Today's First Chapter Friday is from the second book in my Kaddim Brothers series. It is a story about a shy space racer, a baker afraid of getting his heart broken again, brothers and teammates working to bring them together, and an unexpected pregnancy that changes everything.
Enjoy the first chapter of GENJ (Kaddim Brothers #2)
Stars, I can’t wait to get home!
Deploying flaps and slats, I slowed my jet as I approached the runway. All indicators showed I was in the correct position. I closed the throttles and flared. My main landing gear touched down, followed by the nose gear. Using reverse thrust to slow down even faster, I then applied the brakes for a perfect landing. Today’s practice was complete.
Once I taxied around to my designated spot on the tarmac, I glanced around to make sure the rest of my team was in place before opening the canopy. It was a successful training day, and Ilam, our newest teammate, proved once again he could do anything. The kid had absolutely no fear when it came to attempting new maneuvers.
I unbuckled my harness, took my helmet off then made my way down the steps one of our team’s mechanics had positioned beside my jet.
“Nice flying today,” Hanziel, the head mechanic, said as I stepped onto the tarmac. “How did everything feel?”
“Great!” I patted him on the back. “You fixed the throttle, so it was a smooth ride.”
“Good to hear.” He made his way around to the rest of my teammates before we hopped into the hovercart to take us to our dormitory. As usual, Xac and Qé cuddled together in the rear, sharing intimate touches.
My oldest brother, Ret, also the leader of ORIXA, was reviewing the same maneuver we’d just flown with Ilam, as if he hadn’t already proved he could do it. I felt sorry for the kid. Although Ret spoke highly of Ilam when he wasn’t around, my brother never let our team’s newest member rest once we landed.
And I was up front, as usual. The way it had been since Ojokun got into an accident then left the team because he was in love with my younger brother, Vawn. I kind of missed the days when it was Ojokun up front brooding instead of me.
Suddenly, I felt someone shove my shoulder. I glanced over my shoulder to find Ret staring at me, a sly grin across his lips.
“What?” I had no idea what was going on in his head. Hopefully he wouldn’t tell me we’d be returning to the simulators for more practice. I was worn out. Plus, I wanted to talk to a friend of mine from my home planet, Orez. It wasn’t very often our schedules and the time difference between planets gave us a chance to chat. I’d been waiting all week for this.
I shielded my eyes with my hand as I tried to block the glare from the sun. “Who? What are you talking about?”
Rolling his eyes, my brother sighed. Ilam giggled beside him.
“Utahn. Your boyfriend. Invite him to the upcoming family and friends weekend.”
I huffed out a breath. “First of all, he’s not my boyfriend—”
“Yet,” Ret interrupted. “Probably would be if you’d just ask him.”
I pretended I hadn’t heard. No way was I going to take relationship advice from someone who had a new being in their bed as often as possible. “And second, he has his own business to run. On Orez. It’s not easy for him to get time off.” It didn’t matter how much I wished he lived closer.
“It would be if you’d claim him then get him to be our own personal baker here.” My brother shrugged as if life was that simple. “That way you would get your dick wet as often as I do, and I could enjoy all the sweet treats from home.”
With a gulp, Ilam turned away. I swear I heard him sniffle, too, but I didn’t have time to figure out what was up with him. I needed my brother off my case.
“Fine, I’ll invite Utahn. But don’t expect him to come.” Resting my feet on the dash, I crossed my arms and closed my eyes. Maybe it was better to be up front. By myself.
As soon as we arrived at our dorms, I hopped off the cart before it had fully stopped at the entrance to the third floor. In a hurry to get to our team’s quarters—five bedrooms and a shared common space—I banged my shoulder going around the corner of the corridor. I brushed off the pain, used to such accidents wherever I went. While I was anxious to call Utahn, it wasn’t to ask him to come to the family and friends weekend. I simply wanted to see his pretty face. I’d had a crush on the omega for as long as I could remember. I’d never pursued him, though, since he’s my younger brother’s best friend. When that brother decided to fall in love with one of my teammates, I realized all those rules about who one should and shouldn’t date weren’t as important as I once believed. Yet, I wasn’t ready to start any form of relationship with Utahn beyond friendship. We both had commitments that kept us busy and away from each other. Plus, I still wasn’t sure he liked me that way. Being friends with someone was not the same as being intimate.
After powering on my comm unit, I scrolled through my brief list of contacts to find Utahn’s code. With a nervous flutter in my stomach, I called him. It was always hit and miss with him, but I thought I might have better luck today.
My screen scrambled before the static cleared to reveal a face shaped by the gods. Round cheeks, full lips, and eyes that seemed to disappear when he smiled. All framed by dark-brown locks. Perfection. My heart swelled every time I saw him. “Hi, Utahn! How are things?”
A faint blush spread across his cheeks, something that happened at the beginning of every conversation we had. “Hi, um, I’m good. It was a busy day at the bakery, but I’m glad to see you.”
“I’m glad to see you, too.” I sat on the edge of my bed, trying to think of a way to ask him about the family and friends weekend. Might as well. It wouldn’t hurt to, I guessed. But I slipped off the bed. My ass hit the floor with a thud, and I scrambled to catch the comm unit before it met the same fate.
“Are you okay? What happened?”
I heard the concern in Utahn’s voice before I was able to steady myself, along with the screen. “I’m good. Just slipped.” Instead of trying to get up again, I remained on the floor. I didn’t want to crack the screen on another comm unit.
Utahn giggled, his nose wrinkling in the most adorable way. “How can you be as clumsy as you are and yet race for the team with the best ranking for the last two seasons?”
I shrugged, slightly embarrassed, but this wasn’t something Utahn didn’t already know about me. “I don’t have to move much in my jet. I only have to be able to read the controls and fly.”
With a wide grin, he shook his head. “You always manage to make me smile. And I need that after a long day.”
That was exactly what I wanted to do, even if it meant making a fool of myself. “Were you busy today, then?”
“I wouldn’t say busy.” He twirled his finger through the hair above his ear. “Steady though. When one customer left, another came in. Thank goodness I had Gugait there to help me. Otherwise, I would still be downstairs getting dough prepared for tomorrow.”
“Ah, he’s the one who’s pregnant, right?”
Utahn nodded. “Yeah, he has a couple months left before he’s leaving for Olaria to be with his mate and raise their family there. I’ll be lost without him.”
I gulped, wondering if this was the opening I needed to invite him, or if he’d consider it ill-timed. I guess I wouldn’t know unless I asked. “Um, while Gugait is still on Orez, do you think you’d have the chance to visit me? There’s a family and friends weekend coming up.”
Utahn raised his eyebrows, his expression otherwise blank. Stars, had I misread our friendship? Had everyone lied when they told me he liked me, too?
“I guess that’s a no. Forget I said anything.” I wished I’d be able to forget, too, but I’d likely replay the moment of rejection over and over in my mind for days.
“No.” He waved a hand in front of himself. “I mean, yes. I’d love to come. You just…”—he scratched the side of his head—“caught me off guard. I didn’t expect to have an opportunity to see you again for a while.”
“That’s a yes?” My heart pounded, waiting for his confirmation. I’d dreamed of him coming to visit me for so long. In the past, I’d only seen him when he’d traveled with my brother to watch the whole team race.
He nodded. “I have to make sure Toufan can help Gugait, but if that’s okay, then definitely. I’ll book a hotel room as soon as I know for sure.”
“Hotel?” Stars, I hadn’t thought about that. He wasn’t my brother. I couldn’t expect him to crash at our dorm for the weekend. “Oh, I’ll arrange that for you. Let me know if you can come and then I’ll book it.”
“Genj, I’m fully capable of making my own reservation.”
“I know. But you’ll be my guest, so it’s my responsibility to make sure everything is taken care of for you.” I hoped he didn’t find me too forward, but I didn’t want him to have to pay for anything. “I’ll make your flight arrangements, too. Leave it all to me.”
“Oh, you are the absolute sweetest.” A soft blush crept across his cheeks. “I cannot wait to see you in person again.”
I couldn’t wait, either. I would be buzzing with excitement until then, thankful we didn’t have a major race between now and then. The event was always held during long intervals when we didn’t have to travel. A chance to give racers a break and spend time with friends and family we didn’t see for months at a time, whether on Eurebly or back home. Ret would still have us training hard up until then. He didn’t believe in time off, always going full force with everything he did. It sucked when we were growing up. Though, as much as I complained about him as our leader, I couldn’t imagine being on any other team.
“Has anything exciting happened on Orez since I last talked to you? Are our families doing well?”
He shrugged with a faint smile. “I think everyone is well. I haven’t really done anything but work. And I haven’t heard about anything new from Vawn when he stops in to visit. The girls are growing fast though.”
That was the part I did miss. I wasn’t getting to see my nieces grow up. Yet, I had seen my family more often since Vawn hooked up with Ojokun. They actually traveled to watch the occasional race now, something they’d never done before.
Utahn and I chatted for a while longer before ending the call. And instantly, worry crept into my gut. What if Utahn only said yes to be nice? Or what if he visited and realized he didn’t really like me? We’d never been together much without my younger brother around. Talking over the comm unit wasn’t the same as in person. Stars, I couldn’t screw this up.
Today's First Chapter Friday comes from the first series I completed. It's a dystopian series, and while each book is a romance story on it's own, it is important to read them in order to fully understand everything that is happening in this fictional world. While this is a MF romance, there are FF scenes. The second book in the series is a FF romance, and the third is a MM romance. Meanwhile, there are many secrets learned in each book. Happy reading!
Enjoy the first chapter of NEVER GONNA LET YOU GO (The Underground #1)
If only I could touch his sexy body again.
Standing at the edge of the camp, Calla Jacobs couldn’t stop staring at the toned and tanned body of Erik Edwards, aerospace mechanic for mission SFAE3, while he worked to repair the core drill. She tried to tear her gaze away, willed her feet to move so she could get to the plains of Airondelle, but it just didn’t happen. She watched as sweat trickled down the center of his back, and she closed her eyes, breathing in his pure, masculine scent. The memory from years ago, of running her hands across the wide expanse of his upper body and through his thick, blond curls, only made things worse. She didn’t love him anymore—at least not in the way she had when they’d dated. And still, Erik would always hold a place in her heart. They’d grown up together, been best friends, even after they’d broken up, until he’d married Holloway.
Erik snapped open a bottle of water, took a large swig, and then poured the rest over his head with a heavy sigh. She could almost hear the water sizzle.
Oh, to be one of those water droplets cascading down his bare chest. She’d enjoy the water so much more if she could stand close enough to lick it off of his body before it dripped to the ground. Grimacing, she clenched her fists. Jeez, pull it together.
Their mission on the barren planet did not include sexual affairs. In fact, except for already established marriages, sex was forbidden outright; the mission could not be compromised by all of the emotions and distractions a sexual bond brought. She and Erik had ended their three-year relationship for that reason— they’d both dreamed of being a part of the mission responsible for confirming the existence of a planet capable of sustaining life. And neither of them had felt ready to get married. They’d promised to wait for each other until they’d served their time and had remained friends throughout their training. Two months before their departure date, Erik had eloped with the mission commander, Melina Holloway, a woman Calla could never compete with in terms of brains and beauty. A quick divorce had followed, but the short-lived marriage had left Erik with a chip on his shoulder. And he’d refused to talk to Calla about anything other than the mission, if at all.
“What do you want?” His gruff voice jerked her from her thoughts. “You’re supposed to be out studying those tapir things. I’m not one of your specimens, so move on.”
He’d turned into such an ass since his tryst with the commander. And still, Calla couldn’t stop the desire coursing through her body as she stared at his half-naked body. She hadn’t been with anyone since him, and every other male in the camp was at least old enough to be her father. Mission or not, on Earth or Airondelle, she still craved a man’s touch. Erik’s touch.
“Seriously, Jacobs, leave or I’ll report you to Holloway.” He growled the words as he continued to work on the drill. “She’ll put you on mess duty for the rest of the mission.”
Calla cursed Holloway for changing Erik. What could have happened between them to turn her once best friend into someone who couldn’t stand the sight of her?
“Did someone mention my name?” Calla cringed at the sound of her commander’s unwelcome voice. If she didn’t acknowledge her, perhaps the commander would continue to walk past her. She didn’t know Holloway very well, had avoided her since Erik’s involvement with her. In truth, she could find no reason to get to know her any better. Many crewmembers called Holloway a bitch, among other names, behind her back yet acted like googly-eyed teenage boys when she disciplined them for insubordination.
“Jacobs, follow me,” Melina said, her tone sharp.
Shit! If only she’d gone straight to the Jeep instead of stopping to drool over Erik. She didn’t need to be reminded of Holloway’s authoritative prerogatives as commander, a position she dreamed to one day be in. The thought entered her mind too often already.
As she followed the commander, she glanced back at Erik. He didn’t even appear to notice she’d left, as if she was a bug he’d squashed and thought of no more. What had she done to deserve to be treated like shit? Sure, she didn’t have a perfect, shapely body like Holloway, but in the past, he’d told her he loved her.
Holloway stopped at the mess tent, opened the flap, and closed it again without stepping inside. “Too busy in there. Let’s go to my quarters.”
The commander’s tent sat beside her own closet-sized one, with the mess, medical, and storage canopies separating their sleeping area from the men’s.
Ducking through the entrance, Calla reined in her envy. Not only did the commander have ten times as much room as Calla, Holloway also slept in a queen size airbed. I’m sure that’s so much more comfortable than the wretched cot I have to sleep on.
The commander pulled out a chair from her makeshift desk. “Sit down, Jacobs. We need to talk.”
She perched on the plastic contraption, an uncomfortable thing compared to the hover chairs back on Earth, wondering why Holloway was giving her such a stern look rather than the smile she often wore. Perhaps she reserved smiles for the men. Flirting with her wouldn’t work. She wasn’t interested in women.
Holloway crossed her arms. “Why are you so obsessed with him?”
The commander’s question interrupted her inner grumblings. “Pardon? Who?”
“Edwards. I see the way you stare at him. You remind me of a teenage girl with a crush.”
Bitch! “We used to be friends.”
Holloway laughed. “Oh no, not the way you practically fall over yourself whenever he comes within ten feet of you. I mean, I understand the attraction. He’s hot and one of the few men who haven’t gone soft since Planet Core took over the city.” She sat on her bed and removed her polished black boots. “They all think PC will make their lives easier. Little do they know….” She shook her head. “Anyway, why aren’t you and Edwards friends anymore?”
Calla wanted to be nice to her commander, she really did, but the woman was sticking her nose in her personal business. She stood up. “May I speak freely?”
“By all means.”
The amusement on her commander’s face fueled her anger. “We’re not friends anymore because of you. He married you then turned into a complete asshole. What did you do to him?”
Holloway rose from the bed and moved so she hovered only inches away from her. Her nostrils flared. “It wasn’t my fault. We got married, had two days of nonstop sex, then he woke up the next morning, said it was all a mistake and asked for an immediate divorce. I’d like to know what happened as much as you.”
Her stomach clenched at the mention of Erik having sex with someone else. But she could no longer hold a grudge against her commander. She hadn’t been dating Erik when he’d married the woman, and Holloway seemed to know as little about the change in Erik as she did. She and the commander were probably both going through the same thing. “I’m sorry. We just used to be so close and now he barely talks to me.”
“I know, hon.” Holloway rested a hand on her shoulder, giving her a comfort she’d always longed for from her own parents and had only ever received from Erik. “We both deserve better. Much better.”
But she didn’t want anyone else. Couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. Only Erik. She was ready to break the rules if he showed some interest. Calla turned, ready to get back to work, to get her mind on something else before she broke down. The only time she allowed herself the luxury of crying over Erik was at night, before she fell asleep. Alone. “Is that all, Commander?”
“No. I wanted to tell you what a great job you’re doing out there. I know it must be tough to do all of this research by yourself, but you’re exceeding Planet Core’s expectations.” She leaned closer. “That’s because we women know how to get our work done.”
Calla smiled. Other members of the crew had often been caught napping when they were supposed to be drilling and taking samples. She wouldn’t even consider such a thing. Working for Planet Core had proved to be the opportunity she’d always wanted to escape her parents’ control. They’d never cared what she did until she’d moved to the city with Erik. Then they’d cut off her funds to get her to move back home. Planet Core had given her an education, a job, and a place to live. Without Erik though, living in the city seemed pointless. She was lonelier than she’d ever been.
The commander stepped back out of Calla’s personal space. “I want you to call me Melina. I really want us to be friends, regardless of what happened with Edwards. There aren’t too many women set to go on the missions, so we need to stick together.”
A friend? She wanted nothing more than someone to talk to, someone to trust. Erik had once been that for her. She missed the bond they’d once shared. Missed having someone else to count on. She’d needed a friend for so long.
Tears trailed down her cheeks, and she was helpless to stop them. She’d held so much in, self-doubt forcing her to live in darkness. Now she could see a hint of light.
Arms wrapped around her. Melina’s. She welcomed the comfort, rested her head on her new friend’s shoulder, and cried.
“It’s okay, hon. You’re strong. You’re tough. You prove that every day out in the field.” She rubbed her back until all of her tears were spent and then wiped the moisture from Calla’s face. “Just don’t let any of them see you weak. That’s when they’ll walk all over you. We need to stick together.”
Staring into her eyes, she noticed her commander’s expression change. She recognized the desire, the lust. Holloway brushed her thumb across her bottom lip.
She gasped, more from wanting to take Holloway’s thumb into her mouth and the tingling need in her loins than surprise at the commander’s touch.
Releasing her, Holloway walked to the other side of the tent. She kept her back to Calla. “You’re dismissed. The mission is almost over, and you still need to catch a rapat.”
She rushed out of the tent toward the Jeep, grabbing her backpack along the way. Not only was she surprised by Holloway’s show of desire, but also by her own body’s response.
Pulling the camera from her backpack, Calla considered what might have happened if she’d remained in Holloway’s tent. Would they have kissed? Her stomach fluttered and dampness spread between her legs as she thought about Melina’s soft lips.
Wait! She wasn’t attracted to women, never had been before. Then why couldn’t she stop thinking about what Holloway’s lips would feel like on hers and all over her body?
She took a deep breath. Sexual relations of any kind are forbidden during the missions. While repeating those words over and over, she spotted a perfect place to set up for her study—a large crancait bush on the edge of the field where the rapat fed. The bright red berries decorated the bush in stark contrast to its deepgreen, oval-shaped foliage. She crept through the waist-high vegetation, trying to make as little noise as possible. Although the foreign planet had not been shaped by an ice age like Earth, it did boast fields all the way to the horizon similar to the prairies where she and Erik had grown up. Erik should be the one she thought about kissing, not Melina, not a woman. She knew everything about him, or once had. But Erik had turned into an asshole, and Melina wanted to be friends. Maybe more? Her body warmed at the thought.
On her way to the red-berried bush where she planned to take pictures of the creatures, she stopped to ensure she hadn’t spooked the herd while her mind wandered to places it shouldn’t. Good, they haven’t moved.
Arriving at the crancait, she spread out a blanket to lay her equipment on and turned to affix her camera to a tripod. She’d never gotten this close to the herd for her footage. She’d managed to remain downwind and the warm breeze not only helped to disguise her scent but also her movements.
With no natural predator—at least none she’d discovered—the rapat flourished on this part of the planet. Their round pig-sized bodies resembled the tapir of Earth, but with the addition of a longer, elephant-like trunk. Their lips smacked and teeth ground together as they ate their fill of grasses. The smell of their dung reminded her of molasses rather than that of any Earth animal.
After adjusting the camera to record video footage of their feeding and social behaviors, she sat down to write her notes. Instead, she could only think of Melina, and the moment in her tent, which could have led to something else, something more than friendship. Something she needed just as much. She sighed. I’m attracted to Melina. What does this mean?
Nothing. She needed to focus on the mission. The rapat. She’d been observing the creatures during daylight hours—two more than she’d grown used to on Earth—for a week now, yet she found herself no closer to figuring out a way to capture one without using Earth tranquilizers. With no idea how the drugs would react with one of these creatures, she refused to take the risk. If the rapat were to be tested as a viable food source for the people of Earth who would one day settle here, she needed to capture one by indigenous means.
The thought of killing and preparing one of the fascinating creatures for consumption repulsed her, but she’d already collected samples of all of the vegetation. The berries, leaves, and bark of the crancait all proved to contain toxins that, when consumed over time, would kill a human. Perhaps the rapat avoided them for the same reason. She’d tested the dry, pink-flowered vegetation the rapat fed on, but found it lacked too many of the vitamins and minerals necessary for human life. Until the next crew arrived to survey another part of the planet, the rapat remained their only option. She had to capture one, test it, skin it, and then prepare its meat for freezing. Planet Core would process the meat for consumption when they returned to Earth, if the rapat proved viable. Thank goodness I don’t have to eat one because I don’t think I could.
Tired of waiting for one to approach her, Calla decided to take action. She needed something to focus on to keep her mind from drifting to inappropriate thoughts about her commander. With only a week left on Airondelle, she needed positive results to be considered for any future missions. She pulled out the dagger she kept sheathed in her boot for defense against any yet undiscovered creatures on the planet. Creeping through the grass, she spotted her target—a young rapat, brown with pink spots, just old enough to begin wandering away from its mother. Ready to attack, she gasped as the herd snuffled out a warning cry and then bolted in front of her. Shit! Every one of them took off, bounding across the fields, and she couldn’t come up with any reason why. She hadn’t moved an inch.
Vegetation rustled behind her. The sound grew closer. She spun around to face a possible attacker, her knife held high.
“Whoa, Jacobs. Put the knife down.” Holloway stood before her, arms raised in submission. Even dressed in her camo uniform, her chestnut-colored hair pulled back in a severe ponytail, she still eclipsed any model from any of the fashion emagazines. Beautiful.
Calla struggled to keep her hands by her sides and cursed under her breath. Anger was better than revealing her other feelings. “You scared my herd away.”
Her commander smirked as if she’d done it on purpose. “It’s a good thing, too. You were about to kill one.”
Calla kept her mouth shut. Yelling would do her no good, only get her reprimanded. Even though she wanted to be friends, Holloway still remained her commander for the rest of the mission. “I had no other choice. Without anyone to help me, that is the only way I’ll bring a rapat back to the camp.”
“Well, today is your lucky day. Edwards finished fixing the drill, so I don’t have to ride everyone’s ass to keep them busy.” Holloway stepped closer, and Calla inhaled the woman’s appealing citrus scent. “Now I’m all yours. I want you to go back to camp right now and get some sleep. I’ve read your notes and I think we’ll have better luck if we come back during the night.”
As soon as the commander drove away, Calla breathed a sigh of relief. No more awkwardness. She packed up her equipment and returned to camp. She’d wanted to study the rapat at night all along, but she’d never been able to convince anyone to go with her, and no one was permitted out of camp alone at night. Holloway wasn’t her ideal tagalong—since she’d started having sexual thoughts about the woman—but with only one more week on the planet, she’d settle for anyone.
Wanting a quick bite before she tried to sleep away the afternoon, Calla stopped by the mess tent. Erik sat at the picnic table inside, all sweaty and sexy and still shirtless. She joined him after grabbing a snack pack—a mix of dried fruit and seeds. He was the one she was supposed to fantasize about, not Holloway, not a woman.
“I heard you got the drill up and running.”
He turned toward her and glared. “Yep.” Then he stood up, put the food packaging in the recycler and left.
Fuck him. She’d had enough.
Today's First Chapter Friday comes from IT TOOK A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. This was a story I wrote at the end of 2016 when I was dealing with a lot of grief and anger. It was also when I was watching a lot of shows and movies about zombies. (The best is still Train to Busan! Fact!) I wrote this story incredibly fast to help me deal with a lot of my emotions then. Now, this story doesn't have chapters. It only has three parts. So, below is the beginning of Part 1: The Kiss.
Enjoy the beginning scenes of IT TOOK A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE...
RJ strolled through the booths at the fun fair. Another gathering where people either glared at him or pretended he didn’t exist. Growing up in West Vitula, one would think he’d be used to it. But a lifetime of not being welcome in the small town never came easy. Why couldn’t his father have secured a position at a hospital in Ostrander, only an hour away?
Women stood behind rows of wooden tables, selling pies, bread, and jams to other women. Some men gathered in various groups, drinking beer from plastic glasses and telling recycled stories from their youth or checking out the college girls who had returned for the summer. Just as RJ had come to do. Yet, he hadn’t seen anyone worth his time. If not for the anniversary of his mother’s death, he would have stayed away from this town and insisted his father take some time off to visit him.
Kids ran from games to rides to carts selling cotton candy and candy apples, spending their parents’ money like it would never run out. But the longest line was for a booth at the very end of the park. Males of all ages, from kindergarteners to seniors who needed a walker to travel ten feet, lined up in front of a hand-painted sign reading $5 for a kiss, and beside the words, a pair of bright red lips.
RJ bypassed the line to see who was so in demand with the male population. Sidney Flowers, former captain of the cheerleading squad and all-around bitch. The disgusted look she gave the crowd after she’d kissed various men on the cheek proved she hadn’t changed. Yet, no one in line seemed deterred. Only him.
No way did he crave the touch of the girl who’d falsely accused him of killing his own mother and sending his father to the psych ward. All because RJ had caught Sidney helping her boyfriend cheat on a test. Though the rest of the school knew his mother had been killed on the highway by a drunk driver, they seemed to like her version of the story better.
He turned away. He wouldn’t pay a penny to receive a kiss from anyone in this town. Well, except one girl, but he hadn’t seen her yet this summer, not since two years prior when she’d left for Cremshaw without a backward glance.
“Melissa Ruth Smith, I insist you come back here at once.”
Missy rolled her eyes as she stormed away from her father. The man had helped her celebrate her twenty-first birthday yesterday—with a simple birthday cake and a glass of wine—yet still treated her like a child. “It’s to help Billy and the band, remember?” she shouted over her shoulder. “That’s why I came home.” Though she wished she hadn’t. Not with only two weeks off between her summer classes and fall term.
“But, the kissing booth?” Her father rushed to keep up with her. “Jesus wouldn’t approve.”
The religion card. What a surprise. “Jesus wouldn’t approve of half the shit that goes on in this town, especially how you treated that family next door.” She spun around and faced her father with her hands on her hips. “And you certainly haven’t been struck down yet.”
“Missy, please don’t talk to your father like that.” Her mother hooked an arm through hers and paraded her closer to the booth she was scheduled to volunteer at. “It’s just, aren’t you concerned about the germs? The diseases you could catch?”
“C’mon, Mom. I’m just kissing them on the cheek.” She glanced over at Sidney who tapped her watch before kissing Old Man Samson on the small patch of cheek not covered by his fluffy white beard. “Besides, you asked me to come home and help with this fundraiser.”
“I know, but there are other things you could—”
“I’ve gotta go, Mom. Sidney’s waiting for me to take over.” Jogging over to the booth, Missy took her place beside the bench.
Sidney grabbed her purse and left without a word, no different than when they’d attended high school together. Hence, why Missy had fled West Vitula right after graduating high school. No one who stuck around seemed to change.
The line thinned out with the departure of her former classmate, but there were still plenty of cheeks to kiss and a plethora of greenbacks deposited into the jar, money that would help her brother and the rest of the band get to Nationals. And maybe they would see there was life beyond this backward town.
After numerous kisses, her lips burned. She reached into her pocket for her lip balm and took a break to apply it and let it soak in. When she glanced back at the line, everyone had disappeared. All the males except the one her parents would blow a gasket if she kissed. Which made her want to lay her lips on him even more.
“Fifty dollars for a kiss.” RJ held the bill and waved it across the counter. “It goes in the jar if I get a kiss from you.”
“I’d do it for five.” She pointed to the paper sign on the jar. “But if you’re willing to donate more, go ahead.”
He walked into the booth and sat on the bench. “You misunderstand me, Missy. I don’t want a peck on the cheek. I want a real kiss, your lips on mine.”
Her cheeks reddened, making her all the more adorable, and she stepped back. “I, um.... It’s not.... I can’t.”
“It’s one kiss.” He waved the money around again, enjoying her discomfort. “The same money you’d make kissing ten old guys with beards, or ten creeps who gawk at your cleavage when you bend over to kiss them.”
The flush on her face disappeared. Maybe he shouldn’t have included that last observation.
“Hey.” He needed her attention back on him. “One kiss, and you never know, you just might like it.”
“Really?” She placed a hand on his knee then waltzed in front of him with a confidence he’d never seen from her before. “You’re that confident of the power of those full brown lips, are you?”
Before he had the chance to think of a response, she snatched the bill from his hand, leaned between his spread legs, and kissed him. He barely had a chance to close his mouth when it was all over.
“Thank you so much for your support.” Missy curtsied then stuck the money into the collection bottle.
RJ gripped the bottom of the bench, trying to process the fact the kiss had already happened. He’d hoped for so much more.
“Another.” He stood and yanked his wallet from his back pocket. “I’ll give you one hundred dollars if I can kiss you.” Yanking the bill from inside the leather fold, he held it out in front of him to prove he was good for it.
“Now, that’s against the rules.”
Her jaw shifted to the side, but when she tilted her head, he hoped she was actually considering his proposition.
RJ hopped off the bench and took a tentative step forward. He’d didn’t want her to automatically say no. “You know I’ve never played by the rules. Why would I start now?”
With a laugh, Missy playfully pushed on his chest. “You’re trouble, RJ. And you’re looking to get me into trouble with you.”
Returning to the stool, he stared into her crystal-blue eyes and smiled. She hadn’t said no. “Just a kiss.” He nodded to a patch of bushes with a bench set amongst them. “No one will see us over there.”
“Is that brown boy bothering you, Missy?”
The twang in the woman’s voice bothered RJ more than her reference to the color of his skin.
“No, Shelley.” Missy turned her back to him. “He was just leaving.”
“Good.” Shelley, another of their classmates, sized up the jar of money. “’Cause we don’t need his cash. We’re doing fine here without it.”
The punch to the gut that used to come with such ignorant comments never came. Some people refused to change, especially in this town. But he’d always believed Missy to be different. Maybe he’d been wrong.
“Are you taking over for me, then?” she asked Shelley.
“Yeah, your dad followed me around for the last fifteen minutes to make sure I was here on time. He was really freaking out about your kissing guys on the cheek.”
RJ walked away. He’d been dismissed. And if Missy’s father was that upset, he was probably waiting with disinfectant or something.
No, there was nothing good about coming back to West Vitula for the summer. His dad still worked the same long hours, so except for the day spent together on the anniversary of his mother’s death, RJ was spending his summer alone.
He turned with the hope Missy was talking to him for some reason.
And she was, standing right in front of him. She grabbed the money he still held in his hand. “You forgot to put this in the jar.” Without giving him a chance to question her, she jogged back to the booth and shoved it through the glass bottleneck.
Did that mean he was going to get his kiss?
Jessica E. Subject is a USA Today bestselling author of Sci-Fi and Paranormal Romance.
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