When Ethan saves her from a crushing crowd on Brooklyn Bridge, their connection is dazzling. Worthy of a heat-filled passionate night.
Laura falls pregnant from their one-night stand—a miracle considering her past fertility issues. Ethan is attentive and wonderful at first. She hopes he will be the kind of father she’d always wanted for herself.
Until his attentiveness turns to obsession. His questions become demands. Why didn’t she answer her phone or respond to his messages? Why won’t she move in with him and his rich mother?
Soon Laura realises the father of her child is a controlling sociopath. And there’s no telling the lengths Ethan will go to in order to keep baby Christopher for himself.
Laura will stop at nothing to save her baby boy.
But is she too late?
Release date: May 30, 2023
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The Nice Guy
Sarah A. Denzil
I don’t believe in fate. Never have. I hate the thought of not having control over what comes next. The cynic in me thinks that it might be a lazy way of avoiding responsibility, of washing one’s hands of the choices we make.
But perhaps it’s comfort for broken souls.
All I know is that there often comes a time when a person must take control of their own life. No one else is going to do it. Difficult decisions will be made, and those choices will reveal the true mettle of the individual within.
When my skull collides with the wall, I know I’m facing that choice. I could give up and let it all go. There would be peace, at least. I hope so anyway. Fighting means feeling the pain. Fighting means facing the fear and doing it anyway.
So which am I going to choose?
On this cool September Saturday, the East River is the colour of caramel. Early-morning sunlight glints across its surface. There is a crispness in the air, though the sun’s rays warm my bare neck.
I watch as men and women file into the streets, all joining as one. My fingers tighten around the cardboard sign in my left hand. It’s illustrated with one image—a coat hanger.
“Can you believe how crowded it is?” Jessa’s petite frame leans towards me so that I can hear her over the sea of people.
I don’t like crowds, and I never have. But I’d felt it important to come out, to be a voice among the many.
“You okay?” she asks.
“Yeah, fine,” I say, trying to make my smile seem genuine.
Pushing the worries out of my mind, I concentrate on the chants, the boots on the ground, Jessa’s milky skin glowing golden in the Manhattan sun.
We shuffle along like a herd of cattle. Gone are the usual vendors selling street paintings of New York City’s skyline or T-shirts with Big Apple logos plastered across the chest. In front of me, the double arches of the Brooklyn Bridge perch proudly beside each other. The wooden planks creak beneath my feet, but I can see through the slits that there isn’t the usual traffic jam as people try to exit Brooklyn or enter Manhattan from the other side. It’s instead replaced by a bottleneck of people. This women’s march is important. It feels important. Necessary.
I reach across and clutch Jessa’s slim wrist, fearing we’ll be swallowed whole by the swarm. My heartbeat quickens, and my senses become overloaded. There are rowdy chants to my right. The air is filled with the heady scent of perfume mixed with body odour. Bright flags and placards are thrust into the air by the protestors. I can’t catch my breath.
Jessa shields her eyes from the sun with one hand then lifts up onto her toes to get a better angle over the crowd. A tall guy with broad shoulders blocks our view up ahead.
“What’s going on up there?” A line of worry creases between her eyebrows.
I follow her eyes and frown. “What do you mean? I don’t see anything.”
The Empire State Building is to my left, and to my right, over Jessa’s head, is Lower Manhattan. The Stars and Stripes flag hanging from the bridge swishes in the wind. I’ve been living in New York for a while now, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the noise and the bustle. It’s a love–hate thing. Most days, I love being part of this ever-evolving beast of a city. Some days, it overwhelms me.
“I think the crowd is coming to a halt,” Jessa says. She stands on her tiptoes again, her silky black hair blowing in the breeze. “I think there might be a counterprotest over on the other side of the bridge. It’s preventing the flow of the crowd.”
“That’s not good,” I say.
“Don’t worry. I’m sure the police will disperse them.”
I hope she’s right, but I also have my doubts. I’ve seen protests turn from peaceful to violent extremely quickly. It’s one of the reasons I don’t usually attend. But this felt different, so I put my doubts aside and joined my best friend.
There’s a swell and a push. We take two steps back. I’m trying not to think about the fact that there’s nowhere to go when you’re on a bridge. We’re stuck right in the centre of the crowd. I lose my grip on Jessa.
“Don’t panic. Just breathe. Okay? Breathe,” Jessa says, now two people away from me. “If we get separated, I’ll meet you over on Washington Street.”
Her voice sounds even farther away, or maybe the crowd is getting louder. It’s no longer a chant but a din. The voices aren’t as one; they’re disparate.
The crowd swells again. This time, I’m pushed forward, and then it immediately sends me back, stumbling over my feet. I’m shoulder to shoulder with other women. A heavy boot stomps on my toe. I drop my placard and am shoved to the right as a slim girl tries to extricate herself from the swarm of people. Up ahead, bodies are being pushed down, disappearing into the crowd.
“Jessa?” I call out as more people try to squeeze past me. She’s gone.
Elbows jab. Feet stumble. Voices cry out. I trip backwards, falling into the chest of the person behind me.
I’m travelling without even knowing it now. The crowd does it all on its own, and my feet no longer need me to tell them to move. When I’m lifted up about half a foot, I fixate on Washington Street. People are pouring out of the subway station there. Steam billows from the food cart across the street. If I can just reach that point and…
Someone steps on the back of my right shoe, and it slides off. It’s enough to unbalance me, and I fall. With the crush of the crowd, I barely have space to protect myself as I hit the ground, landing awkwardly on my right shoulder, hitting the side of my head.
And just like that, I’m down, and the crowd is still moving, still flooding forwards, on top of me. I’m kicked in the stomach, and heels ride over my hands. Someone almost steps on my head. I’m shouting, screaming, but no one can hear me.
This is how I die.
I try to push myself up, and someone trips over my neck. They fall in front of me, and I grab onto them, hoping we can pull ourselves up together. She’s young—in her twenties, maybe—though it’s difficult to tell in the rush. The wood planks of the bridge shudder, and the girl in front of me pulls out of my grip, swept away by the crowd.
I’m half on my knees, covering my face with trembling hands, adrenaline pulsing through my veins. And when the strong grasp of a stranger hooks underneath my arms, it feels like one more thing to be afraid of. But this person lifts me onto their shoulder, carrying me along the bridge like a firefighter. My vision is somewhat restricted by my angle and the fact that I’m in a daze, but it seems as though the crush is finally dissipating. By the time we reach the end of the bridge, near the subway, it’s easier to breathe.
The man sets me down on wobbly legs.
“Are you okay?” My saviour leans closer to examine the cut on my head. “You got a little beaten up there, I think. Do you want to go to the hospital?”
It takes me a moment to catch my breath. “No, I’m okay. I just need to find my friend.”
As the fog clears from my mind and the adrenaline finally floods out of me, I realise that this man is extremely attractive. Not my usual type, though. He’s all-American, classically handsome, with stubble smattering his jaw, and neatly cropped dark hair. He’s far more polished than the British men I know back home.
“Let me help you,” he says. “You’re a little unsteady on your feet. Lean into me. That’s right.”
I’m starting to regain my strength when someone bumps him from behind, and we collide.
“Whoa.” He chuckles, his hand bracing against my lower back to keep us both from toppling. “Easy, there. I’ve got you.”
There’s a moment when he realises he’s still clinging to me and abruptly brings his hand back to his side. He smiles, and it’s comforting. Maybe it’s the fact that I was in this man’s arms and he helped me out of the terrifying crush, but I immediately feel as though I am safe with him.
“Thank you,” I say, staring deep into his brown eyes. “Thank you for saving my life.”
The handsome saviour’s smile beams at me. “I’m not sure I saved your life. Anyone would have done the same thing.”
“Believe me. They didn’t. I think I saw at least three big guys step over me.” I press my fingers to the cut on my head, and they come back red. “But I guess the crowd was pushing them forwards, so I can’t really blame them. I really need to find my friend Jessa. She said to meet here, but I can’t see her.”
“Why don’t we get you cleaned up, and you can call her? There’s a bar over there. You can check out that cut and rehydrate.”
It’s a sensible idea. I nod.
“Oh, and I’m Ethan,” he says.
He smiles again, and his eyes crinkle. “It’s nice to meet you.”
His hand rests on the small of my back as we cross the street to the bar. Normally, that much body contact with a stranger would irk me, but I know he’s trying to keep me steady.
The bar is packed, but at least we’re off the streets. On the road, harried groups of people hurry past, police officers cluster, and I notice the black shirts and shorts of a far-right group. Then I see a holstered gun on the hip of a stranger, and a shiver runs down my spine. I’ll never get used to that.
“I’m going to go to the bathroom and check out this cut,” I tell Ethan.
“Can I get you a drink while you’re there?”
“A Coke would be good.”
I certainly never expected to meet what my granny would have called “a nice young man” at a women’s march. But then again, maybe that’s exactly where I should be to meet a nice man.
It was after my divorce that I decided to come to New York. One of the busiest cities in the world is perhaps an odd choice for a woman who grew up in an old mining village in Derbyshire. But then, I’d always dreamed of leaving the green valleys behind and replacing them for somewhere with more opportunities. New York gives me that and more, though I find myself homesick from time to time.
But before New York, many years ago, I went to university in London, and that’s where I met Sam. We both lived in halls of residence on a grotty side street near UCL. It’d been such a change for me, and finding Sam right away had helped me adjust. He looked out for me.
We fell in love right away. Two years after university ended, we married. While we worked internships and temp jobs in our respective fields—PR for me, publishing for Sam—we built our insular life. Just us, a few trusted friends, and our flat. But it didn’t work out.
The bar bathroom is busy, but I manage to find an empty sink. There’s dried blood at my temple, but the cut is thankfully small. I clean away the blood, wash the dirt from my hands, and dust down my jeans. It could’ve been a lot worse. I suspect I’ll be bruised tomorrow, and my body is sore from the fall, but I’ll live.
When I return to the table, Ethan has a Coke ready and waiting for me. I take three large gulps and wipe my mouth.
“Better?” he asks.
“Better.” I smile. Then I grab my phone. “Sorry to be rude. I really need to call my friend.”
“Sure,” he says. “Go ahead.”
I dial Jessa’s number, and she answers on the second ring. “Hello?” she shouts, the hum of chatter behind her. “Laura? Where the hell are you?”
“Sorry, I almost got trampled to death, and this nice guy helped me. We came into this bar nearby to get some Cokes. We’re here now.”
“Oh.” Jessa sounds perplexed. “Which bar?”
“I didn’t get the name of it—” I grab a menu from the table, but the name has worn off.
“Wet Your Whistle,” Ethan says.
I laugh. “Stop. No way is this bar called that.”
Ethan points at a plaque on the wall, and sure enough, I see the bar name.
“Huh.” I push my finger into my ear to hear Jessa better. “It’s called Wet Your Whistle. It’s right on the corner next to the bridge.”
“How come I’ve never heard of it before?” Jessa asks, her voice ebbing with scepticism.
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s new?”
“All right, I’m walking that way now. I’ll meet you inside.”
“We’re at a booth near the windows in the middle.”
“Cool beans.” Jessa hangs up a moment later.
I offer an apologetic smile. “She’s on her way to meet us now. If that’s okay.”
“Excellent. I can’t wait to meet her.” Ethan’s eyes sparkle.
An ember of interest ignites somewhere within me. This man has my attention, and he’s the first in a while to get it.
I laugh. “You know, you don’t have to stay. You must have lost friends in the crowd too.”
“Actually, I came on my own.”
“Ah. A lone protestor?”
“More of an ally,” he says.
I smile. “Well, that’s really admirable of you.” I sip my Coke. “Tell me about yourself, Ethan. Are you from New York?”
“Born and raised.”
“No, Connecticut, but same difference.” His laughter floats across the table, filling the space between us.
“Oh.” I offer a polite smile and scratch my cheek. I feel like I’ve just missed an inside joke.
“I’m kidding,” he says. “Actually, I was born in New York, and I live here now, but I grew up mostly in Connecticut. Which is nothing like Brooklyn at all. I was being silly.” He leans into the table and plants his elbows on top. “I take it you’re not from around here.”
I give him a playful eye roll. “How’d you guess?”
He pretends to ponder and scratches the stubble on his chin. “The accent gives you away.”
“Happens every time around you Americans.” I shrug.
“Yes,” I say.
“What brings you here?”
“A job,” I reply. “And my good friend Jessa. We were at the same university in London many moons ago. She dropped out after a year or so, but we always stayed in touch. And then we were roommates when I first arrived in New York. But I have my own place now, which is great.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Laura, even under these circumstances. I’m glad I could help you.” His smile fades slightly, and an intensity crosses his features. Perhaps he’s remembering the swell of the crowd. It’s something I know will haunt me for a long time.
But then I spot Jessa’s dark hair from the other side of the bar. She lifts a hand to wave, and I beckon her over. She seems fine, if a little sweaty. I notice there’s a slight tear across the neckline of her top.
“Hi.” She slides into the booth and bumps her shoulder—intentionally harder than she needs to—into mine. I know this is her way of saying nice find about the guy sitting across from us.
“Oh, what happened to your shirt? Did you get caught?” I ask.
“Some idiot grabbed it while they were getting smushed by the crowd. What happened to your head?”
“I fell,” I say. “And I lost a shoe.”
“Oh, fuck.” She frowns. “Want to borrow something from my apartment? It’s just ten blocks from here.”
“I’m good,” I say, waving a hand.
Jessa turns to Ethan. “Thanks for looking out for her. It was pretty crazy in that crowd. I’m Jessa.” She extends a hand to him.
“Ethan.” He shakes her hand. “Pleasure to meet you.”
Jessa gives him a devious smile in return. “The pleasure’s all mine.”
The server, having seen a new person at our table, whips into gear and asks if he can get Jessa anything to eat or drink. She wastes no time ordering a Bloody Mary.
The server turns to leave, but I stop him. “Wait. Can I get an espresso martini?”
“Sure.” He nods.
“Wow.” Ethan’s eyebrows hook upward. “So, this just turned from a protest to a party.”
“Well, it’s a Bloody Mary.” Jessa shrugs. “It counts as breakfast.”
“It comes with a mozzarella stick and a chicken finger on it. A pickle too,” the server says.
Jessa shows her pearly white teeth when she smiles at him. “Even better.”
“I guess I’ll have a beer. Whatever IPA is good,” Ethan says.
“You’ve got it, sir.”
“Whoa, now. Am I that old to be called ‘sir’?” Ethan says with a laugh.
“That depends.” Jessa applies lip gloss and checks her compact. “How old are you?”
“Jessa!” I swat her thigh under the table.
“What?” Her voice is fake-virtuous as she clicks the mirror closed and blots her lips together.
Ethan shrugs. “I’m actually thirty-eight.”
“Well, if it helps, that bartender turned twenty-one, like, yesterday,” Jessa says.
Ethan smiles, but it’s not her he’s looking at. It’s me. And it’s been a while since a man looked at me like that. Especially one as hot as Ethan. My cheeks warm. I feel the urge to fluff up my hair.
Our drinks arrive, and Ethan winces when he’s called “sir” for a second time.
“Fuck the patriarchy,” Ethan declares, raising his glass.
Jessa smirks. “Well, okay, then.”
We clink glasses, and I give my friend a look to suggest, He means well so that Jessa doesn’t rib him for the overenthusiasm. Once I’m a few sips into my drink, I start to relax. The alcohol makes me feel flushed and tingly in a good way. Ethan and I keep stealing glances at each other, grinning whenever our eyes meet.
“Is this your first march?” Jessa asks.
Ethan shakes his head. “Nope. I try to attend when I can.”
She gives him a look like, Am I really supposed to believe that? But thankfully, she spares me the mortification and doesn’t say it.
“That’s cool that you give support like that,” I say. “What do you do for work?”
Jessa bites into her pickle.
“I’m on Wall Street.” He says it in a humble way with a shrug, as if he knows it sounds cliché. “What about you?”
“Oh.” I rub my arm. “I’m in public relations.”
“Really? And how do you like that line of work?” he asks.
“It’s challenging, which is what I like,” I reply.
“You know what I like?” Ethan asks.
My heart stops, and I stare at him. “What?”
Beside me, Jessa inhales deeply.
“Thanks.” I offer a shy smile, willing my cheeks not to turn red, but I feel them scorching anyway.
Jessa takes her drink and starts to slide out of the booth, giving me a knowing look. “I’m going to go call Bridget really quick.” She makes a signal with her hand as if she’s making the call and stands up.
I nod, taking her cue, appreciative of it. Bridget is Jessa’s on-again-off-again “fuck buddy.” Jessa’s words, not mine. Jessa has a keen ability to notice when two people are hitting it off and will usually make herself scarce. She’s a great wingwoman.
“Nice to meet you.” She tosses Ethan an enthusiastic wave and whisks herself away.
“So…” Ethan’s dark eyes glow with a mischievous glint. He drums his fingertips against the table.
“So…” I grin, nodding along, trying to pretend like my heart isn’t doing somersaults inside my chest.
“A PR woman and a Wall Street guy meet at a women’s march across the Brooklyn Bridge,” he declares.
“It’s a meet-cute,” I say, shaking my head at the ridiculousness.
The server returns. “Can I get you guys another drink?”
Ethan turns from the server to regard me as he says, “How about another round at my place? I have a fantastic high-rise view of the park.”
My heart patters with excitement. His gaze bores into mine. I’m barely aware of the server backing away, sensing the change in atmosphere.
Jessa always jokes that I’m the cautious one. When I meet a man on a dating app, I scope him out online first, always meet in a public place, and I never have sex on a first date. But during my student days, after a few drinks at the university nightclub, 2000s-era dance music pulsing through my veins, I never thought anything of going home with a guy I’d just met.
Maybe I want to relive that rush today of all days.
Fuck it. I’m wearing one shoe, and I’m probably bruised from head to toe under my clothes, and my blood is pumping with espresso martini before lunch. If not now, when?
I match his broad smile and say, “Sure. Why not?”
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