Grant is damaged, selfish, and undeserving of love…or so he thinks.
Jessa is happy, in love, and has overcome her past…or so she thinks.
Grant and Jessa can’t stop thinking about one another since being introduced at a party a month ago. And despite their differences, they can’t seem to stay away from each other either. However, both are hiding secrets of less-than-perfect pasts, fearing what will happen when those mistakes come to light. As they grow closer, they each battle their own insecurities, and neither believes that they are worthy of the kind of love that they both still want. So if it’s true that opposites attract, what happens when the similarities begin to surface?
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I stand there, swaying, digging for my Metrocard as the bus finally begins to pull away from the curb. The light ahead on Delancey Street is green, and beyond that is the long expanse of the Williamsburg Bridge. My heart is thudding against my ribcage, each beat threatening to crack the thin veneer of stability I have erected around me and let it all out: all the tears, the heartbreak, the grief. The loneliness. The lust. I just manage to swipe my Metrocard, catching myself on the handrail as the bus lurches ahead, when I hear it.
Marcus pounding on the bus door.
I don’t know why, but I turn to watch him. Everybody else thinks he’s just a guy who missed the bus in the rain, who knows he can’t catch a cab when the weather’s like this, who’s pissed he’s going to have to wait to get across the bridge.
But I know he’s chasing me.
That Marcus Roma, for once, is the one chasing me.
Now, from inside this bus, from the other side of what might as well be an impenetrable barrier, I can look at him. I can look at him run after me, a look of desperation on his face that I’ve only ever seen once or twice, and only when he didn’t know how to help me. Marcus Roma raw is too much for me to handle right now. Maybe ever again. No one else has ever seen through me like Marcus, no one else has ever stripped me of all pretense. It was always intoxicating. It was always a rush.
It always made me so very, very vulnerable. Once it made me strong, too. Now?
Now it would just make it all that easier to fall.
But would it? And here is where I really start to drive myself crazy, in the seconds when I’m watching Marcus run in the rain, falling farther behind the bus with every step. Because now that I’m not standing in front of him, exposed to those eyes, I’m thinking, Maybe this is actually what I need.
Maybe I need to yell at him. Maybe an explanation would end it. Maybe it would exorcise the ghost of Marcus Roma from my life once and for all and I could move on.
Or maybe this is just my body making rationalizations for what it wants. Which is Marcus.
Five years, and I’ve never forgotten the feel of his hands on my body.
My throat tightens up and my mouth goes dry. We’re on the bridge. Marcus is far behind us. The rain slams into the big, broad windshield of the bus as we speed toward Brooklyn, and I’m thinking about how I just ran. I never used to run. That’s not what I do. I’m a fighter.
Marcus taught me that.
I fought my way through after my parents died in the accident, with Marcus’s help. I fought for Dill. I fought for my own freedom. And I just ran from Marcus, because I wasn’t sure I could fight…
I’m kidding myself. I know what. I know what I had begun to feel for him before he left, what I never stopped feeling, even after he was gone: no man has ever made me feel like that. Like he could turn me molten with just a look. Like I could drown in him, like I wanted to drown in him. Like I loved him so much that everything else faded away, like I could live on that feeling alone, burning bright and beautiful in the dark of my wounded heart.
I’ve thought about what it felt like to have Marcus Roma touch me so many times. What it was like to have him inside me. Even after he abandoned me without any explanation, even after he broke me, even after he did all that knowing exactly what it would do to me, he’s still the only man I’ve ever dreamed of. I’ve had other men since then, and every time I’ve been painfully aware of how much they were not Marcus.
Fuck him for that. Seriously.
I’m angry and overwhelmed and I’m feeling way too many things in a short period of time, like all the joy, rage, loss, grief, and lust of those years is condensed into this one moment on a public bus, speeding across the Williamsburg Bridge, and this is the one time I can’t shut down my brain. I can’t stop myself from asking what if? What if I don’t see him again? What if he just doesn’t care to try again? What if this is it?
What if this is the last time I see him, and I’ve run away?
Great. I get to add shame to the mix of emo crap I’ve got brewing inside me. I feel like I’m going to be sick. Apparently it’s noticeable, because a guy sitting up front actually gets up and offers me his seat. You have to be very pregnant or very old or, apparently, very much on the verge of totally losing your shit in public to get that offer.
I say thanks, but no thanks. I grip the handrail harder. I need to feel myself grounded to the physical earth, not resting on a seat, mind free to wander and think about all the what-ifs. About how, if I’m truly honest, for that one second when I locked eyes with him, I felt like I did back in the old days. Like I wasn’t alone in the world. Like I had a teammate. Just because he could see me and I could see him.
And if there’s one thing I still need, almost more than I need my next breath, it’s to feel like I’m not alone in the world.
Except that I am. And I have been, since Marcus left. Maybe when Dill is older I won’t feel like that. But right now I’m all Dill has, and I have to stay strong and sane. Which means no chasing after the man who made me this way, or letting him chase after me, or indulging in any of that hopeful bullshit that is sure to get my heart broken all over again.
So it’s done. He’s gone. Probably he won’t try to contact me or anything, since he hasn’t tried to already. It was just a chance encounter, and now it’s over. That is a very good thing.
So why am I hyperventilating? Why is my palm sliding down the handrail, slick with sweat?
Why do I feel nauseous when I think, it’s over.
It’s been over. Christ, Harlow, get a grip!
People are still looking at me. I’m soaking wet, my blonde hair plastered to my head, my leather jacket beaded with rain. I can feel that my lips are blue. The bus is slowing down, running into traffic on the other end of the bridge, and I think this is good. This will give me some time to get myself together, to get my head right before I have to go home and see Mr. Wolfe.
And then it hits me. Mr. Wolfe. Marcus.
Both back in town at the same time.
That can’t be a coincidence.
I think that, and relief blossoms in me. Because Marcus isn’t here for me. It’s not about me; it never was. He’s here because Mr. Wolfe is here. Marcus is still working for him. So even if I’d decided that getting some kind of closure, or an explanation, or whatever was a good idea, it’s not like I’d get it. Because Marcus isn’t here for me. I just dodged a major, major bullet.
This is what I tell myself while the bus lurches toward the other end of the bridge. This was a lucky escape; bullet dodged. I can’t ever be in a position where I want more from Marcus than he wants from me. I can’t let him back in my life.
And it’s not a problem, because he’s not here for me.
I tell myself this over and over and over again.
By the time the bus slows to a stop in Williamsburg, I’ve calmed down slightly. Figuring out that Marcus still doesn’t give a crap is somehow liberating, I guess because it’s a familiar kind of pain. Like, that I know how to deal with, if only because I’ve had a lot of practice. It was just the shock of seeing him that put me off balance. I’m over it now.
I’m totally over it.
I climb down the stairs, out of the bus, almost expecting to see, like, sunshine and bluebirds and whatever else—that’s how liberating that thought feels. Marcus is across the river, on a different island entirely, and out of my life, and if I can just avoid him from here on out, I will only have the real estate developers and Mr. Wolfe to deal with.
So, no worse than things were when I got up this morning.
I’m expecting the clouds to part and the sun to shine, but obviously it’s still raining. That’s ok, too. I let it wash over me, imagining the relief I’ve convinced myself I’m supposed to feel, trying to let it flow through me all over again before I walk home in the rain, umbrella-less.
I close my eyes, turn my face up to the sky.
When I open them again, I see Marcus.
Standing tall, breathing hard, his black hair wet with rain. Hat gone. Coat open, white dress shirt soaked through, his pecs and abs contracting with every strained breath. Pale gray green eyes on fire.
“Harlow,” he chokes out.
He’s still holding my umbrella.
He ran. He chased me across the bridge. He beat a bus, across the bridge.
To catch me.
He’s panting still, out of breath, and now it’s like he’s stolen mine, too. He takes another step toward me and this time I can’t look away. His eyes have me. It’s the same, the same as it always was, only different, now, too: more. There’s all those years, all those shared memories flying between us, swirling around in an invisible field that I know we both feel, all those things that we know about each other that no one else will ever really, truly know, no matter how much we might want to tell them, because they weren’t there. It was just us. Just Marcus and me.
And those eyes, seeing through me.
And now there’s what’s different about it, too. What’s changed. How I can’t ignore the man he’s become. Jesus God, no one could ignore that. Can he see through that, too? Can he see me watch his body move, watch how he brushes that black hair out of his eyes, how the rain is caught on those long eyelashes? How when he licks his lips, moving toward me, I’m transfixed?
The thing between us is alive, I swear to God. All that history, all those memories, and now this, this unique awareness of the physical man in front of me, and the way my traitorous body responds: it’s a living thing, whipping between us, drawing us closer, something blind and stupid, fierce and feral. It’s choking me, making it hard to see straight, to remember all the reasons I have to be afraid for my heart. All I can see is that strong jaw, those huge shoulders, that tie dancing in the wind, water dripping down his face while he looks at me with those beautiful, sad eyes…
No single human being has ever hurt me the way Marcus Roma has, and now he’s back. And I don’t want him to leave. And that will be my downfall.
If I let it.
“What are you doing?” I whisper. It’s all I can think to say. I don’t understand any of this. Why is here? What does he want from me?
“You ran,” he says. Like that’s an explanation.
“I can’t,” I say. I don’t know what to call what’s happening, or what might happen, but with every step he takes toward me, I know.
“I can’t,” I say again.
Marcus’s face screws up like he’s in actual pain. “Please, Harlow,” he says. “Just talk to me.”
He puts his hand out. Such a simple thing, and yet it means everything. I stare at it for I don’t know how long, not trusting myself to look him in the eyes again. The worst part of this is that I want to take it so badly. I want…whatever I can get.
And that is pathetic.
If it weren’t for Dill, I’d throw myself at his mercy all over again. My heart is pounding, my blood rushing in my ears, my body and soul screaming for some kind of release from the last five years of torture. From five years of not knowing why. From five years of thinking he just didn’t care enough, of thinking that I was just that easy to throw away.
And I’d do it all over again, if it weren’t for my responsibilities.
“I don’t talk to ghosts,” I say, and walk away.
I walk away, but I don’t escape. Not even a little bit. I feel his eyes on me the whole time. I feel him, with me. And all the way home, the only thing I can think is: What does Marcus Roma want from me?
After all this time, what does he want?
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