Authors: Lisa Cardiff
Wrong for You
By: Lisa Cardiff
Wrong for You
Copyright © 2014 by Lisa Cardiff. All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: October 2014
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
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 locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
To my dad,
You were an inspiration to everyone who knew you.
Table of Contents
“It’s not you. It’s me.”
“Uh huh. Don’t worry about it,” Violet murmured, barely listening to Eric, her boyfriend of two months. She did that a lot lately. Instead, she concentrated on the shouts gradually increasing in volume in the gym.
“I mean…you’re great and smart. I admire your dedication to the kids. I’m just selfish and I need more than a night here or there.”
“Okay, that sounds good.”
“Violet,” Eric said, his voice louder than before. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Can I call you back? Something just came up.” The shouts had transformed into distinct obscenities, which meant a full on altercation was minutes away.
She heard a long drawn out sigh. “Violet, I can’t do this anymore.”
Her attention snapped back to the phone. “Are you breaking up with me?”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve been talking about for the last ten minutes, but I can never get your attention for more than a few seconds at a time.”
Violet leaned back in her chair and pushed her hair away from her face with one hand. Maybe she should argue or fight for their relationship, but she didn’t need to do thirty seconds of soul-searching to know she wasn’t into Eric, just like she wasn’t into any guy she’d dated for the last few years. “I’m sorry,” she said, because there wasn’t any point in arguing with him. She hadn’t seen Eric in two weeks and she didn’t particularly miss him. Work took every last minute of her day and when she finally got home, she wanted to sleep. Eric never entered her mind unless she accidentally answered his call or she needed a date to a fundraising event.
“I am too. Take care.”
What a disaster.
Dropping her head into her hands, Violet Emerson listened to the yelling down the hall from her office that had reached DefCon One level. Why didn’t she hire a replacement for the last two counselors that quit last month? Oh, right. The Foundation for a Better Future was broke, and not just a little broke. It was limping on its last toenail broke. Barring a very sizable donation, the only way the Foundation would be able to pay rent next month would be if she didn’t pay herself…again, and that meant she’d be eating canned soup and peanut butter sandwiches this month…again.
She wasn’t even sure how her life had turned into such a mess. She just knew things needed to change. As much as she loved helping these kids, she should have agreed to go to law school and joined her parents at their family law firm or she should have become a children’s advocate. While the thought of bartering divorces or navigating the judicial system sounded horrible, at least she’d be eating and maybe she’d even be capable having a normal functioning relationship. Improving these kids’ lives and having the funding to make it happen wasn’t as easy as she’d imagined, especially in this economy. People weren’t quite as generous with their pocketbooks as she would have liked and that meant she had less and less time for herself every day.
When she told her parents she wanted to get her hands dirty and make a real difference in kids’ lives rather than working within the legal system, her mom had actually rolled her eyes. At the time, Violet accused her mom of overreacting, but she was beginning to believe her mom understood something she didn’t. Getting her hands dirty meant a lot of hours, very little pay, and minimal return on her investment. There had to be a better way to make a real difference in these kids’ lives.
Rolling her chair away from her desk, she walked into the makeshift gym. Four rows of red wooden benches lined one wall and two temporary basketball nets hung from black metal poles on each side of the room. In the center of the room, fifteen kids clustered in a tight circle yelling taunts and other words that violated rule number five painted on the wall directly behind them—use courteous language at all times.
“Okay, guys, back up.” She tried to keep her voice calm and encouraging even though she had to yell to be heard over the taunts zipping through the room. Shoving her way to the center of the circle, she found the source of all the commotion.
Dean and Lucian, two of the Foundation’s most promising kids, stood less than three inches from each other, faces red and sweaty.
“Dean, Lucian, what’s going on?”
“Lucian tripped me,” Dean accused, without turning to acknowledge her.
“Fuck you. You’re such a baby.” Lucian shoved Dean in the chest. “Why don’t you go home and cry to your mama? Oh wait. It’s Friday. Your mom is probably walking the streets tonight.”
. This wouldn’t end well. “Guys,” she said in a soothing manner, even as her heart climbed out of her chest. She wedged her body between them, placing one hand on Lucian’s chest and the other on Dean’s. Their hearts pounded violently against her palms. “This is not the place for this. Just take a deep breath and walk away.”
Judging from their red faces, tightly balled hands and clenched jaws, her words had absolutely zero impact on their testosterone-fueled brains. “Come on. Back up,” she repeated. “I’ll have to kick you out of the program if this escalates and I’d hate to do that, but this is a zero tolerance facility.” This was her best shot at snapping them out of the conflict because these two needed Mentoring the Future more than most of the kids in the program. She suspected the Foundation provided these two kids the only balanced meals they received all week.
“Right. Rule number three,” Lucian said, waving his arm in the direction of the wall before taking two steps backwards.
“You’re not worth it,” Dean mumbled, dropping his head.
She exhaled loudly, dropping her hands from their chests. “Yep, rule number three.” The Foundation for a Better Future had five simple rules: 1. Respect yourself. 2. Respect your peers. 3. No physical violence. 4. Be on time. 5. Use courteous language at all times. They sounded simple, but for kids who grew up without structure or parental supervision, they were a challenge.
She glanced at her watch, four forty-five. Only fifteen more minutes until she could close the doors for the day, curl up on her couch, and watch bad movies. As much as she hated forcing these kids out and likely onto the streets to cause all sort of trouble, being short staffed meant she was utterly exhausted at the end of every day. Between making fundraising phone calls, doing the accounting and taking over the role of two counselors, she didn’t have much time to take care of herself anymore.
“Get your books. Quiet time for the rest of the day,” she announced as she pushed the stray blonde hairs from her face. As she anticipated, the announcement was met with a loud chorus of groans. Too bad. They’d have to get over it because she didn’t have the manpower to stop another fight today.
One more month, she chanted in her head as she made her way out of the gym to lock up her office for the night. In one month, she’d be on her parents’ cattle ranch for two weeks of much-needed relaxation. In addition to dodging her parents’
it’s not too late to go to law school
routine, she planned to spend every moment roaming the ranch on her horse. Nothing beat the wind in her hair and the smell of clean air tickling her nose. She could make it one more month before she broke under the pressure of trying to run the Foundation single-handedly. And then she’d finally look at those law school applications she had stuffed into her briefcase months ago. Maybe she needed to get over herself and stop being so stubborn. There were worse things than being a lawyer…like starving and growing old while still sharing a house with her brother.
At seven forty-five on Monday morning, Alec Reed sat in his black truck in the parking lot of the Foundation for a Better Future in Missoula, Montana. After a grueling and often soul-stealing tour, Chasing Ruin was officially on break for an entire month—not that Alec cared. With Cam and Taylor in Paris doing whatever, Jax and Bre busy planning their wedding, and Marcus missing as usual, Alec didn’t know what to do with his free time.
Two days after his sister Taylor’s departure, he was crawling out of his skin. The first few days, he hammered on his drums until he had no choice but to collapse in his bed at night, his arms aching and his fingers nearly blistered. Then, three days ago, he got in his truck and headed home—his childhood home, not his nearly empty and very sparsely decorated loft in Los Angeles.
He didn’t even realize where he was going until he hit I 15N in Idaho. Last night he drove by his childhood home. From what his manager told him, his mom still lived there and he’d even sent her a check from time to time. He hoped the money would motivate her to step out of the alcoholic fog she’d been living in for the last two decades, but the peeling white paint on the lap siding and the weeds fighting for sun in the sad excuse for a yard told him she hadn’t changed.
Sadly, he could relate to her. Most days he wondered why he didn’t just crawl in a bottle of alcohol and numb the pain blistering his soul. When he first left home, the only reason he fought his demons and the sometimes overwhelming urge to follow in his mother’s footsteps was Taylor. As the only innocent one in the debacle that tore his family apart, she needed him and he owed it to her to keep his shit together. Now that she had Cam, the only thing that kept him going was Chasing Ruin, his band and his only real family with the exception of Taylor.
So here he was, sitting in the Foundation’s parking lot, the place that intervened when he was a kid. The Foundation gave him music and the courage to follow his dream. Without it, he’d still be holed up in that godforsaken house with his mom. He hadn’t bothered to knock on her door last night. Instead, he drove to the Foundation and slept in his truck. Some things never changed. He couldn’t count the number of times he’d slept in this parking lot when he was a kid after Taylor fell asleep. It seemed fitting that he’d go back there now.
Right then, he heard a tapping noise on his window. He opened his eyes, expecting to see some kids or another shady element that frequented this part of the town. Instead, he saw a woman with long, thick, almost white blonde hair and a white collared blouse perfectly starched peeking out from beneath a classically tailored navy suit. It wasn’t expensive, just clean and simple. This should be interesting. He rolled down his window.
“Yes,” he said, his voice scratchy from sleep as he rubbed his hand along the dark stubble on his chin. He couldn’t remember the last time he shaved.
Her eyes swept his appearance from the top of his nearly black, sleep-mangled hair to his scuffed black leather boots resting on the passenger side dash. Unlike most women he met on tour, she clearly didn’t appreciate his less than totally groomed appearance. Apparently, he wasn’t her type. Go figure. Maybe she didn’t recognize him.
“Can I help you?” She raised one perfectly arched, pale blonde eyebrow.
He leisurely perused her body from the bottom to the top, cataloguing every detail just to give her a little taste of her own disapproval. Conservative nude colored heels, perfectly shaped calf muscles, slim fitting navy skirt hitting less than one inch above her knee, nicely flared hips, a tiny waist…
She cleared her throat. “Excuse me.”
Well, damn. He was just getting to the good stuff. “What was your question again?”
Little Miss Uptight, with her effortlessly styled blonde hair, folded her arms across her chest, clearly objecting to his impolite perusal of her body. She didn’t need to worry. She was everything he avoided when it came to women. Her kind demanded commitments, love, and honesty, three things he could never offer. But still, he couldn’t look away from her. It was like staring at the sun.
“Can I help you?” she asked, interrupting his musings.
He sucked his lower lip into his mouth, chewing on his silver lip ring as he contemplated his next move. “Do you work here?”
“Yes, I’m the director, Violet Emerson.”
“Perfect.” Alec opened the door of the truck and jumped out. “I’m Alec Reed.” He held out his hand, yet she hesitated to take it. Instead, her eyes skimmed the large silver rings decorating each of his fingers and the tattoos on his forearms. Together, they were overkill in the middle of Montana, making him look more like a thug than a rock star, but his fingers felt exposed and ungrounded without them, and his tattoos…well, that ship had sailed years ago. No drugs for him. He craved tattoos. The sting of the needle momentarily erased his guilt and gave him an incomparable rush of endorphins that lasted longer than any drug he’d ever tried.
Unfolding her arms, Violet slipped her small hand into his and an electric shock ricocheted between them. Hm…interesting.
Confusion washed across her face and then she immediately replaced it with a blank, professional look. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Reed,” she said, no change in her voice tone and no outward signal that she recognized his face or his name. Nice. He liked that. He was so sick of being Alec, the drummer from Chasing Ruin, especially after finishing the last tour. His level of notoriety didn’t even come close to what Jax, the lead singer, experienced on a daily basis, but it was enough to impinge on his privacy and he liked his privacy. He wouldn’t mind being Mr. Reed or Alec, a nobody from nowhere for a while, living and dying on his own merits rather than on the celebrity of his band.
He rocked back on the heels of his heavy boots as his eyes swept over her long-as-fuck legs one more time.
What the hell
. He shoved away the unwanted thoughts about a woman he could never have. It didn’t matter how famous or successful he became, Violet Emerson was the forbidden fruit he could never taste…not a single nibble. “So anyway, I’m in town for a while and I’d like to volunteer at the Foundation for the next month.”
Her grayish blue eyes widened briefly, then her pouty little mouth opened and closed again before she pulled herself together again. “All right. Do you have any experience working with troubled kids?”
He smirked. “I was one once. Does that count?”
Her lips twitched before a smile spread across her flawless face, showing off two adorably matched dimples. “Troubled or a kid?”
. His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Both." He liked little Violet. Underneath that professional veneer, she had a sense of humor and it didn’t hurt that she was damn cute with her button nose, clear skin, and almost white hair that swayed across the middle of her back.
She tapped two fingers against her dark pink lips. “That’s a start. Anything else you want to add?”
Not really. He didn’t want to spill his secrets, but she obviously needed more than a warm body to volunteer. This wouldn’t be as easy as he thought when he came up with the plan last night. For some reason, he got it in his head that he needed to give back to the program that gave him so much. “The Foundation for a Better Future helped me get my shit together as a teenager. I’d like to return the favor.”
Her dark eyelashes lowered, hiding her eyes and her thoughts from him. His fingers itched to tip up her chin so he could see her face. Knowing she’d probably flee if he touched her, he tapped his fingers on his thigh, then he circled his thumbs around his belt loops to stop fidgeting.
Her eyes dropped to his waist. “Well, I have to do a background check and get some references before you start.”
“I can have someone contact you this afternoon.” His agent would have his work cut out for him putting the paperwork together before tomorrow, but he could do it. Rick was efficient and that was the only reason he still put up with his shit.
Her eyes flickered to the holes in his jeans. “And I need you to fill out an application.”
“I can get that out of the way now.” He waved his hand toward the front door of the building that had seen better days. He didn’t remember the building looking so run down when he spent his free time here in high school, but that was probably because this place was like a beacon of shining light, freeing him, if only for a moment, from the hell that awaited him when he went home, and anything was better than his home.
Without turning around to see if he followed, Violet strolled toward the front door. “What brings you to Missoula?”
“Family,” he answered untruthfully. He had no intention of visiting his mom during his stay. Maybe he’d make some discreet inquiries into her life these days, but he’d stay far away from the fucked up world she’d like nothing better than to drag him into. She was like a cancer consuming everything in her path and what she didn’t consume, she damaged irrevocably.
“Do they live in town?”
“Yep,” he said, his eyes glued to the slow sway of her hips as she walked across the parking lot. “But you wouldn’t know them. I don’t think they’re your kind of people.”
“Hm…” she murmured while she slid the key into the lock.
“Are you staying with them?”
He chuckled, but instead of sounding light, it sounded bitter and dark because no matter how much he tried, he couldn’t make anything about his mom sound carefree or light. Nope, Cecilia Reed was as dark and evil as they came. Maybe she didn’t start out that way, but once her bitterness settled into her heart, it wasn’t long before the darkness swallowed her whole. “No. I think I’d prefer a hotel.”
She turned around, her gray-blue eyes scrutinizing every detail of his face. Don’t look too closely; he wanted to warn her because she probably wouldn’t like what she saw. Darkness lived inside of him too, and if she saw it, she would shove him out the door—at least if she were smart. And little Violet looked smart. Too smart to be messing with guys like him.
“Um…okay. My office is down the hall.” She brushed a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Her hair was so light it looked like moonbeams fluttering around her face. He smothered the chuckle begging to be released as that sappy thought registered in his mind. Get a grip, Reed; he wasn’t here to wax poetic about the uptight director of the Foundation even if the girl was beautiful in a wholesome kind of way. Definitely not the type of chick he could ever take home and build a life with. There was no question about it, she was way out of his league and then some.
“You lead, I’ll follow,” he answered. She chewed or her lower lip and wrung her hands. Clearly, she didn’t know if she should be alone with him. Shoving his hands in his back pockets, he flashed his most nonthreatening grin. His sister Taylor always accused him of looking intimidating. He never gave much thought to it, but Violet obviously agreed with Taylor.
“Um, maybe you could wait here while I get an application from my office,” she said, twisting the hem of her navy suit jacket.
“Whatever you want, sweetheart.” He plopped down on the worn red bleachers on the side of the gym. They used to be blue when he came here after school, before school, on the weekends, and any time in between when the doors were unlocked. Funny, all the long-buried memories of his days here were seeping back into the forefront of his mind. With the exception of the hours he spent alone with Taylor, the time he spent at the Foundation was the only good part of his childhood. Regrettably, the bad shit was burned so far into his mind that on most days it swallowed all the happy memories.
She nodded. “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I don’t know you, and it wouldn’t be smart to…” Cringing, her eyes darted to the floor.
He smiled as she stumbled over her words, obviously attempting to make the thoughts in her head sound more benign than they actually were. “I get it. I’m aware of the way I look.”
“No,” she yelled a little too loudly, a frown marring her naturally beautiful face. No makeup needed for Little Violet, not with that flawless skin. “You look good. I mean…fine. There’s nothing wrong with the way you look. I don’t judge people on their appearance. I’m not like that.”
“Maybe you should.” He smirked as his amused gaze traveled the length of her cuter than shit body. He didn’t want her to get the impression that he could be trusted. The world was full of evil. She couldn’t save everyone regardless of how much she tried and something told him she tried often and frequently. Some people didn’t want to be saved. Learning that now would save her a lot of trouble when some asshole crushed all that goodness pouring out of her without remorse.
And then she fucking laughed, her lips curling up into a sultry smile that would have brought a lesser man to his knees. “Are you trying to scare me?”
“Am I succeeding?”
“No. I’ve worked with troubled teens for the last four years. I can see right through you. No need to pretend you’re the big bad wolf,” she said, her wide, innocent eyes soaking him, taking in every last detail.
He shook his head in disbelief. “If you say so.”
“I know so.” She took two steps backwards, still facing him, giving him a wide smile, before turning around and walking to her office. All he could think about was spending a month getting tangled up in her.