LOVE Book One Paradoxical World

Book One
Paradoxical World
Revolution Publishing, Inc.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents,
organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2014 by Laura Kreitzer
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Love’s Paradox (Paradoxical World, #1)
Front cover artwork by Laura Kreitzer
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014902058
978-1-937790-15-8 (sc)
978-1-937790-14-1 (digital)
To the woman who rescued me.
I miss you, Mom.
All you need is love.
John Lennon
Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls;
the most massive characters are seared with scars.
Khalil Gibran
hillbilly stripper, a snarky hair stylist, and a rock star walk into
a bar. You might think this is the beginning of a joke, but it’s
not. As a matter of fact, this is my life, and one of those individuals
is me. Hint: my bag is in the shape of a guitar.
Okay, okay. So I’m not a rock star. As a matter of fact, I only
know a few chords. But I can rock out to any ol’ country song,
belting out words at the top of my lungs. Hank Williams: eat your
heart out. Seriously, it’s not about musical talent; it’s about style.
And thanks to my amazing hair stylist Cherry, I look the part as
much as I play it. Long, dark hair with streaks of electric red, heels
so tall and sharp they could be used as swords, faux-leather pants,
and a sparkly top that’ll be sure to stop traffic on a sunny day. Not
because I look damn good wearing it, mind you, but for the fact I’d
light up like a disco ball.
My friend Hunter, southern accent, cowboy boots, and
oozing hillbilly—also the most popular male entertainer in all of
the south—escorts me inside the tiny bar like I’m the number-one
bestselling country music artist instead of the temporary labor gal
that I am. In a nutshell, I fill in at offices, factories, and once, a farm.
The upside is that no day is ever the same, the downside is that I
never know when I’ll be called into work or where that work will be.
Loretta’s Bar is empty besides a couple of college boys playing
pool in the back on a table that’s covered in beer and possibly blood
stains, and three bikers sitting at the bar trying to look grim and
intimidating, in which they succeed, greatly.
My life used to be different. Easier. Richer. But now I drown
myself in a few beers—sometimes more—several nights a week.
Most wonder how I got here, how my life spiraled down to the pits
of country hell. Well, it all started when I was fifteen and met the
person I thought was the love of my life. Now, that’s laughable. One
has never been so epically, horribly, alarmingly wrong before in her
life. But hey, I guess I needed to be proven wrong at least once in
my lifetime, just to know how it feels.
“Rae!” Cherry calls from the bar.
I stumble and almost break my guitar while trying to right
myself, not at all liking these ridiculously high heels. I’m a boot
or flip-flop kind of gal, so my current shoes are my own personal
death traps. The drive over here was frightening enough. That
poor pedestrian saw his life flash before his eyes as my feet tangled
together. Luckily, I squealed to a deafening halt with a foot to spare.
How does one apologize for that kind of trauma? She doesn’t—
she flees while her two best friends cackle like hyenas. The same
best friends who were screaming at the top of their bloody lungs
moments before my screeching stop.
Walking like I have a giant rod up my ass so I don’t trip over my
own feet, I amble over to the bar.
“You got your ID, hon?” the bartender asks as she wipes down
the bar.
Cherry gives me an apologetic look because I’m not twentyone. Not for another ten months, according to my driver’s license
that I so helpfully left in the car for this very purpose.
“Sure,” I say with so much confidence one might actually believe
I’m of the legal drinking age. I open my wallet and theatrically
search for my ID. “Shit. Where is it?” I pull out tampons, lip-gloss,
receipts, an old ticket to the Stud Club—don’t ask—a shriveled
piece of gum, and a wadded up tissue. “I don’t know where it is.”
“No ID, no admittance,” the bartender says without blinking.
I look up in exasperation and sigh heavily while stuffing
everything back into the black hole that is my purse. “But I’m in
here all the time. Just last night you served me beer.” Which is a
straight-up lie. “Plus,” I add, holding up my guitar, “I’m tonight’s
The three bikers watch this exchange, their expressions
unchanging. I smile at them, leaning over the bar. Never
underestimate the power of cleavage.
“Come on, Loretta,” one of the biker’s say. I can’t tell which one
spoke since their mustaches hang over their lips. “Let the girl stay.”
See? Cleavage is to men like laser pointers are to cats. I give them
a grateful look and send pleading eyes at the stone-cold bartender.
“Fine,” Loretta says, turning away from us, dirty rag in hand.
I internally cheer, because the forecast for tonight is alcohol,
low standards, and poor decisions.
Cherry sits at a table nearest the makeshift stage, chugging
down her usual rum and coke, while Hunter helps me set up next to
the DJ’s booth. A tropical scene is painted on the front of the booth,
with the words: “Karaoke Night with Ivy!” After a couple minutes
of wobbling around on stage, almost stabbing Hunter’s hand with
my sword heels, I give up and sit with Cherry who immediately
takes to preening me like I’m a bush.
“Stop that,” I say, slapping her hands away. “My hair’s supposed
to look wind-blown, remember?”
“Yes, but a controlled wind-blown.” She reaches for my hair
again. “Ouch! Stop hitting me.”
“Next time I’ll use teeth.”
“Is that a promise?” she asks, using her sultry voice.
“Don’t make me call Steph,” I warn. Not that I ever would.
“Don’t you dare,” Cherry says, scowling.
Steph is Cherry’s on-again off-again girlfriend. They’re
apparently “on” right now, though Steph is the embodiment of
possessiveness. Cherry and I flirt all the time, though it’s never gone
farther than that. Well, there was that one time where we’d both
had way too much alcohol and the game “I Never” got entirely
out of hand. More on that later. Regardless, Steph hearing that her
girlfriend is petting me while drinking is just asking for disaster.
Hunter comes over and throws an arm around our shoulders.
“Everything’s all set up. You sure he’s gonna show up?”
I exchange a devilish look with Cherry. “He’ll be here. I made
sure to publicly announce exactly where I’d be,” I say. “Thank you
“You know he can’t pass up an opportunity to follow her,”
Cherry adds.
The “he” in question is Ian—the one who I thought was the love
of my life. Now he’s just my ex-fiancé who’s taken it upon himself
to lurk in the shadows whenever I go out to enjoy the nightlife in
downtown Bowling Green, Kentucky: my hometown. I’d put up
with his shit for four years before growing a spine and realizing how
manipulative and controlling he was and still is.
For example: we lived together for a few months before our
disastrous breakup, and on one occasion Ian threw a tantrum over
the way I made our bed. He forced me to re-do it so there were no
wrinkles in the sheets. As one can imagine, a gal will only handle so
much of that craziness before she flees the nest as if her ass is on fire.
Moving back in with my parents wasn’t nearly as embarrassing
as finding out everyone else already knew Ian was a manipulative
asshole and had been waiting for me to figure it out. People are
eager to tell you when you have lipstick on your teeth; they’re not
nearly so eager to inform you that you’re either naïve or an idiot. I
had to learn the hard way.
As the evening carries on, and Loretta’s Bar fills with patrons,
beers begin appearing in front of me from unknown sources. What
I really like about this bar is that it caters to an eccentric menagerie
of people. There’s the older crowd, the younger rowdy-types, and
the desperate creeps. But more than anything, Loretta’s is a biker
bar. There’s a sea of leather jackets sporting all kinds of fun skulls
and slang I don’t care to understand. This makes me nervous as
to whose affections I’ve caught. I peek around suspiciously while
sipping my “anonymous” beer, but between the halo of smoke, the
strobe lights, and the sheer number of people packed in here, it’s
impossible to scope out the culprit.
“Ian’s here!” Cherry screams in my ear over the blaring music,
startling me. Beer dribbles down my chin. “I already told Ivy you’re
ready to go on.”
“Ladies and gentleman,” Ivy announces over the speakers.
“Before we begin karaoke, there’s a lovely lady who’d like to play
two songs for someone special in our crowd tonight. Come on up,
Rae Zachery!”
I wipe beer from my face before I make my way forward, nerves
causing me to sweat, my shirt blinding me as I step under the stage
lights. I trip, and people laugh.
“Stupid shoes,” I mutter.
A grinning Hunter hands over my guitar. “Make him suffer,”
he says into my ear. Hunter’s wanted to stab Ian in the throat for a
long time, but he knows the payback I’m about to unleash will be
far more rewarding in the end.
“Hello, everyone,” I say into the microphone as I pull the guitar
strap over my head. “First, I’d like to explain exactly why I requested
to play for y’all tonight. Who here’s been burned by a lover?”
The crowd roars, clapping in approval.
“Who’s wanted to reap sweet revenge?”
The audience shouts so loudly it hurts my ears, and I’m trying
not to laugh hysterically, especially when I see Ian’s face in the
crowd, the only one not clapping or smiling. His military-styled
haircut and sharp-as-steel eyes glare at me.
“I’m gonna to play two songs tonight.” I strum the guitar.
“Hope y’all enjoy this one.” I stare into Ian’s eyes, sending him a
maniacal grin as I play the first song: Kerosene by Miranda Lambert.
The lyrics roar out of me in almost a growl as I play. My
audience fills the dance floor, jumping up and down and singing
along with me as I yell out the next line with a bit of psychotic glee,
the one about giving up on love because it’s given up on me. I dance
around on stage, playing better than I ever have in my entire life.
And when I sing out about setting aflame to unfaithful lovers, the
crowd goes wild.
Ian stands in the middle of the swaying patrons, unmoving
and scowling all the harder, as if he can make me spontaneously
combust just by glaring. Sweat beads up on my neck and trickles
down my back.
By the time the song ends, I’ve gotten everyone’s attention.
They’re cheering, laughing, and ready for more. Adrenaline and
excitement floods my veins at their amusement.
My second song choice is about physical abuse, and I haven’t
told but a handful of people about the things Ian did to me when
I told him I was leaving him. But I’m tired of feeling ashamed of
something he did to me.
“Most of y’all know this next song by the Dixie Chicks: Goodbye
Earl,” I say, strumming a few chords of the song. “But in case y’all
don’t, I’m changing the lyrics up a bit.”
More cheering; more guffaws. Ian’s face is beet red, and I swear
steam is billowing from his ears as I begin singing a song that I’ve
associated with him for months now.
I substitute all the names in the song to match what my reality
was just six months ago. Mary Ann to Cherry Lee, Wanda to Rae,
and, most importantly, Earl to Ian.
I sing about moving in, being abused, wearing long sleeves and
makeup to conceal bruises, smiling widely at the lyric changes. Each
strum of the guitar gives me the empowerment I’d lacked months
It seems to take the audience a moment to realize that the girl
I’m talking about is me, and their clapping and dancing cease as
they watch me spill my guts. Every single second feels amazing as I
reveal the truth, and months of bitterness and hate flood out of me
and into the next line about deciding that Ian had to die.
The audience is silent no longer as they cheer me on for other
reasons—none of them having to do with my stellar guitar playing.
My two besties are beaming at me from beside the stage, and I
swear there are tears in Cherry’s eyes. The crowd sings along, holding
their alcoholic beverages high in the air as if in toast. Ian’s arms are
tightly folded as he totters through the jostling crowd, a murderous
gleam in his eyes. I give him the middle finger when I sing about
stuffing Ian in a trunk.
I don’t think he’ll do anything around this throng of people,
but I’m immediately proven wrong when he launches himself at the
stage. He grabs the microphone stand and throws it to the ground
while yanking the cable from the guitar. The speakers squeal, and
people cover their ears. Memories of him chasing me down inside
our house make me freeze in abject terror. But before Ian can make
it onto the stage, Hunter’s there in a hurry, along with a biker
twice Ian’s size. Ian refuses to back down, so after several seconds
of flailing asshole, the biker punches him in the nose. Blood spurts
out, and Ian curses while holding a hand over his face. Security
rushes through the audience and has to keep people from attacking
Ian once they realize the “Earl” in question is right in front of them.
Ian doesn’t go without a fight. “I never laid a finger on you!”
he shouts, his voice off-kilter due to his clobbered nose. “You’re a
fucking liar, you bitch.”
Ivy starts up the song again, and the crowd responds for me by
belting out the final verse of Goodbye Earl.
Security tosses Ian out on his sanctimonious ass while Ivy tries
to quiet the bar’s patrons. She calls the first victim up to the stage for
karaoke while I return to my table. I’m humming with excitement
and slight shock. Cherry runs off to the bar to grab a drink for me
while Hunter packs up my guitar. People pat me on the back and
give me thumbs-up, but my entire body shakes. I hide my hands
under the table, afraid people will see my weakness.
Another beer appears before me, and I glance up to thank
Cherry. But it’s the tall biker who punched Ian. He removes his
leather jacket, drapes it on the back of the chair, and sits across from
me, eyes dark, stubble thick yet neatly trimmed across his jaw, the
knuckles on his right hand bleeding slightly. Something about that
sends fury roaring to the surface.
“I don’t accept drinks from guys who can’t keep their cool,” I
snap, pushing the bottle away.
The biker’s gaze is unwavering. “You had no problem drinking
the ones I bought you earlier.”
“That was you?”
Pleased he caught me off guard, he pushes the beer back to
me. “My older sister was murdered by her abusive boyfriend.” His
smooth voice doesn’t match his rough exterior or the seriousness of
his claim.
I don’t say anything—because what does one say when someone
confesses something like that? I almost call him a liar, but it’d be
tactless of me if it were true. So, in response, I push the beer back to
him and hope he’ll take the hint.
“I’m sorry you had to see me like that,” he continues. He calmly
sips his beer, eyes not moving from mine regardless of my ample
cleavage. “Once I realized who that guy was, I couldn’t control my
“Which is exactly my point: you have no control. Sorry about
your sister,” I say sincerely, “but I don’t hang out with guys who
have a tendency to punch things, especially people.”
He doesn’t leave. Instead, he holds out his hand. “I’m Parker.”
I stare down at his hand, then back to his face. “Can’t you take
a hint? I’m not interested.”
“Can’t you?” he counters, hand still outstretched.
I know I’m being rude, but the truth is I have trust issues.
And this guy oozes bad boy and heartbreak. A few uncomfortable
seconds tick by, though he appears not to be bothered.
“Fine,” I growl and grasp his hand. “I’m Rae.”
onestly, Ian deserved to be punched. Part of me is ripe with
jealousy that I wasn’t the one to reap that reward. Even though
Ian wears asshole like cheap cologne, I can’t fault him completely.
His upbringing in a conservative, southern Baptist home with a
father who verbally abuses his wife like she’s scum on the floor is
partially to blame. Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson were the epitome of the
viciously stereotypical 1950s idea that women belong in the kitchen
and that hey, wife, you should have a vacuum for Christmas. Even
worse is the fact that Mrs. Stevenson is proud of being treated this
way and uses it as an excuse to berate any young lady who dare
question her place in the home. But in the end, it was Ian who
quashed our relationship, not his family.
When I’d first met Ian, he was the older, mysterious guy all the
other girls swooned after. But he’d picked me out of the bunch. I
used to think his possessive, controlling attitude was cute. That his
jealous nature meant he cared. It made me feel wanted and special
and needed—all the things a young girl believes is “love.” Even
up to the months before we’d broken up, I’d pictured our perfect
wedding and life.
Oh, how wrong I’d been.
I remember when my naivety started to wash away. It was a
few months after Ian and I had moved in together at the end of
October last year. For weeks I’d planned what I would cook for
Thanksgiving. I’d invite both our families, we’d sit down to a lovely
meal that I cooked and enjoy each other’s company. It would be
“I’m going to make my dad’s famous caramel pie,” I told Mrs.
Stevenson when I came by after work to tell her about my plans for
Thanksgiving, nearly exploding with delight. I’d called Ian to tell
him I’d be stopping by before I headed home, and he’d promised
that his mom would be on board with the plan.
“Oh, no. You shouldn’t worry about that,” Mrs. Stevenson
replied, shaking her head.
“Are you offering to making it for me? That’s so sweet,” I said,
smiling. “That’ll give me more time to work on the turkey. My mom
taught me this way of cooking it that makes it juicy all the way to
the center. She uses lime soda.”
Mrs. Stevenson made a noise of disapproval as she brushed
her hands over her skirt as if trying to iron out invisible wrinkles.
She stared down her nose at me, and her judgmental expression
wiped the smile from my face. She was doing that passive-aggressive
thing she used on her son. She’d act upset or angry or say something
condemning and then make Ian work to figure out why.
“What?” I asked. I didn’t want to play any games.
“You know, dear, there’s just not enough room in your tiny
duplex kitchen to make an entire Thanksgiving meal,” she said with
a satisfied smirk.
“That’s okay,” I said, unperturbed. I was determined to make
this dinner work, and no one—not even Momma Stevenson—
would stop me. “I can take care of the baked beans, turkey, pumpkin
pie, and green bean casserole. My parents can bring over the caramel
pie and homemade mashed potatoes, which both are to die for.”
“I bet,” Mrs. Stevenson muttered.
I pretended not to hear. “What would you like to bring?”
“What I’m trying to say is that we’re going to have Thanksgiving
dinner here. At my house.”
“Oh.” My shoulders slumped in disappointment, but then
I brightened. Two could play this game. “No biggie. I can make
dinner here instead.”
Mrs. Stevenson tried to hide the horror that spasmed across her
face, but I saw it all the same. “You misunderstand, Rae. I will be
cooking Thanksgiving dinner.”
“But—” I spluttered.
“It was Ian’s idea. Didn’t he tell you?”
Resentment surged through me. He’d promised she’d be on
board with this. He knew how much this dinner meant to me—how
I’d been planning it for weeks. My mom had sent me all her famous
recipes, excited about spending Thanksgiving at my new duplex.
For years before I’d helped my mom cook for our family. It was
our holiday—the one where we bonded and told each other how
thankful we were for the other. Ian knew this, yet he was willing to
snatch that all away without asking me? Without considering how
hurtful it would be when I found out from his mother that he didn’t
want me to cook for him?
“Mrs. Stevenson,” I protested, “this is mine and Ian’s first
holiday since we moved in together, and I want to cook for him.”
Her lip curled in disgust. She’d wailed for a month after she’d
found out we were moving in together pre-marriage, but Ian lived
by his penis. She hated me twice as much after I’d won that battle,
and her nose always crinkled whenever I mentioned the fact we
were living in sin.
“If you’re worried about my cooking skills, might I remind
you that I studied culinary arts at WKU and catered to hundreds
of faculty, staff, and student events my freshman and sophomore
She leered at my indignant objections and patted my knee like
I was such a funny little girl playing with fake teapots and biscuits.
“Catering isn’t the same as cooking Thanksgiving dinner, dear.”
“Every year I volunteer for the local Special Olympics by
cooking a giant meal for all the families,” I sputtered, forcing myself
not to shake her. “I even won a full ride to one of the best culinary
schools in France that I shot down to stay with your son, Mrs.
“Maybe you should discuss this with Ian. He’s the one who
asked me to cook Thanksgiving dinner,” she said while gesturing
to her ridiculously large kitchen with gleaming granite counters. I
swear Mr. Clean’s reflection winked at me from the fridge’s spotless
I stood and left the Stevenson’s house without saying another
word. Fury had taken root and propelled me out the door. Ian
had always treated my independence as if it were a disease, even if
he boasted about his own with self-indulgent pride. Just another
thing he learned from his conservative family. When women are
independent, they’re just misguided souls. Of course, I was talking
about the man who invited his parents to come along with us
without ever asking my permission. His parents had tagged along
on several dates over the years, even on one of the romantic getaways
I’d planned. I’d handled it all with grace and dignity. But him trying
to steal our first Thanksgiving dinner by asking his mom to cook
instead? That was the last straw.
I squealed tires all the way back to our shiny new duplex. Ian’s
Jeep Wrangler was parked outside. I threw my car in park and
slammed the door behind me, stomping all the way up the front
Inside, Ian glanced up with his most enthralling smile on full
display when I entered the living room, but it vanished the moment
he saw my murderous glare. “You want to have Thanksgiving at
your parents’ house?” I snapped, throwing down my purse.
“Calm down,” he said, not even bothered over the fact that I
was bothered. “I just want a home-cooked meal.”
“And you think I can’t provide that?” My hands were balled
into fists, and I was near my breaking point.
“You’re just not my mom, Rae. Don’t take offense. No one can
replace her.”
That was it. Something inside me shattered, and a scream of
rage tore up my throat. “Your mom’s been invading our lives for
years. Years! And don’t act like that isn’t true,” I shouted when he
started shaking his head in denial. “You know it is. Remember that
time she camped outside your dorm room when she discovered I
could stay the night unsupervised? Or the time she booked a hotel
room next to ours in Florida and forced me to sleep in her room?
Or when she brought over twin beds when we first moved in so we’d
have to sleep separately? Or the time—”
“I get it, Rae.” Ian waved a hand at me. “Jeez. Stop being such
a selfish little cunt.”
My jaw dropped. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised.
I stormed into our bedroom and locked myself in the master
bathroom, and for the rest of the day I was in tears. Ian sat outside
the door, bugging me to “get over it” and “to come out already” and
“to quit acting like a child.”
In the end, I spent Thanksgiving with my family, and he with
his. Honestly, I preferred it that way. Ian always called my family—
my parents in particular—ignorant hicks, even though both of
them were professors at WKU.
Right before Christmas, things had taken an even worse, more
dreadful turn, and I’d left with a bruised body and soul.
ou have a lovely voice, Rae,” Parker says. He pushes my beer
back to me. “I promise I didn’t poison it.”
“What do you want?” I ask, my voice a tad agitated. Between
my memories of Ian and my shaky nerves, I’m allowed to be
unhinged. And it isn’t like his biker persona is helping to ease the
tension in my shoulders.
Parker leans forward, crooking a finger for me to do the same.
I glance around the bar to see my friends mimicking sexual acts
while gesturing toward us. I glare at them before returning my gaze
to Parker.
I lean in, eyebrows high in question. “Yes?”
He brings his lips to my ear, his hot breath fanning over my
skin and giving me chill bumps all the way down to my toes. Damn
him. “I want you,” he whispers.
He lingers at my ear, the scent of leather and sandalwood
wafting off his skin. When he sits back, he’s not smirking or giving
me cocky, knowing eyes like I’m expecting. Instead, he continues to
watch for my reaction with those penetratingly dark eyes.
All my nerves fire at once—or that’s what it feels like—and I
scramble to my feet. My knees hit the bottom of the table, and our
drinks tumble over. I tangle with the chair and am about to fall onto
the disgustingly sticky floor when strong hands reach over the table
and grab my upper arms, holding me steady as my chair crashes to
the ground.
My face is on fire as those closest turn to witness my idiocy, many
of them cheering what they think is drunken discombobulation. I
would bow for my audience, but Parker’s hands are still on me. He
smiles as I shake him off.
“Thanks for the save, but—”
“That’s twice now,” he cuts in, sauntering to my side of the
table. “I think that earns me at least two songs worth of dancing.
Plus, you spilled my drink. Make it three.”
Every fiber of my being is telling me to run from this man
as I picture him punching Ian, most likely breaking his nose. As
satisfying as it was to see Ian be the victim, it didn’t stop the memory
flashes of Ian’s own hands gripping me too hard. But Parker might
be different, and I tell myself it’s just the fear talking. He could be
the friendly, defender-of-women, heart-of-gold type of biker for all
I know.
“What the hell. I need a little adventure in my life,” I finally
say. “But I’m not buying you another beer.”
He grins and wraps an arm around my waist, pulling me
against his body. Not at all expecting this, I lose a shoe and clutch
his shoulders to prevent my bare foot from touching the floor.
“What are you doing?” I ask, clenching his shirt for support.
“Dancing.” He lifts me off the ground and drags me onto the
dance floor, leaving behind my death trap of a shoe.
“But— My shoe.”
“Your friend will make sure no one steals it.” He spins me
around to where Cherry is waving my shoe at me, a stupid smirk
spread across her face.
I’m going to hide all her mirrors for doing this to me.
“Don’t drop me,” I order, clinging to Parker like a skirt to
“Oh, don’t you worry, darlin’. I’m not letting you go anywhere.”
“Stupid southern drawl,” I mutter under my breath.
It’s been so long since anyone has held me like this: fierce and
determined, strong yet gentle. Even though we aren’t paired together
like the grinding dancers around us, it feels right. My insides go all
swoopy, and I stare up into his handsomely chiseled face, my arms
encircling his neck.
Wait. What? No, no, no. He’s a big, ex-fiancé punching, leatherwearing biker who probably has a mermaid tattooed somewhere on
his body. Or a naked woman riding a dragon. It’s not my fault I’ve
been sexless for six, long, dreadfully dry months. But, dammit, my
body feels so perfectly right against his.
It’s the alcohol, I tell myself. Except I’m not drunk or even
remotely tipsy.
“Quit arguing with yourself,” Parker says, twirling me around
like we’re at some dance show competition.
“Huh?” I respond stupidly.
“You’ve got this endearing little pucker between your eyes, and
you’ve been staring at my throat.” He chuckles. “It’s actually quite
“Oh.” I quickly school my face.
“First impressions are important—I realize that—but I’m
hoping you’ll give me another chance.”
“Isn’t that what this little dance is?” I ask, forcing myself to look
past his good looks. But those dark eyes don’t seem cruel, and his
hands don’t feel aggressive. And the leather.
Dammit. Focus.
He laughs, low and throaty, as if he can read my thoughts, and
holds me so closely I can’t see his face. “I’m hoping you’ll give me
the rest of the night to correct your impression of me. And if not
tonight, then the next, and the next.”
“Planning our future already?” I tease.
He doesn’t say anything for a long while. “What happened to
you, Rae?” he asks, pulling away slightly so I can see his serious
The question completely takes me off guard, and I fumble for a
witty remark. But none comes to me.
Parker patiently waits for my response; a luxury Ian never
afforded me.
“That’s a bit personal, don’t you think?”
He twirls me around again, his mouth right next to my ear.
“When I was a kid, I used to wear these thick, dorky glasses,” he
says. “And I was skinny and was always reading. The other kids
teased me relentlessly, and one day, the meanest bully pushed me
in front of my mom’s car as she was pulling in to pick me up after
school. She hit me and broke my legs. That bully traumatized us
both; I switched schools and learned to defend myself after that.”
I feel his heart thumping beneath my palm splayed flat on his
chest, and I’m momentarily speechless by his confession.
“Now you know something about me and why I have these
amazing muscles,” he jokes, flexing his arms, holding me even
I relent. “There was a time I wanted away from my ex so badly
that I tore through our closet until I found his gun. He’d followed
behind, yelling at me. Wanted to know what I was doing. I handed
him the gun and asked him to just get it over with,” I say, spilling
one of the gorier details of my life with Ian. I don’t know why I
tell Parker this, but it feels right somehow. “I didn’t want to live
anymore—not if it meant staying with him.”
“And what did he do?” Parker asks, breath warm on my ear.
“Nothing. He did nothing.”
He clutches me closer, his face hiding in my hair as he breathes
me in. I forget about Ian, about the punch, and enjoy this man
who tenderly holds me. I feel . . . different. Compelled to stay in
his arms.
Before the second song starts, one of the bar security guys taps
Parker’s shoulder. “The cops are outside. They’re lookin’ for you.”
“I’m busy,” Parker says, brushing him off.
“Listen, man,” the security guy says, ignoring Parker’s rebuff. “I
would’ve punched that douchebag myself, but this bar isn’t yours.
It’s Loretta’s. Don’t cause her problems by forcing the cops to come
in here.”
My stomach sinks. Part of me wants to protest me not getting
all three songs; the other realizes that if the cops ask for my ID, I’m
screwed. I should be more concerned about Parker and the reason
why the cops are looking for him. Honestly, I can’t believe Ian is
being such a drama queen.
Well, no. I can totally believe it. No one hurts Ian’s pride; it’s
the only thing making him believe he’s got the biggest shotgun in
these here parts.
Parker sighs. “Fine. Will you tell the pigs I’ll be out there in a
Awkward silence envelops us as reality comes crashing back in.
“I need my shoe,” I say stupidly.
He pushes through the crowd, still holding me off the ground.
Cherry’s worried expression does nothing to soothe my nerves. She
helps my foot back into the shoe, but Parker doesn’t let go.
“I hoped our evening would last longer than this.”
“Can I give you my number?” he asks.
I hesitate.
“What’s the harm?” Cherry asks, nudging me.
Parker leans in even closer. “Yeah. What’s the harm?”
Cherry snags my purse, pulls out my cell phone, and shoves
it in my hand. I turn it on to see that I have fourteen missed calls
from Ian.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I snap, backing away from
Parker. Now I want to go outside and punch Ian myself.
Parker gently pries the phone from my hand. “Don’t let him
have so much control over you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say, folding my
“Oh yeah?” He rubs a hand down my bare arm. “You’re
“Am not,” I say like a petulant child, even though he’s right: I
am trembling, but with rage.
He shakes his head while typing out his number on my phone.
At least I think it’s his number. An entire minute passes as he taps
away on the device.
“Um, are you done yet?”
Those smoldering eyes land on mine, and he hands my phone
back. “Now I better go before the cops wrangle me out of here.” He
leans down and kisses me on the cheek. “Visit me while I’m in the
He snags his leather jacket, backs away, and disappears into the
crowd, leaving me grinning like an idiot.
“You have a crush,” Cherry says, clapping happily.
“Do not.”
“Whatever.” She rolls her eyes.
“Where’s Hunter?”
“Oh, he’s outside trying to keep Ian from storming the bar,”
she explains. “He’s furious that dipshit tried to hurt you again, but
I guess tall, dark, and yummy took care of that.”
That he did.
unter returns to our table fifteen minutes later, hair disheveled
and eyes tight with anger. “I never knew such an abusive
dickwad could be such a whiney little bitch,” he says.
“Did he really have Parker arrested?” I ask, my own fury
“He threw a fit out in the parking lot,” he explains. “He wanted
to have you arrested for singing that last song claiming he physically
hurt you. When that shit wasn’t happening, he forced his way into
the bar and saw you dancing with that biker dude. That’s when I
pushed him outside to make sure he stayed away from you. Then he
claimed assault and had Parker arrested.”
My phone lights up, vibrating across the table. Ian’s calling.
Again. My blood boils, and I rise to my feet. “That’s it.” My fist
slams into the table. “I’ve had it with him.”
“Where are you going?” Cherry demands as she and Hunter
scramble after me.
“He can’t keep sabotaging people’s lives. It’s not fair,” I say
while exiting.
“And what’re you planning to do?” Hunter asks, his accent
Now that we’re out of the noisy bar, Ian’s ringtone sounds loud
and true in the night air: Goodbye Earl. This time, I answer.
“What?” I snap.
There’s a moment of surprise before Ian says, “What the fuck
is your deal? I can’t believe you sung that stupid hick song and
tarnished my name in the process.”
“That’s funny, considering you willingly came to a little hick
bar. And I can’t believe you had someone arrested for punching
you after accosting me. Seems pretty hypocritical, if you ask me,” I
“That biker reeked of desperation,” Ian says. “And he was all
over you—I couldn’t have that.”
I lean against the car and close my eyes in frustration. “That
wasn’t your decision. You and I are over. Get that through your thick
“You’ll change your mind.”
I give a bitter laugh. “Doubt it.”
“Can we meet?” Ian asks, sounding defeated and strangely sad.
I can’t trust him; he can turn on the waterworks in a blink of the eye
in an attempt to manipulate me.
“Will you drop all charges on Parker?” I ask.
“Is that his name?”
“Yes, now will you do it or not?” Honestly, I can’t believe I’m
considering meeting Ian to help out a guy I just met. But there’s
something alluring about Parker, and I feel like an asshat for putting
him in this situation.
“If you’ll meet me,” Ian says, a smile in his voice.
“Fine. Where?”
Cherry and Hunter shake their heads and wave their hands in
the universal gesture of “no fucking way.”
After getting the details from Ian, I end the call and slump
against the car. “I hate that man.”
“Why did you agree to meet him?” Hunter demands as he rubs
his neck raw.
“He’ll drop all charges on Parker if I see him,” I admit.
Cherry paces in front of me, hands on hips. “This is a bad,
horrible, terrible, disastrous, idiotic, ridiculous—”
“I get it,” I say, defeated. “It’s a stupid idea.” I’m trying to keep
it together so my friends won’t know how terrified I am to not have
a crowd and security guards protecting me from Ian.
Hunter drives us to an apartment complex for college students.
I’m not sure why Ian has chosen to meet here, but I find out later
when his white Dodge Ram pulls up. His best friend Jeremy, who
lives here, is driving. Ian hops out of the back with a bottle of Jim
Beam half gone, leaving the door open.
“I’m here,” I say, not coming any closer. Cherry and Hunter
stand on either side of me. “Now drop all charges against Parker.”
Ian’s truck idles; Jeremy remains inside, the overhead light
letting off a golden glow and casting his face in shadow. He looks
uneasy as he watches Ian amble closer. “I want you back,” Ian
declares, slurring.
He didn’t sound like this over the phone, so I can only assume
he’s chugged a good portion of that bottle since our conversation.
“That’s never going to happen.” I step closer, feeling intrepid
in the face of my abuser. “You hurt me. You held me hostage in our
own home.” Instead of fear, anger thunders through me, ready to
lash out. I move closer. “You don’t deserve me.”
“I gave you everything,” he shouts, his hand waving around,
alcohol splashing down his arm.
“You are a leech, Ian Stevenson. I even feel sorry for the trees
who work day and night to produce oxygen so you can breathe.”
“Hah!” His nostrils flare. “You’ll never find anyone who loves
you like I do.”
“That’s the point.”
He flushes a deep red, and the muscles in his neck strain.
I’m not sure what comes over me in that instant, but all my
pent up emotions finally have a target. My palms slam into Ian’s
shoulders, and he stumbles and falls into the backseat of his truck.
The Jim Beam bottle crashes onto the concrete. And the Ian I
remember surfaces in an instant.
“Man, I think you should get back in the truck,” Jeremy calls
from inside, but now he’s unbuckling his seatbelt.
I hear Hunter approach just as Ian stands and shoves me with
all his strength. I should have known this was coming, but instead
I am completely unprepared. I fly back, and seconds before I hit
the ground, Hunter catches me under my arms and hauls me to my
Fury latches onto me, and I rush Ian, shoving my finger at his
chest. “You will drop all charges on Parker, or I’ll call the cops about
the time you caught that house on fire after using lighter fluid to
catch a political poster on fire. Or about the time you keyed that
poor guy’s car because he had the ‘audacity’ to hold hands with
another guy.” I lean in and whisper, “And don’t make me tell the
whole world about your secret collection of romance novels.”
Hunter pulls me away, cutting off my blustering, just as Jeremy
jostles Ian into the truck, jumps in, and speeds away. I’m shaking
as adrenaline leaves me in a rush. Hunter helps me into the back of
the car and sits beside me. Cherry drives Hunter and me back to our
apartment on the other side of town while he wraps me in his arms.
That night, Hunter curls around me in my bed until I fall into
the oblivion of sleep, hoping to erase today.
wake to my phone’s incessant playing of the Disco Song of Death
that lets me know the temp agency is calling. My hand slaps
around on my bedside table until I find my phone.
“Hello?” I answer groggily.
“Rae,” Pam Tucker says with way too much cheer. She’s used to
me answering the phone like this. “Livingston Oil needs someone
to fill in for their office assistant who called in sick. They specifically
asked for you. Can you make it by 9:30?”
Things I don’t want to do today: move. I open one eye to check
the time on my alarm clock. It’s 8:45—not nearly enough time for
me to get ready. But a job is a job. “Sure,” I grumble. “Text me the
After hanging up, I dash around the apartment in search of
clean clothes and a steaming mug of chai tea latte.
There’s a note taped to the bathroom mirror from Hunter. I read
it as I brush my teeth. It basically says that he’ll be out of town for
the weekend because he’s doing shows for five different bachelorette
parties in Indiana and to call his older brother Bubba—I kid you
not—if I need someone to kick Ian’s ass.
While exfoliating in the shower, my default ringtone echoes
through the bathroom. I flounder while trying to dry my hand and
reach for my phone while still lathered up in the shower. The name
flashing on my phone is one I’m not expecting: Parker. Wait. How’d
he get my number?
“It’s not a good time,” I say upon answering.
There’s a pause. “Are you showering?” he asks, chuckling.
“What? No,” I say, voice hitting shrill notes. “That’s just the
“Liar,” he says. “You’re naked right now, aren’t you? And
probably soapy.”
I can’t help but smile. “Shut it, Leather Boy.”
More laughter.
“How’d you get my number?” I demand.
“Easy. I texted myself using your phone last night,” he says.
“You didn’t think you’d get away so easily, did you?”
“Listen, Parker. I’m running behind this morning, and I really
need to get to work,” I say in exasperation. “Can we continue this
stimulating conversation later?”
“Stimulating?” There’s a note of amusement in his voice.
“Interesting word choice.”
I say nothing, hoping my silent eye roll comes through the
phone loud and clear.
“I’ll talk to you soon. Goodbye, Rae.” He hangs up.
I huff in exasperation, wondering what that was about.
Since it’s past rush hour, I don’t get stuck in traffic as I head to
the downtown area. I’ve never heard of Livingston Oil before. As a
matter of fact, I didn’t even know there were any oil companies in
Bowling Green. It takes me several minutes to find the office, even
with GPS. Eventually I give up and search on foot, only to find I
parked right in front of the building. Livingston Oil is a tiny office
located above a furniture store.
When I enter through the glass door on the second floor, the
office is eerily quiet. With the office assistant out sick, there’s no
one to greet me. “Hello?” I call. “I’m Rae Zachery from the temp
agency. Anyone here?”
A door opens at the end of the short hallway and out steps
Parker. I drop my messenger bag in surprise, and my mouth does
that whole fish out of water thing. He leans against the doorframe,
a sly grin on his face. He’s even more alluring than he was last
night, jaw thick with stubble, eyes piercingly dark, and hair just
long enough he can tuck it behind his ears. But this morning he’s
wearing a dark purple button down shirt and a black vest, tie, and
slacks to match, his overall presence debonair. I have to force my
tongue back into my mouth.
“Good morning, Ms. Zachery,” he says. “I’m Parker Livingston.”
“Did you—?”
“Did I know it’d be you?”
I nod stupidly.
“Of course. After last night, I had to see you again.” His lip
“You know this is creepy, right?”
He straightens and approaches me. “Naw. Hunter told me
where you worked last night, and seeing as how I’m in need of an
office assistant . . .” He grabs my messenger bag from the ground
and hands it to me. “Here, I’ll show you around.”
I silently follow him into an office. He gestures to his desk.
Behind it is a giant map of Texas. “This is my office,” he informs.
“My family owns a lot of land in Texas, but we have offices all over
the country. I moved here when I was eighteen to take over this
office, but I ended up going to school instead. I graduated with my
degree in geology last May, and now I’m running this place for my
father while working on my masters degree.”
“And then what?” I ask, wanting to know more about this man
who’s apparently way more than horsepower and leather.
“And then: the world.” He chuckles and guides me from his
office. Across the hall are two more rooms. One is a kitchen-type
area with a copier, and the other is a bare office. “This is Thompson
Snyder’s office, but he’s only here maybe once or twice a month.
He spends most his time traveling to woo investors. I deal with the
environmental side of things.”
I find myself just nodding and following behind him. Shock.
That must be why I’m so silent.
He leads me back to the office assistant’s desk where an old
computer atrophies next to a pile of yellowing paper. “And here’s
your desk. All you have to do is answer the phone and take
messages.” He turns to leave then thinks better of it. “Oh, and if
you need the bathroom, go out the door, down the hall, and you’ll
see the restrooms on the right.”
I sit behind the desk and stare at the bulbous screen of the
computer. It looks like an upgraded version of an abacus. Before
Parker closes the door to his office, I call out, “Hey, what happened
last night?”
He faces me. “All charges were dropped, so they let me out
around one this morning.”
I sigh, glad Ian heeded my warnings. A smile curls up my lips,
and a bubble of laughter escapes me.
Parker cocks his head to the side and approaches the desk.
I gesture for him to sit then inform him of my harrowing,
indomitable, and gallant efforts after he was arrested. By the time
I’m done, Parker’s in stitches. “Romance novels? Really?”
“He especially has an affinity for Harlequins,” I divulge.
His head falls back as he guffaws. A sliver of tattoo ink shows
above his collar, but I can’t make out what it is. When he looks at
me again, mirth still shining in his eyes, he asks, “You did that for
Heat rushes to my cheeks as I nod. “What can I say? Leather
brings out my altruistic side.”
He leans in and brushes his bandaged knuckles along my cheek,
startling me. His audacious behavior finally registers, and he draws
back. “Sorry, you’re just so beautiful.”
Everything is awkward now, but a pang of longing stabs my
chest. It’s been so long since anyone’s said something like that to me.
“Thanks,” I say through a thickening throat.
“Will you let me take you out after work?”
I balk, though his methods of attrition are working. “I don’t
know anything about you.”
He glances at the clock on the wall. “Well, we have seven hours
to get to know one another.”
“I have to answer the phone,” I say.
He grins. “You’ve been here for thirty minutes now. How many
times have you heard the phone ring?”
He’s right. The phone hasn’t made a single noise since I arrived.
“What about your job?” I fold my arms in challenge.
“That’s what’s so great about being my own boss.” His feet
land on my desk, and he leans back, fingers linking behind his head
to give him a highfalutin air. “I can do whatever I want,” he says,
embellishing an elitist tone.
I have to tear my eyes away from his lean body. “You know,
since you’re my boss, we can’t have relations.”
“Yes we can, as long as you realize anything that happens
between us won’t affect your job whatsoever, and I’ll never ask you
to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. So if you ever do
feel uncomfortable, tell me immediately.”
“All right. I feel uncomfortable.” It’s the truth, as much as I
hate to say it. And it’s not because of anything he’s done, per se,
but the fact I’m terrified of even trying to date again. I’ve lost my
inherent trust in most men.
Parker’s feet fall to the ground, and he abruptly sits up. “Oh.
I’m sorry. I’ll just—” He stands to leave.
He stops and stares down at me, but I’m unable to eke out a
single word. I’m a novice at flirting and knowing what to say in a
situation like this one. Maybe I should take up pantomiming.
“It’s because of Ass Face, isn’t it?” he asks, face dour.
I don’t respond, hating that he knows how vulnerable I am.
“He really did a number on you,” he mutters, more to himself
than to me. He studies my face. “I have a big family: four brothers,
one in high school, two in college, another married with a newborn
baby. But I was always closest to my older, and only sister, Janie. She
was murdered three years ago. Her murderer got off on manslaughter
charges because he had one of the best lawyers in Texas. I hate
men like him—ones who believe women are property. So when I
see the same scared look in your eyes that I saw in hers, I have
this overwhelming urge to protect you. You’ve made an indelible
impression on me. I’m sorry if I came on too strongly. And I’m sorry
that I’ve made you uncomfortable.”
I jump to my feet and snag his arm before he can leave. He
glances back at me, eyebrows furrowed. “Don’t go,” I say.