When Sloane Avery stops to help a stranded driver, she finds more than a broken down car on the side of the road. Luke Evans is faster and sexier than her Maserati, but with her heart still on the mend, she's not interested in taking him for a test drive. Despite their initial disdain for each other, emotion and passion simmer, complicating their fragile friendship. But when a tragic loss and devastating betrayal send them spiraling, their growing love isn't enough to save them.
That was five years ago, practically a different lifetime and definitely a different Sloane. Before she's been hardened by booze, sex, and as much distance as she could get from the past. Now, called home on a family emergency, she's determined to hold onto her heart the next time she sees Luke.
Except Sloane's not the only one who's changed. Luke's turned his life around. Only the reappearance of Sloane and the reminder of his biggest mistake can put a dent in his plans. Luke is set on fixing what he's broken. But with her emotions boiling to the surface, Sloane needs to decide if falling in love is life's greatest gift or its cruelest joke.
|St. Martin's Publishing Group
About the Author
Jamie Howard spends her days as a legal and compliance specialist. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Art from Ramapo College. When she's not tapping away at the keyboard, you can find her devouring books and perfecting her gaming skills. She lives with her husband, son, and three dogs in New Jersey, and is almost always awake early enough to see the sun rise, even on the weekends. Her books include Until We Break, Until It's Right, and All the Ways You Saved Me.
Read an Excerpt
Until We Break
By Jamie Howard
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Jamie Howard
All rights reserved.
I drum my fingers against the side of my empty plastic cup as the redhead sitting in my lap twirls one corkscrewed curl around her finger. Leaning against my chest, she flicks my earlobe with her tongue and then bites down softly. I curl my bare toes in the sand as her lips trace a fiery path down my neck.
Reaching behind her, she skims her hand up my inner thigh, the warmth of it bleeding through my jeans. Inches from reaching her goal, I wrap my fingers around her wrist to prevent her from dipping below my waistband. She whips her head around, eyebrows drawn together and her lip thrust out in a pout.
"What the hell, Luke?" She knows my name, but I can't remember hers.
"Would you mind getting me another drink, sweetheart? I'm all out." I flash her a toothy grin.
The pout evaporates and is instantly replaced by a seductive smile. "Sure thing. Don't you go anywhere."
As she pushes herself up, I give her delectable ass a pinch and she skips away, sand kicking up from underneath her sandaled feet. The giggle she lets slip has me rolling my eyes. Same game, different night.
The orange glow of the bonfire pierces through the thin fabric of her dress and silhouettes her tight body as she walks away, disappearing into the crowd. I readjust my pants and slip into the press of people around me. I'll find her later and finish what we started, but I'm not quite ready to leave. My dick can wait a few more minutes.
I snatch up a beer and suck it down, loving how cold it feels trickling down my throat yet knowing it'll send a blaze through my veins, heating me from the inside out. Despite the way the wind whips across the beach, my shirt clings to me, damp with perspiration from the combination of alcohol and the leaping flames.
I turn toward the voice, picking my friend Dennis Archer from the crowd. He walks toward me, one hand wrapped around a cup of beer, the other shoved deep in the front pocket of his jeans.
"Archer." I nod my head in his direction.
"You see the newbs?" He motions with his eyes to two girls huddled in the small circle of light thrown off by the fire. Already a flock of guys circle them like seagulls around a coveted pizza crust.
Standing at least a head taller than most of the guys around me, I have no difficulty seeing over their would-be admirers to grab a peek. The first girl has legs so long she could probably wrap them around my waist twice if she straddled me. Her hip-length mahogany hair hangs around her like a shiny curtain, rubbing against the bare expanse of skin between her shirt and shorts.
The other girl looks as out of place as a nun at a frat party. Her yoga pants and gray T-shirt cover up the important bits, and her blond hair is swept back into a tight ponytail. With the combination of her arms folded across her chest and that forced smile, she's giving a clear Fuck off vibe. Christ she's tiny. Her nose would probably get lost somewhere around my chest. Although, tiny women do have their perks. They are, after all, much easier to pin up against a wall.
I crumple the red plastic cup in my hand and toss it to the ground. "Looks like we've got a dud."
Her glare snaps to my face, although she couldn't possibly have heard me. She rakes it up and down my body, probably seeking out my flaws, though I could tell her she's gonna have to look a hell of a lot harder than that to find them. Her nostrils pinch in like she's smelled something rank. Drawn back into conversation, she turns and nods in response to someone.
Archer laughs into his cup and elbows me in the ribs. "I think she likes you."
"Give it time. By the end of the summer she'll be begging for it just like they all do."
"You're a cocky shit, you know that?"
I flash him a smile. "It's one of my best qualities."
My redheaded sprite returns, drink in hand. I take it from her, drain it in one gulp, and toss that cup away, too.
"You ready to get out of here?" I ask.
She molds her body against mine, tracing one hand up my stomach. "You know I am."
At some point in the last few minutes, the sand started imitating the ocean. I squint one eye closed and try to force everything to stay in place, but it keeps up its spinning motion.
Dropping an arm around her shoulders, I tug her up against my side, using her body weight to stabilize myself. Her shoulder digs into my armpit as she tries to keep me going straight, but we zig and zag across the sand through the group of people.
As we're nearing the fire, she shoves my side, hard. Probably trying to keep me from toppling into the flames. But her effort at course correction is a tad overaggressive. I careen off to the left, nearly tripping over my own feet before actually tripping over someone else's.
I land heavily, my head snapping back so hard that my teeth clack together. Even though I've got my eyes squeezed shut, the world continues to tilt around me like someone's knocked the Earth off its axis. Someone snorts, and muffled laughter drifts its way in my direction.
I pry an eye open to find another pair of eyes hovering a few inches away, a blond ponytail swinging back and forth as she bends toward me. She flicks her gaze over me dismissively, her lips twisting to the side.
"Fine," I manage to say.
My redhead reappears, practically shoving the new girl out of the way in her haste to get to me. She reaches out a hand toward me but I ignore it, rolling onto my stomach and pushing up to my feet. I brush the sand off my clothes.
As my pick of the evening wraps an arm around my hips, leading me away, I turn back to the blonde and offer her a wink. With a roll of her eyes, she shakes her head slightly and turns back to her friends.
Ah, well, she'll come around. They always do.
* * *
Where the hell am I?
I roll up onto my shoulder, surprised to find an arm draped across my waist. I scrub a hand across my face and then through my hair. A headache throbs at my temples in time with every painful heartbeat. The night comes back to me in fragments, like a reel of film that's had some of its frames burned out. The bonfire, the redhead, the uppity blonde, and then mind-numbing sex. That's the best kind. No feelings, no attachments, only the haze of pleasure that blocks out all the other bullshit.
I gaze down at the upturned face on the pillow next to me. Last night's mascara is smeared underneath her eyelids in thick black streaks, and a thin strand of drool leaks from between her lips and marks the pillowcase. It hardly matters. I got what I wanted and so did she.
The hardwood floor is cold beneath my feet as I shrug into my clothes. I don't even consider waking her. I don't leave a note or my number. She won't be expecting one anyway.
Pulling the door closed behind me, the sun pokes hot needles into my eyeballs. I shield my eyes with one hand as I dig with the other in my pocket for my phone. I come up empty on the phone front, but my fingers close around the jagged edges of my keys just as I spot the Wrangler parked at the curb.
I drove last night? Where the hell is my phone?
Squinting in the agonizing sunlight, I head toward my car. I fish my aviators out of the glove box and sigh in relief as they dim the brightness of my surroundings. A thousand cotton balls are stuffed inside my mouth, and someone's doing construction in my head. I need some damn aspirin.
The wind tugs through my hair as I head back into town, the sun beating another layer of bronze into my already tanned skin. Images of French fries and pancakes dance across my mind, making my mouth water, when the Wrangler gives a groan, shudders, and starts spitting smoke.
I force her over to the side of the road. Slamming my door closed, I stride around the side of the car but don't even bother to pop the hood. Why bother? I don't know what I'm looking at anyway.
This day so far is fan-freaking-tastic and I haven't even been awake an hour.
Without a phone or a car my options are pretty limited. I can walk back to the redhead's, turn and walk toward town, or I can wait and hope some friendly soul will stop and take pity on me.
Between the heat and the hangover, I'm not sure I'd make it into town, and I'm sure as shit not going back to the redhead's. Pity it is then.
Sitting down on the bumper, I stretch my legs out in front of me and close my eyes. I don't have to wait long before a car approaches. I stand and raise my hand in a wave, but it blows right past me, the shiny red of the Maserati blurring as it kicks up a cloud of dust.
"Asshole," I grumble, kicking a stone in its direction for good measure.
I'm returning to my perch when I hear the sound of brakes and tires crunching against the road. As the car swings a U-turn and pulls up behind me, I mutter another curse under my breath.
Of course it's her. It's like the universe is giving me one giant middle finger this morning.
I straighten as she hops out of the car, shoving her sunglasses onto the top of her head into her blond hair. She's traded the yoga pants this morning for a pair of jean shorts and a turquoise T-shirt. Neither of which are showing off enough tits or ass for my liking.
"Car trouble?" she asks, stopping several feet away from me, as though standing too close might contaminate her.
"Seems that way."
"You want me to take a look?" She lifts an eyebrow at me.
Well, that's unexpected. "Be my guest."
She saunters past, giving me a great view as I follow behind her. Popping the hood, she waves a hand at the steam that hisses out into her face. With one foot propped on the push bar, she levers herself up so that she can peer in. The way her ass is sticking out as she bends over demands every ounce of my shredded concentration this morning.
A minute ticks by before I step closer, lean on my forearms, and survey the damage with her. Her hair brushes against my arm, and my nose fills with the scent of her coconut shampoo.
She lifts a finger and points. "I think this is your problem, right here." She taps it.
It probably makes me less of a man that I have no idea what she's pointing to, but I doubt I'll be winning any points with her anyway. "And what is that, exactly?"
Her shoulder lifts in a half shrug. "Hell if I know."
I stare at her and then back at the engine compartment. "Do you even know what you're looking at?"
She levels a smile at me that's brighter than the damn sun. "Nope, not a clue."
"Then why did you offer to look?" I ask her, as she hops back down to the ground and brushes her hands together.
She frowns at the grease stain on her hand before giving in and wiping it down her thigh. "Seemed like the appropriate thing to do." Still frowning, she keeps wiping at the grease on her thigh. I'm not sure what she's hoping to accomplish other than smearing it even more. Finally, she sighs and looks up at me. It's the first time I really notice her eyes, and I'm fairly certain if I hadn't been scoping out her assets, it would have been the first thing I noticed. They're blue, but not that typical run-of-the- mill blue. They look like tropical waters, and I'm sure if I let myself, I could drown in them.
Where the fuck did that thought come from?
She's looking at me expectantly, and I realize I've missed whatever she said. "Huh?"
Now she's looking at me like I'm a moron. Great.
"I'm Sloane," she says, drawing the words out so that they go on forever.
I take her proffered hand and shake it, dimly realizing that my hand completely swallows hers.
"Nice to officially meet you, Luke." Reaching up, she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. "So, how can I help? You need a phone? A ride?"
I'd like a ride, but I'm pretty sure that's not the kind she's offering. "A phone would be great, thanks. I seem to have lost mine."
Whatever she wants to say is on the tip of her tongue, but she swallows it down. Her nostrils do that pinching thing again. What's that all about?
"Sure thing," she says. Her flip-flops slap against the hot asphalt as she makes her way back to her car. Snagging her phone from inside, she tosses it my way.
I catch it in one hand, and spin it so it's facing in the right direction. The home screen is a picture of her and the other girl from last night, smiling like idiots. I watch her as I put in a call for a tow. She's still tense, but not quite the stuck-up bitch I took her for yesterday. Despite her obvious distaste for me last night, I haven't seen any of that this morning. Or not much anyway.
When I'm done, I toss the phone back to her, and she neatly fields it.
"You need me to wait for the tow with you? Give you a ride back into town?"
I shake my head. "It's fine, I'll catch a ride with the tow truck."
"Suit yourself." Sliding back behind the wheel, she revs the engine and rolls the car up to me. "Nice seeing you again, Luke."
"You too, Sloane."
As her slick little sports car fades into the distance, shimmering in the heat rising off the pavement, I kick myself for not asking her to wait around. I'm way off my game this morning. I blame the hangover. I press two fingers into my forehead and try to stave off the throbbing.
I'm never drinking again.CHAPTER 2
"You're late!" Gran calls out, not even bothering to lift her eyes from the register.
I bustle through the dining room into the kitchen, nearly colliding with Blaire in the process. Reflexively, she readjusts the plates balanced on her arm and bumps back through the door.
"You're late!" she yells back at me.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm late," I grumble under my breath. I wouldn't have been if I'd followed my better instincts and blown right past the disabled Wrangler, but just as I decided to keep right on going, my foot eased off the gas and I slammed on the brakes. I've always been a sucker. One day it's going to get me in trouble.
I'm tying my apron on when the door swings back open and Blaire reappears. Her brown hair is pulled back in a loose ponytail and her green eyes are glittering. "Do you know how many tables I've had to juggle by myself while you were moseying your ass in today?"
I roll my eyes at her and give the apron strings a final tug. "I wasn't moseying. Some guy was stranded on the side of the road, so I stopped to help."
"Please tell me you're joking."
When I just stare at her, she gives me a harder stare back. "You don't just stop to help random people. The guy could have been an ax murderer or a serial killer."
I scoff and wave a dismissive hand her way as I turn to roll some silverware. "He wasn't an ax murderer, he was just a guy whose car broke down and who didn't have his phone."
She peeks through the window in the door, surveying the tables. "Convenient."
I stack the rolled sets of silverware in a pile next to me, glad to see the routine of it is coming back to me quickly. It's been years since I helped out around Gran's Diner, but it's almost like I never left.
"Yes, Blaire, it was very convenient for him that his car broke down and he had no phone. He must have known I'd be driving down that stretch of road and staged the whole thing."
Her footsteps echo as she walks across the room, and I turn just in time to catch the rag that's flying at my face. "You've got crap on your leg."
I wipe at the smeared grease stain, scrubbing to get it off until my skin is red.
"Is that grease?"
I laugh. "Actually, yes. I offered to take a peek under the hood of the car."
The dangerous glint to her eyes dims a fraction. "Seriously? Why?"
"Honestly, I thought it would be kind of funny. Although, come to think of it, he didn't look all that amused."
Her eyes narrow as she looks at me, and she takes another peek out front. "The next table is yours, by the way." Her first sentence nearly collides with the second. "Who was the guy?"
I find another smudge of grease on my hand and get to work on that. "Luke ... I don't know. I didn't get his last name."
"Luke Evans?" she asks, her hands finding their way down to her bossy hips.
Didn't I just say that I didn't get his last name? I throw the rag back at her, which catches her on the shoulder before plopping down onto the tile floor. "He could be Luke Skywalker for all I know."
She toes the towel and kicks it into the sink. "Really tall?"
"Killer blue eyes, long-ish brown hair, fucking gorgeous?" Her voice rises as she speaks, like someone is accidentally leaning on the volume button of the remote.
Excerpted from Until We Break by Jamie Howard. Copyright © 2015 Jamie Howard. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
After: Five Years Later,
Excerpt from Until It's Right,
About the Author,