Exclusive Sneak Peek at Chapter One

The silence was interrupted viciously by a loud banging on the front door. Ailis jerked at the unexpected sound, her heart racing at the sudden noise. “Shit,” she muttered, placing her trembling hand on her chest.

“Open the fucking door, Paul! Come out here, you goddamn prick!”

Ailis leaned back against the couch with a long sigh. Her day sucked enough. Adding Hunter Maxwell to it was like tossing salt into a gaping wound.

She didn’t move to answer the door. Maybe he’d think no one was home and go away.

“You have five seconds to open this door before I kick the motherfucker in, you son of a bitch!”

Ailis groaned as she rose. She didn’t doubt for a second he’d do exactly as he threatened. Which meant she’d be trying to figure out how to repair a doorframe at—she glanced at the clock—nine o’clock at night.

She’d been on the couch for three hours.

She unlocked the door and opened it, only just managing to step out of the path of the raging bull who didn’t wait for an invitation to come in.

“He’s not here,” she said simply, hoping that would be enough to send Hunter packing.

Hunter stormed down the hallway, looking in every room, muttering every foul name in the book, and a few she’d never heard.

Finally, satisfied Paul wasn’t there, he returned to the living room and, for the first time, he looked at her.

“What the fuck?!” His tone was complete bewilderment, mingled with absolute fury.

She shrugged, uncertain how to reply. It occurred to her, Hunter was actually the only other person on the planet who understood exactly how she felt at the moment. Because he’d been blindsided and taken down too.

That struck her as slightly funny in its irony. Primarily because she and Hunter had absolutely nothing else in common.

He reached into his jacket pocket and held out an envelope. “I found this when I got home.”

Ailis recognized Rhonda’s handwriting. Hunter had gotten a letter too. Been dumped exactly the same way she had.

He opened the envelope and pulled out an engagement ring. The one he’d given Rhonda only a few weeks ago, over the holidays. The one Rhonda had accepted with an excited squeal at their Friendsgiving celebration, everyone present, everyone thrilled as they offered their congratulations.

At the time, Ailis had been jealous of Rhonda, silently hoping that Paul took a page from Hunter’s book, surprising her with a ring at Christmas.

He hadn’t. Instead, he’d given her a cashmere sweater and a first-edition book of poetry she mentioned liking. Oh, and a freaking Starbucks gift card. As though he were her uncle rather than her boyfriend.

Ailis gestured toward the coffee table. “I got a letter too.”

She hadn’t intended her words as an invitation, but Hunter took them as such. He walked over, grabbed her letter and sank down into a chair to read it.

Part of her wanted to snatch it from his hands. It was personal, her own private hell.

But she understood as he read the words, his hands fisting the paper so tightly she thought it would tear, it wasn’t just her pain.

She and Rhonda had been tight since college, but Paul and Hunter had been the best of friends since elementary school. They’d grown up as neighbors and they were closer than brothers. She’d always wondered how that friendship had stuck whenever she studied the two of them together. Hunter was faded jeans, hoodies and a scruffy beard, a hippie with shaggy auburn hair and pale blue eyes, while Paul was starched collars and clean-shaven, preppy, the classical tall, dark and handsome. Hunter was takeout and horror movies.  Paul was fancy restaurants and the theater. Yet somehow, for the past twenty-plus years, they’d found a common ground—their love of the same sports teams—that kept them connected. That and a shared history.

“What the fuck?” he muttered again as he put her letter back on the coffee table. He bent his head, his elbows resting on his knees.

Ailis walked over and resumed her spot on the couch. She wasn’t sure what to say. She and Hunter weren’t friends. It was closer to say they merely tolerated each other’s existence because they had to.

Hunter was the equivalent of a twenty-seven-year-old frat boy, despite the fact he’d never gone to college. He claimed high school had been more than enough for him. He partied too hard, laughed too loud, cussed like a sailor, and constantly teased her about being so quiet, calling her mouse, a nickname that annoyed her to no end. His idea of reading was flipping through magazines to look at the pictures. On more than one occasion, he’d seen her with a nose in a book and wondered aloud how she could waste so much time on something so boring. In his estimation, if a book was any good at all, they’d make it into a movie and he’d just watch that instead.

They had nothing in common except Paul and Rhonda.

And now, their broken hearts.

“You didn’t see it coming?” she asked, probably because that was what was bugging her the most. She considered herself astute. The idea that Paul had hidden his true feelings for Rhonda from her so well was driving her insane.

He shook his head. “No. I thought she was happy.” He looked up, his eyes dark with rage. “I’m going to fucking kill him.”

While she was stuck in this weird state of numb devastation, Hunter’s reaction was completely different, of course. He was in a murderous rage, and for the first time since reading Paul’s letter, she was glad to know her former boyfriend was out of the state at the moment. It was probably the only thing saving his life.

Not that she took any pleasure in knowing he and Rhonda had gone full-on cliché and run away to Vegas together.

She’d been annoyed when Rhonda had called in sick today, knowing they were expected to give a very important presentation to potential clients at ten. Ailis had been stuck doing the whole thing on her own, which was nerve-racking as hell. Typically, Rhonda did the talking. Somehow she’d managed to get through it and they won the account.

They.

Fuck.

There was no way she could continue working with Rhonda. Some of Hunter’s anger started to awaken in her.

“Fine. Kill him. I’m going to take care of the faithless, lying, bleach blonde bitch.” The viciousness of her words, the heat behind them, sounded completely foreign even to her.

And apparently to Hunter too. She didn’t lose her temper very often. His eyes widened, then approval set in. “I’ll be your alibi if you’ll be mine.”

She grinned. “Deal.”

For a second, they were able to smile, but the reprieve was brief when Hunter’s eyes returned to her letter. It had been Paul’s idea to set Rhonda and Hunter up on a blind date three years earlier. Ailis had predicted it would be a mistake, thinking them too much alike to get along. She’d been proven wrong.

Until now.

“I don’t get it. She said yes. She was excited about the engagement. Why? Why would they do this?”

Ailis shrugged. Paul had never proposed to her, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t discussed the future. They’d made plans, dreamed of a big wedding and buying a house, having kids, saving for retirement. She hadn’t built up those expectations out of thin air. They’d been real…at least to her.

“I don’t know why.” She didn’t. She’d been sitting here for three hours, trying to wade through it all, searching for something that made sense. Nothing did.

“What am I supposed to do now?” His voice was laced with the pain she was searching for, trying to feel. Now that she thought about it, maybe she was in shock.

He slouched back in the chair and sighed heavily. “What now?” he repeated, more to himself than her.

It was a fair question. One she was sorry he didn’t have an answer for. That meant she couldn’t follow his lead. “I guess we…just…move on.”

He looked at her as if she’d sprouted a second head. “Just like that? You’re not going to fight for him?”

Fighting for him had never occurred to her. Not once. “No.”

“So you’re giving up?” He rolled his eyes and the same mockery he usually reserved for her returned. “Typical mouse move. Not sure why I’m surprised.”

She narrowed her eyes, her anger finally blooming full force, finding a much more convenient recipient. “I’m not giving up. I’m just not settling.”

“Settling?”

“Why would I beg someone to come back who doesn’t want me? Why would I want someone so cruel, so cowardly, that he had to break up with me in a letter? He’s an immature child, a selfish asshole, somebody who doesn’t deem me worthy of any respect, any kindness or compassion. He couldn’t stick around and face me. After six years, Hunter, I think I deserved a lot better than this.”

Hunter stared at her, speechless for several moments. She was fairly certain that was the most she’d ever said to him, and it was obvious he hadn’t realized she had a voice. Then he sat up in the chair. His posture didn’t look nearly as defeated as it had a few minutes earlier.

“You’re right. Fuck ’em.”

That wasn’t what she’d said. Exactly. Though it did sum it up pretty nicely.

“I’m not a mouse, Hunter. I’m just…” Her words faded. She didn’t have a clue what she was anymore. For so many years, she’d been defined by her relationship with Paul. Paul’s study partner, his girlfriend, his better half. His silent fucking rock.

Hunter was still studying her, and it felt as if it was the first time he’d ever really seen her. They’d been in each other’s lives for years and their first impressions had stuck. She had put him in the man-child box. He’d put her in the mouse box. Neither of them had ever bothered to look beyond that.

“You’re not crying,” he said at last. “Most chicks would be bawling their eyes out right now. Instead, you’re sitting here being all logical and shit.”

While he didn’t say it, she went ahead and finished his opinion in her head. The part about her not being normal. Ailis was used to feeling like the odd guy out. She definitely lacked the passion, the stubbornness, the heart-on-her-sleeve emotions that ran through the rest of her family so strongly. Hunter would have made a better Collins, now that she considered it.

She had always attributed her calm, quiet nature to the fact she hadn’t grown up around her rambunctious cousins, or aunts and uncles, or Pop Pop. Her time with them as a child had been limited to occasional visits. And even though she’d moved back to Baltimore after college, she still didn’t see them as much as she could have. She’d remained apart, always too busy with work or Paul.

She’d never felt that distance until now.

Now, she missed them, wanted to be surrounded by their craziness, their loud voices all talking at once and their unconditional love.

She wanted to be a part of that…to go home. Home to a place she’d never lived.

“I’m moving out of this apartment.”

Hunter frowned, confused by her random pronouncement. “Okay. Where are you going to go?”

She smiled and used the phrase coined by her aunt Riley. “The Collins Dorm.”

“I have no idea what that is.”

“The apartment over my family’s Irish pub. A lot of my cousins live there now.”

“Cool. I’m keeping my place. Rhonda obviously isn’t planning to come back. She packed up all her shit.”

“Sounds good.”

“What about your job? You and Rhonda work together.”

She’d avoided thinking about that, but there was no denying she couldn’t return to the marketing firm. In truth, the job had never felt like the right fit for her anyway. Just another place where she was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. “I’m going to quit.”

“Damn. That’s pretty rash, don’t you think?”

She shook her head. “No. I can’t work in the same building as…her.”

“I get that.”

“I’m pretty sure I can get a job waiting tables at the pub until I find something else.”

“I guess I’m lucky. There’s no danger of me running into either of them at the hotel.” Hunter helped run a local inn with his aunt and uncle. His parents had died in a car crash when he was a teenager, and his great-aunt and uncle, older and childless, had taken him in, loved him as their own.

“Baltimore is a big enough city that we can probably avoid them forever.” She knew that was a pipe dream, but right now, the idea of seeing Paul and Rhonda together was too painful to think about.

“I might start my band back up. Rhonda made me drop it. Said she hated how much it took me away from her. I was stupid to give up on it. I really miss playing my guitar in front of a crowd.”

“I forgot about your band.” Paul had dragged Ailis to more than a handful of Hunter’s performances when they’d first started dating. He wasn’t bad. Actually, he was very good. The rest of the musicians performing with him, however, had been mediocre at best.

He gave her a sad grin. “Yeah. Sounds stupid, but I always used to dream I’d make it big in music. Write some Grammy-winning song and travel the world performing.” He winked as he added, “Sleep with a different groupie every night.”

“I lived that life. It’s not as awesome as it sounds.”

“Really? Never pegged you as the groupie type.”

She rolled her eyes, hung up on the idea that Hunter actually wrote music. That tidbit surprised her. “I grew up on the road. You know, it’s not all glitz and glamour.”

“Some of it must be cool.”

She nodded, recalling that there was actually a lot about it that was terrific. She’d pushed memories of those parts away, mainly because of Paul’s disdain for the musician’s lifestyle. He’d turned his nose up the few times they’d been on her parents’ bus, claiming he’d go mad in such a small space. For some stupid reason, she would back up his assertions rather than fight them.

“Yeah,” she admitted. “Some of it is really fun.”

“Sometimes I forget who your parents are. You never talk about them much.”

Ailis didn’t bother to point out that this was, hands down, the longest conversation she’d ever had with Hunter. But he was right. She didn’t discuss her famous parents very often. Not because she wasn’t incredibly proud of them. Truth was she adored her mom and dad, and there were very few days that went by where she didn’t see or speak to one of them on the phone.

However, she had learned at a very young age that some of the friendships she thought she’d made weren’t built on anything more than kids wanting to get close to her so they’d have access to rock stars. Her silence in regards to her parents was based on self-preservation. It allowed her to not have to wonder if people liked her for her, and not Sky Mitchell and Teagan Collins. She had been friends with Paul nearly a year before he figured out who her folks were. It helped that her folks had elected to give her and her sister, Fiona, her dad’s real last name, instead of Mitchell.

“Yeah,” Hunter said, more to himself than her. “I’m going back to music.”

It was a weird conversation, but for some strange reason, Ailis felt almost comforted by it. She’d come up with a plan and she’d talked it out with someone. Why that suddenly made everything seem more bearable was a mystery. But it did.

“We’re going to be okay.”

Hunter looked at her as if he wanted to believe her, but couldn’t quite grasp it yet. “I guess we’re not the first people on the planet to get the shit kicked out of us. And we won’t be the last.”

“No. We’re not. What are you going to do tonight?”

He shrugged. “Go home, fall into a bottle of bourbon, feel sorry for myself, probably send Rhonda a hundred texts I’ll regret in the morning.”

Ailis giggled. God, she really must be teetering on the edge of insanity if anything coming out of Hunter’s mouth amused her. “Give me your phone.”

Hunter handed his cell over without question or complaint. Ailis put her number in under Rhonda’s name as he watched, his grin growing.

“Drink enough bourbon and you’ll forget about that switch. This way, the texts will come to me and you won’t have to regret anything tomorrow. I’ll delete them without reading them. Promise.”

“I’d appreciate that. What about you? You want my number in Paul’s place?”

She shook her head. “No. That’s not going to be a problem. You know me. I’m going the silent-treatment route.”

“I think you should text him. Tell him off. Not good to keep all that bottled up.”

“Maybe I will,” she lied, knowing she’d never do it. She avoided confrontation like the plague.

“You going to be alright?”

She nodded slowly. “Yeah. I’m going to crawl into bed and have a good long cry. Then tomorrow, I’ll pack up my stuff, move home and cry on my cousins’ shoulders. And at some point, I’ll stop crying.”

“Very logical of you.” Hunter stood up and she followed suit, walking behind him as he headed toward the door. He opened it, and then turned to face her. “Thanks, Ailis.”

It was the first time he’d ever called her by her real name instead of mouse. And she didn’t care for the formality of it. Too much had already changed tonight. She wanted to hold on to just one thing. Even if it was something stupid and annoying.

“Mouse,” she corrected.

He chuckled. “You’re the fiercest mouse I’ve ever met. And I think you might have saved me tonight.”

She sniffled as the first of the tears decided to make their appearance, his kindness doing her in. “No problem,” she said, hating the thickness of her voice. He’d helped her too. More than he’d ever know.

“Take care of yourself, mouse.”

“You too,” she whispered, even though he’d already left. She closed the door, locked it and gave up the fight, letting the tears fall.

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Forget May – It’s time for February!

Today marks the release of February Stars, the second book in Mari Carr’s Wilder Irish series. Come back to Baltimore! Back to Pat’s Pub and meet sexy singer Hunter Maxwell! When his eyes land on shy Ailis Adams, he’s determined to win her over–body and soul!

“No show, no contest, nothing. Nothing is more important to me than you.”

Ailis Adams couldn’t be more dissimilar from Hunter Maxwell. Quiet to his loud, calm to his frantic, bookish to his street smart…they have no common ground. Except for the fact that Ailis’s boyfriend just ran away with Hunter’s fiancée. So no one is more surprised than Ailis when a friendship flourishes. Pat’s Pub’s resident wallflower discovers she actually enjoys spending time with the bar’s gregarious, attention-seeking musician.

When Hunter lands a spot in February Stars, his big shot at breaking into the music scene, who better to guide him than his new bestie? She’s a sharp businesswoman who grew up on her famous parents’ tour bus. Ailis isn’t keen to leave her quiet life in Baltimore, but she knows the ins and outs of the biz, and even she grudgingly admits no one will have Hunter’s back better than a friend.

However, with one impulsive kiss, everything changes. Ailis’s friendly feelings toward Hunter turn to serious lust…and more. But falling for a musician isn’t a good idea. Fame comes with a price, one Ailis isn’t sure she’s willing to pay. She’s already left behind a life on the road once before, in favor of planting roots close to her family and their beloved pub. Though, her family will always be there…and four walls can’t love her back…

So is home really a place? Or is it where her heart resides…with her gorgeous bad boy rock star?

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Enjoy this excerpt from February Stars:

“I think Baltimore is getting smaller,” she said after a quick survey of the bar.

“What do you mean?”

“I used to be able to go out and not know anyone. I swear to God nowadays it’s the same people every weekend.”

Hunter leaned closer. “I think they all just look the same.”

“No.” She shook her head. “I’m telling you. We’re trapped in a single-person’s vortex. This is seventh-level-of-hell kind of stuff.”

“It was one bad date, Ailis.”

“I wish it had been. But the truth is it’s been four bad dates in six months.”

Hunter grinned. “You counted?”

“Of course I did. Besides, it’s not like four is that high a number.”

“I didn’t count.”

She rolled her eyes. “Probably because you can’t count that high.”

“Smart-ass.” Hunter ruffled her hair as she tried to beat his hand away with a giggle.

“I thought that was you two,” a male voice said.

Ailis and Hunter looked up at the same time and found themselves face-to-face with the exes.

They’d managed to avoid this for almost an entire year. Somehow, Ailis had let that fact lure her into a false sense of security. While it wasn’t unusual to hear news about Paul or Rhonda on occasion from shared acquaintances, she hadn’t had to face her foes until now.

Paul had texted her a few times after he’d first returned from Vegas with his new wife in tow, claiming he wanted the chance to explain his actions in person. She’d ignored every single one of them and eventually blocked his number. She told herself it was because she didn’t feel generous enough to listen to his apology, to give him the opportunity to try to make amends. After all, the time for chatting was before he’d left town. Not after.

Rhonda, however, had remained a coward, never once contacting her…or Hunter. No matter how many times he got wasted and texted her. And by “her,” Ailis meant herself.

So, in all fairness, Rhonda didn’t know how desperately Hunter had wanted to see her, talk to her. But Ailis did, and her disdain for her former best friend grew with every brokenhearted text until she couldn’t look at the woman as anything less than a complete fucking bitch.

“Paul,” Ailis said in surprise. “Rhonda.” She and Hunter had gone clubbing countless times and they’d never once run into Paul and Rhonda. She’d suspected that was why they kept doing it. Clubs were their safe zone.

“What are you guys doing here?” Hunter’s tone was too chilly to be mistaken for anything other than anger. Time hadn’t healed Hunter’s wounds. The man could hold a grudge like nobody. Not that she was faring much better.

Of course, Paul had never proposed to Ailis, claiming he needed to get his medical career sorted before he considered making that leap.

Hunter had proposed. And Rhonda had said yes. Then she’d left the ring he’d given her and a note on the coffee table and run off to say “I do” to someone else. Well, not just anybody else. Hunter’s best friend. So yeah, his anger was completely justified.

Rhonda stumbled a bit in the face of Hunter’s hostility, and Ailis tried to recall what it was that had made the woman someone she’d considered such a great friend. She was always just a bit too much, when Ailis thought about it. Always trying too hard to be the center of attention, talking too loud, wearing clothes that were super sexy, makeup that was too heavy and flipping her long blonde hair in a flirty way meant to attract men. And on top of that, she sure as hell wasn’t loyal or trustworthy. So why had Ailis hung out with her for so long? She could only assume it was the work thing and the similar circle of friends’ thing.

Rhonda glanced at Paul uncomfortably. “Um. We haven’t been out in ages. We’ve both been so busy with work. Everyone really misses you there, Ailis.”

Ailis didn’t reply. She merely nodded.

“We thought we’d take this last chance to get out and dance before…” Paul said.

“Before?” Ailis said, immediately kicking herself for taking his bait so easily.

“Rhonda is pregnant. Due in May. Probably the last time we’re going to get to go out for a while.”

Hunter remained stone-faced, silent, which was typically Ailis’s job. She didn’t have a clue how to respond to the bomb just dropped at their table, so she dug deep and threw out her biggest lie of the night. One word laced with so much insincerity it could sink a boat.

“Congratulations.”

Paul didn’t acknowledge her statement. He was looking too closely at her sitting next to Hunter. “I didn’t realize the two of you were friends.”

Ailis resisted the urge to finger comb the hair Hunter had just messed up. She tried to tell herself she didn’t care what he thought, but she wasn’t there yet. Especially not when Rhonda was standing there looking like a fashion model even though she was three months pregnant.

There was something about the way Paul looked at her, almost as if he pitied her, that hurt.

Then it pissed her off. After all, he was the bastard who’d stolen six years of her life then left her here—twenty-eight years old and club hopping, hoping to meet the real Mr. Right, since he’d turned out to be Mr. Wrong.

“Yeah, we’re friends. We hang out,” Ailis said, not sure how else to reply.

“But you two don’t have anything in common. You don’t even like each other,” Paul said, still speaking to Ailis as if she were a child he needed to protect from her own inexperience and naivety.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Hunter answered, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her close.

Ailis was stunned when he followed that unexpected movement up with a kiss to her forehead that was definitely more than friendly.

“Are you two going out?” Rhonda asked, obviously as shocked as Ailis was at the moment.

Hunter was wasting himself with music. His true talents clearly lie in acting. He never bothered to look at Rhonda. Instead, he stared at Ailis as if she hung the moon. “Oh yeah. Finally opened my eyes and realized that this angel had been standing right in front of me all along.”

She wanted to blame Hunter’s sudden insanity on alcohol, but they hadn’t gotten their drinks yet.

Then he went completely around the bend, leaning closer and kissing her. On the lips. It wasn’t a brushing glance, either. It was a legit kiss, full of heat and—whoa—a whole bunch of other things she couldn’t even begin to describe.

If Hunter was doing this as some sort of joke, he was falling way short.

Because the kiss didn’t make her want to laugh. It made her want to take all her clothes off. Here. Now.

Hunter’s tongue darted out to stroke her lower lip a split second before he pulled away. He cupped her cheek with one hand, the touch full of affection and fondness. It was melting her insides.

Hunter’s eyes remained locked on hers even as he spoke to the other couple. “Sorry. I have a hard time resisting her.”

“I…see,” Paul said, his tone wooden, unreadable. Ailis couldn’t tell if her ex was angry or skeptical or annoyed or just bored. “Well, I guess we should leave you two to your…date.”

Mercifully, the waitress returned with their shots and beers—impeccable timing, since things had just gotten mega-awkward—and Paul took Rhonda’s hand.

“Enjoy your drinks,” Paul said coldly, the venom in his tone taking Ailis aback. What the hell did he have to be pissed about?

“It was, um, great to see you both again,” Rhonda said, though it was obvious she didn’t really think so.

Ailis forced a smile and a quick nod. Hunter merely shot daggers at the other couple with his eyes until they beat a hasty retreat.

“Sooooo,” Ailis dragged out. “What the hell, man?”

Hunter pretended not to understand her question. “What?”

“Why would you tell them we’re dating? We’re not. And even if we don’t see them anymore, we do still have friends in common. They’re going to find out that was a lie.”

Hunter was quiet for three heartbeats, his expression still dark. “I don’t care. I didn’t like the way that son of a bitch was looking at you.”

So she hadn’t imagined it. The pity in Paul’s eyes, as if she was destined to live life as a spinster.

“You did that for me?”

“He’s a fucking prick. Walking around with his Dr. God complex. Thinking he’s the best thing that ever happened to you, convinced you can’t find better. He’s lucky I kissed you. My other option was punching his fucking lights out for being such an arrogant asshole.”

Ailis was more touched than she’d ever been in her life. Unfortunately, that feeling was fleeting, replaced by a much more familiar one. The one she hadn’t managed to kick since Paul had told her they weren’t a “good fit” in his letter, as if she were a shoe that pinched. As always, that small part of her that she hated reared its head, making her doubt her worth. “You don’t think he’s—”

Hunter rolled his eyes. “I swear to God, if you ask if he’s right, if you are seriously sitting here thinking that you’re never going to find anyone else, I’m gonna have to kiss you again.”

Typically, confidence wasn’t an issue for her, but it had been a long, lonely not-quite year filled with really bad dates. While she tried to be optimistic about her chances for love, that hope was stretched paper thin.

Or it had been…until that kiss.

Then she considered pushing the point, not because she believed she was unlovable—but because she liked the idea of Hunter kissing her again. However, her voice was too flirty to pull it off. “I’m just saying I think maybe if you wanted to try—”

“Stop looking at me like that,” he said, interrupting her mid-coy, which was good because she really sucked at flirting.

“Like what?”

“You know what I’m talking about, mouse. We can’t kiss again.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to ask why not, but she was afraid he’d have a really good reason, one that might convince her not to go for a few more of those bone-rattling, shake-her-to-the-core kisses.

Her expression must not have changed, because Hunter groaned and picked up a shot glass to hand to her. “Jesus. Here. Mother’s milk. To cure all awkward situations.”

She and Hunter tapped shot glasses and downed the tequila. “Or to make them more awkward,” she joked, struggling hard to get them back on familiar ground.

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Dare You…to buy this book!

Not only is today Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with You), it also makes the re-release of Dare You!

Dare You

Just how far will they go?

Second Chances, book 2

In the two years since her divorce was finalized, Josie’s life has become one long, boring routine. Work, home, repeat. She has her hands full as a single parent, and while she’s not looking for a serious relationship, she sure wouldn’t mind getting laid.

When her friend, Zoey, challenges her to make a New Year’s resolution for a second chance at happiness, Josie goes one better and creates the “Howl List”. Every full moon, she will indulge in a different sexual fantasy. Right at the top? Sex without strings.

Fate leads her to the Blue Moon bar. After all, what better place to howl? And when she meets Jake, the sexy bartender, and engages in some red-hot sex with a stranger, her resolution seems to be off to a great start.

At least, until Jake dares her to give him all her full moons…

Previously published as Full Moon.

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~ ~ ~

Enjoy this excerpt from Dare You.

“Tonight’s full moon is sex in public.”

Jake choked on the drink and put the glass back down. “In public?”

She nodded.

“What the hell do you mean by full moon?”

Josie considered avoiding the question, but there was no harm in telling him the truth. She explained about her list and her desire to fulfill the fantasies.

“So what’s on the list? Besides the stranger danger and PDA ones.” Jake was exactly as she’d remembered him. Unflappable, fun, funny.

She shook her head. “I’m afraid the contents of the list are privileged information. If I told you, I’d have to fuck you.”

Jake grasped her shoulder, pulling her closer. “I’d have no problem with—”

“Jake?” A waitress stood by their table. She pointed to a couple of loud drunks by the door. “I think we might have trouble. You wanna take care of it?”

Jake sighed. “Yeah, sure. I’ll be right over.”

The waitress went back to work.

Jake leaned closer, whispering in her ear. “If you don’t have any luck with number two on the list within the next hour, come find me.”

Josie didn’t have a chance to respond before Jake rose and went to address the problem by the entrance. She took a sip of her drink, hoping it would calm her down. It was suddenly quite warm in the bar.

Josie watched Shelly and Lance dance, then gazed around the room. The place was crowded and there certainly wasn’t a shortage of men hanging around, either drinking alone or standing in large groups.

She spotted one large table across the room. It appeared the men were all out for a bachelor party. She found the groom-to-be instantly. The party must have been going for a while because the man had at least a dozen empty shot glasses in front of him. His friends were sending him out of bachelorhood in style. She slowly studied each of the men at the table, silently trying to decide which were married, which were mama’s boys, which were playboys.

Josie had never paid much attention to the opposite sex. Tony had been her first boyfriend. She’d fallen fast and hard for him toward the end of their junior year in high school and she’d convinced herself she was lucky. She’d honestly believed she’d found her soul mate at sixteen.

She closed her eyes wearily. The silly romantic girl she had been was long gone, leaving Josie struggling to figure out what her beliefs regarding love were now. Since the divorce, Josie had concentrated on setting up a new home for her and her son, working long hours to pay the bills, and avoiding the dating scene as much as possible because she refused to open up a revolving door of men in Tommy’s life.

She remembered too well how painful it was when her mother would bring home a new boyfriend, include him in every aspect of their lives, then yank him out again after the break-up.

Josie wouldn’t—couldn’t—do that to Tommy. The full-moon list had been created to protect him. And her.

So while she was tempted by Jake’s offer, she wasn’t sure she should accept it. She’d thought about the handsome bartender too many times the past few weeks. If she had sex with him again, wasn’t she sort of tempting fate and running the risk of developing feelings for him?

As tough as she tried to pretend she was, Josie knew when it came to matters of the heart, she was way too soft.

A man lingered at the edge of the dance floor by her table and gave her a friendly smile. It wouldn’t take much effort on her part to show interest, to invite him over.

Josie glanced over her shoulder and watched Jake deal with the two drunks by the door. Apparently a fight had been brewing between them, but somehow Jake had calmed the waters. They were laughing at something Jake had said. She smiled. Then she ignored the stranger and stood up, approaching Jake just as the two men shook his hand and said goodbye.

“Hey, gorgeous.” Jake glanced at his watch. “It’s only been fifteen minutes. Are you coming to give me the brush-off?”

She shook her head. “No. I don’t want to wait an hour.”

Jake’s eyes darkened with lust and her body responded instantly. “Come with me.”

 

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First in series FREE!

 

From now until May 8, Kiss Me Kate is a FREE read. If you missed this story when it first released, now is a great time to pick it up. And while you’re at it, grab the sequel, Three Reasons Why, as well. It’s on sale for just $1.99. But remember…this is a very limited time offer.

Kiss Me Kate

Kate always believed when life handed you lemons. . .you made lemonade. But what happens when the lemons keep getting bigger and bigger? For Kate, it means it’s time for a new plan. A new location. And, a new life. . .on her own terms!

Kiss Me Kate by New York Times and USA Today bestselling erotic romance author Mari Carr,book 1 in her Madison Girls series will have you reaching for the ice.

Blindsided when her husband skips town with another woman, Kate is forced to move in with her sister. Desperate to get out of Jill’s apartment, Kate jumps at the chance to help Rick and Wes, DEA agents whose latest case finds them in urgent need of a house-sitter while they’re off on assignment.

As the months pass, a stronger Kate emerges. She develops an email friendship with Rick, and it isn’t long before they secretly begin starring in each other’s lust-filled fantasies. Problem is, after her failed marriage, Kate only wants a physical relationship. She’s terrified of losing her heart–which is exactly what Rick intends to capture upon his return.

They reach a compromise. One that involves explosive, no-strings sex–for now. Rick patiently deflects her fears and slakes her passion while keeping his darker, dominant needs in check, afraid of scaring his innocent lover. But unbeknownst to Rick, Kate has a few untapped fantasies of her own.

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~ ~ ~

Three Reasons Why – ONLY $1.99!

Let the games begin!

Sparks fly when Jill hires handyman, Wes to renovate her business. Wes is determined to overcome Jill’s three reasons why their relationship is never going to be more than business. Little does she know her reasons are about to down in flames of passion.

Three Reasons Why by New York Times and USA Today bestselling erotic romance author Mari Carr, book 2 in her Madison Girls series will have you laughing out loud as Wes sets out to renovate more than Jill’s diner.

Wes wants Jill in every possible way a man can want a woman. But she’s resisting. Hard. When he learns she needs a handyman for her diner, he decides fate is smiling upon him—until Jill offers three reasons why they can’t be together. Always up for a challenge, Wes decides to prove her ridiculous reasons unsound, one by one.

Jill knows her reasons are total bull, but she’s sticking by them, come hell or high water.Unfortunately, Wes is extremely persuasive. Especially in bed. If the sex gets any hotter they’ll likely burn down the town. Before long, Jill’s reasons begin falling away as fast as her clothing whenever Wes is around.

But Jill knows exactly what Wes wants for his future, and she’s just prolonging the inevitable heartbreak. The real reason she can’t give herself to Wes, can’t allow herself to love him, can only lead to pain—the kind from which neither may ever recover.

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Quote of the Day

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” – William James

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Fix You

This week marks the re-release of the Second Chances series with this reissue of Fix You. This book and series is hands-down the series I’m most proud of. Every single one of these books is special because, to me, they represent real people. You see…in the Second Chances stories, I attempted to write happy endings for some of my dearest girlfriends.

Fix You features a woman who, at only 35, is diagnosed with breast cancer. I had the time I had a friend as well as a cousin both battling the disease. So many parts of this book were based on their own experiences. I’m happy to say both of them beat the beast and are healthy! Chalk up one for a VERY happy ending indeed!

What if love can’t heal all wounds?
Second Chances, book 1
After too many years of secretly loving her best friend, Zoey realizes she’s been shortchanging herself. It’s time to take action. This New Year’s Eve heralds the year she’s going to tell Rob the truth. Even if he is on the road, reaching for musical stardom with his band.
Her plan is derailed when she discovers a lump in her breast—and it’s not “nothing to worry about”. How can she ask Rob to take a chance on love when her future is so uncertain?
Rob has spent his entire life chasing his dream, but the moment he hears Zoey’s voice on the phone, he realizes he’s been running the wrong race. Without a second thought, he books a flight for home, determined to give her everything she needs. A shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold…and nights of intensely emotional, passionate sex.
His biggest challenge, though, is convincing his best friend that he’s in it for the long haul. Because he finally knows what he wants, and it’s not fame and fortune. It’s her—and her love.

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How about sneak peek of the first chapter of Fix You?

“Who has the baseball?”

When Zoey heard the voices of boys heading her way, she stepped off the front porch of her family’s new house and drifted toward the sidewalk. Her parents had thought they were doing her a favor, postponing their move to Harrisburg until after school was over. They didn’t want her to have to change schools in the middle of her fourth grade year. At the time, she’d been happy not to have to leave her best friend, Crystal.

Now she realized her parents had made a big mistake. It was the beginning of summer and she was in a strange place with no friends to help her pass the long, boring days until school started again in September.

To add insult to injury, it looked like her mom and dad had managed to buy a house in a neighborhood filled with nothing but boys. After a week of roaming around by herself, Zoey had only spotted one other girl on the street—a four-year-old whiner who was constantly crying for her mother. She hated it here. She was bored. And lonely.

The gang of boys slowed down when they spotted her on the sidewalk. After five days of watching them traipse by her house to the park, she’d decided she wasn’t going to spend today alone.

“Hey,” she said as they drew nearer. There were five of them and they all seemed to be around her age. They had baseball mitts dangling from their hands and one boy was dragging a bat behind him.

“Hey,” the tallest boy in the group said.

“Going to play baseball?”

They nodded.

“Can I come?”

A couple of the boys looked like they wanted to invite her, but once again, it was the tall boy who answered. “No girls allowed.”

“I’m a good pitcher,” she lied. Truth was she hated baseball, but anything was better than the solitude that had plagued her for days.

Apparently she’d chosen the wrong position. “I’m the pitcher,” the tall boy said angrily. “And I told you. No girls. Come on, guys.”

They continued walking toward the park as Zoey’s eyes filled with tears. She batted them away quickly. Boys were jerks.

She walked back toward her front porch, disheartened. She’d exhausted her mother’s list of so-called fun summer activities. She was tired of coloring, watching movies and reading. While her room was unpacked and completely decorated, her parents were still busy painting and fixing up the rest of the house. She’d offered to help several times, but they told her she’d just be in the way and instructed her to go out and make some new friends, play.

Zoey sank onto the top step of the porch and sighed. She hated this stupid town, this stupid house and those stupid boys.

Another boy came running down the street in the direction of the park. Clearly he was late and trying to catch up with the others. Zoey didn’t stir, didn’t bother to wave. What was the point? No girls allowed. The brown-haired boy had almost passed her house when he noticed her and slowed down.

When he turned to look at her, she felt a stirring of hope. Maybe this boy would be nicer than the others. She lifted her hand and waved.

He stopped and approached her house. “Hi,” he said.

His face was friendly, open, and Zoey liked him instantly. She grinned. “Hi.”

“You’re new here, aren’t you?”

She nodded. “We just moved in last week. I’m Zoey.”

The boy’s smile widened. “I’m Robbie Granger. I live across the street, three houses down that way.” He pointed to a home with deep blue shutters and a wide front porch that resembled the one she was sitting on.

She gestured to the glove in his hand. “You going to play baseball with those other boys?”

He nodded. “Yeah. You wanna come?”

“They told me no girls were allowed.”

Robbie frowned. “Since when?”

Zoey shrugged. “I don’t know. The tall boy just said I couldn’t play.”

“That would be Jeff. He’s a jerk.” Robbie glanced toward the basketball net hanging above her garage. “My best friend, Johnny, used to live here,” he said. “We spent all last summer playing basketball. You shoot hoops?”

Zoey didn’t, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t learn. “A little. There’s a ball in the garage. Johnny’s family must’ve left it behind. You want to play?” she asked hopefully, spying an end to at least one boring day.

Robbie tossed his baseball mitt to the ground. “Sure. I hate baseball.”

She hopped up quickly, dashing into the garage to grab the basketball at the speed of light. She was afraid Robbie would leave if she left him alone for too long.

For a few minutes, she watched him shoot, then she took a couple turns. When it became obvious she’d never played the game in her life, Robbie taught her how to shoot, then they spent the rest of the afternoon playing Horse.

By the time the other boys returned from the park, she and Robbie had formed their own little club of two—boys and girls allowed. Jeff teased Robbie about playing with a girl, but Robbie shrugged off the taunts, not rising to the bait. Zoey knew then and there he was the coolest person she’d ever met.

When the other guys drifted back to their houses, she and Robbie walked to the middle of her front yard and dropped down to sit on the cool green grass. Robbie lay on his back looking at the sky, so Zoey followed suit. He pointed to a cloud that looked like a grizzly bear and she spotted one that looked like a teacup.

“Thanks for teaching me how to play basketball,” she said after several moments of silence.

“Sure.”

Zoey knew time was running out on her day with Robbie. The smell of fried chicken wafted from the kitchen and she suspected her mother would call her in soon for dinner. She forced herself to ask her question, the one that had plagued her all day. Part of her was afraid today had been a fluke, or that Robbie was just being nice and his goodwill toward the new girl would evaporate overnight. “You want to do something tomorrow? We could play basketball again.”

“Okay,” he said easily.

Zoey released a relieved breath. “Robbie. Will you promise me something?”

He looked over at her. “Promise you what?”

“Will you promise to be my friend when school starts? You’re the only person I know here in my grade.”

He grinned. “I’m already your friend, silly.”

Zoey’s whole body filled with joy. His words came easily and she didn’t doubt they were true. Still, the memory of feeling so lonely this morning still lingered. She didn’t want to go back there. “Promise me anyway.”

Robbie sat up and crossed his heart. “I promise.”

The rest of the summer passed quickly as she and Robbie filled the hours of each day shooting hoops or acting out scenes from scary movies or swimming at the local pool.

Robbie didn’t break his promise. When school started, they walked there together. He showed her around, escorted her to all their classrooms, introduced her to the other kids, and sat with her at lunch.

* * *

His promise to be her friend had never wavered and Zoey hadn’t felt lonely since that day in her family’s front yard. She opened her eyes, her gaze zeroing in on a previously unnoticed smudge on the ceiling of the apartment she and Robbie had shared for years.

She sighed. She hadn’t thought about her first summer in Harrisburg for years. The reappearance of the memory surprised her, though she supposed it shouldn’t. Her first week in town had introduced her to the concept of being alone.

However, that emotion was nothing to the bone-wracking, terrifying loneliness that consumed her tonight. Robbie had saved her from an eternal summer when she was ten, but she wasn’t sure he could help her this time.

It didn’t matter if he could or not. She needed him. Wanted him here. Desperately.

She remembered her determination for a second chance on New Year’s Eve. She’d silently vowed this would be the year she told Robbie how she truly felt for him. So much for that. There was no way she could come clean now. No way she could heap her disaster on him. Not now when he was finally on the path to finding true happiness. How could she drag him away from that? Thrust him into what was certain to be months of pain and misery.

She couldn’t.

The answer choked her. Jesus. She couldn’t, but how could she do this alone? She wasn’t strong enough. Her stomach clenched and the lonesomeness wafted over her again, the pain so overwhelming she felt lightheaded.

His voice. I just need to hear his voice.

Before she could think about her actions, she picked up her cell phone from the coffee table. When it began to ring, she considered disconnecting the call, but fear kept her hanging on.

“Hello?”

“Robbie?”

“Zoey? What’s up?”

She regretted dialing the number the moment she heard Robbie’s voice. “Not much,” she lied. “Just, um, wondering how things are going.”

Robbie was silent for a moment. She didn’t call him to chitchat thirty minutes before a show unless it was an emergency. And in twenty-five years of friendship, she’d never had that kind of an emergency.

“Everything is fine, Zoey. How are things there?”

Things were completely and utterly horrible. Instead, she said, “Fine.”

“Are you sure?”

Tears clouded her vision. Shit. She’d been okay all damn day. Hadn’t cried a single tear. Hearing Robbie’s concerned voice exposed the cracks in the dam. “Yep.” The word came out loud, awkward.

“I have to go on stage in a few minutes.”

She knew that. Christ. Robbie was living his dream. His band, Express Train, was opening for The Traffic, one of the biggest rock bands in the country. She’d been selfish to call.

“I just wanted to say—” She paused, her mind filling in the real words: I have cancer. She cleared her throat. “I wanted to say break a leg.”

He chuckled. “I’ll do my best.”

“Okay. Bye.”

“Bye, Zoey.”

She dropped her phone to the carpeted floor and closed her eyes to avoid the onslaught. The action was useless. There was no stopping the inevitable. Tears escaped, flowing slowly and steadily for several minutes before giving way to huge, soul-wracking sobs.

Cancer.

So much for the run-of-the mill baseline mammogram.

Her baseline was fucked.

She was fucked.

She’d been surprised when the doctor’s office called and asked her to come in, but she’d dismissed it. It was her first mammogram. Maybe they wanted to explain it to her. Instead, the doctor had shown her the pictures, pointed out a shadow—an area of concern, he called it—and scheduled a biopsy for the next day. For the last three days, she’d held her breath waiting for the call.

It came this morning. The results were obvious when, once again, the girl who’d never been sick a day in her life was asked to come in. Even worse, the doctor had suggested she bring a friend or family member with her. Christ, could he have been any more transparent?

She’d gone alone. Her parents—both retired—were living it up in Florida and Robbie was on the road. She’d considered and dismissed asking Josie or Laura to go with her, but she was afraid of how she’d react when she got the news. She didn’t want to fall apart in front of them.

She wasn’t sure she was ready to share this news with anyone yet. Zoey needed time to wrap her own head around it.

Cancer. I have cancer.

She reached for the box of tissues on the end table and blew her nose. Shit. She was sick and she was crying. The world really was going to come to an end. Everything was wrong, off-kilter, screwed up. Her hand balled into a fist and pure anger drove it into the couch cushion several times.

“What the fuck?” Her words filled the empty room with venom, despair. “What the fuck!”

She didn’t smoke, didn’t eat that much junk food, limited her alcohol to wine night with the girls and an occasional beer or two on weekends when Robbie was home. Sure, she sort of sucked at exercising regularly, but she wasn’t a total couch potato. The doctor had suggested she check into her family’s medical history to see if cancer was common, but what good would that do her? She already had the fucking disease.

Disease.

Zoey tried to catch her breath, but her lungs wouldn’t capture the air. There was a two-ton weight on her chest, threatening to crush her. The flood of tears wouldn’t stop. Soon she was too tired to even try to get a grip on her emotions.

Control was pointless. She gave in. Lying on the couch, she let the tears stream until exhaustion finally won and she slept.

* * *

Rob unlocked the door to the townhouse he’d shared with Zoey for a decade and a half. His band mates gave him shit about living with a gorgeous woman and not sleeping with her, but he wasn’t about to screw things up with his best friend. Zoey was more than an opportunity for sex. She was…everything to him.

As soon as he entered the house, he took a deep breath and sighed. He was home. A grin crossed his lips as he tried to determine the scent. Zoey was a candle addict, burning them constantly. This month’s flavor smelled like cinnamon. She often paired her scents with the time of the year—pumpkin spice in the fall, balsam and cedar over the holidays, beachy smells in the summer. He grumbled whenever she lit one, claiming he felt like he was living in a chick’s place. Truth was he liked the candles. They were one more thing that made their house feel like a home.

He glanced at the clock in the hallway. It was three a.m. Rob hadn’t been able to concentrate during tonight’s show, Zoey’s unusual phone call tugging on his conscience. As soon as the band walked off the stage, Rob got a taxi straight to the airport and hopped on the first flight home. Luckily he’d only been a state away. The up-and-down flight got him here in good time.

Chip, Express Train’s drummer, had gone ballistic when he’d said he was leaving, but he couldn’t ignore the voice that told him something was seriously wrong. He assured the guys he only needed to make sure Zoey was okay and that he’d meet them at the next venue in two days.

Mercifully the tour was winding down. Rob was sick of buses, the road, takeout food and all the crazy after-parties. More than a few times he’d recalled the saying Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. He’d wanted to be a musician since the day he turned thirteen and got his first guitar, but now that Express Train was on the cusp of something big, he was second guessing that choice. Life on the road sucked.

There was a light on in the living room, so Rob passed the stairs and walked toward it. It was way too late for Zoey to still be awake, but it was unlike her to leave a light on. She was the queen of energy conservation.

He saw her the second he entered the room. She was fully dressed and sound asleep on the couch. She was surrounded by tissues. Fuck. He’d been right to come home. Zoey didn’t cry, but her puffy eyes betrayed she’d been doing quite a lot of that tonight.

His first thought was perhaps she’d suffered a broken heart, but she wasn’t dating anyone. Hadn’t had a steady boyfriend in over a year, ever since she finally made a clean break from Drake the Prick. Jesus, he hoped that abusive asshole hadn’t made his way back. Last time Zoey had seen her ex-boyfriend, Drake had given her a black eye. Rob had repaid the favor, only instead of one black eye, he’d left Drake with two, as well as a broken nose and four loose teeth. If Drake had come back—

Then Rob’s breath caught as he considered something even worse. Her parents weren’t exactly old—both of them only in their mid-sixties—but if something had happened to one of them, Zoey would be desolate, devastated. Her dad had been diagnosed with high blood pressure recently and Rob recalled Zoey worrying that her old man would die of a heart attack like her grandfather had. But why wouldn’t she have told him that on the phone?

He walked over and knelt in front of her. Her face was pale.

“Zoey,” he whispered, gently pushing her dark brown hair away from her eyes. He didn’t like seeing her so tired, so frail-looking. A surge of protectiveness rose up inside him. “Zoey. Wake up, baby. I’m home.” God. He must be tired. Where had that term of endearment come from?

Her eyelids lifted slowly. “Robbie?”

He grinned. She was the only person on the planet who still called him by his childhood nickname. The second he hit high school, he’d instructed his teachers and friends to call him Rob. Zoey was the only one who couldn’t make the switch. She’d told him he would always be Robbie to her. He liked the idea, so he didn’t pick a fight about it.

She sat up slowly. “What are you doing here?”

He shrugged, then claimed the warm spot next to her on the couch. “I was worried about you.” He gestured to the tissues scattered on the floor and coffee table. “What happened?”

Her response was worse than words. She quite simply fell apart.

Rob reached for her, pulling her into his arms as she cried. “Shhh. It’s okay. Whatever it is, it’ll be okay. We’ll fix it.”

His words, rather than comfort her, seemed to open the floodgate even more. She clung to his shirt, loud sobs wracking her small frame. He held her tighter, each cry slashing through him more sharply than a machete. Twenty-five years of friendship and he could count on one hand the number of times she’d cried in front of him. His heart raced as his mind whirled over what could have happened. Jesus. Whatever it was, it was bad. Really fucking bad.

He tightened his arms around her, desperate for a way to calm her. “You’re killing me, baby. Please. Please tell me what’s wrong.”

She shook her head against his chest.

He cupped her face, forcing her to look at him. “Say it, Zoey. Fast. Like ripping off a Band-Aid.”

“If I say it out loud, then it’s true.”

He wiped the tears away from her cheeks. “It’s true one way or the other. Tell me and we’ll take care of it together.”

“I have cancer.”

His mind had raced over a hundred possibilities since Zoey collapsed in his arms. That one had never come to him. “I don’t understand.”

Stupid words. He knew what she’d said, but Zoey was young, healthy. It didn’t make any sense.

“I had a mammogram. They found a lump.”

Hope reared its head. “That doesn’t mean it’s cancer. Lots of women find—”

“They did a biopsy. It’s cancer.”

Rob struggled to take a breath and fought down a wave of nausea. It felt like he’d been punched in the gut. He had a new appreciation for the concept of his life passing before his eyes, as images of the past twenty-plus years whirled through his mind. “When did you find out?”

“I’ve known about the lump for a few days. I got the biopsy results today.”

She’d been dealing with this for days? Rob was horrified that she’d already done so much alone. “Why didn’t you call me?”

“I did.”

“Jesus, Zoey. You called me after the fact and even then, you just told me to break a leg.”

She rubbed her eyes wearily. They were swollen and red from crying. Rob hated seeing her so upset.

“I called you as soon as I knew something for sure. But when I heard your voice…” She rested her head against the back of the couch. She was exhausted. “I couldn’t ruin your chance. You’re finally there, Robbie. On stage in front of huge audiences. All your hard work has paid off. It’s your time.”

He didn’t want any of that. As he looked at Zoey, the priorities he’d always set for himself fell away, leaving just one. One thing that mattered to him.

Her.

She was right. It was his time. But not in the way she thought. For years, he’d avoided the truth, ignored feelings that had always existed as he chased the spotlight. He’d been a fool.

“Did you call your parents?”

She shook her head. “They’re in Florida. I thought about calling them, but I—” she licked her lips, “—I just wanted you.”

Tears accompanied her admission. He pulled her into his arms again. “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

She sniffled and he suspected she was fighting hard not to fall apart again. “But the band—”

“Can do without me. There are only three more scheduled concerts. I’ll get Jeff to fill in for me on lead guitar. He’ll flip at the chance. After that, we’re finished for a while. I was going to come home and write some new music.”

“If it’s only three more shows, you should go do them.”

“No. I’m home. I’m not going anywhere until you’re better.”

“That could be awhile.”

His jaw tensed at the thought of what she was facing. “I’m staying.”

She wiped her face as more tears fell. “God, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry anymore after tonight. I fucking hate feeling like this.”

He smiled and kissed her on the forehead. “It’s still tonight. Get all the tears out now because tomorrow we’re going on a positive thoughts diet. Both of us.”

She released a light laugh that turned to a choked sob. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

“You can. You will. You’re young, strong. We’re going to get through this, I promise. We’ll do it together.”

She clung to him, neither of them speaking anymore. What was left to say? Her tears were quieter now, but he knew she still shed them even though he couldn’t see the face she’d buried against his chest. The only noise in the room was her quiet sniffles, but soon that sound was replaced by her soft, even breathing. She’d finally fallen asleep.

It was only then that Rob allowed his own tears to fall.

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