Castle Hill: A Joss and Braden Novella
Braden Carmichael never imagined he’d fall as hard and as fast as he did for Jocelyn Butler. He also could not have anticipated how difficult it would be to convince her to give in to love. But now that he has her, he’s never letting go. He’s got it all planned—the passionate proposal, the dream wedding, the sexy Hawaiian honeymoon—even the perfect family they’ll start.
After trying to flee from her painful past, Joss is finally allowing herself to embrace the future. But when things start moving faster than she anticipated, she finds herself panicking over something Braden can’t understand. After everything they’ve been through, Joss is sure that their love can survive even her worst fears. But, this time, she may push Braden too far—and risk losing everything all over again…
Release date: December 3, 2013
Print pages: 86
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Castle Hill: A Joss and Braden Novella
My fingers moved fast but quietly across the keys of my laptop, and I’d adjusted the screen light so it wasn’t so blaring. I’d woken up in the middle of the night, wide awake and itching to finish the chapter in my manuscript where my dad finally makes progress in his relationship with my mom. Much of what I’d written was conjecture since I only knew the basic history of my parents’ relationship, but their world, or the world I’d given them, had taken me over these past few months and I found myself enjoying writing in a way I had never before.
This often meant late night type-fests and despite the fact that I was partially consumed by their story, I was also very much aware of my considerate bedfellow and was trying to act as he would and not wake him up.
I’d been typing for just over an hour and finally I’d come to the end of the chapter. After saving the file, I shut the laptop down and stared at it for a while. Breathing in and out, slowly, evenly, I controlled the wound inside of me. Pain slashed me deep across my chest and when I thought on the loss of my parents, of my little sister, Beth, that cut would widen into an agonizing gash. Before my considerate bedfellow, I’d have sewn that cut completely shut and put a numbing agent over it. Now I felt it. I just didn’t let it overwhelm me by turning it into a gaping hole.
Braden helped a lot with that.
My considerate bedfellow.
Among other things.
I smiled and turned in my chair to look at him in the dark room. His bare back was uncovered, the sheets drawn up to his waist, his long legs tangled in them in the middle of the bed. We didn’t have “sides of the bed”. Braden was a cuddler—he insisted we didn’t need sides.
He’d had an exhausting day yesterday. He’d called me late, explaining how he’d gone from meeting to meeting, and then he had been pulled into some emergency at his nightclub Fire, which turned out not to be such an emergency but a case of crap management. When he’d returned home I must have already fallen asleep but I wasn’t surprised that I woke up in his arms. Or that he’d been so tired he didn’t wake up when I extricated myself from his embrace.
Gazing longingly at his muscular back and strong arms, I wanted to slip back into bed and wrap him around me. But looking at his sleeping face in profile I stopped myself. I was afraid I’d wake him up and he obviously needed his rest.
Standing up slowly so my chair wouldn’t squeak, I tiptoed in the dark across to the bed and very gently eased myself back into it, checking constantly to make sure I hadn’t woken him as I pulled the sheets back up over me. I lay down on my side, my hand tucked under my cheek and I stared at him.
He was beautiful.
Just looking at him caused a different kind of ache inside of me.
This was a man who’d fought long and hard to keep me, even when I was bent on self-destructing us. This was a man who understood I could be difficult and stubborn and a little bit irrational (okay, maybe a freaking lot irrational), and still loved me. I wasn’t the best at expressing my emotions. I’d spent so long guarding them so I wouldn’t be vulnerable to heartbreak that even now I wasn’t the gushy emotional type of girl who could tell her boyfriend every single day that she loved him.
But Braden knew I loved him.
Sometimes I wondered, though, if he knew how much. I wondered if he knew that just watching him sleep made me scary happy, breathless even. I wondered if he knew that he was absolutely, without a doubt, everything to me.
Usually that wasn’t something I’d want anyone to know because it meant admitting it out loud and if I admitted it out loud and then lost that person then I couldn’t pretend I’d never felt so much for them in the first place. But that was the old me. Dr. Pritchard, my therapist, wouldn’t be happy with me if I held onto that kind of thinking.
I wouldn’t be happy with me.
Worse, Braden wouldn’t be happy with me.
I snuggled a little closer, just needing to feel the heat from his body against my skin. My eyes dropped to his mouth, his beautiful mouth that said and did a lot of nice things to me.
I was everything to Braden. I knew this because he told me so. He never made me doubt how much I meant to him.
“Is there a reason you’re over there and I’m over here,” he suddenly muttered, his eyes still shut.
I’d jerked back at the sound of his voice but was now smiling as I slid closer. “You’re awake,” I whispered, wrapping my arm around his waist, entwining my legs with his as he draped a strong arm over my back and snuggled me against his firm chest. I sighed. Content.
“I’ve been awake for the past ten minutes, waiting for you to get your arse back in beside me.”
I snorted at his disgruntled tone.
His warm hand slid down over my back, caressing my butt before smoothing back up my spine. “You get what you needed to get down?”
“Mmmhmm. Finished my chapter.”
“Good, babe. Now go back to sleep.”
I smirked against his chest. “Okay, caveman.”
A minute or so passed and just as Braden was drifting back off I whispered, “You’re my everything. You know that right?”
His arm tensed around me at my words and then I found myself pushed back, his eyes boring intensely into mine. After searching them, his sleepy mouth curled up at the corner. “You don’t need to sweet talk me to get sex, babe.”
My eyes smiled. “Well that kind of knowledge could have saved me months of uncomfortable expressions of love.”
Wide awake now, Braden tightened his arms around me and as he flipped onto his back he hauled me with him so I was sprawled across his chest, my legs straddling his hips. A note of seriousness entered his gaze as he drew his thumb across my mouth. A shiver rippled through me and I loved that he excited me so much. “I know how you feel about me. I feel the same way. You never have to worry that you don’t tell me enough, okay?”
There he went again, being all perceptive to the point of being creepy psychic mind reader guy. “You’re creepy psychic mind-reader guy.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Creepy?”
“In a hot way.”
“There’s a hot way to be creepy?”
“Slide your hand south and creepy will certainly become hot.”
Braden’s teeth flashed in the dark, his wicked smile jump-starting my heart. His hand drifted south, down my back, over my pert ass he liked so much and under my nightdress.
“Am I hot now?” he asked, his voice low and rumbling with arousal as his fingers slipped beneath my panties.
I arched into his touch, bracing my hands on his chest. “Baby, you don’t know how to be anything else.”
My words jacked Braden up, his torso lifting from the bed, so I found myself sitting in his lap, our chests pressed close, his arms holding me tight. His lips brushed gently over mine as he shifted me so his erection throbbed between my legs. “You’re killing me with compliments.”
I shrugged, my reply whispered against his mouth, “I just wanted you to know that just because I don’t say it all the time, doesn’t mean I don’t feel it.”
This time he kissed me, tongue and all, deep and wet. When he pulled back for air, he promised me, “I know.” His hands pushed at my nightgown, until he caught the hem and tugged up over my head. Braden’s heated gaze moved over my naked body and I abruptly found myself on my back at he pushed down his pajama bottoms. “Believe me, I know.”
* * *
The wind was beating against my back and the sad, gray clouds above me were giving me this apologetic little pout. When I’d left the flat this morning the sun had been out and I’d dressed weather-appropriate. I had on a thin t-shirt and my best pair of black skinny jeans. Now it was threatening rain and I was shivering in my shirt, wondering how I’d managed to let myself be talked into the trek I was on and trying not to be as pissed as I was feeling.
After the emotionally-fuelled sex Braden and I had had early that morning, I was a little surprised to find him so distracted when we’d gotten up. Sure, he was tired from lack of sleep, but that had never stopped him from paying attention to what I had to say. However, he’d hurried into a shower, shooed me (yes, shooed!) me out of our bedroom while he got dressed, gave me a quick kiss, told me Ellie wanted to spend the day with me and I should call her, and then hurried out of the flat.
It left me feeling confused. I felt like I was missing something.
Instead of sitting at home on a Saturday, stewing over it, I’d let Ellie talk me into accompanying her. Sometimes she’d get something in her head that she just had to have or had to do and she’d drag me all over the city to these obscure little shops. This time I’d let her talk me into the thirty minute walk to Bruntsfield. Way back in my pre-Carmichael years I used to live in Bruntsfield. It was this kitschy little area of the city with kitschy little shops. It was popular with students. I’d say I missed it but it hadn’t come with an adorably annoying best friend like Ellie or her brother Braden, the man who was currently driving me to distraction.
The journey to Bruntsfield had a purpose. Or at least that’s what Ellie told me. Apparently she’d passed this little clothing boutique that had on sale ‘the most gorgeous vintage shoes ever’ and Ellie was kicking herself for not buying them. We were back, trying to find the shop and hopefully the shoes.
“Are you even listening to me?” Ellie asked, a teasing smile in her voice as she studied me, her short blonde hair blowing into her face.
“Of course.” I really was listening. Mostly. I knew the discussion pertained to our friend Jo and her new boyfriend Cameron. “You were telling me you think Cam is moving pretty fast with Jo?” I asked it with a slight hint of a question in my tone, since I wasn’t too sure if that was the point she’d been trying to make.
“A little. Don’t you?”
Absolutely. “Uh huh.” And I did. However, my gut told me Cam was a good guy. “But I don’t think it’s a bad thing. In fact, I pretty much think he’s the best thing that could have ever happened to her.”
Ellie shrugged. “I like him. I do. I just don’t want Jo to get hurt.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Since when did you get so… normal?”
“Normal?” she glared at me. “You mean unromantic? I do realize there are times when romance needs to take a backburner to reality. Jo’s had it tough. As much as I think Cam’s great and as much as I’m rooting for them, I hope he really is going to be there for her. Taking her home to meet his parents this weekend? He’s telling her he’s serious. I hope he means it.”
Although Ellie’s caution surprised me, I understood where she was coming from. Our friend Jo had been messed around by too many guys because she’d chosen them for the wrong reason. Struggling to look after her little brother and her alcoholic mother, Jo always chose men who had financial security. Cam wasn’t one of those guys. He was a struggling graphic designer who’d gotten a job as a bartender alongside me and Jo at Club 39, this swanky little basement bar on George Street. The sparks had started flying as soon as they met, though, and Jo had finally set aside all her silly little dating rules to take a chance on a man who seemed to want her for her.
Despite understanding Ellie’s reservations, I didn’t share them and finally I found myself being distracted from my own boyfriend as I tried to convince Ellie. “I think he’s serious. I think they have a connection. There’s no way to slow that down when you just fit with someone like that. If I hadn’t been so stubborn with Braden, we probably would have been a done deal within a few weeks of meeting each other.”
A mysterious, secretive smile flirted with Ellie’s lips.
“What? Am I missing something? Did I say something funny?”
“No,” she answered hurriedly, eyes drifting up over the old Evangelical church. Abruptly she stopped. “We’re here.”
“Where is here?” I looked around. There were no vintage shoes in sight.
Ellie glanced at her watch and then out at the traffic on the cross junction, then back at her watch, then back at the road…
“Ellie?” My heart started to thump as the day’s events began to fall into place, like pieces of a puzzle. “What is going on?”
Her eyes were wide when they hit mine.
“Jesus C, Ellie, what is it? You’re freaking me out.”
For once, however, her lips were tightly sealed. Literally. They were pinched closed so tight the color was bleeding from them. Her eyes swung back out to the road and as I watched her shoulders deflate with relief, I followed her gaze.
She was smiling at an approaching black cab.
That excited, eyes-twinkling-bright-with-utter-joy, smile swung my way. “I’m going to go now.”
I whirled around as she strode past me, heading back the way we’d just come.
Baffled, I threw my hands up. “Ellie?”
She was still grinning as she looked back at me over her shoulder. She pointed behind me and I turned back to see the black cab had pulled up to the curb beside me.
The door swung open and I was greeted by a surprising but always very welcome sight.
“Braden?” I gave him a quizzical smile as he leaned toward me. He was wearing one of his fitted, expensive three-piece suits I loved. This one was a dark gray and was molded perfectly to his broad shoulders and fit physique. The sight of him sitting in the cab in that suit on this spot where we first met—
My heartbeat skittered to a stop as I finally processed the intensity in his gaze and the fact that the floor of the cab he was sitting in was strewn with dark red rose petals. Fuckity, fuckity, shit, fuck. His distraction this morning, his shooing me out of our room… it all added up and the breath just whooshed right out of me at the realization of what this meant.
“Get in,” he said, his voice low, brokering no argument.
Limbs trembling, I took his offered hand, ducked my head and let him settle me close to him on the cab bench. “Braden, what is…” my words trailed off as he held up a gray suede ring box.
Everything around me stopped.
There was no cab, no rose petals, no nosy cab driver grinning at us in the rear view mirror, no traffic going by… nothing but Braden and a ring box that symbolized so much to me.
Years ago I’d lost everything that meant anything to me.
Losing that left me lost.
I’d given him the fight of his life when he’d tried to convince me that loving him was the best thing for the both of us, but when he won, when I eventually realized the truth in that, I knew our path wouldn’t always be smooth. I’d thought if this moment ever came, I’d be searching for a brown paper bag to stem my panic attack. To my utter surprise, I felt no such thing. Yes, the fear was there. The fear of giving in… only to lose him to life’s unpredictability. However, greater than the fear was my excitement. My excitement that this impossible, too-perceptive-for-his-own-good, arrogant, stubborn, kind, caring, sexy man, was about to ask me to spend the rest of my life with him.
Braden’s pale blue eyes shone with emotion as he flipped open the ring box to reveal an elegantly simple platinum band with a princess cut diamond perched upon a raised prong with a small diamond nestled on either side of it.
It was so me.
Shit, he knew me so well. Do not cry, do not cry!
“Jocelyn,” his voice was rough, like he was struggling to get the words out. “You’re my best friend. My everything. I love you and I want to be with you always. Marry me. I promise to try not to fuck it up if you promise to try not to fuck it up.”
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