Authors: Sara Hubbard
Copyright © 2016 Sara Hubbard
Published by Sara Hubbard
The Red Pen Coach
Cover design by Perfect Pear Creative Covers
Cover image by Lindee Robinson with models Tyler Koronich and Ashley Hanson.
All rights reserved.
his book is
for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be resold, given away, copied, transmitted, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations contained in articles and reviews.
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are fictitious or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real in any way. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.
The following novel contains strong language and sexual situations. It is recommended for adult readers.
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First edition June 2016.
ISBN eBook: 978-1-988212-03-6
ISBN Print: 978-1-988212-04-3
ow many times
have I been told to get my shit together? I keep making the same mistakes over and over again. All because of my obsession with men—or bad men.
I trudge into my Aunt Mona’s pub, blowing through the entrance to the back room to change into some sensible shoes for work—one inch versus three-inch heels. As I pass Aunt Mona’s office, her gaze lifts and our eyes meet, but I keep walking so I don’t have to hear another one of her lectures. I soon hear her heels marking time with mine.
When it comes to other people’s business, Mona usually sticks to her own. When it comes to mine? She’s like a dog with a bone.
I fall onto the couch and kick my feet out of my shoes, sighing. I hug my designer purse against my chest like it’s a lifeline. Once upon a time, I used a teddy bear for comfort. But as a grown woman, my Michael Kors bag will do just fine.
Mona appears in the doorway, her flaming red hair a few shades darker than it was yesterday. At her age she should be gray, but this fiery lady isn’t about to grow old gracefully. Not a chance. She leans against the frame, studying me.
“Problem, Beth?” she asks, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Have you seen Evie yet?” I ask, frowning.
Mona’s face tightens as her brows pucker.
“Please don’t look at me like that.” I avert my eyes.
“Maybe you should have gone to see her at the hospital,” she says dryly.
“Yeah, maybe.” Evie is a new friend and a coworker. I had a hand in her starting work here, but I also had a hand in getting her almost killed. One thing about me I always felt good about until recently? I’m a good friend. Well, usually I am, but the other night I got drunk and when Evie wanted to leave the club where we were partying, I let her leave—alone. And I didn’t even visit her when she lay in the hospital, bruised and beaten afterward. Nope, my guilt wouldn’t let me. Seeing her in pain would have just given me a permanent visual reminder of my huge mistake. And I don’t like to look my mistakes in the face.
“You fucked up, Beth. Don’t do it again.”
“I need to change,” I say. Letting Evie leave alone was selfish and stupid. She’s a grown woman, I told myself at the time, ignoring the fact that she only recently moved to the city and she’s perhaps the most innocent person I’ve ever known. If I hadn’t been drinking…if I hadn’t been so focused on Mason Cross…
. Ugh, just thinking his name makes me feel violent.
He’s a prime example of the kind of guys I seem to gravitate toward. The kind of guy who distracts me with promises, affection, and easy smiles but who always disappoints.
“I don’t know…I’m just thinking if I could go back to that night at The Pipeline…” I chew on my nails, wishing I could go back. Could I have saved her from the attack? Or would someone else have taken her place? Could I have saved them too?
Mona picks up an apron sitting on the table to her left and chucks it at my face. “Don’t dwell. It’ll give you wrinkles. Just don’t do it again. But yeah, you need to change. I’m sick to death of having to bail you out of the stupid situations you constantly get yourself into. You know…you could’ve easily been the one attacked. Then what?”
“I know,” I exclaim in frustration. But that’s not what I’m frustrated about. Truth be told, I wish I’d been the one attacked—if only to lessen the guilt that weighs so heavy on my shoulders right now. Drinking and partying without a care in the world has always worked for me, but now? Evie’s attack is making me reevaluate a lot of things in my life.
“You’re twenty-four years old. When are you going smarten up?”
“I feel awful, okay? You don’t even know how much.”
“What were you doing that was so fucking important, anyway? Drinking? Partying? Flirting?”
I glare at her.
“Come on. Tell me. Why couldn’t you make sure your friend got home safe?” She purses her lips and gives me the smuggest expression. She can see right through me, I swear.
I refuse to reply.
“It was a boy, wasn’t it? And I bet he’s a winner.”
You know what they say about glass houses…
I bite my tongue to stop myself from reminding her that she married a sociopath that went “missing” a few years ago. Not sure if she had anything to do with it—but that’s beside the point and I wouldn’t blame her if she had.
“I don’t date boys, Mona. I date men. Unfortunately, they’re all pricks and liars.”
“Don’t swear. I’ll wash your fucking mouth out with soap.”
I chuckle at her poor attempt at humor. But then, she’s probably not joking. It’s okay for her to swear like a sailor, but it isn’t for her niece—though I know I mean much more to her than that or she wouldn’t be berating me right now. She practically raised me since my mother brought me over from Poland when I was almost thirteen. She was the one who convinced my mother to let me stay when Mom went back home. Though I’m sure it didn’t take much convincing. Some women are born to mothers and some aren’t. My mother falls in the latter category. I almost think she was relieved to get rid of me.
“He’s married, Mona,” I say, and immediately regret offering this piece of information.
“Never mind. It’s just this guy I’ve been seeing.”
“The guy you ditched your friend for?”
Ouch. I frown up at her.
“What’s his name?”
I shake my head. My aunt is one of scariest women you’ll ever meet. Seriously. Think Annie Oakley meets Bonnie of Bonnie and Clyde. People that piss her off go missing. That goes for her brother, too—my cranky Uncle Mickey. So giving her the name of a man who managed to hurt me isn’t something I’m about to do, no matter how much I might like to see him suffer.
“Tell me,” she demands.
“Forget about it.”
She sighs and shakes her head. “I know first-hand how bad boys can seem appealing. Or, at least, the thought of them. I fell for a guy who was completely wrong for me and I’m lucky I got out alive. You don’t even know how bad it got before…he left.” When she speaks, she refuses to look my way. Her relationship with Ralph is not something she normally talks about, which only serves to capture my attention.
I hated that man. From his voice to his constant sneer, he unnerved me. I debated going back to Poland just before he left, because I found it hard to live with him, especially when I saw how much he hurt my aunt. Funnily enough, he disappeared soon after I spoke to my aunt about booking a flight. It’s rather ironic now that I find myself gravitating toward men from the same crop.
“You need a nice guy. One you can settle down with.”
“God help me.”
Declan Lewis appears behind her, his gaze moving from her to me. Declan is beyond hot. Once upon a time, I would have done anything to get his attention, but when Mona took him in, he became more of a brother than a potential bedmate. He’s also quite annoying and tends to get overprotective about me at times. Even if he comes in a muscled, tattooed, and beautiful package.
“What’s going on?” Declan asks, though he seems distracted and simply trying to make conversation. I doubt he actually cares.
“Boy trouble,” Mona says, a hint of acidity in her voice.
He groans and walks away. “Need to borrow something from the basement,” he says, his voice trailing off.
“Put it back when you’re done.” Mona pauses for a moment. “On second thought, throw it in the harbor.” She turns her attention back to me.
This is my family: Criminals. And I’m just close enough to their shit that I can hear it, taste it, smell it…they just make sure I never see it. That
sees it. They like to keep their illegal activities hidden from me, but then, I’m not an idiot. Mona has a small arsenal in her basement, and though she never goes down there anymore, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have it on standby. Mickey and Declan tend to peruse her selection from time to time. Here, they talk about picking out a gun as casually as they would talk about Sunday dinner.
“I guess he’s not mad at me anymore,” I say.
Declan has fallen hard for Evie and he didn’t exactly keep quiet about how shitty I was to let her leave alone that tragic night at The Pipeline. But he’s talking to me now, so he must forgive me.
“He does care about you, you know,” Mona says, referring to Declan.
“Maybe. But his feelings for Evie far outweigh any he has for me.”
“She’s good for him.”
I shrug. “Yeah, I know.” I stand, kick aside my leopard print shoes, and snatch my black ones to the left of the couch.
Wish I could find someone good for me
. I slide my feet into my work shoes, already appreciative of the extra room I find in the rounded toe.
“Beth, if you want to change…then change. Stop dating assholes who don’t give a shit about you. And stop obsessing about them. Don’t become
“Mona…” I say softly, but she cuts me off before I have the chance to say anything that might comfort her.
“You need someone who won’t put up with your bullshit. Someone who will
Here we go, Mona to the rescue. Playing matchmaker again, just like she did for Declan and Evie. “I don’t know why I started this conversation,” I say under my breath.
“I told you before, Mickey and I won’t always be around to save you,” she says.
“Why do you keep saying stuff like that? You’ll be ninety years old and still on my case.”
She stares at me blankly and takes a breath. “I know the perfect guy. He just moved back here and—”
“He’s a Marine, or an ex one. Whatever the fuck you call them.”
This stops me. I’ll admit a man in uniform has a certain appeal, but a Marine? Don’t they stick their dick into any hole they can find? Yeah, that’s just what I need. “I’m good, Mona. I can find my own man.”
“Just go out and meet him.”
I laugh out loud. Of course, he’s in the bar. “What’s so great about this guy, anyway? You don’t like anyone.”
“You’re right. I barely like you.”
I blow her a kiss.
“There’s something about him, Beth. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but he’s the guy for you…He’s a bit like Declan in a way…quiet…a little sad…maybe a little lost. And he could put up with your bullshit and take care of you.”
Again, with the taking caring of me. “This is your sales pitch? Sad and lost? He’s like Declan? Declan annoys the hell out of me on his best days. And I can take care of myself.”
“I’m serious.” Okay, so maybe I haven’t up until this point. Even my rent and clothing are partially paid for by gifts from men. But all of that’s going to change now. Once I found out about Evie, I took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. In fact, I couldn’t stand to see my reflection at all.
“He’s sitting at the bar,” she says. “Longish brown hair, big brown eyes, and a five o’clock shadow. He’s got too many tattoos for my taste, but you probably like that sort of thing.”
“Oh, and his name is Damien.”
I roll my eyes at her words as I walk past her on the way to the bar. “Stop playing matchmaker, Mona. It doesn’t suit you.” The last thing I need in my life is someone like Declan. He’s got more baggage than a freight ship. But when I push through the double swinging doors leading to the front, I can’t help but nonchalantly search for this guy who Mona thinks might be my perfect match. Perfect match? Hah. Relationships don’t last. The only lasting relationship in life is the one you have with yourself. But Mona is right about something, though…I need to stop relying on my family so much, and stupid assholes who promise the world and deliver next to nothing. Maybe I’ll get a cheaper apartment. That would be a start.
It’s lunchtime and the pub is more crowded than usual. The noise level peaks, the muffled sound of at least fifty different conversations happening all at once. Add the sound of Irish music playing in the background and I can barely hear myself think. I head to the bar, not intending to look for Damien, but my curiosity won’t let me forget about him.
He’s easy to spot, even though every seat at the bar is occupied. He has the body of a military man: tall, lean, and muscular with tattoos. His hair is short on the bottom and long on top, a haircut perfect for a guy who hid his hair under a hat or beret or ball cap or whatever it is that they wear in the Marines. He wears a short-sleeved black shirt, his tats stretching down the backs of his hands. He’s thick, but not beefed up like a guy who spends long hours at the gym pumping iron while staring at himself in the mirror. Just fit…lean. And I’m a little in lust.
He leans over the bar, his hand firmly around a glass of something or other. I don’t approach him initially. I pour some drinks, get rid of some dishes from the customers who leave, and then wipe down tables. When the place has quieted and is filled with only the regulars, I finally make my way over to him. First I make sure Mona’s not around, because I don’t want to fuel her meddling fire or have her shout ‘I told you so’ at me when it’s clear that I find him attractive.
I hate that she knows me so well. If only she could match make herself so I wouldn’t have to see her alone all the time. Not that her brothers-in-law would allow her to remarry or anything. Her missing husband was a Dante and in this small city that means something—actually, it means everything. The Dante and the Hill families are like the mob in Sterling.
“Another drink?” I ask him.
He doesn’t look up at me; he keeps his eyes on his glass as he offers a single nod. It kind of hurts my ego a little. I’m not used to guys ignoring me. Blonde hair, blue eyes, small body and ample breasts, I’m used to guys coming on to me, and submitting to my every whim until they’ve managed to get me naked and underneath them, like Mason did.
. Guys I take an interest in end up married or emotionally unavailable. Story of my life.
“What are you having?” I lean over the counter, knowing full well the curve between my breasts is visible in my low V-neck shirt. He doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. Maybe he’s gay. Or maybe he is as advertised—another Declan. Before Evie, I could have sworn Declan was batting for the other team.