My Life as a Rock Album: A Second Chance, Antihero Romance
From award-winning author LJ Evans comes an earthshattering, standalone romance between a broody trash artist who thinks redemption is out of reach and the feisty blogger who flips his world…
“I was at peace living with the loneliness of my art, and then she entered my life with a bubble gum scent and heartbreak on her lips, making me ache for more.”
As a recovering alcoholic and a rude bastard, Seth Carmen knows he's better off alone. He's made a success of himself by focusing on the one thing he's good at, turning garbage into art. But when fiery, fairy-like PJ Hensley enters his world, he can't imagine a life without her in it.
PJ is dealing with a tormented past and a stalker she’s trying to ignore. The last thing she needs is a moody trash artist absorbing her time while she finishes college and figures out what comes next. But once she meets him, Seth overwhelms her with an intensity she can’t walk away from.
When her stalker emerges from the shadows, PJ bolts for New York, and Seth spends five months writing her love letters convincing her to come home.
Can he prove that they can take broken and make it art?
Inspired by Bon Jovi’s “Everybody’s Broken,” My Life as a Rock Album is the third heart-wrenching, standalone, redemption story in the My Life as an Album series. If you like unforgettable connections, emotional journeys, and beautiful prose, then you just might adore this series.
Also available in the My Life as an Album box set with exclusive content.
Release date: June 26, 2018
Publisher: LJ Evans Book
Print pages: 438
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
Behind the book
Seth remains one of my most broken characters. Originally, many readers weren't sure he'd be able to be redeemed as the bad boy from My Life as a Country Album. Now they say, not only did he prove himself worth saving, but he's become a favorite character. I wrote this book for my mom, who wanted a HEA for Seth and who loved him with all his brokenness when he first appeared in Cam's story. It took me a while to find him somebody who could see him for who he was and love him anyway - - I hope you love PJ and Seth's story as much as I loved writing it.
My Life as a Rock Album: A Second Chance, Antihero Romance
“When you say your prayers,
Try to understand,
I’ve made mistakes,
I’m just a man.”
-Bon Jovi, Ingram, & Stanfill
I watched you walk away today. You went through security without looking back. I wanted to bust something. I wanted a drink. I wanted you.
You went away because I’m an asshole. I know you say that isn’t it. But if that wasn’t at least partially true, you’d still be here, or I’d be there with you…we wouldn’t be a country apart. Reality is, I can’t keep anything good in my life for long.
I almost bought a ticket and followed you through security. When I got to the ticket counter, your beautiful face flashed through my mind. It wasn’t your adoring face that I saw. It was your pissed one. Because I knew that if I followed you now, it would only look like I was trying to possess you again. As if I didn’t trust you to love me and go. As if I didn’t trust you to eventually come home.
I realized the truth standing there. I don’t trust you’ll come back. Because there is still a messed up part of me that is too used to being tossed away. It’s a piece of me that I thought I’d thrown out like the garbage it was a long time ago.
But I should know better than anyone how garbage can come back to life. Don’t I weld fragmented pieces together every day? And this garbage, this jagged, bitter piece inside me needs to be mended together so when you come back, as you say you will, you’ll find someone soldered together with gold instead of cheap ass glue.
So that you can have someone who deserves you.
I can’t let you go completely though, Bella. So, instead of crossing the line you told me not to cross by flying across this godforsaken country, or beating your family into a pulp trying to get your new number, I’m just going to write to you. I don’t know if you’ll even read the letters. And if you do, I can’t promise they’ll be pretty. But hopefully my words will be good enough for you to understand something important. To understand that where I belong is next to you and where you belong is next to me, and that’s all that matters. None of the other things that you worry about are important. Just us.
Bon Jovi isn’t someone that you’d expect me to listen to. But his words sometimes feel like the story of our life. So today I’ll use his words to convey to you what I mean. “I will love you forever and always.” When you think of our memories, both the loving ones you cherish as well as the ones that made you want to say goodbye, I hope you’ll be able to forgive me for making the mistakes I’ve made as the man I am becomes the man you deserve.
I’ll just leave you with one more thought. It’s something I wrote when I was a screwed-up kid with a screwed-up life. Because it’s that dumbass kid who’s making it difficult to just let you walk away without a fight. Without fighting to keep that wish that finally came true from disappearing all together.
I can’t cry.
I can’t let go.
I can’t obtain.
- Seth Carmen
PJ After Letter One
“No one said this would be easy,
but no one said it’d be this hard.”
Pj opens the letter from Seth with trepidation. Just his greeting, Dear Bella, makes tears well and her stomach turn. He’d rarely called her PJ. He’d always called her beautiful. His Bella. It makes her ache.
She’d moved almost three thousand miles away from him on purpose. It wasn’t just to attend grad school. Although that was what she told him and everyone else in her life.
She’d walked away because she’d been drowning.
She’d been lost in a wave of Seth.
She’d been lost in her own past and her own mistakes.
She’d moved to New York so she could breathe.
And she is doing all of that, breathing and living and going to school. She’s even going out some with Haley and Mina. She’s enjoying her life and her classes.
It’s why she’s waited two days before opening his letter. She was unsure about how much of the intensity that was Seth would pour from its pages. She hadn’t given him her new number for that reason. Because she’d known he couldn’t resist calling and demanding that she answer, and she’d known she couldn’t resist answering and being pulled back in.
So, as a compromise, she’d given him her address instead. She’d assumed that a letter would be safer. That she could read a letter and set it aside without feeling the need to respond. And if she was being honest, she hadn’t thought he’d write. Seth was always a man of few words and letters seemed like more words than he was capable of.
She hadn’t counted on his need for her to counter his lack of communication skills.
As soon as she reads the letter, it brings her back to him and everything that happened in the crazy three and a half months they were together. Just as she knew it would.
What she hadn’t expected was to be filled with longing. Longing to wrap her arms around his muscled torso. Longing to reassure the man with the broken kid inside of him that she did in fact still love him. Had loved him from the beginning even though she hadn’t been good at showing it. Longing to feel beautiful, adored, and safe as she always did when she was with him.
But…that longing. All of those feelings. They’re exactly why she left. There’s more to her than longing. There’s more to her than being Seth’s whole world.
She needs to do this for her. She needs to do this for him. She needs to do this for them.
She puts his letter in a box she hasn’t unpacked because there’s no room to do so in the crammed apartment. Then she shuts the door and leaves the stinky walk-up she shares with her friends. She catches the subway, hoping that today will be the day that she feels like she’s caught up to herself again. Hoping she’ll catch up to the girl that’s been missing since she was thirteen.
BED OF ROSES
“I want to lay you down on a bed of roses.
For tonight I’ll sleep on a bed of nails.”
I tried to start this letter a thousand times now. There’s a damn room full of balled up paper to prove it. The truth is, I didn’t know what to write. Should I try to tell you that I see where we went wrong? That I see where I went wrong? Or should I just beg you to come home?
Part of our problem was that there was so much going on in this thick skull of mine that I couldn’t express. Things embedded into me from my past that caused me to react the way I did. But it’s also why I loved you the way I did. The way I do. So, I can’t believe it’s all bad.
But I don’t want to write to you about my messed up past. So, the next best thing is to start at the beginning of us. To try to tell you now the things I should have told you then.
When I met you, I was sleeping on a bed of nails. A bed of my own making. Even though I thought I was living in the now and making my life into something my abuela would have been proud of, I was really living as if I didn’t deserve anything more. Living as if solitude and art was enough.
The first time I saw you, I thought you were her. That’s the reality. I understand you hate that, but I can’t stop it from being true. Even though it wasn’t true for more than a few seconds, in that moment, she is what I saw when I saw you. I did a double take and my heart stopped, forgetting to pump blood. Forgetting to send air through my lungs while I locked my gaze on a mess of chestnut curls.
I was standing with Locke and Dylan Waters who were in in deep discussion about me. About my art. It became a droning in my ear that receded into the background once I’d seen her…you…and suddenly I couldn’t shake my body out of its frozen position enough to listen or care. I was stuck in a sudden flight to Tennessee thinking, How is she here?
Locke is the only manager who will put up with my bad attitude, but even he narrowed his eyes at me when I didn’t respond to Dylan’s question. For one second, I thought he’d snap his fingers in my face, and you know that would have ended with him up against a wall, and me without a manager.
I stepped around Locke to try to see her again, you again. But she was gone, and my brain went into panic mode. My breath was aching to get out of me and yet I still couldn’t exhale.
Then I caught another glimpse of a purple dress. Cam had always liked purple. I turned cold eyes to Locke and tossed out, “Text me later.”
Before he could think to try to stop me, I strode away with a single-minded purpose. Find her. Find Cam.
When I turned the corner around the waterfall mountain that I’d created when I was a dumbass kid in Tennessee, I caught her staring up at the peacock at the top. It was a bird in flight, and I’d always imagined her as a bird. You couldn’t keep Cam down.
My breath finally returned in sharp, jagged movements as if my heart had been removed and then shoved back into my chest. I imagined the surprise that would be in her gray eyes when I eased up next to her. I was sure that it would be followed quickly by her shit-eating grin.
“Ms. Swayne?” I said, hoping I sounded as badass as she used to believe I was. But I was really scared shitless, so I couldn’t look down yet. I was worried I’d see the pity that had been in her eyes the last time I’d seen her. When she was wrapped protectively in a muscled arm that hadn’t belonged to me.
So, when the voice that returned mine was a breathless volley, it shattered all my hopes into a million pieces. Like I’d once shattered a gilded cage with a glass bird inside it which was supposed to be her.
It was your voice. And even at the time, in the middle of my tortured disappointment, I registered how sweet it was. It was light and melodic, but it wasn’t the gravely, energetic one I heard in my dreams.
I looked down at you with what my abuela used to call my devil eyes. I know it. You know it. When I did, I still caught some Cam in you. You weren’t a doppelgänger, but something like a wavy reflection. Your eyes weren’t gray, but shimmered with a hint of silvery mica that meant they would change colors with what you wore. That they’d change like the sky changed at sunset.
I realized then, as I hadn’t from the brief glimpse of you, that there wasn’t any way that you were tall enough to be Cam. Cam almost met me eye to eye when we were together, and even though I’d continued to grow once I’d left her, you were way too small. You barely reached my shoulder. At least a foot shorter than my six-two.
You’ve always accused me of being frustratingly vague when I speak. It’s so I won’t be brutally cruel instead. At that moment, with the disappointment radiating off of me because you weren’t what I had lost and thought I needed, I could only curse and storm away. I’m sorry now that I hurt you.
It took me all of five strides to be staring down at the liquor table. I could feel the thirst. Before that day, it had been a long time since I’d actively had to stop myself from pouring a drink. It had been five and a half years since I’d stopped. And there’d only been one time I’d slipped since then. Only one before you. But seeing you and not her…that letdown…it was enough to make me thirstier than I’d been since my mom died.
When you tapped my arm, I continued to be the bastard I’d always been and ignored you because I was battling for control. Battling to come back from the edge of that loss of Cam all over again.
“Look, jackass, you mind telling me what that was all about?” that combination of your melodious voice and your harsh words dragged my attention away from the alcohol and my loss.
And in those few seconds, you changed my life.
I looked down at you and was caught in a whole different way. A way that had nothing to do with Cam and everything to do with you. You looked close to my age, but also looked way more innocent. Like life hadn’t squashed you yet. I know that’s not true now, but at the time, that first impression was of angelic goodness.
Yet, even under that sweetness, I could sense you holding yourself together with something stronger. Like you were more steel than sugar. You were so many contradictions rolled into one that I couldn’t keep my eyes from devouring you.
Your face was all fine bones and heart shapes, but your body seemed all lean muscle. Your huge anime eyes were flashing at me with a bit of lightning instead of halos while your thick, curly hair had a life of its own that you hadn’t bothered to control even though everything else about you screamed self-control. There were hints of Cam in you, it was what had drawn me, but from that moment on, I swear to my abuela’s God, Bella, you never reminded me of her again.
As my eyes continued to take you in, you seemed to get more and more irate. And that’s what did it. I couldn’t help but smile at you then. My very best smile. The smile I reserved for getting what I wanted. A smile I hadn’t used in so long it almost tore my cheeks apart to use it. But it got the reaction I needed because the lightning in those enormous eyes swallowed by dark lashes faded just a little.
I wanted to smooth out those ruffles of you a hint more, so I drawled in my Southern accent that I’d never fully acquired in my short stay in Tennessee, “Sorry, darlin’, thought you were someone else.”
But you, this tiny, fairylike creature in front of me, were not taking my apology or my sexy smile. You put your hand on your hip, daring me to try again. And you continued to flip my entire world as you cast your spell. I’m not sure what you used—Pixie dust, magic, you name it—but I was gone.
“I heard you were an arrogant jerk, who was more likely to try to get my dress off than talk to me, but being an asshole can be a story too, right?”
Your boldness made me chuckle. Your outraged tone and the sassy jut of your hip in that flirty dress were still full of contradictions. You made my head spin with new images of jewels and stone and ceramic.
You didn’t seem to appreciate my laugh and I tried to tame it. When you turned to flounce away, I couldn’t let you. Not yet, so I took two steps and caught your arm.
“Wait,” I said, trying hard not to grin, which only made you angrier, or perhaps it was my hand on your elbow. Your face turned as pink as your shoes as you jerked your arm from me.
“Mr. Carmen, I’d advise you to stop while you’re ahead.”
“Shit. If this is ahead, I might as well go all in.” I pulled you to me and kissed your full lips. The moment our mouths touched, desire hit me like a wave onto a cliff.
You stiffened with shock before you relaxed into me, and you astonished me yet again by darting a tongue that tasted like bubblegum against my lips. I graciously responded by opening my mouth and engaging in some tongue tangling of my own. Just as you’d hit me in the pit of my belly with a craving no one else could quench, you shoved me and backed away with a strength that continued to rock my world.
I staggered and reached for you at the same time. But you escaped.
“Tell Locke he won’t be happy with my post.” And you stormed away into the night.
As the gallery door clanged shut behind you, all I thought in succession was: Damn, I don’t even know her name and Shit, Locke does, and he’ll be pissed.
As I turned back to the table of booze and food, I no longer had any desire to drink from the sparkling glasses. Instead, I wanted a pack of Bubblicious.
♫ ♫ ♫
I dreamt of bubblegum that night and woke up with the smell in my nose and the taste on my tongue. It reminded me of my mom and the packs of Bubblicious she used to sneak to me when my shit-for-brains dad didn’t know. It reminded me of the taste of you.
The sun was barely chasing away the light fog layer when I left the house for a run on the beach. I was dripping sweat when I got back because I’d pressed myself to go farther than normal in an attempt to push you from my senses.
You never asked me why I run. Maybe you just inherently understood that it was a way for me to burn off my excess anger and restlessness. It was my shrink from back when I was at LaGuardia High in New York that told me I needed to find something physical to get me off the alcohol and anger train I’d been on for most of my life. That’s when boxing at John’s with Mac and running had become my thing.
We haven’t talked about Mac much. Or my shrink. Or my social worker, Marisella, who helped me get where I am now. But I don’t want to talk about them at this moment either. Maybe later. In another letter. Right now, I just want to tell you about how you had already changed everything in my life with one conversation and one kiss.
As I headed up the steps from the sand, my cell phone rang and I inwardly groaned. Only one person called me regularly—Locke. Even Mac didn’t call; he’d just text. Even now, after you, I only have six numbers on my phone. What does that say about a person, Bella? Nothing good. But I guess six is better than the three that were there before you.
“What?” I groused.
“Seth!” Locke’s tone was both exasperated and exhausted.
I sat down on the steps as the waves crashed against the misty shoreline. “It went well last night,” I said snarkily, knowing Locke didn’t feel the same way.
“You would, asshole!” Locke barked.
In that moment, I lost track of the salty air and the tang of seaweed. Instead, I was surrounded once more with the sweet taste of you. You had already buried yourself into my senses.
Impatient with my silence, Locke continued his lecture. “You blew off Dylan Waters. Hollywood’s A-list director and producer. Do you know how many doors he could open for you? And to top it off, you insulted and assaulted PJ? After I begged her to come write a fluff article about you in her OC blog because you need all the softening you can get.”
I snickered, as images of your full lips and chestnut hair filled my mind. The best thing was I hadn’t even had to ask for your name, Locke had just handed it over: PJ.
“Do. Not. Chuckle.” Locke warned.
“Next time, warn me which fairies in purple dresses you don’t want me to kiss.”
Locke puffed air into the phone. “I’ve told her you’ll apologize.”
“She kissed me back,” I said.
“That’s not what it says in her blog.”
“Of course it doesn’t,” I said with a grin. A grin I was still trying to reacquaint myself with after years of not using it. “You’ve set something up for me to see her then?”
And if I was thirteen instead of almost twenty-five years old, I might have crossed my fingers.
“I’m not a pimp, Seth. It isn’t a date.”
“Ten o’clock. The Green Room. And I better not hear about anything happening more than a brilliant apology.”
“I promise. I’ll keep my hands and lips to myself.”
Locke slammed the phone down in response while my heart pounded furiously in anticipation. In happiness. Both feelings I’d come to forget in recent years.
Three hours later, I walked into The Green Room. Locke knew about my eating habits which was why he picked that restaurant—completely organic, locally sourced. At least eating right is a healthy addiction instead of a life-ending one. But I’m learning that addiction is still addiction no matter if it’s healthy or not.
I had a tiny gift bag in my hand, so small it could fit a ring box in it. What would you say now if I brought you a bag that small? At the time, I didn’t think about it being jewelry-sized. Now I think about it all the time. I want to give you another bag like that, and I’m still hoping that one day you’ll let me.
I sought you out at the tables tucked into a room full of palm trees and beach umbrellas. When I found you, there was no Cam in you anymore. Not an ounce. You were this brilliant, shimmery vision that I couldn’t get out of my head.
You had your hair pulled up into that loose bun you always wear. Your thick lashes were almost visible from the door as you looked down at the menu in front of you. You were wearing a royal blue top that sat just off your tan, toned shoulders and accented just how lean you were. It did things to me, Bella, things that made me think I needed a trip to the bathroom before sitting down next to you. But you looked up just then with eyes that had turned the color of your top, and I was drawn to you instead.
I put my hand up as the hostess tried to stop me from seating myself, and I saw your mouth tighten at my movement. The young girl huffed at me, but I just continued to the table where you sat.
Easing into the booth, I put the bag on the seat, and my feet tangled up with yours underneath the table. It wasn’t intentional. You probably don’t believe that now when I can’t stop touching you. But the interaction made me tingle and tense in ways I hadn’t felt in a long time. Sensing it too, you pulled your legs away. I was disappointed, but not put off.
“Are you always surly and rude?” you asked with a glance at the hostess I’d offended.
I shrugged. As you can attest, I am pretty much always a rude bastard.
“I’m not sure why I’m here then. Seems what I wrote is correct.” You were trying to be tough, but even then, when I didn’t know you, I could tell you were more nervous than anything else. It was in the way your hands twisted the cloth napkin in your lap. I stretched out a little more, elbows behind me on the back of the booth, and eyed you slowly again. I wanted to see your reaction.
You looked away with a flush on your cheeks that I found adorable. But I wasn’t sure if it was in embarrassment at my assessment or in embarrassment at your own thoughts. Either way, it was a turn on. Most girls nowadays don’t get embarrassed over shit.
“Locke said I was to apologize,” I told you as I picked up the menu, looked it over, and tossed it aside. I was trying to be nonchalant, when really what I wanted to do was slide over to your side of the booth and determine if you still tasted the same as you had last night.
“So, you don’t truly want to apologize, but you’re being told you should. For your career?” Your eyes flashed angrily.
I grinned. “Nah. I just don’t believe in apologizing for a helluva good kiss.”
You looked down and turned an even deeper shade of pink which made me long to run my fingers over your cheeks. You were almost a red, white, and blue flag with your red face, blue top, and tight white skirt that ended mid-thigh, showing off a pair of gorgeous legs.
“You make an assumption that it was good,” you snapped.
“Your tongue was in my mouth of its own accord,” I teased.
My humor turned to panic when you drew in a sharp breath, threw your twisted napkin on the table, and stood. You had your hand on your hip again as you stared down at me. Well, it was really across because you're so tiny. Fucking adorable. Fucking feisty Tinker Bell chiming at me.
“This was a waste of time. I’m done doing Locke favors.”
You turned to walk away, but I needed you to stay more than I’d ever needed anything in my life. I wasn’t sure if I should tick you off more or grovel to make this happen. One thing was sure, I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of you doing any kind of favors for Locke.
“So this was a favor. For Locke.”
I leaned forward, bolting my hands on the table so that I wouldn’t physically drag you back. Thank God my innuendo stilled you before I did something I would have regretted.
“Don’t make it sound like that.” You crossed your arms over your chest as if to protect yourself from my stare. But Bella, you’ll never be able to escape my stare. Shit. See. Right there. I can recognize it when I do it, but I can’t promise I’ll ever really be able to stop.
“They were your words,” I prodded at you because pissing you off had at least gotten you to stay.
“God. It’s not like that.…” You were blushing again at my innuendo. Your pink cheeks killed me all over again.
“Damn you’re beautiful when you blush.” It just escaped. I hadn’t meant to say anything. You turned to go again. I thought maybe you were uncomfortable with my compliment but now that I know you better, I know you were running. From me.
“I apologize,” I said and my words halted you once more. “I apologize for calling you beautiful. I apologize for seeing a beautiful woman and kissing her. I apologize for thinking you were someone else and getting my heart trampled all over again.”
The confession surprised me as much as you. But it succeeded in making you turn back to me instead of walking away. You stared and I held my breath. Unsure if you’d fly away or come back to roost.
“So…you were kissing me because I reminded you of someone else?”
At least I’d piqued your interest, and I knew instantly it would be a good thing. But I’m also not stupid. I understand women don’t want to be compared to other women. You can say all you want about what happened later, but even my dumbass brain got it.
“Yes and no.”
“You’re frustratingly vague, Mr. Carmen.” It was the first time you told me that, but it wouldn’t be the last.
“It’s Seth. Mr. Carmen is my shit-for-brains father. And I’m not trying to be vague, I’m trying to apologize. It isn’t something I’m very good at.”
“Because you’re a cocky bastard.”
“Well, yes. Most of the time.”
“And you try to get women to sleep with you with a cheesy Southern accent.”
“Now, to be fair darlin’, the accent is partially earned.” I let the Southern drawl out in all its glory.
“You’re from the Bronx!” Your eyes flashed and somehow I wasn’t surprised that you knew this about me. You seemed like the kind of person who did their homework before an assignment. And I’d been just that: an assignment.
“Some of the time,” I said, shrugging.
But I had succeeded in getting you to sit down, so my body relaxed slightly.
The waitress came over, smiling in a way which said she’d be happy to give me a lap dance if I winked at her, but believe it or not, I didn’t register it then. I didn’t register it until you told me you’d noticed. She took our order and left.
“So.” You waved at the waitress. “Is that why you think you can be such a jerk?”
“Because women usually throw themselves at you?” You seemed offended on behalf of the entire female race, and I grinned again. I liked that I’d made you jealous. You were. Don’t deny it. Just remember what you did later, when the check came.
“Don’t grin at me that way,” you said, brushing an invisible speck from your skirt. “I’m not most women.”
I chuckled and leaned toward you. “But I did get tongue.”
You chose to ignore me, but I saw the truth of how you felt in your smooth cheeks that I ached to touch. But I also knew you wouldn’t react well if I did. Most likely, you’d bolt like the fillies on Abuelo’s ranch used to when I got near them.
To prevent you from running, I took up the little bag I’d brought with me and put it on your placemat. “It’s not a bribe. I don’t want a retraction. To be honest, I didn’t even read what you wrote, but it’s increased traffic on my site, so think of this as a thank you gift instead.”
You looked as exasperated as Locke had sounded when he called back later and told me that hits on our site were up. He’d still insisted that I apologize with a tone that I didn’t quite understand. At that time, I didn’t care. I’d just wanted to see you again. If doing what Locke asked was the way to do that, it suited me just fine.
You stared at me and the bag.
“Go ahead. Open it,” I prompted as my stomach clenched, hoping you’d like it.
You seemed torn between wanting to throw the bag at me and wanting to see what was in it. Lucky for me, your natural curiosity won out. You pulled out the metal and glass dewdrop ornament that I’d made. Inside was a tiny jewel encrusted fairy. I couldn’t keep my lips from twitching in satisfaction when I heard your intake of breath.
“You are talented,” you whispered, rubbing the dewy shape gently.
“Yes I am.”
You squinted your eyes at me like you wanted to call me on my bullshit, but the food showed up and prevented you from saying something you couldn’t take back.
I dug into my omelet with gusto, and I was relieved to see you had ordered real food and not half-assed chick scraps that a lot of women order.
We ate in a silence that somehow wasn’t awkward when it should have been when we hardly knew each other. Instead, it felt… expectant. Did you feel it too?
When the bill came, it had the waitress’s number written on it with a heart. I didn’t pay attention to it, but I definitely didn’t bother to hide it as I reached into my wallet. I certainly wasn’t going to call her. Once upon a time, maybe I would have. I usually liked women who went after what they wanted. But at that moment, I only had one kind of woman in my head, and she was sitting across from me.
Do you remember what you did? You grabbed the receipt and pulled out your purple pen with that big flower stuck on it. Yet another perplexing paradox because when was the last time you saw a grown woman with a flower pen? You grabbed the receipt, not to argue over paying, but to furiously scribble on it.
I put down the cash and picked up the bill. You had written, If you hadn’t flirted with my boyfriend, your tip would have been better.
I couldn’t help but laugh. It was a huge, spontaneous laugh that I hadn’t let out in so long, that it startled me as much as it startled you. It caused you to scramble out of the booth, but this time I scrambled out with you. When I looked down at your tiny frame, all I thought was, Strength. Not to be underestimated, followed by, Shit, I hope I don’t break her.
“So, girlfriend, where to next?” I smirked at you, pleased to see that crazy, beautiful color stain your cheeks again. It was all I could do to not pull your full lips right up to me and kiss you once more.
“I’m going to work,” you said, turning to float out the door. I followed, eyes drawn to your perfect little butt in your tight skirt.
Outside, you turned to me, sliding on your sunglasses in the shattering Southern California sunshine. My panic was reasserting itself. I know you didn’t see it because I’d been trained early in my life not to show emotion. Emotion was a weakness exploited by my dad. And I guess by my mom too, just in a different way.
“It was a pleasure not being apologized to, Mr. Carmen.” You stuck your hand out.
There was no way in hell I was letting you slip away. Not then. Just like I’m trying to not let you slip away now. “It’s Seth. Would you like to see my studio?”
I breathed it out before I thought it through. I never had anyone to my place. Only Locke and Becca had ever set foot in it. And you know Becca is just there to clean and mother me. I’d never had another woman there. At the school studios, I’d had to deal with people invading my thoughts and space. At my home, I didn’t want any of those fucking complications. But I’d made the offer to you and meant it with every fiber in my being. When you hesitated, I knew I had a chance.
“I’m not changing my story,” you said, as if to prove you had the upper hand.
“I’m not writing anything else about you.”
“I can’t do it now.”
You squinted your eyes at me like you were just dying to berate me once more.
“You’re very frustrating,” you said for not the first time.
“I’ve heard that before,” I teased you.
“I am interested in your studio. How you do what you do. That’s it.”
It was more than that, we both knew it, but I let it slide. “Give me your phone, I’ll put in my details and you can show up when you want,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. Trying not to pick you up and carry you over to my motorcycle and take you home.
You handed me your phone. I typed in my address and my personal cell number which, again, I never did. I know you thought different. You believed I had a long line of women, but that wasn’t me. It hadn’t been me since Tennessee.
“What if I show up while you’re…busy?” You couldn’t meet my eyes. This made me realize you were thinking about all the ways I might be busy and that made me hopeful. I gave you my best unused grin.
“Contrary to popular belief, I rarely entertain at home.” My words that were meant to reassure, backfired and made you more uncomfortable.
“Your studio is at your house?” you gulped.
I nodded. But it made me think that maybe, just maybe, I was having as much of an impact on you as you were on me.
Our hands brushed accidentally as I gave you back your phone. Your skin was smooth and soft against mine that was calloused from working with metal and glass and wood for so many years. That smooth feeling, along with your sweet scent and your strength and your tininess, hit me all at once. The urge to capture all of it in textures of silk and steel overtook me. My mind twirled with more imagery. I’d been on imagery overload since I’d seen you last night.
You stared down at where my hand touched yours as if the touch had jarred you too. You started to walk away. I was still panicking.
“I have to warn you,” I called out and gave you another smile when you looked back over your shoulder. “If you don’t call, I will be hunting you down.”
You raised an eyebrow at me but just walked away. I don’t think you realized how serious I was. I wasn’t letting you walk away for long.
Maybe you liked that about me at first. My all-consuming focus. But I don’t know when to back off, and so it forced a wedge between us that I couldn’t remove even with love. Even now, I can’t remove the wedge, but I can’t let go either.
All I can say is that I’m learning. A big cat changing its stripes. After all, you’re getting a letter instead of me on your doorstep. I know now, just as I could tell then, that you weren’t one to be claimed. You were too goddamn independent. But you also need to understand, Bella, that possession, it’s a mutual thing. Because you own me as well. Every fucking piece of me, and I won’t ever be the same until you're back home.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...