Make It Last, page 1part #3 of Bowler University Series
Make It Last
A BOWLER UNIVERSITY NOVEL
This book is for all my readers, who’ve stuck with me and grown with me throughout this series.
THIS IS ONE of the fastest books I’ve ever written, and that’s because Cam started speaking in my head pretty loudly. Then Tate piped up, not wanting to be overshadowed. And their story poured out of me. I love these characters and the whole crew of the Bowler U series. I’ve had a blast writing these books.
I want to thank my readers. Because without the excitement and cheering, the grind of writing my first series might have gotten to me. But instead, I was excited to write these books because you were excited. For an author, there’s nothing better.
Amanda Bergeron, you continue to be one of the best people I’ve met, not only in this industry, but in life. You’re sweet and encouraging and smart. I love working with you, and I can hear your little editor voice in my head while I’m writing. I love knowing that you’re in my corner.
Marisa Corvisiero, my agent, this book might not exist at all if it weren’t for you. It was your idea to give Cam a book. You mentioned it, and the ideas started flowing, and here it is. I hope you love him.
Jessie Edwards—your encouragement and publicity help made all the difference with this series. I can’t thank you enough for your kind e-mails and your push to get the word out about these books.
My critique partners—Natalie Blitt and AJ Pine —I love you ladies! You are everything to me and I would not be here without you. One of the best things about this writing gig is gaining you both as friends. Natalie, you are my plot whisperer. Never leave me!
Lia Riley – you are the Kristan Higgins to my Jill Shalvis. Next year, 2015, is so our year.
I’ve received so much support from bloggers, for which I’m immensely grateful. You know who you are—you’ve made me teasers and you tweeted and you’ve squeed. I love you all!
As always, Lucas Hargis, you are my spirit animal and I can always count on you for a smile when I’m feeling low. Thank you to my friends in NAAU, my Debut ’14 girls, and all the BuBs who’ve known me since I was a stressed out pregnant lady.
Neal—you are the reason I can do this, write about love. Because I wake up to you every day. Thanks for putting up with me when my head is distracted with character voices. I love you.
My kiddos—I love you. It’s pretty cool to pick my son up at the end of the day and have him ask, “Did you write a book today, Mommy?”
To my friends and family—your support means everything. Thank you! With this book especially, I pulled a lot of experiences of my own from college. Maybe I’ll tell you all one day, and maybe I won’t, haha.
And Andi, don’t forget, you’ll never be one of the “little people.”
An Excerpt from Make It Count
An Excerpt from Make It Right
About the Author
Also by Megan Erickson
An Excerpt from Holding Holly by Julie Brannagh
An Excerpt from It's a Wonderful Fireman by Jennifer Bernard
An Excerpt from Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Lecia Cornwall
An Excerpt from Running Hot by HelenKay Dimon
An Excerpt from Sinful Rewards 1 by Cynthia Sax
An Excerpt from Return to Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney
An Excerpt from Return of the Bad Girl by Codi Gary
About the Publisher
HE’D BEEN HOME three weeks before he could no longer avoid this place.
And the worst part was, it hadn’t changed. Not one bit. Not the red pleather booths lining the wall—even the corner one still had its trademark X in silver duct tape covering a wicked tear. Not the robin’s egg blue Formica countertops. Not the silver rotating stools at the counter. Not even the temperamental soft-serve ice cream machine, which a waitress currently wrestled with while a salivating kid watched.
Not the flickering PARADISE DINER sign out front, the second A blown out so it looked like PARDISE. Which wasn’t far off in this western Maryland town where everyone blurred their syllables. You’re not from Pardise, are you?
It was like he’d pressed PAUSE while playing Utope, freezing every character in the game into status quo indefinitely.
Cam Ruiz didn’t know whether the static nature of this damn place was comforting or infuriating. Because all of it reminded him of her. Her little black apron covering little black shorts. Those damn wedge sandals that she said made her calves and ass look good so she got better tips. Her laugh when he’d sit at the counter right before she got off her shift, sucking down a milk shake while she mopped up the spills, shooting him flirty smiles.
Fuck, it’d been four, going on five years now. Why couldn’t he just forget?
Now, he had chosen a booth he didn’t think he’d ever occupied back in high school, right near the front door. He sipped from his plastic cup of water and looked down at his watch, then at the door. There weren’t tons of places open at noon to eat, so when his friend and old college roommate, Max Payton, called and asked where to meet, Cam had frozen. Then his mom yelled, “Pardise Diner!” in the background. Max had heard, and the meeting location was decided.
Through the dirty windows of the diner, Cam saw the rusted piece-of-crap truck Max drove rumble in. His friend hopped out of the truck, sunglasses in place as he squinted at the sign and then helped his girlfriend, Lea, hop down out of the passenger side. She looked good, her limp slight, her dark hair shining in the early June sun.
Max held open the door and a bell tinkled overhead. Lea spotted Cam right away, and he stood so she could hug him. He greeted Max with a handshake and back slap. As they slid into the booth, Cam on one side and Max and Lea on the other, a commotion at the counter caught his attention. A squeak followed by harsh whispers. He turned his head and all he saw were the doors to the kitchen, swinging back and forth. He shrugged and turned back to his friends.
“Thanks for visiting me,” he said.
Max laid his arm behind Lea along the back of the booth. “Wanted to see the town that raised the great Cam Ruiz.”
Cam rolled his eyes.
“It’s definitely small,” Lea said. “But I like it. Very welcoming and homey.”
He guessed so, if moving back didn’t make him feel like he was taking a step backward. Like a reset button wiping away the basic training for the Air National Guard, the weekends at drill, the three and a half years he busted his ass to graduate college early.
A waitress he’d never met came to take their orders, her eyes lingering a little long on Cam. Not in a flirty way, like he was used to. Plus she was probably his mom’s age and wore a wedding band. But she studied his face and his clothes and it made him uncomfortable. He wanted to ask if he had something on his face or in his teeth.
After they ordered, Max turned to Cam. “So how’s your mom?”
She was the reason Cam had come back. The only reason he’d return to Paradise.
The waitress delivered their drinks and when she walked away, Lea placed her hand on top of Cam’s where he twisted his straw wrapper in his fingers. “Anything we can do to help while we’re here?”
Cam shook his head. “Nah, it’s cool. I got a job and our rent is cheap.”
Max took a gulp of water and crushed ice between his molars. “What job did ya get?”
Cam couldn’t stop the growl in the back of his throat. He had a bachelor’s degree and he was a . . . “Bouncer. At a bar in town.”
Max’s eyes widened, but then his face quickly shuttered. “Bet you squeeze into a black T-shirt and let the tats peek out and all these rednecks scatter, huh?”
Cam laughed. “I just started last week. It’s mostly girls from the community college looking to dance and stuff. I even have this fancy machine I run their IDs through to make sure they aren’t fake.”
“Why the hell didn’t the bars at Bowler have that? Kat used her fake all the time.” Max frowned.
“Until Alec shredded it.” Lea snickered.
Max threw back his head and laughed. “Oh man. Apparently Kat and Alec are at her beach house with her family, and Alec is worried her brother is going to drown him in the ocean.”
Lea wrinkled her nose. “Which is stupid because Marc likes Alec. He’s just being paranoid.”
The waitress delivered their food, and even the sound of the melamine plates sliding across the table as she announced the orders brought back memories.
He picked at his bun while Max demolished a burger. In between bites, Max stole a handful of fries from Lea’s chicken salad sandwich.
“Seriously?” Lea glared at him. “You have your own.”
“But yours taste better,” Max said around a mouthful of fries.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” she grumbled. “Don’t make me kick your ass.”
He grinned. “Maybe I want you to kick my ass. My favorite foreplay.”
Cam groaned. “That’s enough, guys, I’m going to lose my appetite.”
Neither looked apologetic.
Cam ate his burger while he chatted with Max and Lea about their trip. They planned to head up into Pennsylvania and then Massachusetts. A road trip for just the two of them, since next year was going to be rough. Lea started a teaching job in the fall, and Max would be completing his last semester at Bowler University student teaching.
Max picked up the tab, which made Cam bristle a little, but Max assured him it was just to thank him for taking them out in his hometown.
Cam followed them out of the diner and Lea hugged him before climbing into Max’s truck. Max watched her through the windshield as she buckled her seat belt, then leaned a hand on his hood and turned to Cam. His eyes traveled over Cam’s shoulder to the diner and then squinted at the sparse traffic on the street.
Finally his eyes met Cam’s. “You sure this is what you need to be doing?”
No, he wasn’t sure, but he’d committed now, hadn’t he? “I need to help my mom with the bills. She worked two jobs when I was a kid, just to keep food on our table and a roof over our heads. What am I gonna do, leave her?”
Max ran his tongue over his teeth. “You could have maybe gotten a job and sent money . . .”
Cam shook his head. “I thought about that, but . . . I wanted to make sure she was okay. And I think she’s glad that we’re getting some time together, you know?”
Max watched him for a minute, then gave a curt nod. He slapped Cam on the shoulder. “All right, man. You need anything, you call me or Alec, all right?”
He wouldn’t. “Sure.”
Max got into his truck and pulled out onto Main Street.
Cam sighed, feeling the weight of responsibility pressing down on his shoulders. But if he didn’t help his mom, who would?
He jingled his keys in his pocket and turned to walk toward his truck. It was nice of Max and Lea to visit him on their road trip. College had been some of the best years of his life. Great friends, fun parties, hot girls.
But now it felt like a small blip, like a week vacation instead of three and a half years. And now he was right back where he started.
As he walked by the alley beside the restaurant, something flickered out of the corner of his eye.
He turned and spotted her legs first. One foot bent at the knee and braced on the brick wall, the other flat on the ground. Her head was bent, a curtain of hair blocking her face. But he knew those legs. He knew those hands. And he knew that hair, a light brown that held just a glint of strawberry in the sun. He knew by the end of August it’d be lighter and redder and she’d laugh about that time she put lemon juice in it. It’d backfired and turned her hair orange.
The light flickered again but it was something weird and artificial, not like the menthols she had smoked. Back when he knew her.
As she lowered her hand down to her side, he caught sight of the small white cylinder. It was an electronic cigarette. She’d quit.
She raised her head then, like she knew someone watched her, and he wanted to keep walking, avoid this awkward moment. Avoid those eyes he didn’t think he’d ever see again and never thought he’d wanted to see again. But now that his eyes locked on her hazel eyes—the ones he knew began as green on the outside of her iris and darkened to brown by the time they met her pupil—he couldn’t look away. His boots wouldn’t move.
The small cigarette fell to the ground with a soft click and she straightened, both her feet on the ground.
And that was when he noticed the wedge shoes. And the black apron. What was she doing here?
Other than his mom, she was the only one who used his full name. He’d heard her say it while laughing. He’d her moan it while he was inside her. He’d heard her sigh it with an eye roll when he made a bad joke. But he’d never heard it the way she said it now, with a little bit of fear and anxiety and . . . longing? He took a deep breath to steady his voice. “Tatum.”
He hadn’t spoken her name since that night Trevor called him and told him what she did. The night the future that he’d set out for himself and for her completely changed course.
She’d lost some weight in the four years since he’d last seen her. He’d always loved her curves. She had it all—thighs, ass and tits in abundance. Naked, she was a fucking vision.
Damn it, he wasn’t going there.
But now her face looked thinner, her clothes hung a little loose and he didn’t like this look as much. Not that she probably gave a fuck about his opinion anymore.
She still had her gorgeous hair, pinned up halfway with a bump in front, and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose and on her cheekbones. And she still wore her makeup exactly the same—thickly mascaraed eyelashes, heavy eyeliner that stretched to a point on the outside of her eyes, like a modern-day Audrey Hepburn.
She was still beautiful. And she still took his breath away.
And his heart felt like it was breaking all over again.
And he hated her even more for that.
Her eyes were wide. “What are you doing here?”
Something in him bristled at that. Maybe it was because he didn’t feel like he belonged here. But then, she didn’t either. She never did. They never did.
But there was no longer a they.
“I was hungry,” he grunted.
She pursed her lips and narrowed those hazel eyes. “I mean, what are you doing here, in Paradise?”
He raised his eyebrows. “I’m not allowed back here or something?”
She took a deep breath. “Can you stop getting defensive? I just wanted—”
“What are you doing here?” he countere
Her posture deflated, and she fiddled with the hem of her shirt. “Did you graduate?” she asked, ignoring his question.
He wanted to tell her it was none of her business, but instead, he nodded. “Busted my ass to get out in three and a half years.” He was in basic training the first semester. When she . . .
Nope, not going there either.
She flinched ever so slightly, then rolled her lips between her teeth and nodded back, gaze drifting to the ground at her feet. “Good,” she whispered so softly, he barely heard her. “That’s good.”
He stared at the top of her head. When he heard a soft sound and saw a jerk of her head, his heart lurched. All these years, and he still knew the quiet sounds of Tate crying.
Maybe because he grew up with a single mom, women’s emotions never scared him away. He didn’t always care, but he wasn’t one of those guys who panicked at the sight of tears.
But he always cared about Tate crying. Always. He would place her head on his shoulder, where it fit just right, and he’d run his fingers through her hair, massaging her scalp. Then he’d retrieve the water and pain reliever because crying always gave her a headache.
It was like his body had muscle memory, because every one screamed at him to move and cradle her. She was trying to keep it in, he could see it.
“Tate,” he said, and her head shot up, eyes wide and wet.
MEGAN ERICKSON SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Final DayBlood Veil_A Mission NovelOut of FrameBite The Hand That Bleeds: A Mission Series PrequelHeels (Boots Book 2)Blood VeilZero HourHidden Truths
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