Authors: Alyson Reynolds
Copyright © 2016 by Alyson Reynolds.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations em- bodied in critical articles or reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For information contact :
Book and Cover design by Alyson Reynolds
First Edition: June 2016
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Happy birthday! Thank you for believing in me. Now hand the book back to Momma. I love you.
“Pick up! Pick up! Damn it!” I whispered frantically into the phone.
“Lo’?” Violet’s voice was husky with sleep.
“Violet! Taylor’s gone!”
“What do you mean she’s gone?” Suddenly she sounded more awake. Surprise, surprise. I couldn't imagine why. I winced as I looked at the clock next to me.
“Bags packed, empty room, car gone. She ran.”
“Oh, honey. I’m sure she’ll be back, Stephen. She
comes back to us.”
“I have a bad feeling about this time. We were doing so well, I don't know what happened. I think she’s...Fuck!”
I looked down at my desk, and my eye caught something in front of me that was partially cracked. The last time I left this room that drawer had been closed. Reaching down, I palmed the black velvet box that had slid to the front. My fingers held the little box so tightly the tiny hinges squeaked.
“I know why she left. She found the ring.”
“Stephen, slow down. What ring?” Violet was starting to sound irritated, not that I blamed her. My thoughts were swirling around in my head like a raging storm. I rubbed the back of my neck and tried to take a deep breath.
“My mom sent me home with the family ring when we went for your dad’s funeral. She fed me some bullshit about how I looked at Taylor. And now, of course, Taylor found the ring and freaked out. I wasn’t going to ask her to marry me, not yet anyway. But she didn't ask me about it, she just fucking left.”
“We will find her in the morning. I’m sure she’s just having a moment. She probably went to crash with some friends for the night. If she found it, maybe she’s just hiding until she can wrap her head around everything. What are you even doing home? I thought you didn’t get back until tomorrow afternoon.”
“Filming wrapped early for the week and I came home early to surprise Taylor.”
“Shit. I’m so sorry, Stephen.”
Violet covered the phone and said something to Jax. Probably explaining my epic meltdown. He
her husband after all. And I
calling at three in the morning, so I guess the guy had some right to know what was going down. He had probably figured out his sister-in-law had bolted. He was a smart guy. Violet would have told him after we got off the phone.
“Vi, I’m going to go. I’m sorry I woke you up. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Call me if you hear from her?”
“I will. Promise.” She paused, “Stephen, it’ll be okay. We will find her.”
“We will find her, but I’m pretty sure anything we had is over.” The words tasted bitter on my tongue and I had to fight back the bile that threatened to rise in my throat.
There was dead air for a few moments and I thought Violet might have already hung up. “Stephen? Do you want me to come over there?”
“No," I sighed. "I’m fine. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Try to go back to sleep. I'm sorry I woke you up.”
“I love you, Stephen. Don’t give up on her yet.”
“Love you too, Vi.”
Grabbing the bottle of whiskey in the bottom drawer of my desk, I took a healthy swig. Why did I call Violet this late at night? Taylor ran away from me. From our relationship. There was no doubt in my mind. It was inevitable that she would leave at some point, so I’m not sure why I was so beat up about it. There was also nothing I could do about it now. The only thing I wanted to do at this point was forget that my heart had just been ripped out of my chest by Magnolia Taylor Montgomery. Again.
My hands shook as I stared down at the little black velvet box clutched in my fingers. I was surprised I hadn't burned a hole in it with my gaze. My body tingled and it felt like there was a brick on my chest, making it impossible to catch my breath.
Why would Stephen think we were to this point?
Maybe this wasn’t a ring, maybe there was something different in there and I was overreacting. As I started to crack the box open, I realized it was my worst nightmare.
A beautiful four-carat diamond ring twinkled in the dim light.
Two minutes ago my life was perfect, but now everything was upside down. I clicked the lid of the little box closed and put the ring back in the desk, like it tried to bite me, slamming the drawer shut. My breaths came faster now and little black dots filled my vision. I had to get out of Stephen’s office before someone came looking for me. The only reason I came in here in the first place was to catch my breath. Fifty of our closest friends and family roamed around our house and everyone seemed to expect me to act like the perfect little girlfriend to my famous live-in boyfriend. Panic rose in my throat and I dashed from the office, promptly running into my sister in the hallway.
Of fucking course.
“Hey, there you are.”
“Oh gosh! I’m sorry, Vi.” I apologized for running into her. The questioning look on her face meant that I hadn’t gotten away with anything. She knew I was freaking out. Shit. We walked back into the throngs of people and I rambled trying to distract her. “Your dress is amazing. I love that color; red always looks great on you.”
She narrowed her eyes at me and I winced. There was no way I could let her start the inquisition now.
“Quit staring at me,” I snapped. “I’m going to go get something to drink. I swear if I come back and you’re still staring at me like I’m a lost puppy, I’m going to smack you.”
Her mouth dropped open in shock and I wanted to kick myself. I hadn’t talked to Violet that way since we were kids. But my life was imploding around me. She knew something was wrong and although she would mean well, there would be an interrogation later if I didn’t avoid her like the plague. Not my idea of a good time.
The first whiskey went down smooth as I waited for the burn that never came. Signaling for another, the bartender set it down in front of me with a raised eyebrow. Fuck her. Stephen paid her to serve drinks, not keep tabs on me. Did it really matter that I was slamming fifteen-year-old whiskey like it was tequila shots? My fingers wrapped around the cool glass and I slowly sipped on
drink. Miss judgy bartender would be happier this time.
I stepped into the bathroom as soon as Violet was out of sight and splashed cold water on my face, trying to take some deep, calming breaths. I needed to pull it together long enough to finish the rest of the party, then I could fall apart. A few more hours. I could do this.
Why did Stephen have an engagement ring?
Surely, he realized we weren't ready for that step. Hell, I thought I made it clear that I didn't think I ever want to get married.
I finally calmed myself enough to go back after a few more minutes. The entire time I circulated, talking to our friends, I planned my escape. I smiled and laughed with them, putting up a front, all while deciding where I would go and what I needed to do to leave. Every time I rethought my decision, the panic rose in my chest until I remembered the ring hidden in Stephen’s desk drawer.
Smile. I had to remember to smile at people. One breath at a time.
My dress dug into my ribs and I clawed at the zipper to get it off. It was suffocating me, just like this entire evening. I jumped when Stephen placed a kiss on my shoulder and lowered it easily. Relief filled me as the silky fabric slid down and pooled around my ankles, leaving me in my strapless bra and panties.
"Are you okay, baby? You seem a little out of it."
Wrinkles formed on his forehead as he frowned at me, but he didn't press. I sighed a breath of relief. God, I really did love this man, not that I would ever be able to tell him. He deserved so much better than me. We all knew I was damaged goods. I couldn't stay in one place long enough to be someone's girlfriend, let alone wife.
"So you leave on Wednesday for filming?"
I glanced in his direction and was treated with the sight of his tanned naked chest. He wasn't overly bulky, but he had lean strong muscles that looked good on his large six-foot frame. Light stubble ran across his strong jaw-line and his signature smirk teased the corners of his lips as he caught me staring at him. The sight of him standing there in his dress pants did things to my lady parts.
"Yeah, well kind of, we start running lines on Wednesday. Filming should follow within a few weeks. Once we start that, you can come join me on set if you want."
I walked over and ran my hands through Stephen's dark brown, almost black hair. He'd had it cut this morning, so the edges tickled my fingers. I loved that he kept it longer on the top and short on the back and sides in a more modern cut. It looked sexy when he woke up with bed head in the morning. His whiskey colored eyes bore into mine and I knew he wanted to ask if I was okay again. So I distracted him. My lips met his in a desperate attempt to hold onto any control I thought I had. He groaned into my mouth and gripped my hips in his large hands. We were breathless when we broke apart.
"Baby, tell me what's going on in that head of yours."
His forehead rested on mine. I felt tears prick at my eyes. Now was my chance to ask him about the ring. My mouth opened, but I couldn't do it. What if he said that he had bought it hoping I would change my mind about getting married? It would kill me to turn Stephen down. I wanted nothing more than to not carry baggage from my past that constantly ruined my future.
"I'm just going to miss you."
His lips brushed across mine quickly as he cupped my face. "I'll be back every few days. That's the best part of this gig; I won't be gone for weeks at a time unless I absolutely have to be." I smiled weakly. He unfastened his pants and stripped down to his boxer briefs. "Let's go to bed. I'm exhausted after having all those people invading our space. It was a nice party though."
I nodded and he grabbed my hand. I didn't fight as he curled me into his side. My head rested on his chest and I was lulled to sleep by the comforting sound of his heartbeat. The last thought I had before falling asleep was that he deserved so much more than what I could give him.