Not Until You
I have two rules in life:
1. No relationships, falling in love or attachments.
2. No sleeping with clients of my interior design firm.
Since the last guy turned out to be married, they’ve been easy to follow.
Callum Huxley is a ridiculously sexy Brit, and the connection we have the moment our eyes lock scares the ever-loving hell out of me. Thank God I came to my senses before going back to his hotel where I would’ve ended up naked, panting, and unable to forget him.
Thinking I walked away from that night unscathed was stupid. Sure enough, at the biggest meeting of my career waits the CEO of Dovetail Enterprises—him. It might be the most embarrassing moment of my professional life. And breaking my no-client rule might just be the hottest moment of my personal life.
Learning to trust has never felt so good, but falling has never hurt so bad.
There are four standalone novels in The Second Time Around Series.
We Own Tonight (Heather & Eli)
One Last Time (Kristin & Noah)
Not Until You (Nicole & Callum)
If I Only Knew (Danielle & Milo)
Release date: September 29, 2018
Publisher: BAAE Inc.
Print pages: 284
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Listen to a sample
Not Until You
“Don’t you want to get married? Have kids?” my mother asks for the one hundred millionth time.
“Not exactly.” I roll my eyes and tap my pen on the sketchpad in front of me.
“You infuriate me, Nicole!”
Well, right back at you, Mother.
You’re not exactly a peach either.
Each time we discuss this, she says the same damn thing. It makes me wonder why she brings it up constantly.
I’m sure it’s hard for her on some level. I am my parents’ miracle child. After years of trying, failed pregnancies, and ten of Dad’s mistresses, I finally came to life. She prayed for a beautiful little girl who would fulfill their lives, and then she got me.
The problem child.
It doesn’t matter that I own the most successful interior design company in Tampa. She couldn’t care less that I’m content, happy, and need for nothing. Nope. To her, I’m an unwed slut who is never going to give her grandchildren. A disappointing daughter with no hope.
“Mom,” I say through gritted teeth into the receiver. “As much as I’d love to continue this conversation, which was long overdue, I really need to finish this proposal.”
I have a huge pitch to a new client in two days, and I’m not even close to ready. Ever since I fired my other designer, I’ve lost a lot of business. It’s been hell, but at least my clients, stayed with me. Being worried about my business makes for a very cranky Nicole.
Thankfully, this isn’t a completely cold meeting. I met the owner a few weeks ago at a conference, so we’re kind of familiar, hopefully that’ll help me win the bid.
“Just promise me you’ll stop these ridiculous—whatever it is you do.” She sighs, and her voice drops. “With multiple men. It’s not normal. You need to settle down.”
“Not on your life,” I say to antagonize her. “Look, women don’t need to get married anymore, Mother. Marriage is a business transaction, and I’m not for sale.”
“You absolutely are not my child.”
She only wishes. “Nope, I’m Dad’s.”
As soon as the words are out, I hate myself for saying them. She’s been a great mother, a little overbearing and intrusive, but she loves me. My father is a hands-off man. I think it’s been about six months since I called him. I make a mental note to do that. The fact is, I’m a little too much like him. I do what I want with whomever I want. He indulged a lot, and I followed his footsteps. Life is about living, there’s no reason I need to be tied down to someone who will only end up breaking my heart anyway.
“Well.” She huffs. “That’s not something to brag about, darling. If I were you, I’d rethink trying to be anything like that man.”
She really does have every reason to hate him. He can’t even spell the word fidelity, let alone practice it. After girlfriend number twelve, he decided it was time to trade up for a newer model. My new mommy is only six years older than I am and pumped full of silicone. Mom got half his fortune in the divorce, but it was never enough to put herself back together.
“I didn’t mean that, Mom. I really have to go. Unless you want me to lose my company, be broke, and have to move back in with you? I mean, I’m sure you miss living with me.”
She laughs. “Fine, fine, go work. I’m going to the club, I’d like it if you met me for dinner.”
The clock reads two in the afternoon, and while I would rather cut my arm off than go to the club, I was a bit cruel to her and, as much as I like torturing her, I don’t like hurting her. “How about I meet you at seven?”
I can almost hear the surprise through the phone. “Really? Are you sure?”
“If you’d rather—”
“No, no!” She cuts me off. “I’ll see you then. Seven is great. You finish working, and I’ll see you there.”
“Only if you promise not to try to set me up with anyone!” I add for good measure.
“Anything you want. I’ll see you soon.”
She’s a smart woman and disconnects the call before I can say anything else. The club is filled with members who come from old money and their single children. I can’t count how many dinners have turned into me sitting with someone’s son, who happened to be home from a business trip or who remembered me from when I was ten. The worst part is that most of the guys play along. They don’t really want to know me or date me. They just want their own mothers’ off their backs.
I’ve deduced that my reputation of being very . . . interesting in bed has followed me. However, the last thing I want is some stuffed shirt attempting his first taste of dirty talk. No thanks, I’ll leave that to the men who are actually trained lambs. None of them are lions, but I’m damn sure the lioness.
I power through the next few hours, and before I know it, it’s six and I’m going to be late for dinner. Today, was the day from hell. My new assistant called in sick, the patterns that I ordered for the new drapery in the offices I’m designing came in wrong, and I lost an account that I worked very hard to get. How was I to know her ex-boyfriend and I slept together and that was the reason he left her?
I hate days like this, but still, a promise is a promise.
Not wanting to piss off my mother, I decide to wear something that won’t make her head explode like I did the last time. I grab the pencil skirt that goes to my knees, a red blouse, and pair it with the pearls she gave me for my sixteenth birthday. Seriously, who gives a girl pearls at sixteen? Not my father, that’s who. He gave me a car.
Having divorced parents sucks, don’t get me wrong, but I learned how to play them against each other very early.
As I get into the car, I start to wonder what it would’ve been like if they stayed together. I can’t imagine either of them would still be living. Well, one would be living, they would just be in jail.
My phone rings and Kristin’s name pops up on the Bluetooth.
“What’s up, lover?” I answer with a smile.
Each day I thank the Lord that my three best friends still love me. Heather, Kristin, and Danielle are the best people in the world. People talk about only having one best friend, and I think it’s such shit. I’ve known them since grade school, and through it all, we’ve remained close. Sometimes I’m closer to one than the others, but there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other. I’m not an easy person to handle, but they’ve somehow managed to see past my layers of bullshit and accept me for who I am.
“I’m just checking that you’re still okay with watching Aubrey this weekend,” she says as I hear Aubrey screaming in the back. “Hold on.” She sighs. I know she’s covering the phone, but I can still hear her threatening to burn stuffed animals in a fire pit or something. “Sorry, it’s been a day.”
“Noah isn’t back from filming?” I ask.
“No, and the contractors are tearing up the kitchen, Aubrey is having a meltdown, Finn has locked himself in his room, and I need to meet with this possible writer.”
And this is the best form of birth control I know. I love my friends and their kids, but I’m not in any hurry to have kids of my own. At this point, if I can hold off another few years, it won’t be an option anyway.
“Do you want me to come over after dinner with my mother?” I say the last word as a curse. Sometimes I think that “mother” is the best curse word ever. Mother fucker and son of a bitch are both forms of mother, and both are almost as versatile as fuck—almost.
Kristin goes silent. She knows if I’m going to dinner it means that something happened or will happen. “Please tell me it’s at her house,” she finally says.
“Where is Esther making you go now?”
I groan. “The fucking club.”
“Well, now you should definitely come over after.” She giggles. “I can’t wait to hear more.”
I grip the steering wheel as I make my way onto the highway to hell. “I actually volunteered. She must’ve mind fucked me in some way.”
“Probably,” Kristin agrees. “She’s always been good at that.”
See? Even she knows my mother is a master in mental warfare. I’ll agree to things and then have no idea why or when it happened. I’ve often wondered if maybe she hypnotized me at some point without my knowing so I would never outgrow her torture.
“Anyway, about Aubrey, why isn’t she going with Asshole?” I ask.
Scott, Kristin’s ex-husband, is now known as Asshole. There’s no reason to call him by any other name. He is literally the biggest dickhead I know. Thankfully, she finally saw him for what he is . . . an asshole . . . and left.
I hate him.
I hate that he ever hurt Kristin because I sometimes think she believes marshmallows are unicorn poop. Her glass is always full, and he tried to kick the damn thing over.
Men like him deserve to be castrated. I’d be the first in line to volunteer to do it.
“Because he’s busy, I don’t know . . . you know how he is now that his slut is gone. Plus, anything to help Noah or me out, and forget it, he’s got plans. Finn is going to his friend’s house, so he’s taken care of. I would normally just cancel, but I’ve already rescheduled on this girl twice. I need to hire another writer for the magazine. So, you’d really be helping me more than anything if you could watch Aub.”
She doesn’t need to say anything more. I love Aubrey. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for that kid, she’s my goddaughter, and I’m molding her into the little girl that will drive her mother to drink.
“I’m happy to watch her. It’s been a while since I’ve had time to corrupt her,” I tell her.
“Yeah, that’s what I worry about. You did a bang up job with Ava.”
My other goddaughter, Ava, is Danielle’s oldest daughter. I’m not sure what she was thinking when she picked me for that one. Honestly, I don’t know what any of my friends were thinking when they made these decisions. They’ve known me since I was a teenager, watched me do things that make them wonder if I have any morals, and yet . . . they still let me near their children.
Ava is the best, though, she’s fourteen and loves me. I let her do all the things her mother says she isn’t allowed to do. She’s a great kid. Straight A’s, is on the competition dance squad, and still thinks boys are only good to reach things on the top shelf.
I was a little too timid with Ava.
I plan to rectify that with Aubrey.
I smile. “As you should worry.”
A loud crash rumbles down the line a second before Kristin curses. “Damn it, I have to go. I love you.”
“I love you too. Have fun.”
“Yeah, loads,” she says sarcastically and hangs up.
I don’t know how she does it. The idea of kids is great, it really is, but any sense of self is lost. Your house becomes a sea of disarray with all their toys, you can’t buy nice things because kids make messes, and they wreck your body. My body is a wonderland that I’d rather not have invaded—by a kid at least.
The drive to the club is short, and I almost wish I had more time to prepare myself for whatever idiot is going to show up at my mother’s table. The valet takes the car, and I head inside and pray for a divine intervention.
I don’t get one.
“Nicole, there you are,” my mother says as I approach.
Deep breaths and don’t be a smart-ass. Yeah right.
I smile, but more at the idea of not being a smart-ass than because I’m happy. “Hello, Mother, here I am in my glory—just for you.”
She ignores my tone. “You’re wearing the pearls I gave you.”
I instinctually touch them. “I am.”
I see the flash of joy in her eyes, and I’m glad I did it now. “Well, let’s hope your attitude stays as beautiful as you are on the outside. Lord knows that mouth will start acting up sooner or later.”
My attitude is never as beautiful as my exterior. She only wishes. “I missed you too, Mommy. If I’m a good girl, will you get me ice cream?”
“I should’ve given your father custody.” She rolls her eyes and turns away.
I bite my tongue and head in to the dining area. Sometimes, it’s too easy to drive her crazy.
The club is nothing short of beautiful. Everything is always in its perfect place. As an interior designer, I appreciate the fine details that were taken to make this place look upscale but still cozy. The colors are warm, the lighting is soft, and there are lots of crystals that send light beams all over, illuminating the space in a way that makes you want to look around.
“Nicole, is that you?” Mrs. Akins asks as if she can’t believe her eyes.
“Mrs. Akins, you are just as pretty as I remember,” I say sarcastically. She doesn’t look good—she looks plastic. The amount of plastic surgery this woman has had is absolutely ridiculous, and I can’t even imagine how much it cost her very rich husband. That’s the thing about coming here, once you look past the furnishings, all you see is spit on a turd. “You look like you haven’t aged at all.”
She gives me a pouty-lip grin, and I stand there looking at her like she is crazy. Her lips don’t even move, I’m not sure if she’s taking a dump or trying to smile.
“Oh, Nicole. You’re so sweet, I just love you.”
“Aww.” I give an actual smile. “You’re not alone in that. Tell me, have you had any work done or are you using some miracle skin line?”
My mother senses that things are going to go downhill fast, so she decides to divert the attention and starts talking to her about her children. I stand here, as they chatter on and wishing I could be anywhere else.
I scan the room, looking for someone I know who can save me from the torment of listening to them, and then my eyes land on him. A man in a black suit with a crisp light blue shirt and a deep blue that borders on navy tie is at the bar, slowly bringing a glass to his lips. His shoulders are broad, his arms are thick, and there’s a dusting of scruff along his jawline. Holy crap, that man is beautiful.
Like, I’d do him six ways till Sunday and twice on Monday.
I don’t know how long I stand here looking at him, but my mother taps my arm, and I begrudgingly drag my eyes from the man.
“Did you hear what I said?” she asks.
“Sorry, I must’ve drifted off for a second. You mentioned kids, and I just zoned right out.”
Mother gives me that nasty look that tells me, once again, I have disappointed her. One day, I’ll do better, I’m sure. Or not.
“I said our table is ready.”
“Lead the way,” I tell her.
We sit, and I do my best to ignore the sexy man at the bar, but it’s damn near impossible. Mother prattles on about various projects she’s getting involved in, and I talk a little bit about the business. All the while tracking him as he moves around the room. Our dinner is overall uneventful and, honestly, very nice. She tells me a little more about the new wing they’re putting on at the hospital when we’re interrupted.
“Hello, ladies,” a man I recognize says as he braces a hand on the back of my mother’s chair.
“Hello, Ted.” My mother’s face lights up.
Ted? Do I know a Ted? I don’t think so, but there’s something familiar about him that I can’t put my finger on. But I swear I know this man.
I stare at him, trying to place where we’ve met before. I rack my brain, but nothing comes up.
“I saw you here, Mrs. Dupree, and I wanted to say hello. Also, I couldn’t believe it when I saw Nicole with you,” he says with his eyes locked on mine. “Looking as beautiful as ever.”
“Yes.” My mother smiles at him and then me. “You remember my daughter, don’t you? You two went out one time I believe.”
He gives me this grin, and it hits me. Onion boy. I remember now.
“You guys had a great time if I remember.” She continues as if I’m not seconds away from kicking her under the table. “I’m so glad you’re here tonight so you can reconnect.”
Ted’s eyes meet mine. “I know I remember. Do you, Nicky?”
No one fucking calls me Nicky, certainly not a tool who actually tried to make me pay for not only my dinner but also his. “I don’t.”
“Oh, sure she does, Ted. She’s just kidding. My Nicole has always had such a sense of humor.”
I glare at the back of my mother’s head, waiting for her to turn and look at me. She promised there wouldn’t be any attempts to set me up tonight, but I should’ve known better. She can’t help herself. After a few moments, she still hasn’t turned, and I’m done playing nice. “Oh.” I snort. “That’s right.” I smile warmly. “You were the guy who was cheap and whose breath smelled like onions.”
That gets my mother’s attention. Her eyes meet mine with the fire of hell burning in them. “Nicole.” Her voice is full of anger.
“What?” I lean back, putting my napkin onto the table.
“It’s okay, Mrs. Dupree,” Ted says. “Nicole made me laugh quite a bit on our date.”
If that’s what he wants to call it, that works for me. Though, it wasn’t a date nor was I being funny. I was being truthful.
I opened my mouth to say something, but the stranger I have been watching all night claps Ted’s shoulder with a smile. “Ted and I should let you both get back to your dinner. We have a bit of business to attend to.”
Holy fuck he has a British accent.
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