Chapter 1 – Jax
“Please join me and raise your glass to toast Jamie and April for their engagement, and for finally finishing their house. April, you’re definitely a brave woman, taking him on, and remember, the most handsome Cook male is still single,” I say, waggling my brows.
The crowd of our friends and family snicker. Jamie narrows his eyes at me, but his curved lips give him away. My big brother may seem like a moody son of a bitch but he’s protective and loyal, and he’s always one of the first people I call when I need something.
This house—the house—almost caused World War Three between us four brothers. There were even times April threatened Jamie with bodily harm if he didn’t finish in time.
At least now that it’s done, we can start our next project, our most ambitious yet: a two-story ex-bed-and-breakfast that has had years of neglect but holds a whole lot of promise. It’s also pink… everywhere. Every room, every painted surface, even the garage trim—it’s all magenta, fuchsia, and rose.
It’s going to be a big job. Jamie and I decided before we closed on the property that it would only work if we were both working on it. Given I’m teaching a few college classes for the upcoming summer semester, it’s ideal since I’ll have guaranteed income. I won’t have to be out there hustling for photography jobs, which means my time is free to help Jamie with the house, and I can live rent-free for three months. It’s a win-win. Well, it will be.
After working their way through well-wishers, Jamie and April walk over to where I’m standing, April giving me a big hug when they reach me.
“Who knew you could give a good speech when you had to?” she says, tightening her arms around me. “Thank you, Jax.”
I look over her shoulder to where Jamie is smiling at us, a look that soon morphs into a scowl when I run my hand down April’s back toward her ass.
She giggles, Jamie growls, and I burst out laughing, tucking my soon-to-be sister-in-law under my arm, much to my brother’s annoyance.
“You sure you want to marry this grump? I’m a lot more fun.”
Jamie gently pries April out of my hold and back into his side. “Get your own woman.”
I see April’s lips twitch before she shoots me a wink. She tilts her head toward my brother and lifts a brow. “Your woman? Is that why you’re marrying me? Me man, you woman?” she says, sounding like a caveman.
Jamie just smirks, hooking his hand around the back of her neck and crushing his mouth to hers, his tried and true way to shut her up when she starts sassing him.
April’s best friend, Veronica—Ronnie—appears at Jamie’s side, looking at the two lovebirds making out and rolling her eyes. “Do they ever stop sucking face?”
“Nope,” I say, forcing myself to look away from her.
Over the past year, there have been many family events Ronnie has come along to. And every time, it’s the same thing. I can’t stop watching her. I just can’t help admiring the view every time I see her. Ronnie has her own force field, and it’s larger than life. She lights up a room the second she walks in.
We met in the front yard of our very first flipped house. I was covered in dirt and sweat, and April, Ronnie, and April’s ex-mother-in-law had set up camp on April’s front porch to watch us work. So naturally, since they wanted a show, I chose to give them one by peeling off my shirt.
I felt Ronnie’s presence before I even saw her, and the moment I met her eyes, it was like I could see right into her soul.
Then I found out she was April’s best friend and, well, that was the end of that. I was not going to do anything to cause problems for Jamie and his budding relationship with April. Not after he’d been through too much and finally had what he wanted within his grasp. So every time since that first meeting, I’ve forced myself to either act indifferent around her, or I’ve tried to ignore her completely. It’s been a fool’s errand though because she’s not a woman any hot-blooded male could ignore.
But tonight, Ronnie is the personification of boho beautiful. I’ve tried to avoid her for most of the party, but with her standing here, smelling like summer nights and peaches, she’s becoming harder and harder to resist.
“How have you been, Jax? It’s been a while,” she says, her warm voice reaching deep inside.
“Yeah, I’m good.”
She elbows me gently, her gorgeous face now shining up at me, her smile huge. “It was a good speech. You might’ve just put yourself in the running to be Jamie’s Best Man.”
“I have my moments,” I reply with a wink.
“I bet you do.” The innuendo is definitely on point. “So what other talents are you hiding away?” Her sly smile and body leaning close to mine are doing crazy things to my brain, threatening my ability to think rationally. Needing to escape, I scan the yard to spot any other member of my family to use as an excuse to extricate myself from a conversation that could only end in disaster. Thankfully, April and Jamie rejoin the conversation.
“Ronnie, thank you so much for staying with Axel tonight. He lasted longer than I thought,” April says. Axel is her six-year-old son, who I secretly want to kidnap. He’s the coolest kid I’ve ever met because he’s like a mini-me. He’s now asleep upstairs in his brand new aviation-themed room. As the ‘artist’ in the family, Jamie asked me to design a bedroom that would make Axel the coolest kid in school. From the way the kid’s eyes lit up and then filled with tears when he first saw the finished room, I’d say I met that goal. The added bonus is that I’m now his favorite uncle.
April turns to Ronnie. “How’s school?”
“School?” I ask, my interest piqued.
Ronnie offers a small gift of a smile, a pink tinge blooms on her cheeks, which has me imagining other ways to make her blush. “Yeah, I had an ‘I’m turning thirty-one and I don’t like my life’ crisis.”
Jamie chuckles. “I had one of those at thirty-five. I think they can come at any age.”
“I’m still so proud of you for doing that,” April says, pulling Ronnie in for a hug.
“Let’s see if it works out first. I may have given up a six-figure salary for nothing.”
What the hell did she do for a job to earn that kind of money?
No. I don’t need to know. My attraction to her miles of curves, long legs, dark blonde hair with the golden streaks threaded through, and her ruby-red lips that make me want to grab her and kiss her senseless, has never been rational. I’ve had to force myself to be outwardly indifferent, being standoffish to stop myself from entertaining thoughts of getting involved with her. With Jamie finally getting what he wants with April, I don’t want to be the cause of any complications if things were to go wrong between Ronnie and myself.
“I need a drink,” I announce sharply before spinning around and walking away towards the coolers storing all the alcohol.
I don’t dare look back. That would be tempting fate, and I’ve got enough things to focus on without courting complications like Ronnie.
An hour later, I’m sitting in a corner by myself, a bottle of Jack and a bottle of cola my companions. The party is still going strong around me, the happy couple moving around the guests, my parents dancing in the middle of an imaginary dance floor, swaying side to side like they’re the only ones in the room.
“You good?” my twin brother, Bryant, asks as he takes a seat beside me.
I slowly turn his way. “I’m good.”
“Doesn’t look like it.”
I lift my half-full tumbler of whiskey to my mouth. “Jack and I are just fiiiine.”
He chuckles. “Sounds like it. Give me some of that.”
I slide the drinks his way and watch him pour the liquor.
“Cheers then,” he says, knocking his glass to mine. “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
“Or if you can’t touch them, get drunk and avoid them.”
“What?” he asks with a startled laugh. “Who can’t you touch and why the fuck not?”
My eyes drift across the yard to a laughing Ronnie who is standing with a group of Jamie’s friends.
Dammit, the one time I wish he couldn’t read me like a book.
“But why can’t you touch if she wants you to?”
“What?” I ask, my movements a bit slower now as the Jack starts to take effect.
“Why can’t that happen?”
“I don’t need complications, and I definitely don’t need to piss Jamie off by tapping and gapping his fiancée’s best friend.”
“Why would you tap and gap when you actually like her?”
“Slam and run?”
He grins. “How about jerk it and go back to work?” His lips twitch, and we both start chuckling. We’re identical twins, Bryant being the older one, but there are differences between us. He has short, cropped, well-maintained hair; I lean towards the shaggy, creative, just-rolled-out-of-bed look. He’s an assistant professor in biology; I’m a photographer who shoots sports and events, and takes the occasional road-trip for landscape shots.
“I think I’ll just stay right here with my friends Jack and Coke, and not entertain thoughts of what might be with Ronnie. Why start something that could cause trouble if it didn’t work out?”
“But what if it did?”
I look at him with a skeptical “don’t go there” look.
“Alright. Just don’t overdo it. You’ve got class on Monday, right?” the ever responsible Bryant says.
“Yep. Who would’ve thought we’d be teaching at the same college?” I snort. “In fact, who would’ve thought I’d be teaching at all?”
“You know you underestimate yourself, right? Your photos are amazing. You’re super talented, and you wouldn’t have been asked to teach those classes unless the powers that be thought you had something to offer.”
I grunt in response, which just makes my brother laugh. “Since you’re the resident sage today, what should I do about the other problem?”
“I think you should both get it out of your system and move on.”
“What delusional universe are you living in that makes you think that would actually work?”
“A normal, adult one?”
“Ha fucking ha. Give me my Jack back and go be sociable.”
“Like you are?”
“Yep. Call me Mr. Social Fucking Butterfly. I’m a ray of sunshine ready to brighten up the night.”
Bry shakes his head and grins. “Okay. You’ve obviously caught the brood mood from Jamie. Have fun with Jack…” he says, pouring us both another drink before pushing his chair back and standing. “And if you actually want to get over this fixation you have with Miss Veronica, go make it happen, ’cause take it from me, the way she’s been watching you all night, if you say go, she won’t say no.”
I frown up at him. “You’re a poet, and you didn’t even know it.”
“Oh, I know it. How do you think I get laid so often?”
“Craigslist?” I ask with a smirk.
“Smartass,” he mutters as he walks away.
My eyes drift back towards Ronnie, my gaze locking with hers and staying there. So many unspoken, filthy things are exchanged in just that look. She tilts her head toward the house, a sexy smirk playing on her lips. I quirk a brow, and her grin gets wider. Then I watch as she leans in and whispers something to April before skirting the edge of the group and scaling the stairs leading to the deck. Stopping at the back door, she glances over to me and licks her lips before disappearing in the house, and I know in that move that I’m done for.
Standing, I down my full glass in one go, now feeling decidedly blitzed as I cross the yard to follow her. It may not be a smart move, it may not be a good move, but following Ronnie into the house is the easiest decision I’ve made.
Maybe Bry is right. If we can just screw this lust out of our systems, we can just go on like everything’s fine.
Once and done. Then happy families.
It should work, right?
Chapter 2 – Ronnie
Before I even arrive tonight, I’ve made a decision. The second my eyes land on Jax when I walk into Jamie and April’s backyard to join the party, I know my decision is not only the right one, but a necessity.
Because eleven months is far too long to lust after someone and have them avoid you, even though you catch them mentally undressing you every single time you’re in the same place. He thinks I don’t see him shooting his camera in my direction, or maybe he thinks I don’t track him almost as much as he tracks me.
I’ve tried talking to him. I’ve tried initiating situations where he can strike up a conversation with me, and nothing has worked. I know it’s not because he’s shy. In fact, I swear he’s the most outgoing, confident guy I’ve come across in a long time. And of course, that’s exactly the type of guy who ticks my boxes—or gets one particular box to open and ready for delivery—every damn time. April used to say that cocky and me go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly. I just didn’t count on the cocky guy to get my attention to lose his nerve when it comes to his sister-in-law’s best friend.
Spotting him across the room, acutely feeling his eyes roam my body like a blow torch scorching my skin, I knew it was now or never. With the party still going strong, if ever he was going to take the bait and let me reel him in, I knew I had to do something. If it ended up with me playing my hand and him folding, then at least I’d have my answer.
He didn’t fold, he laid his cards on the table and followed me inside.
I catch his gaze for a split second before I walk up the stairs to where I know there’s a guest bedroom with my name on it—or an empty, unused bed ready to be christened. Hopefully, he’ll follow me, and we can be alone. No pressure; no expectations. But I know that if I don’t kiss him, he’s going to continue to be this big huge ‘what if.’
The top floor is almost dark. Nobody has a reason to come up here. My only hope is that he walks through the dimly lit hallway and notices the cracked door of the guest room.
I stand in the middle of the room. Lying on the bed would be a little too brazen.
I slip off my shoes and push them to the side. Bare feet are suggestive but not as much as being naked. I’m still putting myself out there, just not in a take-me-now kind of way, and it also means if it all turns to custard and someone else walks in, I’m just relaxing, maybe contemplating a nap. Seems legit.
The longer I wait, the more aware I become of the low hum of music drifting in from outside. I focus on my breathing, halfway between calm and collected, and hyperventilating. What if he wasn’t coming inside for me? What if he mistook my look as just a simple head twitch and my ‘come hither’ eyes from the bottom of the stairs as ‘I’m tipsy and tired.’
My brain starts running like a gerbil on a running wheel, the myriad of possibilities and eventualities threatening to give me a headache.
I stop breathing when there are footsteps in the hall, soft thumps getting louder and closer.
With my eyes pinned to the door, my heart speeds up. My mouth goes dry as time slows to a dead halt.
I can do this. I can jump him like a spider monkey and hope he catches me. Sure, it’ll be one of the most humiliating experiences of my life if he turns me down, but oh, how good it will be if he takes me and runs with it, horizontally speaking of course.
The door slowly sweeps open and I go lightheaded at the sight of Jaxon Cook stepping into the room. Just his presence charges the air around me, the electrons snapping at my skin and sending a tremor through my body.
His eyes are intense, his hazel gaze darker and hungrier than I’ve ever seen on him before. Closing the door quietly behind him, he slowly peruses me, his stare like a physical touch I feel down to my perfectly-painted toes then back up again.
In the blink of an eye, he’s standing in front of me, getting as close as he can without a single part of him touching a single part of me.
I let myself take him in. His jaw so square, framing a face so perfect it should be memorialized as a work of art. His strong, broad shoulders, arms my hands would not be able to reach around, a black shirt with an open neck, a chest I have committed to memory, hips that promise power, legs that guarantee stamina, and… bare feet. My head snaps back to his, a muscle in his jaw twitching like mad, his hands clenched into fists at his side.
Then it happens, without a single word being uttered between us. His arm shoots out, grabbing the back of my neck, the other one grappling my hip and tugging me forward. My palms flatten on his chest, wedged between us as he lowers his mouth and takes my lips like he owns them.
I flex my fingers to make sure this is real. That his mouth is really devouring me. That his tongue battling with mine is not just a crazy delusion. When his hands start to roam, holding me tighter, his kiss goes deeper. He releases the sexiest deep moan from his throat, and I let myself sink into him, letting him take me.
I start moving, pulling him with me. His hands go to my ass, and I fly back onto the bed, his body soon following, pressing me into the mattress. I feel him everywhere. Opening my eyes, I see his wide open and watching me as the kiss morphs into something wild and rough, and oh so very hot.
The atmosphere shifts, a new sense of urgency bouncing between us. I drop my hands down his back, tugging his shirt up his chest. He rips his mouth from mine, lifting up his arms just long enough to tear the offending piece of clothing off and throw it behind us before his hungry gaze drags down my chest. He lowers his lips to the base of my throat, sucking the skin between his teeth before running his tongue down between my breasts and doing the same thing there. My back arches off the bed, my body humming with want and need and growing desperation to feel his skin on mine, head to toe, inside and out.
Thanking the high heavens I wore a front-clasping bra, I push up on my elbows, peppering kisses on his neck, shoulders, and those pecs I’ve imagined doing things to since I saw them the day we met. Then his body is sliding down mine until he’s on his knees beside the bed and his fingers are dragging my dress up my legs. Needing to be naked now, I lift up and expedite the process, grabbing my dress’s hem, lifting my butt, and ripping the offending fabric over my head so I’m lying there in my bra and underwear—thankfully, a sexy purple matching set—and nothing else.
He takes over, his lips quirked in a devastatingly sexy smile. His hands hook behind my knees, and with a wicked glint in his eyes, he jerks me down the bed, draping my legs around his shoulders, my silk panties now barely an inch away from his lowered face. His fingers slide up and down my calves, a move that would’ve had me mounting his face if he hadn’t already made that decision for me. He looks up at me as he takes a long, slow breath in, then breathes out, closing his hot mouth over my clit. Warm air collides with wet heat, causing a shudder to contort my entire body from hips to head. Then his fingers slide up the inside of my legs, his nails providing unimaginable friction on their way to the apex of my thighs. His eyes stay locked to mine as he hooks his thumb inside the fabric of my underwear, shifting it out of the way before diving right on in, lips, teeth, tongue, mouth, touching every part of me. Licking, nipping, rolling, sucking… tasting. My head jerks back, digging into the bed. My hands go to my bra, unhooking the front clasp and rushing to tear it off me. Then they separate, one to his hair, one to my breast, his eyes flashing when I pull and twist my pert nipple. His ministrations speed up, his hands joining the party as he drags my arousal up to my clit and back down again before easing his more than capable index finger deep inside me and curling the tip.
His head rocks against me, his arm down below his waist. Knowing he’s so far gone he can’t stop himself from jacking off while giving me head is almost enough to send me over the edge.
The longer he keeps up his frenzied attack, the harder it is to keep my wits about me. My vision goes hazy, my give-a-shit meter on whether anyone can hear us rapidly dropping to dangerous levels.
I feel my climax bearing down on me, my heart galloping forward at an alarmingly fast pace, making me not sure whether it’ll be the heart attack or an orgasm that will be my undoing. I can’t think of a better way to go.
Then it hits me that there’s only one way I want this to happen.
My hands drop to his shoulders, firmly pushing him back and his mouth out of reach. His brows bunch together as he meets my desperate gaze. I curve my lips and beckon him back up onto the bed. I quickly shuck my panties off, kicking them to the side as I spread my legs wide for him.
He rises to his feet at the edge of the mattress, his eyes hooded and hungry as they roam up and down my naked body. My focus is completely transfixed on his long, hard cock pointing straight up from his open jeans, no underwear to be found. I’ve always loved a man going commando.
His eyes drop to my curved mouth, my tongue licking my bottom lip when he digs into his jeans pocket to pull out a welcome foil packet. He rips it open with his teeth, one hand fisting up and down his shaft before he throws the condom wrapper on the floor and rolls the latex down to the base. Kicking his jeans off and away, he puts a knee to the bed and crawls back over me, his hips wedging between mine as he rests an elbow beside my head and slams his mouth down. I place my hands on either side of his face and hold him in place, tasting myself on his lips. I swirl my tongue around his, the kiss going wild as he notches the head of his cock at my entrance, and with a hard thrust of his hips, buries himself inside me with a deep groan. I cry out, ripping my mouth from his and burying my face in his neck to muffle my moans as we both set a manic pace. My nails rake his back, his teeth grate against my shoulder before latching on to my neck. I drop one hand to his ass, hooking my ankles behind his thighs, wanting to feel the power behind his dizzying thrusts as they drive me higher and higher.
I run my hands up his back and over his shoulders, cupping his jaw and pouring everything I have into our kiss. He braces himself on one arm, my mouth chasing his, our lips fusing together as he snakes a hand between us, his thumb finding my clit with pinpoint accuracy. Proving he’s a quick study, he circles and rolls over the sensitive nub in just the right way, not missing a single stroke of his cock inside me—in fact, he drives harder and deeper.
His thrusts get clumsy; his grunts get rougher. My blood pumps faster, pooling deep inside me and making me light-headed as my entire body tingles, ready to spark an inferno that could raze the entire city.
Then he goes deep, once… twice… and when he plants himself a third and final time, I detonate, screaming his name into his mouth as he groans husky and low into mine, his body stilling, mine clenching him like a vise. He gently glides his cock back and forth, easing us back down to Earth from the heights we just traveled to. I tear my mouth from his, resting my forehead in the crook of his neck as I try to catch my breath and regather my scattered wits about me.
I was a fool to think I could do this and remain unaffected. An idiot to imagine that something physical between us would be anything short of fucking dynamite.
And now… I’m scrambling to work out what comes next because with Jax’s lips still placing gentle kisses against my temple, his breathing labored, his cock still throbbing inside me, my mind is blank.
I’m not sure I even know which way is up.
Or if I’m ever going to be the same again.
Cheers to well-meaning plans that backfire.
I’m barely starting to think straight before Jax sits bolt upright, his eyes glued to the door.
He tilts his head to the side for no more than a second before I push his arm hard and shove him off the bed, making him land on the floor with a loud thump. I sit up and scramble under the blankets. He leans over with a wide-eyed, incredulous expression when there’s a creak of a floorboard in the hallway. I cover up just in time to save myself from indecently exposing myself to Mrs. Cook—Jax’s mother—of all people.
Her mouth drops open when she sees me cowering in the bed, only my head and bare shoulders showing.
“Oh, Veronica. I didn’t know you were up here. Did I wake you?”
“No,” I reply a little too quickly, knowing I must look as guilty and embarrassed as I’m feeling right now. My stomach is in knots as she looks around the room. I see the situation she walked in on dawn on her.
“Oh… oh…” she says with a knowing glint in her eye. “Well, I guess when needs must, you’ve got to take matters into your own hands. Good on you, girl.” She shoots me a wink. “I’ll let you get back to it,” she adds before giving a short wave and pulling the door closed behind her.
I stare at the space she left in stunned silence, my brain slowly engaging. My eyes bug out of my head, my cheeks bright red.
Mrs. Cook didn’t spring me post-coitus with her son—that would have been infinite times better. No, she thinks I was up here rubbing the bean… letting my fingers do the walking… and during my best friend’s engagement party! Because apparently when people have a need, they have to run upstairs, get completely naked, and go to town on themselves. Um, NO!
Before I give it any more thought, or remember what I was going to say to Jax before the unplanned interruption, I jump from the bed, scramble to grab my dress and bra off the floor, and hightail it into the bathroom, locking the door behind me.
This was supposed to be my chance to act on my crush on Jax and finally make the man talk to me. Instead, I’m locked in the bathroom and too embarrassed to even face Jax, let alone talk to the man.
However, there is one thing I now know for sure. I can never show my face around these people again.
The curse that has hexed my love life seems to have struck again.
And come Monday morning, I can imagine it’s only going to get worse.