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1. Keep Aunt Missy's House
2. Get Her Dream Job
3. Never Compromise
Chris Pressley is the perfect roommate—uptight and damaged and hung up on his ex. And hot. Bette doesn't date, but she definitely likes looking.
Chris just needs to get away from the happiest couple on campus: the sweet, shy girl he loves and his former best friend. Watching Bette rock her tattoos and her curves even as she builds her own business is an education. That's probably why he can't keep his mind off her...
Bette isn't interested in changing for anyone. But the heat rising between her and Chris won't leave her the same...
***Originally published in 2015 with a different cover.
Release date: August 2, 2019
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 350
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Kate L. Mary
I heard her before I saw her. The twinkling laugh that always made my gut clench and my heart beat harder in my chest. Only this time it felt like someone had jammed a knife into my stomach. Admitting it made me sick, but her laughter was lighter than it had ever been when we were together. More musical. Like she didn’t have a fucking care in the world.
It made me hate Ryan just a little bit more.
I stepped back right before they came into view, ducking into a shadowy doorway so they couldn’t see me. The sun was bright and the rays beat down on Annie’s head, highlighting the gold in her hair. Her soft brown eyes sparkled as she stared up at my former best friend like he was the center of the universe. I almost threw up right there. Annie had never looked at me like that. I’d wanted her to, so badly there had been times I’d felt almost desperate. Like I’d be willing to kill a man just to get her to care about me half as much as I did her. It had been like an obsession. She had been an obsession. Still was.
God, I needed to get away.
There was a good chance I was going through a little bit of a masochistic phase, because as Annie got closer, I couldn’t move. Couldn’t look away. Her white-blond hair resembled a halo, and the smile she wore lit up her whole face. Then there was Ryan. My best friend. The guy I’d known and trusted since the age of nine, when I’d come to his rescue. If it hadn’t been for me, those older boys would have beaten the shit out of him. And this was how he repaid me. Stealing my girl.
I couldn’t hear what they were saying when they walked by, but whatever it was, they were smiling like two idiots in love. Which made me clench my hands into fists until I felt like my bones were on the verge of breaking. I had to fight the urge to run out and push Ryan away from her. Or worse. Watching them made me feel like someone had reached into my chest and dug their fingers into my heart, but I still couldn’t look away.
It had been almost a week since I’d walked in on them in bed—naked—and I still saw it every time I closed my eyes. If I could wash the memory from my brain, I would. And not just that moment. All of it. Meeting Annie, dating her, falling in love like an idiot. All of it made me hate myself for being weak. But of course I was stuck with it. Nothing I did would change what had happened.
Since finding out about them, I’d barely left my dorm room. Things weren’t getting better. Especially with me living only a few doors down from Annie. Every time I stepped out of my room I had to worry I’d run into her. That was why I’d decided to move. I had to get away or I’d go crazy.
When Ryan and Annie had finally disappeared into the crowd, I left my hiding place. The sidewalks were crowded for a Friday in February, which for some reason only made me feel more alone as I headed downtown. I’d always loved Charleston, but at the moment I felt trapped.
I’d found an ad in the coffee shop yesterday, someone looking for a roommate, and it had seemed like the logical solution. A change of scenery would help keep me from losing my mind, which was why I pretty much didn’t give a shit who lived at this place. They needed a roommate and I needed to get out of the dorms. Fast.
I pulled out my phone as I turned the corner onto the correct road, double-checking the address from the text I’d gotten earlier. When I found the right place I stopped in front of it. It was one of those historic Charleston row houses with a porch on both the first and second stories. It was white and old, and even though it had probably been a really nice house when it was first built, the years had left it looking a little worn. But it wasn’t awful. Some peeling paint here and there didn’t bug me, and for the most part it looked decent considering it had to be over a hundred years old. The historical society probably made sure the owners kept it up.
The neighborhood was nice too. All the houses had iron fences in front of them, and most had neatly manicured landscaping. The street was cobblestone and lined with cars. Most of the nearby houses were in great condition, which wasn’t a surprise. These homes may have been on the small side, but living in the historic sections of downtown Charleston was prestigious. A status symbol almost on par with owning a BMW.
It wasn’t what I’d had in mind for myself, though. Sure, I’d wanted to move out of the dorms next year, but I’d also wanted to live with friends. Specifically Ryan. That had been the plan, anyway. I hadn’t been able to swing it this year, but somehow I was going to make it work when the fall semester came around. Now, I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do. Living with a stranger was going to suck, especially when I wasn’t thrilled to be here anyway, but it made it ten times worse that it was a chick.
Maybe transferring to another school was a better idea.
I took a deep breath right before forcing myself to knock on the front door, then shoved my hands in my pockets while I waited. She was expecting me, so I didn’t have to wait long.
The door opened less than a minute later, and I almost took a step back when she narrowed her emerald eyes on my face. It felt like she was trying to size me up. She was a helluva lot prettier than I’d expected. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that my possible roommate might be attractive.
Of course, thinking she was attractive and being attracted to her were two different things. This chick wasn’t my type in the least. Her right nostril was pierced and she had another piercing on the left side, right above her lip—Monroe piercing, I think they called it. The lipstick she wore was a deep shade of red, and her eyeliner was thick and dark, drawn into a little point at the corner of her eyes that reminded me of a cat. There was no way the bright red color of her hair was real, and she dressed like she was stuck somewhere between the 1950s and the present. A tattoo was just visible on her left arm, peeking out of her sleeve, and even though I could only see the bottom half of it, the thing looked pretty massive. It had to go all the way to her shoulder.
No, she wasn’t my type at all. Then again, no one was my type but Annie.
A few piercings and tattoos didn’t mean shit to me, though. I sure as hell wasn’t looking for a girlfriend or a quick lay. What I was looking for was a way to escape, and she had a room.
“You must be Chris?” she said, drawing her lips into a little pout that made her look like she was anticipating a kiss.
I nodded, but couldn’t bring myself to talk. For some insane reason, being there made me feel like I was hitting rock bottom.
She didn’t seem to even register my lack of response as she stepped aside, motioning for me to enter. “I’m Bette. Come on in.”
I did a quick look around as I stepped in, but to be honest nothing really stuck out. The place was plain, sparsely furnished with secondhand stuff and a handful of pictures on the walls. Seemed like she either hadn’t lived there long, or she hadn’t really taken the time to decorate. Maybe both.
“Nice to meet you,” I mumbled as she shut the door behind me.
“Don’t sound so excited.” Bette rolled her eyes like she was already tired of talking to me, then waved her arm over the room. “So…this is the living room, as you can see. Follow me and I’ll show you the rest of the place, then we can discuss the details if you’re interested.”
I shrugged, and her eyebrows shot up. They were so dark and perfect that I found myself wondering if she’d drawn them on. I leaned closer so I could get a better look, but they seemed real. My eyes swept down, and I did my best to get a better look at the tattoo on her arm. It was a tree or something, but all that was visible was the trunk. Looked pretty impressive, even if I’d never really been a tattoo kind of guy.
As my gaze moved up, I found myself suddenly distracted by the way her shirt dipped between her breasts. It showed off a nice amount of cleavage. Nothing too slutty, though. Just enough to give a little taste and leave a guy wanting more. I may have still been hung up on Annie, but I was still a guy, and there were some things I just didn’t have control over.
Bette cleared her throat, drawing my attention back to her face, but she didn’t comment on my gawking before she headed off to show me the rest of the place. I followed her through the house silently, checking it out as she gave the tour. It was nice and clean, but a little outdated. The kitchen appliances had to have been bought in the fifties, which probably made this chick feel right at home, and the dining room had a small, cheap table and four chairs. Downstairs, there was also a half bathroom and a decent-size laundry room with a washer and dryer, which would be a nice change from living in the dorm. The wood floors were probably the original back from when this place was built, and I knew enough about construction to realize that was a good thing. The place was small, but not bad. Better than a dorm room even if I wasn’t at risk of running into my ex-girlfriend.
I was right on Bette’s heels when she headed up the stairs, and they creaked under our feet as we went up. “There are three bedrooms. I’m in one and the second I use as my studio slash office.” She glanced over her shoulder like she wanted to be sure I was still there. I hadn’t said a word since she’d started showing me around, so I guess it made sense. “I’m studying photography and trying to get a business started. The third bedroom is up for grabs.” She paused when she got to the top of the stairs and looked over her shoulder again, narrowing her eyes on my face. “There’s only one full bathroom and I don’t tolerate bathroom hogs. So jerk off in your own room. K?”
I coughed and my face actually got warm. She was a little more blunt than I was used to. I grew up with a mom who coated everything—even criticism—in sugar.
“Okay…” I mumbled, struggling to meet her gaze.
Bette rolled her eyes, then continued down the hall. She stopped in front of a room and pushed the door open. “You don’t need to get all embarrassed. It’s not a big secret.”
I didn’t respond, mostly because I had nothing to say to that. I wasn’t in the habit of talking to strangers about my alone time.
Bette motioned toward the room so I went ahead and stepped in. It wasn’t huge, but it was big enough. Plus, I had nothing. No bed or mattresses, no dresser or table or TV. Furnishing it would take all the money I’d saved over the summer, which meant I could pretty much kiss going down to Florida for spring break goodbye. Not that I was going to make the trip with Ryan like I’d been planning to, anyway. At least I’d already found a job, thanks to a buddy of mine who bartended downtown. That would help.
“How much do I need to give you up front?” I asked, turning to face Bette.
She was leaning against the other side of the hall with her arms crossed over her chest. It pushed her breasts up and together, giving her even more cleavage than before—which was distracting. I had to work hard at focusing on her face.
“So you want to move in?”
“Yup.” I cleared my throat. Eyes. She has eyes, Chris. “As soon as possible. I’ll sleep on the floor if I have to.”
She studied me for a second, narrowing her eyes on me even more than she had when she’d first opened the door. “So you got dumped.”
Shit. It wasn’t even a question, which made me want to leave and never come back. What a bitch.
“No,” I snapped, then let out a deep breath. She didn’t need the whole story, but telling her the basics wasn’t going to hurt. Plus, maybe she’d drop it and I’d never have to talk about it again. “I was dating this girl and she broke up with me, then I walked in on her and my best friend in bed together. She lives two doors down from me in the dorm, so the sooner I can get the hell out of there, the better.”
Bette nodded as she pushed herself off the wall, then gave me a sympathetic smile. “Okay. First month’s rent, which I’ll prorate. I don’t need a deposit, but if you destroy the place I’ll sue your ass. This house means more to me than all my other possessions put together and I don’t want anyone living here who can’t respect that. Got it?”
It took a second for my brain to wrap around her words. “Wait, do you own this place?”
I’d kind of thought she was renting it too, but she seemed a little too possessive to just be paying rent. She was pretty young to be a homeowner, though. Couldn’t be much older than me, maybe twenty-three at the most.
“Yeah. Inherited it from an aunt. I love the place and refuse to give it up, but I can’t afford the taxes and stuff on my own, plus I want to fix it up.” She shrugged and turned toward the stairs, calling over her shoulder, “Move in whenever you want.”
So I had a place, which was a huge load off my mind, but I needed to get my stuff. And I didn’t have a car. I’d always borrowed Ryan’s in the past, but of course that was out of the question now. Maybe I’d be able to get Blake to help me out, but it would be a few days before he could do it. He was a bartender and the weekends were his busiest time. Shit. I needed my stuff.
“Wait!” I called, stepping toward her. Hopefully she had a car and was willing to throw me a bone.
Bette stopped and turned to face me, and I ran my hand through my hair. I hated to ask her for help when I didn’t really know her, but at the moment most of my friends were also Ryan’s and… Well, let’s just say I was trying to avoid all those people.
“I don’t have a car and I need to get my stuff moved out of the dorm. I don’t suppose you have one?”
Bette pursed her lips for the third time, then nodded once. “Yeah. No problem. You packed? I can take you over there now.”
Holy shit, she may have been blunt as hell, but she was easygoing too. Maybe living with her wouldn’t be so bad?
“Yeah. I packed my stuff up yesterday. Can’t wait to get the hell out.”
“I get it,” she said, turning back to the stairs. “Come on.”
I followed her down the steps of my new house, feeling a little better than I had earlier. Now all I had to do was make it out of the dorm without running into Annie. I was torn between hoping she was at Ryan’s and wanting to puke at the thought.
“I have an air mattress and some extra sheets if you want to use them until you can get a bed,” Bette said when we were halfway down the stairs.
I had the sudden urge to kiss this chick. “Yeah. That would be awesome.”
* * *
I was trying to maneuver a giant box out of my room when Cami almost slammed into me. “Shit! Sorry, Chris, I didn’t see you there.”
My entire body tensed, but I couldn’t look her in the eye. I was too focused on looking behind her as I said a silent prayer that Annie wasn’t around. Thankfully, the coast was clear, but I still didn’t relax. Running into Cami wasn’t as bad as running into Annie or Ryan, but it wasn’t good. She wouldn’t be able to keep her nose out of this, and I wasn’t interested in an argument.
“Yeah,” I said, still refusing to meet her gaze. “No problem.”
Cami’s brown eyes narrowed on the box I was holding like she suspected there might be a bomb in it. “What’s going on?”
“I’m moving.” I had the urge to be childish and throw a duh in there, but I bit my tongue. The less I talked to her, the sooner I could get out of here.
I headed for the elevator, practically running to get away, but Cami was right behind me. The click of her heels against the floor was faster than my pounding heart, and every step she took made the muscles in my body tighten even more. I wanted away from her and this place and every single thing that reminded me of Annie and Ryan, but of course Cami couldn’t understand that.
“What?” Her voice was all high and squeaky, the way it got when she didn’t understand something. “You can’t be moving!”
“Why’s that?” I did my best to sound emotionless even though my whole body felt like it was made of steel. I doubt it worked, but even if it did, Cami wouldn’t pick up on it. She was lost in her own little world of disbelief. Like it was a surprise that I was pissed off about what had happened.
When we reached the elevator, I glanced at Cami long enough to see that she still had her eyes narrowed on my face. She looked ready to pounce.
“Because it’s weird. Plus, I thought you couldn’t afford it,” she said, flipping her dark hair over her shoulder.
“I found someone who needed a roommate and I got a job as a waiter at a restaurant downtown. It doesn’t matter. I can’t stay here.”
I shifted the box so I could hit the button, and my thumb slammed into it so hard I was afraid I’d broken a couple bones. Cami kept staring at me, but I refused to give her the satisfaction of looking her way.
“What the hell, Chris? So you’re just never going to forgive Ryan?”
My face warmed and I had to suck in a slow, deep breath to keep from exploding. Cami was Ryan’s cousin—and Annie’s roommate—so of course she’d come to his defense. But it still pissed me off. I might not have been family, but Cami and I had known each other since we were kids, and it made me see red that she couldn’t at least try to look at it from my side.
“It’s none of your business, Cami.” My jaw was so tight that the words hissed their way through my teeth.
“Like hell,” she said.
The elevator door opened and I hurried to get away, but of course she followed. Why the hell couldn’t she leave it alone?
Cami crossed her arms and tapped her toe. She looked as pissed as I felt. Almost like she was ready to hit me. “Grow up, Chris.”
“I loved her and Ryan knew it.” Once again, I couldn’t open my mouth wide enough, so the words had to push their way between my clenched teeth. I felt like my jaw had been fused shut.
“Well, Ryan loves her too,” Cami snapped. “He’s supposed to be your best friend. Don’t you want him to be happy?”
My jaw tightened more than I thought possible and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to respond, but somehow I managed. “He sure as hell didn’t care about how happy I was.”
“Bullshit. He liked her from the first second they met, but he held back because of you. You can be hurt, but you can’t throw your friendship away. At least talk to him!”
The door opened and Cami stepped in front of me, but this time I didn’t hesitate to shove her aside. I wanted out of here. Away from her and the dorm and the threat of seeing Annie. Away from this whole damn city, if I was being honest. But there was nowhere for me to go except my new place.
My arms were shaking when I walked outside. Bette was waiting by her car, an old silver SUV that had seen better days but still ran. It was more than I had, so I couldn’t complain.
“Good Lord, you look like you’re ready to explode,” she said.
I slid the box into the back with my other things, then glanced toward the building. Cami was standing at the door, watching me through the window. At least she hadn’t followed me outside. But she wasn’t done with her lecture, not by a long shot. I could tell by how narrowed her eyes were. Too bad I wasn’t giving her a chance. I only had a couple more things, and none of it was that important. It could wait.
“I’m done for now,” I said, turning my back to Cami. “There are only two boxes left, so I’ll come back for them later.”
Bette followed my gaze. She had to see Cami standing there, and she most likely thought this was the girl who had screwed me over. I didn’t want to talk about it, though, so I didn’t say anything. I just wanted to leave.
Bette shrugged and slammed the door. “Your call.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, heading to the passenger seat. “I just want to move on.”
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