Healing doesn’t happen overnight. Neither does falling in love.
Frankenstein has nothing on this twenty-year-old. Okay. Maybe a few more stitches in a few more places but we both were sewn back together.
A year and a half ago, I lost my family in an accident that left me scarred inside and out and with a sizable inheritance I refuse to spend. Money can’t bring me happiness. No touch can bring me comfort, and desire—forget it. Who’s going to want me like this?
That’s what I thought until Grayson came into my life.
The ex-baseball star has a list of home runs on the field and off. He’s all wrong for me, possibly broken beyond repair. I can’t help him. I’m still trying to fix myself.
But when he’s near, parts of me spark back to life. And when he looks at me, I feel like my old self or a version of her.
How wrong would it be to pursue this thing between us? Could I handle it? Should I bother finding out?
Damaged? Me? Maybe a little. Fine,a lot. But I’ve been through some shit.
It’s not every day you find out your dad’s a liar and a criminal who launders money for the mafia. Trust issues are only one of my problems. Trouble has a way of finding me or maybe I create it. I turned down an offer to play in MLB and quit the game.
At twenty-two, I’m a walking disaster, which is fine as long as I keep my guard up and don’t bring anyone into my mess.
That was the plan until Braylee entered my life.
How can someone who’s lost so much face the world with more strength than I have in my batting arm? I want to devour her and shelter her at the same time.
I’m trying to be good. But that’s never worked for me in the past, especially when all I want to do is tear down her walls, her clothes, and anything else she’s hiding behind.
*Spin-off to The Forever Series. Standalone.
Braylee anchors herself to the seat beside mine as I drive the boat. Salty air blasts my face and blows my hair back. The water is only a little choppy. Fluffy clouds break up the blue sky and cross over the sun, blocking the direct rays and making the temperature bearable. In short, it’s a perfect day, made even more perfect because of the beautiful girl beside me.
We hit a wave and the boat catches air. My stomach drops a little. Braylee belts out a laugh. She does it every time the boat takes flight then lands. I love the sound, could listen to her laughing all day. Her smile is infectious and breathtaking, her lips the desire of every male, especially this male.
I shouldn’t think about her in this way. We’re friends. It’s what she wants, and I’m going to do my best to give it to her.
With one hand, she clutches the bar in front of her seat and uses the other to secure her hat to her head. A long-sleeved white beach dress covers her top half but shows off her amazing legs, even part of her ass when she stands. Although I love that, I hate that she has to cover up at all to protect her scars from the sun and that she worries about them so much.
Braylee leans toward me and says something I can’t quite decipher.
I slow the boat to hear her over the engine. “What was that?”
“How far is this island?” She sounds a little out of breath, and it’s sexy as hell on her sweet voice. Pink tints her cheeks from either the sun or the windburn.
Guilt punches me in the stomach. I shouldn’t have gone so far out into the Gulf. She was laughing and having fun. I wanted to continue showing her a good time.
“The island is back by the coast. This was a joyride for your benefit. I’ve never heard you laugh this much or seen such a big smile on your face. I wanted you to have more. Sorry.”
She relaxes into the seat as I slow the boat more and make a wide turn. “Why are you sorry? I love that you kept going for me.” She touches her flushed cheeks. “I haven’t laughed this much in…” her delicate features pinch, “a while.”
This might be a mistake to point out, but… “Your cheeks are red. I hope they’re not sunburned.”
Her face lights up. “They are? Maybe I’ll get a little color.” At my confused expression, she adds, “I don’t mind getting sun on my body, just not on my scars. I have to be careful. When the sun darkens them, it takes time and lots of scar cream to get them to lighten again.” She glances at her torso and folds her arm across her waist in a protective way.
“Do you feel okay?” I eye her stomach. “I can go faster if you’re feeling seasick.” I straighten the boat and speed up enough to make the ride steady versus rocking. “Better?”
She swings her legs and faces me in the seat. “I’m not seasick.” Nervousness shines in her eyes, and she tucks her chin. Seconds pass before she lifts her face, her expression determined. “I have scars. On my stomach. No one knows except for my doctors, and my aunt. And now you.” She studies me.
Gauging my reaction? If she expects me to be repulsed, she’s wrong.
I give her a soft grin. “Thank you for sharing that with me. But I assure you, nothing you say or do or have on that incredible body of yours could ever be a turnoff. You’re too beautiful, and if someone can’t see that, then they don’t deserve your attention.”
She blinks, and her eyes fill with tears.
Fuck. I screwed that up? I slow the boat and put it in neutral, so I can hold her.
The boat rocks with small waves as I close the short distance between us and pull her into my arms. She comes willingly and feels so perfect and delicate against me, I don’t ever want to let her go. She smells like heaven and strawberry fields.
Her hat falls to the deck, but she doesn’t seem to care. Instead, she buries her face into my chest and cries, her slight frame shaking. I kiss the top of her head, my lips brushing her soft, wavy hair. “I’m so sorry, Braylee. I can’t believe I made you cry. I’m a dick who doesn’t know how to communicate clearly. Whatever I said that upset you, please forgive me.” I cup the back of her head, my fingers weaving through her silky hair. “Please don’t cry.”
Each snivel is like a knife to my chest. I’d rather be stabbed with a dull blade multiple times than listen to her cry like this.
Finally, her breathing slows. Her head lifts and she looks at me. Tears streak her rosy cheeks and glisten in her light-blue eyes. She doesn’t move away, not minding that I have her tucked up against me.
“You aren’t a dick.” She raises her hand that’s sandwiched between us and wipes her nose. “That’s not why I’m crying.”
I touch her face and run a thumb across her moist cheek. “What is it then?”
The boat rocks beneath us, but I keep her close, bracing myself against the motion and keeping us from stumbling around.
“What you said.” She catches her breath as if to stop another onslaught of tears. “I never thought I’d hear that from anyone, least of all you. You’re so charming and talented and beautiful and to hear you say that about me…it was a lot. A good lot, but still a lot. Thank you.”
She’s thanking me for being honest? “I know you don’t know me that well, which is no fault of yours. I’m the distant ass who needs to work on his friendship skills, but if you knew me—once you know me—you’ll see I’m honest, bluntly so, especially when it’s something I’m passionate about. So don’t thank me. All I did was tell you the truth.”
One corner of her mouth lifts with a faint smile. She glances at my chest and her eyes get big. “I soaked you.” Her delicate fingers wipe my wet skin.
I chuckle. “It’s fine. You can soak my chest anytime.” I catch her gaze and hold it. “I mean it. We’re friends, and friends are there for each other when they need them.”
“Do you hold all your friends this closely? Not that I’m complaining.”
What the what? Is Braylee flirting with me? The smirk that tugs my lips is automatic. “Baby, you’re a special friend who gets special privileges. Groping my chest is also one of the privileges, should you feel the need.” I wink, and she laughs, all musical and sweet. Best sound ever.
Tara Gallina is the author of the NA romance The Forever Series, and the YA retelling Fated to Die. She writes and reads romance in a variety of genres but has a soft spot for retellings.
She believes in fairies, true love, and happily ever after. When she’s not writing, she loves to visit gardens, European castles, and Caribbean beaches. She’s passionate about interior design, obsessed with throw pillows, is addicted to vinegar, favors the color pink, and only drinks wine that tastes like melted sugar.
She grew up in a small town by the beach but soon after moved to Orlando, Florida with her patient hubs, two older sons, and two fur-babies. With local theme parks like Disney World and Harry Potter, it’s no wonder her life is filled with fantasy and make believe.
Daily needs: sunshine, laughter, morning coffee, family.
Daily wants: castle, English accent, princess hair, anti-age venom.