and leaves. I listen to him head down the steps and hear him open the garage door. Standing here, I wonder what I should do, and then my stomach grumbles, reminding me I didn’t eat breakfast, which is something I definitely shouldn’t be missing out on. Since I need to take my pills, I really need to eat.

Opening the fridge, I grab the stuff to make myself a sandwich and hear Sage coming back up the steps. As soon as he is in the apartment and has closed the door, I turn to watch him drop a huge bag of tools onto the floor near the box.

“Do you always travel with so many tools?”

“Most of the time,” he says, pulling out a power drill and a plastic box with attachments inside. “I work on my house when I have time, but I don’t leave my tools there, since someone could break in and take them when I’m not around.”

“Is your house in a bad neighborhood?” I ask, opening the breadbox and pulling out a loaf, dropping it to the counter.

“Do you know Percy Priest Lake?”

“Yeah.” My eyes go to him over my shoulder, and I notice he already has the pieces of wood for the shelf separated into piles.

“My house is on the lake. The house is shit. One day it will be beautiful, but right now, it’s shit, which means I got it for practically nothing and will probably spend way too much fucking money and the rest of my life fixing it up.”

“It will be worth it,” I tell him immediately. Even though I haven’t seen the house, I know for certain that one day, when he’s done, it will be beautiful.

“Waking up to a view of the lake every morning and sitting out on my deck at night, watching the sun set on the water, I know it will be too,” he says quietly, and something in his eyes changes in a way that makes my body feel funny.

Pulling my eyes from his, I turn around to face the counter before I say something stupid, like “I want to see both those things with you.”

“Do you want a sandwich?” I ask instead, and hear him say, “Sure,” behind me right before the power drill starts up.

Once I’m done making a sandwich for him and one for myself, I pull down a box of Cheez-Its from the top cupboard and drop a handful on each of our plates. Then I take both over to the coffee table and set them down. Moving back around where he’s working in the middle of the room, I head to the fridge and open it up to see what kind of drinks I have, which isn’t a lot, since I don’t drink soda or anything else besides water really.

“Is water okay with you?”

Turning off the drill, he nods, and I grab two bottles from the still-open fridge. I hand one to him as he stands, and then he follows me to the couch where we both sit.

“Do you read a lot?”

Chewing and swallowing the bite of turkey and Swiss sandwich I just took, I look at him and notice his eyes are on my collection of signed books I have stacked up neatly in the corner of the room.

“Yeah,” I reply, folding my feet under me and setting my plate on the tops of my knees. “I love reading. I always have. When I was young, I used to sneak into my parents’ room in the mornings before school and read whatever book my mom was reading. Then when I got old enough to buy my own books, I would buy romance novels with guys on the covers, with their shirts open and their long hair blowing in the wind.” I laugh, watching his eyes fill with humor. “Once, my dad found me in my room reading one of those books, and he lost his mind. He was convinced I was reading porn. Thankfully my mom came to my defense and told him to back down and that he should be thankful I was reading and not out partying and doing drugs.” 

“My mom reads a lot too, and so do my sisters.”

“How many sisters do you have?”

“Three, and two brothers.”

“I always wanted siblings growing up,” I confess, wondering not for the first time what it would have been like if I hadn’t been adopted, if I had grown up with my mom and sister. I know my life would have been completely different. My mom shouldn’t have had kids at all, and I know that because my sister has told me about her childhood. She’s told me what it felt like to wonder if she would get dinner or where she would sleep.

“So do you think it will take us a year to finish the shelf?” I joke when I feel sadness start to creep over me like it always does when I think about Kelly and what she had to endure growing up alone with our mom.

“Nah, it shouldn’t take long at all.”

Holding the last shelf, I watch Sage screw in the last four shelf guards and fight the urge to laugh at the frustrated look on his face. It’s been over five hours since he told me it wouldn’t take a year to get the shelf together, and he was right; it shouldn’t have taken so long. He had all the right tools, but half the screws and things that came with the shelf had disappeared, which meant we had to go to Home Depot to buy them. And seeing how he just happened to know everyone we came in contact with, our ten-minute run into the hardware store took us forever.

Okay, so I may have spent a little time there wandering down the aisles. Home Depot may be a store dedicated to men, but every female knows they have the best cleaning supplies at the best price you can get anywhere. Plus, Sage took me to the kitchen department so I could see all the stuff he was planning on putting in his place, which included an awesome six-burner gas range with matching fridge, dishwasher, and double oven. He also showed me the cupboards and countertops he had chosen, which were a cool sandy colored material with flakes of teal, silver, and gold glass in them.

After he showed me everything, I made him promise that I could see the kitchen in person when he was done with it, and that was when something changed. I don’t know exactly what it was, but when I made him promise, his face got soft and his eyes got warm, right before he took my hand and lead me to check out, not letting me go until I was back in his truck.

“Are you laughing at me?” he asks, bringing me out of my head, and I shake it then press my lips together when he starts to grumble under his breath. About what? I don’t know, but it’s cute seeing him like this. “Fucking finally.” He takes the shelf I’ve been holding and puts it in place before stepping back. “Jesus, this thing was a pain in the ass. I think we’d have been better off building the shit from scratch.”

“That would have probably taken us four years,” I correct him, and he turns to look at me, smiling.

“You’re probably right. Now where do you want it?”

“Back against that wall.” I point to the only wall in the room that doesn’t have an angle to it, and he picks it up and carefully puts it in place. “Thank you for helping me out. If I had been on my own, I probably would have tossed the whole thing over the deck and had a bonfire with it.”

“Good thing I came to the rescue then,” he says, then he pulls out his phone and looks at the screen. Knowing what’s coming and that he’s about to leave, I pick up our plates that are still sitting on the coffee table and take them to the sink. “It’s late. Do you feel like ordering something?”

My body, which I didn’t know was tight, relaxes and I turn to face him.

“Sure.” I shrug like it’s all the same to me, when it isn’t. “I have a few menus.” I open one of the drawers in the kitchen and he shakes his head.

“Nah, I know a place. Do you like Italian?”

“What woman in their right mind doesn’t like Italian?” I ask as my answer.

“Right.” He puts his phone to his ear, and I listen to him place an order then give my address without having to ask me for it, which I can only imagine must come in handy with his job. As soon as he’s done, he puts the phone back in his pocket. “We have about an hour, maybe a little longer, before food gets here.”

“Cool. Do you want to watch a movie or something?” I ask, going to the couch and picking up the remote, and I turn on the TV that hardly ever gets used, since most of the time I’m reading or listening to music if I’m home.

“I actually need to make a few phone calls. Do you mind if I step outside for a bit?”

“Sure.” I nod, and he touches my waist with the tips of his fingers as her walks past me to the door.

Stepping out onto the deck, he shuts the door behind him and I watch him put his phone to his ear. Seeing his phone, my mind goes to Kelly. She hasn’t returned any of my phone calls in the last few days, and even though she has a tendency to disappear for days at a time without so much as a text to let me know she is okay, I still worry every time it happens.

Going to my room, I find my cell in my bag and put it on the charger and wait for the apple icon to pop up on the screen. Then I wait for the phone to turn on. As soon as it does, I see I have three texts from my mom, all of them asking how my bag hunt went this morning, and one from my dad reminding me that I need to book my ticket to go home to surprise my mom for her birthday, but nothing from Kelly. Sitting down on my bed, I snap a picture of my new purse and text it to Mom with It went awesome. Then I send a text to my dad letting him know I already got my ticket and when I will be arriving. With that done, I toss my phone on the bed and change into one of my lounge around the house outfits before I head to the living room, where I wait for Sage to get done with his calls and our food to arrive.

Sage

Jesus fucking Christ. My chest heaves and I pull in a deep breath, trying to get my breathing under control and my heart rate back to normal. I didn’t expect this to happen. Not yet, anyway. But after Kim and I ate, we were sitting there talking and she laughed. It was at that laugh that I leaned in and kissed her, and then one thing led to another and we were taking off each other’s clothes like it was a fucking race to see who could get who naked first. I won, and fuck me, I thought she was beautiful fully clothed, but she was beyond that when she was laid out completely exposed to me.

Lying back, I drag her with me and soak in the feeling of her weight settling against me, her hot, wet pussy pulsing around my cock and her soft hair falling against my chest. Wanting to keep her right where she is, I tighten my hold. Never fucking ever have I had this with any other woman, a connection that defies logic and time, a connection that makes me question every fucking thing in my life.

“I’m too heavy.” She tries to move off me, and my grip tightens even more as her words whisper across my damp skin.

“You’re not, so don’t even think about moving,” I growl, feeling her body tenses against mine. “Please,” I add quietly, running my fingers through her hair, and she relaxes.

Placing a kiss to the top of her head, I wrap my hand around the back of her skull to keep her in place. My whole life, I’ve been hearing about the boom. When I was younger, I thought it was bullshit, some crazy story my dad and uncles made up to tell me and the boys in my family. But as I got older, I thought that if by some chance that shit was real, it was a good thing I was adopted, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Now, after meeting Kim, I’m wondering what the hell is going on.

Listening to her breath even out, I feel her body relax against me, letting me know she’s fallen asleep. Carefully moving her so I don’t wake her, I get up and head for the bathroom to get rid of the condom and grab a washcloth. I walk back into the room and find Kim in the exact position I left her in. After cleaning her up, which is something I have never done for another woman, I toss the rag toward her laundry basket in the corner and get back into bed.

As soon as I’m lying next to her, she turns toward me and cuddles into my side. That’s when I notice the stars above me through the skylight over the bed. Lying there with her warm weight against my side and her soft skin under my palm, I fall asleep thinking she’s right; it does feel like you’re sleeping outside.

Waking to the sound of soft music playing in the distance and the smell of bacon, my eyes open to a view of gray skies. Getting up on an elbow, I look down and find my jeans and shirt both folded and in a neat pile on the floor. Grabbing my cell out of the front pocket of my jeans, I hit the screen and see it’s just after eight.

Once I’m out of bed, I pull on my jeans and head out of the room, where I find Kim in the kitchen. Her back is to me and her mass of hair is tied up in a high ponytail at the top of her head, showing off the elegant slope of her neck. Taking her in, I notice she’s wearing the pair of shorts with flowers on them and a tank top to match that she put on at some point when I was making a call before dinner arrived. Without thinking, I head right for her and rest my hand on the side of her waist then curve it around her stomach, pulling her back into me.

“Hey.” Her eyes come to me over her shoulder and her cheeks turn a pretty shade of pink.

“Morning.” I lean down, kissing the exposed skin where her neck and shoulder meet. “You got an extra toothbrush?” I ask, and her eyes go soft in a way that I know I could get used to seeing every day.

“No, but you can use mine. I don’t mind.” She shrugs.

“All right.” Touching my lips to her temple, I give her waist a squeeze then head for the bathroom. Coming out a few minutes later, I find her cracking eggs into the pan she just fried bacon in, and as soon as I’m close, she turns to face me.

“I don’t know…” She pulls in a breath then lets it out slowly. “I don’t know how this works,” she says, turning around completely, and I stop a few feet away from her. “I mean…” She lets out another huff of air. “I don’t know if you want to eat or if you just want to go.”

“I’m not going,” I state, watching her tense shoulders relax.

“Good,” she whispers, and I feel that one word wash through me. “Do you want coffee?”

“Yeah.” I close the distance between us, and she pulls down a coffee mug from the cupboard, handing it to me.

“Coffee pods are in the drawer under the machine.” She nods toward the Keurig on the counter. “Cream is in the fridge, and sugar is there.” She points to a canister. “How do you like your eggs?”

“Anyway you want to cook them is good with me.”

“Okay.” She gives me a smile then cracks two more eggs into the pan before taking toast out of the toaster and buttering it. Leaning back against the counter with a cup of fresh coffee in my hand, I look at the shelf we put together and see that she already stacked her books on it.

“You’ve been up awhile,” I observe, and she looks from me to her shelf that is now full of books.

“I can never sleep in. No matter how late I go to bed, I always wake up early.” She pulls down two plates before looking at me once more. “Did you sleep okay? I was going to go in and shut the skylight, but I didn’t want to wake you with closing it.”

“I slept better than I’ve slept in a long time,” I confess, and her eyes soften. “I like the skylight. I might have to put one in the master at the lake house.”

“It’s pretty awesome. I like lying under it when it rains even more than at night when the skies are clear.”

“I’ll have to experience that myself sometime,” I say, taking her hand and pulling her a step closer to me after she finishes buttering the toast and putting two fresh slices in the toaster. “What’s your plan for today?”

“I have a client coming into the salon at ten, so I have to work. What about you?”

“Work tonight, but after that I’m free. You feel like hanging out later?”

“Sure.” She leans into me with her weight, and I dip my face, brushing my lips over hers. “We should eat,” she breathes into my mouth, as my hand roams down her body and I drag her tighter against me.

“Yeah.” Kissing her one last time, I regretfully let her go.

“Here.” She hands me a plate loaded with bacon, eggs, and toast. Picking up my cup of coffee, I follow her outside to a colorful round table with two chairs that’s outside on the deck. “I know it’s not a lake view, but it’s not a bad one.” She takes a seat, setting her plate and cup on the table. Folding into the chair across from her, I laugh when she does. The chair might be okay for a chick that’s probably five-eight, but at six-four my knees come up to my chest when I sit. “Oh, God.” She covers her face, peaking at me through her fingers. “We can go inside to eat.”

“It’s all good.” I place my hand over hers when she goes to stand. Stretching out my legs, I cross my ankles. “I’ve always been tall. Even when I was little, I was bigger than everyone else, so I had to make it work.”

“How tall were you in high school?”

“When I graduated, I was six-two,” I say, and her eyes widen.

“How tall are you now?”

“Six-four.”

“I knew you were tall, but sheesh, you are really tall!” she says, and I laugh then watch her pick up her toast and take a bite.

“So you do hair?” I ask, thinking it’s ridiculous as fuck that I didn’t find that out from her yesterday, seeing how we spent the entire day together.

“Yeah, I went to college and did the whole four-year thing to please my parents, but I was never happy. So when I graduated with a degree in business management, I decided to spend two more years doing something I knew I would be happy with. I’ve always loved makeup and hair, so it seemed like a no-brainer.”

“Where are you parents now?”

“Florida, about two hours outside of Miami.”

“Why Tennessee?” I ask, and something shifts behind her gaze, but she hides it quickly.

“I just wanted a change.” She shrugs then nods to my plate. “You should eat before your food gets too cold.”

Picking up my fork, I dig in then spend another hour with her before I leave her with a kiss and a promise to see her later.

Kim

Hearing knocking on the sliding glass door, I roll out of bed and glance at the clock. It’s after 1:00 a.m. Sage sent a text while I was at work and told me he would be over late, since what he was doing was going to keep him awhile, but one in the morning is not someone who is interested in you. One in the morning is the time a booty call shows up, and I do not want to be a booty call, no matter how amazing the sex was between us.

Feeling something uncomfortable fill the pit of my stomach, I grab my robe and pull it on quickly while the knocking turns to pounding. Hitting the living room, I turn on the light, and that’s when I see Kelly standing outside looking at me through the glass with her fist up ready to start knocking again.

“Hey,” I greet her as soon as I slide the door open.

“I’m leaving,” she states, tossing her hair that looks exactly like mine over her shoulder.

“You’re leaving,” I repeat, and she nods, shouldering past me into my apartment that she hasn’t been staying at, that she has only used when the guy she’s been messing around with kicks her out of his bed, leaving her no choice but to come here to crash. “Why… I thought—”

“I can’t do it. I thought I could, but I can’t,” she cuts me off, going to the closet, grabbing her black duffle bag from the floor, and opening it up.

“I need you,” I whisper, watching her pull things off hangers and shove them into the open bag on the floor.

“You need me.” She turns around to face me, picking up the bag, and I notice then that her eyes are wild, which means she’s gotten high recently—something she told me she would stop doing. “You don’t fucking need me. You just want to use me like every fucking other person in my life does.”

Rearing back like she slapped me, my body jolts. “That’s not true.”

“It’s not?” She laughs, but her cackle sounds evil and grates across my skin. “You didn’t even fucking try to find me until you were out of options.”

“You know that’s not true.”

“I’m sure, bitch!” she shouts, and I take a step back.

I’ve never seen Kelly like this. I’ve never seen her so out of control, and I don’t have any idea how to fix this or how to defuse the situation. “You know my parents never told me about you or about our mom.” And they didn’t. I didn’t even know I was adopted until the day the test came back and I found out my kidneys were in the beginning stages of shutting down. That’s when they told me I had an identical twin. That’s when they told me everything.

“I don’t fucking care!” she screams at the top of her lungs, leaning toward me. “I do not fucking care about you.” She points in my face and my heart cracks open. “I don’t care about any of this shit. I do not need your kind of fucking drama in my life.”

“What happened?” Something had to have happened. Something had to have set her off to make her act like this.

“Nothing happened. I just finally got a fucking clue.”

“Kelly, please.” I grab onto her arm as she starts to storm past me. “Let’s just calm down. Please don’t go. Let’s just get some sleep and we’ll talk about this tomorrow, when you’re thinking more clearly.”

“Thinking more clearly? Fuck you, Kim. Fuck you and your holier-than-thou attitude. Ask your fucking perfect, rich-ass parents to help you out.” She jerks her arm from my grasp and heads for the door.

Running after her down the steps in the garage, I yell, “Kelly, please don’t do this!” as she hits the remote for the garage, sending the door up. “Kelly,” I beg, but she doesn’t stop or even turn around to look at me. She ducks under the door, runs across the pavement, and gets into the car that is parked and running in front of my garage with the lights on, slamming the door once she’s inside. Standing there, I watch her back out of the driveway then take off.

“Oh, God.” I crumple to my knees, dropping my face to my hands as rain starts to fall. Realizing I’m now soaking wet, I get up and make my way back into my apartment, where I call my parents and tell them what happened while I cry until I can’t cry anymore.

~*~*~

Pulling up outside the shop that I need to open in the next ten minutes, I put my car in park and pull out my cell to once again check if I’ve missed a call or a text from Kelly or Sage. I haven’t heard from either of them in over a week, and even though I shouldn’t be surprised or hurt, I am.

Really, I’m more hurt by what Sage did than by Kelly taking off. I knew she was struggling with not only her decision to help me, but her life in general. I knew there was a chance she would take off, but Sage, I didn’t expect him to play me the way he did. Not after the day we spent together or after him seeming so sure he wanted to continue seeing me the morning after. I should have known better, but I stupidly thought he was feeling the same thing I was.

Seeing he hasn’t replied to my text of “Hey” from two days ago, I shove my phone in my purse and get out of my car. Slamming the door, I turn and stop dead when I see him standing on the sidewalk, sweaty and wearing nothing but a pair of black workout pants, his eyes on me.

“Hey,” I say quietly, walking toward him. That’s when I notice his eyes are hard and his body is tight.

“You live in this town. Gonna say this once and only once. You pull some shit like you did again, next time, you’ll be sitting behind bars,” he says harshly, and my feet stop moving while my heart starts to pound. I don’t know what he’s talking about, but I do know he’s pissed.

“Pardon?”

At my question, his eyes travel over my hair and face then down my body, but not in a good way. Not in the same way they did right before he made love to me. No, the way they travel over me makes me feel dirty and cheap, like I need to take a shower to get clean.

“You were good, babe. So good I would have paid you for it if I knew that’s what you wanted.”

His words are like a punch to the gut, and I take a step back, feeling my throat get tight. “What?” I finally get out, and his eyes harden even more.

“Coming up to me in the bar, playing games, acting like you did, then trying to slip some shit in my drink so you could get my wallet?” He scoffs, and reality hits me in the face. Kelly. She did this. That’s why she took off, and that’s why he’s not spoken to me. He thinks I did those things to him.

“My sister.” My eyes slide closed and my hand tightens on the handle of the purse in my hand.

“Your sister?”

“My…” I pause, opening my eyes and trying to pull in a deep breath, because my lungs suddenly feel too tight, like they are twisting inside my chest. “My twin… my twin sister. She…” I take a step toward him, and he takes a step back, like he can’t stand the idea of me getting close to him. Stopping, I hold out my hand palm up toward him, and my words come out whispered. “Whatever happened, that wasn’t me. It was my sister.”

“Right.” He nods, but I can see he doesn’t believe me. But why should he? I never told him about Kelly, because I didn’t want to ruin whatever was happening between us. I didn’t want him to find out about my problems until I knew he was the kind of guy who could shoulder them.

“I’m sorry. I—”

“Just stay the fuck away from me, bitch.” And with that parting blow, he takes off without a backward glance. Standing there with my heart pounding in my chest and my stomach twisting into knots, I watch him until he’s out of sight.

Feeling sickness climb up the back of my throat, I run for the door of the salon, unlock it, and get inside. I toss my bag to the couch then move to the bathroom, where I fall to my knees in front of the toilet. Throwing up the bagel I had for breakfast, I rest my forehead against the seat of the toilet, not caring how gross it is. Not caring about anything.

Tears fill my eyes, and I whisper, “Fuck everyone, and definitely fuck Sage and Kelly.”

 

 

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