Man Candy: A Real Love Novel, page 20
“That’s . . . incredible.” I let out a surprised laugh.
“What’s your answer?” the woman who kept calling me “miss” asks. Her eyebrows are raised into her gray bob, her whole body leaning forward. “Are you going to New York or what?”
I fix my eyes on Dax. “No. I’m moving to Ohio instead.”
That’s when the applause starts. Whistling follows when Dax lifts me off the ground to kiss me.
When he sets me on my feet, the applause dies down, and soon the diners go back to their meals and the low din of chattering guests returns.
“I have one last question for you.” Dax’s eyebrows pull in. “Can I have your phone number?”
I toss my head back and laugh. With all the things we’ve done together. In all the time we’ve spent together—and apart—we never exchanged those ten precious digits.
“To think we could’ve been texting this whole time,” I say.
“No.” He makes a face.
“I prefer you in person.” I run my hand down the T-shirt stretched over his torso. “Much better in person.”
I fist that shirt and tug, but I don’t have to encourage him much. A second later, I’m savoring the press of his lips to my neck. He enters inappropriate PDA territory when he blazes a trail to my earlobe, but I don’t stop him.
“Where are you staying tonight?” I ask when his lips leave my skin.
“Grand Lark is at capacity. But I have a Jeep.” He shrugs as easy as you please. “I’ll park under the stars. Curl up in a sleeping bag. Though having someone there to keep me warm would be better.”
My smile is all the “yes” he needs. I can tell when he grins back at me.
“Barrett’s moving out this week.”
“So you have a spare room,” I tease.
“Sorry. It’s a one-bedroom. I have a couch, or you can take the left side of the bed.”
The cold shock recedes and is replaced by warmth as my heart beats at twice its normal speed. Dax easily reads the terror on my face.
“Too fast?” He pushes my hair behind my ear. Still calm. Still collected.
I have to take a few breaths to become both of those things, but I manage.
“It should be too fast.” I shake my head as I turn over the idea of moving in with him. Moving to Ohio for him. “It feels right.”
Palm on my cheek, he says, “Let me try something else out and see if that feels as right as the rest of it.” He pulls in a breath. “I love you, Becca.”
I blink. Stunned. Thrilled.
“Damn. That felt really fucking right.” He lets out a laugh that might be an exhale of relief.
“Maybe I should try it.” I put my hand over his. He loses his smile and focuses on me intently, his eyes heated, his body stock still. “I love you too.”
Silence hangs in the air between us.
“How’d that feel?” he murmurs, his thumb brushing my bottom lip.
He kisses me again. Softer. Slower. We are so going to need a room. Or the back of the Jeep. Whatever. I’m not picky.
He loves me. Dax Vaughn is in love with me and I love him. It’s unbelievable, but I trust my gut. If I were any happier, I’d be levitating.
“One condition,” I murmur against his mouth.
He pulls back, the slightest trace of doubt in the concerned bend of his eyebrows. I put him out of his misery quickly.
“I’m more of a right-side-of-the-bed kind of girl.”
His eyes narrow as if he’s trying to decide if he should throttle me or make out with me. I know how to tip the scales in my favor. I push up to my toes and whisper in his ear, “I’m really good at blow jobs and pancakes.”
His hand drops to the waistband of my jeans and he grips the material, holding me hip to hip against every firm inch of him.
“Check!” Dax shouts. Then to me, “Can you take the rest of the day off?”
“No.” Tad delivers food to a nearby table and stops in front of us. “You’re fired, Becca. With a smile, he adds, “Get the hell out of here.”
He extends a hand to Dax, who shakes it.
“Hurt her, I’ll kill you,” Tad says.
Dax tugs Tad slightly closer and promises, “Same to you.”
They nod after their caveman agreement is sealed, and then Dax slings his backpack over his shoulder.
“I have a few things to get from the office,” I tell him, and in a way we’re reenacting the first night we met. The first night of the rest of our lives, I think, like a sap. “Meet you out front.”
I watch him walk out of the restaurant, admiring his ass and the strong, capable way he has about him. And then I think about how he’s in love with me. How he showed up and asked me not to go to New York, worried that my choosing him was second best.
What he didn’t know was that I love him too. I don’t care what side of the bed I sleep on, as long as Dax Vaughn is on the other side of the mattress.
Damn. That swelling, swirling, too-full feeling in my chest feels good.
Three Months Later
North Street Bar is packed with diners, and not one of them is paying a single penny to eat or drink here tonight. It’s a practice run for the full menu and for the newly appointed waitstaff, bartenders, and kitchen guys.
In a lot of ways, North Street is my and Dax’s baby. Our firstborn. Sure, he and Barrett may have done most of the manual labor, but Dax and I were creating something new. Something that was us.
“I can’t tell if I’m nervous or excited,” I say, standing over a table of four with my hand wrapped around my middle. “How can you tell if they’re butterflies in your stomach or bats?”
“Bec.” Grace, the bawdy redhead who runs McGreevy’s, raises an eyebrow. “You’ve got this.”
“Yeah,” Davis agrees, looping an arm around his fiancée’s neck and kissing her cheek. “You learned from the best: Gracie.”
Grace and Davis are an odd couple at first blush, but since I’ve gotten to know her—and him too, since he rarely leaves her side—I’ve learned they’re perfect for each other. The other couple at the table is equally doomed to be together forever, but where Grace and Davis seem like an odd couple, Jackie and Vince go together like they were designed to. They’re full-color-catalog perfect.
His dark good looks and her girl-next-door charm are darling together. Plus, they’re really freaking cool.
“You’ll do great,” Jackie tells me. I’ve been on a few girls’ nights out with her and Grace. Jackie’s fun, but don’t give her liquor. She’s crazy when you get a shot of tequila in her. “Just picture everyone in their underwear.”
“Especially me,” Vince says, his blue eyes sparkling. He oozes charm and good humor.
“I’m not wearing underwear,” Dax says, approaching the table.
Grace slaps her hands over her eyes and Jackie covers her ears.
“Which one of you is ‘speak no evil’?” I poll the guys. “We have the other two covered.”
“Ready to do this, Princess?” Dax asks. Jackie and Grace coo over the nickname. He frowns down at them. “Shut up.”
“I think it’s sweet.” Grace purses her lips and makes a few kissy noises, and everyone at the table laughs.
“Gotta go,” I tell them. “Wish me luck.”
“Luck!” my new friends shout.
Dax links his hand in mine and leads me to the stage at the front of the restaurant. We decided North Street needed an open-mic night. The stage added a month to the construction, but we didn’t care. We wanted it to be right. Now it is.
Dax insisted that I should dance on some nights. I agreed. Like I’d pass up the chance to shake my groove thing at my own place?
I know, I know. You’re coming in late. I skipped about a million details. To bring you up to speed: North Street B
I moved into his apartment and yeah, it’s a tight fit, but since Dax and I haven’t managed to pry ourselves apart yet, it works. We’re looking for a bigger place at the moment, but we still have time to find the right place.
After all, babies take nine months to grow, and I’m only ten weeks along.
Just . . . don’t tell Grace and Jackie yet. I have a feeling it’d break their hearts to know that when I attend GNO next weekend I’ll be doing so as the designated driver.
Onstage, Dax has no need for a microphone. He bellows, “Good evening,” and easily gains the room’s attention.
“Thanks for being at North Street’s soft opening,” he says.
The crowd claps. As do I.
“When Becca and I decided to do this together, everything became easier. Plus, guys. She can cook her face off.”
“Hell yeah!” Vince shouts, and Davis whistles his approval. They know. I’ve been feeding them since I moved here.
“As you know, the grand opening is tomorrow, but that’s not the only grand opening I have planned.”
I cock my head at him. That’s news to me. Did he buy another bar or something?
“Couldn’t think of a better time to do this,” Dax announces. “So here goes.”
The crowd goes silent as Dax drops to one knee in front of me. And ohmygawd, I feel faint.
Speaking low so only I can hear, he cracks open a velvet box and reveals a stunning diamond solitaire in a platinum band. It’s perfect. It’s a princess cut.
“Marry me, Princess?” he asks. Perfectly.
I’m such a cliché. My jaw drops. My hand rests on my collarbone. Tears flood my vision.
“Do it!” comes a shout that I’m pretty sure was Davis.
“Do it, Princess. I’m lost without you.” Dax lowers his voice even more to say, “Plus, my mom won’t freak out that we’re not married when we tell her about her first grandchild.”
I bend at the waist and kiss Dax, and the room erupts like it did at Grand Lark a few months ago, only this crowd is three times bigger. And three times more invested, since they’re Dax’s friends and coworkers.
“Get it!” comes a supportive shout. I’m certain that was Barrett, the bad boy of the NFL, turned bad boy sportscaster—because OMG did he get himself into trouble recently. . . .
What am I doing?! I don’t have time to tell you about that. I have to answer Dax.
“Yes!” I shout and, you guessed it, earn more applause. I’ve always wanted to be onstage earning this much praise . . . but this exceeds my biggest dreams of stardom.
Dax slides the ring onto my finger and chucks the empty velvet ring box into the crowd. Barrett, reflexes honed from his years of playing football, catches it.
He holds it in the air, triumphant, until his expression shifts with the realization that catching the ring box could mean he’s doomed to be the next one coupled off. That’d be an amazing tale, but pairing him with a sane woman is unlikely. Trust me on that one.
Dax stands and holds me close for a long kiss. I’m dizzy with joy when we part and he announces, “Let’s do this!”
We hop off the stage and dart in different directions, Dax to oversee the bar and me, the kitchen. We wink at each other from across the room as waitresses and waiters buzz between us on a mission to launch our new restaurant.
I take a second in the dim corridor between the bathrooms and the kitchen to admire the sparkle of my diamond in the weak light overhead. Then I rest my hand on my still-flat tummy and blink away more tears as my nose stings.
When this kid comes into the world, the first thing I’m telling her is that her father swept me off my feet at a time I wasn’t looking for anyone. I’ll tell her that it was her dad who encouraged me to chase my heart, while reminding my family that I was capable of anything. I’ll tell her that he came for me again and again and let me spread my wings wide, but never wide enough to leave him.
Unless this bundle ends up being a boy. And then I’ll mostly tell him about the flood and the Jeep campsite and how his dad once cut a massive downed tree with a chainsaw.
I take a step toward the kitchen and pause to look for Dax. He’s watching me while the bustling bar staff runs around like headless chickens. He gives me a tender smile that I return, even as I stand frozen in the middle of the melee of waitstaff running amok.
In the chaos we find each other. Eyes locked. Hearts beating in sync. That familiar string of longing and heat stretched out between us.
“Love you,” he mouths.
“Love you too,” I mouth back.
We’ll start building our future.
Wine time yet?
When I set out to write Dax and Becca’s book, I wanted to explore what would happen when a one-night stand turned into a two-week stand that eventually turned into forever. I know I say this a lot—but this book was really special. I teared up when I wrote it, and each and every time I read it! Something about these two really got me, and I hope they get to you too.
Thank you to Loveswept—namely Sue and Gina—for letting me write this book. Forced proximity is my favorite trope EVAR, and having the chance to write a one-night-stand-rained-in romance was a blast. Thanks also to my agent, Nicole, for all you do. To Shannon Richard for your advice on this book, and to Jules Bennett for brainstorming with me—your idea: “Hey, what if she liked to cook?” ended up being a huge plot point! Huge hugs to my Facebook “Superfan” group, the Lemmondrops, for your enthusiasm for this book when I shared a few early passages. You all keep me smiling.
And last but not least, thank you to my readers. You’ve followed me from bad boys to billionaires to dark angst and back around to romantic comedies. I’m so grateful to have you!
BY JESSICA LEMMON
Fighting for Devlin
Shut Up and Kiss Me
PHOTO: NICHOLAS LONG
A former job-hopper, JESSICA LEMMON resides in Ohio with her husband and rescue dog. She holds a degree in graphic design currently gathering dust in an impressive frame. When she’s not writing about super sexy heroes, she can be found cooking, drawing, drinking coffee (okay, wine), and eating potato chips. She firmly believes God gifts us with talents for a purpose, and with His help, you can create the life you want.
Read on for an excerpt from
by Stacey Lynn
Available from Loveswept
EARLIER THAT DAY
I brush my hand down Drake’s cheek and kiss his temple. “Good morning, did you get in late?”
My boyfriend grunts and rolls over, throwing one arm over his eyes. “Fifteen-hour shifts are killing me,” he mumbles. “Have to go back this afternoon.”
“Okay, honey.” I kiss him again, wishing we had the time or the energy to take it further. It’s been so long since we’ve been intimate I’ve forgotten what sex with Drake feels like. It’s understandable, though. His residency at Portland General keeps him incredibly busy. “I have to go to work. Have a good day.”
He mumbles again and rolls to his side, away from me.
I stand from his side of the bed and pull my purse to my shoulder.
Drake is the first long-term boyfriend I’ve had. We met our junior year of college, and for the last seven years, I’ve been following him all over the country while he comp
At some point, our plans and our dreams we used to whisper about, bodies entwined after a marathon lovemaking session, have been pushed to the back burner. At least on Drake’s. I still want all the things I always have. A husband, a family, and an equine therapy farm for special-needs children.
“I love you,” I whisper to his back, sculpted and lean, and one I used to spend hours running my hands down. It’s been months since we came together. It’s more than the lack of sex putting distance between us. I’m starting to doubt if he still loves me.
Before I can cry over our messed-up relationship again, I head toward the kitchen. I quickly shove my bagel into the toaster, grab a coffee pod, and pop it into the machine. While the coffee is brewing and the bagel browning, I dig through my purse and apply a fresh coat of lip balm. It’ll come off in minutes, but I’m addicted to the old-school, cherry-flavored stuff.
A quick glance at the clocks tells me I need to get the lead out or I’m going to be late to the library where I work. It’s not much of a job, but I didn’t finish college, choosing instead to quit after my junior year and follow Drake to med school in Chicago, fourteen hours from my hometown in Tennessee. I’m not exactly qualified to do much other than stack shelves, issue new library cards, help visitors, and ride horses.
The last one has nothing to do with the library, but it’s been years since I’ve been on a horse, and the more time that passes, the more I miss them. After my parent’s died, my grandma took me in. She wasn’t the most loving woman, but she lived on a horse ranch in western Tennessee. I spent the majority of my days riding horses and taking care of them, and I’ve missed having horses be a part of my life ever since I moved away.
Other author's books:
- One Night, White LiesTemporary to TemptedA Bad Boy for ChristmasThe Billionaire Bachelor (Billionaire Bad Boys Book 1)Shut Up and Kiss Me: A Lost Boys NovelA Christmas PropositionReturn of the Bad BoyBest Friends, Secret Lovers
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