Authors: Mira Lyn Kelly
Now and Then
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Loveswept eBook Original
Copyright © 2016 by Mira Lyn Kelly
by Jessica Lemmon copyright © 2016 by Jessica Lemmon
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
is a registered trademark and the
colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
This book contains an excerpt from the forthcoming book
by Jessica Lemmon. This excerpt has been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming edition.
eBook ISBN 9781101967768
Cover design: Caroline Teagle
Cover photograph: © Majdanski/Shutterstock
Truth? Mistakes weren’t something Brynn Ahearne made often. But when she did,
she made them big.
Like six foot five of broad-shouldered, trim-hipped, not-so-wholesome-as-she’d-remembered big. Like huge hands moving over her, one flexing against her hip while the other slid into her jeans to palm her ass
Like they hadn’t even cleared the security door to his place because, somehow, her shoulders had found the jamb, braced there, and weren’t in any hurry to move if it meant more of that dark silk sliding through her fingers and hard-muscled thighs hitting her just exactly right.
She shouldn’t be doing this. She’d told herself she wouldn’t. Because after what happened between them the last time—even if it was ten years ago—she couldn’t risk it happening again.
Okay, her life was different now, but fundamentally nothing had changed. Nothing, except she wasn’t some kid who didn’t know any better. She knew. Which was why she needed to stop.
Brynn pulled back from a kiss so potent it was drugging her senseless, determined to do the right thing. Only the mouth that had been devastating hers just the second before was already detouring south. Drawing with the perfect suction at the tender spot beneath her jaw.
Licking into the hollow between her collarbones.
Her breath caught, her thoughts spiraling with the point of his tongue.
She needed to end this. Do the right thing for both of them.
Her lips parted to speak and his teeth grazed the column of her neck. Just the barest scrape, the perfect pressure, and—
she gasped, everything within her seizing tight enough to strangle whatever few rational thoughts she’d been trying to hold on to. “Inside. Please, take me inside.”
OUR HOURS EARLIER
It was the Ms. Pac-Man T-shirt that did it.
And not because it was one of those still sort of excellent “she swallows” versions the him of fifteen years ago would have been holding his books in front of his fly over. No, this wasn’t that kind of blatant advertising.
Ms. Pac-Man perched pinup style over her neon-outlined Pac-font name. Hearts surrounding her like blown kisses. A geeked-out gamer classic half hidden beneath a short olive cardigan that had Ford Meyers setting the beer that had barely made it two-thirds of the way to his mouth back on the bar untouched. His head cranking around in an attempt to follow the progress of that flash of weathered pink fabric cutting through the after-work Pint Pub crowd while he strained for details about the woman who wore it.
Her jeans were plain, dark without any kind of adornment on the pockets, and were those—? Ford looked closer,
Oh hell, yes
—green Converse sneakers hooked on the rung of her stool.
Hello, girl of my dreams.
He couldn’t score even a glimpse of her face but she was a redhead, with the kind of thick, dark curls spilling halfway down her back that did it for him even more than the T-shirt and kicks combined, because yeah, when it came to hair, the gingers took him back to a place no one else could. To a place where the memories were pure and sweet and dark and sexy. To a time when
pushed hard against his ribs with every damned breath.
To a girl.
girl as it turned out, but hell, hair like that had a way of stirring up the echoes of how it had been, reminding him of the things he still wanted. Whether Ms. Pac-Man was one of them? Only one way to find out.
Ford pushed off his stool and—
Fingers snapped in front of his face, dragging his attention down to the petite brunette parked at his left, scowling.
“Cripes, Ford. I’m still talking here.”
Ava. His little sister. Apparently talking. Still.
“Right. No, sorry,” he said, reluctantly returning to his seat. “Go ahead.”
Eyes narrowing, she crossed her arms over her slim frame and then with a gust of breath rushed on.
“Anyway, so we need to get you a girl. Sam and I are married. Maggie and
baby is due in less than a week,” she stated, referring to Tyler Wells, the man who had been renting out the third-floor apartment in Ford’s building before falling in love with Apartment Two, Maggie. Mostly they called him Ty or Tyler, but leave it to Ava to hold on to a moniker the guy earned while on less-than-friendly terms with his future wife. “Maybe it’s time you opened yourself up to the possibilities and found your own happily ever after?”
He started to turn toward the far side of the bar. “Actually, I was just—”
but not your usual fare, no offense. I’m thinking someone with a shelf life longer than four weeks. A girl who’s stylish and nice and I don’t hate and has a sense of humor that extends beyond those please-kill-me-now math puns you and Mindy Sedgewick used to bore everyone with.”
Mindy’d been a nice girl, but Ava was right. Fun wasn’t her forte.
“And don’t even think about another model. Every time Elkie cornered me, I ended up needing an appointment with the chiropractor to get my neck back into alignment.”
Elkie had been working on her PhD before the modeling jobs she’d been paying her way through school with became her career instead. She’d been a little scary when she didn’t think she had his full attention. And a lot scary when she knew it.
“We’re looking for someone I get along with even better than you do, because face it, when you flake and she’s pissed—which is probably going to happen every time you start development on a new game—you’re going to need someone to talk her down and reel her back in for you.”
Okay, so he had been known to get somewhat distracted when he was working. But that Ava thought she was the woman for the job?
“That’s great, Sis, but I actually see someone I’d like—”
Ava cut him off with a sharp wave. “Talking here. So other considerations…”
Resigned, Ford nodded, half listening to his sister ramble on, her hands animating her words as he scanned the bar over her head until he landed on the high-top by the corner where a few empty bottles rested. Two women and a guy. One olive cardigan, a couple inches of pink showing beneath…and
all that hair.
Ava could list her qualifications for his next girlfriend until she was blue in the face, but Ford already knew what mattered to him and with Ava finally settled down with Sam, he was ready to find it.
He wanted sweet, caring, honest.
Intelligent, loyal, generous.
Lighthearted, cool. And fun.
He wanted someone he could trust. A woman who got off on the same things he did. A girl with a brain that kept his running. He wanted the kind of partner his parents had been to each other. And after a valuable learning experience with the wrong kind of woman—one it had taken an obscene payoff and an ironclad nondisclosure agreement to handle—he had a pretty good idea of how to ensure he landed the right kind.
Don’t tell her about Hibachi Cannonball. Period.
Or at least not until he knew she was into him for the reasons that mattered. In this, he and Ava were on the same page. Because for everything Hibachi Cannonball had earned for him since being recognized as a “breakout game of the year” and an “international gaming phenomenon,” that success came with its costs.
“…and nut allergies could be a problem with Maggie’s cookies. Do you want to give up peanut butter? Actually, allergies in general, because what about Greenbean and Pinkie? Which leads me to the obvious—a dog lover…”
He tried to get a read on the dynamic at the table across the bar. The guy could be a boyfriend, only he wasn’t giving off any of the territorial signals Ford would expect from someone with a romantic claim. Ms. Pac-Man reached over her head, her torso extending as she gathered all that red at the back of her neck, twisting it in a way that was…
Ford’s pulse jacked up a notch.
He could only see a sliver of her face, but—No. No way. Couldn’t be. It was just the red hair. Even ten years later, every time he saw it his first thought was of Brynn. Which was probably sweet and stupid all at once. Yeah, she’d been his first love. But she’d also been his worst heartbreak. All in the span of a few short months. Thinking of her shouldn’t make him smile, and seeing girls who looked like her shouldn’t get his heart pumping.
“…because you’re a decent-enough-looking guy even when your hair is like it is now—and seriously, Ford, what the eff?”
And then Ava was kneeling on her seat, shoving her fingers around in his hair.
“Knock it off, Ava.” He ducked back, then dodged to the side, laughing when she seemed determined to get at him either way.
Only then he lucked out as he caught a glimpse of the one sure thing to distract her.
“Sam, hey man. In the nick of time.”
Ava twisted around on her seat and hopped down with a delighted squeal. “You’re early!”
Sam wore an easy smile on his face and was throwing off exactly the kind of territorial signals Ford had been searching for in the guy across the bar—somehow managing to touch Ava’s hair, her cheek, lips, chin, and neck, all in the process of pulling her into him to drop a kiss on her mouth.
And there it was.
One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. Three, one thousand…
Rubbing at the back of his neck, Ford waited for them to come up for air.
Eventually he’d get used to seeing the two of them like this. It just hadn’t happened yet. He was happy for them. Hell yeah, he was. Beyond. But it was still fucking weird watching his best friend—the guy who’d been ignoring every sign Ava had it bad for him for the better part of twenty years—acting like exactly what he was. A lovestruck newlywed.
Sam brushed Ava’s bottom lip with his thumb, still holding her close. “I know we were talking about dinner, but I’ve had a killer day. Any chance I can talk you into a night in, Ave?”
Christ, subtle, man.
Another look across the bar and—
—the guy was helping the other girl with her coat while Ms. Pac-Man pulled a few bills from her front pocket to lay on the table. She turned, and piece by piece the bar and crowd started falling away around him.
Ava was saying something about him flying solo for the night, while Sam told her about a delivery he’d signed for at home. And then they were gone, and Ford was standing there staring across the bar at the first girl he’d ever loved.
The one he’d thought he wanted to marry.
The one who’d dumped his ass by email and then ground his pathetic nineteen-year-old heart into dust.