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  • Alexis Winter

**SNEAK PEEK** My Accidental Forever



Chapter One — Harley


“I’m engaged!” my best friend, Cora, nearly screams as she jumps up and down in front of me. Her right hand is fanning her face. The left is held out, showing off her beautiful sparkling diamond ring for me to see.

I do my best to force a smile, hoping and praying it looks genuine, but who am I kidding? I’m not good at faking anything. My resting bitch face always gives me away. “Congratulations,” I say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster as I take her left hand in mine and look at her ring.

She pulls me forward into a rib-crushing hug. Her giggles turn to tears. “Oh, Harley, I didn’t think this day would ever come,” she says, sniffling. “Now you’re the only one left.”

Yeah, rub it in. That makes things better.

Let me start by saying that I’m not your stereotypical girl. I’ve never been one to dream of my prince charming or the perfect wedding. It’s not that I’m just dying to get married, but it sucks that I’m the last of my friends who’s still single. Sarah has two kids already. Jessica is pregnant. Lilly, Meredith, and now Cora are all engaged. And when it comes to me . . . well, I have a couple foster dogs at home, no real boyfriend, and no intentions of settling down anytime soon. I feel like everyone is just way better at this adulting stuff than I am. It feels like I’ve just discovered I’m in a race and I’m already in last place.

“I know,” I agree, “but I think I’ll always be the single one. You know, the cool aunt who keeps the secrets and sneaks alcohol at all the kids’ parties,” I joke, and she pretends to ignore the hint of sadness in my tone.

She forces a laugh and playfully smacks my arm. “You’re a riot,” she says, blowing me off. “Seriously, aren’t there any guys who could stick? I know you’re seeing, like, three dudes at the moment, right?”

I roll my eyes. “I am not seeing three of them,” I argue.

She gasps. “You are, too! Let me see if I can remember them all. There’s Brett, the motorcycle racer. There’s Tony, the almost-MMA fighter. And there’s Will, the aspiring musician. You don’t think any of them will stick?” She sits back down in the chair across from my desk and I follow suit.

“Well, let’s see.” I start ticking them off on my fingers. “Brett’s already out of the picture. He’s in Florida for a race. We went one two dates and, no, I didn’t sleep with him.” I hold up my second finger. “Tony stopped talking to me when I didn’t put out on the first date,” I say, and she gasps as she leans forward to smack me across the arm. I quickly dodge away, out of her reach. “And Will’s still around, but it’s nothing serious.”

She shakes her head. “How could you leave Tony like that? He was hot as hell, Harley!”

I nod. “I know, but he seriously sucked at fighting and thought he was amazing, and I’m not down with a dude who expects me to suck his dick just because he bought me a steak. Fuck right off, bro.” I shrug. “I want a winner—not a loser who always has black eyes,” I joke.

She rolls her blue eyes and shakes her head, making her red curls sway with the motion. “Seriously, you keep being this picky and you will end up alone.”

I laugh. “Well, I’m always going to be this picky, but while you guys are all tied down to your husbands and kids and PTA meetings, I’ll be out living my best life and traveling the world. So who’s really losing here?” I ask with a wink, but keep my tone light and playful as a smile stretches across my face. We both know I’m kidding, but what she doesn’t see is how much I’d actually love to be tied down like that.

She giggles. “I guess it all depends on what you want. I want to be married, have a couple of kids, and always have my best friend with me through thick and thin. But good for you for not following along with all these boring traditions.” She rolls her eyes and I can tell she doesn’t believe a word of my story.

“Yeah, I mean, all that marriage stuff is good for you and the girls, but I’m just not that type.”

“That won’t stop you from joining us at the bar tonight, right? To celebrate?” She offers up a smile as her shoulders rise.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” I promise. “I’m so happy for you, babe. Just because I might not want the same things as you doesn’t ever diminish my happiness for you and all our friends.”

“Good,” she says, standing up and heading for the door to my office. “I’ll text you the details, but plan for a wild night,” she says, pointing at me.

I hold up my hand and wave as she makes her way out of my office. The door softly clicks closed behind her and I’m finally alone. A long breath leaves my lips as I lean my head back against the chair. My eyes find the white ceiling and flutter closed.

Like I said, I don’t want marriage. I don’t want to be tied down. I don’t want to go to sleep with the same man every night. At this point, I’m not sure if I’m reminding myself of this or trying to convince myself. Jealously and guilt gnaw at my stomach. I hate that I feel this way. I don’t want to be jealous, and that’s why I feel guilty. My jealously just got in the way of being happy for Cora, and she deserves nothing less. Tonight, I’ll be happy for her. I’ll be excited even though it feels like all my friends are growing up faster than I am. They’re moving on with their kids, husbands, and fiancés, and here I am, scraping together my pennies for the 50-cent drafts at Stella’s. My life has seriously gone off the rails.

With that thought, I think I’ll take off early today. I close all the windows that are open on my computer and shut it down. I turn off the lamp on my desk, then grab my phone, keys, and bag and start for the door. I lock my office behind me and make my way through the shelter. The sound of barking fills my ears as I make my way down the hallway and into the front lobby. Jenna is standing behind the desk, her attention on the computer screen. When she hears my footsteps, she looks up. “Taking off early today?”

“Yep, I’ve just had all the fun I can handle,” I tell her, leaning against the counter with my keys in one hand and my phone in the other.

“Any plans? Got a hot date or anything for the weekend?”

I roll my eyes. “No hot date . . . not yet, anyway. My friend just got engaged so we’re going out to celebrate. Fingers crossed I find a hottie there.”

She giggles and I wink. “See ya Monday.”

“Enjoy your weekend and try not to catch any diseases,” she jokes.

I laugh. “Same to you, my friend. Same to you.” I push my way out of the swinging doors and head for my car in the parking lot.

I open the door to my blacked-out Jeep Wrangler and climb behind the wheel. I place my bag on the passenger seat and drop my keys into the cup holder as my foot presses the brake and my finger finds the start button. The motor turns over and purrs to life. The air that blows out of the vents is hot from sitting around all day, so I roll down the windows until it cools off. Summer is just starting and it’s already unbearable.

I click my seatbelt and shift into drive. Looking both ways, I pull out onto the nearly empty street. As I drive, I can’t help but feel more alone than usual. Maybe it’s because my only single friend is now on the marriage train. She and the girls will be doing married-lady things and I’ll be forever alone and left out. On the sidewalk across the street, a man and a woman walk hand in hand. He looks at her and she looks back with a smile. He tugs her to him and they kiss. I roll my eyes and scoff. “Oh come on! Get a room,” I mumble to myself.

I guess I should get it all out of my system now. I have to be happy and excited for Cora. I can’t let my bitterness and jealously ruin this for her . . . or me. This could be one of the last nights we get to party together. Soon, she’ll be consumed with wedding planning and then married life. Maybe it’s time I find a few unmarried women to kick it with.

Fuck that. I need to stop thinking about marriage altogether. I’m 24. I have a full-time job making very little money. In fact, more than half my income goes to paying my car and bills. Luckily for me, I don’t eat much. And I date a lot, so I get free meals, but still. Does that scream ready for marriage and kids to you? It doesn’t to me. I need to grow up before I can think of settling down with anyone. I need to be more responsible before I think about having kids. Or . . . do I even want kids? Maybe I can find a man like me who’s always ready to have fun and doesn’t want to be tied down. Now that would be the life. But I’m sure my girlfriends would disagree.

I pull into the driveway and park my Jeep. I shut off the engine and grab my things as I unbuckle. I hop out, and before I get to the door, I can hear the dogs barking with excitement from inside. They’re my kids—for now, anyway.

I unlock the door and let myself in. Four dogs greet me and I fall to my knees to play with them in the doorway.

Bob licks my face. Gizmo is jumping all around—wagging his tail and beating me to death with it. Juno is hanging out in the back. She’s the newest addition and isn’t sure what’s going on yet. And Dozer, well, he’s all over me, making me fall back until I’m lying on my back on the floor. I can’t hold back my giggles at how excited they are.

“Okay, okay, who wants to go outside?” I ask, pushing them back as I work to get myself off the floor. They all start barking, whining, and running for the back door. I walk through the living room and kitchen, then into the laundry room where the back door is located. I unlock and open it, and all the dogs go running out at full speed. I step outside to watch them run and play in the fenced-in backyard. I got lucky with this place.

This is my grandmother’s house, and I only got it after she moved into her assisted living condo across town. The place is paid for, but I still have to pay the water, power, and property tax bills. Plus the upkeep of fixing anything that breaks and paying the company that mows the lawn. It’s a great place, especially considering the fact that I wouldn’t be able to find an apartment on what I make, especially one okay with me having foster dogs. But fostering the animals is part of my job, and it’s often one of my favorite parts.

I work as the PR director for a local no-kill shelter, so I handle all the advertising and coordinate the adoption and foster events. But no kill also means nonprofit. I get paid very little. I know I could probably go elsewhere with my talents, but this is where my heart is. My dad once said, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well, I may have taken that a little too seriously. There should have been something in that speech that included money, so I could provide for myself a little better. Don’t get me wrong, I make enough to stay afloat, but it would be nice to not constantly be trying to figure out if I can afford to go on a three-day weekend once a year or get my eyebrows done. It would be nice to just skip out on work for a fancy lunch and a shopping spree, but this is the life I chose. Sometimes I think I’m doing this whole adulting thing wrong.

As I watch the dogs run and play, my phone chimes from my back pocket. I pull it free and read the message on the screen from Cora.

Stella’s Bar, 8 p.m. Be prepared to party it up!

I laugh and shake my head before turning off the screen and sliding it back into my pocket. I stretch and let out a loud yawn. Maybe I just didn’t get enough sleep last night. Perhaps I’ll take a nap before hitting the town. That’s probably why I feel weird today; it’s not because Cora’s engaged. That thought makes me feel a little bit better.

I clap my hands and call for the dogs. They immediately come running and we all go back inside. They rush off to the living room, ready to lie down, with a couple playing tug-of-war with their rope toy while I make myself a late lunch. I eat a sandwich and some chips and drink a glass of tea before locking the house and going to the bedroom for a nap. I leave the bedroom door open and every single dog climbs into bed with me. I really need a bigger bed.

The alarm on my phone goes off two hours later and my eyes flutter open. I silence the alarm and look toward the window where the late afternoon sun is filtering through the blinds. The dust particles in the air are lit up like glitter as they float down to the ground. It’s 5 p.m., but thanks to it being early summer, the sun is still high in the sky, not yet ready to go down and call it a day.

I stretch and yawn, trying to force myself to wake up. Finally, I push myself to my feet and trudge to the shower. I strip out of my jeans and the Don’t Buy—Adopt! T-shirt I wore to work today. I climb beneath the hot flow of water and tilt my head back, allowing the hot water to wash over my hair and face.

I take extra time in the shower since the party’s still not for a couple more hours. I shave my legs then wash and condition my hair. I do a hair mask and a face mask, and use my in-shower lotion so I’m nice and soft. Finally, I have nothing left to do, so I climb out and wrap a towel around myself.

I decide to throw on some pajamas while I do my hair and makeup and find something for dinner. I end up eating a salad on the couch while my hair air-dries. Once I finish, I’m back in the bathroom to get ready for the long night of partying that’s sure to come.

At 7 p.m., I’m finally fully dressed and ready to have a night out on the town. I stand back and look myself over in the mirror. My black skinny jeans hug every curve of my hips and thighs. The holes and rips from the distressing provide a peek at my tanned legs. I tuck in a simple white tank and throw on a black and gold belt. I pair the outfit with some high-heeled black boots. I went extra heavy on the eye makeup, with a smoky eye, false lashes, and a shiny lip. My long dark hair is full of curls and body, looking a little messy—just as I like it. I grab my purse and head for the car, more than ready to celebrate with my girls.

I walk into Stella’s and the place is already crowded. Every table is occupied and every barstool is taken. The dance floor is filled with moving bodies and groups stand in almost every free area of the bar. I find the girls in a back corner booth. I put a smile on my face and approach them.

“Harley!” Cora yells with a smile when she sees me. She rushes up, throwing her arms around my neck for a big hug.

I giggle. “You hit the sauce already?” I ask her, hugging her back and picking pink boa feathers out of my mouth.

She pulls back and laughs, smoothing down her boa. “I might have pregamed.” She winks at me dramatically. “You OK? You seemed a little sad today.”

I wave her off. “I was just tired . . . and hungry. Both problems have been solved now. I’m good. Now, what do you say to getting hammered and not remembering this night?” I ask with a wide smile.

She throws her arms in the air and lets out a long howl before leading me the rest of the way to the table where shots are already lined up.

More shots are poured quickly and beer seems to be in endless supply. I don’t remember making the conscious decision to attempt to kill myself with alcohol tonight, but that’s apparently what I’ve done. My vision is blurring and my body feels extra sensitive. Of course, that could have something to do with the arms engulfing me right now. A sexy man who’s tall and muscular with thick dark hair and scruff on his jaw is holding me close, his body grinding against mine.

“What’s your name?” I ask over my shoulder as I wiggle my ass against him.

His hands tighten on my hips. “ Foster,” he whispers low in my ear. “What’s yours?”

I turn around and wrap my arms around his neck. With a smile I say, “Harley.”

“Harley, huh? Don’t think I’ve heard that name outside the Batman universe.”

I laugh. “Yeah, I get that a lot. I’m not named after Harley Quinn. My daddy was a biker.” I shrug one shoulder and play indifferent.

He leans in closer and his hot breath washes over my dry lips. “What do you say to coming home with me tonight?” His lips press against my jaw and it makes my eyes flutter closed.

“I’d love to, but I’m here with some friends, celebrating an engagement.”

“Not yours, I hope.” There’s a hint of a smile on his lips and he arches an eyebrow as he awaits my answer.

I laugh. “No, never mine. I’m still too wild to get married. I like to have too much fun.” I give him a teasing smile.

“Is that so?” he asks, slowly leaning in to test the waters. I know what he wants and the alcohol in my system makes me lean forward, capturing his lips with my own. His lips are soft and teasing. They move slowly at first but then pick up speed and intensity. They part and his tongue makes its way into my mouth. He tastes of beer and spiced rum, not to mention his scratchy stubble feels good against my soft skin.

His hands are big and strong, but also soft, telling me that he probably has some kind of corporate job. We’re both in the same boat tonight, just looking to blow off some steam and maybe get laid. But who am I to judge? I want him just as much as he seems to want me. His hands travel my body, squeezing my hips, rubbing up and down my back, and back down again to grasp my hips. His lips fall from mine, kissing across my jaw to my neck. I want nothing more than to go back to his place and fall into his bed, where he can show me how good he is with the rest of his body, but I’m here for Cora, I remind myself.

“Let’s get another shot,” I tell him, pulling back but keeping his hand in mine while I drag him over to the bar.

He stands at my side. “Are you sure you can’t sneak away from them for the night?”

I smile. “I probably could, but I won’t. Tonight isn’t about me,” I say, but I’m not sure if I’m telling him or reminding myself. I seem to be doing a lot of that tonight.

“And I can’t talk you into changing your mind?”

I shake my head. “Not tonight,” I say around a teasing smile.

He pulls his wallet out of his back pocket and hands over a card. “Well, call me when you do.”

I look at the card and see his cell number and name, Foster Wilder of Wilder Industries. Since we’ve been dancing, I don’t have my purse with me, so I slide the card down into my bra for safekeeping. “I’ll call you sometime,” I promise.

“I hope so,” he says, leaning in toward me. He smells delicious—like deep oak, a hint of sunshine, and a summer breeze. He smells clean and fresh, but also thick and woodsy at the same time. It’s the perfect combination to have my mind spinning.

“So, tell me about yourself, Foster,” I say, sliding my money over for a drink.

He smiles and it makes my breath catch in my throat. “Well, after college I went to work at the family business. Since then, I’ve been climbing my way up the ladder. I’ll hopefully earn those CEO letters behind my name someday.”

“How old are you?” I’m handed my drink and I stir it before taking a sip.

“Thirty-two,” he answers. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-four, but I don’t have some fancy corporate job. I work as the PR director at a local no-kill shelter.”

He nods and the corners of his mouth turn up into a smile. “So you like animals?”

“I love animals. What’s not to love? I handle the shelter’s advertising and plan all the adoption events we hold. I also foster dogs.”

His eyebrows go up like he’s impressed. “How charitable of you. What do you like to do when you’re not working?”

I shrug. “I’m a free spirit. I like to do anything as long as it’s fun. I’m a play-it-by-ear kind of person. I never make plans. I always just . . . do whatever I want.”

He smiles. “Seems like we have a lot in common.” He leans forward and I feel the air between us growing thick. Slowly, we both lean in and I can’t wait to feel his lips against mine again.

“Harley! Get your butt over here!” one of the girls yells, and it steals my attention. I look over my shoulder at them and see they’re laughing, talking, dancing, and having fun. I turn my attention back to Foster. “I guess I should be getting back, but I have your number.”

“You better use it too,” he says around a flirty smile.

“I will,” I promise, a shy smile of my own breaking through as I turn and walk away from him. I take my place back with the girls and they’re all giddy over watching me with Foster. I dodge the million questions they throw at me as I look over my shoulder and throw him one last glance.

***

I don’t know what happened, but once I pulled myself away from Foster, the drinks seemed to hit harder. I’m barely able to stay on my feet as we all dance. I open my eyes and look around, wondering how exactly I ended up on top of a table without realizing it.

“Ma’am, you have to get down. Come on,” the security guard says, reaching up for me.

“What? Go away,” I start, but his hand catches my wrist and pulls me downward. I fall and he catches me in his arms as the table I was standing on topples and falls to its side, clanging loudly off the floor.

“That’s it. You’ve had enough. Time to go,” he says, setting me on my feet and pulling me toward the doors.

“Wait. What?” I ask, looking around for someone to help, but he’s pulling me out too quickly. My vision is so blurred I can’t make out any of my friends. The next thing I know, we’re outside and the air is cool. I breathe it in deeply as I turn to face him.

“You need a cab or something?”

I frown. “No, I can get my own cab,” I insist. “Why am I being thrown out? My friends are still in there looking for me.”

He crosses his arms over his big chest and shakes his head. “You know you’re not allowed to dance on the tables. This is a bar, not a strip club.”

I gasp. “Screw you, guy!” I poke him in the chest with my index finger as I try to step around him, but he matches me step for step. “I’m just going to go inside the moment you stop watching,” I say, balling my hands into fists at my sides.

He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, like this is my first encounter with a drunk girl. I’m going to be standing right inside that door. Try coming in again and I’ll call the police. We have them on speed dial here. Don’t try me. Just go home and sleep it off.” Without another word, he spins around and walks back into the bar.

I take a deep breath and try to cool myself down. What a bunch of shit. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. So what if I danced on a table? It’s not like I killed someone. It’s not like anyone was hurt.

With a surge of bravery and righteous indignation, I head back into the bar. I walk right through the doors, but within several steps, someone catches me around my waist and drags me back out.

“I told you,” he says in my ear, “but you didn’t even wait a whole minute!” He has a hint of amusement in his voice, but I don’t find this funny.

“Let me go!” I order. “Get your hands off me.” I fight against his hold.

Finally he sets me back down on the sidewalk outside the bar. I spin around to face him. “What’s your problem? It’s not like you’re king of the bar. I wasn’t hurting anyone.”

“That’s not the point. Our insurance doesn’t cover drunk girls dancing on tables. If you fell off, broke your neck, and tried to sue, you’d shut us down.”

I nearly snort. “Oh, I wouldn’t fall, but if I did, I wouldn’t sue. It was my dumb decision to dance on the table.”

“Exactly. Dumb decision. Now go home and sleep it off.”

You sleep it off,” I argue.

“Is there a problem here?” a man says, and I turn to look at him. It’s a police officer.

“No, there’s no problem. Is there?” I look at the security guard.

“Actually, I’ve had to remove this woman from the bar twice now.”

“Ma’am,” the police officer says, “I suggest you take the kind hint this man is giving you and take yourself home before I have to arrest you.”

My eyes grow wide. “Arrest me for what?” I ask, shocked.

“Disorderly conduct,” he answers.

The security guard goes back inside, leaving me alone with the officer. “Look, my friends are still in there. One of them has just gotten engaged and we’re supposed to be celebrating. Can I please just go back in? I promise I’ll behave.” I offer up a smile and bat my lashes a little.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I can’t allow that.”

“Not even if I show you my—?” My hands are already clutching the bottom of my top, lifting it upward.

“That’s it,” he says, cutting me off. His hands catch my wrists and he somehow manages to spin me around so they’re behind my back. The next thing I know, I’m in a pair of handcuffs and being shoved into the back of a police car.

Fuck. I really did it this time.

Chapter Two — Foster


“Who was that girl you were talking to?” my best friend, Matt, asks as we make our way out of the bar.

I shrug. “Just some chick I met. Her name is Harley. Hot as hell,” I add on as I climb into the passenger seat of his car.

He laughs and shakes his head.

“What? We don’t all have a Poppy,” I point out.

He puts the key in the ignition. “I didn’t say a word, but aren’t you supposed to be dating that Bianca girl?”

I wave him off. Bianca is a girl I grew up with who has always seemed to be meant for me. Our families expect it. We’ve been groomed for this. But I’m just not ready to settle down. Maybe one of these days I’ll be the man she deserves, but that day isn’t today. Right now, my biggest concern in life is having fun—not getting married and having kids with the woman who’s been chosen for me.

“Nothing’s been written in stone yet,” I point out.

He laughs. “So what you’re really saying is that you’re rebelling against your family’s plans and doing whatever the hell you want? When did you start following in my footsteps?” he jokes.

I hold up my middle finger. “I’m not rebelling against anything. Bianca’s a great person. She’s beautiful, classy . . . a very lovely girl. And one of these days, we’ll probably get married and have kids and all that shit. But right now, I’m just not ready for that, and I intend on having the time of my life until I am. Harley was just going to help me out in that department. And hopefully she still does. I gave her my card.”

He laughs and shakes his head again. “You’re never going to grow up, you know?”

“Hopefully,” I reply quietly.

I pull my phone out of my pocket and see I have a missed text from my father.

Dad: I hope you’ve asked Bianca to the charity dinner this weekend.

I roll my eyes and reply.

Foster: Actually, I don’t know if I can make it this weekend.

I put the phone away, not in any hurry to read his reply.

I know my father is just trying to do right by me. He wants to see me settle down and marry a beautiful woman who will love and respect me rather than using me for my social status or money. He wants grandkids and a responsible son who’s capable of taking over the family business.

So even though I know all of that, why am I fighting against it so hard? I’m in my thirties. I know it’s time for me to settle down and get serious, but that’s just not appealing to me at all. I don’t see his way as the only way. All I see is a window, and I’m getting pushed out it. If I have to hear about how my mother and father were married straight out of high school one more time, I might flip out. They don’t get that times are different. They think it’s still completely acceptable to arrange a marriage, and even though they’re not trying to force me to marry Bianca, I know that’s what’s expected of me.

“Here you are, man,” Matt says as he comes to a stop on the side of the road in front of my building.

“Thanks. I’ll catch ya later,” I say, reaching for the door handle and climbing out. The moment my foot is on the sidewalk, the cool breeze blows and I breathe it in deeply as a way to clear my head of all these heavy thoughts. I say goodnight to the doorman as I make my way inside and up to my penthouse apartment. Once there, I drop my keys and wallet on the table by the door and pull off my jacket as I make my way deeper into the room. I toss my jacket over the back of the couch then have a seat. Bending over, I remove my shoes and prop my feet up on the table. I grab the remote and turn on the TV, flipping to SportsCenter.

See, this is the kind of thing I like. I like coming home to an empty apartment. It’s always quiet and everything is exactly where I left it. If I were married with kids, I’d be coming home to noise and my shit all over the place, plus the TV would probably be playing some cartoon show. Instead, I get up and grab a beer, enjoying the silence of nothing but the TV.

I watch an old rerun of a football game and drink my beer. There’s a crystal bowl of mixed nuts in the center of the table—compliments of my mother—and I set it on my lap to snack on as I watch. The game is halfway over when my phone rings. I pull it from my pocket but don’t recognize the number. With a shrug, I answer it anyway.

“Hello?”

“Hi, uh, Foster?”

I frown. “Yes, who is this?”

“This is Harley. We met at the bar?” she reminds me with her shaky voice.

“Oh, hey. What’s up? Did your party end early?” I smile, thinking of the possibilities.

“It did for me. I’m in jail. Is there any way you could come bail me out? I’m really sorry to ask this of you. It’s just that I had your number on me and I don’t remember anyone else’s number.”

I laugh. “Why were you arrested?”

She takes a deep breath. “It’s a long story. I promise to tell you if you come get me. I can give you the money right back. It’s not a problem.”

“I’ll be right there,” I say, hanging up and laughing to myself. I knew the moment I saw her that she was going to be a fun ride.

I quickly pull my shoes back on then grab my wallet and keys. I lock up behind me and head down to the parking garage. I hit the button and my Ferrari unlocks. I climb behind the wheel. Thirty minutes later, I’m pulling up to the police station. When I walk inside, I notice the lobby is quiet, empty, and too cold to be comfortable. The officer behind the glass looks up from his paperwork.

“Can I help you?”

I nod and close the distance to the window. “Yes, I’m here to bail out Harley.”

“Harley?” He waits for a last name, which I don’t have.

“Oh, um, I don’t know. I just met her. I think she was just brought in from Stella’s Bar. She’s hot, with dark hair.”

He rolls his eyes and shakes his head slightly but starts tapping on the computer. “Harley Stein?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess so.”

“That’ll be $150.”

I pull out my wallet and hand over my card.

He takes it, swipes it, then hands it back with a receipt. “Have a seat and we’ll bring her out soon.”

He stands and walks away from the desk. I turn and find an empty chair in the freezing, too-bright lobby. The floor is white linoleum and the walls are white-painted cinder blocks. The florescent lights on the ceiling flicker, casting a harsh light that almost hurts my eyes. The wooden chair is hard and cold from being in this room. Everything about this place screams you never want to be here! Fortunately for me, I don’t have to wait long, because she’s practically being pushed out the door.

She sees me and her anger falls away. “Oh, thank God. Thank you for coming for me.”

I laugh and hold out my arm, gesturing for her to walk ahead of me.

Once we’re back in the dark parking lot, I lead her over to my car.

“This is yours?”

“Yep.” I know owning a Ferrari GTC4 Lusso Grand Tourer is fucking impractical, but it’s one of the perks of being rich. I unlock it and open her door for her.

She slides in and I close it, heading around to get behind the wheel. “So what happened after I left?” I ask with a smirk, unable to hold back my excitement and curiosity.

“Well, I had more to drink . . . a lot more. Then we all started dancing. I don’t even remember climbing up on the table but . . .”

“Whoa, you were dancing on the table?”

She nods, looking annoyed with herself. “That’s what got me thrown out. So then I was standing on the street, arguing with the bouncer. I didn’t have my jacket or purse or even my house keys. I needed back in to get my stuff, plus I wanted to tell my friends so they wouldn’t worry. But he wouldn’t let me in. So I snuck in and was caught immediately. He took me back outside and a cop was there. He asked what the problem was and I may have . . . .well, I tried to show him my boobs in exchange for letting me go.”

I burst out laughing. “You tried to bribe a cop by showing him your boobs?”

She nods. “Yep.” Her lips make a popping sound with the P. “Not my proudest moment, I’ll admit.”

I laugh. “Well, it makes for a good story.”

She rolls her eyes. “I bet my parents won’t think so,” she laughs out.

“Where am I taking you?”

“Oh, I don’t have my purse. My keys are in my purse.” A sudden panic sets in.

“Well, do you have doorman or someone who can let you in?”

She shakes her head and her dark hair falls in her eyes. “I live on my own . . . in a house.”

I’m about to tell her she can crash at my place, but she cuts me off.

“You can just take me to Cora’s apartment. Hopefully she grabbed my purse from the bar.”

“Okay, sure,” I agree and listen as she tells me the address.

It doesn’t take us long to make the drive, and I park out front of the building. She offers me a smile and thanks me before climbing out. But I’m not leaving yet.

I watch as she walks up to the building and presses a button. The longer she stands there, the more impatient she looks. Finally, she stomps her foot and comes walking back. “She’s not answering,” she mumbles, looking up at the dark building. “I don’t know where else to go.”

“That’s all right. You can stay at my place and I’ll bring you back over in the morning.” I hit the blinker and merge into traffic.

“I’m so sorry. I bet you were wishing you’d never met me right about now, huh?”

I can’t hold back my chuckle. “Not really.”

Her brows pull together like she’s surprised.

“You have to admit, you’re pretty amusing.”

Finally, she cracks a smile. “Seriously, thank you. If not for you, I’d still be sitting in that cold concrete cell.”

“It’s not a problem, but while you were in there, did you have to trade cigarettes for protection?” I joke.

She smacks me across the chest with the back of her hand. “I was locked up alone, thank you!” Her eyes find the road ahead of us again. “But they took my shoes and my feet were like blocks of ice on that concrete. Seriously, how is it even legal to lock people up like that?”

I chuckle. “I think once you break the law, they’re no longer concerned with keeping you comfortable.”

She moves her head from side to side like I might have a point.

I don’t know what it is about her, but she’s not like most of the women I tend to attract. They’d be grabbing my belt and trying to suck me off—hoping I’d put a ring on it. Granted, I tend to go after the ones I know only want me for my money, but Harley seems to have me wrapped around her little finger and I haven’t even known her for more than a couple of hours. Conversation flows easily between us and I’m absolutely intrigued by her.

She’s tall and thin, but has an ass and hips women would pay for. Her lips, I’m convinced, are God-given. It’s like she has the lips of an angel. They’re thick and plump and soft. I noticed a thin tan line on her collarbone earlier, delicate and faint. Her light green eyes against that warm-colored skin of hers is what gets me. The contrast of the color difference is striking.

The problem with being a well-known bachelor from a rich family with status and endless piles of money? People always have an agenda with you. I know I sound like the poor little rich boy, but the women in my life have always left me wanting more. I don’t blame them. They’re doing exactly what their parents expect of them: trying to marry into my family. I’m surrounded by that type all day long, and their endless chatter kills my spirit in every sense of the word.

Harley seems completely comfortable and content sitting in the silence with me. I’ve known her a few hours, and already, I’m curious to know more. She’s exactly the kind of woman I want to have adventures with—the kind of woman I’d blow things off for and indulge in the fantasy of happily ever after with for a while. And while it all sounds like innocent fun and games, my family and Bianca’s might have a thing or two to say about that.

I remember the talk my dad had with her parents. He promised them we’d end up married, but that I needed time to sow my wild oats. Bianca and I have dated many times over the years, and she’s in the same boat. We’re good together—we work—but neither of us is in love with the other. We tolerate each other more than anything. She knows where we’re being led just as well as I do. She hasn’t minded in the least that I want more time to enjoy my single years.

“Well, here we are,” I say, pulling into the garage.

She doesn’t say anything as we get out and I lead her to the elevator.

“Which floor?” she asks, reaching out to push a button.

I just smile and wave my key fob over the censor. The doors close and it takes us all the way up. When we stop, the elevator dings, and the doors open to my entryway.

She rolls her eyes. “Of course. Penthouse. How did I not guess after looking at that car?” she teases, stepping inside.

I follow her in. She pauses in the living room, looking up at the big fireplace and the TV above it. “I guess I’ll take the couch.” She walks around it and has a seat.

“If you want, but I do have a guest bedroom if you’d like more privacy, and perhaps a shower?”

“Did you say shower?” she asks, her ears perking up.

I laugh. “Follow me.”

I lead her down the hallway and open the door to my right. “There is a connected bathroom through there that’s fully stocked with soap, shampoo, and a toothbrush. You can also use the robe hanging on the back of the door. It’s clean. And if you’d like, you can leave your clothes in the hallway and I’ll have the staff wash them for you to wear tomorrow.”

“Wow.” She smiles. “This is like a luxury hotel. A girl could get used to this.” She walks into the room, spinning around to look at me.

“Don’t get too used to it. Checkout is at 8 a.m.,” I joke. “Well, it is if you want a ride to your friend’s place. I have to work in the morning.”

“On a Saturday?” she questions.

I shrug. “No rest for the wicked,” I wink. “Enjoy your night.” I step out and close the door behind myself. I take a deep breath and force myself to go to my own room. I’m surprised I made it out of there without trying for something more. But I’m sure she’s tired after the night she’s had.

I take a shower and climb into my own bed. Alone. Even though my thoughts are still with her and what she could be doing in there. I force her from my head and turn off the lights. Sleep comes easily after the long day I’ve had.

***

My alarm goes off in the morning and I push myself from bed. I walk into my closet and grab a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I’m supposed to be volunteering at the new youth center today, and then the dinner’s tonight. But I have strict instructions to skip the dinner if I can’t put in the work. My dad wants our name on the list of donated work and money. He’s donating the money, so it’s my job to donate the work. He knows I know nothing when it comes to construction, but he figures I’m young enough and in good enough shape that it’s possible. I still haven’t asked Bianca about the dinner tonight, but I figure she’s already planning on going. Asking her at the last minute won’t be a problem.

I leave my room and find the place empty of everyone but my staff. I look around for Harley and figure after last night, she’s probably still sound asleep. So I knock on the door to be her own personal wake-up call. The room is silent on the other end, so I open the door and stick my head in the small crack, not wanting to appear like a weirdo who’s trying to catch a peek.

She’s still in bed, dark hair fanned out across the white pillows. She’s on her stomach with the blanket low on her naked back, barely hiding her ass from me. Her back is sexy as fuck and just as tan as the rest of her. I guess her tan line is lower.

I walk into the room and over to her bed. I place my hand on her shoulder and gently shake her. “Harley?” I say softly, not wanting to scare her.

She jumps awake anyway.

“Are you still wanting that ride to your friend’s place?”

“Oh,” she says, finally making sense of what’s going on. She shakes her head to clear it, then rolls over to sit up. It’s a surprise to us both when she flashes her naked chest my way.

“Shit,” she breathes out, pulling the sheet up to her chin. “Sorry, I guess I was bound to flash someone.”

I ignore the need that pumps through me and step back with a laugh. “You can flash me anytime you want,” I joke, but I’m also completely fucking serious. I only saw her breasts for a moment, but it was enough to know a glance will never be enough. Her tits are round and perky. If I had to guess without touching them, I’d say a good C cup. But she’s so tiny that they appear even bigger on her small frame than they would on anyone else. I’ve seen enough fake ones in my day to know that hers are the real deal. Sure as hell doesn’t stop me from wanting to touch them—to cup them in my hands and feel for myself. Maybe using a more sensitive part of my body like my tongue.

Nope. Stop there. This isn’t a hookup. This is the morning after a failed attempt. That’s all.

“Anyway, I’ll be out there when you’re ready to go.”

She yawns and nods her head as I make my way out of the room. Once I’m alone, I take a deep, clearing breath. I shake the dirty thoughts from my mind and push forward. I go to the kitchen and find something for breakfast. I settle for a blueberry muffin and pour myself a cup of coffee. I take both items to the living room to watch TV while I eat. I finish my muffin in three bites and the coffee a little while later. I check my watch and see that it’s going on 9 a.m. What in the hell is she doing in there? I wonder if she went back to sleep.

I turn off the TV and go back to her room. I knock, but once again, there’s no answer, so I twist the knob. The door opens and my eyes find the empty bed. So she isn’t asleep. I turn my head to the left and that’s when she comes walking out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a damp, skimpy towel. My jaw flexes as I grind my teeth. Like I fucking need any more temptation.

“Sorry, I thought you went back to sleep.”

“I was too tired to shower last night. I figured I’d just jump in real quick,” she says, holding her towel around her so tightly that her knuckles are turning white. “Are my clothes out there?”

I turn and look, noticing the small laundry bag on the floor beside the door. I pick it up and hand it over.

“Thanks,” she says with a shy smile. Her cheeks turn a light shade of pink and it only makes me want her more.

“Whenever you’re ready,” I say, turning again to leave her alone.

“Foster?” she says my name so quietly I barely hear her.

“Huh?” I ask, turning around, but she’s already directly in front of me.

“What we talked about last night . . . at the bar. It’s still on the table if you want it.” She looks up at me from beneath her long dark lashes. She looks so fucking innocent without a stitch of makeup on her face. Her big green eyes are boring into mine and I can feel my body coming alive with the promise.

“It’s still on the table?” I ask, almost unable to process her words.

“If you want it,” she adds on again, just as softly as before.

I have things to do today. I have to help at the center and then the dinner’s tonight, but I didn’t make a promise to be there. I just said I would try. To me, that only means if nothing better comes along and . . . well, what she’s offering is by far better than swinging a hammer when I have no business even touching a tool.

The decision is made in a split second. The next thing I know, my hands are on her hips and I’m pulling her against my chest. Our lips connect softly at first, but I don’t let it linger. I thrust my tongue into her mouth as she reciprocates. Her arms wrap around my neck—pulling me closer—but it’s impossible to get any closer without moving through each other altogether. I start walking her backward and I realize she’s completely naked under her towel. Looks like I need to even the playing field.

I release her hips and reach behind myself to grab my shirt. I rip it over my head and our kiss only breaks for a moment before our hungry mouths are right back where they were. Her arms fall from my neck down to my jeans where she quickly works to unfasten them. I kick off my shoes, and when I do, my pants begin to fall on their own. I push her back on the bed and strip off my jeans as I crawl up her body.


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