Jasmine Taveras is the reason Sarge Purcell grabbed his six-string and bailed the hell out of New Jersey four years ago. She's the fuel for every song he's ever written-each one laced with bitter, hard-edged, hungry lust. Now, with his hugely successful band on temporary hiatus, Sarge is determined to prove to Jasmine that this "kid" turned into every inch the man she's always needed...
Men are slim pickings for a single factory girl in Hook, New Jersey...until tall, broad-shouldered hotness walks-or rather storms-into Jasmine's life. Sarge's return shouldn't affect her this way. He's her best friend's much younger kid brother, and the kind of rough, gritty, sexiness Jasmine has no right to taste for herself. Even if he lets her.
But lust is a blinding, insatiable force. And when it crashes, it will take both Sarge and Jasmine down with it...
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A Made in Jersey Novel
By Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Tessa Bailey
All rights reserved.
A series of knots tangled in Sarge Purcell's stomach as his best friend and band manager, James, slowed his sixty-nine Mustang to a stop outside the familiar redbrick house. Damn, it looked smaller than the childhood home in his memory. Had his family really managed to fit inside those walls comfortably? Still, it was bigger than the impersonal motel and hotel rooms he'd been crashing in for the better part of four years. There might even be a home-cooked meal with his name on it, if he played his cards right.
Sarge put a hand out for James to shake. "I guess this is the end of the road, pal of mine. Try not to get emotional."
The always-stoic James didn't even glance in his direction. "I'm crying on the inside."
"Right." Sarge shook his head, well used to James's dry sense of humor after touring twenty-nine countries with their band Old News. Neither he nor James had anticipated staying together quite so long, both of them the epitome of a loner, but they'd ridden the wave created by Sarge's first single when he'd been fresh out of high school. James had discovered Sarge at an open-mic night, put him together with a drummer and bass player, then prayed for magic.
Crazy enough, it had worked.
An independent record label contract and five studio albums later, however, Old News was ready for a break. Not a break up, just a much-needed breather. With an important upcoming decision to make concerning the band's future, they were each taking some time to think. No better time than Christmas.
Which is what landed him on his sister's doorstep unannounced with a patched-up duffel bag, his guitar, an amp, and four years' worth of blown-off holidays, rushed phone calls, and all-out shitty brothering to explain.
James hit him with a long-suffering sigh from the driver's seat. "You didn't tell her you were coming, did you?"
"No, but it was strategic." Sarge adjusted the rearview mirror to point in his direction. "She's less likely to tell me to fuck off when she can see this face."
"Your face has been on the cover of a hundred magazines. Everyone is sick of it, including me."
"Yeah." A weight pressed down on Sarge's chest. "I'm kind of sick of it, too."
The two men exchanged a rare, serious glance, but looked away just as fast.
"Get out of my car." James revved the car's engine. "I'm staying in Manhattan at the Standard hotel if you need anything. Try not to, please."
Although Sarge was grateful to his manager for not pushing him to elaborate on his cryptic statement, he couldn't resist giving him a hard time. "Funny, I don't remember you saying the same thing to Lita," Sarge said, referring to Old News's female drummer and renowned troublemaker. "In fact, isn't she staying at the Standard, too? What an odd coincidence."
Laughing to himself, Sarge pushed open the door and climbed out before removing his gear from the trunk. When it was lined up on the curb, he leaned down into the passenger-side window and rapped his knuckles on the door. "Maybe if you stopped bailing Lita out, she'd stop wreaking havoc wherever she goes."
A muscle ticked in James's jaw. "If you make a decision about the contract over the holiday, you know where to reach me. Don't wait too long. Record labels aren't known for their patience."
"Yeah. Neither are you," Sarge said, straightening. "Believe me, the contract ... and everything that comes with it will be on my mind, all right? In the meantime, don't miss me too much, J."
As soon as the Mustang turned the block's corner, Sarge faced the house and let his grinning smoke screen drop. One good thing about being back in Hook, New Jersey? No one found it unusual if you looked miserable. Hell, the town's unofficial motto was, "No one escapes the Hook ... might as well give up now." That sentiment had never felt truer than it did as he stared at the two-story colonial. At eighteen, he'd blown out of the godforsaken factory town not caring if he ever returned.
A broken heart and wounded pride could make a man do crazy things.
Even now, the woman responsible could be inside with his sister, drinking wine after a long day of work at their assembly-line jobs. She might be discussing her latest love interest, the way she'd done countless times while he listened from the next room. So. Many. Times. The hearing — the knowing — hadn't even been the worst part, though. Oh no. That had come when he finally entered the room and she ruffled his hair. Completely unaware of the jealousy storming inside him like a hurricane bent on destruction. Without a clue that he thought about her every minute of the day, even when she wasn't babysitting him.
Jasmine Taveras. His lifelong obsession and curse.
Did he want her to be inside? Hell yeah. Because four years away should have gotten Jasmine out of his system. That's what he'd intended when he'd bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles after graduating from Hook High. Forgetting her. Now, however, when faced with the prospect of meeting her face-to-face, the traitorous organ within his rib cage had already found a rapid baseline, which increased in pace the more he allowed her image to surface. Jesus H. Christ. As a teenager, whenever she was breathing in his vicinity, every fiber of his biology would stretch, begging to wrap around her and harden into cement so she could never escape. He'd been too young to cope with those rushes of hormones then, but that damn sure shouldn't be the case now.
But it was. She was the reason he'd picked up a guitar freshman year of high school, wanting to be the background to that voice. Wanting to support it, enhance it, be a part of it any way he could.
Not that he'd ever told anyone. When asked by journalists, talk show hosts, or online music blogs, his answer was always the same patented mistruth. It seemed like an easy way to get girls. If he closed his eyes, he could see the way her lips had curled on each end the first time he'd played a string of notes on his busted Gibson. He'd played every day since, never failing to see her mouth during that first strum.
Enough. With a curse, Sarge snatched up his guitar case in one hand, the amp in the other, and climbed the creaking wooden stairs leading to his childhood home. His parents had transferred the deed to his sister, before retiring and moving to Florida, knowing she could use the space for raising her now-three-year-old daughter. The niece Sarge had never met in person, thanks to a demanding tour schedule.
Damn. Starting now, he had a shit-ton of making up to do, didn't he? With a bracing breath, Sarge lifted his fist to knock on the door, but it swung open before he got the chance. The guitar case slipped from Sarge's fingers, landing with a thud on the hollow porch. "River?"
Across the threshold, someone who resembled his sister gazed back at him, looking baffled. Baffled and exhausted, to be more accurate. And no — it was his sister. But she'd stopped dyeing her hair blond, bringing it back to woodsy brown, along with lopping off the long, bouncy ponytail that had always been her trademark. He could count on one hand the times he'd seen River without makeup since she'd hit middle school, but she didn't have an ounce of it on now. Even worse, her eyes were puffy, as if she'd been crying.
Guilt smacked Sarge in the face like a metal mallet. This wasn't a bad day she was dealing with. This was more. And he'd been completely absent. Four years' worth of absent. "Riv," he prompted. "Hey. You all right?"
A sharp, pained laugh stumbled past her lips. "Yeah. Yeah, I just — you've changed so much. I've seen you in magazines and on talk shows, but I thought it was just the cameras making you seem larger than life. I-I didn't realize you could grow so much after eighteen —" When she noticed the luggage at his feet, she cut herself off. "Wait. What are you doing here?"
Pretty much feeling like a tool. Showing up without any forewarning had felt fine ten minutes ago. It was a house with five bedrooms; surely there was a spare corner to crash. Family is family and all that. Now? His unexpected arrival on his obviously harried sister's doorstep seemed on par with puppy trafficking. "I ... huh." He scratched his stubbled chin. "The band is taking some time off. I wanted to see you and meet my niece. A plan that sounded way better in my head. Are you okay? You don't seem okay."
River's eyes widened a little ... and filled with tears. Without warning, she launched herself at Sarge, throwing her arms around his neck. He barely had a chance to fold her too-skinny form in a hug before she pushed away and stepped backward into the house. "Um." She turned in a circle, as if looking for a tissue, before giving up and falling sideways against the doorjamb. "It's good to see you. The band ... I still have the SNL performance saved in my recordings. You were amazing ... I knew you would be."
The fact that she hadn't answered his question of are you okay? alarmed him even more. "Yeah. Thanks —"
"And I know, I know you've been sending the money every month and I'm so grateful. You have no idea —"
"Come on, Riv. Don't even mention it —"
"— but Marcy has been asking about her father." She lifted stiff fingers to her temple and rubbed with a jerky motion. "She's been asking why all the kids at school have a man at their house and she doesn't. And I can't let you stay. I can't confuse her or see her feelings get hurt when you leave, okay? I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
A sharp object wedged just beneath his Adam's apple, then dug in a little further. What the hell had happened while he was on the road? Why hadn't his parents told him River needed more than the monthly check he'd been sending? "Of course. No ... I'm an asshole for not thinking about how Marcy would react." Sarge picked up his guitar case, but made no move to leave. In a flash, it became obvious that he wouldn't be leaving Hook for a while. Not until whatever was broken with his sister was fixed. "Just tell me what you need. I'll make sure you get it."
River opened her mouth and closed it again before taking a long breath. "Look. I'm going to call Jasmine. She's got an empty room at her place and I know she wouldn't mind you using it."
There were only so many shocks to the system a man could take — and that one nearly knocked him out of commission. Staying in the same house as Jasmine. Seeing her, smelling her, hearing her? Everything he'd shoved down into a duct-taped box in his gut would fight its way free. He'd never be able to wrestle it back in. "No. No, don't bother. I'll find the closest motel."
River scoffed. "Yeah, I'm so not letting that happen. You think I'd let you stay in a motel this close to friends and family? No way."
"Listen. I'll figure something out," Sarge said with finality, glimpsing a pair of tiny neon-pink tennis shoes behind his sister, where they'd been tossed haphazardly on the stairs. "Can I ... meet Marcy, at least?"
"Yes. Of course." Misery lurking in her expression, River reached out and squeezed his arm. "Come back Thursday night? Around dinnertime?"
"You know it."
Sensing River wouldn't like shutting the door in his face, Sarge threw her a reassuring wink and turned to head down the stairs. Laid out in front of him, the residential block where he'd spent his youth seemed unfamiliar — like a crude depiction of hazy memories penciled out by a sketch artist. The sidewalks were broken up by tree roots, the telephone lines sagging under the weight of tied-together sneakers. There was a basketball hoop in every driveway, but no kids made use of them. It was quiet, except for traffic passing on the avenue, the occasional honk or greeting being yelled through a car window.
It wasn't the first time in his life he didn't know where he was headed. But it was the first time he knew he couldn't go back. To anything. To anywhere.
"What's your next move, Purcell?" he muttered under his breath.
Two blocks down, he could just make out the neon beer sign in the window of Hook's local dive bar, the Third Shift.
His feet were moving before a conscious decision had been made.
Yep. Times like these, a man went out and got shit-faced.CHAPTER 2
When it came to men, it was slim-ass pickings in Hook, New Jersey.
Lack of selection had to be responsible for Jasmine wearing her best dress within the Third Shift's decaying, smoke-stained walls. Seriously. The ramshackle joint was seconds from falling down around their ears — why didn't anyone looked concerned? Probably because each and every patron was half past wasted, shouting to be heard over a played-out Bruce Springsteen CD that always skipped on "Born to Run." Her date — if one could give him such a legitimate title — was the loudest of the local dimwits, sloshing beer over his meaty paw as he expounded on his theories concerning factory politics. She'd heard it all before. Many times. God knew she loved a working- class hero. After all, she happened to be one herself.
But ... carajo! Sometimes she just wished they would stop complaining about life's unfairness and shut the fuck up.
If forgetting about her sweaty daily grind on the assembly line wasn't the point of going on a date with one of these dudes, what was? She'd put on a dress and lipstick to remind herself she was a woman, not just a cog in a machine. Or the outspoken coworker who was always nominated to speak on everyone's behalf to the boss man. There had been a time when she'd wanted more. Much more. Life didn't always work out the way you expected, though, and she'd learned to be content. Mostly. When she didn't think too hard about what might have been. Lofty ambitions were no longer part of her psyche, but a decent date once in a while wasn't a lot to ask.
The night had started off pretty standard. Her date, Carmine, had driven them in his pickup to an Italian restaurant in Montclair — white tablecloths, the whole nine yards. And okay, fine, he'd yapped for forty-five minutes about his idea for novelty bumper stickers that say Mechanics Have Big Tools, but she'd entertained herself with three glasses of red wine. This was her second date with Carmine, although the first had been months ago after which she'd told him, do better next time. It seemed as if he'd taken her directive to heart. She'd even considered kissing his sorry ass good-night. Then he'd gone and done it. He'd pulled up outside the Third Shift, "just for a nightcap."
What was it about the men in this town and the Third Shift? They didn't consider their day complete until they'd added their unique man scent to the mélange of questionable odors. Now he was doing this thing. This "reach over and massage her neck while yukking it up with his boys" thing. The kind of move you pull on a long-suffering girlfriend, and she was far from that to Carmine.
When Jasmine's cell phone buzzed inside her clutch purse and she saw River's name come up, concern replaced her irritation. It was just past bedtime for Marcy. If River was calling her, something was up.
Jasmine pressed the phone to her ear and edged away from the group of men. "Hey, Riv. Everything okay?"
"Yeah. Kind of? I don't know." A long pause. "My brother just showed up on my doorstep. Out of nowhere."
"You're kidding. Sarge?"
"The one and only."
A smile sprang unbidden to Jasmine's lips. She'd always had a soft spot for the kid. Forever pressed up in the corner of the Purcell family's living room, hair across one eye, playing that beat-up guitar. So quiet and thoughtful all the damn time. His steady intensity would have unnerved her on a guy so young — seven years her junior, if she recalled correctly — if he hadn't displayed on countless occasions what a massive heart was hiding underneath all those Judas Priest T-shirts. One afternoon, during the hottest summer she could remember, Jasmine had caught him leaving a plastic bag on his elderly neighbor's porch. Having assumed he was doorbell-ditching like most boys his age, she'd started to read him the riot act, until she'd seen what was inside. About a dozen old VHS tapes.
Excerpted from Crashed Out by Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2015 Tessa Bailey. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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