COMING FRIDAY 7 PM PST. NICOLE JACQUELYN AUTHOR OF: HEART OF GLASS (SEE EXCERPTS)
7 PM PST.
Henry Harris was living his dream as a staff sergeant in the Marines. When he’s killed in action, his devastated family is in for one more shock: he had a daughter they never knew about.
Morgan Riley has been raising Etta on her own, and that’s always been fine by her – until Henry’s brother Trevor arrives on her doorstep, willing to do anything to help and make up for his brother’s mistakes. Their attraction feels wrong, but Morgan can’t seem to turn him away.
Trevor is suddenly in too deep. He has always wanted a family, but Etta and Morgan come with complications. Yet as Etta brings them closer together, Trevor begins to imagine giving Morgan and Etta the life his brother never could. But he wonders if Morgan will ever learn to trust another man with her heart, especially a man whose last name is Harris.
I was never meant to be a dad. The thought ran continuously through my head as I stepped out into the afternoon sunshine. Hell, it had been running through there for months, but lately, the words were like a hammer repeatedly slamming into my brain. I could barely think of anything else.
"Why don't you wait until Monday to run your mysterious errand?" my roommate asked, interrupting my inner demon as we walked out of work. "We're gonna head to the beach."
"Can't," I replied with a shrug.
Beach Fridays were a pretty common thing with the guys I hung out with. We usually got off work early on Friday, which gave us a few extra hours to enjoy the weekend. Traffic in San Diego sucked during the late afternoon, but if we knocked off early enough we'd just make it out to Imperial Beach before most people started their commute home.
I wasn't really going to miss anything that wouldn't happen again the next week.
"Well, if you get done with your mysterious errand soon, let me know," Rocklin joked over his shoulder as he walked toward his truck.
I waved him off as I pulled my truck keys from inside my pocket. There was a reason I wasn't broadcasting my plans to the entire fucking platoon. I didn't need my command all up in my shit over something that was a non-issue. I was headed over to legal now before everyone over there got off work for the day. There was a good chance that they'd left early, too, but I was holding out hope that someone was there who could help me.
I tapped my fingers on the knee of my cammies as I waited in the uncomfortable chairs in the front part of the legal building. The place was mostly cleared out for the weekend, but thankfully it looked like someone was left in the back that I could talk to. I wasn't sure when I'd get another chance to meet with someone before I left for yet another training exercise next week, and the thought of leaving without getting everything squared away made me anxious as hell.
Leaning my head against the wall, I closed my eyes. Behind them, I pictured the little bald baby I'd seen just weeks ago. Morgan's baby.
Well, my baby, too, if I decided to think of her in biological terms.
My stomach rolled.
I didn't want to think of her that way.
When Morgan had let me know she was pregnant, I'd panicked and replied as if an abortion was the foregone conclusion. Almost two years later, I was still surprised that she hadn't punched me in the balls. Instead, she'd calmly told me that she was keeping the baby but she hadn't expected anything from me.
Relief had hit me first. Overwhelming, giddy, relief.
Then I'd questioned myself. Was I really that type of guy? Could I just walk away from my flesh and blood? I'd been raised in a family that took in kids that weren't even theirs. They prized family above all else, and there were so many times over the course of my life when I'd been part of a discussion about deadbeat dads and how horrible they were.
So, instead of running in the opposite direction, I'd tried to be present. I hadn't said a word to my family, preferring not to listen to their opinions and suffocating interference, but I'd kept in touch with Morgan as she'd carried the baby. Any relationship between us had been impossible at that point, but I'd still checked in just to make sure she was okay. I had no interest in going to doctor appointments, and when she'd revealed that she was having a girl, I'd felt nothing—but I'd still kept trying.
I didn't want to be the kind of man my parents made scathing comments about. I didn't want Morgan's daughter to grow up thinking there was something wrong with her or some shit like that and end up being a stripper with daddy issues.
Okay, I knew that last one, was a sweeping generalization, but I couldn't help it. That was where my mind went. So, I'd tried.
I'd visited and I'd called and I'd made myself available for whatever Morgan needed, but eventually, we'd both seen the writing on the wall. It just wasn't there. That feeling, the one I knew I was supposed to have, the one every parent had, even the shitty parents? I didn't feel it.
I wasn't curious about the baby. I didn't wonder if she was okay or worry about her. I didn't feel anything for her at all, beyond the normal concern over a tiny human. Would I jump in front of a bus for her? Sure. But I'd do that for any kid.
That's what she was to me—just a random kid.
There was something wrong with me, I was sure of that fact, but it wasn't something I could fix or change. I'd tried. Jesus. I'd been trying for a year to feel anything for her, and it didn't matter what I did or what awful scenario I pictured in my head trying to force some sort of reaction, I just didn't feel anything.
I tried to convince myself that I could fake it. I could just pretend to feel something until I actually did. No one would know. But after stopping by their place for her first birthday and watching this kid who looked like me eat her cake, and still feeling nothing beyond a little amusement and boredom, I knew pretending wasn't going to be an option.
There was something broken inside of me. Something I'd never realized I'd needed until that blank feeling was staring me right in the face, mocking my inability to connect.
"Harris?" a voice called from between two cubicles.
I stood up and slid my hand absently down the front of my uniform blouse, smoothing out the wrinkles as I walked forward.
"You're wanting to change the beneficiary for your death benefits?" the guy asked, glancing down at the papers he was holding as I followed him into the bowels of the legal department.
"Yes, sir," I replied.
I couldn't be her parent. I couldn't be the dad that taught her how to ride a bike or a surfboard. I wouldn't be there to scare her prom date, and I'd never bandage her knees after a hard fall at the playground.
But I could help from afar. I could make sure Morgan had the cash she needed to make sure the baby didn't go without. I could help in that way. And if something happened to me, I could make sure that they were taken care of. It was the least I could do.
And if someday the time came when Morgan and baby Etta received death benefits from me, I knew with absolute certainty that my family would find them.
They wouldn't be able to stay away.
They’ve spent their lives pushing each other away, but what will happen when they need each other most?
Anita Martin doesn’t expect much from life. Growing up on the street, bouncing from one foster home to another, she learned to rely only on herself. Even after she finally found a loving family to take her in, she was still an outsider-something Abraham, one of the family’s older sons, never let her forget.
Abraham Evans doesn’t know how Ani always manages to get under his skin, only that’s she’s been doing it since they were teens. She is and always has been-undeniably gorgeous. But he’s never met anyone as pissed off at the world as Ani.
For fifteen years, Ani and Bram have agreed on exactly one thing: they can’t stand each other until one night when their anger gives way to passion. Yet even as Ani and Bram begin to secretly seek comfort in one another’s arms, they remain emotionally worlds apart. When Ani’s life takes a dramatic turn and she realizes she needs more than Bram can give, their fragile, no-strings relationship unravels. One way or another, Ani is determined to survive. But when Bram finally admits his true feelings, he may discover Ani has moved on without him . . .
Sixteen years old
People always hid the good shit in their bedrooms.
It was like they believed that some invisible force field kept others from finding the huge dildo or the small stash of weed in their top dresser drawer. Wrong. The only things that kept me from snooping were padlocks and Dobermans—and even those could be bypassed.
I never looked for the expensive things. Most of the foster homes I'd lived in didn't have expensive things, and even if they did, I had no use for them. What was I going to do, try and pawn stolen jewelry? I wasn't that stupid.
I also wasn't planning on living on the streets. I'd tried that once.
A fourteen-year-old girl who was a little over five feet tall and less than a hundred pounds didn't have a chance living out there without getting the shit kicked out of her by other homeless people who were bigger, stronger, and had been doing it a lot longer than she had. I didn't even want to remember the others, the ones who'd been a little too nice to me.
No, I'd stay in foster care. For the most part, the families I'd lived with weren't so bad. Sure, a lot of them were in it for the money the state gave them for my upkeep, and there might have been the occasional drinking problem or porn addiction, but in the seven houses I'd lived in, there was only one that I'd left on purpose. I'd felt no guilt over calling the police when I found the overly handsy foster dad's stash of heroin. Boom—new foster home for me.
One guess where I'd found that little nugget of escape. Yep, the bedroom.
I smirked to myself as I pulled open the drawer in the nightstand that sat to the right of my newest foster parents' king-sized bed. A pair of glasses, a string of condoms, a broken necklace, a few buttons, a romance novel, and lube greeted my eyes. I shuddered but slammed the drawer closed. Gross, but nothing out of the ordinary.
I'd already searched through the dresser and the matching nightstand and hadn't found anything. Where did they hide the juicy stuff? I needed leverage, dammit.
"What the fuck are you doing in here?" a deep voice said from behind me as I took a step toward the closet.
"Looking for the bathroom?" I replied in an overly innocent tone.
I spun slowly to meet the eyes of the guy standing in the bedroom doorway. Jesus, it was Bram. It was just my luck that the jackass adopted twin son of my foster parents had to be the one who'd caught me. The other twin, Alex, would have laughed, put me in a headlock that I was far too old for, and dragged me out of the room.
This brother, on the other hand, was going to be a problem. The two were so different it was amazing that they were brothers, not to mention identical twins. Not that anyone would ever mistake one for the other. Where Alex was fun and happy and smiling, Bram was a total asshole. And I meant that in the nicest possible way.
He was angry and scowling all the time. It was as if the entire world had let him down, and he no longer had the time to pretend to enjoy anything. Yeah, join the club, dude.
I stared at his face for a few seconds, wondering if I'd be able to talk myself out of the mess I'd gotten into, when Bram took one fast step forward and grabbed ahold of my wrist, jerking me back out of the bedroom.
Nope. I wasn't getting out of it.
"What did you take?" he hissed, glaring at me as he shoved me back a couple steps down the hallway.
"Nothing," I said back, rubbing my wrist.
I considered myself pretty street savvy, and I didn't think Bram was going to hurt me or anything, but the guy was really freaking intimidating. He was almost a foot taller than I was, with broad shoulders and a five-o'clock shadow that highlighted the fact that he was grown. At nineteen, neither of the boys lived in the house with us, but they shared an apartment in the detached garage, which meant I saw them pretty often.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, turning away from him to move toward the living room. Nervousness would look like guilt, and since I wasn't fucking guilty of anything but taking a quick look around, I wasn't going to let him know he intimidated me. "Aren't you supposed to be at work or something?"
I knew he was supposed to be at work. I knew everyone's schedule; that's why I'd thought it was safe to get the lay of the land. I'd only been in the Evans house for a little over two weeks, but everything seemed a bit too good to be true. So when my foster mom Liz took her daughter Katie into town for some Christmas shopping and the guys were at the logging office for the day, I'd thought I was in the clear.
I'd barely gotten to the living room entrance before hands were gripping me once again, halting my movement.
"What the hell did you take?" Bram asked again as I tried to pull away.
He gave me a little shake and jerked me around to face him, and all of my earlier bravado vanished in an instant.
"I didn't take anything," I whispered hoarsely, lifting my chin as I slapped at his hands.
"You think you're the first kid to pull this shit?" he asked harshly through clenched teeth. "My parents took you in, buy you shit, feed you—and you steal from them?"
"I didn't fucking take anything!" I repeated, swallowing hard.
I froze completely as one of Bram's hands dropped from my shoulder and slid down the front of my stomach, sliding around the edge of my hip and across my back. I didn't move away when he dropped to his knees and lifted up each pant leg to check the inside of my ratty dollar store socks, and I barely breathed as he wiggled his fingers into the front pockets of my jeans and then the back pockets.
When his hands moved back up, my eyesight began to grow hazy from lack of oxygen, and just as his palm slid down between my breasts, I took in a large gasp of air that turned into a loud sob.
"Anita?" Bram asked in confusion, dropping his hands as he took a frantic step backward, his hands in the air.
"I told you I didn't take anything," I murmured, staring at him through tear-blurred eyes. "I told you."
"I'm sorry. I—you were in my parents' room," he stuttered, his expression softer than I'd ever seen it before.
I wiped my face with the long sleeves of my T-shirt and moved backward, watching him closely for any indication that he would try and stop me. Then, when I'd finally gotten my breathing under control, I spoke. "If you ever touch me again, I'll kill you."
I turned and ran toward my room, never slowing even though I couldn't hear him following me.
Later, we pretended that nothing happened. He didn't rat me out, and I didn't tell his parents that he'd felt me up. Our silence wasn't a truce though; it was battle lines clearly drawn.
Nicole Jacquelyn is the author of the popular Aces series as well as the Fostering Love novels. She is also the mom of two little girls and one lazy Boxer pup. She hasn’t watched television in well over a year, she still does things that drive her mother crazy, and she loves to read. Since the age of twelve, she knew she wanted to be a writer. But first she became a mom, then she went to college, and during her senior year–with one daughter in first grade and the other in preschool–she sat down and wrote a story.
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