Just when it seems Steve Sommers’s life can’t possibly get more complicated, the woman who broke his heart years ago comes back to town. His best friend is in a coma, and his fiancée has called off their wedding, so Steve already has his hands full. But one look at Penelope brings old feelings crashing in, and he’s determined to get back what they once had.
Seeing Steve again proves to Penelope what she’s always believed—the passion they once shared still smoulders between them—but so does the reason she had to leave in the first place. Penelope’s certain that no man can love her given the challenges her future holds…but Steve won’t give up without a fight.
The chance to share the love of a lifetime is worth any cost.
Each book in the Circle of Friends series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Tyler
Book #2 Steve
About the Author
An avid romance reader since her early teens, Jess knew one day, when she grew up, she’d have to write her own love stories. And she did. Although the first one was pretty awful.
But once she discovered it was okay to leave the bedroom door open in her romance novels, she decided to leave everything open. Buttons, zips, pants, number of lovers… Which is why her books are all steamy erotic romances.
Jess’s first published story, Photo Opportunity, was originally contracted in 2005. Since then, she’s completed over 30 books, and is finally doing the work she loves most— writing romance.
While Jess lived most of her life in South Africa, the last twelve years have been spent in Australia. From the fast-paced Sydney lifestyle to the laid-back islands and beaches, there’s always another gorgeous Aussie setting for a contemporary romance.
Read an Excerpt
"There's something else I need to tell you." Steve Sommers' stomach twisted. He wondered how his brother would respond to his news.
"You mean there's more?" Sam's voice echoed over the line. "The accident wasn't enough?"
"Kate and I broke up."
His words were met with silence.
"Say something." The connection was bad enough without his brother's meditative quiet.
That was the best Sam could do? He'd just announced his forthcoming marriage was off, and all his brother could offer was a questionable condolence? "That might be a little more comforting if I thought you actually meant it." He slumped against the hospital wall, the stress of the past two weeks draining him of strength and energy.
Static interference whispered through the phone.
"I am sorry." Sam hesitated. "I can't say I'm too surprised. That's all."
"Is there not one single person in my whole family who believed Kate and I would get married?"
Steve stared listlessly down the passage leading to ICU. Nurses at their station bustled about their business. "Don't bother. That's answer enough." He raked his hands through his hair. Kate's decision to call off the wedding still stung, and his family's intuitive knowledge that the relationship wouldn't last only increased the burn.
"Look, you know we'd have welcomed Kate into the family, but you don't love her. And she doesn't love you."
"How do you figure that?"
"I always said the woman was in love with Tyler. It was obvious to all of us. You included."
His brother had a point. "Yeah, maybe I should have given that a bit more credence before I proposed." But there'd been no reason. Tyler was out of the picture and Katie had never admitted to loving him. Steve had been aware all along that his and Kate's engagement was based more on friendship and trust than on passion and romance. They'd discussed it before they'd decided to get married. Based on those numerous conversations, Steve had figured they'd had a fighting chance ...
"We just wanted you to be happy," Sam broke into his musings.
"I was happy." Not head-over-heels, crazy-in-love happy, but content. Which was good, because before the engagement he hadn't felt content for two and a half years.
"I meant really happy. Like you were with Pen."
A blast of pain shot through his chest. Followed by a shard of apprehension. Words failed him and he grunted into his phone.
"What happened?" Sam asked. "Did Kate break it off after Tyler came home?"
Not the second he stepped off the plane. She'd given herself about two weeks — enough time to fall in love with him again. "It's complicated, but basically, yeah."
At least the raw hurt and humiliation had subsided. Or maybe it had been masked by the trauma of Tyler's accident. Either way, he and Kate had reached a truce. They were talking again, which was a big step up from their situation a few days ago.
"You going to be okay?"
"Ask me when Tyler wakes up." Steve shut his eyes wearily. "If Tyler wakes up."
Silence resonated over the phone, and he could almost see Sam's grim nod. "What about you and Kate? You okay with that?"
"I guess." He'd know better when real life resumed. When time was no longer suspended within the four walls of Tyler's hospital room.
"You going to be able to work with her?"
Steve grimaced. His initial reaction had been no. When Kate ended the relationship, he'd told her he'd find new rooms, told her it would be too difficult to carry on working at their medical practice together.
Then Tyler was almost killed in a motorcycle accident, and his perspective changed. Funny how one's perspective changed in a life-or-death situation. "I want to. We'll give it a shot and see how things turn out." Trouble was, neither of them had gone back to work since the collision. Neither of them wanted to leave Tyler's side. Kate had organized a locum to take over the practice until they were ready to return.
Steve felt a sudden pang for his absent brother. "You coming home anytime soon?"
"Two weeks." The phone crackled loudly. "Shit, I'm losing my signal."
"That's okay. I need to go, anyway. I have to see Tyler."
"No worries. Send him my ..." Sam's voice trailed off. "Christ, I hope he pulls through."
"Yeah. Me too."
"Hang in there."
"Thanks, mate. G'bye." Steve doubted Sam heard his last words over the interference. He leaned heavily against the wall, reluctant to head back to ICU. There was too much in that damn cubicle stopping him.
For one thing, there was Tyler. His best friend lay comatose, the victim of a car smash. He'd been on his motorcycle when a four-wheel drive shot a red light. One minute Tyler Bonnard was fine and healthy. The next he was fighting for his life.
Then there was Kate Rosewood. Steve's ex-fiancée and the love of Tyler's life, hanging on to Tyler's hand for all her worth, wishing him awake by sheer strength of will alone. So far, it hadn't worked.
Finally, there was Tyler's sister ...
Steve swept a hand over his eyes. Hell. It was time to face up to his past. All of his past. Taking a deep breath, he stood a little straighter and made his way back to Tyler's cubicle.
Inside, the air in the room hung thick with tension, unspoken words and desperation. Steve longed to turn around and walk out of the room. That way he could pretend none of this had happened and the lives of the people around him had never been shattered by tragedy.
Instead he trained his eyes on the deathly still Tyler. It was easier than looking at the women on either side of Tyler's bed.
Steve suppressed a howl of agony. He had to hold it together. For everyone's sake.
Reluctantly, he turned to his Kate. "Hey, ba —" Steve caught himself. Babe no longer seemed appropriate. Such intimacy and affection weren't a part of their relationship anymore. "Hey. How's he doing?"
Kate's eyes were bloodshot and her skin pale as alabaster. Even her hair, which usually bounced with vitality, hung limp around her face. She looked about as good as he felt.
Her gaze darted from Steve to Tyler to the other side of the room. "Same, same. Dr. Lavine was here a little while ago." She gave a weak smile. "They're going to decrease the Hypnovel tomorrow."
Tyler had been in a medically-induced coma for several days. He'd sustained a head injury, and unable to assess the extent of the damage, the medical team had elected to sedate him until the swelling subsided. Now it was time to wean him off the drug and see how he responded.
If he responded.
Steve's composure began to crumble. He nodded and finally looked around the room.
The sweet, subtle scent of a perfume he had not smelled in a long time wafted around him, teasing his nose with the memories it evoked. His gaze settled on the chair he'd come to think of as his, and as if in on cue, the muscles in his neck went into spasm.
She rose as she greeted him. "Hello, Steve."
One look, and anguish barreled over him, knocking sense from his mind. She was here. In Sydney. In Tyler's hospital room. Sitting opposite his ex-fiancée.
His chest constricted, bucking against the lack of oxygen in the room. Every muscle froze, suspended in time. An act of self-preservation? If he so much as twitched now, he'd turn around and flee. Get the hell away from the most excruciating circumstances he'd ever been forced to face.
Or worse, he'd grab the woman he loved and hold on to her, tight, so she wouldn't leave him again. The question was, which woman would he grab? And what would she think if the man she'd dumped took her in his arms again?
She smiled. "It's good to see you again."
Bullshit. It must be every bit as agonizing for her as it was for him. How could she look so composed when forced to face her ex-lover while standing beside her unconscious brother?
"It's ... good to see you too." Lie. Seeing her again was shocking, gut-wrenching and un-bloody-believable. Penelope Bonnard stood in the same room as him.
In the last two and a half years not a single word had passed between them. Not an email, not a text message, not even a stupid tweet. Nothing. Even at the airport, when she and Tyler had boarded their plane to London two years ago, they hadn't spoken.
Sure they'd communicated that day. He'd silently begged her to stay, pleading for another chance. She'd looked at him with those enormous chocolate-brown eyes, her thick coppery hair falling in waves over her shoulders and infinite sadness written on her face. No words had passed her lips.
Now Pen was telling him it was good to see him again. Yeah, sure. As good as it was to see her brother half-dead, he imagined.
"Kate ..." His throat felt rough. How did you talk to your ex-girlfriend about your ex-fiancée while both of them stood in the same room? "Kate told me she'd called you. She said you were coming to see Tyler." He didn't tell Pen he'd been sitting next to Kate when she made the call. Didn't tell her Kate had taken the responsibility of contacting Pen off his shoulders. How did you pick up the phone to tell the woman you'd once worshipped that her brother had almost been killed in an accident?
"I had to come."
"Of course you did." For a long moment he looked at Pen, incapable of coherent speech. She gave him a quick smile, then dropped her gaze to the floor.
Somewhere in his peripheral vision, he saw Kate's face soften in sympathy.
The last thing he needed now was her pity. He maintained his focus on Pen. She looked older. A few lines around her eyes and her mouth marked her thirty years. She also looked exhausted. Her lids drooped the way they always did when she was tired. He used to love it when she looked at him with her eyes all sleepy like that. When she'd snuggle up to him and nuzzle his chin before curling onto her side, spooning against his chest and falling asleep.
There was none of that cozy comfort in her gaze now. Instead he saw fatigue mixed with distress. Who wouldn't be tired and troubled after a long-haul flight from London and a trip to the hospital with her ex-boyfriend's ex-fiancée to see her comatose brother?
Christ, what a fucked-up situation.
"Tyler would be glad you're here." That was good. Talk about Tyler so he didn't have to focus on himself.
She smiled at the floor. "Tyler would be pissed I came all the way for no good reason."
There it was. A glimmer of the fun, joking Pen he remembered. However, Steve wasn't much in the mood for smiling right now.
He understood why Kate called off the engagement — he'd even started to agree with her reasoning. Pen's unceremonious dumping of his ass, however, was still incomprehensible. Compounded by the shocking information he'd recently learned about her, he almost couldn't stand the psychological torture of being in the same room as her.
Almost. The only thing worse would be if she left now. Truth be told, all he wanted to do right then was pull her into his arms. Tuck her head under his chin and gather her against his chest.
Some things didn't change, even after two and half years of separation.
The need to touch Penelope had always manifested as a physical ache in his gut and worsened with each passing moment. Therein lay an essential difference between Pen and Kate. If he hugged Kate now, it would be for mutual comfort and reassurance. If he hugged Pen it would be because he couldn't stop himself.
"Yeah," he agreed with Pen. "Ty probably would be pissed. He'd still be happy to see you."
"I wish he could see me," Pen whispered. "I wish he knew I was here."
Her shoulders sagged, her chin dropped against her chest, and her hair fell over her cheeks, hiding her face.
He touched her arm and then wished he hadn't, because touching Pen only ever led to heartache. "Sit down," he said softly. "You look like you could use the rest."
The gentleness in his voice annoyed him. He didn't want to be soft and tender. He wanted to rage against the world, yell and swear and kick the crap out of the walls.
She stared at him with the depth of sorrow in her eyes. "Thanks, but I've been sitting for almost twenty-four hours. I'd rather stand."
Steve nodded and took a few steps backward until his shoulders touched the wall. He placidly folded his arms across his chest.
He didn't feel placid. Outside of his family, these were the three people who mattered most in his life. But Tyler lay unconscious, Kate had ended their engagement, and Pen had walked away.
What he felt was pain. Bone-deep, gut-wrenching pain — and he hated it.
It was midnight when Penelope spoke again. It had taken about two hours to regain her composure. She'd almost steeled herself against the trauma of seeing Tyler unconscious. Unfortunately, two years of fierce determination had not been enough to prepare her for meeting Katie or Steve again.
How was she supposed to respond to the fiancée of the man she loved? Moreover, how was she supposed to respond when she saw the man she loved for the first time in two years?
Her legs had turned to jelly the second he'd opened the door. Before she even saw his face or heard his voice, she knew it was him. It wasn't only the familiarity of his aftershave, the masculine smell of spicy lemon that preceded his entrance. It was the five million prickles down the back of her neck and the way the hair on her arms stood on end.
When it came to Steve, she just knew.
Like she'd always known. She'd developed a crush on him the first time her brother brought home his new friend. At thirty, she was equally besotted. At twelve, there'd been the childish, naive possibility of having him. Now there was none. As much as she wanted Steve in her life, she couldn't have him. Especially now that he was engaged to Katie.
She shivered, her arms suddenly icy. "If I don't get some sleep I won't be functional tomorrow." The room spun. She hadn't slept in two full days, not since Katie's call. Now the muddle of jetlag, shock and desperation were taking their toll. If she didn't get some space, some perspective and a good night's sleep, her composure would crack. She would have no reserves to call on when Tyler woke up and needed her to be the strong one.
Katie swung her gaze from Tyler's face to Pen's. "I'll take you to your apartment."
"No, don't worry about me." One car trip with Katie was enough. "You planned on staying here through the night. I'll catch a taxi."
"You're not staying at Kate's place?" Steve asked. He'd stayed where he was all this time, motionless, as though glued to the wall.
Katie had offered, but how could she stay at Steve's fiancée's house? She and Katie may once have been friends, but matters were far too complicated between them now.
She forced herself to look at Steve. "I booked a unit at the Medina in Coogee." The furnished apartment would be more practical than a hotel room — especially if she needed to be in Sydney for an extended period of time.
Katie stood. "Don't be ridiculous. You can't take a taxi. I'll give you a lift. It's no bother at all."
Steve turned to Katie. "Stay with Tyler. I'll take Pen."
Katie hesitated. "You sure about that?"
A silent look passed between them, and Pen blinked back her hurt. There was a time when she and Steve had communicated with looks and touches. Now Katie held that honor.
"Of course," Steve assured her. "Don't worry, I'll take care of everything."
Katie smiled. "You always do."
The familiarity of their intimacy was almost too much for Pen. On top of the tiredness and the despair, it cut straight through her and tears crowded her eyes.
Damn it, damn it, damn it. She couldn't let them see how much their relationship affected her. Dropping her head into her hand, she rubbed her eyes. On the surface it should look as though she were wiping away the fatigue.
An unexpected hand on her elbow made her jump.
"Come on, Pen. I'll take you to the apartment." Steve's voice sounded strained. Not surprising, really. He was leaving his fiancée so he could help her, the woman who'd dumped him more times than she could count.
"I'm perfectly able to find my way there alone."
"Of course you are." He shrugged. "But Tyler would kill me if he knew I'd let you leave here alone, or with Kate, in the middle of the night."
Tyler would give him what for, and the last thing she needed to do was complicate Tyler and Steve's friendship further.
Excerpted from "Steve"
Copyright © 2017 Jess Dee.
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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