Rising from the Ashes, page 1
Copyright © 2014 by Jessica Prince
All rights reserved.
Cover Designer: Meredith Blair, Author’s Angels
Editor and Interior Designer: Jovana Shirley, Unforeseen Editing, www.unforeseenediting.com
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book 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 persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Visit my website at www.authorjessicaprince.com
Every snarky one-liner or clever joke Savannah said came from you.
I love you so much, Seester!
About the Author
PAST: WINTER 2006
“I don’t understand. Things have been great between us.”
I couldn’t bring myself to look into Jeremy’s chocolate brown eyes as I ripped both of our hearts to shreds. I was being a total coward, and I knew it, but I reasoned that at least I wasn’t doing it through text or email. Not that it was any consolation at all. I hated myself for what I was doing.
“Things have been strained for a while, Jeremy, you know that,” I replied in a weak voice. How was I ever going to convince him this was what I really wanted when I couldn’t even convince myself?
“That’s bullshit, and you know it, Savannah!”
I recoiled, his tone harsh and louder than I’d ever heard it before. The anger burning in his eyes took me completely by surprise. Jeremy wasn’t an angry person by nature. I’d never seen him the slightest bit violent in all the years that I’d known him. Hell, the man practically never raised his voice a day in his life. Seeing him react with so much emotion was a hard hit on my already shaky resolve.
“Jer,” I whispered, “ever since Emmy—”
He cut me off, slicing his hand through the air. “Don’t.” His voice, low and cold, caused goose bumps to spread over my arms. “Don’t you use what happened to Emmy as a reason to end us. What happened to her was terrible, and my heart broke for her, but that’s not us, Savvy. That wasn’t our loss, so it shouldn’t put a strain on our relationship.”
That wasn’t exactly true. Emmy losing her baby was definitely part of the reason I was ending my relationship with the guy I’d loved since I was fourteen years old. There was no way I could let him know just how I’d let things snowball out of control after watching my friend hit rock bottom. Jeremy would hate me until the day he died if he knew the truth. That was why I had to end things.
It had been two months since I made the decision that ultimately destroyed everything I held dear, and looking at myself in the mirror was getting harder and harder with every passing day. I knew if Jeremy found out what I’d done, he would be as disgusted with me as I already was. That wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. Like I said before, I was a coward.
I made the decision to end things because I couldn’t handle the guilt of what I’d done, and the longer I stayed in the relationship, the harder it was to keep it from Jeremy. This was going to hurt him. I knew that because I was already dying inside. But he’d eventually get over it, and hopefully, we’d be able to be friends again. Breaking up with him was the only way I could keep him in my life without running the risk of him finding out and hating me forever.
I honestly thought that I’d be able to get past what I had done. I knew it would be hard for a while, but I never expected it to effect me so strongly. Every day I woke up, the first thing I wished for was to go back and do everything differently. But that was why people say hindsight is twenty-twenty, wasn’t it?
I sucked in a deep breath and tried to steel myself for what I had to do next. I was about to drive the final nail into the coffin that was our relationship. If I drug it out any longer it would become impossible for me to stick to my decision.
“I can’t do this anymore, Jeremy. Watching what Emmy went through showed me how short life really is. It got me thinking that you’re the only person I’ve ever been with.” I squeezed my eyes shut tightly, swallowing past the lump forming in my throat. Hurting Jeremy was the last thing I ever wanted to do, but it was inevitable.
“We’ve been together since we were fourteen. I want to see what else is out there. I want to be able to date other guys. We shouldn’t have to tie ourselves down to one person at nineteen, Jer. We’re too damn young. There’s too much that we haven’t experienced yet. I just feel like we’re holding each other back.”
If the expression on his face could physically maim, I would have been dead on the floor.
“So, let me get this straight,” he hissed out, his jaw ticking from the strain of trying to stay composed. “You’re breaking up with me because you wanna fuck other dudes. Am I getting this right?”
“It’s not like that.” I hated how he’d basically broken down my carefully constructed reason. Deep down, I knew there was no other guy. I didn’t want anyone but Jeremy, but because of my actions, I couldn’t allow myself to have him anymore.
“AM I FUCKING RIGHT OR NOT?” he roared.
Tears instantly started streaming down my face, unchecked. What I was about to say would do irreparable damage. Worrying about keeping my tears at bay wasn’t even a consideration.
“Yes,” I whispered in a hoarse, broken voice.
One word was all it took for Jeremy to look at me like I was a stranger, someone he didn’t know anymore.
One word, and I had crushed all hope at having the future I truly wanted.
One word was all it took for him to turn and walk away without looking back.
One word, and I’d lost the only person I ever loved.
“Come on, you fucking piece of shit…WORK!”
It was five o’clock on Friday evening, and my computer had decided it wanted to freeze up before I got the chance to back up all my work. I was determined to beat the stupid excuse for electronic machinery into submission if it was the last thing I did.
I was supposed to be meeting my friends at our local hangout, Colt 45’s, for an impromptu engagement party for Gavin and Stacia, but if my fossil of a computer decided to crap out on me, I was going to be stuck drafting deposition designations all weekend long. I wasn’t exactly ecstatic about attending an engagement party, not with the way things
I knew I had been acting like a total bitch, and I hated that I couldn’t control it. I really was happy for Gavin and Stacia. They were two of my best friends and were an adorable couple who had been together forever. It was just that being around all that happiness and love and wedding talk brought my nonexistent love life to the forefront of my mind, shining like a bright red beacon to spinsterhood.
It was like the freaking love bug had bitten everyone I knew—well, everyone but me. Gavin and Stacia had just gotten engaged. Emmy and Luke were back together after an eight-year hiatus, and they were living a life of bliss and sex. But the topper on the romantic crap cake was Jeremy, my ex-boyfriend and the man I was doomed to love for the rest of my pathetic life.
A few months ago, Emmy had hired a new waitress at her diner, Virgie May’s. Charlotte. Just saying her name was like a curse word for me. I absolutely hated that girl. She had everyone fooled into thinking she was this disgustingly sweet, innocent little Southern belle, but I totally knew better. She was a freaking viper just waiting to strike.
Jeremy had taken one look at the delicate little flower and was totally sprung. The two of them were practically sewn together at the hip, and it was enough to make me want to hurl.
Honestly, I wanted nothing more than for Jeremy to be happy. I was still completely in love with the guy, and always would be, but it was my own actions that had driven us apart and kept us that way for all these years. I knew that one day he’d meet someone who would take him away from me for good.
I just didn’t want it to be her. I just knew there was something shady about Charlotte, the Southern Sweetie. It wasn’t like I had any tangible proof that she was a raving bitch or anything. It was more of a gut feeling that had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she was dating Jeremy…really.
When she had first been hired on last summer, things started off pretty well between us. I’d had a sneaking suspicion that she wasn’t all that she seemed to be, but I’d just brushed it off as no big deal. When she and Jeremy had started to hang out, I’ll admit that it had chapped my ass a little, but I’d tried to pull an Emmy and be the bigger person. I never realized how hard that was going to be.
About a week into her and Jeremy’s relationship, she had turned straight-up frosty toward me. One night when we had all gone to Colt’s, Lizzy had gotten a little sauced and spilled the beans about my relationship with Jeremy, but it wasn’t as if I’d been actively trying to break them up. In my opinion, I’d done a pretty excellent job at faking a crapload of happiness for them. But once she found out that Jeremy and I had a past, she cut off any advances I had tried to make toward friendship.
When we were out as a group, she’d do her best to keep Jeremy away from me. It wasn’t out-and-out obvious to the rest of the group, of course. She would be sneaky about it. She’d stay to one side of the group and that always happened to be the opposite side of wherever I was. Considering she was Jeremy’s new girlfriend, it didn’t take a genius to figure he’d follow her wherever she went.
If an opportunity ever arose where Jeremy and I were able to actually have a conversation, she always had an excuse to leave, or she’d need his help with something so that he’d have to walk away from me. And I never missed the evil little smirks she shot at me when the others weren’t watching.
Jeremy having a girlfriend hurt like a son of a bitch, but as long as we remained friends, I knew I’d just have to suck it up. I’d made my own bed, and I was willing to lie in it.
Charlotte trying to take him away from me completely was not going to fly though. I needed to figure out a way to out her as the devious little skank she really was without making it obvious to all of my friends. I just hadn’t figured out how to pull that one off yet.
Channeling all my frustrations into my piece of shit computer, I hauled my leg back and kicked the living hell out of the unit under my desk. “Ha-ha!” I cried out as the damn thing started back up. I quickly hit the Save button before the computer decided it hated me again and lost all my hard work.
“You sure showed it, didn’t you?” came a voice from behind me.
I let out a startled squeak and spun around to see who was in the doorway of my office. Standing in all of his six-one, lean muscled, GQ cover model glory in a three-piece suit was the newest attorney hired on at Pruett & Carter, Attorneys at Law—Benjamin Bennett III.
Growing up in a house with a lawyer as a father had made me swear up and down that I would never be involved in the legal field in any way, shape, or form. But when my best friend, Emmy, had started having complications with her pregnancy and Luke hadn’t been in the picture, I couldn’t imagine leaving her to deal with things alone, so I’d packed up after graduation and moved back home to help her.
From spending summers helping out at my father’s firm, I’d picked up a thing or two, so it hadn’t been difficult to get a job. But imagine his shock when I’d turned down a well-paying paralegal position at Morgan & Carls LLP in Houston to take one for half the salary at Pruett & Carter, but I’d had my reasons. First, P&C was located in Cloverleaf, so I was never too far away from Emmy if she ever needed anything. Second was because I’d spent my entire life being Robert Morgan’s daughter, and I would be damned if I was going to spend one more day of my life stuck under that man’s thumb.
The money hadn’t mattered to me. I’d gotten a hefty inheritance from my grandmother on my dad’s side when she passed away, so I was set financially. What mattered to me was my pride and self-worth. I’d managed to come out of the Morgan household relatively unscathed despite my mother’s efforts to shoot my confidence down at every turn, and I was going to make damn sure I stayed that way.
I loved my life and my friends, and they loved me. They were what mattered, and after a childhood where everything was conditional, finding a group of friends who loved me unconditionally was all I needed.
So, I took the job at P&C, working directly for Mr. Pruett, and I couldn’t have been happier with my decision. Bradford Pruett was in his late sixties and had the disposition of Santa Claus—and the belly to go along with it. He treated me as an equal, not a slave, and he showed all his employees the same amount of respect he would expect in return.
I truly believed I had the best boss in the world—until that moment when my computer breathed its last breath, let out a creepy groan, and died on me completely.
Thank God I saved that shit first.
Mr. Pruett really needed to invest in new computers.
“I think you killed it,” Benjamin said as he tried to hide his smile.
My cheeks grew red at having the attention of such a fine specimen. I knew I was relatively attractive with my honey blonde hair and eyes that almost matched. I never really lacked for dates, but the only man who I ever really paid any attention to was Jeremy. And while I found Benjamin to be at least mildly attractive, he was night to Jeremy’s day.
Jeremy was all manly man with grease under his nails from working on cars, and big, brawny muscles from a lifetime of manual labor. It was obvious Benjamin hadn’t worked with his hands a day in his life.
Jeremy would never be caught dead in a three-piece suit. If it wasn’t ripped jeans and a flannel or T-shirt, he wasn’t going to bother with it. His carefree attitude about his appearance was only one of the many things that I loved about him.
But Benjamin was the type of man my parents always wanted me to bring home—well mannered, highly educated, and pedigreed. I wasn’t used to attracting attention from men like him. My mouth had a tendency to run them off before they got the chance to get to know my sparkling personality.
“Um…yeah. I think it’s safe to say there’s no bringing this one back,” I said as I waved my hand at the computer I’d just murdered. “I think it might be time for the firm to upgrade.”
I tried to smile back at him, but I was suddenly embarrassed that I’d b
His face finally broke into a full-blown smile, showing his perfectly straight, brilliant white teeth. “Yeah, that has to be it. It couldn’t possibly be because you went Ali on it.”
Is he flirting with me? He couldn’t be. There was no way a man like him looked at a woman like me. I might have grown up in a country club household, but I was so far from the typical white-collar persona that it wasn’t even funny.
“Sorry about that, Mr. Bennett. I know it wasn’t very professional—”
He held up his hand to cut me off. “Please, just call me Ben. Mr. Bennett makes me feel like my old man. And as far as the computer killing goes, I’m right there with you. I wanted to throw mine out the window earlier.”
I smiled up at him, feeling some of my embarrassment melt away. “Yeah, well, welcome to P&C where the people are fun to work with, but the electronics are one step up from DOS.”
He leaned against the doorjamb to my office and crossed his arms over his chest. I couldn’t help but think that he was wrinkling his expensive suit. But damn, if he didn’t look good while doing it. The stance made his sleeves pull tightly across his well defined biceps, and I felt the ridiculous need to reach out and squeeze them.
“Yeah, I’m quickly discovering that the people make this a wonderful place to work,” he replied with a mouthwatering grin.
Yep, he’s flirting.
I sat frozen in my swivel chair as Ben’s eyes roamed over my body. It wasn’t in that creepy, stalkerish way that made a woman feel violated, but it was still obvious that he was checking me out.
I started to feel that tingly, excited sensation that happens when a woman notices how attractive a man really is. I was normally known for my quick and cutting responses, but for some reason, Ben had me tongue-tied. I couldn’t find my footing when he looked at me like that.
“Um…thanks, I guess?” Fucking brilliant, Savannah!
He let out a low, rumbling chuckle that I felt deep down in my belly.
“So, you have any big plans for the evening?” he asked casually.
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