"You're with the right person when no matter how bad things get, you'd still rather be with them than anywhere else..."
RIDLEY WELLS HAS NO idea what to do with her life now that she's graduated from college. But when a friend is murdered and her apartment is trashed, she runs to the only person she trusts, her twin sister. No one will think to look for her in the rinky dink Virginia town of New Haven.
Of course, her luck lands her passed out in the grass in front of resident badboy, music producer Jackson Alexander. Strike 1! Then she realizes Raina's out of the country and she has nowhere else to go. Strike 2!
So when the handsome producer with the platinum smile mistakes her for her sister, she gets an idea.
Where better to hide than in plain sight?
“YOU DIDN’T BRING your hot-ass sister with you?”
As soon as the words left his mouth, Jackson Alexander dodged the punch that came sailing his way. A chorus of laughter rang out around him as he playacted dodging blows while his friend, Matt Simmons, growled at him.
“I should give you the ass-kicking you’ve been waiting for since freshman year.”
Matt shoved the side of his lawn chair and Jackson tumbled out. He was laughing so hard by the time he hit the ground that it barely hurt.
Hanging out with his boys was his new favorite way to spend his weekends. After producing several platinum albums, suddenly everyone—from the kid who’d sat behind him in high school English class, to the receptionist at his gym—wanted to be his best friend. Just a year earlier he wouldn’t have believed the things people would do for a piece of the spotlight. His real friends kept him sane.
Giving one of them a hard time was just part of the fun.
“Man, you know I’m just messing with you.” Jackson righted his chair and flopped back down. He kept a healthy distance from Matt though, just in case.
His brother, Nicholas, and their friend, Trent, stifled their laughter when Matt looked at them.
“You know we love Mara. Mainly because she keeps your crazy ass in line. She’s coming to the barbecue, right? Or is she visiting your parents for Memorial Day weekend?” Nicholas asked. That was his brother, always the mediator.
They could have passed for twins with their golden brown skin, dark eyes and curly black hair, but they couldn’t be more different in personality. Nicholas craved excitement whereas, more and more, Jackson just wanted solitude. It was hard to believe that his playboy brother was actually twenty-seven, two years older than he was.
Matt took a swig of the beer he held. He rolled it through his palms a few times before answering. “Ask Trent. He sees more of her these days than I do.”
All eyes swung to Trent. He shrugged but the look in his eyes was like that of a cornered animal. “She’s great. She said to tell everyone hi.”
Jackson picked up his lawn chair and then straddled it backward so he’d be facing the group. “Damn, you two aren’t just playing with me? If I’d known she wasn’t off limits…” He stopped at the murderous expression on Matt’s face.
Nicholas leaned over. “If I were you I wouldn’t finish that sentence.”
Jackson shook his head as he looked back at Matt. “You are pathetic. I was going to say I would have married her. Mara is one of a kind.”
Matt snorted. “You? Married?”
A hush fell over the group. Matt cleared his throat a few times before speaking. “Sorry, man. I shouldn’t have said that. I wasn’t thinking.”
“You aren’t saying anything that isn’t true. I’m glad for once you aren’t walking on eggshells around me.” Jackson looked pointedly at Matt, then the other guys in the group.
“I gave up my chance to have a solo career when Cynthia got pregnant. I’ll never regret that choice. She gave me the two best things in my life. I just wish she was here to see how amazing our boys are.”
He stopped, frightened for a moment that his throat would close and he’d confirm their image of him as the tragic, broken widower. He just felt such anger, such impotent rage, that one twist of fate could take away his entire world.
“It’s not too late. You could put out an album now,” Nick suggested.
“I could. But it would mean a lot of time on the road away from the kids. I’ve let that dream go and I’m okay with it. Producing may not have been my first love but it’s been good to me and I’m grateful. As for the marriage thing… Look, I know you guys think my life is just one party after another but I’m not making anyone any promises. I only date women who know the score and want the same thing I want. No strings and no drama.”
“You’re only twenty-five, Jack. You can’t think you’re going to be alone the rest of your life,” Nicholas pointed out.
“I loved Cynthia more than life and when she died… well, let’s just say I’m not signing up for that kind of pain ever again.”
It was so hard to remember his vibrant wife in that hospital bed, broken and bruised. Especially since he’d been as much at fault in the accident as the drunk driver who’d plowed his SUV into her car.
He’d gotten there before they wheeled her into surgery. There’d been just enough time to tell her how sorry he was and how much he loved her. She’d made him promise that no matter what happened, he wouldn’t stop living. For their boys’ sake, especially, that he not close himself off.
He ran a hand over his face wearily. It was the only time he’d ever consciously lied to her. But in that moment he’d have done anything, promised anything, to give her peace. Including the one thing he knew he couldn’t do.
“So, anyway, my point is that it doesn’t make me an asshole because I’m not signing up for the whole ‘til death do us part deal again. I just don’t believe you can find that kind of connection more than once in a lifetime.”
He looked at the ground, not meeting anyone’s eyes. He couldn’t stand the looks of pity. He was a composer not a lyricist. He didn’t have words to describe what it felt like to have the perfect family and then have it ripped in pieces. All he had were emotions that made him feel about as big as an ant and a sense of humor to keep his mind off the things he couldn’t change.
He leaned closer to Matt. His friend clapped a hand on his shoulder, his expression grave. He almost hated to play a joke on him when he looked so serious but this conversation was way too kumbaya for his taste. And joking around was easier than putting his emotions on a platter for everyone to rifle through.
“But I would definitely make an exception for your sister because she is fine as hell!”
He barely had time to duck when Matt swung on him this time, but hearing his friends laugh was worth a few blows.
National Bestselling author M. Malone lives in the Washington, DC metro area with her three favorite guys, her husband and their two sons. She likes dramatic opera music, staid old men wearing suspenders, claw-foot bathtubs and unexpected surprises.
The thing she likes best is getting to make up stuff for a living.
Ms. Malone writes under various pen names and sold over 150,000 ebooks in 2012.
In addition to quirky fun contemporary romance, she also writes erotic fiction as "Minx Malone".
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