Unbreakable Hope: Wild Crush, Book 5, page 1
When you’re caught in the impact zone, the only choice is surrender.
Wild Crush, Book 5
After a monster wave almost kills him, Dylan realizes it was a mistake to put his pro-surfing career ahead of the girl he left behind. Now that he’s finally able to give Hope everything she ever wanted, he’s stunned to discover she’s moved on—with his best friend.
For years Matt has loved Hope but kept his feelings to himself until Dylan went off chasing the pipeline. Matt welcomed the chance to stake his claim. Now that Dylan is back with his heart in his hand, Matt is reluctant to step aside.
When Dylan abandoned their five-year relationship, Hope tried to keep her impulsive, friends-with-benefits fling with Matt casual, but her heart was having none of it. Seeing Dylan alive and whole sends her complicated feelings for both men tumbling into one big, gnarly tangle.
Each man—one steady, one wild—fulfills a different, soul-deep need. They could make it work…if she can convince them to all ride the wave of desire together.
Warning: Features hot MF and MFM sex, bondage, and rough talk with two devastatingly gorgeous Aussie men. Could inspire a need to hang ten. Or eleven, if you catch the drift.
Special thanks to Lexxie Couper for telling me when my heroes are being arseholes. I’ll do the same for you anytime.
To Jess Dee—many of the words in this book are for you. I’ll write for the both of us until you’re ready to come back. (I’m getting tired though. Just sayin’.)
For my editor, Anne Scott, for seeing me through this whole series, and many other books at Samhain Publishing since 2007. Thanks for picking me out of the slush pile all those years ago.
Lastly, huge hugs to everyone who has read and let me know how much they’ve enjoyed the characters of Leyton’s Headland. Dear readers, you mean the world to me.
Hope Irving looked around at all the happy people in her parents’ backyard and wondered what was wrong with her. Twenty-eight years old and still the loner who turned up to Christmas by herself, ate too many chocolate-coated nuts, drank too many beers, and maintained a bah-humbug demeanor. This year in particular everyone else seemed so damned pleased with themselves. Why couldn’t she be like that?
I don’t think you want to be happy, dear. Something’s holding you back.
This from her mother, Alicia, who’d cornered Hope in the kitchen after she’d arrived and asked why she hadn’t brought that divine-looking Matt Kendrick to Christmas. So much for keeping that a secret. Her sister had a big mouth.
The blabbermouth in question walked up to where Hope was standing on the patio. “What are you doing over here all by yourself?” Penny asked.
“Rehearsing my audition piece. Next year I’m finally going to get the part of the Grinch in that local theatre production,” Hope quipped. “What are you doing, telling Mum about me and Matt?”
Save for a slight pinkening of her pale cheeks, Penny didn’t appear all that contrite. “She was worried about you, so I threw her something to chew on. I figured you’d be bringing him to Christmas. Why isn’t he here by the way?”
“He has a family too, you know.”
“Uh-huh.” Penny lifted her glass of wine to her lips and studied Hope over the rim. “Didn’t invite him, did you?”
“I told you from the beginning, it’s not serious with me and Matt. Inviting him to a family Christmas indicates serious.”
But she’d wanted to invite him. At least five times Hope had opened her mouth to do just that. Each time she’d gotten a hold of herself before she messed up. She’d been doing all she could the last three months to keep their affair strictly sexual, and she couldn’t afford to give him mixed messages. She didn’t want to lead Matt on.
She’d done the smart thing by not bringing him to a family thing like this. But Hope couldn’t deny she missed him acutely. Especially when both her sisters were here with their boyfriends, looking particularly blissed out. Emily even had the audacity to bring both of hers, and her parents were doing their best to act totally cool with the way Brandon Walker and Jet Durante each held one of Emily’s hands as they’d flanked her at the lunch table.
“And I’ve always thought there has to be more between you and Matt than what you claim,” Penny went on. “He’s been your friend for five years. You can’t tell me you can add sex to that mix and keep things strictly casual.”
“Shouldn’t you be getting back to your boyfriend?” Hope asked, because she didn’t want to address her sister’s comment. She didn’t want to admit that lately the way Matt looked at her had begun to make her nervous. Or was it excited? Her heart started palpitating merely thinking about Matt’s keen blue eyes staring deeply into hers, his hand touching her face…
“I’ve been gone from the table two minutes,” Penny said.
Hope dragged her mind away from Matt, which was getting harder and harder to do these days. “Too long for him if the way he’s staring at you is any clue.”
Penny turned and saw what Hope already did. Greg Danvers ostensibly engaged in conversation with their father, Walt. Yet his attention kept wandering to Penny, as though he couldn’t stand for her to be out of his sight for a moment. When Penny caught his eye, Greg winked, making Penny giggle girlishly.
“Ah, jeez,” Hope groaned. “You two are sickening.”
“Your fault. If you hadn’t gotten all the girls together to make me go after him, we might not be here now, madly in love and sexually exhausted.”
“Blech. I’ll remember this nausea next time I think of playing cupid.”
In truth, Hope didn’t take responsibility or credit for getting Penny and Greg back together after their little bust-up a few months ago. There was an undeniable chemistry between them that overrode what appeared on the surface to be their many differences. Opposites attract, they say, and it was certainly true of Penny and Greg. Hope figured they would have found their way back to each other eventually without intervention. They had an air of inevitability about them. Some would say they were “meant to be”, but Hope didn’t believe in that anymore.
Not since her “meant to be” man had decided he couldn’t be what she needed and left.
The thought of Dylan Wakefield brought with it the usual pang of regret and loss. She and Dylan weren’t opposites. Hope got him, understood his drive to ride the big waves, to chase that adventure and not be tied down by conventional standards. She hadn’t wanted to tie him down. All she’d tried to be was his safe place to come back to when the ride ended. She had no idea why six months ago he’d started thinking that she was asking for more than he could give her.
Well, the pregnancy scare might have had something to do with it. Hope had been freaked out enough, but the moment she’d told Dylan she needed to go buy a test she’d seen what freaked out really meant. The argument that followed had been a doozy and was still imprinted on her brain.
I can’t do this, Hope. Jesus, I told you I can’t have kids.
I didn’t do this on purpose! she’d yelled. Or on my bloody own, mind you.
I know that. Dylan had dragged both his hands through his shoulder-length dark hair, pulling it back from a face that was stark with fear. I’m sorry, babe. But I won’t do to any kid of mine what my dad did. I won’t knock some girl up and then spend my life travelling the world as if being a father means nothing.
You’re calling me some girl you might have knocked up? Nice work, Dyl. Five years of us, and this is what I get when I need yo
I’m just going to pray that you’re not and think about that later.
Not being a religious man, Dylan didn’t use the word pray lightly. In that moment Hope had known how truly terrified of fatherhood Dylan was, and it had forced her to reexamine her own life. Even after the test had come back negative, she kept asking herself what she would have done if things had gone the other way.
Would Dylan have insisted she raise the baby on her own? Would he have felt obligated to marry her? She wouldn’t have accepted. She would always suspect he’d been forced into it, that he secretly resented her. That had led to the realization that if she stayed with Dylan, he might never marry her or be happy to parent a child, and although Hope didn’t consider those things priorities, she wasn’t willing to take them off the table completely. She was only twenty-eight and she wanted all options open to her.
That had been the beginning of the end. The next few weeks had been tense. Sex between them had been edgy, rougher than usual—and that was saying something. Dylan had made demands, and she’d conceded to every one of them, fighting him only when she’d needed the pain she knew he’d inflict. After a particularly intense session, she’d turned to him and said the one thing she’d promised herself she’d stop saying, at least until he said it back.
Hey. I love you.
He’d held her closer, kissed her forehead. Said nothing.
Like an idiot, Hope had continued chasing the dream. You don’t have to say anything back. I just needed you to know.
I do, babe. He’d stroked her arm tenderly, cradled her like she was something precious, but the closest he got to the words was You know I feel the same way, right?
Hope had snorted humorlessly. No.
What’dya mean, no?
I mean you’ve never said it, Dylan. She’d propped on her elbow and stared into his eyes hard. Maybe this time I’d like to hear it.
All we just did and you think words are needed to prove something?
Sometimes words matter. They matter to me.
Dylan had rolled away from her, lying flat on his back. Is this about the baby thing? Hell, I know I didn’t handle that well. If you had gotten pregnant, I would have done the right thing by you. You know that, don’t you?
The right thing? Don’t do me any favors, you son-of-a-bitch…
“Come on back and join in the conversation.” Penny’s words pulled Hope out of the past and into the present. “I’m sure even the Grinch talks to his family occasionally.”
“I don’t think he has one. What bliss that must be.”
Penny punched Hope on the arm, and it was such a wussy punch that they both laughed. Some of the darkness that had settled over her dissipated, and Hope went to the table beneath the shady fig tree. She was determined to have a good time—and to put thoughts of Dylan Wakefield out of her mind.
* * * * *
The next couple of hours passed in a haze of pleasant conversation, the consuming of far too many prawns, and the drinking of a few too many alcoholic beverages. Hope felt buzzed enough to acknowledge to herself that her family’s occasional interference in her love life was something they did out of concern. They were annoying at times, but she loved the hell out of them. Maybe she did want her own family one day. She was still figuring that out, among other things. Like what to do with her entire life.
Currently, she worked as a shop assistant at the Wakerider surf equipment and clothing store in Leyton’s Headland, and ran a sporadically active surf-lesson business out of her twelve-year-old, sunshine-yellow jeep. Neither job was paying the rent on its own, nor giving her a fuzzy feeling of professional satisfaction. Not like the satisfaction her sisters got from their careers.
Emily ran a thriving horse-riding-and-stabling business, and Penny was part-owner of a successful naturopathy clinic. Next to the two of them, Hope felt like a complete and utter disaster. Her jeep had dodgy transmission, she lived in a converted garage beneath an indolent artist named Kent who spent more time using his bong than his paintbrush, and she’d failed at the one thing in life she’d ever been truly passionate about—surfing.
Her years as a professional surfer had been fraught with the constant sense of inadequacy that came with not winning. In fact the best she’d ever done in a pro comp was fifth place. It had been enough to keep her on the tour, to keep her trying for a while, but not enough to give her the confidence she was ever going to get there. She was no Layne Beachley.
Her main sponsor had felt the same way. After having her back for four years they’d dropped her when she was twenty-two and no longer looking shiny and new next to the eighteen-year-old glamour girls coming up. Hope had spent the next three months drinking and feeling sorry for herself. Then she’d gotten the job at Wakerider, where her tattoos and bored demeanor seemed to give her street cred—or beach cred, as it were. She was easily the best sales person there because she knew the gear and the lingo to sell it. Matt had offered her a full-time position more than once but that wasn’t what she wanted so she’d turned it down.
Six years on from her aborted attempt at making it as a pro surfer, and Hope still didn’t know what she wanted—other than the fact she sorta might want a kid one day and that nebulous desire had brought about the destruction of the most meaningful romantic relationship she’d ever had.
Until Matt, that was.
Were Penny and her mother right? Should she have invited Matt to Christmas? She pictured him seated at the family table beside her, using his sharp mind to engage Greg the ultra-smart lawyer in dialogue about business, chatting with Jet about his work as a wildlife photographer, burrowing beneath Brand’s guard because he had an empathetic way about him that broke down even the toughest shields. Hope ought to know—he was breaking down hers despite her best efforts to keep them in place. As for the women in her family and her father, Hope had no doubt they’d approve of Matt.
No, Hope hadn’t wanted things to get serious with Matt. Now, under the shade of her parents’ fig tree, she asked herself for the first time why the hell not.
The tune to “Trouble” by Pink sounded from somewhere at her feet, hardly audible above the laughter. Slightly buzzed, Hope eventually recognized it as her ring tone and grappled in her bag for the phone. She thought of who it might be and smiled: Matt. It had to be. Everyone else who rang her regularly was here.
The name she saw on the screen made the smile freeze on her face. She hadn’t been able to bring herself to delete his number from her contacts list, but in a childish drunken moment after he’d left six months ago, Hope had renamed him D-Bag.
And D-Bag was calling her right now.
She stared at the screen, letting it ring and ring. She wasn’t going to pick up. Six months of nothing and then an out-of-the-blue call on Christmas Day? No way did she give a shit what he had to say. Her thumb hovered over the decline button. She saw it was shaking. Her whole body felt like it was shaking.
At the last minute, for reasons she couldn’t explain to herself, Hope hit accept and lifted the phone to her ear.
There was a beat of silence. Hope realized she was supposed to say something. She opened her mouth, but before she could issue an appropriate greeting—what kind of greeting was appropriate when the ex-love-of-your-life called you at a family gathering?—he said her name.
“Irving? You there?”
Irving. Dylan always called her Irving, or babe, or one of a host of other things during sex that were definitely not appropriate for family gatherings. He rarely if ever called her Hope. It had been a quirk of their relationship that Hope had relished, as she knew Dylan did it because she’d once confessed to hating her given name. Her parents had bestowed it upon her because she’d been premature, and they’d spent the first month of her life hoping she’d live. But there were far to
Dylan had once told her she made the choice not to live up to them because it was easier to handle than failure. She hadn’t yet figured out if he was right.
“Hey, if you don’t want to hear from me, I get it,” Dylan said. “But hang up in my ear, okay? Don’t tease me. It’s not your style.”
Hope finally managed to speak. “Hang on.”
Rising from the table, she indicated she wanted to take the call privately, which caused a series of speculative glances to pass between the other Irving women. Her mother said, “Say hello to Matt from us,” and the truth lodged sharp and uncomfortable in Hope’s throat. She didn’t correct the assumption as she slipped into the relative coolness of the house. She didn’t want to imagine everyone’s reaction if they knew Dylan was on the other end of the line.
She wasn’t quite sure if she could get a bead on her own reaction yet. Her heart was pounding and her palms were sweaty. The seafood she’d eaten was sloshing around with the beer in her stomach, making her nauseous. But the adrenaline coursing through her system wasn’t all bad. Getting an overseas call from Dylan had always been a highlight of her day, and there was still some remnant of that excitement bounding around inside her.
God, you’re an idiot. Anger at herself enabled her to give him the brusque inquiry he deserved. “What do you want?”
Dylan chuckled lightly, perhaps at her curt question or maybe at his own folly in calling. “I don’t know. Can you believe that? I’m sitting here on the sand at Teahupo’o and the swell is banging. There’s nothing I love more than to be out there when the waves are curling like this. But it’s Christmas, and I wanted to know how you were doing more than I wanted to surf.”
“You wanted to know how I was doing,” Hope repeated in flat tones that gave away her incredulity. “Are you kidding me?”
“No. I might have left but that doesn’t mean I forgot about you.”
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