Unbreakable hearts, p.1

Unbreakable Hearts, page 1

 part  #2 of  CEP Series


Unbreakable Hearts

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Unbreakable Hearts

  Unbreakable Hearts

  A CEP Novel

  By Harper Bentley

  Discover other titles by Harper Bentley:

  CEP series:

  Being Chased (CEP #1)

  Under the Gun (CEP #3) coming later in 2014!

  True Love series:

  Discovering Us (True Love #1)

  Finding Us (True Love #2)

  Finally Us (True Love #3) coming in June!


  Copyright © 2014 Harper Bentley

  Digital Edition: April 2014

  Editors: Sam, Franca & Deb

  Cover image licensed by www.shutterstock.com

  Cover Photo design by Jada D’Lee Designs

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. If certain places or characters are referenced it is for entertainment purposes only.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used, reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the Author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.


  To Hails whose unconditional love, maturity and beautiful spirit

  make me proud


  To my fabulous betas who are all awesome women. Each of you has made an impact on my life, and I want you to know how very dear to my heart you all are. I appreciate the time you take not only to read my books in progress but also to send me feedback, even if it’s something you don’t want to tell me. It takes guts, ladies! Thank God you’ve got ‘em! Love each of you gobs and gobs!

  Also to Cecily of Cecilysbookreview.com for being a cheerleader for me from day one. Said it before and I’ll say it again, You’re fabulous, doll face!

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21


  About the Author

  Chapter 1

  “You’re going to shoot the President?” Tilly asked a little stunned.

  “Yes, I’m going to shoot him!” Doug responded.

  “Well, I kinda wanted to shoot him this time.”

  “You shot him last time, so it just makes sense that I shoot him this time.”

  “Okay, it’s your funeral.”

  Tilly Maxwell hung up her cell phone from the call with her friend-slash-sometimes business partner-slash-sometimes lover-slash-fellow freelance photographer, Doug Donati. He’d called to talk about the speaking engagement the president of one of the biggest banks in New York City was to have at a top business school the following week that they’d be covering. They’d discussed the details of how they’d go about handling the merchandising of the photos to the various media, which had ended in a tad bit of an argument because Doug wanted the shoot. Tilly’s specialty was candids. She was good at them, she’d received awards for them and she’d gotten paid a pretty penny for them. It only made sense for her to take the shoot. But Doug, whose forte was landscapes, and he’d shot some beautiful ones, was insisting this time that he be the one to take the pictures; well, so be it. If they turned out shitty and no one wanted to buy them, then that was his problem.

  Tilly assumed Doug was being this way toward her because their sex life had cooled down considerably over the past several months (read: exactly nada), so his inner caveman was clearly shouting, “Me man! Take charge! Show woman!” in an attempt to make himself feel macho once again, or to try to prove his worth to her, she guessed.

  She settled her glasses on her nose, rolling her eyes. Wouldn’t have to prove anything if he could hit the spot the way he finds his shots; we’d still be tangling in the sheets if that were the case. She felt herself blush at this thought. And although she herself was not the most experienced lover, God knew Doug seriously needed a GPS device on his fingers and his tongue it seemed. The guy just couldn’t hit the mark! She swore that if her hot spot were, oh, say, Queens, then Doug spent most of his time in either the Bronx or Brooklyn when trying to get her off. She’d finally grown tired of it, halting the fiasco before her girly parts above and below the main attraction were bruised permanently.

  And two years was pretty damned generous to allow a man to give a woman an orgasm, wasn’t it? Let’s just say that she’d helped Duracell’s stock rise considerably in that time period.

  Tilly sighed, not being able to even recall the last time she’d had good sex.

  With a man.

  She blushed again. Dang it.

  She’d started seeing Doug casually, mostly out of boredom, agreeing to see a movie with him one night. She’d ended up staying with him because she’d been busy setting up her portfolio and studio, he’d been available and, well, the guy was cute, in a Michael Cera kind of way. Oh, and maybe it was that she was the world’s biggest nerd and guys weren’t exactly beating down her door to ask her out.

  And before she knew it, two years had passed.

  But to be honest, her staying with him actually really just came down to one fact: Doug had said he hadn’t wanted anything serious which so totally worked for her because there was no way in hell she was going to give her heart away. She’d suffered enough heartache in her twenty-seven years to last a lifetime, and she just wasn’t willing to risk her feelings for any man. Ever. Which was fine by her.

  The phone rang in the studio she ran out of her house in Brooklyn.

  “Tilly’s Takes, how can I help you?” she answered.

  The creative director from a popular rag was calling asking if she’d be taking pictures of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Tilly told her that she’d definitely be there, so they arranged to meet the next week to fill out the necessary paperwork.

  Fabulous! She was excited for this assignment. She loved this time of year and the shots she could get of children’s faces would be spectacular. God, she loved her job.

  She’d been taking pictures her whole life it seemed. From the moment she’d gotten that awesome, rotating flashcube Fisher-Price toy camera when she was two years old, she couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t have a camera in her hands.

  In high school, she’d been a member of the Photography Club and was lead sports photographer for the yearbook, and she’d been a serious nerd then too. And we’re talking serious. She’d worn ugly glasses. Wait. Make that really ugly glasses—lenses that resembled pop bottle bottoms, thick, black frames (before they’d been considered stylish). If she’d just added a piece of duct tape around the center, she’d have been deemed nerd royalty, not that the cool kids hadn’t already crowned her as such. Her blond hair frizzed into a billion curls in humid weather and her eyebrows had yet to be introduced properly to a pair of tweezers. Throw awkward into the mix and she’d felt like she was just a total mess.

  She did have one redeeming quality though: her eyes. A very special boy had once told her that her name matched them perfectly. When she’d looked questioningly at him, he’d told her they were teal, which went with Tilly, which had made her laugh. It’d been one of the few times he’d ever paid attention to her in that way and
she’d cherished the memory ever since.

  Her parents hadn’t understood their daughter’s misery over her appearance, much to Tilly’s chagrin. They told her that she was the most beautiful girl they’d ever seen, inside and out, their down-home roots obviously not putting much stock into outward appearances. Her mother’d told her that she had good skin and that good skin was something to be proud of.

  Whatever. Boys didn’t like girls because they had good skin.

  On top of the not-so stellar looks, she’d also been a straight-A student, attributes that when combined had added up to a pretty dull high school existence. She’d even set herself up for failure by crushing hard on the bad boy quarterback (he who’d talked about the color of her eyes), but who’d probably only been nice to her because she’d given him some of the proofs of the zillion action pictures she’d taken of him their sophomore and junior years—well, the ones she hadn’t kept for herself. Or maybe he’d only been decent to her since he’d come by the bad boy rep honestly and her dad was a cop which probably scared him. Oh, they’d chatted some, although it was mostly about her photos. He always seemed so rapt in her ramblings about the cameras or the lighting, pretty mundane stuff if she were to tell the truth, but it’d thrilled her to no end that he was paying attention to her in those moments. Looking back, her favorite times with him had been when he’d teased her (she now realized that’s what it was) about how she’d gotten the lighting wrong on some of her photos, or had taken a picture from the wrong angle. But when she’d argued (somewhat heatedly because she’d known what she was doing when it came to taking pictures) with him about how she’d gotten it just right, she’d always had the feeling that he’d just been trying to rile her up, and she’d end up smacking him on his arm while he just grinned at her.

  She held close to her heart those moments she’d spent with him, but that was about the extent of her exciting moments she’d had in high school.

  Well, if you didn’t count “The Kiss.”

  “The Kiss That Rocked Her World,” as she’d come to call it, had happened the first week of September of her senior year when she’d attended the Back-to-School dance to take pictures for the yearbook. She hadn’t had a date but she’d dressed up anyway just for fun, and she and her also-single friends, Monica and Glynnis, had made a night of it. They’d even gone to Randy Thomas’s party afterward because Tilly had thought she might get some good shots, sans pics of kids holding adult beverages in their underage little hands, of course. In talking them into going to the after party, Tilly had had to point out to her friends that they never did anything remotely exciting outside of once sneaking into an R-rated movie their sophomore year. Whoop-ti-doo. Her friends had finally agreed that they needed to live more and gave in.

  Her quarterback crush had been at the dance with Stephanie Williams, a cheerleader and one of the prettiest (albeit most stuck-up) girls in school, and it’d killed Tilly to take pictures of them together, but for the good of the yearbook, she’d sucked it up and done her job. However, arriving at the party after the dance, she’d seen that her hunky QB was there also, appearing to be somewhat drunk and alone, having apparently left his date in the dust. Toward the end of the night when he’d cornered Tilly in the kitchen up against the sink telling her that he’d really wanted to take her to the dance but was afraid she would’ve turned him down if he’d asked, and then when he’d added that he thought she was beautiful, she’d just about died.

  He’d brushed a piece of her hair out of her face and looked at her like she was the most gorgeous girl in the world, leaving her to where she couldn’t move a muscle even as he’d taken her glasses off then slowly leaned down, mumbling something about her eyes being haunting, and kissed her. He’d pulled back and smiled, and in her stupid social awkwardness she’d told him she needed to go then practically ran away, finding Monica and Glynnis and getting the hell out of there. Glynnis had had to drive because in her stupor, Tilly had left her glasses in the quarterback’s hands like some weird, nerdy version of Cinderella.

  So to amend the previous statement of her high school experience not being too exciting, other than studying or taking pictures, it’d also included an unrequited love for a hot guy who’d given a nerdy girl in ugly glasses with caterpillars for eyebrows one very hot, drunken kiss.

  The thought of which had always made her sigh.

  And realize that someone as good-looking as the quarterback would never have been interested in someone as plain as she.

  Which only served to make her sigh again.

  Tilly’d actually blamed her appearance on her mother, Maggie, who’d run her own daycare center. With her typical wardrobe that consisted of jeans and t-shirts, her hair usually in a messy bun, wearing hardly any makeup, Tilly’s mother hadn’t given her much haute couture guidance. Her mother was actually a beautiful woman, but with baby barf and poo having been her predominant accessories for years, she’d appeared to be anything but chic.

  Tilly’s dad, just as her mother, had worked hard to provide for her and her little brother, Jeff. Their father, Jim, had been a highly decorated NYC police officer, as was his brother, their Uncle Tim, and their father before them; Jeff, of course, wanted to follow in all their footsteps.

  When Tilly’s dad had been promoted to sergeant, the family had celebrated by taking him to his favorite Mexican restaurant. Since he was a fairly reserved, taciturn man, they’d all gotten a kick out of it when the waiters had brought out a huge sombrero, placed it on his head and proceeded to sing “Las Mañanitas” very loudly. The pictures Tilly had taken were the funniest ever. Her dad had been so embarrassed he’d just sat there looking around as if for help. But that was the great thing about him—he loved his family and for them, he’d have done anything, even wear a gargantuan, glitter-covered hat while three men sang raucously to him in another language.

  Growing up, Tilly and Jeff had wanted for nothing. Ever. If she needed a new camera? BAM! She got it. If Jeff needed a new baseball mitt? BAM! again. It was there for him. However, they hadn’t been spoiled. They’d been taught the value of a dollar, knew their parents earned every cent they made. And they’d been thankful for what they got. They’d grown up in a very loving home and everything had been pretty much wonderful in their lives.

  Until it wasn’t.

  One sultry, autumn afternoon, Tilly’s father had been shot down in the line of duty.

  He’d been on patrol with a rookie and when they’d responded to a burglary call, things had gone bad. There’d been two suspects and Jim had been ambushed when he’d gone to check things out at the residence from which the call had come. He hadn’t stood a chance.

  It’d only been a couple days after the dance, over the course of which Tilly had been trying to get the confidence up to thank the quarterback for leaving her glasses in her locker that Monday morning, when the principal had come to get her out of math class. She would never forget walking to the office wondering what was going on, but when she’d seen her Uncle Tim and her mother waiting for her, her mom crying quietly, she’d known immediately what’d happened. Her mom had practically collapsed in her arms when she’d gone to her.

  Their world had turned upside down after that. Tilly’s mother hadn’t known what else to do, so they ended up leaving their house in Brooklyn and went to live with their grandmother in Cold Spring, New York, where their mom had grown up. Maggie knew her children would thrive in the idyllic community just as she had and that, hopefully, it might soothe their souls.

  And they were healing until their family took another hit. Tim, their dad’s baby brother and Tilly’s favorite person ever, had been shot to death just like his older brother while responding to a domestic violence call two months before Tilly graduated high school, and the family was devastated yet again.

  After her uncle’s death, Tilly vowed that outside of her immediate family, she’d never let herself love another person. She knew it was an extreme promise, but she’d suffered enough heartache in h
er short life. And she never wanted to feel that way again.

  She’d gone on to quietly graduate high school then headed to Syracuse University where she’d majored in business management with a minor in art photography.

  In college, she’d actually allowed herself a small social life while there, dating Jason Whitmore with whom she’d had a brief fling during her sophomore year. He’d worked in the coffee shop on campus, was a decently handsome guy, and had asked her out numerous times—numerous amounting to every morning of the week when she came in before class to get her venti vanilla bean frapp, extra thick with extra whip. So midway through the year, at the urging of her roommate, Quinn McDonnell, who knew all about Tilly’s high school crush and The Kiss, and even about her vow never to love anyone again, Tilly had finally caved and gone out with Jason. And although he was a nice enough guy, even nice enough to give her virginity to, she, of course, hadn’t allowed herself to fall in love with him. They’d dated a little over a year but had broken up amiably when Jason had sadly realized that she was never going to give herself to him wholly. She’d made sure it was a friendly breakup because if she’d had to bypass her frapp in the morning that would’ve been the real tragedy. But they’d remained friends and she’d even attended his wedding a year after they’d graduated from the university.

  When her brother had entered Syracuse two years after she did majoring in criminal justice, Tilly had gritted her teeth, not wanting Jeff to follow in the footsteps of the other Maxwell men. She’d thrown a fit and argued with him endlessly about it, begged him even, telling him she couldn’t take it if anything happened to him. But Jeff would have none of it, explaining to her that it was something he had to do, that it was just in his blood and she’d just have to deal.

  After that, Tilly could do nothing else but pray that he’d be safe while locking her heart down for good.

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