Authors: Kim Karr
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF KIM KARR
The 27 Club
“Not afraid to take chances with her writing, Kim Karr weaves an epic tale of family, love, and growth.”
Heroes and Heartbreakers
“It’s truly unique and it touched my heart.”
New York Times bestselling author Katy Evans
THE CONNECTIONS SERIES
“Angst-filled and compulsively readable. . . . Karr’s world is filled with imperfect yet relatable characters, a familiar but well-written story, and hotter-than-hot sex scenes.”
“Filled with passion, heart, and emotion. . . . Kim Karr did an amazing job with this story.”
—Debbie’s Book Bag
“This series is absolutely amazing: from the rich and colorful cast of characters, to the crazy and surprising plot twists, and the all-consuming blazing-hot passion. . . . [Karr] is at the very top of my autobuy list.”
—A Bookish Escape
“Kim Karr is an amazing storyteller. . . . [
] is dramatic, intense, and realistic.”
—The Reading Cafe
“Kim Karr is one of my few autobuys! Romantic, sexy, and downright gripping! I read it in one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down!”
New York Times
bestselling author Vi Keeland
“Prepare to have your heart stolen by another Wilde brother. Fans of the first two titles in the series will surely fall in love with Xander Wilde and
. . . scorching hot.”
“A stunning new romance that has it all . . . tension, heartbreak, passion, and love. . . . [
] showcases the best aspects of what these stories can give us emotionally.”
“Incredibly sweet. [Xander and Ivy] are a great couple.”
“I was riveted from the first line and couldn’t put it down until the last word was read.”
New York Times
bestselling author A. L. Jackson
“After an edge-of-your-seat cliff-hanger, Kim Karr returns to beloved characters Dahlia and River. . . . Their passion is intense.”
“The story is fabulous, the characters are rich and full of emotion, and the romance, passion, and sexy are wonderfully balanced with the angst and heartbreak.”
“I was pulled in from the first word and felt every emotion . . . an incredibly emotional, romantic, sexy, and addictive read.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
Moonlight on Nightingale Way
“Emotional, unpredictable, and downright hot.”
—K. A. Tucker, author of
Ten Tiny Breaths
“This book had all my favorite things. This was one of those holy-smokes kind of books!”
New York Times
bestselling author of
“It’s been two weeks since I finished
and Dahlia and River are still in my head.”
—Bookaholics Blog (5 stars)
“I can’t say enough about this book! I LOVED IT! You will be sighing, swooning, and smiling often but you will also be crying, yelling, and you will have your jaw drop to the floor once or twice.”
—The Book Enthusiast
“I can’t wait for more of [Karr’s] books!”
—Aestas Book Blog
“Grabbed my attention and held on to it from beginning to end. . . . The romance, the heat, the angst, the storytelling, and the characters are all captivating and very well balanced.”
“A sexy, emotional, and wonderfully romantic debut. . . . Kim Karr has a fantastic ‘voice,’ which will only continue to grow and refine.”
—Swept Away by Romance
ALSO BY KIM KARR
THE CONNECTIONS SERIES
(Penguin digital novella)
(Penguin digital novella)
The 27 Club
New American Library
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 375 Hudson Street,
New York, New York 10014
USA | Canada | UK | Ireland | Australia | New Zealand | India | South Africa | China
A Penguin Random House Company
First published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC
First Printing, July 2015
Copyright © Kim Karr, 2015
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.
REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”
I had a ring on my finger and no date.
It didn’t bother me. But it did bother my fiancé.
He had an old-school mind-set. He believed in the whole
first comes love,
then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage
The simple truth was that he was ready to get married and I wasn’t quite there. But if someone had asked why not, I wouldn’t be able to explain it.
I just didn’t know.
I slipped the engagement ring off and held it up to the light.
The stack of wedding magazines on my desk was growing with each passing week and yet, I didn’t feel compelled to look through them. I had no clear picture of what I wanted my wedding dress to look like. No preference as to where the honeymoon would take place. And when I thought of my future, I wasn’t certain what I saw.
That’s what bothered me the most.
What did my future hold?
No matter how many times I asked myself that question, nothing appeared to fill the blank space. I just couldn’t see it. Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved Dawson. I wanted to be with him. It was everything else that seemed insurmountable.
Whatever came next.
Then again, maybe it was just the jitters. After all, his marriage proposal had come out of nowhere and truthfully, I never actually said yes.
• • •
I opened the door.
And there it sat.
On top of the white fluffy duvet cover was a gleaming red box.
I was surprised—no, shocked—and I felt a little queasy to be honest. Marriage had never come up in conversation.
Suddenly, Dawson dropped to his knee right before me. “Phoebe St. Claire, will you marry me?”
“What?” I asked.
He looked up at me. “I’ve loved you since the moment I saw you. I know it wasn’t the same for you but I know I can make you happy. Give me the chance.”
I stared at him as he rose to his feet and walked to the bed. There was no time to think about the most appropriate response. He lifted the box and opened it, showing it to me. Written in gold on the inner lid was the question,
I think I nodded. I’m not sure. The room was closing in on me and I felt like I was suffocating. I didn’t know if I should say yes but knew I loved him.
Then it all happened so fast.
He slid the ring on my finger, kissed me, and snapped a picture. And before I knew it, I was engaged.
He was so excited that he announced it publicly in a tweet that read, “She said YES.”
I never actually did.
• • •
My thoughts were a jumbled mess and I wasn’t making any sense, even to myself. So what if I never actually said the word “yes”? I had agreed to marry him many times since that day. I loved him. He loved me. We were going to have a great life together.
Besides, I was being delusional and my irrationality was purely circumstantial. I had not seen what I thought I saw today. My rapidly beating heart needed to calm itself down because even if I had seen
, it’s not like that would change anything. That part of my life ended with my lies. It was time to stop this nonsense. There was absolutely no place in my life for any of it.
Just then, the sunlight hit my ring and it sparkled so brilliantly, it was like the universe’s way of gently reminding me I was happy, I really did want to marry Dawson.
Smiling, I slipped the ring back on my finger. But even that didn’t stop the past from replaying in my mind. Like a movie on rewind, the painful memories would start at the tragic end and make their way back to the beautiful beginning. The torture came with each pause, where I should have told the truth. As my pulse jumped and stuttered over and over, I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to block out the vivid memories.
I knew where it was coming from but I also knew I hadn’t actually seen
at the restaurant earlier today. It was just wishful thinking. The strange familiarity that stirred in my belly didn’t really exist. He was in my subconscious only because today marked five years since I’d last seen him. Since I walked away and he didn’t follow.
This craziness had to stop. What happened was a long time ago and I didn’t have time for any more regret. Yet still, I couldn’t stop myself from staring out the window and remembering how things had been between us.
I’m not sure how much time had passed when my e-mail pinged and I finally snapped out of the daze I had been in. I heaved a heavy sigh and straightened my shoulders. I had work to do. It was probably the reports I had requested from our CFO. I was the newly appointed CEO of The Saint Corporation. Although I held the position willingly it had not really been my choice. When my father was indicted for insider trading, I was named interim head of TSC. While he served his three-year sentence, it was my job to save the hotel chain from liquidation.
There’s not a day that passes that I’m not scared I won’t be able to accomplish it.
With a half turn, I was at my computer and opening the new file. As the minutes ticked by, I had to force myself to focus on the numbers. I’d been twirling from my desk to the window and back since I’d returned from lunch and I was determined to stop the dawdling, daydreaming, and everything else I had been thinking about that wasn’t work related.
In deep concentration, I scanned the northern region first, and then moved on to the southern, before studying the western region. Each spreadsheet looked the same. Occupancy rates were down, expenses were up, and losses were mounting. On top of that, the stock price had dropped yet again.
I was going to be forced to sell more stock to stay afloat.
Feeling frustrated, I exhaled and stared at the downward trending red lines of the quarterly income comparison charts looking for answers that I knew I wasn’t going to find there. It wasn’t long before the loss markers started to run together and all I could see was a white blur that morphed into another cut from the reel playing in my head.
• • •
The bright sun streamed through the kitchen window. I was sitting in a chair at the table eating a bowl of cereal when he swiftly turned me around. He dropped to his knees and his hands parted my thighs. I gasped when his hot, wet mouth found my naked flesh beneath my T-shirt and his tongue lapped my clit.
My body moved on its own—my head tipping back, my back arching, and my hands gripping the arms of the chair.
I couldn’t quiet the moans of pleasure that escaped my throat. It felt too good. Then he inserted a finger and I came hard and rode out the waves of pleasure.
• • •
“Do you need anything else?”
I blinked and a nervous, “What?” escaped my lips.
My thoughts had wandered again.
Oh God, please tell me I hadn’t been moaning out loud.
“I’m leaving for the day. I just wanted to make sure the reports I sent to you were what you were looking for.”
I glanced at the spreadsheet. “Yes, Hunter, they are. Thanks for pulling them together so quickly.”
“Are you okay?”
I squeezed the bridge of my nose. “I’m fine. It’s the numbers that aren’t. I want to review them with you tomorrow.”
He heaved a sigh. “I thought you might. I already pulled detailed expense reports.”
With a click, I closed the reports. “Great. We’ll sift through them together. Have a good night.”
Hunter gave me a nod. “You too.”
As soon as he left, I jumped to my feet. It was time to go. I had to get out of here. I felt like a prisoner in my own skin. I had to escape.
Outside, the hot summer air made it hard to breathe. And for some reason, in every man I passed, I saw
His handsome face.
His blue eyes.
His long, lean body.
What was wrong with me?
So what if I’d agreed to meet with a wedding planner tonight?
It didn’t mean anything other than a friendly conversation about where we should start.
And besides, Dawson was
I didn’t really see him today. He was merely a figment of my imagination. A delusion brought on by stress—and not stress over meeting the wedding planner, or picking a date, or getting married. I wanted those things. I wanted Dawson. He was good for me.
Finally, I arrived at my fiancé’s building. Wanting to forgo the social niceties, I hurried past the doorman to catch the elevator before he even noticed I had entered the lobby. In a matter of minutes, the doors dinged and I stepped out into Dawson’s spacious penthouse apartment. “Dawson,” I called.
When he didn’t answer, I climbed the stairs up to his bedroom. The view of the city from the landing was amazing but I didn’t stop to admire it. I couldn’t afford to let my mind wander anymore.
As I entered through the doorway, he was walking into his room with a towel around his waist and his hair was dripping wet.
“Hey,” I said.
Dawson looked surprised. “Hey, I thought we were meeting at Whitney’s?”
I shrugged. “I wanted to see you first.”
He smiled like he’d just won the lottery. “Good, I was going to call you as soon as I got dressed.”
I drank in the sight of his body, muscles well defined from hours spent working out, his skin glistening with beads of water, his shiny hair the color of honey, his eyes like expensive chocolate, and I was overcome with need. I had been having thoughts of sex all day and I needed him.
My emotions were a mess and I felt the need to connect with him. Without further thought, I crossed the room, stripping off my clothes as I headed toward his bed. “Dawson,” I said in a low voice that didn’t sound at all like me.
He hadn’t noticed the clothes I’d discarded or my naked body because he had turned to open his drawer. Just as he pulled out a pair of boxers, he twisted at the sound of his name and his eyes went wide. “What are you doing?”
“Come here.” I crooked a finger.
“Phoebe, we have to go. We have an appointment at seven.”
I ran my hands down my body. “We can be a little late.”
He looked at his watch and then at me. “What’s gotten into you?”
Dawson liked order. He liked things planned and executed as planned. Spontaneity wasn’t part of his DNA. I knew this but I couldn’t help myself.
Realizing I had to spell it out, I sat on the edge of the bed and let my thighs hang open. My glistening pussy was all he should need to see to know what I wanted. “Kiss me,” I said in a low voice.
For a minute, I thought he was going to put his boxers on. I think he contemplated it but in the end, he let his towel fall and strode toward me. He gave me a little laugh. “I just saw you at lunch, you couldn’t have missed me yet. Is something going on . . .”
I stopped listening. I didn’t want to talk. In fact, I really wanted him to shut up.
His cock rose as he walked over to me but he wasn’t completely erect yet when he reached the bed. He would be soon. I spread my legs wider. I wanted him to drop to his knees and kiss up my thighs, between my thighs, under my thighs. Everywhere. But instead, he looked down and gave himself a few strokes until there was no limpness left. Then he motioned with his head. “Let’s move up onto the bed.”
I ignored his suggestion and reached around him to grab his tight ass and pull him toward my mouth. I was going to suck him off. Make him scream out my name as I took him all the way to the back of my throat.
There was a quick glance at his watch before he bent down and took my mouth with his. It was a subtle way to stop me. He was obviously in a hurry.
His kiss was soft and gentle and when he pulled back, his knees hit the bed and he scooped me up and moved me to the pillows.
“I love—” he started to say but I put my finger over his mouth and shook my head.
Dawson slid inside me in a matter of moments.
He was moving painfully slowly for my taste.
It wasn’t enough. I wanted him to fuck me. I wrapped my legs around him and urged him to move faster. He picked up the pace but it still wasn’t enough. I wasn’t going to have the release I’d been craving like this. I didn’t always orgasm when we made love but today I needed it desperately.
“I want to be on top,” I whispered.
His eyes were shut and he opened them. “Okay.”
I started the roll and he followed. He slipped out in the process but soon enough I was straddling his hips and guiding his cock inside me. Up I rose, and then down I slammed.
Faster and faster.
“Oh fuck,” he groaned.
I smiled at him as I took up the pace even more.
He was getting close. I could read the signs. I put my finger on my clit and applied pressure as I chased the orgasm that I needed to have.
“Let me,” he said.
His fingers took over and I leaned back on his legs, trying to let myself go. I focused on the pressure he was applying. On the way he circled me. The speed at which he was doing it. I wanted to free my mind of everything. I wanted to let myself go. But something was holding me back.
“I’m going to come, baby. What about you?”
“Yes. I’m there,” I said even though I wasn’t.
Dawson stilled my hips and grunted and groaned as he came. When he was done, I collapsed on his chest—my insides still a tangled knotted mess.
Fingers gently pushed the hair from my face. “Will you marry me?”
With a smile, I looked up at him.
Dawson Vanderbilt was the Prince of Camelot, or at least that was the nickname my neighbor, Mrs. Bardot, had given my blond John F. Kennedy Jr. look-alike boyfriend the moment she laid eyes on him.