I’ve spent the past ten years convincing myself that what I felt for her was teenage infatuation. That love so consuming couldn’t be real. Then everything went to shit, and in an instant, she was gone.
Kory Summers knew returning to New York meant running into Henry. The way her heartbeat picked up at just the thought was nervousness—not anticipation. Oh, no. She never expected to find him on her doorstep looking as handsome as ever.
She’s mine. She always has been. I’ve waited this long for her…but time’s up. I’ll use all my power, all my connections, to convince her she’s the one.
Kory ran from a boy, but a man of power and persuasion now stands in his place.
This book is approximately 20,000 words
One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!
Edited by Angela James
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About the Author
They specialize in insta-love, over-the-top, sweet, and cheesy love stories that don’t take all year to read. If you want something SAFE, short, and always with a happily ever after, then Alexa Riley is for you!
Read an Excerpt
Ten years later
"Mom, I'm fine, really."
I'm thankful the lie comes out easily. I'm not used to lying, especially to my mom. I normally tell her everything, but I don't want her to worry about me. I want her to have a good time on her vacation.
"It was just so fast. I thought you liked your job in Boston."
"I did. I mean, it was okay."
I'd taken the job at Bare Benefit right after I graduated from Harvard with a master's in chemistry. Heck, they had me lined up for the job before I even graduated.
I took it because the pay was good and I'd grown to love Boston over the years. Plus, I got a little obsessed with makeup in college. New York still held bad memories for me, and I'd barely been back since high school. I'd only come for big holidays and I'd spend my time holed up in my mom's house until I could leave again. I'd actually left high school before the school year ended. I tested out early, which was easy for me.
With such high scores in math, I had my pick of schools, and Harvard was still somewhat close to home. Even if I didn't want to go home, I liked knowing my mom was close and I could go back any moment if I wanted to.
"I got offered a job here in the city. It's a big raise and a promotion. They've been after me for a while." I've turned down Pure Lush four times over the past two years. Which is crazy. It was a phenomenal offer. But when they called me the other day, it was like fate was stepping in. It was perfect timing.
I still feel bad about not giving my old job two weeks' notice, but I had to get out of Boston as fast as I could.
"Oh, honey. I'm so happy you're back." My mom sniffles into the phone.
"We'll see if you think that when you come back from vacation. I don't know how long it's going to take me to find a place in the city."
"No rush," she says hurriedly. I know she'd let me stay forever if I wanted.
"It'll be easier for work if I live in the city. But I promise now that I'm back home we'll spend a lot more time together," I tell her, feeling a little guilty.
My mom lives at home alone. She's a nurse and keeps busy, but I know the feeling of living alone, too. The solitude gets old at times.
Right now she's off on a cruise in Alaska and won't be back for a few weeks, which I'm thankful for. I can't let her see me right now.
"You don't know how happy that makes me, honey." I feel guilt at her words.
Mom and I used to be so close when I was growing up. It was always the two of us. I know they say your mom shouldn't be your best friend, but it wasn't like I was some wild child.
If it hadn't been for my mom when I was a kid, I wouldn't have had any friends at all and would have lived inside one of the books I kept my face in most of the time. She's always been so supportive of me, even when I wanted to leave high school early. She knew I had to go, and she made sure that I could.
"I love you, Mom. Go have fun," I say in the happiest voice I can muster.
"I love you, too, honey," she says, and we say our goodbyes.
I set my phone down on my childhood bed. Nothing has changed. Everything is how it was when I was in high school. I walk over to the mirror over my dresser and look at my lip. There's a small crack in it, but some of the swelling has gone down. I lift up my shirt and look at the bruise on my ribs. They hurt way more than my lip, but a kick is a whole lot more punishing than a backhand to the face.
A tear slips free, and I wipe it away as fast as I can. I turn from the mirror and drop my shirt. I'm sick of crying. Sick of still being scared that Jason might come after me. He has to know I'm gone by now.
I did everything to cut off contact. I deleted old email accounts, left the city and even changed my phone number. But I know if he really wants to find me, he will. All he has to do is pull my employee file. I know I have my mom's info as my in-case-of-emergency. I just can't recall if I volunteered her address, too. I think it was only her phone number, and she didn't say anything about getting a weird call. I would think she'd mention something like that.
Thinking about Jason makes a chill run up my spine and the need for a shower coat my skin. Heading toward the bathroom, I peel my clothes off and turn the water on as hot as I can stand it.
I've only ever dated once in my life. Well, I'm not even sure you can call it dating. Henry — my heart aches at the thought of him. It's been ten years and my heart still does a funny flutter when I think of him.
He hurt me in a different way than Jason did, though, not that I ever dated Jason. But the hurt Jason left on my body will fade.
I grab the soap and wash my body, being careful over my ribs and trying to avoid looking at the discoloration while I do it.
I'm still not sure exactly what happened with Jason. It was like a switch just flipped. He was the owner of the company, and I thought we were friends. That the attention he gave me, the raises and promotions were because he respected my work. I thought he wanted to hear what I had to say and that he valued my opinions.
Over time, his touches began to linger. Lunch meetings turned into dinner meetings, and the talk went from work to personal. He started pushing wine on me, then stronger drinks. What I thought was two people becoming friends was something much more sinister.
I didn't have many friends, being as shy as I am. And it was even harder once I was promoted. I was head of my entire department, and no one wants to be friends with the boss.
Then one night Jason tried to kiss me. I pushed him away, shocked by the advance. Jason was married, and I'd even met his wife a few times. She seemed nice. I told him this wasn't right and that I thought we were just friends. I only ever wanted to be friends. But he didn't like what I had to say, and that's where it all went wrong.
"You're right, you're right, Kory. I don't know what I was thinking. Too much wine, and the wife and I are going through a hard time." He shakes his head in what looks like regret. "Can I use your bathroom and I'll be on my way? We can pretend this never happened and just go back to how things were."
I hesitate for a moment but then nod, sliding my key into my door and opening it. "First door on the right," I tell him, motioning down the hall. He shuts the front door. Before it even closes, the back of his hand strikes my face. The blow sends me to the floor.
Black spots dance in my vision. The taste of copper fills my mouth. Then a kick lands on my ribs, ripping the air from my lungs. Tears fill my eyes and leak down my face. "Jason!" I cry, still unable to believe this is happening. That he's doing this to me.
My eyes flutter open. He's leaning down over me. His face right in mine. "Don't be such a fucking tease, Kory," he says calmly, as if he isn't attacking me. Everything about him seems calm. It's like we're talking about the weather or something.
"I'm sorry," I force out. I don't want him to hit me again. My lungs feel like they're on fire. A slow smile pulls at his lips. I suddenly feel like a mouse caught in a trap, with the cat ready to pounce at any moment.
He grabs me, pulling me to my feet. My knees almost buckle, but he keeps me on my feet with his arm wrapped around me.
"Say my name again," he barks at me, pulling me even tighter to him. I cry out his name in pain, the pressure he puts on my ribs almost too much to take.
He smiles even bigger as the black dots dance in my vision once again. Then he's leaning down toward me, his intent to kiss me clear. Utter panic rolls though my body when I realize where this is going.
I cough and let the blood that filled my mouth spill out, coating my lips. He freezes, a look of disgust on his face. He releases me. I stumble back.
"I'm sorry," I plead, trying to make it seem like an accident. "I didn't mean to ruin our first kiss," I lie. "I've never done this before," I add.
"You're a virgin?" he asks, sounding excited. I nod. He stands a little taller, puffing his chest out. A chill runs down my spine.
"I don't want our first time to be like this," I tell him, hoping that maybe I can calm him down. Get him out of here. Make him think I want this, too. "I was a little shocked you even wanted me. I've wanted you for so long. I got scared you would change your mind if you knew I was a virgin."
He takes a step toward me. It takes everything in me not to retreat.
"Get yourself cleaned up." His phone rings, startling both of us. He pulls it out of his pocket. I stand there, unsure what to do. He listens for a moment. "I'll be home in a little bit, honey," he says, and I know it's his wife. The tone of his voice is so different than it was moments ago.
My heart pounds as I wonder what he's going to do to me. He ends the call and puts the phone back in his pocket.
He takes another step toward me, tucking my hair behind my ear. A tear slides down my cheek.
"Don't cry, sweetheart. She'll be out of the picture soon enough and it will be just you and me." My stomach rolls and I want to throw up. I try to keep from shaking. "I'll be back tomorrow and we'll do this right." He sounds so sincere, as if he hadn't beaten me only moments ago.
"Okay. I like that idea," I lie once again. His eyes go to my mouth. My bloodied mouth.
"Tomorrow you'll get your first everything." With that, he turns and leaves. I stand there for a moment before I rush over and lock the door behind him.
He's freaking crazy. I know I have to get out of here. I drop down on my sofa and let the tears fall for a moment.
Then I stand, knowing I need to put as much space as I can between me and this man, and I know where I want to go.
I turn off the shower, still not feeling like I washed Jason away. I can only hope he doesn't come looking for me.
I sit back in my desk chair and look out at the city. It's the same window my father looked out of for longer than I can remember. I've been thinking about him and my mom a lot lately. They're off on another vacation enjoying one another and life. They call and check in, but I know they're happy traveling the world.
I've got a stack of papers on my desk that I need to go over, but I don't feel like it today. For some reason, I've felt an ache in my chest for the past couple of days, one I haven't felt in a long time, mostly because I've learned to ignore it. But the beating in my heart can't be ignored, and my thoughts drift to Kory, just like they always do.
I rub the place between my ribs and wonder if this is exactly what my father felt like, looking out onto a city where he knew the love of his life was, but she was just beyond his reach.
For years I tried to fight it, but it never once went away. Not even for a second.
I think back to the day I asked her to the prom and how it all seemed so perfect. I picked her up at her apartment and met her mom. We laughed and held hands while we went to my aunt and uncle's house for pictures. She looked so beautiful in her white dress. I kept thinking she looked more like a bride, and I loved it. At eighteen years old, I pictured her walking down an aisle to me, and I wanted so badly for it to be real.
But then everything went to shit, and in an instant, it was gone.
I'm my father's son, even though I've spent my life trying not to be. I knew the way he was with my mom. He was out of his mind for her, and nothing else mattered. I never wanted to be that way. I didn't want someone to have that much power over me because it was dangerous. That's what I knew to be true. But all it took was one look at Kory and all of that changed.
It's been years and I haven't gotten over her. The day she disappeared was the day I lost my soul. She took it with her, and I've never so much as glanced at another woman since. Why would I? I might have been young, and it might have not meant anything to her, but I've never felt anything like it since. I knew when I was eighteen that I'd met the love of my life, but she slipped through my fingers.
I could have tracked her down a thousand times over. I could have hired a team of men to find out where she was and drag her back to me, but that wasn't what she wanted. She left town two days after prom without a single word. I sent hundreds of texts. I called until my number was blocked. I even went to her house so many times that her mom called the cops. Kory chose to erase me from her memory and broke something inside me. I chose to give her the only thing I could, which was my absence. I knew some people thought we were just kids, but it was more to me than that. It still is. Only I choose to bury it deep down inside me and put food on top of it. Pandora always tells me food makes everything better. I hope one day she's right.
My parents knew something was wrong the next day, but I didn't tell them what happened. I was embarrassed, and even though it wasn't my fault, I felt responsible. Kory hated me after that night, and she wouldn't hear me out. I tried everything I could to explain, but eventually it wasn't about what I wanted. It was about giving her peace.
Now my life is all about my work and my family because I don't have any room for anything else. Kory Summers is the majority stakeholder in my heart, and that's never going to change. I've learned to live with the ache, but some days are easier than others.
There's a knock on my office door and I turn around to see my assistant, Joseph, coming in, holding his tablet with an expectant look on his face.
"The set of contracts I gave you this morning need to be sent to the courier by the end of business today. You've had three calls from our legal team over the new proposal from the Adams Group, but I've directed them to the right people instead of bothering you with them. I've canceled your lunch as per your request and I've moved your afternoon meeting to tomorrow at eleven," he says, touching the stylus to his screen. He looks up at me through horn-rimmed glassed with a polite smile.
"Thanks, Joseph, I appreciate it," I say, sighing and grabbing the stack of papers. I cleared out my afternoon so I could go through this, and I haven't even started.
"Is there anything else I can do to help you with the contracts?" he asks, patient and ready to work.
"No. At some point I'm going to have to rip the Band-Aid off," I say, opening up one file.
"Give us some privacy, kid," Pandora says, walking straight into my office and sitting down in the chair in front of my desk.
"Can I get you anything to drink or eat?" Joseph asks. He knows my cousin all too well.
"The usual," she says, and thanks him when he quickly brings her back a Coke with a tray of snacks.
I wait for Joseph to exit and close the doors to my office before I acknowledge Pandora's presence.
"Any particular reason you're barging into my office and being rude to my assistant?" I ask, happy for another distraction and a reason to avoid the tedious work I hate to do.
"She's back," she says, and lays a legal-size envelope on my desk.
"She who?" I reach over and pick it up, turning it over in my hands. It's blank on the outside, but it's heavy. "What is this?"
"It's Kory. She's back in the city. She moved here two weeks ago. At first, I thought maybe she was visiting her mom, but she's taken a job in Manhattan. You know her mom still lives in the same building on the Lower East Side. Crazy, right? Must be rent controlled."
"Stop," I order, holding up one hand and gripping the envelope tighter with the other. My mind is flooded with so many questions I can't think straight. So I start with the basics. "What?"
"Kory Summers. I've kept tabs on her since..." She shrugs and looks away. "You know."
"What the fuck, Pandora?" I say, standing up so fast my chair smacks into the window behind me. "You knew where she was this whole time?"
"Don't pretend like you didn't want me to know, Henry. Ignorance doesn't suit you." She looks at me with hard eyes but leans back in her chair calmly. "We all know you never got over her. Not even for a second did you ever let the flame you kept burning for her dim. So don't act like you're not about to explode on the inside at this information."
"But why would you do this? Why now? It's been ten years and you're just now telling me?" I pace back and forth as all the wheels in my head begin spinning at once.
I know exactly where her mom lives. I bought the building as soon as I got part of my trust fund. I kept the rent low enough that her mom would never leave or have to worry about making a payment. I ride by there at least once a week to check on things and speak to the property manager.
Excerpted from "Don't Go"
Copyright © 2018 Alexa Riley LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Carina Press.
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