Despite the risks, Cassandra Daughtry falls deeply and quickly for Gabe. He proves to be more protective than she imagined. As their love grows, Cassie relinquishes her heart to him. He's turned over a new leaf.
Except, a business deal enters the picture and Cassie pleads for Gabe to listen to her. His fiery temper and misconceptions about women with money creates an enormous rift. When Cassie finds Gabe to apologize, she discovers he's kept a secret from her. He claims he was protecting her, but his betrayal cuts too deep.
Can their love overcome so many outside forces of confusion and betrayal?
Release date: November 17, 2020
Print pages: 288
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Wild Forces: A Friends to Lovers Romance
Growing up, I had a guilty habit. Okay, fine. I had two guilty habits, but jacking my beanstalk was not what I was referring to, though this habit definitely added fodder for that. I loved watching Melrose Place.
The show predated me, but an aunt, or more likely a woman my dad dated on the sly, left a DVD copy of the first season behind, and when I was fourteen, I would sneak it to my room. My older brother, Brock, caught me watching once and laughed his ass off. But his seventeen-year-old ass slumped into a beanbag and finished the next two episodes with me anyway.
Yeah, Heather Locklear had it going on.
Little did I know, that show made more of an impression on me than I realized. At twenty-six, residing in a sweet apartment complex, I was living my own bad version of Melrose. Brock, now my roommate, warned me not to ‘shit where I live.’ However, I didn’t consider it shitting. I made sure every woman I took to bed knew the deal.
And, most importantly, no repeats.
Besides, I hadn’t fucked every woman in the complex.
No. There was one woman I wouldn’t touch.
The first time I saw her, yeah, I wanted her plump pink lips pressed against mine, and other parts of me as well. But being the supreme dumbass I can be, I took a bet from my buddies, and lost. They bet I couldn’t get her into bed, but she wasn’t a quick lay. The moment I spoke to her, I knew I wanted her in my life.
Losing that bet led to a huge win since it resulted in a long-lasting, beautiful friendship.
Early dawn light peeked through the blinds of the apartment as I snuck out of a woman’s bedroom. Last night, I’d fucked Kylie three times.
My typical escape plan relied on wearing a woman out, waiting until she fell asleep, and bolting. When I quietly closed the bedroom door behind me, the sight of a beautiful round ass clad in black yoga pants, bent over the oven door, greeted me, along with the scent of bacon. She closed the door, turned around, and my stomach lurched.
Cassandra lived here.
I knew Cassandra lived in the same complex as me, but I had never met or laid eyes on her roommate. She always said her roommate’s name was Kaylee, but the woman I met had said her name was Kylie. I was sure, because I asked her once in the club and again in the parking lot. No way I thought she lived with one of my best friends.
It was the first time my brother was right. I had shit where I lived.
I stood midway into the living room. Cassie eyed me with disappointment and disgust.
If her ass didn’t do me in, the sight of her in a pair of sexy-as-fuck librarian glasses damn sure did. Then she had to open her luscious mouth.
“Seriously, Sullivan?” she asked. “Good to know Kaylee finally got what she wanted. Maybe I won’t have to hear any more about it, but that’s highly unlikely. Now, I’ll be treated to an endless postmortem. Probably tell me about every little thing you did in bed.”
I wanted to answer her, but my mouth was dry and it kept me silent. The first time I saw her, I thought she was hot, but I had no idea she wore contacts. Those glasses, her green eyes, and everything else that was her… My dick twitched. She wasn’t hot, she was scorching.
She mistook my silence, and shook her head. “Well, I won’t hold you up. What is it I’ve heard you say? ‘It’s always important to make a quick, clean getaway.’ Right? Have a nice day, Gabe.”
Have a nice day. I couldn’t believe she dismissed me like that. We were friends. Or had I somehow shit on that too?
If it weren’t for the bacon, I probably would’ve skipped breakfast after seeing Gabe. But, if I took the time to oven-bake the most delicious breakfast food known to man, then I would eat it, stomach turning or not.
Kaylee trudged out of her bedroom as I rinsed my plate in the sink.
She groaned. “God. Did you have to make bacon, today, of all days?”
I put the plate in the dishwasher and closed it up. “Yeah, I did. It’s Saturday and the only day I have time for it. Besides, how can anything bother you today? You’ve been going out of your way to get G-Rock for months. I saw him leave, so you should be on top of the world.”
She shook her head. “He was all right. Not as good as I expected.”
I pressed my lips together in sympathy. Maybe I was wrong, but one-night-stands would never be as good as she expected. Considering how long she had wanted to get under, over, or both, with Gabe, I had no doubt she’d built it up spectacularly in her mind. Which could only end up in a let down since there was no connection outside the physical.
Much like my roommate, I wanted Gabe Sullivan in the worst way, but I hid it.
He and I had been friends for the past two-and-a-half years. Our friendship – as warped as it was sometimes – meant too much to me to jeopardize it.
Not to mention, he would never go for a girl like me. First, I didn’t resemble most of his one-night conquests, and second, he shied away from connecting with women on any level other than the physical. Since I was the only woman he was friends with, I figured it made me off-limits physically.
I moved toward my bedroom, ready to shower.
Kaylee asked, “You headed to campus?”
I looked over my shoulder and nodded. “Yep. Gotta finish my presentation for Operations Management. Then I’m headed to the shelter. I’ll be back around dinner. You gonna be here all day?”
She groaned again. “I don’t know. Probably not. Thinking I’ll go to Stacey’s tonight. But, do not watch the rest of Shameless without me.”
I sighed. “Fine. But you keep staying out every night, I’m gonna move on without you, chickie.”
“Whatevs. Watch the rest of Outlander. I have no desire to time-travel.”
I shook my head. If she’d read the books she’d bloody well understand.
After finishing up my project, I spent a few hours volunteering at Whiskers and Wags, a nearby animal shelter. On my way home, I dropped by Moe’s and picked up a burrito to go. As I went up the stairs to my apartment, Gabe scaled the steps two at a time to catch up with me.
I stopped and turned to him.
His eyes held mine for a long moment. “Are you mad at me?”
I smiled “I ought to be. But, I know I don’t have reason to be. You didn’t know what apartment I lived in, and that was by design.”
Mainly it was his design, but nevertheless, we both knew he had a reputation. I had a female roommate, and Gabe didn’t want to meet her. So, I knew I couldn’t be mad at him. Besides, if I were upset, it could create a chasm between us. I definitely didn’t want that.
I chuckled. “And to be honest, I’m stunned Kaylee wasn’t successful sooner with you. Um, I’m sorry for being bitchy with you this morning. I was hungry and caught off-guard. We’ve been friends quite a while, so, the first time I see you in my living room is only because of Kaylee, it took me by surprise.”
He jerked his head toward the Moe’s bag. “That dinner?”
I nodded. “You working another club tonight?”
He nodded. “Glad we’re cool. I won’t keep you from your food. Have a good night, ’kay?”
“Sure. You too, Gabe.”
Inside my apartment, I locked the door, opened up my food and sighed. “That man. He can be so damned obtuse.”
Or maybe I was obtuse.
While I crunched on a tortilla chip loaded with salsa verde, my cell rang. The display showed my dad’s picture. I smiled.
“Hey, Dad. How goes things?” I answered.
He grunted his humor. “Oh, they go, sweetie. They go. How goes things with you?”
“They’re going,” I said.
I sighed. “What do you mean, ‘what’s wrong?’ Nothing’s wrong.”
“Know the Orlando symphony let you play Prokofeiv’s ‘Montagues and Capulets,’ with them, sweetie, but I hope in all your schooling you’ve acquainted yourself with Hamlet, because by George, you protest too much.”
I chuckled. “I don’t protest. It’s just been an off day. Sort of. I don’t know. But, I finished up that Operational Management project I told you about.”
“Good. And nice try to change the subject. Should I get your mother? Your avoidance sounds like you have a boy problem.”
“No,” I snapped. Then I got my act together. “Sorry, but no. I wouldn’t want to bother mother. It isn’t a man problem. I’m just worried about my roommate.”
Dad sighed. “You know worrying is useless. Unless she asks for help, there won’t be much you can do.”
I nodded. “You’re right. So, was there any reason you called, or just to shoot the breeze?”
I heard him inhale. “There is a reason. I have an employee I don’t trust. Normally, I wouldn’t involve you in things like this.”
“I don’t know why, Dad. I already have a business degree, so, you never know, I might be able to be a sounding board if nothing else.”
He chuckled. “Yes. You’re very close to having your MBA, and we haven’t talked about what you plan to do after you’re done, but that’s neither here nor there right now. If you’re willing, I’d like you to apply for an open bookkeeper position.”
My lips twisted. “Okay, but aren’t bookkeepers full time? He’s probably looking for a forty-hour-a-week employee.”
He paused. “You’re right, but there are perks to being the silent partner’s daughter.”
“Wait a minute, I thought you said it was an employee—”
“I did, but I’m an investor in this business, and until he repays my investment I think of this man as an employee. Bottom line, something’s wrong, and I don’t know if you can find anything out or not. But, it wouldn’t hurt to have someone else looking at the books.”
“Couldn’t you just insist on an audit?” I asked.
He sighed. “Yes, but I’m leaving that as a last resort. Maybe I’m getting softer the older I get, but I’m trying to give Ryan the benefit of the doubt.”
“All right. Maybe this will work better if he doesn’t know who I am?”
He chuckled. “Not too many people with the last name ‘Daughtry,’ honey.”
I smiled. “Yes, but I could use Mom’s maiden name.”
“Hmm. You’re right, but I’d rather be honest from the jump. Any chance you can get a resume in by tomorrow evening?”
“You get me the email address, I should be able to do it tonight.”
“Thank you, honey. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Dad. Talk to you later.”
As soon as I finished my dinner, I booted up my computer and sent a freshly-polished resume to the email address Dad provided. My bra poked me in my side and I realized I hadn’t changed clothes since I came home. How that happened, I had no idea, but getting my bra off took priority.
The doorbell chimed after I put on my pajamas. Looking through the peephole, I saw my ex-boyfriend who I hadn’t spoken to in almost two years. With a sigh, I opened the door.
“Asher, I don’t know—”
It was all I got out before he put his hand to my belly in a vicious way, and he shoved into my apartment, slamming the door behind him.
The hand in my belly heaved and I stumbled backward into the breakfast bar.
“What the hell?” I yelled.
“You finally did it, you slut. Droolin’ after him like all the other bitches. Only took you two years, but you finally sucked that prick’s cock.”
My brows furrowed and I shook my head.
“Do not play dumb with me, Cassie. I saw him leave here this morning.”
“Gabe?” I blurted the question.
“‘Gabe?’” he mimicked, setting his voice three octaves higher.
Things went south with Asher not long after I became friends with Gabe. Whether it was the new friendship, or just me finally noticing it, but Asher displayed extreme jealousy if I spent any time with men. Even guys I tutored while doing my job at the time, as Professor Wood’s teaching assistant. Once it became clear Asher had issues, I confronted him, and he denied it. Needless to say, things deteriorated more and I broke up with him not long after. It had been ugly, but I hadn’t seen him since then.
His words registered fully and my eyes narrowed. “What were you doing here before seven in the morning?” I demanded.
He snorted. “For being so damn book-smart, you’re awfully stupid, Cassandra. I live across the fucking hall.”
What? I shook my head because that was weird. Creepy-weird, since the only guy I ever saw come out of the unit across the hall was a middle-aged man named Stan.
“Stan lives there, not—”
My words were cut off by Asher backhanding me. I staggered to the side. Pain radiated from my cheekbone, but I ignored it. He stopped me from sidling around the breakfast bar when he grabbed my bicep and shoved me toward the couch. His free hand took hold of my other arm, and I screamed for all I was worth.
His right hand let go. He backhanded me again, shutting me up.
“Quiet, you selfish bitch.”
“She’s not a bitch, and the cops are on their way, asshole,” Kaylee said from the front door, her phone to her ear.
And I hadn’t thought this could get any worse.
“Kaylee, go!” I yelled.
She looked at me like I was crazy, but then she raised her other hand, which held a small pistol.
Asher pushed me toward the couch and moved to charge Kaylee, but the distinct click of a safety stopped him.
“Oh, no, creeper. I knew something wasn’t right about you. Anytime I left, you seemed to be leaving your unit too. And even though I didn’t like your vibe, something seemed familiar, too. I never could put my finger on it, but when a girl grows up in a cop family she learns many things. One, listen to her gut. Two, respect of guns. And three, stay vigilant. So, don’t think I won’t take out your knee.”
“Hard to hit a moving target, bitch,” Asher said, and took a step toward her.
She fired and Asher jumped. My ears rang like I’d stood next to the speakers at a rock concert.
Proving she knew a thing or two about firearms, Kaylee hollered, “That was your only warning shot, asswipe. Purposefully missed your big toe. You move again, it’s your knee.”
Moments later, two police officers filled our foyer with their weapons drawn. I could barely hear what was being said, but Kaylee slowly turned and lowered her weapon. I could see she was speaking with a female officer, but the ringing in my ears wasn’t letting up.
By the time the officers had escorted Asher out of the apartment and Kaylee and I had both given our statements to the officers, the microwave clock showed the time as quarter to eight.
I looked at my roommate. “How is it not even eight o’clock yet? It feels like five hours have gone by.”
Kaylee shot a sympathetic smile my way. “My uncle says, if time flies when you’re having fun, it drips like molasses when bad shit hits the fan. You need to ice your cheek before the bruising gets worse.”
I moved to the kitchen for an ice pack. “When did you start carrying a weapon? And why didn’t you tell me you had a concealed carry permit?”
She chuckled. “This very conversation has something to do with it. Besides, it isn’t something a girl advertises. Even to her roommate.”
I nodded. “That makes sense. Sorry if I’m keeping you from your plans, but I’m really freaking happy you showed up when you did. I didn’t know what he was going to do next.”
She sighed. “Yeah. Glad I walked in when I did. Listen, not to tell you how to live or anything, but when is your lease up? Because, I would not want to live across from that douchebag.”
I groaned. “I just renewed the lease last week.”
“Yeah. I graduate in a month, Cass. I hate to say it, but when my family finds out about this, and my uncle and my dad being cops, they’re gonna find out about this, they’ll be gung-ho for me to move now. I’m sorry if that puts you in a financial bind.”
It didn’t put me in a bind, but I had never told Kaylee about my finances.
My parents were loaded. Just before my sister was born, Dad developed and patented a type of digital x-ray machine for dentists to use. Selling the patent was the key to his success, though. On top of that, he had read Peter Lynch’s investment books in the early nineties and knew about Warren Buffet before most other Americans knew about the modest-living billionaire. Now, my parents weren’t billionaires, but they were millionaires.
Despite that, they still lived in the house they bought in 1981 –primarily because it was fully paid-for– and hadn’t bought a new car in over a decade. When Dad and I watched sports, he spent half his time shaking his head, and not because of faulty calls by referees, but because of the side-stories showing the flashy homes and cars the players had bought. He thought college athletes should be required to take a basic accounting course so they’d understand how money really works, but there was a reason he didn’t run a university or a sports agency.
From an early age, Dad taught me about money. When I hit high school, he showed me a few of his investments. I had a trust-fund, and they allowed me to use that money for my living expenses.
Living alone wasn’t my deal, so the rent Kaylee paid me went into a separate brokerage account, and for the past twenty months I’d been investing in earnings options. Trading or selling various puts and calls based on earnings reports, since that was when stocks could be most volatile.
“It’ll be fine, Kaylee. And, you’re right. I’ll talk to management because one way or the other, Asher isn’t going to be across the fucking breezeway from me if I have anything to say about it.”
She gasped. “Geez! It’s rare you drop an f-bomb, Cass!”
“Kaylee! It’s not everyday I get backhanded by an ex-boyfriend because he saw my friend leave early in the morning and he wrongly assumed I’d slept with that friend. So, if ever there was call to use the f-word, by God, this is it!”
Her face fell. “Oh no! Now I feel like a humongous douche. If I hadn’t brought—”
“Stop! No. You can’t blame yourself. All of it is on Asher. He has a screw loose. I’m surprised I never realized that, and more, I can’t believe I never saw him coming or going.”
Her head tilted. “You know, I saw him almost every time I left here. Thing was, he looked familiar and I couldn’t figure out why.”
“Well, I had just broken up with him when you moved in.”
She nodded and snapped her fingers. “That’s right. And not long after, you took that framed photo of the two of you off the mantle –and that’s where I had seen him. It just didn’t connect.”
I shrugged. “Well, Monday, I’m filing a restraining order.”
She smiled. “I know some people if you need help with that. You sure you don’t want to come with me to Stacey’s? We’re hitting a club. After a night like tonight, you need to let your hair down.”
I shook my head. “No. You have fun, though. Besides, as bad as I look right now, I wouldn’t want to keep you all from getting in the door.”
“Puh-leez! You drop Gabe’s name or text his ass, he’d get you in no problem.”
“Go! I’m gonna take some Advil, and call it a night.”
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