Two years ago, I accidentally, yeah maybe on purpose, crossed that line with my best friend and it ruined everything. I haven't seen him much since.
But now he’s standing at my door.
Same lumberjack build. Same dark hair that begs my fingers to run through it. And then he gives me that half smile, and I know I’m about to agree to do something I’m going to regret.
I’ve got to spend two months with him now… and that’s not the worst part.
Each book in the British Bad Boys series is STANDALONE:
* Cinderella and the Geek
* Once Upon A Player
* Not So Happily Ever After
About the Author
Christina Phillips is an ex-pat Brit, who now lives in Western Australia with her high school sweetheart and their family. She writes on the sizzling side of naughty, and loves bringing her heroes to their knees (her heroines enjoy this, too)
She loves good coffee, expensive chocolate and bad boy heroes, although not necessarily in that order. She’s also owned by three gorgeous cats who are convinced the universe revolves around their needs. As in all things, they are not wrong. Sign up for her newsletter at http://christinaphillips.com/
Read an Excerpt
I open the front door, ready to mock my best friend Brooklyn for turning up early for once. We'd planned to meet at the Portobello Road market in half an hour and spend the morning checking out the vintage jewelry, but the words lock in my throat as Will Hamilton gives me his bone-melting, knee- knocking smile.
"Hey, Mac." His smoldering voice wraps around me like a velvet caress, setting off flutters in places that have no right fluttering. At least, not when it comes to Will, the guy I've known for most of my life, and who just so happens to be my brother Lucas's best friend.
His close-cropped dark hair is a lot shorter than it used to be, and his deep brown eyes are still as annoyingly seductive as ever. I attempt to find fault with the stubble that darkens his jaw, but no such luck, as it's sexy as hell and twice as addictive.
Against my better judgment, my gaze slides south. The rugby shirt he's wearing is completely ordinary, but somehow it manages to enhance the rock-hard muscles of his spectacular chest.
It's not spectacular.
Yes, it is.
For goodness sake stop drooling, Mac.
"Hi." Frantically, I try to figure out why he's here. But I don't have a clue, when he knows Lucas is in Madrid.
A wary expression flashes over his face. "Didn't Lucas phone you?"
"No." Should I invite him in? I pull the door open a little wider, and after giving me a doubtful glance, he steps into the hall. "What's my brother done now?"
"Nothing. He asked me to pick you up."
Even my sarcastically wired brain can't come up with an instant response to that. My blank gaze clearly tells him I don't have the faintest idea what he's talking about.
"Atomic Fire was in a bus crash," he adds. "We need to go see them."
"Ah, shit." Atomic Fire is the hottest boy band, and Lucas and their manager are good friends. I first met them nearly a year ago, when they were one of the warm-up bands at a huge charity concert. They were the hit of the night, and Atomic Fire took off like a rocket.
They're also the headline act for the charity event I've spent half the year organizing. My stomach churns, and I steel myself for bad news. "Are they hurt?"
"Just a few bruises, but Jake broke his leg." Relief rushes through me that it's not more serious. Not that broken bones are any fun, but at least they're fixable. And it could've been a lot worse. Jake Myers is the lead singer — at least he didn't damage his voice. "Surprised you didn't know about it. It's all over social media."
"I haven't been online today." Now that I know the boys are out of danger, my brain races ahead. Four years ago, Lucas and his teammate, Jax, set up the Rainbow Star Foundation to help grant wishes to sick kids and raise money for children's charities, and every year I've organized the Christmas fundraiser. Since Will's also involved in the charity, him turning up on my doorstep now makes more sense. Except it doesn't. Because there's still three months until Christmas, which should give Jake enough time to recover.
Unless there're some complications we don't know about? God, I hope not.
I've no idea why my brother thought it was a good idea to send his best friend to let me know instead of a text message, but there must be a reason. "What's the problem?"
"Jake's convinced his career's over. And that includes pulling out of the fundraiser. He's not listening to the other guys in the band."
I don't even want to think about it. And not just because of the logistics of trying to rejuggle everything. Atomic Fire's fans will be gutted.
"We're missing something here. Jake broke his leg. Why does he think his career's over?"
"I don't know. Lucas said the only one Jake'll talk to about it is you."
He raises his eyebrows in mock shock at my response. "Thought you were going to shoot the messenger. I would've bet on it."
"Good job you didn't, then." The words are out before I even know it, and a warm glow fills my chest. I can hardly remember the last time we had a normal conversation — the way we used to, before things went sideways.
There's still something I don't get. "Why did Lucas phone you and not me?"
He shrugs as though it's no big deal, but I get the strange feeling he's embarrassed by my question. Which is intriguing.
"You know what he's like. He doesn't want you seeing Jake alone."
I know my brother thinks Jake has a crush on me, and a few months ago he was a little pissed off at the way the rock star behaved with me. But hell, I can handle boys like him.
Will, not so much.
"Wait." I cross my arms and try not to glare at him, because it's not his fault. "Are you supposed to be my bodyguard or something?"
"Trust me. It wasn't my idea. We both know you can wind Jake around your little finger without even trying. I'm just doing a favor for a mate."
I'm not sure I like him assuming that about me, but it's not like he's being a dick. He's just helping out Lucas. And while I don't need a bodyguard, it's not worth starting a fight about.
I don't want to fight with him anymore.
"Okay, fine." I flap my hand at him for emphasis, in the hope that'll stop me from analyzing my accidental thought. Except it's true. I wish we were friends again. But since we can't turn back time, that's never going to happen.
Time to move on, Mac. I'll be twenty-two in a few weeks. I have to get over Will. Might as well start now.
Pretend he's just another random friend of Lucas's.
I give him what I hope is a friendly — but not too friendly — smile. "Your car or mine?"
* * *
I'd expected Mac to be pissed off when I turned up this morning, but she didn't even give me a hard time over Lucas asking me to be her unofficial bodyguard. And what's with the question? She never gives up the driving seat voluntarily, and I'm not just talking about cars. But since she asked ... "Mine."
"Sure." She gives me a smile that knocks me speechless. "I'll just grab my bag."
I give an inarticulate grunt, which is all I can manage, as she picks up her keys from the Edwardian hall table before pulling her phone from her pocket and sending a text.
Her black hair's in a plait that falls over her shoulder, there's a gorgeous blush on her cheeks, and long, multi-colored earrings dangle from her ears.
Stop staring at her. But her deep blue eyes have always done stupid things to me.
"Ready?" She breezes by me, and I steel myself against the faint scent that lingers in the air, and I follow her outside.
As she locks the house, I open the passenger door for her. Growing up, I spent half my life here, and Lucas was more like the brother I never had than a best friend, and even his twin Harry accepted me right from the start.
She gives me a smile of thanks as she gets in the car. I shut the door, get in my side, and she fans her long skirt over the car seat before fastening the belt. She glances up and catches me watching her, but instead of an annoyed glare, she just gives me another smile.
"You okay?" I start the engine and pull into the road. For the last couple of years things have been weird between us, but ever since she opened the door, it's like we dropped into an alternate reality.
"I'm fine. How are you?"
Are we having this conversation? Anyone would think we hardly know each other. "Feeling old."
"Not surprised. Twenty-six is pushing it."
Déjà vu shivers through me, and I shoot her another glance. It's been ages since she used that mocking tone on me. I've missed this. "Where were you last week? I thought you'd be at Lucas's." He threw a big party in Madrid for my birthday and invited everyone we knew. Even Harry and Alice were there, and while Harry's great, he's also the most antisocial git I've ever met.
"Oh, university related stuff."
"How's that going?" Considering we used to be such good friends, this is something I should know. But I don't have a clue, except for the fact she's starting her third year at Oxford next month.
"Good," she says, but there's a strange, high pitch in her voice that scrapes along my nerves. "Really good. Yep."
Obviously, she doesn't want to talk about it. For some reason, I can't let it go. "Still in the top five percent?" I toss her a grin. It's an academic question. Pun intended. She was always top of her year at school, without even trying.
"Mm-hm." She sounds like she's swallowed a frog. "Maybe not quite the top five percent."
"Tough course, huh?"
"You could say that."
What isn't she telling me?
What the fuck am I thinking? If she doesn't want to talk about Uni, it's none of my business. Besides, there's something I've wanted to ask her for ages, but never got the chance. "Are you still doing your art?"
Funny, before she took the Oxford route, I thought she'd do something with her art, even though it was always an unspoken given in her family that she'd follow in her late mother's academic footsteps.
"Not really. It's just a hobby, and I don't get a lot of free time now."
"But there's always time to party, right?" I sling her a smile, but her answering one is strained, as though the party scene isn't as great as she's always made out.
"Definitely," she says, but it's like it's an automatic reflex, the expected answer to a question she's been asked countless times over the last couple of years.
Am I losing it, or what? Why am I analyzing every bloody thing she says? She loves partying. Her first year seemed to consist of nothing but.
I can't shift the feeling that I'm missing something obvious, though.
It's not far from Notting Hill to the top London hospital where Jake and the boys are being treated. It's a different one than was "accidentally" leaked to the press, so there are no panic-struck fans around, and after I park we make our way to the entrance. Mac's scrolling through Atomic Fire's social feed on her phone. "Bloody hell. It says here Jake's throat is crushed." She looks at me. "I thought he broke his leg."
"I wouldn't believe anything that's online."
"I guess." She sounds doubtful. "But it makes sense if Jake thinks his career's over, though, doesn't it?"
"Baz isn't an idiot." Baz is their manager, and he's well on the ball. "If it was that bad he would've called their insurers, not Lucas."
"True," she concedes. "I just can't help thinking there must be something we don't know, for Jake to be in such a state."
I hold open the entrance door for her. Although her concern makes me question if Lucas forgot to tell me something vital, the urge to make her smile is strong. "Maybe he just wants to see you again."
She gives a dramatic groan and shakes her head. "I can think of easier ways that don't include having to break a major bone."
"Yeah, well, you know Jake. He likes to make an impact."
This time she smiles, and it's damn hard not to bump my shoulder against hers the way I used to. Don't push your luck, Will.
We make our way to the private wing, where a couple of beefy private security guards lurk. They take our details and attempt to confiscate our phones before muttering into their headsets, all the while eyeing us as though we're a couple of spies for the paparazzi.
Baz appears halfway along the corridor, and we're allowed through — phones, too. He gives Mac a hug and nods at me.
"How is everyone?" she says. "Lucas wasn't very clear on the details."
"The others were discharged this morning. So was Rafe, but he's still trying to talk Jake round."
"Not having much luck, then?" It's rhetorical, since if Rafe had managed to change his younger brother's mind, there would've been no need for Mac to turn up. She's worked so hard on pulling this year's fundraiser together, and securing Atomic Fire, just before their first single hit the top of the charts, was a stroke of genius. It can't fall apart at this late stage.
Baz grunts. "He got it into his head he needs to see Mac. For Christ's sake, just tell him he looks fucking fantastic, will you?"
"He did just break a leg, didn't he?" She sounds worried and I take a step toward her. Not sure why. I hope she didn't notice.
"Yeah." Baz opens a door, and we follow him into the room. Rafe's standing with his back to the window, his bandaged arms folded across his chest, and he gives us a nod in greeting. Jake's on the bed, his left leg plastered, and in a pulley, and —
Is that a bath towel wrapped around his head?
"Jake, thank God you're okay." Mac goes over to the bed and takes his hand. His other hand is clutching the towel across his face, so only his eyes are visible. I shift my weight from one foot to the other and have no idea what to say. What's happened to his fucking head?
"It's all over, Mac." His voice is muffled, and I glance at his brother and catch him gritting his teeth and glaring at the ceiling. What's that all about? I know Jake can be melodramatic, but the poor bugger looks wrecked. "I can't face anyone like this."
"You're doing great." Her tone is soothing, and it shouldn't surprise me. After all, this is what she's working toward. Being a doctor, reassuring patients. This side of her has never struck me before, even though she's as outgoing as Lucas. Maybe she wants to be hands-on when she's got her degree, instead of going into research like her mum did, as I've always assumed she would.
"I look like Frankenstein's monster."
"You're getting the best care, Jake. Your leg will be as good as new before you know it."
Jake clutches her harder, and I step toward the bed. Not because she can't take care of herself, or that I gave my word to Lucas to watch out for her. It's because I have this crazy need to give her moral support.
Like she needs that from me, of all people?
Doesn't matter. I brought her here. I'm responsible. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.CHAPTER 2
What's wrong with his face? All I can see are Jake's panicked eyes staring at me.
"It's not my leg." His voice is hushed, and an uneasy shiver skates over my arms. It's not that I'm squeamish — how ridiculous would that be for someone going into medicine? But obviously, there's more going on here than a broken leg. I just can't figure out why Baz didn't tell Lucas. Or Will and me when we arrived, if it comes to that.
"Let me take a look." I'm surprised how calm I sound. "I'm sure it's not as bad as you think."
Will hovers beside me, and by his grim expression, he's expecting the worst. But no matter how bad Jake's injuries are, they'll be bandaged. I have the insane urge to reassure Will of this, but then I come to my senses.
"Jesus, Jake," Rafe grinds out, but when Will and I look at him, he hunches his shoulders, scowls, and turns to glare out the window.
Jake takes a shuddering breath, and his fingers clench around the towel before he slowly tugs it off his face. It's like watching a climactic scene in a movie, and I can't help holding my breath. He's obsessively proud of his pretty boy looks, but despite the derision slung at Atomic Fire from some sections of the media, he has an amazing voice, and their original work is bloody brilliant. Scarred or not, the band could go nuclear — as long as Jake's voice isn't damaged.
The towel drops to his shoulders. I blink, disbelieving, and Will leans in so close his breath brushes my cheek. Whoa. Too distracting. I edge away before all my good intentions to treat him like any other of my brother's friends turn rogue.
"Huh." He straightens, and his voice snaps me back to the present. What am I doing thinking about him, anyway? I shove the hypnotic scent of his cologne to the back of my mind, ignore the treacherous surge of animal lust from my libido, and concentrate on Jake.
There's a massive bruise along his cheekbone, and a couple of cuts mar his otherwise unblemished skin. Despite myself, I lean closer to examine them. They don't even have stitches.
This is what the big emergency is about? I fight to keep my thoughts from showing. He's only eighteen.
I was only eighteen during my gap year, when I volunteered for three months in a village in Africa. We got worse cuts than this on a daily basis just by living.
"I know. It's hard to even look at." He grabs his towel and pins it to his face again. I resist the urge to glance at his brother. At least now I understand Rafe's frustration.
"I've seen worse," Will states.
I shoot him a glance, secretly impressed by how reassuring he sounds. "It doesn't look too bad at all," I add, with what I hope is an encouraging smile.
"That's right," Will agrees. "You look fucking fantastic."
Hold on. Wasn't that my line? Our gazes clash, and he gives me an apologetic half shrug, which for some insane reason makes me want to laugh.
"What if I'm scarred for life?" Jake clenches the towel, and it's far harder than it should be to drag my attention from Will.
Remember why you're here. Too many kids will be disappointed if I can't persuade Jake to change his mind.
"You know what?" I sit on the edge of the bed and wait until he gives me his full attention. "Girls think scars are so sexy. Bad boy dangerous."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Not So Happily Ever After"
Copyright © 2018 Christina Phillips.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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