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"The book is gripping and real, and Bodhi is one of the most flawed romance heroes I've ever read, while also being endearing and redeemable. Well done."Kraken Communications LLC
Successful business owner Ivy Chambers has no reason to doubt her love for her brilliant financier boyfriend Bodhi Monaghan—right up until the moment he disappears into the night.
Crushed and abandoned, she falls into the arms of Bodhi’s handsome best friend and surfing buddy Cooper Houston—who is more than happy to keep her warm at night.
A year later, Bodhi returns unexpectedly. He’s shocked to find Ivy and Cooper engaged, and he can’t handle it.
Will Bodhi, Cooper, or Ivy come out on top (or middle...or bottom)?
How far will they be compelled by their urges?
If you’ve read Ariella Talix’s #1 bestselling book Just Curious, you’ll be happy to hear a bit more about Willa, Jackson, and Casey again in this book. Reading their story first isn’t crucial for your enjoyment of this one.
Suitable for adult readers only. (Psst! There’s a lot of sex and some naughty language).
Release date: September 1, 2021
Publisher: Ringmaster Publishing
Print pages: 250
Content advisory: explicit sex, MM MMF MF sex, psychological issues
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Cooper Houston glared at the piece of paper he’d found propped up next to the cold, empty coffeemaker. He grabbed it and wadded it up in his hand angrily. It was a letter from Bodhi, his roommate and best friend in the world—or at least he had been Cooper’s best friend.
The wad had been a good-bye message to him and to Ivy, who still lay asleep in Bodhi’s bed, blissfully unaware that the floor had just dropped out from under them.
Cooper thought better of his actions and smoothed out the letter. It was, after all, addressed to both of them, and he had no right to deprive Ivy the dubious pleasure of reading it. He placed it on the counter again.
“What a miserable jerk,” he muttered as he stomped down the hall. Cooper had been out all night enjoying the company of a lovely lady. Mindy? Mandy? He wasn’t sure, but it didn’t matter anyway. He came home hoping for a cup of coffee and a quick chat with Bodhi before heading to his office. As usual, Ivy was sleeping in. She didn’t work on Mondays and often went back to her apartment after Bodhi left for work.
Cooper had a bad habit of seeking the company of anonymous women. They provided him with a temporary distraction from his true desire, which was so impossible and shocking that he could barely admit it to himself.
When Ivy had first appeared on Bodhi’s arm and began keeping company with him, Cooper burned with jealousy. Ivy seemed so perfect in every way, and he wondered routinely if Bodhi appreciated her…
But the jealousy ran deeper than that. It wasn’t just that he wanted Ivy for himself. He wanted Bodhi, too. It confused him no end, so he trolled for women and sought relief in meaningless hook-ups. The relief was only fleeting.
After showering and changing into fresh clothes, Cooper realized the house was still quiet; Ivy wasn’t up yet. Figuring she may need some moral support for what she was about to discover, he steeled himself and knocked lightly on Bodhi’s bedroom door. No answer. He tried again and waited. Still nothing. So, he opened the door and discovered Ivy spread out in Bodhi’s bed on her stomach, sound asleep. Her black cascade of hair covered most of her bare back, but the sheet was pulled down enough to reveal the cute dimples just above her round bottom. My god, she’s exquisite, he thought to himself for the umpteenth time. How could Bodhi up and leave someone so fine and so sweet? He also couldn’t stomach that Bodhi had left him, and the pain was like a knife to the gut.
“Ivy?” he asked softly. Still no response. He could hear her light snores as she slept on. Cooper sat down on the edge of the bed and gently lay his hand in the middle of her golden, tanned back. She felt like warm silk. “Ivy? Wake up. I need to talk to you.”
Blinking, Ivy dragged herself up slowly. Cooper got an eyeful of her bodacious tatas before she realized who was there and just how naked she was. With an embarrassed gasp, she snatched up the sheet to cover herself. “What’s going on, Cooper? Why are you in here? What time is it? Why aren’t you dressed for work?”
Cooper’s brows knit and his jaw flexed before he blurted, “Bodhi’s gone. He left us.”
“What? What do you mean he left us?” Ivy’s dark brown eyes went huge.
“Maybe you should put on some clothes for this. I’ll be in the kitchen. He left us a note.” Cooper strode from the room thinking that his office was the last place he wanted to be this morning, but home wasn’t a lot better.
Ivy kept a few things at Bodhi’s place. When she opened the closet to grab something, she found that Cooper was right: Bodhi’s clothes were all gone. Every last piece.
A throbbing pain in her head reminded Ivy how much she and Bodhi had drunk the night before. Or anyway, she had assumed he was as drunk as she was… now, thinking more carefully, she remembered Bodhi filling her glass over and over with tequila, and she remembered him telling her to take a shot for this reason, then take a shot for that reason, but she didn’t remember him actually drinking much at all. The rat! She also had a hazy recollection of doing a silly striptease for Bodhi… and that was it. Did he get her drunk so he could secretly pack and sneak away? Apparently so. Seething with anger, she jerked on her clothes.
She grabbed some aspirin and went in search of Cooper, who she found making coffee and telling someone on his phone, “I just wanted to let you know that my schedule isn’t too bad today so I won’t be in. I need to take a personal day. Yeah. No, I don’t need help, but thanks for offering.”
Cooper was an attorney in a small private office with his father and older sister. He took his responsibilities seriously. Ivy couldn’t remember him ever calling out for a personal day before. He must be just as shaken by Bodhi’s disappearance as she was. As Cooper finished his call, Ivy reached for the wrinkled piece of paper on the counter.
Dear Ivy and Cooper,
Guess what? I’ve been offered the job of my dreams, and I am leaving today for London, England. Isn’t that great?
They asked me to head up the London branch of the finance firm, and it’s an offer I can’t refuse. This will make my career. I don’t expect I’ll be back.
Sorry I didn’t tell you both sooner, but I didn’t have much time to think about it. They gave me the offer and said it was immediate.
Ivy, I know we haven’t known each other that long, but you are very special to me, and I’ll never forget you. I know, however, that your gallery is important to you, and I wouldn’t have felt right asking you to leave it. I’m sure you’ll find a new boyfriend soon. I wish you success in everything.
Cooper, you’re the best. When I met you during grad school, and we hit it off the way we did, I knew you were destined to be my friend for life. I’ll miss you. You can always come and visit if your busy schedule ever lets up and you have a break. I’ll send an address when I’m settled.
Please stay in the house, Cooper. I paid cash, as you know, so there isn’t any mortgage. If you keep paying the taxes and maintain the property, there is no reason to pay me rent. The house is a great investment, and I don’t have plans to sell it.
Let me know how things are going from time to time. I had to leave my boards. Man, I’ll miss surfing with you. But… duty calls!
Best of luck to both of you.
Cheerio! (Do they really say that?)
“Do you think he used his full name because he thought we forgot it already?” Ivy asked. She was trying to be funny, but her voice cracked as she said it. “What a raging asshole! I told him I loved him, and this is how he treats me? And what’s this business about not knowing each other for very long? I can’t believe this; we’ve been dating for months!” Tears streamed down her face as she stared down at the note.
Cooper wrapped his strong arms around her. Ivy leaned into him and sobbed into his chest. For a moment, Cooper considered that his clean shirt would likely be covered in tears and snot when she was done, but he dismissed the concern almost as fast as he thought of it. What the hell, he thought. I’ll just change again. And honestly… she feels damn good in my arms.
“Let’s go sit down on the couch, Ivy. Here, let me grab you a cup of coffee.”
“I loved him,” she wept into his chest.
“Did he ever say it back to you?” Cooper asked thoughtlessly.
After a long sniffle, she answered hoarsely, “He usually changed the subject or said something funny to deflect.”
“Sounds like Bodhi. But up until he pulled this bullshit stunt today, I’d have bet my life on it that he loved you. He was always talking about you when you weren’t around.”
This brought on a new wave of sobs.
Cooper felt like crying, too, but kept his man card intact by being the comforter rather than the comforted. How could Bodhi do this? he wondered over and over. The idea of Bodhi being gone for good gutted him. The fact that he’d been secretive about it felt like pouring acid into the open wound. And that note… it was so casual. No remorse or concern. As if they hadn’t mattered to him at all.
Throughout the day, he and Ivy trashed the memory of her lover and his best buddy over and over in more and more creative ways. They ended up starving by the afternoon and headed out for a giant Mexican meal in the barrio. It was the best comfort food in the world. Cooper offered to get them margaritas.
“Oh, ugh. No thanks,” Ivy answered with a shudder. “I may never drink tequila again.”
Cooper was exhausted both mentally and physically after the night of frivolity with Mindy/Mandy and the subsequent day of drama he’d had with Ivy, so they made it back to the house fairly early. Ivy had planned to drive her car home from there, but it turned out she didn’t feel much like being alone. Cooper immediately picked up on her reluctance to leave and offered to let her stay the night. She agreed without hesitation.
She was used to sleeping in Bodhi’s magnificent bed, but it felt huge, cold, and lonely now. After tossing and turning for a while, she wandered down the hall to Cooper’s room. She was tired of crying; she needed a diversion or some more of his company—something to occupy her thoughts. His door was ajar, so she stepped inside, but once through the threshold, Ivy found herself hesitating. She wasn’t quite sure what she wanted from Cooper.
Cooper and Bodhi were both athletic. They’d met each other when they joined a beach volleyball team during Cooper’s second year of law school and Bodhi’s last year of grad school. They soon discovered that they were both avid surfers, and they began to spend more and more time together. Eventually, they became roommates, renting an apartment together until Bodhi made enough money to buy the Del Mar house where they now lived—a three-bedroom house on a hillside above the water with a fantastic view of the ocean. It was convenient to both of their offices, and they were delighted with it. They each took a bedroom and turned the third into a home gym where they worked out when the surf was lousy.
Standing in the doorway, Ivy admired Cooper’s bare chest and his thick biceps—a beautifully toned surfer’s body. His hair gleamed with a hundred shades of red and brown when the sun hit it, but in the moonlight, it just looked soft and inviting. She’d always harbored a secret crush on Bodhi’s best friend, but of course, she knew enough to keep that to herself.
Creeping into the room, her toe knocked into one of the shoes Cooper had carelessly left in the middle of the floor. “Ow!” she exclaimed far more loudly than she intended. Cooper jolted upright with a startled look on his face. “I’m so sorry, Cooper,” Ivy said in an unnecessary whisper. She turned to leave and tripped over his other shoe. “Ow, oh crud.” She started to sniffle again. It was so typical of Cooper to leave his stuff laying around; she should have been more careful.
Seeing her retreating form, Cooper called out, “Ivy, come back. What’s wrong? Are you okay?” She turned to look at him, and he could see telltale streaks of tears on her cheeks glistening in the moonlight. She looked like an angel in her diaphanous nightgown. “Do you need some company tonight?” He held out a large hand toward her as if to draw her back to him.
It didn’t take any more encouragement than that. She sprinted to the bed, carefully hopping over the wayward shoes and pounced onto the bed just as Cooper drew down the covers for her to slide in. It felt perfect to snuggle into Cooper’s broad chest and feel his warm embrace anchoring her to him.
“I feel like I’ll shatter into a million pieces if you don’t hold me together right now,” she whispered. “Thank you.”
Cooper chuckled. “Holding you is no hardship, believe me.” In fact, he thought, holding Ivy did a lot to make him feel like his world was improving. He chanced a few kisses on the top of her head as she nestled into his bare chest.
And thus, it began. They spent more and more time together over the next days, weeks, and months, and they went from friends to lovers as naturally as breathing. Hugging and kisses on the cheek evolved into more and more passionate embraces, and when they finally had sex the first time, it was as comfortable as it was thrilling. They found in each other a hunger for going beyond the normal vanilla, and they soon incorporated toys and games. Sex was never routine for Cooper and Ivy.
They eventually professed their love to one another, and their affection was true and deep. However, neither admitted that Bodhi’s exit from their lives still left a gaping wound. They acted as if they were over it, but in truth, it still chafed and burned. Ivy rarely spoke of him, and Cooper only mentioned him now and then when he got a quick text from Bodhi. They did invoke his name, however, in a little game they played. It was meant as an insult… possibly.
Cooper secretly worried that he was the real reason Bodhi left. Had Bodhi gotten sick of his moony-eyed glances? Did he want to get away from Cooper’s weird fixation on him? Did he catch sight of his ill-timed boners now and then? Cooper had tried to hide them, and one time when it was painfully obvious, he’d laughed it off by explaining he’d been thinking about his last date. Lies. All lies. But the attraction never made any sense to Cooper; he’d been one hundred percent heterosexual until Bodhi came into his life. Now…? The confusion was compounded by Bodhi’s abandonment. Cooper’s solution was to bury his need and throw himself completely into making Ivy feel cherished.
Bodhi was gone. Ivy was here. Cooper needed to feel complete with that knowledge, so that’s what he told himself to do.
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