Authors: Steph Campbell,Liz Reinhardt
a Lengths Series Novella
Steph Campbell & Liz Reinhardt
****THIS BOOK IS THE FIFTH BOOK IN A COMPANION SERIES.
EACH BOOK IN THE SERIES WAS WRITTEN AS A STAND ALONE TITLE.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO READ THE PREVIOUS BOOKS
IN THE SERIES TO FOLLOW ALONG.****
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No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission of the author except where permitted by law.
Published by Silver Strand Books
Cover design by: Todd Maloy
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2013 Steph Campbell & Liz Reinhardt
All rights reserved.
hanks to all of the amazing book bloggers out there! We appreciate each and every one of you for everything that you do, and for all of the time that you devote to spreading the word about books you love! Special thanks to Madison at
The Autumn Review
and Momo at
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, whose enthusiasm and support and friendship mean so much to us!
Much love to Colleen Hoover, Cora Carmack and Jolene Perry for not only taking the time to read RIPTIDES for us, but for your kind words, generous advice and just for being awesome.
Huge thanks to Shanyn and the rest of the Ink Slinger PR crew for tolerating our inane questions and holding our hands through this new world of marketing and PR!
And a shout out to our incredible agent, Kevan Lyon whose emails just to “check in,” always make our day. We’re so grateful to have someone like you in our corner.
Love, hugs, and promises to cook more often to our
husbands, Chris and Frank, and to all of our children. We love you all, and absolutely none of this would be possible without you believing in us the way you do.
Biggest gratitude to you, the reader, for sticking with the Silver Strand crew! Your amazing emails, enthusiasm at signings and events, your tattoos based around the Lengths series, and the jewelry that you have commissioned blows our minds and humbles us
to the core. Thank you for taking this crazy journey with us, and for loving the Beckett’s and the Rodriguez family just as much as we do!
So. Much. Love.
Liz & Steph
“You ready to call it a night, bro?” I ask my buddy Levi.
“Eh, one more. I’ve got nowhere to be tomorrow,” he says.
“You and me both,” I say, leaning back in my bar stool. O’Shea’s is a dive, but it’s good to hang here now and again on a lonely Friday night, and, lately, there’ve been more and more of those.
“Sure you want to stick around listening to those jerk-offs?” I ask, motioning to a table on the other side of the place.
We’ve been listening to them bitch about how “foreign wars are bullshit,” and how “the US isn’t responsible for fighting for every country that can’t take care of itself” for the last hour. I thought Levi, whose brother is overseas right now, was going to come unhinged when the assbags moved on to saying how military servicemen and their families know exactly what they’re getting into and shouldn’t be pitied.
Doesn’t matter how many pissed-off looks everyone in this dump has thrown their way; no one will say a word, so they just keep on.
“Ignore ‘em. They’re worthless,” Levi says. The last of his words trail off as we both turn to watch a lush ass, barely covered by a tiny miniskirt lean over the bar.
“Holy…” Levi mumbles.
“All I’m saying is, if they didn’t want to go fight a war, they shouldn’t have signed on the dotted line. Seems to me they got a pretty good deal. Health care for life…”
The assholes in the corner are loud as ever, and their latest idiotic statement has made the girl in the skirt snap to attention.
She pushes herself off of the bar and marches over toward the guys.
When she passes us at the bar, I try like hell to get her to make eye contact with me, but she’s on a mission. She has this face that’s every guys dream: full lips, big almond eyes——gorgeous and sweet all at once.
There’s a fierceness about her stare though, like she’s the fiery little defender of all that’s right and just in this hellhole of a world.
And holy shit, when she opens her mouth…
I can’t hear every word she’s saying from our spot at the bar, and it’s becoming even worse of a vantage point as her speech shuts down the loud-mouth asses. Suddenly every guy in the place is leaning in a little closer to watch this sexy-ass force of nature in action.
It’s clear she’s jumped right in, uninvited
. Levi and I can’t do anything but sit there, stunned as we hear her start throwing around words like
positive sum game, globalization, collective security,
. Not only does she apparently have three times the IQ of anyone else in the room, she’s cool and collected, bashing every one of their points back with logic so dead on, she has a crowd gathered, cheering her on, while the idiots who were running their mouths trip over themselves to apologize. She has them eating out of her hand in under ten minutes.
She finishes wiping the floor with them, and does it with a shit-eating grin. When they’re all standing, slack-jawed and looking like they wanted to sink through the fucking floorboards, she turns to the bartender and says, “Pour these gentlemen a round. I think they need a stiff drink to help deal with thinking logically about foreign policy.” She turns to them and says, “There you go, a round on me. You can drink to the men and women brave enough to fight the wars you sit around and bitch about.”
My buddy Levi whistles low as we both watch her walk back to her drink. “Whoever she’s with is one lucky fucking guy.”
“Notice how she doesn’t have anyone with her right
?” I point out.
“Don’t, Enzo. Girls like her aren’t single. And if, by some miracle, she is, she’s way out of your league.” He shakes his head, and I grin.
“Wish me luck.”
“No,” Levi says, but he calls for two shots, vodkas straight.
“Liquid courage,” I say, holding my glass up to his.
He taps mine and we throw them back. I wince around the burn that singes the back of my throat. “You’re gonna need it, bro. I’ll be right here when you come limping back. She’s gonna eat you alive and spit out the bones. I don’t wanna watch, but it’s like a car crash. I can’t look away.”
I leave Levi at the other end of the bar, worrying like he always does, and walk up to her.
“I’m a little confused right now,” I announc
She turns on the bar stool, giving me a perfect view of these mile long legs with a pair of the sexiest damn bright red heels at the end.
“I’m pretty good at clarifying things. What’s confusing you?” She shakes her drink, something smooth and dark with a few loose cubes clanking on the sides of the glass.
Damn, I’ve always had a soft spot for girls who don’t feel the need to ruin perfectly good alcohol with fruity syrups and tiny umbrellas.
“I want to offer to buy you another drink.” I gesture to the bottles behind the bar and she raises one eyebrow. “But I also wanted to talk about whether or not the media is pushing a vindicator mentality and masquerading it as soft power in the current political situation.”
Her eyes go wide, just like I hoped they would, and she smiles a tiny smile. “Look, I wasn’t really planning on staying here. And you seem really cool——”
“Enzo.” I hold my hand out and she takes it, biting the edge of her lip so lightly, I know she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it. “Enzo Rodriguez. Look, all I want to do is talk.”
For once, that line isn’t a bald lie. I mean, if this gorgeous woman winds up moaning under me in my bed, all the better. But just listening to her talk is doing it for me in a big way.
She looks down at our hands and seems to process everything in a few short seconds. “Okay, Enzo. Maybe you want to get out of here? Get a coffee?”
“Sounds perfect.” I gesture for the bartender so I can settle her tab and mine, then look back at her. That core of confidence is still there, but there’s also this uncertainty, this vulnerability that makes her lips shake and her breath come in quick pants. And that is definitely a huge turn on. “Are you gonna tell me your name?” I smile at her, and she actually blushes.
So damn sexy.
“Right. My name is Jessica Mills. Here, I can pay that.” She grabs her wallet when the bartender sets the check down, but I drop more money than I need to on the bartop and put my hand out for hers.
She stares from under the longest lashes I’ve ever seen in my life, then takes my hand. I wave at Levi, who sits slack-jawed, nursing a beer, alone.
I hope I’ve taught him a good lesson about taking a chance on yourself and going after what you want.
Because she’s exactly what I want. What I’ve always been looking for. And even though I have a strong feeling I don’t deserve a shot with her, I would have hated myself if I let her walk out the door without taking the chance.
“Okay, just a few more things on my list and then we can get out of here,” Jess says, tucking her pencil behind her ear and analyzing the crisp piece of paper in her hand. She’s always so organized, always in charge. My favorite moments with her are when we’re back at my place and I get her to relax a little, unwind and show the silly, loosened up side of her she keeps locked away when she’s being professional and on top of things. “And I’m sorry, by the way.”
“Sorry for what?” I ask.
I curl my arm around her and pull her into my chest so I can press my lips to the top of her head. It’s an intimate gesture. One that I shouldn’t feel so damn comfortable doing after only knowing this girl a couple of weeks, but it feels right with her. Everything about being with Jess feels right.
The night we met, we started off with coffee and politics, but it was one of those nights where you just can’t stop talking. Where you’re finishing each other’s sentences, and it’s like you’ve just met…but also like you’ve known each other forever. Where you find yourself telling secrets that you’ve never told anyone before in your life—like how you feel like the odd man out in your family full of siblings that have all their shit together. Even if no one says anything to you about it, you’re still the douche without a stable career, or on their way to the alter.
But I didn’t feel like a dumb ass spilling those secrets
to Jess, because somehow I just knew from the second I saw her that I could trust her totally. I knew from the first time we locked eyes together, because it wasn’t one of those awkward moments where you look away, it was like somehow we’d connected on a level that had nothing to do with the amount of time that we’ve known each other. Things with Jess are just deeper than that.
Jess, I’d bounced around from girl to girl, not looking for anything serious——or anything that would distract me from time on my board. But this girl——everything about her is different. Starting with her ability to make me almost forget that there are near perfect swells out this morning, and instead of riding them, I’ve willingly decided to spend my early Sunday hours in this massive farmers market while she hand selects ingredients for her bakery.
It’s something Jess is
insanely proud of— finding fresh ingredients and planning her weekly treats around her finds instead of relying on shipments of dried goods. And when Jess is excited, she’s smiling, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on that.
Sorry for taking so long. I know this isn’t how you envisioned our day together.” She does that thing where she bites her lip and presses her eyebrows together, like she’s apologizing. I wave her toward a nice elderly lady with a floppy straw hat.
The woman holds out cinnamon sticks that make Jess moan, scoops a bag of currents that actually makes a shiver come over her shoulders, and uncorks a bottle of vanilla that makes Jess whimper. Who the hell would have thought the most erotic foreplay of my life would happen watching my girl smell spices at a farmer’s market.
I never want to leave this place, not even for the chance to catch life-changing swells. Jess thanks the woman in the floppy hat as she pays for the items, then practically skips back to me, this look of pure bliss on her face.
“Are you kidding?” I pick up right where we left off, the way Jess and I always do. We can fall in and out of the same crazy, winding conversation thread for days. I love that connectedness, that intimate give and take I’ve never had with anyone else. We walk to the next stall, my arm around her waist. “The farmers market is my all-time favorite date spot.
I bring all my ladies here. Nothing turns me on like some dragon fruit,” I say, picking up the prickly, purple fruit from the basket next to me. “Seriously, now that I have my hands on it, you’d better hurry your ass up so we can head back to my place. All of this succulent fruit and——”
Jess shoves at me playfully. “Alright, alright, I get it. Help me find the wasabi and we’re out of here.”
“Wasabi for a cake?” I ask, tossing the fruit back into the bin and following behind her. “Do you hate this customer?”
“No, not at all.” Jess straightens that playful grin and her look is all business now. “It’s for a ginger and wasabi ganache. It tops my famous triple chocolate cake. At least I think it’ll be famous someday. Seriously, it will change your life.”
“Ah, I see. It’s one of those weird combos that work together only when the ingredients are in the hands of a master chef such as yourself,” I say, trying to dig myself out of the hole I just stepped right into by insulting her pastry prowess. “You should meet Marigold. She could use a little of that kitchen magic rubbing off on her.”
“And Marigold is which one again?” Jess asks, her finger twitching over her pencil. I bet
she’s itching to make a neat little diagram, but she knows I’ll tease her. Which is what she wants; Jess told me I help jump her out of her obsessively compulsive habits.
“Marigold is Deo’s mom,” I say, rubbing a hand between her shoulder blades until those tight muscles relax. She lets her body lean against mine.
Jess nods like she’s making a firm mental note. “Right. She’s the hippie, right. Okay.”
“Deo is my brother Cohen’s best friend,” I remind her. I laid it all out for her the first night we met, told her about every person in our weirdly tight family and group of friends.
I wanted her to know I wasn’t some creep who had no attachments to anyone. I didn’t want her to doubt that I meant it when I said I had a great time. I wanted to make sure I got her number at the end of the night, so I’d be sure to get another shot at seeing her again. I didn’t want her thinking I was some douche who takes girls home from bars regularly.
needed her to know that I am a good guy, and good guys have people in their lives, right?
“And Deo is married to…” she raises her eyebrows like she’s hoping I’ll fill in the blank.
“Whit. Deo and Whit are together. My brother Cohen’s girl is Maren,” I say. “Wasabi is probably down this aisle.” I clutch at her free hand and guide her in the right direction, loving the way her soft hand feels in mine.
“And you have two sisters?” Jess asks. Her voice is laced with so much hope that I debate whether to disown one of my three sisters just so I don’t have to crush her.
Lydia obviously would be the first one voted off the island.
“Three, actually. Genevieve, Cece, and Lydia are my sisters. But you only have to worry about Gen. Cece is hardly ever around because she’s always doing her brainiac PhD crap. And it’s easier for everyone if we just pretend Lydia isn’t around because she’s never grew out of being that obnoxious know-it-all sibling who loves proving you wrong. So really, you could just say one.” I laugh, but Jess isn’t returning the chuckle. “Do you want me to make a little laminated pocket chart for when you meet the crew?”
I try to joke, but the crease in Jess’s forehead tells me she isn’t in the mood for messing around. I snuggle her closer and nuzzle her neck, whispering in her ear, “No worries, doll. There isn’t going to be a test or anything.”
Jess tosses her hands up and backs away, frustrated like she always is when anything throws her. I love that about her, how she wants to get everything right, do everything right. I love her passion to always stay on top of everything. I love how much she cares about every damn thing. “I’m
going to get this all right.”
I pull her back over to me. “Of course you will. Once you meet everyone, it’ll be easier. And if you forget all their names, who cares? Seriously, it doesn’t matter.”
“Yes it does, Enzo. It matters because they’re important to you,” she says, her voice shaky.
“Hey,” I say. Jess doesn’t look up from my chest so I reach down and tip her chin up so that she’s forced to face me. “
important to me, doll. And my family is annoying as hell, but pretty cool. They’re going to love you no matter how many times you call someone by the wrong name. If it comes down to it, I’ll get them nametags. Or we can make flashcards. Or we can stop worrying about this, go back to my place, and get naked.”
She giggles, gives a small nod, and a warm, contented smile spreads across that gorgeous face. “Let’s grab that wasabi and get out of here,” she whispers. And bites her lip. And I’m so turned on, it’s unreal.
Jess plucks one of the green wasabi plants from the wooden crate and inspects it briefly before adding it to her small basket.
“Whoa.” I let out a low whistle. “Seventy bucks for that little thing?”
“It’s worth it, I promise. I can’t wait for you to try it.” Her whole face glows with that passion, that beauty that sets my blood on fire.
“Doll, I’d try anything for you,” I tell her, and I mean it.
Jessica leans over and kisses me.
Once, slowly. Then again, with a little more force. Then they all blend into each other, and I realize just how much I’d underestimated kissing before there was kissing with Jessica.
holy fucking kissing
It’s her mouth pressing, her tongue demanding, her body pressed close to mine in a way that makes me want to pull tighter, hold on longer.
Come on, let’s get out of here. I’m ready to take you home and do a few things to you that’ll change
This girl is going to drive me crazy in the best possible way...and I’m so ready to dive right in with her.