Nate has developed quite a playboy reputation around campus. It's not that he doesn't respect or trust women; he doesn't trust himself. The men in Nate’s family are prone to abusive behavior—a dirty secret that Nate’s been running from his entire life—so Nate doesn't do relationships. But he can’t help himself around one girl…
Jessie is strong, independent, and works at a tattoo parlor. Nate can’t resist getting close to her, even if it’s strictly a friendship. But it doesn't take long for Nate to admit that what he wants with Jessie is more than just friendly.
With Jessie, he can be himself and explore what he’s always felt was a terrifying darkness inside him. Even when Nate begins to crave her in a way that both shocks and horrifies him, Jessie still wants to know every part of him. Testing their boundaries together will take a trust that could render them inseparable… or tear them apart.
INCLUDES A PREVIEW OF TWO OF HEARTS.
Raves for Christina Lee’s Between Breaths series:
“This is one New Adult you don’t want to miss.” —New York Times and USA Today bestselling author A. L. Jackson
“Hot, sweet, emotional, page-turner, awesome.”—New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Monica Murphy
“Steamy, honest, and full of heart.” —Roni Loren, national bestselling author
Christina Lee lives in the Midwest with her husband and son. She is the author of The Between Breaths Series, including All of You and Before You Break. She also owns her own jewelry business, called Tags-n-Stones, where she hand-stamps meaningful words or letters onto silver for her customers.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I backed the brunette against the wall, my lips at her neck. Her perfume was sweet, almost too sugary—a stark contrast to the one fragrance I’d grown accustomed to, sought out even.
Jessie always smelled exotic, like wildflowers. But I quickly forced that thought from my brain. Not that her scent wasn’t permanently etched there anyway.
I nudged the girl into the empty restroom and flicked on the dim light, which might’ve been a terrible idea given our surroundings. This same chick had been eyeing me the last couple of nights in Zach’s Bar and she wanted to hook up. Bad.
But her version of bad was different than mine.
Since I wouldn’t be skydiving or logging time around my uncle’s racetrack anytime soon, this was the rush I wanted—needed—tonight. Soft skin, a warm body, a nameless girl I’d never see again.
My fingers curved around her shoulder and then traced the low slit of her fancy blouse. When she whimpered in response, I had the urge to rip the buttons down the front. But I was pretty sure she wouldn’t appreciate me ruining her expensive shirt. I’d venture to guess that most girls wouldn’t.
“I’ve seen you at a couple frat parties,” she mumbled.
I shrugged, because I’d definitely been to my share of them. Sure wish I had access to one of their spare rooms right about now. Because being with this girl might help dull the noise in my head. Soothe the urge to lose control, to get blissfully lost in someone, to reveal the overwhelming hailstorm brewing inside me.
But I couldn’t let it happen. I could never become my dad.
Not when all he had to do was raise his hand to make my mother cower in the corner. I’d made myself a promise that the moment a woman looked at me with similar panic in her eyes, I’d be done for. As a man. As a decent human being, for fuck’s sake.
Instead, I chose not to know any girls, not to see them, really—unless they were the blurred body lying beneath me for a couple of hours. That way, I couldn’t give myself to them, not all of me. Not the terrible, disgusting, callous parts.
There wasn’t a woman alive who would understand the delicate line I towed during sex. I had constructed a whole regimen of rules and logic inside my own head. No tongue and no rough hands. And certainly never any spanking or hair pulling.
My fingers slid to the brunette’s waist as my eyes met my own reflection in the mirror, temporarily thwarting me. They were red-rimmed and tired-looking. Empty, even.
Except for what was hidden beneath.
Hunger. Longing. Fear.
A sharp knock startled me. The girl’s eyes narrowed in frustration.
“Wait your damn turn,” I growled into her shoulder, hoping whoever was outside the door would get the hint that it was occupied.
Another insistent rap of knuckles. “I’ve gotta pee and this is the only bathroom in this joint.”
The voice on the other side of the wall was heated, throaty, and a little too familiar. “Is there even anyone in here?”
The door burst open and Jessie stood blinking at us. I let go of the girl as if she were on fire—though I wasn’t sure why I’d done that.
I couldn’t take my eyes off her pouty red lips or her sleeve of colorful tattoos. What was she doing here? Jessie was never at the bar with the Raw Ink crew on Thursdays—she had her night class at the university.
Jessie’s eyes widened as her heel caught on the doorjamb, and she stumbled forward, almost toppling to the filthy floor. I lunged forward, grasped at her arms, and pulled her toward me, cushioning her fall.
Her head landed on my shoulder and my lips were practically nuzzled against the nape of her neck. It was the closest I’d ever gotten so I inhaled her intoxicating fragrance.
She pulled back and our eyes met—her sultry mix of browns and greens seemed perplexed. Her hair was a shiny mocha color with blue streaks and her inked skin was smooth and warm beneath my fingers.
As she straightened, her eyes darted between me and the girl and her mouth curved downward.
“Really, Nate, in a bathroom?” she said, jutting her hands to her petite hips. “Way to keep it classy.”
A line of heat climbed up my neck. She rarely called me Nate. Her nickname for me had always been Square, so hearing my name fall from her lips throttled me. I liked the sound of it—if it hadn’t been cloaked in disdain.
The brunette had already stormed into the hallway, irritation transforming her features. She tried to signal for me to follow, but my interest had already waned.
For some reason Jessie’s words rooted me in place, while my brain searched for a decent explanation.
“It’s not . . . I wasn’t going to . . .” The syllables rushed from my mouth, as if spoken by another person. A real lame-ass person.
I attempted to come up with something witty to say, given our normal playfulness, but the words stalled on my lips.
“Who cares what I think?” Her eyebrow rose, as if she couldn’t understand my reaction. She nudged my shoulder toward the door. “Just get the hell out so I can pee.”
I walked back into the bar and found Bennett and his fiancée, Avery, at the far table, along with Cory, Dex, and a few other employees from the tattoo shop. “What’s up?”
This group was tight, a family really, and were hard-pressed to let anybody in. Somehow, I’d earned their trust over the past year. Dex had a history with Jessie, but he’d come to accept my friendship with her and even appreciated our teasing.
I sat down and tried to gesture the server for a beer, but she was on the other side of the room looking harried and busy, which meant they were short-staffed again tonight.
I was waiting on Jessie to return to the table, so I could somehow redeem myself in her eyes. I had acted strange in the bathroom and I needed to rectify it. She was the only female buddy I had and I wanted to keep our friendship intact.
Who cares if she practically saw me doing some chick against a sink? She knew I’d been with my share of girls, though it’s never been right in front of her face. Big deal.
There was something raw about Jessie, unrestrained and empowering, so unlike the girls I normally hooked up with. It turned me on—and scared the shit out of me at the same time.
I could probably get lost in a girl like Jessie, let it all hang out, and that was the problem. As soon as someone like her saw me for who I really was, she’d kick me the hell to the curb, be disgusted by me or maybe broadcast all of my secrets. She was badass, didn’t take any crap from anyone, and sure as shit would never be up for getting it on in a filthy restroom.
It was way better to keep her in the friend zone. Besides, I was definitely not her type, either. She liked her dudes tattooed and pierced and scruffy.
I’ll admit, I’ve often wondered if Jessie was wild in bed. I’ve fantasized about it, even. But as soon as I crossed that line, it would be all over for me. It was in my genes and blood; my own brother was proving that on a daily basis.
Jesse returned from the restroom and gave me a sidelong glance. “Where’s your friend? I didn’t mean to interrupt you in that grimy bathroom.”
I shrugged, my voice suddenly leaving me. I need to cut this shit out. We were friends. Friends who liked to clown around with each other.
“I don’t know, Blue,” I said using the nickname I’d invented for her months ago. “I tried to do her on top of the pool table but she wasn’t going for it.”
Her head fell back and she let out a good hearty laugh. Finally got us back on the same footing. “Oh Square, that’s so nasty. Who knows what’s been dropped on that green felt.”
“It would be over for her in ten seconds flat anyway,” I said, pretending to pound my chest. “One glance at my package and she’d probably faint on the spot. Not many girls could handle all of this.”
“You keep telling yourself that, Square,” she said, while the guys in the shop cracked up. “Someday you’re going to lose a bet and have to prove it. And when we finally see your teeny weenie, you’ll never live it down.”
I stood and flexed my muscles in a show of false bravado, then winked before heading to the bar for another beer.
I took a long sip of my beer and subtly inspected Nate across the table while he chatted with Bennett. To me, he’d always just been a pretty boy getting a free ride to college from his rich daddy.
Except seeing him against the sink with that girl did something to the hardwiring in my brain. Sure, I knew he hooked up with women all the time and was razzed about never being with them long enough to know the color of their eyes.
But the way his fingers were digging into her hip and his mouth was hot and open against her throat—goddamn that had made me see him in a different light. I liked my boys rougher around the edges and he had never fit that profile, until I saw him all raw and powerful like that.
Nate looked relieved that I hadn’t teased him about it too much. I was always goading him and he usually gave it back to me good, but tonight he looked anxious, maybe even embarrassed that I had caught him in the bathroom.
I’d heard gossip that he was elusive with his conquests, not giving much away, not even genuine kisses—and that made me question why girls even sought him out.
If the rumors were true, he rarely made out with them for fuck’s sake. That’d make him one huge asshole for sure, except he didn’t flaunt it, never even spoke of it. Not unless one of us egged him on, then he’d ham it up, turn on that fake macho shit that was comical at best. Anything to keep these guys entertained. It’s what we’d come to expect from Nate.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wondering about him. Wondering if there’d ever been someone real in his life. Someone who’d hurt him, made him so defensive that he now kept that part of himself tucked neatly away.
Nate laughed and clapped Bennett on the back, reminding me of how alive and unreserved he was in every other way. With his friends and his sense of humor he lived out in the open—even with his daredevil antics, how he always talked about his next rock-climbing or snowboarding adventure—but there was that one area in his life that was most cryptic.
I’d just figured he was immature, given too much too early from his wealthy family. But tonight in the bathroom, I saw a flash of something different. Something that resembled a deep ache—an unfulfilled longing in his face—a split second before he’d pushed that girl away. It was there. I knew I hadn’t imagined it.
Regardless, Nate was way too straight-laced for me with his perfectly tailored jeans and button-down shirts, even if they did hug his muscles in all the right places. And the girls he spent his time with probably all looked the same—privileged and gorgeous.
I liked at least a little gravity to the guys I dated, so I never paid Nate much attention beyond our easy and playful friendship. But tonight I’d admit it was the first time I could picture myself up against that sink, with his hot lips against my neck.
“What are you doing here tonight?” Nate asked, nudging my foot beneath the table. Damn, I needed to snap out of it before Square figured out I was having dirty thoughts about him. “You’re usually not around on Thursday nights. Don’t you have a photography class?”
I’d forgotten how perceptive he had always been as well.
“Usually,” I said, folding my napkin to give my hands something to focus on. “But we’re studying large-scale photography and tonight was independent study night.”
Nate’s eyebrows bunched together. He was good-looking, but in a boy-next-door kind of way. He had dark blond hair and whiskey-colored eyes. His body was amazing, but way too muscular for my taste. He liked to work out as hard as he liked to party.
Despite outward appearances, he fit in pretty well with this crew, who could work a ten-hour shift at the shop and then drink past midnight, only to wake up and do it all over again.
“What exactly does ‘independent study’ mean?” Nate asked, his leg going a million miles an hour beneath the table, like he needed to blow off some steam. Which is probably where that girl had come in, until I ruined it for the two of them.
Pushing that idea out of my head, I focused on my assignment. I needed to come up with the subject, stat. “I have to create a huge photo exhibit, and the professor gave us a free period tonight to begin working on it.”
“Zach’s is the perfect place to do your homework,” Dex said, smirking into his beer glass.
“You shut it,” I said and then turned back to Nate. “It’s going to be on display at the upcoming art festival, worth half of my grade, and I don’t know what the heck to shoot pictures of. Yet.”
I was going for my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in studio art, with an emphasis in photography. I needed sixty credits to get there and was well on my way but wasn’t getting there as fast as I’d like, given the expense. But slow and steady wins the race or whatever the hell that saying was.
Like my father, my absolute true love was photography. I was excited to finally make good use of his Hasselblad 500C/M that I’d inherited when he passed away three years ago, but I had the worst creative block. So I figured a good beer would help me get some ideas flowing.
“How about pictures of the neighborhood? The only thing you ever do is people-watch at the shop,” Cory said, egging me on. He knew there was rarely any downtime at the tattoo parlor. I was one of the receptionists at Raw Ink—more like an office manager, glorified maid, or employee wrangler—and a part-time student at the university.
“I’m not people-watching. I’m just ignoring you,” I said, sticking my tongue out.
Cory was cool to work with, but kind of a mess as a person. He was gay and knew how to pick the beautiful assholes. So he was always hurting in one way or another.
Despite that, his artwork was amazing. He specialized in portraits, so if you ever wanted your grandma’s face permanently engraved in your skin, he was your guy.
Just don’t ask him to draw your current flame, his personal hot button. He’d give you a good tongue-lashing, specifically telling you how goddamn stupid you are. If you relented, he’d make you promise not to return to him when you wanted it covered up or removed two months down the road.
“Why not tattoos?” Bennett said and Avery nodded. Bennett was one of the nicest humans on the planet, easy on the eyes too, and seeing him look at his fiancée, made every girl in a ten-mile radius sulk. Together they had sex appeal oozing out of their pores and I’d guess their sex life was combustible as well.
Bennett was expert in all areas but his work in specialized lettering was the bomb. If a customer wanted a favorite quote tattooed on their skin, I’d send them Bennett’s way in a heartbeat. Avery had proof of his expertise on her own skin.
“Those photos that you hung in the hallway at the shop are amazing,” Avery said.
Oliver, the owner of Raw Ink, had asked me to take professional photos to decorate the walls. I had used the university lab to process them and then took them to a framer to get them matted and hung properly. It’d been a yearlong project. I’d asked customers to sit for long minutes, while I adjusted the angle and lighting to snap their tattoos.
“I thought of that,” I said, nodding. “But call me crazy, I want to pick something else to challenge myself.”
“Makes sense,” Dex said, talking a long pull of his beer. I noted he was taking it easy tonight, only on his second beer—otherwise one of the guys would have to cart his ass home again. Even though Dex and Cory were older than the whole lot of us, they sure acted juvenile sometimes.
“I was thinking of photographing something outdoors,” I said to the group, my eyes panning across each of their faces.
“You mean like flowers or trees?” Avery asked. “The fall leaves would be gorgeous.”
I wrinkled my nose. I wasn’t much a nature girl and I knew she wasn’t either, even though I did admire it from afar.
“No, that would be too . . . lame,” I said.
“You could always come with me to the dog park,” Emmy said, still nursing her first drink. I shook my head. Her and those darn shelter dogs. She probably cared more about them than humans.
“I’m thinking something more gritty, industrial—like maybe bikes or motorcycles,” I said. “I don’t know, been wracking my brain about it.”
“Meet me at the biker bar this weekend,” Cory said. “The entire lot is filled with sweet rides.”
He was a true motorcycle aficionado and had even inherited a vintage Harley from his uncle. He’s met some of his past boyfriends at that bar, even though that was a tough room to work if you were gay. But Cory knew how to keep everything on the down low—at least that’s how he’d described it to me.
“Not a bad idea,” I said. We’d all been to that bar with him before. It tended to bring a rough crowd. If you thought these guys were exclusive, you should meet that pack. They don’t appreciate fake enthusiasts, either.
“How about photographing buildings?” Nate said. He was studying to be a structural engineer and loved anything having to do with blueprints and construction.
Last summer, Nate had invited me to a concert at the Artisan Music Center with his cousin, Kai. We’d road-tripped there with Bennett and Avery, her roommate Ella, and Ella’s boyfriend, Quinn. On the way up, Nate would point out interesting structures and tell me cool facts about them. It had never occurred to me to photograph them, though.
“Not sure that’s my thing,” I said. “Sorry.”
“No sweat,” Nate said, his leg finally settling beneath the table.
Avery motioned for Bennett to move aside so she could slide out of her seat to use the restroom. Bennett leaned over and kissed the side of her head before allowing her to pass and she smiled endearingly at him. When she first got together with Bennett, I thought she might eat him alive. That girl was tough and I loved her take-no-shit attitude, but Bennett had softened her. I thought they complemented each other well.
“I just thought of something for your project, Jessie.” Bennett said, turning back to me. “Maybe Nate here can help you out.”
“Huh?” Nate’s head snapped up. “What the hell do you mean?”
“You have that cool internship where you get to go up on bridges and shit.”
“Seriously? I know you’re working for some firm this semester, but I never knew exactly what the hell you do for them,” I said, staring Nate down. “You’re allowed to climb on bridges?”
Nate nodded. “They have a contract with the city and my supervisor took me up on the Municipal Bridge—you know the big blue one that shines over the river downtown?”
“That is so rad,” I said, my mouth hanging open in awe.
“Yeah, you should see the view from up top. It was honestly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done,” he said, his eyes slightly unfocused, as if he was recounting it in his head. “But no way I’d be allowed to take you up there.”
My mind started firing away, think of bridges.
“Still, that fits into my industrial idea,” I said and then snapped my fingers. “I bet I could take photos of different kinds of bridges.”
“I knew you’d think that was cool,” Bennett said.
“Great idea. But this city has got nothing on Bridgeway, over the state border,” Nate said. “It’s known as the city of bridges.”
“For real?” I said. “Never knew that. What kinds do they have?”
“They have a few smaller ones constructed like the bridges we have here downtown,” he said, his eyes lighting up. “But if you travel into the rural section, there are several covered bridges.”
“Covered bridges?” Cory said.
“Yeah, they’re timber truss bridges with a roof and siding. You see them in old movies sometimes,” Nate said. “One of them even extends over a river and it’s pretty damn cool.”
“Hmmm . . . maybe my project theme can be bridges over time,” I said, my mind already wandering off about the lighting and the settings I’d use on my dad’s camera. “Dude, you just gave me the greatest idea.”
“No problem,” Nate said, with a playful wink that made my stomach buzz.
My phone hummed with a text from a friend. I turned away, avoiding Dex’s nosy gaze. He probably thought the message was from some new guy and I preferred to keep it that way.
Dating other employees at the shop was discouraged but not strictly against the rules. Dex had pursued me for a long while last year. I’d admit I found him charming and liked the attention, but didn’t want to step on any toes.
There was one time when I finally gave in, went for a drink and let him kiss me, but I knew it was all wrong. Dex on the other hand, wanted more, and it’d been an awkward few weeks of letting him down easy. I vowed to never date anyone at the shop again.
Customers were a different story, but still a bit tricky. That’s how I’d met the last guy I’d been seeing. He was Lila’s customer and had been to the shop a few times to get a series of skulls inked on his chest. He’d stop at the counter and chat with me for longer than necessary and then finally asked me out.
I had kicked him to the curb though, because he always seemed to have one excuse or another for cancelling plans. Still, he had some rad tattoos and piercings and was sexy and cute, I’d give him that. Not cute in a Nate kind of way—Mr. Pretty Boy with his full lips and eyelashes that fanned across those damn sculpted cheeks.
But I didn’t need some screw-up in my life, not when I was putting myself through college, one or two classes at a time, and nearing the finish line. I needed to get my fine arts degree, if for no other reason than to make my dad proud. He would have loved to see me graduate. Mom’s been cheering me on too, of course, but she knew what college had signified to him, since he’d never finished university himself.
My dad’s old buddy who worked freelance for several magazines advised me to get my portfolio together to send his way when it was ready. Then he’d see about getting me a gig. If I was good enough, I might get some more work thrown my way or even a full-time grunt job, just to get my foot in the door somewhere.
Even though these guys at Raw Ink were my people and we looked out for each other, eventually I needed to move on to a career that I loved. Or maybe I’d just do both. It would be hard leaving the shop behind.
While I was busy texting, Cory and Dex started a game of quarters with a couple of regulars who had sat down at the other end of the table. These two were forever playing something—flip the cup, euchre, Avery’s five fingers game, truth or dare, you name it.
Apparently already bored with the quarters game, Cory slammed down his cup. “Never have I ever . . .”
I rolled my eyes and Avery groaned. Here we go again.
Cory’s eyes zeroed in on Nate and then lit up. ”. . . Jumped off the side of the bridge.”
“You ass,” Dex said. “Had anyone in this group jumped off a bridge, they wouldn’t be here to answer your question.”
But then suddenly Nate raised his beer to his lips and took a long sip to disprove his point.
“Nate?” Dex said, his eyes alight with amusement.
“It’s called bungee jumping,” Nate said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Dude, you forgot that my friend here has no fear of death,” Bennett said. “Pretty sure he’s done it all.”
“Oh, I fear death,” Nate said. “But if that’s the way I had to go, flying sky high, with my heart practically clawing out of my chest, I’d take it. It’s the other ways of dying that scare the shit out of me.”
My ears pricked up at this revelation. I knew he enjoyed those adrenaline-rush activities but I never really wondered why or how he felt about them.
“Well fuck, I guess you’re right. The alternatives aren’t much better,” Cory said. “Drowning, being burned at the stake, getting the living shit beaten out of you.”
Something dark crossed over Nate’s features before it quickly passed.
“See my point?”
“So if I said . . .” Dex rubbed his fingers along his chin. “Never have I ever jumped out of an airplane?”
Nate picked up his beer, took a hefty sip, while everyone around the table busted up laughing.
“My turn.” A smile burst from my lips, because it was so fun to mess with Nate, especially when he was looking all smug. I’d have him guzzling his drink down in no time flat. “Never have I ever . . . gotten it on with somebody in the bathroom of Zach’s Bar.”
Nate narrowed his eyes at me. “Nice,” he said, before gulping down more beer.
Then he leaned over to whisper, “You’re just trying to get me drunk, so I’ll give you a peek at the monstrosity between my legs.”
I snort laughed. “You wish.”
His eyes held mine for a bit longer than was comfortable and I wondered if he was getting tipsy. I felt a tingle descend down my spine like cold fingers. What in the hell was that about?
Avery cracked up as two other guys at the end of the table also took sips.
“I’m proud to not have raised a cup to my lips,” she said and then high-fived me.
“Yeah, me too, babe,” Bennett mumbled.
“But I’d get it on in the bathroom with you,” she whispered loud enough for me to overhear. Bennett’s fingers curled around her neck and he pulled her forward into a steamy kiss. I looked away as my cheeks heated up. These two were too sexy for their own good.
Bennett had been a virgin before he’d met Avery but the guys at the shop rarely razzed him about it—in fact, I think most were in awe that he could last that long. It wasn’t something he’d kept hidden, and given the shop owner’s past history with Avery, everyone pretty much kept their traps shut.
We were a tight-knit group and I was lucky to have even gotten this job. It was hard enough lining up an artist’s job in this town and these guys didn’t play. They took on very few apprenticeships, but the requirements to work the front of the shop were just as rigid.
Oliver required his front desk staff to have at least one tattoo so we could counsel new customers about the experience. My tattoo, along with my prior office management experience and no desire whatsoever to become a future artist, was what sealed the deal.
I was told in no uncertain terms that my job duties were to be only as described. If I was pretending to want to work the front of the shop only to get my hands on an apprenticeship or to get up close and personal with the artists, I’d be out on my ass faster than it took to fire up a tattoo machine.
“Well, if we’re gonna go there, it’s my turn next,” Zeke, one of Cory’s motor-head friends who had been sitting at the other end of the table, said. “Never have I ever . . . been handcuffed while doing the deed.”
All the guys laughed after he added, “But I’d like to be.”
Nobody around the table moved until Cory finally raised his glass. Then I shrugged and stretched my beer to my lips.
Again there were chuckles from the group and in my side view I saw Nate’s eyes practically pop out of his head. Suddenly it seemed too crowded beneath the table, so when Nate shifted his leg against mine, even if by accident, I nearly crawled out of my skin. Holy Christ on a cracker, I had no idea why I was feeling unexpectedly overheated being near my perfectly square friend.
“Oh, this is getting good. I’m going to flip it on its head,” the friend sitting across from Zeke said. “Never have I ever cuffed someone during sex.”
Another snicker around the table sounded after he added, “But I’d definitely consider it.”
Again, Cory lifted his glass and then his eyes shot to mine. I shook my head. “Nope. Been the handcuffee, but never the handcuffer.”
Avery’s eyebrows lifted as she playfully elbowed her man. “Apparently, we need to get more kinky to keep up with this group.”
Nate looked to be deliberating something, darkness shadowing his eyes, until finally he raised the neck of his beer to his mouth for a sip.
One of the guys whistled but Nate kept his eyes cast down, as if embarrassed by what I’d think after that bathroom incident.
A line of heat stretched across my cheeks. Little did he realize that he’d only intrigued me more.
Driving to my mom’s house for dinner, my thoughts turned to Jessie again. As soon as she admitted to having been handcuffed the other night at the bar, my fantasies had gone wild. Shit, part of me wished I had never been part of that conversation. The group had gotten stupid with that game before, between drugs of choice to favorite sexual positions, but even those exchanges hadn’t done to me what this one had.
I was comfortable with keeping Jessie as my buddy, because she’d never allow me to get close anyway. When her phone pinged with a text, most likely from her latest boyfriend, I got this funny feeling in my stomach like I always did. I wanted to protect her, like a good friend should. No way did I want her with any hard-asses—especially ones who might take advantage of her. I knew she could hold her own, but maybe my mom had thought so at one time as well.
And maybe when you spent a lot of time with a monster, it changed you. Made you afraid, sucked out your goddamn soul.
But sitting across from her that night at the bar made me edgy and horny and hard as fuck. I hung out longer than normal just so I could get my dick under some semblance of control, but it only made things worse each time our legs accidentally brushed beneath the table.
Who was I kidding? A girl like Jessie—the way she’d talked to the guys from the shop? She wasn’t going to take any shit and certainly not from a guy like me, which was why I never hooked up with anybody in front of her before.
She’d give me the business, already did in her own way, and I liked having her as a friend. But I could tell she loved it when I gave it right back. We could ping-pong off each other and I could explore a healthy way to be around a girl. For once.
Still, since that night at the bar, I hadn’t gotten any kind of release except from my own damn hand while I imagined her beneath me, tied to the fucking bed. And every time she’d text me with a bridge question this week, I pictured us way up high on that blue viaduct getting it on for the entire world to see.
I turned the corner into the Waterford Development and then pulled into the shallow driveway up to the house. I grew up in what someone like Jessie might consider a huge-ass mansion. We all drove nice cars and had high-end gadgets but I’d give it all up in a heartbeat if my mom finally announced that she’d leave my dad’s ass.
As it was now, the tension was at an all-time high when we were all in the same room—it was almost like Dad knew that since I’m an adult, I could take him down with one punch. That we were all just toeing the line to keep up appearances. But having my asshole brother there only fueled the fire.
My father still travelled quite a bit for business so tonight it was just the three of us. My mother often arranged dinner for my brother and me when he was gone, probably because cooking helped her relax. She seemed more like her true self when she wasn’t under my father’s thumb.
I always made sure to show up early so my brother, Luke, didn’t do some stupid shit like egg her on or make her cry. He was turning into my father with every passing year and it twisted my stomach inside out to witness it.
Especially since it had always been me and Luke who had cowered together on the edge of our beds listening to the fights, the anger, the crying. Now, it was as if that experience had hardened him as much as it had softened me. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. But suddenly the two of us were as different as night and day.
Luke pulled in behind me in his ridiculous mini-Hummer like he’d been off to war or something. Those cars were stupid as shit and only made him look like more of a meathead than he was. He was in his senior year at Rockwell University and was on the winning football team. He was a linebacker and huge as fuck. I thought I was built—but then I’d visit him in the weight room at his private Ivy League school and feel small in comparison.
He walked through the garage behind me and mumbled, “Gotta make this quick, picking up Anna in a couple of hours.” Anna was his latest girlfriend and I’ll admit it, their relationship made me nervous. Every time he’d bring her around, I’d check for signs of intimidation or manhandling. Anything that would give a clue that he’d finally crossed that line. I had no proof, just a niggling feeling and a mind-numbing dread that plagued me regularly.
My mother stood in the kitchen nursing a tall glass of wine. Her blond hair was up in a messy bun, so I knew she’d been working in the garden. She loved planting fresh herbs and root vegetables.
“Hi, Mom.” I took two strides forward and kissed her cheek. “Whatever you’re cooking smells good.”
“It’s chicken divan.” Mom was a fantastic cook and was always trying out new recipes. Before she married my father, she’d been a chef for a catering business. I figured if she ever left this marriage she’d have no problem finding a job again.
“You know,” I said. “There was a sign in the window at this culinary school on Front Street. They were looking for someone to teach cooking lessons to a kids’ group.”
My mother’s back became rigid. She had never been allowed to work outside of the home. Only to volunteer for charities or women’s groups.
“What the fuck does she need a job for?” My brother’s voice boomed a little too similarly to my father’s. Luke always seemed angry when it came to my mother. I didn’t know what the hell that was about, though I had my suspicions. I knew he saw her as weak, and probably saw all women that way.
But I thought my mother was strong to have survived all that she had. I just wish she had that final bit of strength it would take to ultimately walk away. The problem was that she still loved my father–-at least whatever fucked-up version of love she thought she felt.
But fear was not love, that was for damn sure.
“What the hell, Luke? Keep your voice down,” I growled and balled my hand into a fist. “Mom used to be a chef in another life, remember? Maybe she’d enjoy doing it again.”
“C’mon man, a cooking school?” he said as if it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. “That would be like taking a step down.”
I tasted bile in the back of my throat. Listening to my brother speak was like a precursor to the way his life would lay out before him. How in the hell had he travelled so far off course?
“Boys, that’s enough,” my mom said in an exasperated voice laced with anxiety.
She was always afraid we’d get in a fistfight like we used to on many occasions growing up. Dad always encouraged it, said it would toughen us up.
I grabbed the red wine off the counter, filled up a glass, and chugged some down. If I had to spend more time with Luke, I’d need it. “When does Dad get back in town?”
“On Thursday,” my mother said quietly, almost reverently, and that made my stomach lurch.
I studied my mother’s tight smile, pale skin, and her light brown irises, same as mine. The little lines that had begun to form around her eyes and forehead, probably brought on early because of him. Her slightly crooked nose and forefinger, all telltale signs of how much of a monster my father had been. I knew she’d taken his wrath for us too many times to count and I wondered what deep-seated fear or need or principle kept her chained to this house and this marriage, now that we were grown.
The rest of the dinner was peaceful. My mother liked to deflect attention from herself so she always asked tons of questions to keep us talking. My brother could go on for hours about his damn self, same as my father. So she inquired about football and classes and about Anna—definitely about Anna. And I could see the same thought process, the same questions I had about how he was treating her, how they were getting along, ticking through her brain.
After Luke took off it was just my mother and me and we sat at the kitchen table playing a game of rummy. This was our thing. We’d play cards and talk about almost anything under the sun.
“So what do you think of Luke’s new girlfriend?” she asked, straightaway. I could tell it was something that was concerning to her.
“She seems nice.” I shrugged. I didn’t say what was on the tip of my tongue. That she seemed too nice for him. But my mother knew the score and probably had the same thought. “I just hope he—”
“Honey.” She cut me off before I could get my sentence out. Maybe it would’ve been too painful for her to discuss, to admit about her own child. Which is one of the reasons I kept myself in check. I didn’t want to see that same look in her eyes. “I can’t wait for the day you bring a girl home.”
I shook my head and smirked. “Sorry to disappoint you, Mom. I’m not sure if that’ll ever happen.”
Sadness filtered through her eyes. She was innately attuned to me, aware of my struggles, but she rarely spoke of them out loud. “Why would you say that?”
“Mom . . .” I laid down a pair of aces and looked her in the eye. “I think you know why.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her hand reaching across the table to rest on mine. “If only I’d—”
“Don’t you make any excuses for that bastard,” I said, through clenched teeth.
She inhaled sharply and squeezed her lids closed.
“Why do you stay?” It was a question I hadn’t asked her in years.
When she opened her eyes, I saw moisture gathering in the corners. “Honey, lots of things happened during a very stressful time in our marriage. Raising children is tough. Your father . . . he didn’t handle it very well.”
“C’mon, Mom,” I said, smacking my hand on the table and startling her. Shit, I needed to get my resentment under control. “Are you seriously trying to tell me it’s not still going on?”
She shook her head adamantly. “Not in a while.”
I didn’t know if I believed her. She might say anything not to have me worry.
“Then why are you still . . .” My eyes darted around the house. “. . . sticking around here. Not doing other things that you love?”
Her eyes crinkled in panic. I got her there. She was still being the dutiful wife.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Nate has a reputation on campus for being a love them and leave them kind of guy. He doesn’t kiss, it’s to intimidate, commitment, no way. A quick hook up with never a repeat performance is all the women get from him. It’s not that he doesn’t respect women, it’s that he doesn’t trust himself. Nate comes from a violent family life so he fears that he too will be prone to abusive behavior. Nate has a secret he can never reveal urges that he forces himself to suppress. However, one girl makes him want more. Jessie is a strong, independent girl; she is putting herself through college working at a tattoo parlor. Even though he should stay away, Nate cannot stop himself from wanting to be around Jessie. They keep things strictly in the friend’s zone. It does not take long for Jessie and Nate to admit they want to try it at more than just friends. They are definitely attracted to each other; they can be themselves with each other. Their easy friendship makes it seem so simple. Will Nate’s secrets and his lack of trust in himself stop him from having the life he wants and the girl of his dreams? Christina Lee is truly a genius at New Adult Romance. I was in love with Nate from the minute I read his first words; he had me falling for his preppy charm. His demons haunt him as he is trying to find his way in the world. Raised by an abusive father, he is concerned; he will turn out like him. Nate has sexual urges of dominance that he does not want to express fully. He is terrified that they make him as abusive as his father. Therefore, he suppresses his dominant feelings and only lets a little show when he finds a willing one-night stand. However, in his heart and soul, he craves something more, something he thinks he can never have. Then one day Jessie notices him in a way she never did before after accidentally walking in on him in a compromising position in a bar bathroom. Jessie always thought of Nate as a poor little rich boy. Sure, he was hot, but not really her type. She usually went for the tatted up bad boys. When she walked into the bathroom bar and spotted Nate with a girl pushed up against a sink in a very not so boy next-door kind of way, Jessie saw Nate in a completely new light one she found herself desperate to explore further. They had been friends lightly flirting and busting on each other. Never did either one of them think the other could be interested. An opportunity, throws them together and they get to each other. I loved how the two characters found more and more out about each other as the book progressed. The first sexual encounter when Nate lets some of his dominance show was hot! Hot! The second sex scene is even steamier; with each experience, Jessie and Nate grow closer and closer. The BDSM experimentation well written and well thought out. A chapter is my favorite is when they both realize without saying it to each that they were making love and not just having sex, my heart just about melted it was a hot and tender scene all at once. I could not help but root for this couple as I read each page. Nate’s relationship with his dysfunctional family is heart wrenching had me angry for him and then crying for him and his brother. Jessie’s close-knit family in comparison made for a deeper story. I love Christina Lee’s writing, she has become my favorite New Adult writer and I cannot wait to dive into one of her other books. This is the fourth in the series, but the second book in this series I have read; you do not have to read the books in order to follow the stories. Each couple has their own story if you want to know how the background characters got together, you can easily go back and read a book without feeling confused or lost. I was also excited to read the sneak peek of Dakota and Shane’s story characters from Whisper To Me book three in this series cannot wait for that one.
To say that I enjoyed this book would be a bit of an understatement. There was a great story, but it was the characters that grabbed me and took me for an emotional ride. On the surface this book is great for someone looking for some steamy sex scenes, a great slow building romance within a complicated friendship. But it’s much more than that. Getting both Nate and Jessie’s points of view to tell this story allowed me as a reader to see each character for who they were and to not just have me speculate on each side of the story. I got the honest true, with no punches pulled. Especially from Nate’s POV, with the demons he’s battling throughout the book, a no holds barred account is what made me love the book. This isn’t an easy story to digest either. A lot goes down that isn’t going to be easy for some readers to stomach, even I was tense for some scenes, but it’s worth it in the end. Great books for me are often those that pull at the heart while exploring uncomfortable sides of human nature. If Promise Me This, with its character’s depths and lack of restraint on tough topics, is any indication of the rest of Lee’s Between Breaths series, I’m going to have some more books to go out and enjoy. This is a book that’ll stay with me for a while.
This was a great story and I really enjoyed it. :-) Nate and Jessie are both really likeable characters and I loved how they came together. This is told from dual POV’s so it was nice getting inside both their heads. Nate is so sweet but he has a lot of past issues that are pretty heavy that he’s dealing with. It made for some really sad moments and I felt for him. There was definitely a big internal struggle there you could feel. I liked Jessie a lot, she was a strong girl with a good head on their shoulders. Even though this was about their growing relationship, I felt there was more focus on Nate than Jessie. They seemed to be complete opposites but I thought they were a great fit with really good chemistry. They had some great flirty moments and I liked their teasing with one another. It helped to provide some lighter moments. I thought there relationship developed nicely, loved those times when Nate opens up and you could feel their attraction and I definitely loved their heat. I really liked the storyline, though I did see some things coming. I thought there was good development throughout, it was a fast paced, smooth read with mild drama. It all moves along nicely and Nate’s growth seems easy, without a huge amount of struggle. Considering the content I might have thought there would have been a bit more drama and complexity but I still really liked it and didn’t necessarily feel like it was missing, I just thought there would have been more. I felt invested and caught up in their story. I loved that characters from other stories intersected and enjoyed all their interactions. The ending was really sweet and I loved the conclusion. Great read! Complimentary copy received for honest review.
A sweet, emotional, and lovely New Adult romance, Promise Me This was a great read. It was another wonderful book in an already fantastic series and I really enjoyed it. Jessie was a great heroine. Tough, independent, but also kind and compassionate. I really liked how she helped Nate face his issues, encouraging him but never pushing him farther than he wanted to go. She was a lovely character and I really liked her. Nate was also wonderful. He had trust issues but not with other people. Because of his violent father, he had difficulty trusting himself and that had him keeping women at a distance because he didn't trust himself not to hurt them. But, in reality, he was very sweet and a truly good man who would never knowingly hurt someone. He was great and I really liked him as well. The romance was lovely. I thought Jessie and Nate were so sweet together, especially with how Jessie helped Nate come to terms with his family issues. And they definitely hot some super hot chemistry together. I thought they were a wonderful couple. The plot moved quickly and I was kept interested the entire way through. I only have one complaint and it was that something felt a bit off to me. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there was something about this book that didn't flow with everything else. It might just be a combination of a bunch of little things but I can't pinpoint it. There wasn't anything wrong with the major aspects of the book but something didn't work and if I can figure out what it is, I'll let you know. But, otherwise, this book was great. I really enjoyed the story and the ending was perfect. Promise Me This was a wonderful New Adult romance that I really enjoyed. Sweet, emotional, and an overall lovely read, this book was great. Romance lovers, this is a book you'll want to check out. *I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
5 big fat super shinny stars! It’s been a couple of weeks now since I originally finished it so I found myself getting caught up in rereading my favorite scenes. Instead of writing a quick review, I’ve been sitting here falling in love with it all over again. I don’t know how author Christina Lee keeps hitting the ball out of the park like she does. The temptation to fill my review with copious excerpted quotes is incredibly strong, but I’ll resist this time especially since a lot of them are rated R. I loved everything about Jessie & Nate’s story – the character development, the sexual tension, the humor, and how it all played out. And of course, I absolutely loved the updates on all the series' characters and seeing them interact even more in PMT. Major spoilers follow! ***** I’m always more intrigued by couples who start off as friends in some capacity and end up discovering that they have more to explore between them. Blue-haired, tattooed Jessie is a photography student who also works at Raw Ink, the same tattoo shop as Bennett from All of You (Between Breaths #1). Bennett is friends with wealthy Nate, an engineering student whose very clean cut, muscular appearance helps to hide a dark family secret that haunts him. Nate hangs out with the Raw Ink crew on a regular basis and always maintained a very casual friendship with Jessie. That changes when Jessie and Nate embark on a road trip to check out bridges for her photography assignment and are forced to stay out of town overnight. They start to peel back each others’ layers, seeing each other in an entirely new light. Their night at the hotel was smoking HAWT, and I totally didn’t expect it to end the way it did. And then we get hit with that bridge scene – just wow! I also adored their text messaging conversations and the hilarious teasing conversations about Nate’s “package.” And Nate convinces Jessie to try rock climbing. Oh boy! I loved how the rock climbing scene gets Nate all juiced up and inspired about future uses of harnesses in the bedroom. And how can I not want my own Nate to teach me how to bow like he does with Jessie? Yes, please! *wink!* I definitely wanted to BE Jessie. I couldn’t help but envy Jessie’s close relationship with her mom especially. I enjoyed learning how her parents’ life philosophy, tolerance, and support had influenced her own outlook on life. I felt bad for Nate, his brother and his mom because I’ve been there, done that. Luckily, Nate takes Jessie’s advice to try out the counseling service available on campus. And eventually, Nate believes Jessie’s and his counselor’s dual assertions that he is not in danger of becoming his father. In one swift move he had me backed up against the wall, my hands braced above my head. He flattened his body against mine and I felt the full weight of his erection bearing into my abdomen. “All I could think about for days is tying you up and having my way with you.” Oh. My skin tingled pitifully, that’s how badly I wanted it. When I didn’t say anything because I was too lost in my own desire, he said, “Does…does that scare you…do I scare you?” “I’m not afraid of you, Nate. I think you’re afraid of yourself,” I whispered. “I want you to do those things to me. I want you so bad.” That above scene just gets hotter and hotter and is only one of many delightfully sexy scenes between them. Ultimately, the counseling and Jessie’s steadfast friendship helps Nate move beyond his damaging past. He finally lets his full freak flag fly guilt free, completely embracing their romantic potential. “It’s true I haven’t used my tongue on many girls.” He trailed his lips along my jaw. “But now I only want to use it on you.” I was so stunned and amazed and turned on that I could barely think straight. “I’m trying to figure myself out, my family out, every damn thing out.” His heavy breaths were now mixing with mine. “But everything inside of me aches for you.” I held the gasp inside my throat and slid my hand around his waist. “I ache for you, too.” His eyes closed momentarily as if reveling in my words. “I have a lot going on right now and I’m afraid to drag you into it,” he said, gathering my face in his hands. “I can’t keep you from seeing other…guys. But I know that I only want to be with you.” “Then be with me,” I said simply. “Ask me to only be with you.” And Jessie’s photography exhibit was such a beautiful expression of how she felt about Nate. I was so happy for them when he saw it and her new ink. The two combined were inescapable proof that she loved him and made him gladly promise to give her “the wild and the sweet, the light and the dark,” all of the facets that made him unique and hers. This novel will always have a special place in my heart not only because of author Christina Lee’s fabulous storytelling magic, but also because my mom died the day I started reading Promise Me This. Obviously, I had to put Jessie & Nate’s story on hold for a couple of days. Grieving such a loss is a sadly long process. I can’t express how much I appreciated the much needed book therapy I received from escaping back into their story and discussing my reactions to it and the parallels that I shared with Nate with Christina herself via Facebook. A million times, thank you! Be sure to read the sneak peek of Christina Lee’s Two of Hearts contemporary adult novel featured at the end. I’m eagerly anticipating its 5-5-15 release.
I've decided that everyone needs a little Nate in their lives. A man who is outwardly the pretty, charming boy, but inwardly, he's a closet bad boy. That's a change of pace, right? Nate single-handedly made Promise Me This the best book in Christina Lee's Between Breaths series yet. Nate comes from an abusive father. His brother is already showing signs of being just like him, and Nate is determined to not let the other men in his life define him. But, the fact is, Nate is sometimes prone to a little violence himself. Granted, it's usually in the bedroom, and it's of the sexy nature, but to Nate, it's all black and white. Violence is violence, and it has no place in his life. Except, then Nate has a chance to be with Jessie, a girl he's crushed on for a long time. And, Jessie's not exactly a shy violet. As she starts to bring out those parts of Nate he'd rather keep hidden, he has to decide whether he's capable of showing her it all. I can't imagine growing up with a father like Nate's. He beat his wife within an inch of her life, and even took a few turns at his two sons from time to time. Having a dad like that would absolutely shape the man a boy becomes. So, the fact that Nate is as sweet and chivalrous as he is is a bloomin' miracle. He's made it his life's mission to not grow up to become his dad and to eventually save his mom. Somehow, Nate has translated that into tramping down every urge he has to rough somebody up - whether it be in anger or in passion. And, that's so sad. Because those emotions - anger and passion - mean you can feel and that you're alive. As a result, Nate is practically dead inside. And then there's Jessie. She's artistic and creative and she brings a beacon of light to Nate's drab existence. She's had her own problems in life, but somehow Jessie has become comfortable in her own skin. And, that example is exactly what Nate needs. On an impromptu trip to Nate's old neighborhood, Jessie starts to chip away at Nate's carefully constructed composure. Because, she likes the rough stuff when it's done for fun. And, Jessie becomes determined to show him the difference, and that sometimes it's okay to unleash his inner beast. I felt so badly for Nate. I get why he didn't know the difference. And, I also get why he was so scared to discover the difference. The burning desire to be as unlike his father as possible is what made me love this character so much. And, Jessie's persistence and reluctance to quit made me love her. Jessie and Nate were so perfect for one another. Nate found his perfect match - the girl who challenges him and loves him unconditionally. She loves all of him - even his wild side. ESPECIALLY his wild side. Promise Me This was told in dual POV, and thank goodness for that. Getting inside Nate's head was imperative for this story, I think. The chemistry and passion between Jessie and Nate was off the hook, and it was the perfect complement to the story. Of all the characters we've met in the Between Breaths series so far, these two were my favorite.
I have thoroughly enjoyed ever book in the Between Breaths Series by Christina Lee and have been looking forward to Promise Me This, which is Nate and Jessie's story. We have met both of these characters briefly in previous novels, and while this is a series, each novel is a companion novel and can easily be read as a standalone, though you won't want to miss any of them. Nate and Jessie fit the old cliche "opposites attract" perfectly. They couldn't seem anymore different. She's tattooed with blue in her hair and he's a clean-cut, well-dressed, jock-type. They've always been friends, but something begins to change and their relationship takes a different turn. Nate only does hookups, one night stands, mainly because of issues resulting from a dysfunctional family....or what he believes is his dark side. What he doesn't get is that Jessie likes all of him, including the dark side. She just gets him. She doesn't do hookups, but she can't stop thinking about Nate. He helps her with a project for school, and she helps him through some really tough issues, and the process by which they do this is a wonderfully written and addictive story you won't want to put down. I really enjoyed getting to know both Nate and Jessie, and loved the romance between them. I also enjoyed getting to see glimpses of previous characters from the other novels in the series. Once again, Christina Lee has provided her readers and fans of this series with another outstanding novel that will make you swoon, sigh, fan you face, and smile. Contemporary romance fans, this is one you won't want to miss.
WARNING: NEW ADULT. ABUSIVE TRIGGERS (parental) BDSM Type situations (handcuffs and "orders" during sex (all consensual). Read review at own discretion. I wanted to read Promise Me This because I have loved the Between Breathes series. They are all friends so can be read separately, but I will admit I am a little fuzzy on a few of the characters but remember other pieces of stories. I like that Nate is conscious of his past, and that those who are abused is more likely to be an abuser. But I think that at times he is being overly cautious. He has desires to be more wild in sex, but he restrains himself because of a negative encounter as well as his fear of losing control. It was a journey for him to realize the difference. He is more straight laced in day to day life, but has his reputation of being a player. He had his own limits such as no kissing, etc, and he doesn't do long term. Jessie is more of the wild girl, blue haired and tattooed. She is fiesty and can hold her own. Nate likes this and they try to maintain a friendship where they are bantering back and forth and giving each other a hard time. One night when she admits to having been handcuffed and it stirs Nate's lust but again he is afraid. She calls him square and has heard rumors of his one night stand ways, but when she sees him pushing a girl against a sink, she thinks there is more there than she thought instead of money bags boy. When they take a road trip for Jessie's photography project we get to see them open up to one another while they drove and then exploring some of their feelings and attractions for each other. Nate holds back so much, and Jessie realizes it, and helps him to realize that its ok to be rough and bed and do the role playing when both partners are consenting and it stays healthy--only in the right context. This one did push some of my buttons because I have been in an abusive relationship that actually started as a bdsm type arrangement. So I don't know if it was truly more explicit or if it came from a bit of my sensitives. From the trip everything got pretty tense because of his fear, their mutual attraction and the back and forth. There were some pretty hot moments right along side some bravery, arguments, and trying to figure out how it will work for him. Nate really started standing up for himself and trying to be more open about what he went through. He also tries to get his mom to see the light and eventually had a stand off with both his dad and his brother Luke. The ending was sweet and I am glad that things worked out in some ways. It was realistic though and nothing was easy about it and some of the secondary characters still were in a place that was not so bright. But Nate was able to realize the difference in his thinking and how it is okay and not to be with Jessie and how he thinks outside of the bedroom is what shows his beautiful and kind heart. Bottom Line: Steamy but also riddled with Nate having to come to terms with his passion and what he fears he could become.
Christina Lee returns with the fourth novel in her Between Breaths series, Promise Me This. Readers looking for a romance that isn't afraid to brooch some hard-hitting topics will find this one right in their wheelhouse. Lee has a knack for writing with emotion, clarity and a sense of urgency that gives all of her stories a depth that is not always present in the burgeoning New Adult genre. This book is a lesson in contrasts and comparisons that readers won't forget any time soon! What I liked: Christina Lee is one of those writers who knows how to pack an emotional punch. Some New Adult stories and novels shy away from too much drama, or too much emotional baggage, but not Lee's books. She has developed a strong sense of how much is too much and how much is just enough. She gives readers what they need, that strong connection to the characters, that sense of necessity to read, to delve deeper into them, but she doesn't go too far. Promise Me This has that great balance that makes the experience of reading it flow off the page. Very well done! Jessie and Nate are very different. Jessie is a girl who knows who she is and she doesn't care whether you like it or not. She has this innate ability to believe she can do anything, change the world, or her hair color on any given day. I liked her a lot. She was sassy and spunky, but she was also deep and wise in her own way. Nate was the opposite. He was really afraid to figure out who he was, because he wasn't sure he would like that person. He was complex and driven to not let history repeat itself. Though they couldn't have been more different, these characters got each other. It's one of those romances where you know the characters were meant for each other, but it's all about the journey, their experiences together, their growth. Lee does a fantastic job of letting the reader 'get' the characters too. A couple I won't soon forget! Domestic violence is a horrible thing. It is serious and it can be very dark. Lee was able to show Nate's very complicated and tragic history without overwhelming the reader with the gravity of it. Yes, it was emotional, and understandable and heartbreaking, but all of those emotions don't coalesce to make this a downer book. Instead Lee makes it uplifting. She shows the reader that their is hope after tragedy. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Nate's struggle was poignant and fulfilling and readers won't be able to get away from it until the last page, maybe not even then. There is some serious chemistry between these two friends turned lovers. There was a time when Nate pined away after Jessie, but all Jessie saw was a 'square'. That moment when she sees him as more than just a friend was remarkable. When she realizes that, wow, he is really hot... LOL! And Lee doesn't stop there. Nate is scared of how he could possibly treat Jessie, and it's not just another break up he's worried about. It gives their first sexual encounter a very urgent appeal. There is angst and emotional turmoil and everything just works so well. I loved it! Bottom Line: This is a book with a deep soul. Yes, that's what I said, this book has a soul. That thing that you feel down deep that makes you who you are... it has it. It's a new adult love story, but's something more. It's hope between two pages! Enough said!
4.25 stars--PROMISE ME THIS is the fourth installment in Christina Lee’s contemporary, new adult Between Breaths romance series. This is tattoo artist Nate Connors and Jessie Walters storyline. Although this is the fourth book in the series, it can be read as a standalone without too much difficulty. Told from alternating first person points of view (Jessie and Nate) the premise follows the building relationship between Nate-an architectural engineering student/tattoo artist and art major/tattoo shop receptionist Jessie. Nate, a rich kid riding on his daddy’s dollar, has a reputation with the ladies-a one night stand kind of guy. He doesn’t do relationships and the secrets that he carries are heartbreaking and dark. Jessie struggles with paying the bills. As she pursues a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree specializing in photography Jessie has had to cut her studies back to part time. When Nate makes a suggestion for her latest class assignment, Jessie jumps at the opportunity and invites Nate along for the ride. PROMISE ME THIS is a friends to lovers storyline that is heartbreaking in its presentation of a young man whose family history is abusive and destructive. Nate is not what he appears to be. The emotional aftershock of his mother’s abuse at the hands of his father has left Nate empty and withdrawn. To hide this darkness Nate looks to the many women who offer up a night in bed or a quickie in the bathroom at the local pub. To this, Nate’s reputation as the campus ‘man whore’ finds Jessie at odds with the man she has come to know. The relationship between Jessie and Nate begins as friends and co-workers but the attraction to one another is immediate. Having never acted on their feelings, Nate and Jessie will discover that they are the yin to the other’s yang: the black to the white. Jessie will become Nate’s heart and soul; she will anchor Nate when the past becomes the present; she will support, love and offer up herself to the man who will steal her heart. The world building continues with the inclusion of several of the previous storyline characters and the ever present backdrop of the Raw Ink Tattoo studio and Zach’s Bar. The secondary characters are colorful and relatable; they could be anyone’s best friend or lover. Because this is a character driven storyline, most of the premise follows Jessie and Nate’s developing relationship. Christina Lee offers up an emotional storyline of family and betrayal; heartbreak and abuse; learning to love and letting go. PROMISE ME THIS is a story with a broken hero, a strong heroine and a love story with a happily ever after. Christina Lee’s BETWEEN BREATHS series is a welcome addition to the world of New Adult storylines.
I have loved this series so much. Interesting situations that lead to different combinations than you might expect makes this one, oh so good. It's New Adult at it's best. Characters. I love Nate. From the outside, he looks like the privileged rich kid cruising through college. Clean cut with an athletic build, he doesn't do relationships. Why? He grew up in an abusive home and he's greatest fear is to become his father. He's so far from this father, it's not even funny but he's not so sure. So he sticks with hook-ups. Hook-ups where he holds himself in check with a set of rules that keep it impersonal and safe. No getting close to girls. The problem is Jessie. She's a part of the group of friends he hangs with. They are so not each others types so being around her should never be a problem, right. You keep telling yourself that Nate. Jessie is wonderful. She's a tatted strong girl that likes the skinny tatted and pierced boy. Nate's muscled arms and athletic build are not her type at all. But when she catches Nate in a compromising position, she starts seeing him differently. Her upbringing couldn't be more different than Nate's. Her dad's wisdom has strengthened and molded her into a hard working and confident person. The banter between these two is so fun. She's Blue and he's Square. They don't seem to go together at all. His lack of tats and abundance of muscles to her pixie build and tats are light and dark. His dark secrets to her healing stories from her father are dark and light. And mixing them together was that unexpected combination that made a perfect fit. Story. What I adored about this story was the lack of misunderstanding/lying between the characters. When other stories do this, I often find them too contrived. If someone would just speak up the issue would be fixed. But with this story, these two don't misunderstand each other. They aren't lying to each other. In fact, once they spend time together, no one has gotten Nate better than Jessie. They never saw each other as their type. When they discover their chemistry, what keeps them apart is the personal battle that is waring inside Nate. It feels more real. Writing. This author is so good at dealing with the New Adult years. I connected with the characters and enjoyed the story unfold. I read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down. If you've loved the rest of this series, you should pick this one up too. If you haven't tried this series, then give it a try. New Adult at it's best.
Beautifully heart-wrenching, devastatingly raw, and purely stunning in its sincerity and soul, this story will burrow underneath your skin and capture your heart in a gentle yet firm grip that will have you gasping for breath and begging for more. This is not an easy story, but it is a story of unabashed courage, utter determination, and unbreakable love. Once you open these pages and allow it to reveal its secrets to you, your heart will never be the same again. Enter with caution and with all of the strength and love your heart can gather. Nate is considered high society where money talks and commands a lot of control and obedience. He is working hard in the pursuit of his dreams of architecture, and he appears to be just another looking-for-a-good-time, happy jock without a care in the world. Sadly, that is the opposite of what his life is really like. Only his closest friend Bennett has ever scratched the surface of what his life is really like. Nate does a wonderful job of hiding under his playful and anything but serious demeanor. He enjoys his friends but keeps them and everyone else at a safe distance. His other good friend Jessie is a light in his otherwise dark world. He enjoys their fun banter, and he likes the idea of having a girl as a friend. What he didn’t count on was her desire to really get to know him. She finds herself helplessly drawn to him after an unexpected weekend, and Nate must decide if he will follow his heart and change his life or run like always and hide away from the demons that plague him. I absolutely LOVED Nate and Jessie. They were complete opposites in every sense of the word, and they underestimated each other for way too long. Finally seeing past the façade that Nate put on for everyone, she was completely hooked. It blew her mind to see that Nate had such depth and character like she never would have imagined and yet she began to see glimpses of his life that he kept so tightly hidden away. Neither of them would have ever guessed that that other would come to mean so much. They each filled a void in the other’s life and heart that they didn’t even know was empty. Once this realization hit them, they knew nothing would ever be the same again. Not only was Nate a complete surprise but Jessie was just as amazing! Her drive to do whatever she could to help Nate battle with and conquer his demons was exactly what he needed. She pushed him to see that he was so much more then what he thought of himself. It was Jessie’s unconditional love and strong friendship that gave Nate the encouragement and resolve he needed in order to help change his circumstances. Jessie was Nate’s saving grace, and once he recognized that, he grabbed ahold of her and vowed to never let go. This is the second book that I have read by Christina Lee, and I am in complete awe of her outstanding talent! She has created such an incredibly amazing story that touched me like only a few stories ever have. I couldn’t put it down once, and I ended up reading it all in one sitting. This is a story that left my heart so full and my mind reeling in a hugely inspired way. We all need to be sure to allow ourselves to see more than just the initial impression of someone. Our goal should be to break through that porcelain mask and get to know the person underneath. You could very well be someone else’s saving grace.
"Give it all to me," she murmured in my ear. "The wild and the sweet, the light and the dark. Because I need them both." All the feels people! I have ALL THE FEELS right now over this book! I really loved Nate and Jessie together and their story is one filled with hope and the promise for something better. The two couldn't be more different- she is artistic with her tattoos and love for photography, where Nate is built like an athlete and fits the preppy, frat boy image. The tension between them has been simmering for quite some time, but it's only now that they start to see each other for more. Jessie knows Nate is a playboy, never hooking up with the same girl twice, but to accidentally walk in on him kissing another girl and actually see him in action, makes her see him in a completely different light. She can tell he is holding back, that there is a wildness brewing beneath the surface that is desperately trying to break free. Nate has always been interested in Jessie, but feels they have too good and easy of a friendship and the last thing he wants is to destroy that by showing her who he really is. An overnight trip to Nate's hometown changes everything between them, as they get to know each other better, and slowly start to reveal parts of themselves they never dreamed they would. I really liked watching Jessie and Nate get to know one another in this book. They have been friends sure, but they really didn't KNOW one another. Jessie always assumed Nate lived this privileged wealthy life, but in reality, she couldn't have been more wrong. Nate is terrified of becoming like his abusive father, and therefore never lets himself go the way he longs to when he's with another woman. He feels shame by his darker sexual desires, as he never wants to hurt a woman like his father has hurt his mother. He doesn't see that there is a difference between the two, especially if it is a consensual experience. Jessie isn't afraid of this 'darkness' as Nate would call it. It's quite the opposite. She likes the things Nate does to her and likes his dominance in bed. He is too caught up in believing the worst about himself, that he completely misses that she is granting him the one thing he is too afraid to seek out but desperately needs- acceptance. Jessie was such a great character and such an amazing support for Nate. He can't get past his demons and is too afraid to drag her down with him. Even when he pushes her away, she is still there for him as a friend, encouraging him to seek professional help to heal the emotional scars his father has left him with. Until Nate finds his own acceptance and realizes that he is nothing like his father, he will never be able to move forward to pursue a deeper relationship with Jessie. I have to talk about the kissing in this book. I loved it! So many people underestimate the effect of a really good kiss, but Christina nails it. Jessie and Nate kissing was so incredibly hot, passionate, and INTENSE! I loved their scenes together because there is so much underlying tension between them that they won't be able to deny for long. The result is explosive and I like that they don't hold back with one another. I really like that Christina makes family an important aspect of this book. Not only do we see Nate's problems with his father, but we see the shell of a woman his mother has become, and how his brother Luke is changing- and not for the better. Nate loves his mother dearly and is heartbroken over her situation, wanting nothing more than to see her shine with happiness again. We also get to see Jessie interact with her mother, and their dynamic is totally different. Her mother is supportive and wants the best for her, but also warns her to be careful with her heart. She is a good woman and I love that she reaches out to Nate's mom. Jessie's memories of her father are pivotal in this book, as he has made a great impact on her life and what she wants to do with her future. He not only impacts Jessie, but his words leave quite the impact on Nate as well. I always enjoy Christina Lee's writing, so it's no surprise I also enjoyed this book. I am a huge fan of the series, so it was nice to see Avery, Bennett, Ella, Quinn, Rachel, and Kai again. I am quite curious as to whether Jessie's friend, Emmy, will get a book of her own in the future. Fingers crossed!