Love Buzz, Inked Duet 2
“Sweet, slow burn romance that leaves you with the satisfaction that these two overcame their obstacles and found their happily ever after.”Darlene
“I absolutely adored Autumn and Jonas’ love story. They are the perfect couple, the kind you swoon over.”Kylie
“What a beautiful duet. Their chemistry is beautiful. Their love for one another bleeds through the story.”Danielle Lynn Reads
“This book was filled with twists I didn't see coming, hope overflowing and love beyond measure.”My Bookish Rendezvous
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When I woke this morning, I didn’t expect this. For Autumn’s past to step in and rip away everything I love. Autumn asks for patience, but with each passing day, she slips farther from my grasp.
I refuse to lose Autumn or Clementine. Not to him. Not to anyone.
They are my girls. Always.
As the picture perfect life I envision with them slowly fades, the pain beneath my sternum grows more powerful.
Each passing day, my chest tightens at the loss of them.
I never imagined I would discover the love of my life, only to lose her.
When I woke this morning, I never saw this coming. My ex storming back into my life and threatening to steal everything I hold precious. Not just my daughter, but also my livelihood. And I refuse to let him do either.
Until this ends, I must let go of my newfound selfishness and focus solely on Clementine.
Until this ends, I must forget about love. Temporarily.
When I memorized Jonas’s heartbeat, I had no idea I would need to recall it in my lonely bed so soon.
I had no idea my heart would ache so profusely in his absence.
I have never known pain like this. And I have never been so torn.
…hopefully, our love will survive the storm.
Release date: November 9, 2021
Publisher: Between Words Publishing LLC
Print pages: 336
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Love Buzz, Inked Duet 2
I can’t breathe.
Did Leo just say what I think he said? That he has filed for custody of my daughter. Swear to God, I must be hearing things because Leo hasn’t spent a day of his pathetic adult life near my daughter. Why would he suddenly want to now?
Leo waltzes toward his car, and I lose focus, gripping Jonas’s arm tighter.
An evil cackle floats through the air and robs all but my hearing. His wicked laughter will no doubt haunt me for days and weeks and months to come.
All I want is to wake up from this nightmare. Because this has to be my mind playing a sick trick. An attempt to rip away the only true happiness I have in my life.
My vision focuses enough to see Leo slip into a white Mercedes sedan. He starts the car and revs the engine—which is a joke because the car isn’t equipped to sound threatening. Then he rolls down the driver’s side window as he rolls past us slowly. One corner of his mouth tugged up. Brow cocked. Hoity-toity sunglasses over his eyes.
“Until we see each other again.” He throws a flippant wave and drives off.
For the first time in minutes, I breathe fully. But it doesn’t last long. My deep, full breaths turn to short gasps. Come faster and faster. Pulse pounding so powerfully, I clutch my chest to smother the pain. Fist my shirt and tug at the cotton.
Then I lose it.
I drop my arm from Jonas’s, stammer in place, then tip my face to the sky and scream. Belt out my anger and fear and frustration. I scream for all the bullshit I have dealt with since Leo up and abandoned me. Scream for all the pain and heartache I have endured. And I scream at the universe for doing this. For inflicting me with this level of misery.
What the hell did I do to deserve such duplicity?
From the moment I learned I was pregnant; I have been a good mother. A really good mother. I have given up everything for my daughter. Forfeited every part of life not revolving around her. Sacrificed everything so her life won’t feel any less with only one parent. Given up on love—until Jonas.
Yet here I am, still on the receiving end of punishment. And I don’t get it. Why? Why me? What past blunder has put me on the chopping block? Haven’t I endured enough?
Jonas places a hand on my back—warm and comforting—and draws small circles with his thumb. My anxiety settles down a notch. Just barely. Every nerve ending sparks with unrelenting fury. And I hate it. Hate how easily Leo gets under my skin after so many years apart.
The worst of all… I have been so stuck in my head the last five minutes, I forgot Jonas stood less than a foot away. The man I care deeply for; I mentally abandoned him in a blink. If that doesn’t make me a horrible girlfriend, I don’t know what does.
Jonas steps closer—close enough, he is all I see—and frames my face in his palms. Brow pinching at the midline, he holds my gaze. His eyes a mix of concern and fear, strength and courage.
“Autumn, what can I do?”
The backs of my eyes sting as I slowly shake my head. “I don’t know.” Then the first tear spills and slips down my cheek. Jonas swipes it away. “Jonas, I don’t understand why he is doing this. Why the sudden interest in her? He didn’t care before. Threw us out like trash. So, why now? What triggered this?” As if the first tear granted permission for the others to fall, the floodgates open and flow uninterrupted. My body trembles crown to heel.
Jonas drops his hands to my waist and hauls me closer to him, swathing me in his strong arms. I snake my arms around his waist and cry into his shirt. He shifts one hand to the back of my head, strokes my hair, and shushes me.
“I got you. Just let it out.”
We stand near his Jeep for minutes or hours. I cry gallons of tears as I bury my face in his cotton tee. My eyes puff up painfully. I fist Jonas’s shirt, push off his chest, and add distance between us. Slowly, I peer up at him. His iridescent hazels hold my gaze and silently ask if I am okay.
No, I am nowhere near okay.
Honestly, I don’t know if I will be for some time. But none of my feelings matter right now. Time to put my selfishness on the back burner. Again.
Inside the apartment, there is a little girl whose feelings matter more. Whose will always matter more. And I plan to do whatever it takes to protect that little girl. Protect her from a man who never cared for her or even the idea of her. Protect her heart from the pain this situation may inflict on her.
“We should check on Clementine,” I say, emotionless.
Jonas nods then swipes at my cheeks. He studies me with worried eyes. “Yeah. Let’s check on her.”
I step up to the Jeep and check my reflection in the window. Jesus, I look like shit.
Taking a minute, I swipe at my cheeks to clear as much of the trailed mascara off them as I can. Then I slip my sunglasses on and smooth my hair. Not as if Clementine won’t notice the difference in my appearance, but if I can make it as subtle as possible, I will. I need to.
Taking a deep breath, I square my shoulders and step back from the Jeep. Jonas wraps his arm around my waist and presses me into his side. Warmth and strength pass from his touch throughout my body. We walk to the apartment door, a couple united.
But in my head, I slowly lose my mind as I question every circumstance in my life. Including my relationship with Jonas.
For now, I shake it off. My focus needs to be on my little girl and no one else. Not myself. And not Jonas.
We walk inside the apartment and shut the door. Penny sits on the couch beside Clementine. Thankfully, Clementine is oblivious to any disturbance as she watches The Nightmare Before Christmas at a deafening volume. My guess is Penny turned it up after I brought her inside and she caught the ghostly expression on my face.
Bless you, my friend.
I slide my sunglasses to the top of my head and Penny’s eyes widen. “You okay?” she mouths. Subtly, I shake my head and clamp my lips between my teeth to fight the tremor of my chin.
Jonas walks us over to the couch and we sit. For the first time since we strolled through the front door, Clementine peers over at us. Her sweet, innocent face nothing but smiles and love and cheer. She crawls across the small space between us and hugs me. I have no idea why—maybe she senses I need her little arms wrapped around me—but I hug her closer than ever.
When she unhooks her arms, she sits back and smiles up at me. “Mama, who was the man outside?”
In my periphery, Penny cocks her head and scoots closer to the couch edge. She picks up the television remote and turns the volume down. I peek over at her and give a subdued smile.
Inhaling deeply, I prepare for the grocery list of questions Clementine will have after I answer. “No one important, pumpkin. Just someone I knew a long time ago.”
Ever the intuitive, Clementine gauges my expression. Studies my face longer than typical. But by some divine miracle, she appears pleased with my response. “Oh, okay. A friend?”
It takes every rational atom inside me to not rebut her terminology. But I remain tight-lipped. “Pumpkin, will you stay here and watch your movie? I need to talk with Jonas and Aunt Penny alone for a minute.”
Clementine smiles up at me and nods. I swallow the emotion slowly building in my mouth. Bite back the tears that threaten to fall. And force it all past the boulder in my throat.
“Yeah. Can I turn it back up?”
I love how her sole concern lies in the volume of her movie. That her little seven-year-old mind knows no other worries. “Sure, pumpkin.” I hand her the remote. “Stay here. We’ll be back out soon.”
Glancing at Penny, I tip my head toward the kitchen. The apartment isn’t necessarily closed off in the main living spaces, but at least a partial wall blocks the conversation we need to have. Penny, Jonas, and I rise from the couch and head to the kitchen. In the small space, I drag us as far from Clementine’s eyes and ears as possible.
“What is going on?” Penny whisper-shouts.
“Leo was by my car when we pulled up.” I tuck my lips between my teeth and blink back the tears threatening to make an appearance.
Now is not the time to break down, Autumn.
“What the hell did he want?” Not too often will anyone ever meet a pissed-off Penny. But when she hits that point, people instantly know. Being on Penny’s bad side isn’t pretty. Not pretty at all.
I tip my head back and stare at the ceiling. For the umpteenth time since I spotted Leo outside, I fight the anger and frustration and fear boiling in my veins.
Hold it together, Autumn. Crying and screaming right now will not help anything. Just say what needs to be said.
Lowering my chin, I level my gaze with hers. “Said he’s filing for custody of Clementine. I will be served tomorrow.”
Penny slaps a hand over her mouth and slowly shakes her head as her eyes widen. After she marinates on the outlandish news, she opens her mouth. For a moment, she doesn’t say anything. She snaps her jaw shut, then opens it again. “This makes no fucking sense. After all this time. After walking away without worry. So, why now?”
“Question of the day.” I laugh without humor.
Beside me, Jonas remains silent with his arm around my waist. No doubt he is as baffled with what happens next as I am. His thumb draws lazy circles on my hip, his gentle reminder so I know he is here for whatever I need. That he supports my decision, whatever it may be. That he will be a leaning pillar of strength through this rocky time.
And I love how much he cares. Love how he will do anything for me, even after such a short time together. His level of love speaks volumes and resonates deep in my bones.
Penny continues to shake her head while tapping a finger over her lips. “Why?” she mumbles. The question not directed at anyone or meant to be answered. Just pure curiosity.
The three of us stand in the kitchen, staring at each other and nothing. My mind wanders as I search for some hidden reason or an obvious resolution. And honestly, I have no idea where to begin.
If Leo is filing a lawsuit through the court system, should I obtain legal counsel? Is an attorney my first step in handling this? Not as if I have friends or family who have been through this. Will I be able to afford an attorney? Especially on such short notice. How much does it cost to hire one? Will Leo drag out the matter and slowly drain my savings?
Panic hits my bloodstream anew and a tremor vibrates my body. Not enough for Penny to notice, but Jonas does. His hold on me is stronger as he leans in and kisses my temple.
Why the hell is Leo suddenly so interested in Clementine? After jumping ship close to eight years ago, telling me he had no idea how to be a father—nor did he want to be—why is he so eager to fill the role now? And how does he know where we live? What I named her?
Something had to have provoked his interest. It’s the only logical explanation. But what the hell changed?
Then the answer hits me like a wall of summer humidity. Steals my breath and robs my heart. Jonas. Jonas is the only difference in my life after all these years.
What if Leo has secretly kept tabs on me over the years—kept tabs on Clementine—and recently learned Jonas and I started dating? Although he has no desire to be with me or be a father, is this his way of saying, I don’t want them, but no one else can have them either?
My stomach balls into a knot and twists my gut.
If this holds true… one—this is fucking bullshit. And two—in order to not lose my daughter, I need to do something harsh. Something I may regret for the rest of my life. Something that has me queasy and on the verge of vomiting.
I need to distance myself and Clementine from Jonas. If my being with Jonas prompted this whole debacle, I need to back off. At least until I consult with an attorney and everything clears up.
Bile rises and burns my throat as I pinch my eyes closed. Jesus, I am going to be sick.
As if Jonas senses my dismay, he squeezes my hip and I open my eyes. I peek up at him and every molecule of love I hold for him slumps with sadness and heartache.
I don’t want to do this. Can’t do this. But what other choice do I have? Leo has dumped my worst nightmare in my lap and I see no other way out of it. Not yet, anyway.
“How am I supposed to handle this?” I whisper more to myself than to Jonas or Penny.
Jonas takes both my hands in his and lifts them to his chest. Beneath my palms, his heart thumps the rhythm I recently memorized. A rhythm I tucked away for safekeeping. And now it seems as if I will be unlocking that vault sooner than expected to play the recorded rhythm.
Because I am about to change everything. I am about to break both of us.
I stare at Jonas’s chest as my fingers gently rumple his shirt. He places a finger under my chin and tips it up until our eyes meet. Golden to hazel. In his eyes, I see promise and hope and love. The knife twists harder beneath my diaphragm at seeing his unconditional support.
I will miss him. So goddamn much. Every second and minute and hour. Every day and week and month. I mentally clench my fists and pinch my eyes.
“We will get through this together. Okay?” Voice soft and tender and barely audible. It shreds my heart further. “No matter what happens, as long as we have each other, we will survive this.”
The backs of my eyes sting, but I don’t dare let the tears break free. Tears may be what gives me away. And me putting distance between us won’t happen if he picks up on my plan.
For now, I keep this tidbit to myself. I trudge forward and let him believe everything will be okay with us. I pray, in the end, it will be better than okay. So, I nod and force past the pain piercing my heart.
Regardless of my feelings, I must remain strong. Not just to get through whatever bullshit Leo is about to deliver, but also to protect my daughter. Above any person, Clementine matters most. And since the moment I learned I would be a mother, I swore to do whatever it takes to keep her safe and feeling loved.
Even if that means losing the only other person I have ever loved. Even if that means losing Jonas.
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